|Pics from the Leatherwood Facebook Page|
The basics: The inaugural Leatherwood Mountains 50 mile run was held in conjunction with a 50K and 10 miler. It was located in the countryside outside Lenoir, NC at the Leatherwood Mountains Resort, a horse-oriented vacation resort with mountain cabins and miles of riding trails. It was mainly on these trails that the race was held. Mark Connolly and Tim Worden were the race directors and did a nice job organizing it.
The course layout: The 50 mile runners ran three loops, each color-coded. The first loop was 25 miles, the second 15 and the third 10. Each loop started and ended at the start/finish area which made it convenient to have a drop bag/cooler waiting for you.
The terrain: Mainly single-track, much of it fairly technical. with some gravel road and pavement sections. Relentless steep, but relatively short, climbs and descents. The trails at times were heavily covered in leaves, disguising what was underneath. There was a lot of mud because of the rainstorms the day before and that, combined with some stream crossings meant wet feet most of the day. Some of the super-steep descents were really slick and many runners had a nice coating of mud on their backsides. If the Garmin data on the website is accurate, you get over 13,000 feet of gain. (For comparison, the Mountain Masochist has 9,000 feet).
The aid: The aid stations seemed to be 5-8 miles apart (guesstimating). They had everything I could have wanted: potatoes with salt, sweets, chips, pretzels, gels, coke, chicken broth, BACON and PBR (although I passed on the latter). The volunteers were super helpful and friendly.
Highlights of the course: Pretty mountain views and cool breezes up high. Passing a lot of very nice cabins. A long paved/gravel road section that winds through farmland, reminiscent of Old Dominion.
Logistics: Cabins were available to rent on site and it was a great location for a family to come and hang out, with a restaurant on site. (I stayed in Lenoir, which was about 30 minutes away.) Packet pickup and check in was well organized and I had a nice women's cut technical shirt already tucked in my bag. You were allowed a drop bag at the Rawhide aid station, which you passed through several times, but I just went with leaving a box at the start/finish.
Race organization: Excellent, despite first year glitches. It's obvious the race directors wanted everyone to have a great time and put a lot of time and effort into it. I have no doubt everything will be fine-tuned next year.
The 'I run for swag' factor: Socks, sticker, tech-t-shirt in a woman's cut and a pint glass.
My race: This was the first time my knee felt good going into a race and I think I have built up a solid base in training. I feel strong, but slow.
The race started well. The mile or so of flat pavement in the beginning helped me get my breathing under control and once we hit the first steep gravel road climb, I felt good power-hiking and was able to pass many runners. My legs were turning over good on the steep technical downhills, although I was trying to be as cautious as possible in the deep leaves. I was able to stay upright on the slick mud, although I did a lot of twisting and turning.
As the miles wore on, the fact that I still don't have as much agility in my "bad" leg slowed me down, but that's a minor issue I can fix. All day long, I felt relatively good and I think I was moving steadily on all the hills, although I am still not pushing out of my comfort zone. My knee started to feel achy and stiff about three hours in, but no actual pain.
Despite feeling good physically, I did have some bad times mentally. The course marking were confusing (which the race directors will be adjusting next year) and as a result, runners were taking wrong turns onto the 50K course or getting in some bonus miles. Although I am quite sure I stayed on course, there were runners who were behind me that ended up in front and some in front that ended up in back. Also, the 50K started an hour after the 50 mile, meaning there were a lot of people out on the course who were passing me.
After the initial 25 mile loop, I began to feel like I was way in the back, judging from all the people ahead of me on out and backs and how alone I was at other times. This was frustrating, because I felt like I was moving well. I bent Dan Hartley's ear on the last ten mile loop with my frustration and conviction that we were alone at the back of the pack. He assured me we were somewhere in the middle and it turns out he was right (4th female, 37 out of 77 starters, 12 hours 30 minutes).
One of the best parts of my race was on that last ten mile loop, trying to keep up with Dan on a steep, technical downhill. For the first time since my surgery, I flew down the mountain like I used to. With 45 miles under my belt, my knee felt just fine.
One week later my knee has not swelled and there has been minimal pain. Maybe, finally, I have balanced out my legs and found a shoe (Brooks Glycerins) that make my knee happy. My goal to this point has been to just get my knee back to normal. After the Georgia Death Race and this race, I feel like I can now focus on getting back to being the runner I used to be.