This year’s focus to date has revolved around preparing for my first major race of the year, Operation Endurance 12 hour race at the very last weekend of March. But a couple of weeks ago a good friend of mine asked if I would support him on his first 50k, The Bear Blaster 50k+. Of course I could not let him have all the fun so I signed up, leading me to run a 50k+ race a week before my goal race for the month.
The Bear Blaster 50k was being held at Lake Thurmond just outside of Augusta Georgia and ran on the Bartram Trail. The Bartram trail skirts the lake and provides a fairly flat, non-technical trail surface. The hardest aspect of the trail are the numerous quick dipping rollers created for and by the mountain bikers who often use and mantain the trail. The race would run sixteen miles out and back along this winding trail.
On Saturday morning my friend and I awoke from our campsite and traveled the quick short drive to the start of the race. The Bear Blaster 50k is a super low key event without all the frills and trappings of most races and thus it was a pretty low cost race. Regardless of the reduced cost and no frills attitude of the race, the race itself is top notch and well ran. The race directors love the race adn its runners. While there was no shirt provided the race directors provided us with a bag with a few goodies and a pint glass.
There were only about forty people in the race and we all milled about getting ready for the start of the race. we were told the course was marked only in select places but the Bartram trail’s yellow markings would be easy to follow to the sixteen mile turn around. Additionally, the race directors wanted all the aide stations to be exactly five miles apart. On trails this rarely happens as aide stations are setup on roads and places with easy access. I was curious how they managed to get these aide stations spread so exactly when the trail winds around the lake, with long remote sections.
The start line was nonexistant, instead it was a mass of bodies milling about, that were suddenly spurred to motion with the start of the race. The first several miles were along easy non-technical trail and I slowly worked into my running pace. I originallyplanned on getting a good slow two week taper for my twelve hour race, but adding this race meant I would only have a week to taper down and recover from my 550 miles of run training for the year. Because of this quick hard taper my first few miles were slow and deliberate. After six miles I came to the first aide station, grabbed some pretzles, cookies and chocolate bacon and pushed on.
After a couple more miles I realized the flat terrain was wearing me down as I had taken very few walk breaks. Usually in a 50k or longer race a runner walks the climbs and pushes the downhill sections. This trail’s terrain provided miles of mostly flat and unchallenging inclines. The most difficult part of the trail were the quick rolling dips which were a bit slippery due to rain the week before. I decided I would start walking every mile marker sign for a minute or two. Eventually I came to a spot on the trail with a chair, roughly five miles past the last aide station. I noticed that down on the shore of the lake was the aide station. Turns out they set this aide station up by boat, brinning in the table and all the normal ultra foods. I nibbled on several potato wedges, cookies, chips and an assortment of whatever else was on hand.
At this aide station I found out that the turnaround was not sixteen miles out, instead it was seventeen miles out. I adjusted my math in my head and pushed forward to the half way point. The next section contained numerous rolling dips of varied depths. These eventually gave way to wide old dirt roads that ran for a few miles. At mile seventeen I finally came to the turn around and the final aide station. At this point I refilled my liquid nutrition I keep in my water bladder ate a variety of foods like cookies, chips and peanut butter and jelly sandwitches. The best part of this aide station was the beer I was offered. I gulped down the beer, grabbed a few more sandwiches and headed back down the trail I had just came down. It was time to start the second half of the race.
As ran I counted down the miles to the finish line. I continued to run til I hit a mile marker then I would walk. Eventually I counted down the miles to wher I only had eight more miles to go, the magic marathon distance. I got a bit giddy as I went from twenty six miles to twenty seven passing into the ultra distance. At this point I caught up with another runner who was having a slower than usual day, John. We chatted for a while and ran together.
At one point with two miles or so to the next aide station the sun came out and the air began to get super humid. I had drained all my liquid nutrition from my bladder, as I was trying to suck down the calories, and I only had a swig of water left in my water bottle. At this point John asked me if I had any extra water and I let him know I was also down to my last. Luckily a cyclist came by and offered us his extra water as he only had a mile to go. With that me and John pushed on to the last aide station and the final six miles.
The final six miles involved numerous complaints about sore and achey muscles and dreams of milkshakes and non aide station food. At this point we ran for periods of time followed by walk breaks. Finally we had come to 33.5 miles of running and were looking to break eleven hours. We came to the final turn and the finish lne was now roughly a hundred yards away. John bolted and yelled out for me to keep up. My legs were tired but I tried to keep up with the pace. It was a struggle and after a bit we stopped and started walking. Finally we had about 50 yards to go and we could see the gazeebo and the finish line and again John took off hard. I tried to keep up and began to complain aobut the breakneck pace. John simply told me it would be over in a minute, the finish line was right there. So I put my head down and pushed to keep up, pushed to finish the race. Later I looked at my data adn for those final thirty seconds I was running at a six to six and a half minute per mile pace, the fastest I had ever sprinted in a race and I had thirty four miles on mylegs!
My friend had a good day in the race, with an eight and a half hour finish time, not a bad time for his first 50k. My official time was 10:57:01 for 33.4 miles of trail running. My first 33 mile trail race, The Tortoise and the Hare 50k took me 11:39:05 and that was just last November, a 42 minute improvement over last years first 50k. The Bear Blaster 50k is a great small low key 50k with a flat and fast course with a great race director who cares about the fast and slow runners. At the end of the day my friend completed his first 50k and I completed my second, fourty minutes faster than my previous race. Now its time to recover and prepare to run for twelve hours next weekend. Til next time.