The Duncan Ridge Trail 50k takes place in North Georgia near Blairsville, starting and finishing from Vogel State Park. Billed as the ‘toughest 50k in the southeast’; it utilizes the Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail. At just over 31-miles, with 10,000ft of vertical climb (and equivalent descent), the course promises a challenge to any runner. So I decided to give it a whirl!
Since I've never run those trails, I drove down the day before the race to scout portions of the trail. The Race Director (RD) also offered a pre-race packet pickup that Friday evening. I always prefer pre-race packet pick ups so I can see what kind of bib, or number, or timing chip is being used so I may make the necessary adjustments. Got to have everything dialed in and reduce as many race-day surprises as I can.
Ever integrated your alarm clock into your dreams? Yea well I got to the race venue just 15min before the start. So much for reducing race-day surprises... I whipped into the parking lot, ran my stuff to the bag-drop, and then went back to my truck for final preparations. It was cool out (~50*), windy, cloudy, and misty; I was expecting just a +/-5* temp change as a high-pressure system moved in over the day. I tend to run hot on race day so just shorts/singlet/visor should suffice, right? I'll come back to that.
The bEast Coast mountain trails were as expected, tons of wet leaves, roots, and rocks. Most of the climbs were strait up and over peaks; the trail was riddled with mud and fallen trees to climb or dip under. There were even points when the trail was barely there and thankfully that’s where the RD placed orange surveyor flags to keep runners on course.
I was prepared and expecting these rough conditions. I regularly run trails in Pisgah National Forest and got a good deal of training in at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park this summer; but the wind and cold got to me Saturday. I couldn't feel my hands for more than half of the time, with wind chill it dropped MUCH more than the anticipated +/- 5deg.
Racing makes you do silly things sometimes. I attempted to run with my fingers under my armpits at times for added warmth. It looked like your imaging, like a bearded distance runner doing the chicken dance while covering intense single track over a mountain as quickly as possible: awkward. The chicken dance posture didn't work well so I just focused on keeping moving, not only for the race, but for warmth and the thought that the faster I run the sooner this will be over.
I was pleased to not see the front-runner until ~1mi from the turnaround of the out and back course. At the 15.5mi mark I did the drop bag thing, I crushed a double espresso and a handful of roasted almonds. Now back to the start/finish line! The return trip was tough, slogging up steep mucky pitches, beaten up by runners before and after me... I thought the return trip was supposed to be easier!
Now my goal to the finish, NOT GET PASSED. I convinced myself that there was always someone behind me just around the bend, just out of sight. It worked. I made it back to the start line in 6hrs, 49minutes. Earning 6th place overall in my first 50k race!
The Duncan Ridge Trail 50k is NO JOKE. While it is a tough course, the race is very well run, the aid stations are well stocked, and the volunteers I met along the way were great and very supportive! I suggest this race (or the 30k ‘short’ option) for any runner looking for a challenge. The cut-off times were generous allowing participants of almost any pace to finishing the course. There were ample options to drop-out in the event of an injury or being ill-prepared. This race is for the ‘purists’ out there, no awards or age groups, just a finisher’s prize (a nice synthetic hat or a pint glass), and of course, bragging rights.
This year there were 185 starters, 163 total finishers, 72 30k Finishers, 91 50k finishers, 22 DNF's, and 19 dropped to the 30k from the 50k.
If I find myself still on the East Coast next year, I'll definitely be back for more!
Mark your calendars for November 22, 2014!!!
Adventure Geek Racing Team Member
I was awake before my alarm went off at 6:30 last Saturday morning. I have had trouble sleeping the past couple nights in anticipation of my first road race in two years. The thought of long, flat, open stretches of road are daunting in my mind. For those unaware, I’m an avid trail runner. I am at home covering technical single-track, climbing mountains and exploring new paths through the woods. This skill-set will be less beneficial in the Fly with the Eagles Half-Marathon which begins in a few hours.
Much to my surprise as I look out my bedroom window, there was an inch or so of fresh snow and ice on the ground. The forecast calls for 20 degrees with 20+ mph winds at the race start, resulting in a wind-chill of 7deg F! Our winter has been rather mild here in south-central Illinois; that is up until the day before the race. The gun is set to go off at 9am and I need to be ready to toe the line, I have to forget the snow and continue my race-day regiment. After coffee, yogurt and granola I’m suiting up to make my way to the race.
Upon arriving at the race venue, I find runners sitting in their cars soaking up the heat as they pin on race numbers and make last minute decisions on attire. The race directors have indoor/unheated warehouse space available, but I forgo this to warm-up with a jog to locate the start line.
10 minutes to the start. I remove my warm-ups and jacket, exposing myself to the energy sapping winds. A short jog to the start and it’s time to get this show on the road. There are a few runners with only shorts on; many making comments on their insanity as final race directions are shouted over the freezing crowd.
Bang! We’re off. The course began with a 1/8th mile of frozen dirt road, leading into the first paved section. As the first mile marker passed, everyone had found their pace and was well on their way. After 3-4 miles we hit gravel and were crossing a lake as those 20mph winds hit from the right. Up to this point I was strong, maintaining my pace. Once across the lake we ran a loop of gravel roads covered in snow, shaded from the sun and wind. It has been hard to hydrate, as it is so cold. Once past the half-way point, we were back into the wind. This is where I began to feel my energy diminishing. Needless to say the remainder of the race was difficult, but I pushed through the fatigue and stiffness to avoid the dreaded DNF. Ultimately finishing with a 1:39.45, 10 minutes shy of my PR in the 2010 Clemson Easter Bunny Run. I crossed the finish line stiff from the cold and dehydration. My hands were numb, resulting in a major loss of dexterity; I couldn’t even remove my own race bib tab!
Needless to say this race was a learning experience for me. Having never run in weather below 28 degrees, I was unprepared for that cold of weather and wind. While I had all my skin covered (except my face), I should have worn more. This would have helped make it easier to hydrate and maintain pace. A simple bandana could have covered my face and warmed the air before entering my lungs. A wind-breaking layer would have also been a huge help! While I was plenty warm the first 1/3 of the race, the heat was eventually sapped out; remember to plan for the long run!
Not every race, or even training run, will necessarily go as planned. While a poor performance may be difficult to deal with at times, remember it’s how we bounce back from those days that’s most important! Personally, I’m back at home running my trails working towards longer and longer runs. I’m looking forward to the King’s Mountain Marathon in April where all my hill training will be quite beneficial. I hope to see you and many others at the start in a couple months!!
Keep setting those goals and pushing yourselves my fellow runners!
P.S. I’m coming for YOU, Jared.