Submitted by Rush 9/4/2018 1536096846
Or - how I felt bad from the minute I stepped off the bus.
This year's QftC was preceded by days and days of rain, to the point that a portion of the race had to be rerouted on race day to avoid what had become a potentially dangerous creek crossing. The course was reduced to miles and miles of inundated trails running like creeks, shin deep puddles, and shoe sucking mud. If the conditions weren't bad enough, this was the first race I've ever done where I felt like crap from the very first step. Not the way you want to start a 32 mile, 12,000+ feet of climbing kind of day.
The weekend before the "hardest 50K in the east" as RD Sean Blanton calls this race, I'd done the Cradle to Grave 30K. I took that race very easy except for hammering the last 4, very flat miles. I think that effort took more out of me than I realized. In addition, there was no warm up time before the Crest started. We got off the shuttle bus, lined up and boom, we were running. The morning was warm with 100% humidity and I could tell immediately I had very little in my legs.
We log jammed up Woody Ridge, people slipping and falling in the mud. Topping out on the Crest Trail was spectacular as always. The descent down Bowlen's Creek was uneventful and the climb back up was tough as I had no energy or pop. The sawtooth Crest trail with it's endless short steep climbs and drops was challenging to move with any sense of speed. Dropping down Colbert's Ridge trail I heard someone talking about the 12:15 cutoff time. 12:15 ???? What??? Then I remembered Sean coming onto the shuttle bus at 4:30 in the morning and making announcements and somewhere in my sleep deprived brain I then recalled him saying something about adjusting the Colbert's Creek Rd cutoff to account for the course change. Holy crap, this was going to be close! I'd never, ever, run anywhere near to an aid station cutoff, but as I emerged off the Colbert's Ridge trail, a guy with a clipboard said, "Number 361, you have SIX MINUTES to get out!" In what felt like only a few seconds he bellowed, "You've got FIVE MINUTES to get out!" And so on. I scrambled with my drop bag. Stuffed as much food in my face as I could and got out with three minutes to spare; heart hammering, feet slapping down the pavement.
We ran up Rock Creek Rd about a mile and half, and cut back into the woods. At the next aid station I did some math and realized that I'd have a much more generous window to make the next cutoff. So began the long slog up Buncombe Horse trail; still nothing in my legs, though I do recall starting to pass a few people. The climb up Big Tom Spur was brutal, but only a harbinger of scaling Big Tom and Mount Craig with their near vertical rock faces. On top of Craig, you can see the Mt Mitchell parking lot and a very cheery photographer told me that I only had one more mile to the aid station. I started to pick up steam a little.
The Mt. Mitchell aid station was where I finally found my mojo. I had some good food and cold Coke, but I think it was knowing that the bulk of what was left was downhill that flipped my mental switch. Likewise, I had done this section a couple of times recently so I knew exactly what the terrain was like. My legs felt strong and my head cleared as I powered up to the observation tower and began to pound the 5 mile descent. True to form, the skies opened up just as I was entering the Black Mountain campground. I sprinted as hard as I could go to the finish, where Sean greeted me with a high five, a pint glass, and a wooden finisher's medal. I said, "man, I've never felt so bad for so long, and I've done THIS race before." The post-race food was plentiful and delicious. My friend Aaron Saft won the thing. My young friend Tim, who I saw many times running up and down Bowlen's Creek trail in the weeks leading up to the race, finished 9th.
This race is amazing. I've done it twice and now, with the full route approved by the State Park, it has reached its full, glorious, leg-crushing, potential.
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