Submitted by Rush 5/23/2017 1495574328
I had set a goal for myself: finish a 50 mile trail race in my 50th year. At 12:40 am on Sunday, May 21st, 16 hours and 40 minutes after I started, I accomplished my goal.
I've seen the Cruel Jewel described as "the hardest 50 in the east". At 56 miles, with 17,969' of elevation gain (and the same amount of drop), that point is hard to argue. 130 people started and only 76 finished. Despite midday temps near 90 and a massive thunderstorm that broke just as night fell, I managed to finish 23rd overall and 2nd in the Men 50-59 age group.
I arrived at Vogel State Park at 5:30 am on Saturday and boarded the bus that would shuttle us west to the start at Camp Morganton in Blue Ridge, GA. As we were approaching the camp we passed several of the 100 mile runners. Their race had started Friday at noon and these folks were just hitting their halfway turnaround. A very humbling site and we all whooped and cheered for them. We had about an hour before the start so I had plenty of time for a long walk, short jog and some limbering before we were gathered to the start, given the minimalist safety instructions and then we were on our way through the warm, humid morning.
I had attempted on previous 50 miler, the Fontandango 50 in March, 2016. I went out too fast and decided to drop at 30, something I've long since regretted. In preparation for the Cruel Jewel, I ran a trail marathon in March and a trail 50K in April, running both at a very conservative, near 50 mile pace. These were both exercises in mental and emotional discipline. I wanted to pin on a number, line up in a group, and be ok with letting everyone go and just moving as comfortably as I could. I did finish the marathon strong, running the 4th fastest split of the day over the last five miles. I figured this race would take at least 12 hours to run which meant finishing at night. I did several late evening training runs that meant starting tired, and running through the transition of day into night. I felt very prepared going into this race.
My plan was to start very conservatively, meet my crew at mile 30 (my crew was FANTASTIC) and see how I was feeling. If I felt well, I'd push more and see if I could improve my position. I think the strategy worked. At the first aid station I was in 81st place. At mile 30, I'd moved up to 47th, and finished 23rd. My head, gut, and attitude stayed strong all day and into the night. I encountered many other runners really struggling on the long climbs; hollow eyed, soul searching and some just sitting on the trail. At mile 30, Wilscot Gap, I met my crew who had a chair ready and all my gear laid out. I changed into my Altra Torins, which gave a really nice lifting feel to my legs, and left feeling full of running. (The Torins however are a road shoe which was totally fine on the dry trail. However, a couple of hours later, the trail was a muddy torrent complete with scurrying salamanders.)
This was the first event I ran without using gels. Over the last several weeks of training, I'd transitioned toward more of a fat adapted regimen, drinking plain water and using RX bars every 2 hours rather than gels every 30 minutes. My energy stayed great all day with no spikes/falls and no GI issues. This fueling switch worked extremely well for me.
The day was not without its share of challenges. Around 1:00pm I came to the four mile stretch that runs along gravel fire road and paved state road. The midday temps rose and the thick trail canopy was gone. As night began to fall, I was in the longest gap between aid stations, the 7.6 miles between Fish Gap and White Oak Stomp. The sky got very dark, the wind picked up strongly and soon torrential rains were blowing sideways as the skies would occasionally light up with lightening. Luckily the temps didn't plunge as I did not bring any kind of jacket with me. Soaked to the bone, headlamp illuminating the new creek that had recently been the trail, I pushed on. I saw two headlamps in front of me and over the next few minutes I noticed they were not getting any closer but they didn't seem to be farther away either. I decided those folks were moving as well as I was (I don't think anyone passed me after mile 10 or so) so I decided to push hard for a short time and catch up. I'm glad I did. We formed a three man train that ground over one of the hardest sections of the course through dark, rainy, foggy, muddy trail. The aid station crew at Stomp were ready (ALL OF THE AID STATION CREWS WERE AMAZING) with hot broth and grilled cheese sandwiches. We got out of the rain for a few minutes, tanked up, topped off, made sure the station crews had our numbers (looked longingly at the warm camp fire for about a second) then plunged back into the darkness, making for Wolf Creek, the 10th aid station (which is just an unmanned water drop). The 2000' descent into Wolf Creek, the trail turned into a mud slick, was challenging.
One of the runners and I stayed together to the finish. Steven P. from Asheville. Super nice guy. We crossed the finish line together, having had more rain fall on us as we approached Vogel. My crew was at the finish line waiting for me and the finish was everything I imagined it would be. I let out a loud, "FIFTY AT FIFTY, YEAAAAAH" celebration scream.
This event is super well organized by dumassevents (Dahlonega Ultra Marathon ASSociation). The course is well marked, the aid stations well stocked and plentiful. Beginning at Camp Morganton and ending at Vogel State Park allows for ample parking and access to facilities. I will definitely run more of this group's races. I'm looking at the Bull Mtn 100K in October!
I committed to this race like I had no race before. In January, I totally gave up alcohol. Over the next several months I stopped eating wheat, corn, and most grains as well as caffeine. Likewise, I almost totally cut out processed sugar and most nightshades. What did all this do? I feel absolutely certain that it improved my sleep, reduced inflammation, improved my gut, improved my recovery, and just helped me feel better overall. Another factor that helped me have a great race was my local terrain. The 3000' climbs up to the Black Mountain Crest trail and the super gnarly sections of the AT near where I live were the perfect preparation for the Cruel Jewel's Dragon Spine. During my hard training runs I would say out lout to myself, "Rush, this is what it is. Steep hills and tired legs. This is what it is and you are finding a way through it." During the race itself, I talked to myself about being grateful, running full of love, how happy I am to be alive. Keeping a positive attitude, focused primarily on gratitude, definitely contributed to having a fantastic experience. And my crew. My crew were just super supportive, flexible, and kept me wrapped in love. Also, Aaron Saft of FootRx Asheville, gave me the day-glo yellow "Foot Rx Trail & Ultra Team" shirt. I love that shop and I wanted to represent them well.
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