Monday, September 19, 2011

Pisgah Mountain Trail Run 50K 2011

After running the "short" Pisgah race the previous two years, I was talked into running the 50K this year.  I had a couple of solid training runs under my belt, including my own 50K run in my local state park.  Based on that result, I was confident I could run sub 5 hours at Pisgah. 

Like the Lil' Rhody Runaround, the Pisgah race has become quite the family affair.  My brother Greg was also doing the 50K, and my father and other brother Glenn were running the 23K.  We met up at Glenn's house, with Justin Fyffe and Clint Joselyn also joining us.  After exchanging some lively pre-race strategy and coffee, it was finally time to walk over to the start. 

My plan was to keep my pace comfortable.  I was really confident that my legs would hold up well.  I figured there would be some hiking mixed in on the Pisgah Ridge and Davis Hill specifically, but I wanted to run the hills as long as I felt up to it.  I carried my handheld bottle with water and also two Kashi chewy granola bars stuffed into the little pouch.  I would drink Gatorade and soda at the aid stations.  I was excited to get to work. 

At the start, I found myself a little higher up in the field than expected.  I was near Glenn and a couple of other guys that I was chatting with until they hammered the downhill at the Horseshoe Road entrance.  I seemed to surprise Boj watching the runners right before the 50K/23K split.  I went left, and began a twelve mile stretch of unfamiliar trails.  Right after the split, I was in noman's land.  The trail was flat, but the footing was pretty technical until it opened up to an old road.  I knew I was on course by the pink ribbon, but it was really lonely out there. 

After passing the unmanned water stop, I could here voices somewhere behind me.  Dogwood Swamp trail had a couple of nice hills that I was enjoying.  I was not enjoying the continued poor footing.  Right before the aid station I was caught by Ryan Triffitt and another guy.  They passed me as I stopped for Gatorade and Coke, but I quickly caught them on the crazy dirt/paved road hill ahead.  I pressed on up this big climb, enjoying myself in some weird way.  Once the road leveled off, the course veers onto a single track trail with more poor footing.  Ryan caught back up to me, and we had nice conversation for a couple of miles.  Once I figured out who he was, I realized that he had a great blog write up about the 50K last year that I had recently reread as preparation for my 50K.  He was looking strong, and said he was 12 minutes ahead of his time from last year.  I told him my goal of finishing under 5 hours, and he encouraged me that I was on pace. 

At the 12 mile aid station I stopped and refueled.  The guy I passed on the last hill soon reached the station, and then he and Ryan headed out as I took my time.  Back on the trail, I soon reached an open wet area that I recognized from hiking and running with my brothers, and I knew that I would be reaching the big hill on the Reservoir Trail soon.  Once on the hill, I passed a guy I hadn't seen before, and then the guy who went by me at the aid station.  We exchanged greetings, and I told him that I would see him on the next descent.  I was making good work of this hill and feeling good. 

Unfortunately, that was short lived as my legs began to get tired as I descended.  I've never liked this section as the footing is tricky and usually wet.  I was alone again, and my thoughts were turning negative.  I managed the ups and downs, and eventually reached the next aid station.  I couldn't remember what the mileage marker was, but I knew what was coming up around the corner.  I lingered at this station for some time, refilling my water bottle,  and refueling.  While there, the two guys I passed on the Reservoir Trail hill went by, as well as another guy who was moving really well. 

I knew the next section of the course would be tough.  I began ascending the Pisgah Ridge.  I caught up to two guys,  and as I approached, I heard them lamenting that it was going to be hard to crack 5 hours at this rate.  Blah - not the news I wanted to hear.  I passed by, and could see the third guy up ahead.  I briefly thought about making a move on this steep hill to catch him, but my legs didn't cooperate, and for the first time, I resorted to hiking.  Once I determined that hiking was an option, I opted for it more often.  I was passed by someone new somewhere between the two overlooks.  Once I reached the second overlook I made my tribute shout out to Elijah.  In addition to putting perspective on my run, it gave me the desire to not walk for a while. 

Soon, I reached the Pisgah Ridge connector trail, and made my way down to Kilburn.  There was a guy in really bad shape stretching on the ground, but he managed to utter words of encouragement to me.  Then I reached the 20 mile aid station.  I really took my time here.  I was not looking forward to the Kilburn Loop.  It wasn't that I had ever ran or hiked it, I just heard horror stories about it.  More guys came in and headed back out ahead of me.  Finally I was ready.

I knew the first half of the loop is down hill.  My legs felt terrible, but I kept up a respectable pace.  Then I turned the corner and started hiking.  The hill wasn't even steep.  I just wasn't in the mood to run anymore.  Being alone on the Kilburn Loop is horrible.  I wanted to hike out to Rte 63 and quit.  I thought about how I ran because I enjoyed it, and I wasn't enjoying this run anymore.  Maybe I would take a break from running or just quit it altogether.  After having a lot of energy all day, I suddenly felt sleepy.  Wouldn't a nap on the trail be delicious?  Then I thought about the time of day, and that it was lunchtime.  So, on a flat easy section, I leisurely walked as I ate one of my granola bars.  Then I stopped to stretch out my legs.  While stretching, I heard footsteps.  Two more runners approached, one female, one male.  This somewhat motivated me to run again, although I still hiked a lot.  It took forever to complete the loop.  I would venture it was some sort of record. 

Reaching the Kilburn aid station for the second time (25.5 miles), I was met by a cheering crowd (okay about 10-15 people) encouraging my efforts.  I felt obligated to run once again until I was safely out of their sight.  It was also the big hill on the dirt road leading out to Rte 63.  Once at the summit, I ran the rest of the way to the parking lot.  Back on the Kilburn Loop, I thought that if I saw anyone I knew at the lot, then I would quit and get a ride back to the finish.  As I approached, I didn't see any familiar faces, but was feeling optimistic about somehow finishing the last four miles. 

Turning the corner onto the Davis Hill trail I saw a runner walking ahead of me.  I decided to run up to him, looking for some company.  I introduced myself to Bob, and we proceeded to push each other to run and sometimes hike the next few miles.  Bob's attitude was fantastic.  He also was running his first ultra, and he wouldn't let me quit.  We made our way over Davis Hill and then to Hubbard Hill.  There was another runner ahead of us (hiking), and Bob kept running to catch him, so I followed.  He tried to convince the guy to stay with us, but the other guy wasn't up for it.  Finally, I let Bob get ahead of me on the second long descent to Winchester Road.  I briefly stopped to stretch because my legs were so unbelievably uncomfortable, and was passed by the guy we last saw on Hubbard. 

I got my act together and soon reached the road.  I could see the runner ahead of me, but we were moving at the same pace.  I was content to finish behind him.  I found myself getting emotional as I first was cheered on by some kids in a minivan, and then again after passing a group of people at Greg's house.  I didn't see my kids there, but if I did I probably would have started balling my eyes out.  I was going to finish this ultra after wanting to quit many miles ago.  Turning the final corner onto Rte 63, I had a rush of adrenaline, and I sprinted to the finish.  5 hours and 19 minutes, the last three a sufferfest. 

I was greeted at the finish line by my wife and then my kids.  I found Bob and congratulated (and thanked) him.  My wife scored me a veggie burger and some veggie chili that was so delicious.  Ryan came over and we chatted while he waited for his wife to finish.  Eventually, I mustered the energy to walk over to Glenn's house for a hot shower and clean clothes, and then headed down to Greg's for a well derserved chromium replacement beverage. 

Overall, I was pleased with my first Pisgah 50K.  Obviously, I went out too fast, even though I felt under control.  The big hills and the technical terrain fatigued my legs faster than I anticipated.  I should have gone slower, but it's hard to remember that when you're in a race.  I still think that I could have come in under 5 hours, and it's funny to think of how much time I wasted on the Kilburn Loop.  I can't wait for next year! 


  1. Congrats on the race, Jonny! Reading your review (along with that Snowman guy) makes me never want to run the 50. Perhaps the short race next year but the 31 miler sounds soul swallowing and dream crushing.

    Good job!!

  2. Awesome job! Great meeting you out there. In my limited ultra experience, those low points are totally normal. It's not normal to run that far over that terrain, so wanting to quit is natural. The Kilburn Loop has done that to me both years! Hope your recovery is going well. See you next year, if not sooner.

  3. Bob with the fantastic attitude here, feeling the need to set the record straight on a couple of things. First, ignorance must receive at least some of the credit for the fantastic attitude. Unlike Jonny, I had no idea about the amount of climbing awaiting us on Davis and Hubbard hills. While I like to think I would have had a winning attitude if I comprehended what awaited us, it is quite possible I would opted instead for curling up in a ball on the ground at the 25.5 aid station. Second, Jonny fails to make it clear that I was one of the runners who "supposedly" passed him around mile 24.5. (The female runner did in fact dust both of us. Negative splits on a trail ultra. There ought to be a rule against that.) I too was a hurting puppy, and Jonny's account understates the extent to which he participated in the mutual pushing, especially on those last climbs.

    So Jonny, thanks so much for running with me those last few miles, it was huge. I look forward to our trails crossing again!

  4. Jonny,

    Great race! Thanks for the timely report. I still think I must have the slowest Kilburn Loop record.

  5. Nice work on the race and on the write up. i had a blast in the race and think your 5h19m is quite commendable. see you next year, i'm hoping to break the sub-6 hour mark.