Leatherwood Mountains 50 Mile, Ferguson, North Carolina 5,4

Elevation Range: 1240'-2260'        Elevation Gain:  9018'
March 29, 2014 -  From my days in college I have always enjoyed running in the rain.
The forecast for this event was clear - 100% chance of precip - so there was little
guessing as to how to prepare.  Dressing in layers, with changes of clothing in the
car at the start/finish, it really didn't matter what the clouds threw at us.  With temps
between 50 and 60 degrees all day, I was looking forward to a mild soaker.  The only
thing that concerned me was advance notice of muddy trails.  Even on a dry day these
trails had a reputation for being muddy.  With days of rain to soften them up it 
turned out to be a mudfest like I cannot recall ever engaging before.

The Leatherwood Resort is tucked away into the recesses of the western Carolina
foothills.  I was in love with the landscape before I arrived, winding on narrow
country roads along a perfect trout stream.  The hills weren't high or seemingly too
steep, but I knew there would be a lot of them - up and down, up and down all day.
I was glad to be here as I arose to prepare after a night in my chariot, chez Larry.

The rain held up until about the time we started at 0700.  It was light and didn't seem
like it would be a factor.  About eighty of us headed out a paved resort road past
cabins for about a mile before we veered off on a gravel road that would climb
endlessly to the ridge.  As far as I could see all were power walking - too steep and
long to waste energy trying to run up it.  After reaching the ridge we would undulate all
day, winding back and forth around intricate ancient erosional features in these old
mountains.  It became obvious as soon as we hit single track trail that stepping around
the mud was pointless; the mud was pervasive, mixed with masses of broad leaves
that had washed down the steep trails in the flow of runoff.  Descending often was
outright treacherous.  One had the choice of either yielding entirely to the allure
of gravity and risking egregious disaster, or severely braking in an attempt to control
a free fall.  While the young could fly down the hills, using gravity to their full
advantage, I had to fight it with every step to preserve whatever resilience I have left.
Damn, I hate to have old legs.

SIDENOTE:  In the early miles of the event I couldn't get a certain tune out of my head.
Over and over it scrolled in my brain - largely acoustic, a repeating guitar riff from Will
Ackerman that I don't play myself, and haunting undecipherable vocalizations from 
Afrikaner Samite.  Where do these things come from???  I had to look in my archive
today to discover the title:  "SOUND OF THE WIND DRIVEN RAIN".  Very curious, eh???

So it went for the first few miles of the first loop of 16.19 miles.  Pretty precise!!!
By 7 miles or so I felt I was warmed up enough to dance, so started to catch some
of the youngsters that had previous distanced me on the downhills.  As their legs
and enthusiasm waned on the uphills I was just getting into my stride.  From that
point it was "game on" as I channeled my inner Marine and relished playing hard on a
tough playing field.  The mud was compromising everyone, and I heard plenty of 
complaints and imagine some dropped out after the first loop.  I continued on at a
meager, but steady rate of progress to complete the first loop in about four hours.
It was going to be a long slug.

The second loop of 14.81 miles started up suddenly but seemed a bit less challenging
with only two-thirds of the climbing of the first loop.  I continued to pull people back,
a surprising number of them from Ohio, before hitting a long stretch of paved road
with an aid station in the middle.  I was offered a beer at the aid station, so politely
downed a Pabst Blue Ribbon and cleared the sugary flavor from all the Shot Bloks.
From the road the trail returned to single track after wading across up to a thigh-deep
stream for twenty-five feet or so.  Refreshing, legs and shoes were now free of 
Carolina's red clay.  

Only three 50K runners, who began an hour after the 50M start, passed me, which
means only three 50K runners would go under six hours on their finish - a testament
to the severity of the trail conditions.  At around mile 25 I caught up to a young
guy named Jared Byrd who went on to finish in 12 and a half hours.  We kept each
other company for much of the next fifteen miles before I decided I had had enough
fun for the day and stopped after the third loop of 10.5 miles to walk away from
the "race" with 41.5 miles completed.  I hit 50K in seven hours, which would have
earned me 8th place overall without pushing it, a good measure of my effort for the
day.  My finish time was a bit more than ten hours, consuming about three hours to
cover the final ten-mile loop.  Another three hours plus just didn't seem appealing.

I could call it a "dnf", but I don't think that way. I had become nauseous and a bit
dizzy during the third loop, having to stop to dry heave and walk to regain balance,
but I seemed to work through that before stopping and generally felt fine.  My core
was tired from all the extraneous acrobatics involved in engaging the mud, all the
lateral motion to keep from falling, hyper-extending, or otherwise damaging parts.
After a night of rest I find I am sore from the waist up, while the legs are great and
ready to run - no soreness whatsoever.  The event was physically trying on parts of
my body that do not normally feel the stress of these long events.  I was finished
after ten hours of running, satisfied, and unwilling to chase another three hours or
so through what would become darkness just to see a new tally on my resume.

The day was enjoyable.  It was a pretty course.  Race management was good.  People
were friendly, despite seeing an influx of whiners and complainers that are increasingly
sharing the line in the sport.  I likely will not return; while challenging, the mud made it
more of a long obstacle course and less of a running race.  My kudos to those that
hung in there and went the distance.  I will be back to do more in the hills of western
Carolina, my new home.