Conquer the Rock Foothills Trail 50K - Pickens, South Carolina
Elevation Range: 1135' - 3425' .............. Elevation Gain: 10,341'
Pinnacle Mtn: 3425' ... Table Rock Mtn: 3124'
March 5, 2022 - Waking at 0445, I began my morning wrestling with the fact that I had to get out of my nice comfortable bed and go run up and down tough mountains all day for 31 miles. Mentally, this early I just wasn't into it. I didn't even want to move, but I rolled over to think about it and fight falling back asleep until I could talk myself into getting up and going through the motions I have done time and again for a lifetime. I have blown off races without showing up at the starting line without good reason other than a poor attitude enough times that I didn't want to face the regret of not toeing the line again. Only so many miles left in these legs - no time to hesitate or delay - I rolled out of bed and headed out, and as always, was glad I did.
Temps were 43 degrees without wind under cloudy skies when the race started at 0730 at Table Rock State Park, a place that holds good memories for me from a time four years ago when a group of friends joined me for a go at the entire length of the Foothills Trail. Today, I returned to run on the same trail for challenging climbs up and down Pinnacle and Table Rock Mountains, twice, for an elevation gain of over 10,000 feet.
As usual, I was sluggish for the initial mile-and-a-half road section before hitting the Foothills Trail with its initial boardwalks and waterfalls for the tourists before becoming undulating single track the rest of the way. These events are long enough that I use the opening miles as my warm up. With my generally stiff gait at the start, my "warm-up" has been taking me about seven miles before I am ready to rumble. Fortunately, I found another conversational gray-hair of my general skill-set and experience to tag along with on the first climbs of the day up and over Pinnacle. After hitting the 8M water stop in two hours, Jeff and I separated on the mile-and-a-half connector over to the turn-around at the far end of Table Rock Mountain. See photo at right. From there, my body was loose and I pulled back the field the rest of the way, doing what I do best - dancing with the rocks.
As temperatures migrated up into the high 60's with slight breezes as the day progressed, I was very mindful of fluid intake, in particular, and nutrition. Over the day, I drank over 100 ounces of electrolyte drink from mix that I carried, eating one turkey and cheese wrap, and sucked down some Gu. Drinking more than I needed so that I had to stop to pee, and eating solid food are key to continuing a strong effort on these long events. Given that I was solid throughout the day as I watched others fall by the wayside with cramps and fatigue, I sense that my strategy is working as I continue to fine-tune with age and wisdom.
Catching a few participants on my first descent back to the start/finish I was pleased to have covered the first 25K comfortably in about 3:45, or about a 4 mph average tempo. With a quick turnaround I headed out again with more fluidity for the second round, taking up with a woman from Indiana named Ashley on the climb back up Pinnacle. We separated when I stopped often to take photographs - over 40 - so that I could share them below. The first loop showed me where I am fitness-wise in my preparation for two one-hundred mile races coming up this spring. I didn't need to challenge myself on the second loop to prove anything just for a 15-minute quicker finishing time, so I used my camera to relax and enjoy the spectacular views, and exchange pleasantries with the hundreds of hikers and their families out to enjoy the mountains on such a fine spring day.
Stopping repeatedly to take pictures gives one the advantage of letting the muscles catch up with their oxygen and glycogen debt. Without taking these mini-breaks, the muscles can become seriously deprived and resort to burning fat with its lactic metabolites that force the body to slow. I felt good. My muscles were not tired. Despite the constant pounding on descents, my quadriceps were solid.
Once I had enough photos, I put away my camera and gave way to the pull of gravity on the final four miles from water stop on the ridge to the finish. Moving efficiently down a steep slope from rock to root to boulder, pushing the body's coordination with the eyes and brain to the limit, I take great delight in being a fine-tuned athlete, regardless of chronology, living up to the peak of my performance potential. I rolled comfortably to the finish without changing my tempo - I'm old; I can't run any faster.
After sharing a couple shots of red hot cinnamon whiskey with a volunteer, and connecting with both SCUM races directors, I made my way home for an enjoyable evening out. My feet and legs were not sore or exhausted; after a good night of sleep following the event, they are still good. It is fulfilling to finally sense that I may finally be figuring out a better way to run these ultras. On to the next one; hopefully it won't be as hard to get out of bed!