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!)