After taking a week or so off from Panther Creek, I developed my training plan and for 14 weeks leading up to the race, I was running 3 days a week, one of which was my long run which started at 8 miles and crescendo-ed at around 24 miles two full weeks prior to the event. Long and arduous were those long runs, but in the end they definitely paid off.
Race day was finally upon me and that evening I finally made it to bed just shy of midnight. That evening, it was all I could do to keep myself calm. Until our little rug rat went to bed I was keeping myself busy helping Robin with evening chores and playing with Boo mixed in with getting things ready for the morning. I got my pack all ready, water bladder full and in the fridge, drinks for the half way point and afterwards mixed and ready, extra fuel in a bag to leave in the car for the half way point, extra clothes in case I needed to change shirts or socks, etc and of course something to change into after the day was done.
Norris Dam State Park, of course that was after telling Robin goodbye while she slumbered a couple more hours, only to have to deal with Boo most of the morning and afternoon by herself. Of course Kiddo was home but you know teenagers, late to bed, late to rise. I wouldn't see them again until I approached the finish line.
Knoxville Track Club
Knoxville Track Club
Not more than a quarter mile into the trail, we came to a stone culvert that crossed the trail and my foot struck it, it just as quickly slipped off it and down on my butt I went. Thankfully there were small trees and brush all around for me to grab onto and pull myself back up, otherwise I would have slid down the embankment straight into the lake. Other than my butt cheek and my pride being a little sore, I was quickly back up on my feet thanks to the fellar behind me, and I was back at it. Little did I know, that fall would plague me later on.
A mile or so into it, we were on the lake view trail and the trail itself widened a bit. That's when I decided to slow my pace a bit and let the group behind take the lead. I kept them in my site for another mile but it wasn't much longer before I wouldn't see them again until the passed me going back out for the reverse loop. A good two miles or so into I had a couple of runners behind me, Connie from Indiana, and John from around the Chattanooga area. When Connie first got in behind me, I moved over to let her pass but she was content to stay at my pace.
It was great having them for company as we ran the next 6 or so miles together. It was around the 5 or 6 mile mark, shortly after the first aid station that the course through me for another loop. Where I though we would go up Upper Clear Creek Road to the Boundary Trail, we instead crossed the road and straight onto a single track that I hadn't noticed before. It's a good thing someone was there to point us in the right direction otherwise I would have had us taking a scenic loop and costing us precious time. As we made our way to the Boundary Trail, John started dropping back. Connie and I continued to stick together.
Down Boundary Trail we ran, keeping a pretty steady pace. I was feeling pretty good and new that I would either make the cutoff without any issues, or I would die out there from keeping too fast a pace. It was on the Belmont trail that the next unfamiliar stretch was presented to me. Instead of running out onto the gravel road again, we detoured off Belmont and onto another section of single track that I've never noticed before. Luckily we spotted the flags right off. It was on this short stretch that we did lose our way for a second as we continued straight at one point where we should have turned to the right. Luckily it didn't take us but a few seconds to realize we went off course and got back on the right track. We were cruising down hill like mad. There were 4 or 5 us total trailing each other down this portion of the trail until we came to the mud slide.
It was here that I began to run on my own and this time on another unfamiliar trail. The Sinkhole trail eventual led me out to the Red Hill trail that I was familiar with. I continued on feeling pretty good still and still confident that I would make the 3:30 cutoff for the reverse loop. Up Red Hill I continued and another runner or two passed me. After Red Hill, it was down White Pine to Clear Creek trail which I knew would be gravy. Of course after this would be the grinder of Ridge Crest to Freeway to Longmire.
I made it up Ridgecrest and managed to pass two runners on the way up, of course the leaders of the 50K started to pass by me in the opposite direction as I marched upward and onward. I finally made it to Freeway to find much to my delight that we didn't have to go down Freeway but rather up Freeway. Even brighter was that once I made back to High Point trail I quickly discovered that going up or down Longmire was not even part of the course this year. I had the cutoff in the bag.
I made it back to the pavilion in 3:05 and some odd seconds. I made my way to the car so that I could refill my bladder with water, take on some Gatorade, throw down some Pringles, stuff the pockets of my vest with more Honey Stinger gels and waffles, eat half of a large Snickers bar, and change my shirt before I was heading back out onto the trail. 16 miles down, 15 to go, and in the reverse direction.
Knoxville Track Club
I suppose it was the combination of Gels and Electrolyte drink, of course it could have also been my inability to go number 2 before the race started, but I got the first of a lower GI cramp pain, that I thought I'd be able to get over pretty quickly if only I let one rip. Of course it was a lot easier thought of than done. I actually had to stop and try. Of course once I did a felt better and continued onward. I guess I was about 17 to 18 miles in at this point, but the pains kept coming and kept slowing me to a walk and then to stopping each time. Finally about 20 miles in, I thought I would try to alleviate the problem once and for all and off the trail I went.
After some cheers for a successful ascent, there I was walk up the trail, all alone and no one in site. My fight with the inner demons began. I pretty much had to walk this whole section of trail until I made it back out onto Belmont. Even after that it looked alien to me even though I've run this section in this direction at least 4 times during my training. After cresting the uphill of Belmont I was slogging again with that knee talking to me. I somehow managed to make to Boundary trail. Here I knew it was another mile or so before I'd see my next aid station.
Onward I kept, a combination of walking and zombie running, and all alone for the time being. About three quarters of the way through the Boundary trail and another runner was approaching from behind. It was at that moment, a rock decided to poke itself out of the ground and grab my foot. I was safe from the throw from left field. The runner asked if I was okay as he approached. The only thing hurt this time was what little shred of pride I had left. I dusted myself off, and the other runner and I moved forward once more. What's the term? Relentless forward progress? As Robin would say, if I fall on my face I'm still moving forward.
John, the other runner, a different John at that, and I kept up with each other for a good bit. We hit the single track trail off Boundary looking forward to the upcoming aid station before the final 5 mile stretch to the finish. Just moments after entering the trail, John's foot got snagged on a small tree stump from out of no where and down he went. I was behind him and quickly helped him up to his feet as any good trail runner should. We moved forward once more. John was a bit taller than I and had easily left me behind by a couple of hundred yards, of course my knee was talking to me a bit louder, not yet screaming at me.
We popped out on Upper Clear Creek Road, crossed over to High Point trail and was finally at the last aid station of the race. We both stopped to refuel and catch a bit of a breather. My knee was needing it. Alas it was time to move on and get this thing done. John and I took turns leading the other for a couple of miles. We eventually caught another runner and for a few minutes it was three of us. At one point I had to drop back because of my knee and my gut was starting it's thing again and again I worked my way through it. It took me another mile or so before I caught back up with the other runner that John and I caught. His name was Dale. We wouldn't see John again until we crossed the finish line. I ran with Dale for a few minutes but he was slowing now and I was determined to finish, trying my damnedest to beat 7 hours.
I was rapidly approaching the Tall Timbers trail when a welcome sign beamed like a light from heaven. It was point it's way up the Tall Timbers trail towards the cabin area trail head. This was the route we were to take to the finish rather than down Tall Timbers to Christmas Fern Trail and the stairs. Someone was watching over me after all. My knee didn't matter anymore, my gut was the last thing on my mind. All I could think about was getting to the road to the finish so that I could see my girls there waiting on me. Sure enough passed the Tea Room, passed the playground and around the corner, there was Robin with camera in hand to capture the moment I finished my first 50K. I am now and ultra marathon runner. Kiddo and Bug waited in the car as Bug had just woke up from a nap and would have been a handful trying to keep her from heading straight for the playground.
Robin got me food, drink, a fresh shirt to put on and some ibuprofen to down. I sat there in pain and in glory of having finished the race. I talked with Dale and John both as we all waited for the last couple of runners to come in. Finally, I felt good enough to move again, and Robin helped me to the car. She had kiddo drive me home while her and bug followed behind in the other car.
It was a great day, a great feeling, and a great race. I finished in 7:19:08, 20th overall out of 23 and 10th out of 11 in my age group. I am now hooked and look forward to see what I can endure next.
P.S. A special thank you to the Knoxville Track Club and all the volunteers for making this race and the Treadin Trodden Trails series such a kick ass trail series. You guys rock.
Here's the course track and elevation profile for those interested. Not sure to total elevation gain but it's somewhere in the ballpark of 2500+ft.