I earned my ultra merit badge

Categories: 50k   race   run   trail   ultra   Uncategorized

Our motley crew of adventurers left Braselton, GA to Moulton, AL on Friday afternoon for the 2009 running of the Black Warrior 50K.

After a late start, and sufficient grief given to a certain member of the party who loves his job so much he couldn’t bear to leave, we hit the road. Starting with a 1/4 tank of gas, it was barely enough to get us to South Fulton county. The first exit we hit on I-20 advertised gas, so we hopped off figuring it was time for a rest break. Our eyes were quickly drawn to the left, where a plethora of homeless people were wandering about, and thoughts of this not being the best area of town ran through our mind. The first gas station we pulled into was deserted, except for the kind gentleman in a knit cap who tried to get us to roll down the window and sell us some drugs. (I suppose he could have just been trying to give us directions, but that seemed unlikely.)

Needless to say, we moved to the next gas station, which we were glad to see had cars, and people, in it. I guess this is a lesson learned-if there is no one at a gas station, but it’s open, there might be a good reason. The restroom was an experience, and Mark had never been to one where he had to get a key that had huge thing welded to it. (To prevent people from walking off with it.) They had a bunch of half empty bottles of beer in there, and some full ones, but being as I was driving, I chose not to indulge. The bulletproof glass surrounding the cashiers, the paramedics helping some drug addicts and blonde in the car looking really happy she had a big dog with her all added to the ambiance of the gas station.

Hitting the road again, the next stop was proved to be pretty boring in comparison. The big decision was what fine brew to get-Bud Light, Coors and Schlitz were all contenders, with Bud winning out. (Note: Alabama is not known for its vast selection of Microbrew.)

Heading up US 78 into Jasper was pretty boring, until we hit Walker County. Rounding a bend in the road, suddenly we started seeing some Bingo halls. Now, I’m not talking you average church with a sign out front saying “Bingo this Friday”, but actual establishments devoted to this fine game of skill. And when I say we saw some, that really means we saw hundreds. With Spotlights. And huge inflatable guerrillas’. And they were almost all packed. The parking lots were overflowing, and people pouring into them. What could this possibly be, we asked?

We stopped for dinner at Jim and Nick’s BBQ, and while waiting for a table, I promptly asked. “Are y’all from around here? What’s the deal with the bingo?” Well, the lady started laughing, then got her husband (who was walking in) at answer. Apparently, about 20 years ago, this county got legislation passed that allowed them to run bingo. (Nowhere else in the state allows this.) Then, a few years ago, when the electronics got fancy, they turned the bingo into slot machines. So this isn’t really bingo, per-se, but just a bunch of casinos. Enlightened, we had a good dinner. The waitress was great, and she brought us a bunch of extra muffins to take home so we’d have breakfast in the morning. They would have been really good, had we not forgotten them sitting on the table.

As usual, our resident bargain hunter found us a vacation rental to stay. Unlike a previous trip, he actually got directions to the place ahead of time, so we felt like we’d have no problem finding it. However, once we got to Arley, it proved a little humorous to follow “go to the grocery store, which has really good meat, then continue to a county road and turn right. Go around the bends and across a bridge to you get to another county road. There is a white trailer…” Well, we found the place and managed to make it the mile down the rough dirt road, and parked next to the quaint cottage. Yes, my friends, this was the finest luxury to be had, all packaged in a single-wide trailer.

(Actually, for $60 a night for the group, it was great. And they had a nice deck and fireplace outside. We would have enjoyed the lakefront, had we been spending more time there.)

Saturday found us waking up early ready to go at 5:30 for the 45 minute drive to the start. Unfortunately, it due to various factors outside the drivers control, it took us longer and we got there about 20 minutes before the race started, just enough time to check in and change.

The start was a new experience for yours truly. Everyone was talking, and someone was up front trying to give last moment instructions, like there was actually a chance that we could hear them. Then, suddenly, it was really quiet, and it was heard: “And in Jesus’ name”, [response #1] “Amen” and [response #2 a brief second later] “Uh, I’m guessing I’m the only Jew here.” Then we were off.

The course started up a long dirt road climb for a couple miles, then we turned into the woods where the fun began. As we quickly found out, it had rained lately, so there was mud-aplenty. I managed to stay dry for the first mile of it, then with one misplaced step, my left foot was sucked in, and I resigned myself to wet shoes for the next 28 miles. (I was expecting it to happen at some point, so not really a big deal.) In this time, there was a lot of trying to get around the mud, balancing on logs and general sidestepping that I wasn’t remotely prepared for, but a real good time. I hung with my friend David on and off for the first 10 miles, and Angela, a local who was doing the 25K. (I kept hearing her behind me, so I’d turn with the camera thinking she’d be face first in the mud, but no…she actually stayed clean up until we split ways.)

The course had 3 official water crossing. The first (which was also the third) it was possible to get across without plunging in. How do I know this, you might ask? David was kind enough to yell that to me. Unfortunately, I was ½ way across by the time I comprehended what he was saying. Oh well…trail shoes dry pretty fast. The second crossing was about mile 20, and the guys at aid station 3 said it was about knee deep. I was depressed getting there and seeing it was only ankle deep, since I was thinking a good soak would hit the spot. I thought sitting in a deep spot to soak in the frigid water, but decided against it since there wasn’t anyone around to help me back up.

Speaking of aid stations, the first 3 were really good. Everyone was friendly and very helpful. At aid station 2, they offered me plenty of s-caps and advil, but sadly, they didn’t have any Viagra. Yes, I asked, and got to see the little old lady blush and wonder whatever I was thinking. (I did eventually explain that it’s the current doping drug because it helps carry extra oxygen and thins your blood. At least I think I explained…) I felt bad for the guys at #3, since they were in the middle of a controlled burn area, and were stuck breathing smoke all morning. If they had marshmallows, they would have been set though, because a tree was burning furiously about 200 feet from their table. It was hot enough that I actually got off the path to go around. Aid station 4 was a second trip through #2. They still didn’t have any blue pills for me but they were in good spirits.

One thing I learned afterwards is that the trails are groomed every 5 years. This year is the next time around, so come sometime this summer, the trails will be repaired with all the ruts and holes filled in. I imagine this will make it a very different race next year.

The journey to Aid #5 was not a highlight of my day.

For the first few miles of that portion, I was with Jon. He was part of a relay team, and made a wrong turn, causing him to run an extra 4 miles or so as he looped back to aid #4. I was going to give him a hard time about the Navy not teaching him some land navigation (something we learned that in the Army) but since he’s headed back to Iraq in a month, I decided not to. Getting to where he turned wrongly before, I can see how he did it (a sign had fallen) but since I recognized the turn from earlier, I knew the right direction to go.

Not long after that, he was feeling good and took off to make up some time. I ran out of water and my blood sugar plummeted. I continued running walking. And running walking. And running walking some more. It was a very long 6 miles, which had I more water, would have been easy and pleasant. Believe it or not, of all the people on horses I saw, none of them had a pizza and beer for me. Sheesh, the nerve of them.

Eventually, I did make it to 5, and sucked down the last 6 ounces of Gatorade they had. I also had about 15 mini-candy bars, instantly fixing my blood sugar. The whole Runners Fit team was there, clanging the cowbell, snapping pictures and cheering me on. It was great! (And the folks working the aid station were really nice, even with the bad jokes, which I was in good enough condition to appreciate.)

From there, an “easy” 2 miles down the hill to the finish line, and I was done. 8:17:32.

Not bad for a first 50K. From there, we proceeded eat, shower, and eat some more.

Overall, I was happy with the first 2/3 of the race, and was well ahead of schedule for what I was hoping for.  That last 1/3 took a long time, having left Aid 4 with 5:40 on the clock.  (I hit Aid 3 right at 4 hrs on my watch, which was probably 4:15 by the official clock.  Aid 1 and 2 I didn’t notice the time.)

Written on February 24, 2009