Day419 Grayson Highlands 50

Why running this race? The race promised a course that is beautiful, hard, and they have ponies!

It was definitely hard even with long cutoffs and a shortened course. The beauty of the place does make up for the hard run.

I love mountains. I love the view. I got to see the highland from up on the crest and ran through the vast grassy balds.

The event I entered was the 50 miler. They had 50k and a half marathon. The fifty miler tested my limit (again). I believe it was the hardest race I ever did.

My watch recorded about 6500 ft of elevation gained. Totalling about 42 miles (but my watched was paused for about 3 miles), so the total course according to garmin is maybe 45 miles long.

I believe the course was cut short from the original 47.1 mile after reviewing the gps data. This is kind of a hot potato topic. First off, I ran according to the flagging. However, there were more than a few runners that ran according to the original published course, that I think added 2-3 more miles. It was a significant change. Some were not happy at all the course being shortened and blamed the RD for not flagging the course properly but it was really them of not seeing the flagging. To me the flags for the turn off was visible, but I could understand how it can be missed. I believe the course was flagged more than enough.

I overheard the race director mentioned at the finish that they shortened the course. Not sure if he was referring it being shortened from 50 to 47.1 or from 47 to 45. For me the shorter distance was about right due to the elevation. Not sure if I could have made the final cutoff if it was 5 miles more. In truth, I hiked most it and after 14 hours out there, no even after couple hours, I was asking myself why did I sign up a race just only to hike 90% of it. Was it worth?

It was a hard course and I was undertrained for the hills. Toward the last six miles I had enough of it. I didn’t want any more hills. I was fainting and reached my limit. The last 6 miles were mostly uphill, at couple thousand feet of climbing. For those who planning to run this, expect the climb at the last hour. It added an extra pressure to make the cutoffs.

As a redemption, the few miles near the finish were on a road, which made it a tad easier. Also I felt the aid stations were spaced about right at every six miles. There was only one that was about 12-13 miles apart, which was the hardest segment. I brought my own food, but didn’t eat them, except for some apple sauce. We could have a throw-away drop bag too, but I didn’t prepare one (not needed).

I believe the RD originally wanted to put an aid station at mile 19-20 at the turnoff onto the Hurricane Trail trailhead, however he shortened the race by turning off to a service road to Hurricane Trail early, so no aid station. Well probably a volunteer/aid station at the turn off would help or after coming out from the Hurricane Trail.

I was extremely happy that I didn’t miss the flag for the turn off. As in couple previous races, I missed a turn and I got really mad at myself, but in this race, even though I felt it was a level higher that what I used to do, I did everything perfectly. The map study beforehand helped. I didn’t use my map at all during the race even though it was on me. I had it mostly in my head. I didn’t have to use the gps (my companion Ryan downloaded the coordinates on his watch and it kind of help, but he got off trail too). I mostly relied on my spider sense and it was pretty accurate. Couple times I was saved by those around me.

Pacing. Pacing was not allowed. I ran with the group of five or six runners I started with. I didn’t rush. I knew I was the last 10+ or so in about a total 100 runners (I finished 95). I think there were a dozen or so who started later, but those who started in the back with me were pretty much ran at my pace.

I was together with about 4 ladies and a guy (Ryan) for about 26+ miles. Ryan was doing his first 50 as well as two other ladies around us. Ryan and I stayed together until mile 35. Originally after mile 9, Ryan took off but he might have ran the extra 3 miles and I met him back at my mile 20 and from then he was with me for the rest until he needed a restroom break at Camp Store Aid Station.

One of the ladies took a nasty fall. Her left knee was bloody and so was one of her arms (right?). They bandaged her up and she continued on. I ran with her from mile 9-15, then she took off. I didn’t see her again until at the finish. I think she got lost at the Hurricane Trail, as many people did.

It was good to have a companion. Ryan came back after mile 20, we passed Fox Creek Aid Station together. We had to run up 6 miles to Scale Aid Station. This was part that broke me, at least for the first and not the last time. Ryan was there hiking with me all the way. We passed the two ladies at Scale who were with us since the beginning. They had some issue with shoes and also were having some health issue too. Not sure if they finished, but Ryan and I pressed on. Ryan asked if I heard what they said. I almost fainted too climbing up to Scale. I had a beer at Scale and it refreshed me. That was around mile 30/31. I left Scale feeling strong again.

Ryan had some stomach issue after Scale. We tagged team to the next station. It had some climbing as well descending. We mostly hiked. I got to chat with Ryan a bit. He told me to run ahead and not to wait for him. I said of course. However, he was literally tagging behind me. We arrived at the Camp Store together. There we said goodbye since he said he needed to use the privy.

I was concerned that if he stopped he wouldn’t start again, but he did continue. I checked the finisher list and he was there with several others. Glad he found couple companions.

Without Ryan, the next 10-12 miles were tough. I kept pushing from 3 pm – 5m to the last aid station. I took some food. I had until 8:30 to finish, so finishing was guaranteed. This last segment was mostly on the road leading up to the Visitor Center, which is about 3 miles long, so one step a time up the steep road. In normal time, I probably could have run it, but walking was all I got after running whole day.

Then we turned off from the main road onto a side trail. It was a steep climb, I think maybe for another mile. This was my slowest ascend I think. I took a step and then rested so forth until I reached the Visitor Center, where the finish line was. However, the course required us to take a 2 mile loop from the Visitor Center to two overlooks (Big and Little Pinnacle). For me, I just wanted to finish, the view was supposed to be great there. I only took a glance then got off the Pinnacle, back toward to the real finish line.

Again for those planning to run this race, expect the soul crushing finish at the last few miles because of the climbs. However, it couldn’t break my soul. Those who have done ultras know, you just have to press on no matter how the course plays with your head. Just beware.

Final word, as on how technical the race is other than the elevation, was maybe at mile 35-40. It requires some technical footwork to descend the Wilson Trail from the Camp Store. In a normal time, I might consider this the best out of all the “fun” trails I was on. It was exciting to showcase all the fancy footwork you have been training. However, I had nothing left in me to make sharp jerking turns and take big steps and dodge low branches and skip over slick rocks. I do love it thinking back. Over all, there are many favorites, this was just one of them. For those who is going to do this race, take time to enjoy.

Oh, is the course muddy? A portion of it is muddy even on a good day. And for couple of the trails, you are hiking up a stream on a bad day. Yes, you run with wet shoes. Blisters and stubbed toes can be an issue. It is a race for the dirty and yucky and those with lot of patience.

By Antin

There is nothing more I like than to run, hike, and be with one I love

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