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Rock/Creek Race Team member Sheridan Ames, on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail 50k

This race report was written by R/C team member Sheridan Ames.

Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12M/50K Challenge, Wake Forest, NC; April 1, 2012

I planned on doing this inaugural (50K) race last year but it was canceled due to turkeys.

Or, more specifically, turkey hunters. Evidently the hunters took issue with a 100 or so runners tramping through their line of sight and foiling their efforts to bag a prize for the mantel. This year, however, it was our turn to take it to the woods, with a similar intent.

While an out-and-back course is generally not among my favorites, this course was a surprising exception. It’s almost entirely tight, technical rolling single track with very limited downrange sighting. You have to stay really focused on exactly what’s just in front of you or you risk slamming a tree root, rock or branch protruding into the side of the well marked and maintained trail. When I say rolling, I mean rolling. There are no real killer hills but neither is there a flat portion where you can open it up and fly.

The 50K runners start an hour before the 12M race and we run by their starting line. It was great to be greeted by a cheering crowd and the first aid station at just over 3 miles in. That’s the last time you see much of anyone or anything other than beautiful scenery until the next series of aid stations equally spaced at about 3 mile intervals. Despite it being a heavily populated area (as evidenced by the horrible traffic) the trail is devoid of much evidence to this fact. Aid stations were manned by helpful pleasant volunteers and well stocked with fluids and gels. Snacks and food were sparse, so if you are a heavy eater during a 50K you might want to consider packing something yourself.

The turnaround and 12M finish line comes up sooner than you think and again it’s nice to see an enthusiastic group of people in this case waiting on the 12M runners to come across the line formalizing the end of their effort. As for me; I had another half to go and several challenges to overcome.

It’s not long after the runaround before I begin to encounter the first of approximately 250 12M runners coming in the opposite direction. Since I’m only the 5th or so runner they have encountered coming toward them; many seem to have not as yet figured out how opposite lane trail edict works. Compounding both of our efforts is their desire to get to the finish as quickly as possible, my general fatigue and a tight, narrow, rocky and root-filled winding path. Most everyone, however, is very gracious and encouraging. Several near misses, a few off-trail excursions and apologies later I am through the gauntlet and on my own once again.

Being on my own only lasts a short time before I am passed by not 1, not 2 but 3 runners. As they disappear down the trail I noticed that despite their speed they were all heavily soaked in sweat and 2 of the 3 did not carry any hydration pack of any kind. I figured I would be seeing one or more of them later on.

Sure enough, one aid station later one stopped to fill his depleted tank as I ran by with hand held bottle still mostly full from a previous station. I did grab a GU pack at this stop and the next which turned out to serve me well in the final stages of the race.

The last couple of miles are more uphill than down and as luck would have it, I periodically caught a glimpse of the guy in front of me walking the hills. He would then pick up the pace, but he was walking the hills. I became hopeful. Sure enough, within a mile of the finish I caught him walking and flew by as decisively as possible. There was a response from him, albeit futile. With less than a quarter mile to go I saw another runner doing the death march (bent at the waist, head down, pushing the top of your knee with your hands) mid way up a long steep hill. I told the engine room I needed more power and thankfully the dilithium crystals lit me up, just as he seemed to get sucked into his own personal black hole.

Finish is in a big park with lots of space and soft grass. Two big tents covered food tables with hot soup, fresh bread and drinks. All of which were a welcome sight after running for 4 hours and 38 minutes. A time good enough for 5th place overall. It had been a great day for me.

For the 50K’s inaugural year this was a particularly well organized race. The frequency of the aid stations and the rolling course made this a fast course despite the technical trail. Great race to try the “light and fast” approach to shoe, clothing and hydration selection on for size.

As for me,

~Sheridan Ames
“Watch the traffic, the light will not hit you.”