"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense."
- David Blaikie

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Foothills Trail (77mi) Report

I finished the Foothills Trail 77M  on Sat in 19:48. That's currently the 3rd fastest known time (FKT) according to Jason Sullivan's records here, but there will definitely be faster crossings coming as more people discover this gem!  Matt Kirk holds onto the record and the 2nd fastest time pretty comfortably. Even more impressed with his 16:52 after seeing the course.

Byron Backer, Richard Lilly and I started out at about 3:15am from Table Rock. The first and most significant climb of the day felt really good. A few miles in Byron stopped to strip off a layer and told me to keep going. I was a little worried about wayfinding, having never seen the course before, but after switching my headlamp from waist to head I found the white blazes and signage to be very good. 

Some highlights: 
  • mi 6ish there was a Marmot vs Skunk standoff that lasted until I threw a stick in his direction and he ran off trail into the underbrush.
  • mi 9.7 at 2:05 into the run I met Jason Sullivan and his son Luke. It was great to see these guys and know that they'd be there for the day. This was a huge boost. They gave me some hot chocolate, refilled my bottles, and sent me on my way to Laurel Valley. 
  • Mi 12ish I came upon a bunch of wild turkeys roosting in a tree. It was still dark and I couldn't see them, which made it even spookier when they took off and made all kinds of noise.
  • mi 14.5 I hit the road in 3:01 (coincidentally, my 2009 Uwharrie 40 halfway split) and got up to the Laurel Valley parking lot where Jason and Joe Parker had a great spread including some soup. I was feeling pretty good and told them I'd try to hold this pace through LV in case they were trying to predict timing when I'd see them next at mi 48.
  • miles 14.5-48 were through the Laurel Valley where there is no vehicle access (well, there's some boat access) and I had to carry all that I needed to eat plus SteriPEN to sterilize my water, compass, lights, whistle, flint, maps, extra layers... basically all the stuff I'd want if something went wrong. This section went very smoothly and I even got to run with some other folks for a while. Got off course 3 or 4 times, but didn't loose more than 20-30 mins total fumbling around.
  • mi 27.8 I saw a sign with mileage and realized I was moving slower than I expected. I thought I had been moving pretty well too! The trail just never seemed to really open up for long stretches and 4mph was about all I could average comfortably & safely.
  • mi 48 came after some tough climbing around the Whitewater river. I thought I was wrapping this section up and then saw a sign that said 2.3 mi to go. The terrain was pretty flat along the river and I thought ok I'll knock this out quickly. Wrong. This was the longest 2.3 miles of the day and I can now see why so many people drop at the top! At the top I was greeted by a big crowd including Jason and son luke, Psyche and her son Leopold (who had made a big "Go Marmot" sign), Charles Raffensperger, Joe Parker and Scott Hodukavich. Wow! What great treatment. I got a grilled cheese, soup, ginger ale, banana, expresso beans... I don't usually eat this well at home! 
  • mi 48-52.6 had a nice climb that let me digest my big lunch and then a great descent into Sloan Bridge where I saw Psyche, Charles and Leopold again. Charles gave me some great tips on the section to come and I was off for some of the best running of the day. The trail was a little technical here at times, but I was feeling great and knew I'd have company again after this short 3.3 mi section.
  • mi 56ish was Fish Hatchery and Psyche, Charles and Leopold  boosted me on my way again. I made good time again on this 3.9 mile section still feeling pretty good and staying ahead of sunset to enjoy the relatively good footing here. I finally flicked on my light toward the end as I was coming down into Burrell's Ford.
  • mi 60ish Burrell's Ford - I found a note and some Gatorade from Heyward Douglass, the Chairman of the 2008 Guide to the Foothills Trail! This was really cool. Heyward is intimately involved in the trails here and I had spent countless hours studying the maps and directions in the guide. I had bumped into him at Laurel Valley the day before and had a nice chat. What a boost! Charles and Psyche gave me some more tips on the Burrell's Ford section ahead which was a tough 10.4 miles. Psyche says she actually likes this section, and to be fair, it is lovely listening to the Chatooga river gurgle by and the moon reflecting just made it magical. However... this section seemed to go on FOREVER. There were a couple times I swear I was going around in circles. The course twists and winds around and my sense of direction in the dark after 60 miles started to get flaky. When the trail finally comes back around to the road it approaches and retreats like a wild animal, climbing a little more before finally dumping out to Cheohee Rd.
  • mi 70.5 At Cheohee Rd the whole gang was there including Byron who had dropped at 48. Judging by the depth of coals in the fire they had been here a while! It was quite a party and hard to leave, but only 6 miles to wrap it up and I was feeling energized again.
  • mi 77 After a lot of great running and a tremendous fall a mile from the finish I finally wrapped this section up and exclaimed "Someone needs to Garmin that sucka!" This section must be longer than advertised. I was greeted by the whole gang again and there was much fanfare and flashing of cameras. Whew. What fun!
This was a really special run. It will take me a while longer to process it, but there's something really cool about this genre of ultra. It's a beautiful trail and a worthy challenge, but beyond that it's the community and the purity of the challenge that stands out. For the amount of time on trail some folks will expect a buckle, but I found that the friendships and little keepsakes like the "Go Marmot" poster Leopold made and the note from Heyward Douglas are far more rewarding. 

Some pictures from the day...