Dark Sky 50 Race Report

Dark Sky 50

Well let me start by saying that over all I am quite pleased with myself and frustrated at the same time. I am frustrated that I am still injured and that it seriously affected my running this past Saturday. I am quite pleased that despite it all I made it as far as I did in the conditions that I was in. This has been a hard report to write as the results of my race lie somewhere between a DNF, DLF, and timing out.

I spent the night camping out at the campground (Picket State Park, TN) right next to the start line. Prior packing allowed for me to pull up to a camp site at dusk and get set up in mostly the dark. I was able to sleep until about an hour and a half before the start. That was a great change from the normal get up several hours before to make it to the race. While I had most everything ready to go, I felt like I had not started a race for a long time. I completely forgot several things to include my drop bags. That however did not even come to my attention until mile two just before making a return loop past the parked cars.

The loop was about 2.5 scenic miles. I heard one runner describe it as land that time had forgot. I really enjoyed the picturesque views that I experienced. Soon we were on the hardball for just a short bit and took off into the woods down the hidden passage trail.  I was running/walking already at this point and it was nice that the loop had seriously thinned out the running crowd. Soon I was up among the bluffs and running alongside cliffs looking out over Big South Fork.

For the most part the terrain was rolling with mostly runnable hills. The trail weaved up and down and around the ridge line. It skirted many overlook and waterfalls. At one part of the trail it went right over the top of one of the falls overlooking a nice drop into the falls just some few feet to my left. Soon we went down into the valley bottom. There we followed the stream and completed a couple of crossings getting my feet wet, no worries there. After reaching the first water station and stopping to refill I knew I was going to have issues with water as the water station was almost out. It was over 90 degrees for most of the day. The water would become an issue latter in the day.

It was about this time that I started having issues with my leg. I have been having a problem with an injury in my back. This has presented in an IT band issue along with hamstring and hip mobility issues. The injury has been hard for me to except as I just want to run.

I felt done at mile 9 and somehow came into the first maned aid station at mile 13 with the thought in my head that if I was the last one I would just quit. Well I wasn’t the last one and I wasn’t passed the cut-off time either. I was very frustrated and took off again. Soon, however the sweeper caught up with me and brought with him the last runner. I stayed just a head of them for a while but by 16 they caught me.

I am forever grateful for those two. They keep me going for the next 30 plus miles even though I was already done. I just found myself in a bad head space soon after the start and running by myself I wasn’t able to change my thinking. With these two in tow we reached mile 21 or somewhere close. We crossed over a rock face and had great views, but we were more concerned with getting down the other side to the aid station.  We put in some faster work on the switch backs going down into the valley floor where we found the aid station on a jeep/fire break road.

Getting to the aid station was great, however it created a new challenge for us. The aid station was out of water and while it had a few things there was nothing I could eat or drink. I was doing fine on food and we all wanted water and or some tailwind. The station was covered with bees. I wasn’t there but a couple minutes and I had four or five bees crawling up my legs and the table had ten’s of bees all over. I was anxious to get moving again. Soon we were back down the trail. I knew that there would be some stream crossings up a head and hopefully we could find one that had decent water.

We found a stream that was flowing nice and clear and a perfect spot were the water was flowing though the moss and creating a fountain type dispenser to fill our bottles. Well that creek water tasted better than some of the water that they had gotten from the wells around there. Most of the next few miles were uneventful. I started to feel better and get back into the normal swing of things, but was still unable to run much. That wasn’t a huge  problem as I was able to walk as fast as my companions where running and I had the mental attitude at that point to match it.

As we started back up the climb over the next ridge I was in the lead, stepped around a tree in the way and there it was. I saw the tail no problem, just where was the head at, was my question? Well I didn’t have long to wait and as I took one step back the tail started rattling. Yes, it was a rattle snake. It was about 3.5 feet long and as thick as my water bottle. The snake coiled up rattling away while everyone else ran right into me.  One of the runners that was with us was from Michigan and had never seen a rattler before. She seemed to jump off me backwards about ten amazing feet into the sweeper who was trying to calm every one down. I had a good laugh and meanwhile the snake was getting pissed. Most of the time a snake will avoid humans and or hurry off if you give them room. This one wasn’t going anywhere, it had its patch of sun on the trail and it wasn’t moving. I had half a mind to move the snake but we decided to go up and around it.

Next we followed some more really neat rock formations and then dropped back down in the valley to follow the river along some horse trails. There was not too much to talk about here. Just fording steams and avoiding ankle deep mud we followed the river toward the next station. Soon we started picking up other runners who were ready to tap out. They all seemed to have great stories about how bad something was or being out of water. One person had fallen somehow and had messed his back up enough that he had to hobble using a makeshift pole. Anyways we moved on. Soon we had past the nest aid station and they had some water.

After leaving that aid station and getting to mile 30 something stung the top of my foot down in my shoe under the tongue. I couldn’t get my shoe off fast enough. I thought I had been stung, but as the days went on after the race I determined it was a spider bite. My ankle swoll up and at moments it was painful with my shoe hitting the bite every other step. I had to get meds and keep my foot soaking or elevated for several days.

We made it to mile 31 and were able to fill up with water and get a little food. We had to do a loop through the natural arch here and it was breath taking. There were a lot of great views! Coming back down to the aid station we grab what was left and were in a hurry to get up the next hill. They offered a shot of whisky at that station. I have yet to try alcohol during a race. I might have to try it sometime. Dave who was running with  said it made his legs “feel fresher”. I wished I would have tried some before this hill. It seemed to go on forever. It’s about a mile and a half up to the top, just to climb some more. I have seen several people quit on that hill and go back to the aid station at the bottom, only to find that they have to climb out.

After the climb we were able to catch a break as we were on jeep trails for the next little bit and then found the next aid station. They had cold water. The first cold water all day. They also had some cold sprite. The Sprite and water were so good. At this aid station we got our head lamps out as it was starting to get dusk. Soon we were out and on the way. This time we stayed mostly on the gravel jeep trails and were able to pick up some time. Some of the group even started running. I was still having issues and was only able to walk, but my walk was fast enough to keep me up with everyone. I guess I would have to contribute that to all the road marches we did in the military. They seem mild now in comparison to the trails rocky path and the length of time and distance I usually go.

We got to the last aid station. It was mostly dark by now. Here I ran into my good friend Brain, who is race director for No Business 100 and Yamacraw 50k. It was great meeting him at the station. If you ever get a chance those are two great challenging races that you should check out. Well here the sweeper said he was done, the lady I had been running with since mile 13 had her feet all cut up and was done. The GPS said that we were al 46 and some change in mile and had been started late while already moving done the course. And with at least another 9 miles to go I found myself, by myself again. I thought I about the river I would have to hike through and in my condition, having been way passed the cut off time already and that the volunteers were going to have to wait for me past the normal race time. I reluctantly chose the car ride back.

I don’t know if you call that quitting and a DNF, or was it just timing out. I am not sure. I did really impress myself that I went over 33 some miles after not being able to run and being ready to quit to where I was. I was impressed by how I just found something to just keep walking. I think the walking was great practice for using my new poles and experience in hiking for the next 100 miler. I had a great time on the trail. I saw a rattle snake, a coyote and so many other parts of nature and the trail because I walked. I made some new friend and learned a bunch of lessons from other runners. The sweeper was impressed with how I just kept going even though my hip would lock up every now and then. I impressed myself with not stopping at mile 13 even though I wanted to.  I think that is what is one of the things that is so interesting about ultra-running and part of what makes it tuff. You can quit at any time. You don’t have to push through and yet so many of us do, we continue past what we thought was possible and raise the bar not letting limitations limit us.

I will have to do a post on what gear I am currently using and what I am doing for nutrition. Look or that to come up soon.  Till then run wild, run free, run unbridled.

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