Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Race Series, A Race Director, A Race, And Race Friends

"Buy the ticket, take the ride" - Chris in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when he realizes he is way over his head

As I've mentioned several times in these posts, I'm not a big fan of writing race reports (though I do enjoy reading them, especially from folks that I know). So, with that said, I am NOT going to write a race report of my 50k trail run yesterday, but just try to reflect on some of the thoughts I had before, during, and after.

This has been a rather long several months with races plastered on my calender because of a new Southeastern Trail Series that began this year. A good friend, David Tosch, decided to put together this series as a way to boost trail running around the Birmingham area. Now, David, you have to understand, is a very quiet, humble runner who has done (at least) the Pinhoti, Leadville, and Grindstone 100's. He also goes out of town to do stage races, shorter ultras, and backpacking trips. When he's not doing that, he'll fly out of town just to volunteer at some 100 mile race (I know he was at Leadville this year). He never talks about it, so you have to squeeze this out of him like squeezing juice from a lemon! I have been doing ultras for many years (make that many, many) and most of them have been in the Southeast. Basically, you would see the same cast of characters at all these races, whether they be in Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, or Alabama. Back in the 80's, 90's, and early aught's, there were very few Alabamians (except for the excellent Huntsville group) that would dive into these longer-than-marathon distances. We were a fringe group, even to ourselves. Even at the old BTC 50 Mile Runs held in the early 80's and in the early years of the Original Oak Mt 50k Trail Runs, put on by Scott and Jackie Parker, there were usually fewer than 10 local runners doing these (out of 100+ runners). 

So, along comes David and he says "By golly, I'm going to try to cattle prod this group of runners that I know is out there" (David doesn't really say "By Golly"). In 2012, he put on a Trail Run at Oak Mt State Park that had a 10k, a 50k, and a 12 Hour Run. It was run on a 3-mile trail we grizzled runners (well, me and my buddy Mohammed) call "The Sissy Trail". It's very lightly rolling, around a lake and never more than 3 miles from the super-stocked Aid Station. It was a huge success and raised money for Camp Smile-a-Mile, a local non-profit camp for children with cancer. New runners came on board thinking there's nothing to this trail running stuff and like that commercial, they started clamoring "We want more, we want more, but sometimes there's only less". So, David, and his super energetic wife, Marye Jo, seized the opportunity and set up the Southeastern Trail Series...supposedly a gradually increasing distance series of  7 runs in 7 months. I say supposedly because David also throws in some "extras" that are not in the "gradually increasing" category. The series officially begins in April with a hilly 3/6 mile run (you can sign up for the long or short series), but then, the 2nd in the series is the aforementioned Run4Kids run. Boom! 50k right off the bat (unless you choose the 12 Hour option). So, much for gradual. Then, he throws in an "extra" 9/18 mile run the week before one of the Series's 11/22 mile scheduled runs! Geez!! Yes, also getting hooked in are some new trail rookies that think "I want some of that", but have little idea of what "that" entails. And these courses are all very difficult with rocky climbs of an average of 100-125'/mile (10-12 story building!). And the Yellow/White Connector is legendary - this is David's baby - a 600+ ft climb up a very rocky single track over exactly one mile. The fastest I've ever done this climb is over 21 minutes, and I was shot to hell when I got to the top! This climb is in just about every one of David's races AT LEAST ONCE! Had it twice in the 50k yesterday. Ugh!!

Two other things about the race yesterday. 1) Last week I went up to OM for a training run. The leaves were so thick on the trail, I actually got off course for a mile and a half. That was ok, but I had never seen it that thick. Well, yesterday during the race, I noticed that for a couple of miles after each trail intersection it was raked! Turns out David had gone up there Friday to clear the trail - holy cow! 2) The quote of the day was from Kyle S. at the Peavine Aid Station (Kyle did a great job staying at the top of the mountain ALL day). There is a West Ridge Trail at the top of the ridge which is very windy. I had expected to run on it for about 2 miles and then cut down to a fire road, and have to cut back up a 1/4 mile hill towards the AS. But then, running on the WRT a little longer than expected, to my surprise, following the trail markers, all of a sudden I was joyed to see the Peavine Aid Station. I told Kyle my surprise, and his comment was "NEVER trust Mr. Tosch". It cut out one small hill, so thanks again, David!

Now, because of David taking the reins to flush out the local trail runners, a local group of trail guys & gals decided to form a loosely knit group called BUTS - the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society - as a takeoff on the Georgia group, GUTS. Well, BUTS has exploded and, although I don't have specific numbers, I'm sure their membership is well over 100 (probably bolstered by this year's no membership fee!). We now have shirts, hats, visors, stickers, and our own end-of-the-year Ultra, The BUTS Bearly Ultra, a 27 mile run at Red Mountain (the race fee will include membership for 2014). I don't believe all of this would have come together without the nudging from David. And in 2014, there will be another Trail Series with the addition of the Lake Martin 100, 50, and 27 mile runs in March. Wow! It's like a rock rolling downhill.

And so, yesterday, as the sun was setting on a cold, windy, cloudy day, I completed this year's Southeastern Trail Series. My ONLY goal was to beat the cutoff (sundown!), and I did that with about a half hour to spare. I wasn't last this time, but close. But, there at the finish were a few folks, but of course there was David and Marye Jo, clapping like I had won. Marye Jo's main concern was that the Red Beans and Rice might not be warm enough...I told her I would eat it raw, I was so hungry!

Thanks to all that had a part in the series, from the top to the bottom. I will definitely take part again next year as my mind still lives about 20 years younger than my body. I'm glad I can still do this stuff. I'm thankful for RD's like David and Marye Jo, and all the new friends I've made through BUTS. Now, time to put my feet up, have a beer, and get ready for the next trail.

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child save can change the world."