For the past 6 years I have had a blog called "Run Your Frist Ultra" at YourFirstUltra@BlogSpot. I have decided to move all future blog posts to the Southeastern Trial Runs website on Weebly. There are 161 blog posts dating back to 2010 on BlogSpot with my ideas on "how to run ultras." If you would like to see any of those older posts just follow the link back and check them out. Some are outdated but the basics are still the same. The trails still go up and down hills, cross creeks, across a cliff face and sometimes, over very steep snow fields. You still have to stay hydrated and fueled and still need comfortable shoes.
To go to the old YourFirstUltra@BlogSpot, with 161 older posts, follow this link. yourfirstultra.blogspot.com/
After 20 years of trail running and 10 years of Ultra Running some things should not even require thought. The same is true for some components of road running. For example, stay hydrated, don't run a race in a new pair of shoes and when running in mountains, be prepared for anything. Well, in May I ran the Crewel Jewel 50 mile in the mountains of north Georgia. The race has 17,000 ft. of elevation gain and climbs up and down some tough hills. Tough enough that the Crewel Jewel 100 is a Hardrock Qualifier.
Every trail runner knows that the weather in mountains, east or west, can change dramatically in minutes. Every trail runner also knows to always carry a jacket or emergency poncho when running in mountains. The Crewel Jewel 50 has only one dropbag aid station at mile 30 and I was prepared. I had everything I could possibly need in my bag, my headlamp, dry socks, gloves, warm base layer, rain jacket, poncho, extra batteries, etc. I was ready for anything!
But there was a little problem. The temperatures had been in the 90s since late morning and all afternoon. About a mile before the 30 mile aid station the course followed a gravel road along a river with small rapids and lots of people floating downstream on tubes. I couldn't resist and hopped in a calm spot to cool down. That felt great! At the aid station I grabbed my bag, looked through everything and put it back. I didn't want to waste time in the aid station so I grabbed some real food and headed out for the next stop, 5+ miles ahead. At the 35 mile AS I had a popsicle. That was great in that 90 deg. heat. I dumped a little ice in my water bottles and headed for the next aid station at mile 40. After a steep climb to the ridgeline I noticed it was getting dark. The sky had become overcast on the way up the hill and I hadn't even noticed. It was also cooler and the wind was picking up which was great. Because we were running under the forest canopy it was difficult to see what the clouds looked like or if any weather was approaching.
It got darker quickly and it wasn't sunset yet. I began to get a little concerned. Then the wind hit, and I do mean "HIT!" Like 50 miles per hour winds. I was running turned sideways to the right watching for falling trees. I was sure the wind was going to start knocking down trees since the trail follows the very top of the ridge. The temperature had dropped and I was actually cold in the wind. I started hearing thunder off in the distance and hoped the rain would stay away. Well, that hope was quickly dashed as the bottom fell out. I stopped to put on my headlamp since it was now very dark. By then I was totally soaked and the wind was blowing harder than ever. Within minutes of the start of the rain I was freezing. I considered going back to the previous aid station but decided I was probably half way to the next so I continued. The trail followed the ridge for about 4 miles before finally dropping down to the next aid station.
Thankfully, the aid station was down low enough that there wasn't much wind but it was still raining hard. They had a popup tent and a good size fire which someone must have started before the rain hit. A bunch of people were crowded under the tent out of the rain. I was so cold I couldn't stop shaking. I took off my pack and stood by the fire in the rain rotating like I was on a rotisserie trying to warm up. As soon as I stepped away from the fire I started shaking again. I stood by that fire, in the rain, for 1 1/2 hours. Finally, a couple of other runners and I were able to talk a very nice man into driving us back to the finish, more than an hour away.
I don't think I have ever been as cold as I was on that ridge or standing in the rain by the fire. That includes a miserable night at Sherman Aid Station after sweeping part of the Hardrock 100 course in 2013. Three of us were sweeping and arrived at Sherman aid station after midnight. (Sherman is about 9600 ft.) We had no dropbags, no tent, no sleeping bags, no dry clothes and no food, all of which was supposed to be there waiting on us. The aid station crew was also supposed to have hot food and drink waiting but the aid station was deserted. We had been caught in a thunderstorm on top of Cataract-Pole Pass at 12,200 ft. five miles above Sherman and were soaked. I spent the night sitting under a tent fly (no tent) with a Coleman lantern burning under a folding chair (so I didn't set the ten fly on fire) with my head in the air vent on the fly (so I didn't die of carbon monoxide poisoning) while trying to stay warm. It was a LONG night.
Here is a link to the Blog Post from that night in 2013. http://yourfirstultra.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-2013-hardrock-100-from-outside.html
What made the experience at Crewel Jewel so frustrating was that I felt great. Finishing would likely have been no problem. All I needed to do was to get that emergency poncho out of my bag and put it in my pack. I did think about it but for some unknown reason didn't. I had even considered starting the race with the poncho in my hydration pack since the forecast was for rain, but didn't. I would have been able to stay reasonably warm had I had that poncho with me. It was smaller than my cell phone and weighed nothing, but I just didn't pick it up. I looked at the rain jacket and warm base layer and never considered taking them with me. I know there was a good chance of storms that night but none of that registered. I can tell you one thing. In the future, I will always have an emergency poncho in my pack at the start of every race I run. If I should ever run the Keys 100... OK, maybe not that one.
The original quote form Robert Burns in 1785: (Can you tell he was Scottish?)
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
(The best laid schemes of Mice and Men
oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!)
I never cease to be amazed and inspired by our runners, whether it’s the Lake Martin 100, The Endless Mile or our newest race, the Blood Rock 100. That’s what makes putting on these events worthwhile. Over the 5 years of Lake Martin races we have had some amazing accomplishments and almost super-human performances, including a woman that had never run further than a 10K in her life who finished the LM 50 Mile in 2013. In 2014, an 18 year old young man that had never run more than a 50K, finished the 100. This year’s Lake martin 100 was no exception.
2017 was the 4th annual Lake Martin 100 Mile Trail Race and 5th annual LM50 Mile and 27 Mile Fun Run. For the first time our finish rate in the 100 went over 50% with 42 of 75 starters completing the 100 miles. The course is beautiful, following small creeks for miles and some sections along the shores of the lake. The race is entirely on the private lands of the 20,000 + acres of the Russell Forest Trail System. The course is about 85% single track trails and 15% Carriage Paths and gravel roads that do not allow cars. The only paved section is a short paved trail leading to and from the Cabin Aid Station. There is absolutely nothing technical anywhere, at least by Alabama standards. What it does have are hills, Lots of hills! They are all small, with only a few exceeding 100 ft. in height and even fewer could be considered steep. But those hills never stop. Quoting Karl Meltzer, “the hills are RELENTLESS!” All those little hills add up to about 13,000 ft. of elevation gain.
This year we had the best weather yet with a little light rain falling at the start. The rain ended before noon and the rest of the race was dry and cool. The good weather contributed, but I think the primarily reason for our high finish rate was that so many of our runners had run one of the Lake Martin races before and knew how deceptive the course can be. We also spent a little time at the prerace meeting reminding runners to go much slower on that first lap than they feel like they need to.
This year we had 235 starters in all three races. We still had a lot of runners drop down to a shorter distance but that’s fine with us. If you enter the 100 but only make 50 miles, you did run 50 miles after all, and you are still a 50 Mile finisher. This is true in all Southeastern Trail Runs race. We reward runners for he miles covered. Due to the easy access to virtually any point on the course, we have no qualifying requirements to run any distance at Lake Martin including the 100.
Aerial Shots of Russell Crossroads, Heaven Hill and the 27 Mile Start.
Looks like everyone is ready for the start - And the start.
Runners on the first lap coming into the Cabin Aid Station.
Just some of the AWESOME Volunteers that help out at Southeastern Trail Runs Races. Most are BUTS members.
And Exactly What is Jonathan Wearing???
The BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society) Aid Station at Heaven Hill is READY! And here come the runners.
Some of our 50 Mile and 27 Mile finishers and award winners.
It was a very LONG, COLD Night at the Cabin Aid Station and Heaven Hill Aid Station. The fires helped.
Just a few of our 100 Mile Finishers. We are so proud of every finisher. Congratulations.