Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Augusta 70.3 Half Ironman Race Report By Timothy Pitt

The plan for this race began quite some time ago with some of my local Arab, AL training buddies.  It has been my experience that the best races always start out that way.  A group of friends planning, training, and completing an epic race together!!  So, up front I have to give a shout out to Joe Bennet, Ricky Morrow, Adam Goss, and the man, the myth, the legend: Mark Dummer!! 

The journey began on Saturday as we departed from Arab just shortly after 6am. We drove the five and a half hour trip without any problems and relatively few stops, which was impressive considering we were extremely well hydrated!!  We arrived at our hotel in downtown Augusta and got checked in.  We quickly headed over to the expo and even though it was busy it did not take very long for us to get checked in and pick up our packets and race chips. After a quick bite to eat we grabbed our bikes and headed down to the transition area for check in to leave overnight.  The transition was huge!!  Lots and lots of bike racks!! We took a few minutes and did a walkthrough of how the race would flow through and to get our orientation to our bikes down.  We all went and grabbed dinner together at a nice local restaurant down by the river walk.  Then it was back to the hotel to get everything ready for the race in the morning.

Race morning started at 4:45am EST.  We all went down to eat breakfast in the hotel at 5am.  I had a quick bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee.  You could feel the excitement of the race at breakfast as we all joked around as we ate.  We grabbed all of our stuff that we would need in transition and made the short walk to the host hotel to grab a shuttle down to the transition area.  The whole town was filled with people and bikes moving around getting prepared for the race start! We made quick work setting up all of our stuff.  They really squeeze those bikes close together in these large events.  After airing up my tires, placing my bottles of sports drinks on the bike, and setting out my bike and run shoes we all jumped back on the bus to head to the race start. 

The bus dropped us off and it wasn’t even 7am yet.  Mark was the only one of us who was in an early wave (7:48am).  Adam and Joe started about 10-15mins before Ricky and I who were in the same 9am wave.  We wished Mark well and the rest of us went back to the hotel to wait till 8am before heading back to the start.  After a few photos and seeing Joe and Adam start, Ricky and I hustled down to join our wave of 80-100 guys.  We fearlessly pushed our way to the front of the group and when it was our turn to walk out on the dock we found ourselves close to the center of the river!!

Figure 1: At the swim start. From Left: Adam Goss, Timothy Pitt, Joe Bennet, and Ricky Morrow.

Swim: At 9am on the dot the air horn sounded and we hit the water.  It was a non-stop fight in the water for the first 400-600 meters!! I got kicked and pushed like crazy! I just kept my head down and swam on.  This swim was fast, no doubt about that!!  It was down current with a wet suit and straight as an arrow. I bet I only sighted six times.  Before I knew it we had reached the boat dock!  I looked down at my watch as I was walking out and was in shock to see 26:xx!!  I hustled my way to the wet suit strippers and the ladies applying sun block. Swim Split: 27:04

Figure 2: 9am swim start wave. Ricky and I are sitting at the far end of the dock.

T1: It was a long run from the boat ramp to the bike! I hustled the best I could and got to the bike.  I threw on my helmet, socks, bike shoes, glasses, and race belt.  I ran with my bike all the way to the mount line. T1 Split: 4:16

Bike: It was great to be on the bike and heading out. We started with a slight head wind and the temps were a little cool.  I made quick work of my first bottle of sports drink and had it down before the 15 mile mark.  The bike course was nice with lots of rolling hills.  My only complaint was that it was very congested.  I tried to keep my effort in check and stay consistent. My goal was to try and average 20mph over the ride.  Over the course of the ride I pushed 5 gels down and 2 bottles of water from the aid stations.  The bike went very well for me and I picked up the pace over the last 15-20 miles with a slight tail wind that helped.  Bike Split: 2:46:55 (20.13 mph avg)

T2: I made quick work of T2. I was feeling pretty good and glad to be off the bike! T2 Split: 3:20

Run:  Ahh, the run. The best part!! I left T2 moving well and trying to make sure I did not get carried away in the first 5k of the half. I did not have a gps watch so I was just running off of feel being sure I was paying attention to my breathing.  The first mile marker I noticed was the 2 mile and caught a quick glance at the watch and saw I was averaging about a 7:15 pace so far and feeling great.  Unfortunately, I had some stomach issues show up before the 3rd mile. All said and done I had to make two quick stops before I made it to the 8 mile mark.  I lost 3-4 mins total to those stops, but I stayed positive noting that my legs felt great and I was moving well.  I came through the 10 mile mark, working harder than before, and noted I was just slower than a 7:30 average with only a 5k to go. For the first time I looked at my total elapsed time. I saw that I had 21-22mins until I hit the 5 hour mark!! I was already feeling bad and just quickly dismissed that thinking that 5k was too far to put that pressure on. I just kept pressing at the pace I had been running.  When I hit the 11 mile mark I knew it was still possible to break 5 hours, but it was going to hurt! I needed to run 6:45s or better and I was already hurting. Ugh!! I went for it!! I just ran as hard as I could, motivated knowing it was only 2.1 miles to the finish line.  Just like it had been since starting the bike, the course was crowded! Maybe even more than ever. I was weaving around people. Finally I made the final turn and saw the finish line. Once my eyes focused on the clock I saw I had a min to reach the finish line but it was still so far away (over a tenth for sure). I began sprinting as hard as I could. Would I make it?? Run Split: 1:38:24

I finished. It took about 20mins before my head came out of the clouds.  It was worth it. Finish time: 4:59:59!!  At the end of it all it really is about the friends and family that share in the experience with you. Without them it would be for nothing.  Thanks to everyone that was a part of the training and race!!

Each of us had great races!! Mark Dummer finished in 5:36:09 with Swim Split (28:09), T1 (5:48), Bike Split (2:48:52), T2 (5:04), and Run Split (2:08:16)!!  Joe Bennett finished in 5:38:41 with Swim Split (29:06), T1 (3:50), Bike Split (2:56:00), T2 (2:57), and Run Split (2:06:48)!!  Ricky Morrow finished in 5:44:31 with Swim Split (27:30), T1 (5:36), Bike Split (2:57:51), T2 (6:53), and Run Split (2:06:41)!!  Adam Goss finished in 6:03:38 with Swim Split (28:20), T1 (7:55), Bike Split (3:06:02), T2 (6:46), and Run Split (2:14:35)!!
Figure 3: Glad to be done!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ironman Augusta 70.3 by Dink Taylor

A very detailed and personal race report of my first Half Ironman. It is lengthy and some may find it a little boring, but here it is.

Back in February, I was browsing the web site for the Ironman Augusta. I decided since having the stroke that running alone was not good enough for this aging male. I must get myself in better shape. I can tell you that I did not browse long and in fact went straight to filling out the registration form. Before I could finish it, I decided I better become a member of USA Triathlon first. I had a feeling that I may need that Member number. So, I got the number and then finished the application for Augusta 70.3. This became my number one goal race for 2013.

I put in my credit card, $300, for a Half Iron Man I thought? Well they must be pretty proud of the name. Done. Registered. I just made the commitment despite not having a bike and not even having swum 50 yards in over 30 years. The thought of swimming 1.2 miles was very intimidating for me. I have absolutely no swimming back ground. I did have a rode bike back in 1987 but had not ridden the roads since 1988.

My original thoughts were to make Augusta my first Tri. I am glad that I nixed that idea. I am very thankful that I was able to start with sprint distance Tri’s in June and complete several Tri’s including Rocket Man. It was a perfect way for a beginner to work their way up to the Half distance and get some experience. I can tell you that being a beginner is hard work. Learning to swim is very difficult and I still have a lot to learn about the swim. I am being very patient.

Fast forward to September. I have remained focused on training. September has turned out to be my biggest month ever training. It is Thursday, September 26. My day started like most at 4am. First 30 minutes, core and upper body work at the gym. Next a 3 hour bike ride followed by a 45 min run. 4:15 of training for the day. Suzanne says, “Augusta is Sunday, aren’t you doing too much?” I am not sure just what all I said except, “I know that you are worried that I am doing too much, but I know what I’m doing.”

I am not a big fan of long tapers for races. I have found that they leave me feeling flat and out of rhythm. I like to train. I enjoy it. I train daily. I do take days off occasionally; in fact, I took one off on June 29, doctors’ orders. That is a whole other story and I would rather not even discuss it unless I absolutely have too. While I don’t like to take days off I do however take easy days and lots of them. I promised myself for Augusta that I would take it easy two days prior to the race.

Friday. I did an easy 30 min swim outside in the pool. The water was cold and it felt good. That was it. I definitely felt like this was a rest day, especially since I did not run. I typically run more than most triathletes. I usually run 7 days per week and sometimes 6 if I feel I need a break. Friday was also a pack and travel day. If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that you got to have a lot of “Stuff” to do these Tri’s.

We pick up the Skylor from school at 2:15pm and hit the road, 6 hour drive ahead. Immediately, the child starts complaining about going to yet another race. He is in the 7th grade and has now decided he wants nothing to do with any more travel and races, he prefers time with his friends. It became a constant battle for the next 3 hours. I was almost to the point of turning around and going back home. I felt like the stress of this situation was going to have a negative effect on the event that was my number one goal for 2013. It was draining my energy. Things eventually got better and I tried to encourage Suzanne to go back home on Saturday morning and I would find a ride back home after the race on Sunday. She would have nothing to do with that idea.

Saturday morning. I got up and went for a 3 mile run. Sunny and gorgeous with a nice crispness in the air. My legs felt a little flat. It was hilly and I just ran from the hotel. Since this was my first time to Augusta and had no idea where to run and since it was only a scheduled 25 minute run, why go to the trouble. I got the run done and felt better the last half mile. Now I started going into my relax mode. Yes, I still had to go get my race packet and take my bike to transition, but mentally I was going into relax mode. I just had two easy days in a row.

What better way to relax than a trip over to Starbucks? We sat outside, drank coffee, enjoyed the weather and then went to the Expo.

The expo was pretty big. We timed it just right. Not so early that we had to deal with the early goers and just before the lunch crowd. We had no wait. The race organization was very good. I got my race packet. Next I bought some Ironman 70.3 items. Why do I mention this? Because I just don’t buy much stuff at races! I have been running races since 1979 but I have never been to an Ironman event.

I got my bike over to transition. It was fun to see all the bikes. Lots of nice ones. My bike was the first one on my rack. I used this time to look around at the transition area. I checked out the exit of the swim, the bike out/in and the run out. I like to get myself very familiar with the transition area. This was the largest Ironman 70.3 race of them all; they took 3500 entries this year. I knew it was important to be familiar and not waste any time here on race day.

Next, I went back over to the river. I checked out the big orange buoys in the water. Each one was numbered; the last one was number 9. I made a mental note of this. The river looked wonderful but it was a windy day and the wind was strong blowing against the current. I thought, everyone has made a fuss about how fast this swim is, downstream and it was looking like just the opposite. I thought, just my luck.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a swimmer. It is without a doubt my weakest event. I stood and looked up river. I could not see the 1.2 miles back to the start. I took a picture with my phone and put it on facebook along with a few other pics. Lots of my friends were commenting on the pictures. I am also notorious for looking at swims and saying, “that swim looks long.” Dianna Cioppi sent me a message on facebook and said “don’t look at the swim, just swim.” That is exactly what I needed to hear to put this behind me and I continued to feel relaxed.

Suzanne decided we needed a light lunch since it was already getting late and we had an early dinner planned. Panera bread was perfect. It also gave me a place to pick up a bagel for breakfast. If there is one thing that is new to me in the triathlon world, it is food. What do I mean? I have never been a big eater. Food has always been unimportant to me and lots of times it is just plain ole inconvenient. Over 90 percent of what I eat is strictly for fuel not fun. I make healthy choices and I feel my diet is as about as good as anyone’s. Food has become more important to me since I started doing the Tri’s.  I am constantly hungry, thinking of what and where my next meal is coming from or what I am going to eat. I am consuming more calories now than at any other point in my life. I eat lots of fruits, vegetables, yogurt, lean cuts of meat once a week, chicken and lots of seafood. I definitely have been making the best eating decisions of my life.

We went back to the hotel. I wanted to relax and check out some of the Alabama football game. Auburn was off this weekend. Suzanne was going to make a trip to the grocery store and pick up stuff we had decided we needed or just forgot to bring with us. I don’t believe I have made it to a Tri yet with everything I needed, not once.

Dinner was at “The Pizza Joint” with the Fleet Feet Huntsville Tri 70.3 training group. Everyone was there and excited about the race. Everyone looked pretty nervous and tense, especially Melissa Johnson, sorry Melissa, you were a wreck! I was still relaxed. Call me crazy but I drank 4 beers. This is nothing new to me. I have 3 or 4 the night before every race, no exceptions. I have a routine. It consists of 3 and no more than 4 beers first, and then I eat dinner. I require no special dinners. I make healthy choices and eat whatever is available. I had vegetarian pizza on this night.

We got back to the hotel early. I turned the TV on football and cranked the AC down. I was already dozing off before 9pm. Although I went to sleep early, I did not sleep that well. Sleep for me is very inconsistent. I typically sleep well about 2 nights per week; this was not one of them. I sort of woke up around midnight and never slept sound after that. This does not bother or concern me. I take this time to just relax and rest my body; you can do this without sleeping. I got a good 3 hours first before the frequent wake ups starting occurring.

I had an alarm set for 4:30am. Of course, as usual, I did not need it and went ahead and got up just before 4am. I went through my usual routine. I had packed everything and had it ready to go the day before. All I had to do was get dressed and have my coffee. I usually have one or two cups and then that is it for me, no more caffeine for the day. I was anxious and ready to get over to the transition area and get my bike ready. I wanted to make sure my bike was ready to go before I ate breakfast. Coffee is my first priority and since I was a little nervous, I did not have an appetite.

I made it to transition by 5:30, two full hours before the pro’s would start and an additional 30 minutes before my start at 8am. I got to my bike and I already knew it was going to be a good day. The bike to my left was a no show and the two bikes to my right were no shows! I could not believe it. It was wall to wall bikes everywhere expect by me. Tim Pitt came rolling up and he said “They knew whose spot this was!” I was in disbelief that I had a lot of room to work with. I filled up my aero bottle plus two other water bottles below, water only. I decided that I was not going to depend on aid stations for my fluids. 3 bottles should be enough for me. I also loaded my snack box with GU. 6 Gu and roctane on the bike and a small container of sea salt. 2 GU by my running shoes for the run. My plan was for 8 total, 100 calories every 30 minutes from beginning to end.

I was fortunate to have Suzanne to drive me back to the start. I did not have to ride the buses. The walk to transition was long enough and I considered that enough warm up. We drove over to the swim start. I walked up to get my body markings, checked things out in reference to where we were parked. I was only parked about 100 yards from the start of the swim. It was still dark. Although I was not hungry, I ate my whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and honey; One Honey Stinger waffle and a bottle of water. I was ready to get my wet suit on.

What did I forget? My ear plugs and sunblock. I like ear plugs because they reduce the noise in the water. I usually swim without them anyway, so this was a minor detail. Sunblock. I forgot to bring it. Suzanne bought me some the day before on the grocery store run and I still forgot it. Another minor detail, I have trained all summer long and my skin could handle a day without it just fine. I do prefer to use it but it was not a factor on the sunny day.

I got my wetsuit on and got with my group. This would be the first Tri I have done that was not a time trial start. It was a group start and I really liked it. Ironman folks did a great job with this part of the race. You started with your age group. I had around 130 in my group #8. We all had lime green swim caps so you knew who was in your age division. What I did not know was that men 45-49 was so big that there were two groups of 130+ each.

We walked down the pier; it was a floating pier close to the water. We sat down on the pier, 60 across the front and one person stood behind. My goggles got something in them but they felt right. I was afraid to take them off so close to the start. An older man was standing on the pier, a volunteer. I walked up to him, grabbed the bottom of his shirt and ended up wiping the goggle lens off. He said “I hope that helps.” And it did. Vision was clear and fit was right.

I felt very relaxed before the start. The horn sounded and off we went. My goal was to get my stroke going and stay with it from start to end. I also wanted to keep a straight line. In the beginning I was getting kicked a little and a few guys were just getting in my way. I back off a touch and just let things clear out. It did not take long for me to realize that the entire fuse about the swim was true. I breathed to my left and saw buoy #3, I had just started and already did not see the first two.

Breathing to my right I could see the boat docks and houses just flying by. Being the slow swimmer that I am this just blew me away. I had my Garmin set to alert me at 1000 yards. It beeped and I glance on a breath and saw 12 minutes. I was in disbelief. I thought, I like this swim. Let’s do this. Sub 30 minutes in going to be in my range. 30 minutes was my “A” goal swim split. My projection came from past results, I saw where David Rawlings had done 30:59 and if there is one person I can out swim, it’s David. Sorry Dave.

I came out of the water in 28:10. 102nd in my age division. I knew the transitions were long but I had not done any research on just how long. I wanted to be on my bike at 32:30 (A goal) and I was exactly there. I got through transition fast enough without panic or being rushed. Since this was my first race over Olympic distance, I could only go on my training and feel for the ride. At all the sprints, you go hard and make the quads burn from start to end. I went out on the bike and rode comfortably hard. No quad burning.

I turned on my bike computer. My Garmin was set to alert me every 5 miles. This is how I train and I am more familiar with transferring minutes to MPH in my head. My bike computer was set on total bike time and MPH. This way I could get an idea of current MPH. The very first thing I did on the bike was take a GU. I had been told that things would be different at this event. The big dogs were going to be here and don’t expect things to be like back home at the local Tri’s. Since I am a slow swimmer, I typically get on the bike and pass from beginning to end. This Ironman event was not to be any different. I spent most of my time in the left lane passing. One thing that was different was I did get passed for the first time during the bike, I got passed twice. I resisted the temptation to race and stuck to my plan. I went through the first 1/3 of the bike at a little over 22mph and felt comfortable. The next 1/3 the roads were a little rough and there were a few hills. The side winds on some of the 40mph downhill’s were a little nerve racking. My goal on the bike was to stay in aero and pedal the entire 56 miles. I came out of the saddle one time briefly on the biggest hill. The middle part of the bike I averaged a little over 21mph and I was questioning my ride a little. Was I not riding well? Or being too conservative.

At 39 miles I decided I had to pee. I had been told to pee on the bike but I never had. The problem was I just could not pee and pedal at the same time. So, I found a big downhill, stopped pedaling and peed, right through my Tri kit, down my leg and right out of my shoes! I found this rather amusing. I finished right at the 40 mile marker and then decided that I had been taking it easy long enough.

One of the things that surprised me about the bike ride was not only did people try to draft off me when I passed but they also had pace lines going! I had never seen this before in a Tri. I stayed away from them and did not participate in any way. Another thing that made the bike ride fun was the men in my age group. If I passed them, they usually would try to pass me back. Some did, only the second time I passed them it was always for good, but it made the race a little more fun.

So, from 40-45 miles I averaged just over 25mph. I thought, now this feels more normal. Quads were burning a bit and the field was clearing out. By 50 miles I could not see another single rider. I was totally alone. My average for the last 1/3 of the bike ended up just over 24mph. The 56 miles was soon done at an average of 22.6mph. I was happy with that. I had moved from 102nd in my age division off the swim to 16th at the start of the run. My bike was the only one back in my section, this was a first. I knew I wanted to be starting my Half marathon run at right around the 3:05:00 mark and did.

The skies were sunny and 75 when the run started. I eased through transition, wiped my feet off, put socks on and made sure my laces were just right.  I went out on the run comfortable. I focused on relaxing, keeping my form smooth and finding my pace. I began passing tons of folks right off the start. They were throwing up, walking and having all kinds of problems. I was thinking to myself, Why do people kill themselves for a fast transition when all they are doing is throwing up and walking? Kind of confusing to me. An extra :30 in transition may save you 30 minutes on your overall time. I believe transitions should be quick but in complete control and smooth, no mistakes. Transition also allows you a quick little recovery time that may prove beneficial later in the run.
First mile, 6:20. My first thought was that was a little quick but it was not stressful at all, maybe even easy. Maybe it was wrong? Maybe I was excited to be on the run? Next mile 6:20’s. 3rd mile 6:32. I had originally thought my pace should be 6:48 per mile based on Andrew Hodges advice. I ran 6:48 pace at the Boston Marathon this year and he said that should be my run pace for 70.3 run. Mile after mile I continued to run no slower than 6:30’s. I decided that my “A” goal run time of 1:29 was not going to be a problem.

This course was extremely flat. It ran through downtown Augusta and had lots of spectators. It was also good because I could see Suzanne several times and she was feeding me information about my age division. She said “you are ahead of pace and you are plowing through your completion!” “You started 16th but you have already moved up to 9th.”You are making it look easy.” I was having fun. Every time I saw a guy with age 45-49 on the back of his leg in front of me, he became my next target. My original thinking was I may have a shot at top 10 in my age division if things went well. This really wasn’t important to me, finishing it with a good run time was, since I’m a runner.
When I started the second loop of the run, it got crowded. I was not happy about moving through the masses. I could no longer pay much attention to my age division competition because it was simply too crowded.  I also got worried about knowing where the turn to finish was. It felt like I was going to start a 3rd loop of the run. I did not want to start a 3rd loop!

11 miles into the run. All of my miles had been 6:20’s and 6:30’s. I was starting to feel tired for the first time. It was beginning to become real work. My 12th mile was 6:40’s, I thought damn, I’m crashing! The good news was I knew even if I slowed down I was not only going to beat my “A” goal time of 4:34, but I was going to break 4:30! Wow. 1 mile to go, I hung on for another 6:40 and came into the finish and boy was I pumped up! I yelled “That’s what I’m talking about!” The guys in medical ask me if I was okay. I said of course I’m okay; I am just a little excited about my time. I was totally blown away with my first Half Iron Man time of 4:28:17 and half marathon split of 1:24:47 (6:28 pace)

I would end up 4th in the men 45-49 out of 262 finishers and 50th overall of 2600 plus finishers. They tell me I qualified for World Championships with the roll down process. I did not even stay for the awards because my child was ready to get back home and I wanted to please him. I’m not concerned with any World Championships. I am not ready for such a competitive event and I won’t be until I learn to swim.  I set a goal back in February to finish Augusta 70.3. Looking back I feel like I had the perfect race and made my best effort, that’s all I can ask of myself and I am happy with that.

This is what I put down on paper 1 week before the race. I like to have goals even though I had not done 70.3 before. Sometimes you can just wing it but I felt I needed a plan.

A Goal projections Actual
Swim 31:00 28:10
T1 2:30 (total guess)      3:40
Bike 2:26 (23mph) 2:28:34 (22.6mph)
T2 2:30 3:04
Run 1:29:00 1:24:47
70.3 4:34:00 4:28:17

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stump Jump 50k - or how I learned Yellowjackets like black compression socks (Kasandra Garner)

I signed up for Stump Jump back in August, because a series of events had resulted in my decision to not race Goosepond Half Distance Triathlon.  I was in the mood to do some long running, since I had mostly focused on shorter events all summer - and I will take any excuse to get in the woods.  Hence Stump Jump 50k seemed perfect.  Well, except that it was only 10 weeks away and my longest run all summer was maybe 9 miles.  But no matter, in the past whenever I have had plenty of time to train for a long event I end up over-training and getting injured, so my new motto is “Under-train, then suck it up!”  
Keeping with that motto, my longest run going into SJ was 16 miles, but at least it was on the trails of Monte Sano.  I also managed to get in several 14 mile runs on the trails, so I was a lot better prepared than I had been going into Dizzy Fifties last year.  SJ would be my second 50k, and I wanted to finish it feeling like I had done a trail run, not a death march.  With that in mind, I went up to Chattanooga the night before so that I could sleep in a little later the morning of the race.  I didn’t make it in time for packet pickup, but I did see Daniel Lucas at the pre-race dinner and he was very encouraging.  I wanted to hear all about Leadville, but he looked like he was kind of tired of talking about it and I had read his blog, so I refrained from badgering him.

The morning of the race I had no pre-race jitters, because I’m not a very good trail runner so there is no pressure – self imposed or otherwise.  Also, I literally did not know anyone there, and including the 400 people doing the 11 miler and 600 people doing the 50k it was a huge race for a trail run.  So I just drifted along, hearing snatches of conversation, fascinated by all the different types and personalities that come together at a trail run.  Everybody looked in really good shape.  I do think that in general, there is a higher percentage of sinewy no-body-fat badass types at a trail run than any other event I have done, including ironman distance races.

Finally it was time to go, and I started towards the end of the pack.  The first half mile or so was on a road through the gorgeous campus of Signal Mountain Middle and High School, then onto single track.  It was good to be forced to go whatever pace the person in front of or behind me was going, although I could have passed in a few places as we trotted along a gently rolling crushed gravel and then dirt trail the first 4-5 miles.  Then came Mushroom Rock, and a twisty, rocky, and at times steep descent to the aid station at Suck Creek (love that name).  I was feeling really good, maybe thinking I should pick it up a bit.  We crossed a road and went up some steep stairs onto the next section of trails, and a few moments later I experienced a sharp stinging pain in both my calves at the same time.  Yellow Jackets!  I got stung 3 times rapidly in a row, cussed, sprinted, and slapped at the nasty little bastards.  The guy in front of me got stung as well, and we commiserated for the next few miles about how much our stings were, well, stinging.  Then somewhere around mile 9 I got stung AGAIN on my shin, and I was like, “Bloody hell!  Am I wearing yellow jacket attractor or something?”  At which point a very nice person behind me pointed out that yellow jackets are attracted to dark colors, and since my Softwick compression socks were black….So I scrunched them down around my ankles.  My calves were burning.  I had big red welts in 4 places on my lower legs.  I was pissed.  I made it to the aid station at Indian Rock House around mile 10 still pretty pissed, and paranoid about yellow jackets.  And let me tell you, once you start paying attention, they are frickin’ everywhere!  My lovely run in the woods had become a painful fearful slog in which I couldn’t even enjoy some awesome views of the Tennessee River and surrounding mountains because I was too busy scanning my legs for yellow jackets.  But after a while the burn of the stings lessened a bit (although for the rest of the run the pain would come shooting back at odd times, making me think I was getting stung again) and I got over my pissiness with nature (you go in the woods, stuff happens, get over it) and I settled back into enjoying the day.  And the good Samaritan who told me about the socks must have been right, because I kept them scrunched down the rest of the day and although I ran by a thousand more yellow jackets I didn’t get stung anymore.  

There were a couple of miles in the 12 to 18 mile range that were pretty run-able, and after the steep declines and inclines that was a nice change.  I never could really get in a rhythm, though, because just when I would start to settle in there would be a rocky section.  I don’t remember exactly where the “rock garden” came, but it’s a long stretch of bouldering where a klutz like myself couldn’t go very fast because the rocks are moss covered and slippery and just looking to trap a foot or roll an ankle.  Amazingly enough, I only fell once, during one of the few stretches where the terrain was flat enough that I could run without studying the ground, and sure enough I tripped on a root and spilled headlong into a pile of leaves.  Teach me to try and look up while trail running.  After the rock garden my knees started hurting.  It made it hard to run after that.  Going up wasn’t the problem, it was coming down. 

At Mullens Cove (around 20 miles) I got my drop bag and sat for a minute to change socks (short ones.  I was still fearing yellow jackets and had to run back past the places I had been stung).  My knees felt better after the brief rest, and I ran for a few miles until I got to the steep downhill to the swinging bridge.  That fried them all over again.  After that, whenever I tried to run, it was a sad sort of shuffling gate that probably looked a lot like a fat pug going for a walk.  When I got back to the Suck Creek aid station at mile 24.8, I got a brief jolt of enthusiasm to learn my Garmin was off by a little more than a mile.  Only a 10k go!  Climbing out of Suck Creek was much preferable to going down, my poor knees were so sore.  And I knew that once I got to Mushroom Rock the truly heinous climbs were all over.  I really should have been able to run more of the last 4 miles, but I couldn’t seem to get above that God awful shuffle so I gave up and walked a lot.  You could hear the PA system from the finish line for most of the last 4 miles, but just when you would think you were close the trail would turn away on another half mile loop in the opposite direction.  It was torture, especially since by now it had gotten quite hot, even in the woods.  But finally I emerged from the single track and knew only ½ a mile or so to go, so I forced myself to at least jog on the road into the finish.  I was happy to finish in 7:54ish; I had been hoping to do better but the steep downhills were murder on my knees.  Of the 600 who started, only 343 made the 9 hour cut-off so it was a rough day for a lot of people.  I’m hoping that I will do better at Dizzy this year since I will (hopefully) be in better shape for a long run, and Dizzy won’t be so hard on my knees.  Stump Jump is a gorgeous course, I really wish I had been able to appreciate it more instead of being so distracted by the yellow jackets – and having to watch my feet to keep from rolling an ankle or going over the edge!  There was a lot of ridge running that one wrong step would have sent you plummeting.  There were also a lot of creek crossings, gorgeous rock formations, caves…just an awesome and awe-inspiring course.  Maybe someday I will go back and do it justice.  But I will wear white compression socks!

Happy trails and triathlons everyone, and good luck at Goosepond next week.  I will be at my family’s cabin in the NC Mountains, doing nothing more strenuous than getting up for seconds of my Mother’s cooking!