Several years ago, I learned about this crazy race down south called the Georgia Death Race. With a name like that, how could I not want to run it? It was (and still is) a very tough run through the mountains of north Georgia. In the weeks leading up to the race I was amused by the antics of race director, a guy named Sean "Run Bum" Blanton. Then I was impressed, when due to permitting issues, he had to change the direction of the course at the last minute. Not only did he pull this off but he then, at what I am guessing was his own expense, had new race shirts made so the text matched the new course. The race and everything about it was enjoyable (except maybe a few of the long climbs but that is what I signed up for). I looked into his other races and found one in western Virginia that had as the main feature, wild mini ponies. Being a grown man that is not afraid to admit that I really wanted to see the ponies, I finally was able to sign up this year.
The Grayson Highlands 50k takes place on the trails of Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. Driving in to the area, I was reminded of the topography at Georgia Death Race but maybe not as severe. The location was remote, leaving me with zero to very small pockets of minimal cell phone coverage, which was just fine with me. This allowed me to relax the evening prior with a book and get well rested.
The forecast was calling for the strong possibility of thunderstorms and rain during the race. However, that morning was overcast but the rain seemed to be holding off and the temperatures were looking good. Just before we were sent off at the start we were informed that the night before they had decided to change the course to a low, unexposed route to avoid lightning issues, but had last minute changed it back and Sean was out at that moment running to reset the course markings. This ensured that we would run the route mostly likely to encounter the ponies.
The race started at the park visitor center that basically sat at a high point in the park so this meant the start was all downhill. My first two miles flying down the road clocked in at low 8 minutes per mile, which included a stop to retie my shoe. Crazy. We made a quick turn and then the splits became more real and familiar.
The course was much more rocky and technical than I expected, however, I wasn't really concerned with how much it was slowing me down. There was some good variety in terrain which included open runable sections, technical climbs and descents, and a section along a river that required some scrambling on all fours.
I felt good most of the day considering I had run a fast (for me) marathon just two weeks prior. Compared to that, this pace felt like a crawl but I didn't care. I kept telling myself to enjoy the scenery and the day. I think I did. Mostly, I just refused to feel bad, even when I started getting tired and wanted to be done. It was, I think, a good lesson in attitude to bring to later races. The idea of preparing for these races and then just wanting them to be over is strange when you consider the logic. Being in the moment and finding the joy is the point.
I was concerned for a bit early on since I had not seen the ponies. Eventually we came upon them and it was very cool. The first small herd was mixed in with some longhorn cattle, which I heard may also be up there. It seems we crossed the highlands several times and each time came across some ponies, closer on each encounter.
|Real life mini ponies!!|
|Almost finished thumbs up|
photo credit: Appalachian Exposures
I finished in a time of 6:40 which means it took me a full 3 hours longer than the marathon 2 weeks ago. There weren't even that many extra miles as, at least according to my GPS, the race was around 28 or 29 miles, not the full 50k advertised. The climbs and technicality more than made up for those "missing" miles. Overall, I had a great time.
As always when I travel a good distance to run a race, I meet new people and get to hear about races I had not heard of. This trip was no exception. Everyone was very friendly and interesting, making the time and miles pass by easily as we talked. Of course, now I have a bunch of new races to look into and add to the growing list.