Mt. Cheaha 50k

Mt. Cheaha 50k is a wonderful 50k on the Pinhoti trail.  The trail takes runners down some of the same trails Pinhoti 100 runners run but in the reverse direction.  Todd Henderson and family always do a great job organizing and executing the race.  This year was almost executed perfectly.  I say almost because this year is there was a glitch.  I don’t believe there’s much Todd could have done about it.

Huntsville had a big group running the race this year.  Just from our small training group, there was me, Paul Morris, Jeff Morgan, James Duncan and Rick Rawls.  We were all looking forward to the race.  A few, including myself, was thinking that we might be able to PR.  Jeff, James, and Rick was running the race for the first time.

My Strava data from the race.  https://www.strava.com/activities/879811927

Dinner at the Hotel

We got checked into the Hilton Garden Inn in Heflin by 4:30 pm on Friday.  I think I’ve stayed in this hotel a few times over the years.  It’s a nice place.  We dropped our gear and headed up to Bald Rock Lodge for packet pickup.  They were preparing for the pasta dinner for the raffle and race brief later that evening.  We picked up our packet and headed back to the hotel to eat.  The hotel has a restaurant (American Grill).  The food is pretty good.  It’s super convenient.

After eating, we saw Richard Schick coming into the hotel.  We enjoyed talking to Richard.  He shared some Laurel Valley 35 miler history and gave us his weather prediction for the following day.  We wrapped up the evening with plans to eat breakfast at 4 am at the Waffle House next to the hotel.

Breakfast at the Waffle House

We headed over the Waffle House for some breakfast grub before heading out of town.  It was quick and the food was good.  I was afraid I might regret it but I didn’t.  I did have to use the woods for a toilet but I don’t think it was caused by the Waffle House food.  I just didn’t eat that much.

Waffle House Breakfast

Waffle House Breakfast

After paying the check, we loaded up into the vehicles and headed up to Bald Rock Lodge.  We were rushing to make sure we got up there in time to catch the bus.

Hurry up and wait, and wait, and wait.

Here’s the glitch.  Something happened with the buses.  I really don’t know for certain.  I heard that the buses went to the wrong place and then one of the buses got stuck.  That’s as good as reason as any I guess.  Regardless of the reason, we stood in the cool/cold morning air for over an hour waiting for the buses.  About 5 minutes before they arrived, we found out that we could hangout in the chapel which was warm.  This probably had some impact on my race.  Did it prevent me from accomplishing a PR?  I personally don’t think so.  I think the warmer temps than expected had more impact that the standing around in the cold.

The new race start time is 8:30 am as of now. 

The buses finally came and took us to the start.  I remember Todd announcing that the race may start at 8:15 depending on the morning packet pickup being finished.  Then when he realized that the morning packet pickup wasn’t going to be finished in time, Todd announced, “The official race start time is 8:30 as of right now.”.  I found that entertaining for some reason.  It’s a great example of an ultra running event.  I don’t think I heard a single person complain about the delay.  Of course, we bitched and moaned but no one really complained.  It was, what it was.

Race Start

I’ve run Cheaha 50k every year since 2013.  This year I had a plan in mind.  It was a simple one.  Take it easy from the start till mile 15.  At mile 15, try and push harder.  It was a good plan if I felt good.  However, within just a few miles of the race, I felt as though my breathing was labored.   At the time, I couldn’t figure out why.  Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I know that my allergies were acting up.

I really don’t have bad allergies.  Usually, I only have an issue when it’s spring and all the new plants and trees are blooming.  Normally at Mt Cheaha 50k, that isn’t a problem.  This time, since we have had such a moderate winter, I was having problems with allergies that I normally don’t see until the end of March beginning of April.  Needless to say, I didn’t take any allergy meds before the race.

By the time I got to aid station #1, I felt a somewhat high heart rate and my breathing was labored.  This was the case even though I was intentionally running slower due to my plan.  I knew this wasn’t good.

James, Jeff and I had planned on hanging out together.  We were all going to try and hold back on the first half.  I was quickly seeing that I needed to hold back more that usual to keep my breathing in check.  Jeff and James both seemed to be strong through this section.

Cheaha 50k Elevation Profile

Cheaha 50k Elevation Profile

AS#1 Chandler Springs                  3.34

I grabbed a peanut butter pretzel and refilled my bottles.  I didn’t want to wast much time so I took off as soon as possible.  The stretch from Chandler Sprints to Clairmont Gap isn’t easy.  About 4 miles of it is up hill.  The trail isn’t technical through this section.  It’s a good section to hold a steady pace.

At some point, James headed out without us.  He was feeling good and my slow and easy pace was too slow for him.  Jeff and I stayed together keeping our pace in check.  The last few miles of this section is jeep road that is very runnable.  We cruised the last few miles into the aid station.

AS#2 Clairmont Gap                      8.49

Jeff Morgan 18.5 Miles

Jeff Morgan 18.5 Miles

As always, the volunteers at this aid station and all the aid stations were awesome.  Again, I grabbed some peanut butter pretzels, pickles and got a refill.  The aid station had Tailwind nutrition.  I jumped on an opportunity to refill with Tailwind instead of water.

We headed out onto the most technical portion of the trail.  The stretch from Clairmont Gap to Adams Gap is known for its gnarly trails.  Having run Cheaha before, I was expecting that section to be a slow 6-7 mile run.  However, since the park rangers had conducted controlled burns through this section, it was much easier to run on the trails than previous years.  It was still very technical but with all the leaves burned off the trail, it was easier to see where to step.  Jeff and I held a steady pace all the way to Adams Gap.  Running up to Adams we passed Christy Scott running from the aid station.  She had already refueled and was running strong.

AS#3 Adams Gap                          14.87

In my head, I had hoped that I would run the first 15 miles at a slow and easy pace.  I was hoping the easier pace would give me some extra energy for the last half of the race.   It’s a good plan on most races.  It’s not a good plan at this race.  Cheaha has some very runnable trails, but it also has relentless steady climbing.  I did run this section at a steady pace and I might have even had a sub 10-minute mile.  But, that wasn’t enough to make up for slowing down due to the sun rising high and warm.  Jeff and I were still together but we were both looking tired.

AS#4 Hubbard Creek                   18.87

AS #4 Hubbard Creek

AS #4 Hubbard Creek

The picture take of me rolling into Hubbard Creek says it all.  I had been following Christy Scott on this section.  I knew things weren’t good when Christy ran straight through the aid station and I was ready for a break.

In the picture, I had just finished up a Honey Stinger Ginger Waffle.  These waffles are my favorite food when running, especially if it’s warm outside.

The run from Hubbard Creek to the Silent Trail we a bit of a grind.  Jeff and I keep moving but we both were quiet.  About 5 miles into this section, I had to stop and take a dump.  I had the feeling that I needed to go ever since I left Hubbard Creek.  It took 4-5 miles to find a place with enough privacy to use the outdoor potty.  Needless to say, I felt great after taking care of my business.

The Silent Trail aid station is on a forest service road.

AS#5 Silent Trail                           25.8

I came into the Silent Trail aid station to find James recovering.  He had gotten behind on hydration or nutrition or both and had been there for about 5 minutes.  He was sure I would catch him before he finished.  But, I told him I was going to wait for a few to see if Jeff showed up.  I had pulled ahead of Jeff after my pit stop.  I felt so much better I felt energized and kept running while many were walking.

Jeff had slowed down quite a bit over the last few miles leading into the aid station.  When he came into the aid station he told me he had an upset stomach.  He suggested that I keep going. If I was close to PRing I would have pushed on without him.  But, I figured there was no need to run off without Jeff if I had no chance of PRing the course.  So, Jeff and I kept a nice steady run/walk pace all the way to the last aid station at the bottom of Blue Hell.

We topped off our drink, grabbed a small bite of food and headed out for the final leg.  I told Jeff that you were doing well if you can keep moving when going up Blue Hell.  So, we took our time and climbed up Blue Hell.

AS#7 Finish Line, Bald Rock      31.6

After getting to the top of Blue Hell, we kept run/walking all the way to the finish.  Jeff battled an upset stomach during that stretch.  But, we finished.  Our time was somewhere around  6 hours and 50 minutes.  This year Todd gave a beer glass for the finisher award.  I enjoyed a cold beer out of it when I got home that evening.

Gear

  • Altra Olympus 2.0
  • Mountain Hardware light running shirt
  • Nike 7 inch running shorts
  • Black CEP compression socks.
  • Body Glide
  • Vaseline for my feet

Fuel

  • Peanut-butter stuffed pretzels
  • Honey Stinger Ginger Waffles

Wonda’s Birthday

As soon as I finished, I had to get onto the road and drive back to Huntsville.  I had big plans to celebrate Wonda’s birthday starting at 7 pm.  With the race starting an hour late, I barely made it back in time.

The End

The race course is awesome race course.  I’ve ran it multple years and it just keeps getting more fun.  This year, the weather was awesome.  The weather started out cold but within a few hours it was perfect running temps.  All my running buddies are awesome.  It’s fun to run an ultra solo.  It’s awesome to run an ultra with friends.

At the finish line

At the finish line