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Rock/Creek team racer Sheridan Ames reports on the Big South Fork 17.5

Race Report-Big South Fork 17.5 Mile & 10K Trail Runs
Saturday, September 29th 2012

This event is one of the very few races I make a concerted effort to attend on a regular basis. I missed participating last year but the previous year was fraught with disaster. It was by far my worst showing there, or any other race in recent memory. I have been itching for redemption ever since. Thankfully, this year proved to be fruitful.

Driving up that morning is definitely one of the toughest parts of day. It’s a solid 3 hour drive from the Chattanooga area with a good portion of it on rural two lane roads. Despite patches and heavy fog, slick wet roads and an errant coal/gravel truck we arrived early, helped by the fact the race officially started ½ an hour after what I had planned for. This gave me plenty of time to talk trash with Marty, a fellow age group competitor with whom I routinely compete at this race in particular. I knew he would be running for a repeat of the thumping he gave me last year. I expressed to him that if that was his plan I hoped he had a back-up one as well.

The race started exactly on time (as is the norm) and on the short gravel road segment prior to ducking into the woods for the trail, we quickly settled in to our respective paces and places. You want to get a decent start here as the trail turns to a tight single track shortly after leaving the road. You can pass, but not comfortably, for the next couple of miles. And boy do they fly by. Since it’s not a technical trail the pace is unforgiving from start to finish. That is actually what makes this race so tough; it’s not the trail that does you in, it’s the pace.

Sure enough, the pace was kept high by a small group of runners who conveniently tucked in behind me and never allowed me to either gap them or slow to allow them to pass. One runner so irritatingly close I thought I could skip my scheduled colonoscopy later this year. At the end of the train I could occasionally see and/or hear Marty knocking at the door but either not wanting to pass or not being able to. As we approached the halfway point in the race I decided it was time to find out.

The trail at this point traverses a series of rolling hills, tight switchbacks and heavy cover. I purposefully choose this location to pick up the tempo and try to gap Marty. Despite not really knowing whether it was working or not, I keep up the quick tempo until the second to the last aid station which comes with about 5 miles to go. I stole a quick glance back down the trail and didn’t see him and couldn’t decide if I should back off a bit or not. That question was quickly answered when the guy I passed just before the aid station bolted down the trail ahead of me. I immediately tore off to run him down. The pass came a short time later just before the last aid station which comes a very honest 3 miles from the finish.

Frankly; it is at this point you begin the real race to the finish line. Countless competitors will tell you this is exactly like the 20-mile mark in a marathon – half way home. In years past, this section of the trail has been littered with very fast and talented runners left wandering in the underbrush off trail looking for new legs, motivation, gels and water.

I was still not sure if I had successfully dropped Marty, so in the interest of salvaging my pride I decided that if he was close and wanted to run me down (as had happened last time), I was going to make him really suffer for the effort over the last few miles. I put it all out there and never looked back until I could smell the barbeque and hear the tops being popped off the bottles of ice cold beverages at the finish line.

I was only on my second bottle when Marty came across the finish line, indicating he really was close to catching me. I was thankful I never waivered in that last section or surely he would have run me down. I’m confident he and I will again be back next year to test our mettle and once more enjoy the genuine post race camaraderie shared by everyone, the beautiful course (Unmatched this year due to the very hard work of the Park Rangers and staff!) and naturally the delicious BBQ lunch provided.

New for this year was the (welcome) addition of a 10K Trail Race utilizing a portion of the same trails the longer race is run on. A great option for couples or family with different goals than those with whom they came to the race and who were entered in the longer race. I would be remiss (and in proverbial dog house) if I did not mention that local (Apison) runner Lori Wilson was the Overall Female Grand Master’s Division winner of this inaugural event.

Other notable local finishers were: Bob Adams (Ooltewah), Tracy Gartman (Chattanooga), Joshua Rogers (Signal Mountain), Bruce Novkov (Signal Mountain), Belinda Young (Chatsworth), Andy Loss (Ringgold), Amanda Brazier (Red Bank), Doug Gregory (Signal Mountain) and Michael Martin (Apison).

Gear List: Shirt: Patagonia Air Flow
Shorts: Patagonia Strider Shorts
Sox: Smartwool PhD
Shoes: Salomon Speed Cross
Hydration: Nathan hand held