Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Crowder's Mountain 50K 2008

In 2003, I ran my first ultra, Crowder's Mountain 50K. You would have thought I would have learned something in five years. More on that later in the blog, but for those of you who are interested in running Crowder's sometime, I'll start with a race and course description.

Crowder's is one of my favorite races, although I wonder why on my third trip up those stairs. The race is small and low key, usually 20-30 people, and the race directors, at first Claude Sinclair and now Ray K and Sam Baucom do a great job anticipating everyone's needs and even offered to go out and buy something if they didn't have what you wanted at the aid stations.

The course is three out and backs, or should I say ups and downs? The race starts on an ascending gravel road for about two miles where it tops out on the cliffs of Crowder's Mountain. Then you start DOWN the infamous stairs. How many are there? I lose count every time, but I know it's A LOT. And they are the typical forest service 8"x8" steps, mostly unevenly spaced so you can't get a good rhythm running down them. After the stairs, it's down a steep gravel road for about a quarter mile and to the first aid station. Then you turn on nice rocky, rooty single-track trail that is rolling, but with more down than up and it continues to the turnaround at around mile 5. And then, well, you turn around. Everything that was downhill is now uphill, including that really steep gravel road that leads to those darn stairs. And to make it more difficult, as the day goes on there are more and more hikers to dodge on the way up. Then it's two more miles of pounding downhill on gravel. Repeat this two more times and you're done.

This year I came into the race thinking I could finish in the five's. My last time there in 2006 was 6:05. Surely I could make up six minutes somewhere. Surely I'm in better shape. I've started using an inhaler for exercise-induced asthma (I didn't know until now that it it not SUPPOSED to hurt to breathe when you run). I've hit PRs in all my training runs lately. My hamstrings are better, not great but better. I've changed my running stride to a supposedly more efficient stride. Six minutes is all I wanted. I ended up running my slowest time of my three races there. Why? It was sooooo hot! I haven't trained at all in the heat, never mind run a tough race. But I should have been smarter and backed off some, but I wanted those six minutes badly. And even though I'm not a front of the pack runner, I just hate to get passed. In a three time out and backer, you know exactly where everyone is, so that pushed me even harder. The result was bad cramping halfway through. Shins, calves, hamstrings, some other leg muscles I didn't know I had and even my abs. I walked a lot more than I wanted to. After some Gatorade and a banana at the turnaround, I felt much better and went on to finish the third leg, but at a much reduced pace.

Although I would never had said this about three hours into the run, this is a great race. I get to see a lot of familiar faces and everyone (including all the hikers) is friendly and encouraging. I had to choose between Promise Land and this race this year, and was happy with my decision to stay closer to home.