Last Thanksgiving Bill and I decided to stay in Charlotte instead of making the trip down to Georgia to visit his family. I’d signed up for the Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K and after that race I idly browsed the net to see if there was anything similar going on near Bill’s home town over Thanksgiving week. There was. I was stunned to read about a 50k ultra marathon being held at Bartram State Forest, and only a short ten minute drive from my inlaws house. Milledgeville is a town famed for its prison, juvenile detention centre, mental institution and military academy. Despite several visits I didn’t even know they had any trails in the area. This was an exciting development.
Cogs began to whir and quietly my next ultimate running goal began to form. If a 2010 Thanksgiving trip to Georgia was in order you bet I was going to be spending the following Saturday running loops around the Bartram State Forest. So what if my longest run at that point was an 8k?! I had a whole year to figure the other 42 out.
Fast forward to the end of this Summer and I was eagerly checking the race website and Google for any updates in information and was sad to learn that the race was endangered. The race director had too much on his plate this year and the race was on the cusp of being a wash. I came across a blog that indicated that the writer might have more information as he was considering stepping up as race director to ensure the race did not falter. I contacted Tim Cook to find out more. His reply was a big relief. Yes, substitute RDs were in place and the race was still on.
So it was that on November 27th Bill dropped me off in the cold with the other gathering runners and left me to run my first ultra.
To cover 50k for this race I had to run a 5.25 mile course six times. When I arrived there were already little clusters of runners getting a head start on their races and making their way through the miles. The Bartram 50k is a low key event and an early start was allowed and even encouraged as long as runners kept track of their own times, runners honour. I decided to stick with the main gang and wait for the official start.
The race course was somewhat varied in terrain. It was enough not to be too boring but there was nothing really technical to worry about. There was a fair bit of running on wide lanes covered in large fist size gravel chunks but after reccying the first loop it was possible to steer a fairly unconvoluted path by sticking to the edges and running along the grass borders. Though of course that could hide other obstacles amongst the scrub. I was glad I chose to wear my Mizuno Ascend 4s and not my VFFs for this one because my feet would have been very unhappy on this trail.
Once down the initial gravel path and across a dam the first maybe half mile was on single track but once through that it was wide paths through the planted trees.
There was a lot of running on grassy track which really made me feel like my legs were made of concrete and that I was running through silt. I’m recalling various sandy patches along the route too. Footing was pretty appalling with overgrown tufts concealing hidden potholes, ruts and rough ground. The lack of elevation on this course was clearly made up for in scrubby footing.
Drainage seemed to be really good at the site. It poured with rain the day before but the trails were still in great nick and surprisingly there were no puddles to slosh through come race day.
All in all conditions and course were prime for a good long run in the woods. I was optimistic. I was optimistic for all of 1.1 miles, yes 1.1 miles. 1.1 miles is exactly the point where I was happily running along on what was probably the smoothest, easiest stretch of the whole course and then suddenly took a tumble. My foot caught something, I took a dive.
If only someone had been standing there with a camera I think it would have been quite impressive. I full on hurtled to the ground, rolled back onto my feet and was off running again before my brain had even processed what had happened. A few steps later I stopped to do a systems check and initially felt alright. A little shaken and my hip felt jarred but I seemed okay. I carried on running, but after a few more miles it became apparent that my hip had taken a knock and it got more and more painful to run. I was running, but very gingerly, and trying not to push it.
I was running along one row of planted trees and feeling really sad as each front tree had a plaque with a name and some dates on it. The dates were only a few years apart and I was thinking they must be commemorating some infant deaths, and morosely thinking about such young lives lost. Then I realised that I was running through Governor’s Grove and actually the dates were terms of office! Phew!
I don’t generally run trail with an ipod but I’d stowed it in my pocket for this race as I was anticipating some mental boost might be welcome as I ran the final loops. As early as lap 2 I pulled it out, hoping it would stop me from over analysing my aches. I didn’t feel like being blasted with music or want to take too much away from the trail so decided a voice in my ear would be good company and distraction. I stuck on a 3 Non Joggers pod cast. and spent the next couple of laps with the two ultra runners and a mailman (the ultra fellas run, they don’t jog, and the mailman does neither) sharing tales of their past exploits in my ear.
Still, I was maintaining between a 9 and 9:30 pace and come the halfway point I was hurting but still on target to equal or better my Medoc marathon time, and aiming for a sub 5 finish if I kept at it. Not too shabby considering.
But then the fourth lap arrived and kicked my arse. It was all I could do to get around that one and I was wondering if I’d even finish at all. I actually pulled out the mobile and called my husband on this lap to give him a heads up that I had fallen and might have to drop. You know you are hurting when you look at your Garmin and it says 15 min pace and you are running as hard as you can, and you are good with that. It was pretty bad.
I’m pretty stubborn though so I kept on trucking as best I could. If I could finish one more lap I had the option to at least walk away having completed the marathon instead. That thought spurred me on and I caught a second wind. I tried to up the pace a bit and got a bit more of a groove back. Blotting out the discomfort and screaming hip flexors, somewhere along lap five I was back in the game again. I was back to running, out of the pit and really running. All was well. I was passing people, charging past tired walkers ambling up the only hill to speak of and I tore my way up through the rest of that lap.
A photographer caught me along one stretch and commented she was impressed that I was still smiling at this point. I threw myself into the grass and pretended to grimace and crawl my way along the trail for her instead.
I pushed on through to get to the marathon point in about 4:20. So I was actually only 11 mins off my Medoc time. Not too bad considering.
I could’ve been happy with that, but oh no! Did I mention that I’m stubborn? Once at marathon point I only had one more lap to go and could taste the 50k finish now.
There were two aid stations. One was out on the loop and unmanned, the other was an impressively stocked smorgasbord of runner’s fuel and treats at the picnic shelter which marked the start and end of each lap and which turned into race HQ central for the day. Volunteers cooked cheese toasties and provided all manner of other goodies for competitors.
After my longest refuel at this aid station I trotted off again. It was great knowing that every step past the marathon took me into ultrarunning land and a PR no matter what happened. That was pretty inspiring.
Once I’d stopped at the aid station though it was really hard to get going again. I walked and staggered up through the single track section and gradually I got my legs back in gear. After that the show was back on again.
Somewhere along the final few miles I was passed by a lady who looked like she’d just stepped out of gym class, maybe a little light yoga before going for a jog in the woods. She just merrily skipped past me, sauntered down the trail and I followed her in to the finish.
Bill, Sam and Bea were there waiting for me and I was so excited to see them and get hugs I almost forgot to run through the finish line and had to be shouted at.
1) Robert Lewellen 39 M 4:15
2) Michael Walcott 55 M 4:41
3) Jonathan Gillette 44 M 4:51
4) Ashley Walsh 24 F 5:24
5) Kay Allen 34 F 5:29
Little did I know Miss Straight Out Of The Gym was running the 50k too and had just nabbed the position of first place lady from me! I had no clue that I’d even been running in first so when she told me and gave me a high five after I crossed the line that was a shock too. I rather wish I’d known out there on the trail! I doubt it would have reversed the placements but it might have got me moving a bit quicker and more determined than I was! One downside to the relaxed approach to timing for this run is that it was hopeless to know where other people might be on the course or who started earlier than the official start time. Some people were even running the course backwards as that didn’t seem to matter either as long as the miles were covered. Saying that, the whole feel to this race is less of a time trial against others but more of a fun run in the woods after Thanksgiving with emphasis on personal effort and enjoyment, and that is the whole charm of the small town Bartram Winter Trail Run. Thumbs up.
The ladies winner, Ashley Walsh, actually went on to run her first 100 mile ultra three weeks later on the same trails (read her pacer’s recap). That’s 18 loops of Bartram State Forest. Brutal and nicely done. Yeah, I guess that explains her ease!
Second Place Lady! – Finishers receive a gingerbread man.
Enjoying a wade in the icy lake waters after the run. That felt superb.
Bye bye Gingerbread Man! *munch*
Hello Kay Allen, Ultrarunner!