norris dam hard trail race 50k – race report

norris dam trail race 50k
Norris Lake North of Knoxville

the first real race of the fall season

Dawn crept up slowly through the lake fog this past Sunday morning, humidity in the 90’s and rain in the air. It was obviously going to be a wet race. Local trail runs have been growing for years, so I was not surprised over the larger field. Tired bodies were shifting backwards at the start line, no one eager to stand upfront. Pretty amusing. I’ve done enough 50’s to not have too many butterflies in my belly. But there’s always a nervous anticipation that builds up at the start line. When the race does start it’s always a relief.

The rain hit us within the second mile and kept coming down for the next 10. The tree cover was helping to shield us, so we were never exposed too much to the elements, just enough to get soaked after a couple of hours. Personally I enjoyed it, especially the foggy views through the tree cover. The only drawback was it got dark enough to almost need a head torch at some points in the race.
My plan of laying back kind of sorta worked, there were times when I pushed just a little too much, but I mostly able to pull back and find a slower sustainable groove. The goal was to hit the halfway point at 3 hours, and I managed that by a few minutes. Counting bodies as I came into the turning point had me in 11th position. About where I expected. The 25k runners where finishing up and us 50k folks turned around to loop back. Now the hard work began.
After waving to all the other runners coming my way and passing a couple 50k folks I was pretty much running alone the rest of the way. The rain had stopped, the late morning heat was slowly creeping in and drying my clothes. Luckily it didn’t get too hot, the cloud cover was still covering the sun. I was diligent with eating, drinking and taking electrolytes. More so than in the past. It seemed to be working out.
At the 20 mile mark I started to feel my stomach. Not too bad but enough to make me think about it. All the other little physical things started cropping up as well. The stiffening tired legs, the soreness underfoot. It was push time. It’s so easy to get discouraged in periods like these, at least for me. It’s a mental game of reaching the next bend in the road, to always jog the flats and downhills. Walking is tempting, stopping is tempting. But you must convince yourself to move along. The highs and lows start to amplify, getting more and more grand. Luckily I didn’t get too caught up in negative thinking. Compared to other 50k’s this one seemed relatively easy going.

 

But the last climb up to the finish killed me, stopped me in my tracks. I made the choice to not eat the last gel an hour earlier because my stomach was off kilter. Now I was paying for it. Either way I made it up, came in to cheers (always nice) and a 6:07 50k finish. Not too shabby.
I’ve been struggling with ultra distances for about three years now, done half a dozen. For the most part they were miserable experiences because I didn’t have the mileage base nor the race strategy needed to truly do one well. This past race came close, close enough to taste how running a good race would feel like. I still have a lot to do and learn but this race was a turning point. Shaving off 90 minutes from my previous best feels pretty good.

highlights

– Making a wrong turn and losing about 5 minutes having to backtrack. It helps to pay attention to flags, sigh. Apologies to the girl who followed me down the wrong path.
– I love the people at these races, the passion of volunteer crew and runners is always infectious. The Knoxville Track Club folks who put on these races are a bunch of crazy good people.
– Mud slide! Bonus treat for those who like redneck state fair rides. Climbing back up on the way back was almost as fun.
– The rain and fog, yes I liked it.

look ahead

There’s a bunch of races the next few months. The next one is StumpJump. I’m running this as a “do-over.” Just want to get one right before I move along. It will be my third time, doubt I’ll run it again after that. There are so many other runs out there I’d rather do.