Saturday November 19 marked the day for the first ever Duncan Ridge trail race in Blairsville, Georgia. I had several friends going up to do the race, which had a 30k and 50k option, so I decided at the last minute to see if I could get in. The race was already full, but Robert Lewellen, the race director, was kind enough to let my dad and I sign up late. Not only was it a last minute decision, but I was also just coming off of cross-country season at UTC where we run a 5k, and I had not run over 10 miles in at least 2 months. I did my best to ignore the blatantly obvious fact that I was, shall we say, less than prepared for a 30k trail race with over 8,000 feet of elevation gain!
The race starts at Vogel State Park and follows the Duncan Ridge Trail (DRT) and Coosa Backcountry Trails. While the 50k is an out-and-back, the 30k is more of a lollipop. Race morning was chilly and overcast with temps predicted to stay in the 40s all day, so I stayed in the car until the very last minute. After assembling at the start line, Robert gave some last minute instructions to the 150 or so runners and set us off on what would prove to be a grueling course.
Runners follow pavement for less than half a mile before turning onto singletrack, so I went out pretty hard to avoid the congestion. We immediately started a small climb before descending all the way to the 3.5 mile aid station. I was doing my best to keep up with R/C teammate Sheridan Ames, and he was giving me all I could handle. Immediately after the aid station, the trail starts climbing. Before the race, Dreama had told me about this climb, saying something like “It goes on forever, is really steep in sections, really technical…”
That pretty much sums it up. Every time I though we were at the top, I would turn a corner and keep going up. Finally, after something like 4 miles of ascending, the trail turns steeply down; the quad-killing, almost-worse-than-climbing kind of steep. At the time, I though to myself how much it would stink to have to come back up this way, not knowing at the time that we would do just that. After maybe a mile of downhill, I arrived at the second aid station which also marked the split for the 30k and 50k. Words cannot describe how happy I was to follow the 30k arrow down a dirt road for about 3 miles rather than the the 50k arrow that went right back onto singletrack and up another mountain.
I did my best to make up some time on the dirt road, and it felt nice to be able to stretch out my legs a bit. There was a nasty headwind for most of it though, making me thankful that I chose to wear two layers and gloves. 3 miles later, we were directed back onto singletrack that of course went switchbacking up and eventually spit us back out where we first hit the dirt road. This is when I realized that we had to return the same way we came, which meant that I would indeed have to climb up those nasty hills I had run down. When I reached those hills, Sheridan and I both let out an audible sigh. My legs were just about toast by now, and I was struggling to stay positive mentally, so it was nice to at least have some company even if we were too busy breathing to talk much. The one plus on the way back was that runners get to descend the 4 mile section of trail that they had to climb on the way out. This was a nice chance to recharge, but I knew that the last 3.5 miles to the finish would be tough because the first 2.5 are all uphill.
I took a GU roctane and refilled my bottle at this aid station, the first and only time I stopped all day, so I felt decent going into the climb. It is much more runnable than the previous section, and I managed to keep a steady pace. After reaching the top, it is a fast downhill mile to the finish. When I popped out of the trail and onto the last stretch of pavement, I was relieved to be almost done. At the finish line, I was greeted by Robert and several other volunteers who all worked extremely hard to put on such a great, yet difficult race. I told Robert that, mile-for-mile, this was by far the toughest course I have run to date, and I cannot even imagine the 50k. Overall, it was a strong showing for the Rock/Creek team’s Chattanooga crowd with Dreama taking first overall female in the 50k, Sheridan coming in 5th overall, and Cathi Cannon also having a strong race. I would recommend the race to anyone wanting a challenge, but don’t expect to set any PRs on this course!