South Mountains 50K (32.7M) - Connelly Springs, North Carolina

Elevation Gain: 5978' ... Elevation Range: 1233' - 2623'

January 8, 2022 - It is still better to show up for a race, crash and burn with a slow time, than to sit on the couch with an excusable injury pretending you made a good decision not to run. And so I continue to hobble on, limping into an uncertain future with a knee injury that is just not coming full circle as one would hope. Oh well, I've had a good run at it, and I'm still smiling after any day I am able to make tracks on some wild path.

I enjoyed running South Mountains a year ago enough that I signed up for another go at it. It is a relentlessly challenging course with a run up of about 6000 feet, runable for the most part, but it takes one to task to maintain on the long climbs and endure the distance. For the young and fit, it would be a screaming good test of toughness; for an over-the-hill runner like myself, the challenge is with perserverence and patience. South Mountains State Park is renouned for its beautiful waterfalls, but the greatest appeal for me is the endless views of the wonderful Blue Ridge Mountains from the top of the many ridges it follows. It was a spectacular day full of sunshine with gorgeous views that went on forever.

After rising early and driving the nearly three hours to get to the race venue in the hills south of Morganton, NC, I toed the line in 21-degree temps to head out on the initial sustained climb from the start. My left knee was touchy from the get-go. There is no getting around it. I run with an obvious limp and continuous counter-balancing throws my whole body out of whack, tiring me sooner than an efficiently run effort would. Starting at the back of the pack I muddled my way up the hill, crawling along at a slow shuffle, able to continue without the need to walk. Sometimes it is disheartening to watch the field disappear as I struggle, so I keep my head down and focus on enjoying still being able to get out there and do it.

After a slow 50K in Florida the week before and no time to train, I was concerned I might not make the cutoffs, so I didn't dally. Keeping a 15-minute-per-mile tempo with all the ups and downs didn't seem to be problematic, so I rolled along without too much effort to the first checkpoint at 6.1M in 1H 25M before looping back around to the same aid station again at 15.3M in 3H 31M, well ahead of the cutoff. The next leg out to 21.7M began by climbing the several hundred stairs along the waterfalls, then continuing up three climbs that just wore me out. It took me two hours to cover the 6.4 miles, walking a lot more than I care to remember. My knee remained the same, but I stumbled twice without falling, straining my lower back muscles on the right side enough that I had difficulty running uphill. My energy was waning as well, so it was not a fun time.

The rest of the way I settled into a measured effort to avoid undue stress and pain, knowing I had enough time to finish before the finish cutoff. My good attitude evaporated and I settled for an old man finish. In retrospect, it gives me pause to reflect on the future of my racing. I love to run, but the racing has an increasing number of drawbacks I may no longer wish to entertain. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my day very much and thanked RD Brandon Thrower for putting on such a quality event, but with no promises to return. Enjoying a bowl of yummy chili at the end in the 34-degree finishing temp, I was glad I came to race, glad I prevailed even with difficulty, and glad that I am still healthy enough at my age to be able to choose to still do this if I ever have another wild notion, which I inevitably will!!!