Duncan Ridge 30K Trail Run - Blairsville, GA

Elevation Gain: 5616'..................Elevation Range: 2026' - 4272'

November 19, 2022 - After a six-month racing hiatus I thought I would squeeze in a final trail challenge for the year before taking a winter break for eye surgery. The start at Vogel State Park was a nippy 27 degrees, but the small field was friendly and warm. Starting on the park road we quickly hit the Coosa Backcountry Trail that we'd follow for eight miles to the top of Coosa Bald at 4272'. I surprised myself by starting quicker than usual and maintaining a snappy tempo on the first mile climb up and over highway 180 before cutting loose for the next couple miles down to the first aid station at 3.5M where we crossed West Wolf Creek Road. My legs were fresh and knees felt resilient so I moved along at around an 11-minute pace with accelerations quicker than 10 minutes per mile, reaching 3.5 miles in 43 minutes for an average start to the race of 12.3 minutes per mile - much quicker than the 15-minute tempo I usually strive to achieve. For the first time in a long time, I felt that I was actually racing!

It's all up for the next four miles, climbing over 2000' to where we would hit the Duncan Ridge Trail. The previous week I had reached the DRT in 2H12M; during the race I hit the DRT in 1H52M for close to a 15-minute average tempo with significant climbing. I knew I was running well and above any expectation because from the start I continued to pass other runners - lots of them. No one passed me from the start; keeping pace with two women and one guy for the final mile that I caught on the climb up.

When the trail turned steeply down after cruising over Coosa Bald, I dropped a gear and really slowed to a more deliberate cautionary stride to negotiate the steep rocky descent covered in slippery leaves. Now my knees were talking to me. Those I was running with moved ahead as I couldn't keep pace. Injury and perhaps not being used to working so hard at running (actual racing) hobbled me. I was finished "racing" once I hit the second aid station at White Oak Stomp, so followed the 30K route instead of the intended 50K course for the next three miles on Duncan Ridge Road to Wolfpen Gap. Running on the road was unchallenging, but I couldn't get up enough steam to lift my knees and let 'er rip. I slowed to a jog and watched as others I had passed on the climb rolled easily past me on the road.

From the third aid station the course again follows the Coosa Trail the next couple of miles back up Coosa Bald. The trail near the top was agonizingly steep. I had to stop several times to get back my composure. Dealing with an aching back and neck it finally occured to me that I had been sick in bed with a fever the day before and that I might still be hungover from whatever was making me sick. So from this point forward I jogged when I could, and walked when I had to... like any sick person would be expected to do!!!

After getting an encouraging hug from my friend Hugo at the last aid station I hobbled into the finish back at Vogel State Park in a sluggish 5:41:27 in the middle of the pack of finishers. Oh well, it was a fantastic race until almost eight miles... then just a slow jog in the woods on a sunny crisp day. I enjoyed it, however, and am not discouraged in hindsight. I'm 70, so what did I expect for a quick twenty-mile run on slippery leaves with 5600 feet of climbing? I did better than I could have imagined. Time now for some winter R&R with a big buildup, hopefully healed, in the spring for new challenges that await.