In August and September, I took part in two races put on by Tanawha Adventures: the Grand-Further Mountain Run and Table Rock Ultras 50k. This is the race recap for Table Rock Ultras 50k, which I did on September 23rd, 2017.
My first interaction with an ultramarathon, outside of the book Born to Run, came when I volunteered at an aid station for Table Rock Ultras when I first moved to Asheville in 2012. That was when the race was a 50k and a 50 miler (that was actually 54 miles) and I couldn’t fathom that once the runners hit my aid station at mile 42, they still had a half marathon to run back to the finish! Now here I was, running the 50k course, five years later, as a tune up for my first 50 mile race three weeks later.
Table Rock Ultras, in its current iteration, is a 50k and 30k race that starts and ends at Steele Creek Family Campground near Morganton, NC. Our entry included camping fees so my partner Mike and I decided to make this our new dog Tucker’s first camping trip! (We even set up the tent in the house so that he could see that the tent was like one big kennel for humans and dogs!) Waking up next to the race start ended up being a wonderful perk, but that was probably the only perk to camping this time around… It ended up being really hot and humid, even though it was late September in the mountains. Also, it turns out that when Tucker isn’t in his crate, he wants to sleep right in between me and Mike and lick our faces whenever there is any type of movement. Poor Mike actually ended up sleeping on the ground when Tucker took over his sleeping pad in the middle of the night. (At least my new Big Agnes sleeping pad was wonderful and stayed beneath me all night, thanks REI Labor Day Sale!) Another REI Labor Day sale purchase was my new Jet Boil, which made morning tea and oatmeal insanely easy! Harder was waiting in line for the 3 port-a-johns to take care of business before the race started…
Cutting it a little close on getting the bathroom business done and all my gear ready, all the runners bunched up behind an inflatable arch and started the race to the sound of a banjo playing (plus a hundred watches beeping.) The race started out running over a bridge in the camp and out into an open field. I had not done too much research on this course but the course description said to expect 12 miles of single-track, 9 miles of double-track, and 10 miles of gravel. I’m not quite sure where the grassy field fits into there, but it was not that much fun to run – especially at the end.
The 50k course was a partial out and back with most of the climbing in the first half to two thirds of the race. I started out with a slow group, gapped up to a slightly faster group, and stuck there for a little bit. Most of the group was walking (power hiking) the uphills but I knew it was gone to be a long long day if I walked all the uphills. It took a few miles to get to some fun to run single track that included going up and over a small waterfall! Around mile 7 we hit the first real climb, which lasted until mile 10 where there was an aid station and the 30k turnaround. The top section of this was gravel road which made it runnable, and then meant we got to run down it for a little stretch on our way towards Table Rock Mountain. There was a beautiful spot continuing up and down this gravel road, where I got an incredible view of the mountain and could see exactly where we were headed.
The ‘for real’ climbing for the 50k started at the base of the Table Rock Mountain trail around mile 17. It was two miles straight up to the top, over the mountain for a little section to the aid station at the parking lot, then back over on the trail I came up. Not much of this section was runnable, but it made it sure tested my speed hiking skills! I climbed 875 ft in one of those miles! The top had some incredible views and a photographer to snap a picture in our moment of triumph, the hardest part was over!
Even though this was almost 2/3rds of the way through the race, I mentally put this as the halfway point. After doing the little stretch to the parking lot aid station, and getting some extra salt through a potato chip banana sandwich (seriously, not as bad as it sounds, just use potato chips as the ‘bread’ with s piece of banana in between and you get sweet and salty at the same time,) I was bombing my way down the mountain. Some of the rockier parts made this harder to do, but on the soft sections of trail, I was bounding down and my quads were on fire in a good way. The next section of trail after the table rock trail descent was one of my favorite parts of the course. Very wooded, soft trails, that were root-y but not rocky. It was getting hot at this point and the shade was key. Also key was trying to finish the race as quickly and energy efficiently as possible.
Before I knew it, I had passed a couple of people and was back to the waterfall and on my way back on the same section we had gone out on. The heat was starting to get to me, and others who I started to pass. I was still running as much of this section as I could because it did have a great deal of flat or downhill, but at some points I would do break it down into a run/walk with 30 to 45 second walk breaks. Honestly, the most miserable part of the race was once I got back to that damned field. There was no shade on this open field and I knew I was so freaking close to the finish! I chugged my way along the flags marking the course through the field as the sun drained me of my remaining energy! I crossed back over the bridge and could see people soaking their legs in the creek and I could also see the inflatable finishing arch! I tried to give one final kick, and at least elongate my stride to look more like running and less like shuffling.
Mike and Tucker were there to greet/hug/jump on me at the finish as was my friend Chris who had done the 30k. I fully enjoyed my post-race beer(s) and a soak in the creek. I had a couple of blisters but otherwise my legs and feet felt okay. I worked on re-hydrating (not just with beer) and getting some real food into me. We hung around a little bit to cheer on some other runners before packing up our campsite and heading back home.
Quick recap: According to Strava I amassed 5,853 ft of climbing and the views were totally worth it, I could have done without the field at the end though! Plus, Tucker had his first camping trip adventure!