Pisgah 50k - September 13, 2009
The Pisgah 50k has slowly become my second “home course” when it comes to ultra’s. Not only is it the closest ultra to me, but it’s the one I’ve done the second longest. What started out as a bet/dare between my father and I(to do two ultra’s in two weekends) 7 years ago, grew into a September tradition. This year would be no different as He and I would yet again, toe the line together. This year we’d have a bit more company then in the past though. Loni was going for her second finish in two tries at the 50k distance.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Sunny and in the mid 70s. A complete 180 from the rain and cold we had last year. I couldn’t have been in higher spirits when at the start I got to catch up with Dave, Mike, John, Nate and the rest of the familiar faces. Loni was described as having a “deer in the headlights” look about her.
With the standard speech and the simple “ready GO” commands down the pavement we went. Rik and I quickly realized that today was a nice slow jog in the woods as our paces were both faster then loni’s so we were able to throttle back. Perfect I figured, I being severely undertrained and Rik still nursing his nagging leg and foot pains. The first stretch of the course is always misleading because it’s a nice long slow grade into the park. And every year I have to catch myself and slow down, because as much fun trucking down the hills are at this stage of the race, it always seems to come back to haunt you hours and miles later. 3-4 familiar faces match our pace and Rik and I tell our horror stories of how about 50% of the time we’ve run here we’ve been stung repeatedly in this stretch. As one would expect we receive looks of horror. After the first aid station at mile 4 our small pack starts to spread out. One of the pack that didn’t burn off ahead was a first timer named Martin. He had recognized me (kinda) from my dirty girl gators and that he’d seen me a few times at the WNHTRS. He was a semi local shorter distance runner that was trying his cards at an ultra. He seemed like he was holding a lot back, but at this point in the day, it was probably the smartest thing he could have done.
As the miles melted away I would run back and forth between the pack with Rik and Loni who occasionally would fall further back. She’s certainly improved a lot in the past year, but she still hasn’t gotten the ultra walk down so we’d pull away on the climbs. At one point we caught up to a Terri Hayes, a sweet southern woman from South Carolina and she spoke of how she’s the RD of many small time ultra’s down her way. As we spoke she mentioned how she’d been doing ultras for over 20 years and figured she was somewhere around 300 finishes. It was nice to run with her, she spoke of how she was envious of me and my father running together and how she couldn’t convince any of her children or grandkids to carry her torch when she quits. I tell her at the pace she’s running she’s still got plenty of years left on the trails to convince them. As much as it was sad that she isn’t able to do so, it really made me happy and lucky that I have that ability myself. The positive thoughts carried us back over Chestnut hill to the 17 mile aid station at the base of Pisgah itself.
Rik starting to feel his sugar dropping gets in and out of the station quickly and disappears down the trail. I restock my supplies and warn loni to do the same knowing the hardest climb over the mountain itself is next. Normally this stretch is long and grueling but today, with a cup of coke and as many fig newtons and oreos I could stuff into my mouth and hands it cruised by. I picked up a stick to use as a hiking staff and power hiked to the top. Stopping every minute or so to make sure loni was still moving. I had expected to catch Rik before the summit but he was already ½ mile down the decent when we caught up to him. He was really starting to crash now. This stretch is where he had locked up last year and had turned the afternoon into a death march. I did my best to make sure he was taking his salt and drinking fluids to get him out of the low. Loni however, who had been behind us all day darted ahead on the pond loop. Although she’s still a novice to the distance, her exposure to the events has left her with a veterans mind. Knowing well aware of the highs and lows of the race she decided to take advantage of the high. It took Rik and I about 2 miles to slowly reel her in. When we did we saw that she had caught up to Martin and the 4 of us shared the next few miles. He looked to be in fantastic spirits and shape for being 20+ miles into his first 50k. After we gave him the scoop on what lied ahead and a few salt tabs he took off down the trail. Now it was loni’s turn for her low, so the pace started to slow to what felt like a crawl. But, we were still moving, and the sun was shining, so I couldn’t have been happier. When we got back to the Killborn Pond Aid station we were told that there were 10 runners behind us. I didn’t believe them, but I was pumped to find out we weren’t the unofficial sweepers. Loni seemed in good spirits as I told her that there was no turning back now. There’s no aid until the finish, nor is there a quicker way to finish other than the 2 trails and road that the course followed back to the fire station. We made quick work of the first climb, and then trotted along the snowmobile trail. Noticing how much work they’d done to widen and change the path. The woods had slowly started to reclaim what was just destroyed last year. Then it happened, Rik took his eyes off the trail for one second and caught his foot on a root. Ordinarily, not a huge deal, he caught himself as he was falling. Unfortunately for him, his salt balance wasn’t right and this trip and catch subsequently turned into a rock hard calf muscle cramp exactly what he ran into last year. Loni watched in horror as he yelped in pain. I did my best to help him stretch his cramp out as fast as I could but the damage was done. At 29 miles and 7 hours into a day when you get a cramp like that it’s pretty darn debilitating and our pace continued to slow. As we passed the gate leaving the park, marking the 1 mile to go mark, we passed John the school teacher. It seems like every year I run this or VT he and I cross paths and some point. We don’t stay together long as I state that I can smell the BBQ and I’m ready for a burger and try to push the pace. Rik gingerly running now as to not re-cramp his leg, and Loni, still trucking along at what seems to be the exact same pace as her first mile. At about ½ a mile to go there is a group of people towards the end of their picnic in their front yard. A few still have numbers on, I assume locals that had perhaps run the shorter race. Rik calls for a beer and one of the guys come over and hands it to him. I laugh and tell loni, watch this, this is going to be like Pop-eye and spinach. She watches in disbelief as he gulps down half of it on the last little climb. “Apple don’t fall far from the tree now does it,” is the only comment I could muster.
As we trot around the last turn w:e can see the finish line, Rik and I hold up and let loni lead the way down the shoot. Official times 8:02:10 and 8:02:13 Not too bad. We took 15 minutes off of loni’s PR from the VT50 last fall and this course is much harder. Rik had survived injury free, aside from the tweaked muscle. I had just enjoyed a day in the woods with my family. I felt amazing. Fatigue sure, but that was it, no pains, no tweaks, no nothing. Sure, you can say I could have run it a lot faster, but in reality, they’ll be another day to run faster, never know when I’ll get another chance to run with my family.