I had Friday off work because of the holiday weekend so I decided to make the 9.5 hour drive down the Hardwick Georgia for the 3rd annual Bartram Forest 50k. Hardwick is in the Macon area which is right in the middle of Georgia. The drive really turned out to be more like 7.5-8 hours and crossed some really nice scenery straight down I-75. One thing I learned by looking at license plates in Tennessee is that no one actually lives there. Of the 12 or so plates I saw only 4 of them were actually from TN. It's very pretty to visit and drive through but I guess it's not worth staying too long.
I slept in my car at a rest area Friday night about 30 miles south of Atlanta and arrived in Hardwick for the race at 7am for the 8am start. This is a very small town race. Only four runners completed the whole 50k distance last year while 5 finished the marathon and three others did various fun run distances. This year I think the 50k field was somewhere between 20-25.
Elevation wise, I would equate Bartram Forest to a very hilly road marathon, meaning it's a very flat trail race, 2 shorter steeper hills per loop and 2 longer more gradual hills per loop. The course was a 5.25 mile figure 8 repeated 6 times. The terrain is a mixture of grass, sand, dirt and a little bit of large gravel. Definitely a PR course.
On Thanksgiving day I played a few good games of tackle football with some friends from high school. This was not the best taper plan. On Saturday morning before the race, I was so sore I could hardly left my arms above my head and my abs hurt when I coughed. My back, neck and Triceps were throbbing. My hips quads and hamstrings were sore too but no where near as bad as my upper body. I literally felt like and was walking around like I had just finished and ultra before it even started.
Despite my less than ideal physical condition I had a PR on my mind. My previous trail 50k PR was 5:28 (which was actually a 33 mile race, at Farmdale.) My goals where as followed: C goal: 5:27 (new PR) B goal: 5:15 A goal: 4:59 (last years winning time.)
The race begins with "Is everyone ready to start now? OK, Go!" And we are off to the races. I am in the lead pack for the first time ever in a race which is new and exciting, then I actually take the lead. I can't help but enjoy this short lived moment of glory. That's one good thing about running a race that only has 20-25 other competitors. I remain as the leader for the first 1.5 miles then one guy passes me and the other two guys that comprise the lead pack follow him. I am not about the get frog boiled less than 2 miles into the race. I'm comfortable sitting in 4th. The rest of the first loop was uneventful. The lead pack slips further away and I am alone. The nice thing about this course is that it's small and some parts are run twice per loop so you're never alone for too long. My first loop time was 46:09, about 3 minutes faster than my A goal of 4:59.
From experience I have learned not to make a conscious effort to slow down when only a few minutes ahead of pace. From other races I learn that I slow down gradually without knowing it. So I maintain my effort and continue on the second loop. There are two aid stations on the course. One at the start finish line and one unmanned aid station at the top of the longest hill (the longest hill is run twice per loop so you hit that aid station twice.) The aid station at the start finish line is about 50 feet off the course so I make it a point to only stop at the unmanned aid station to save time. I am very quick at the aid station throughout the whole race. I would say my total aid station stops add up to no more than 3.5 minutes. Just enough the fill up a water bottle and grab something to eat. The second loop passes similar to the first in a time of 49:02 which is right around where I needed to be for a 4:59 finish.
about 2 miles into the third loop (mile 14) I really start to feel fatigued. I am having a difficult time keeping proper upper body posture with all of my soreness. My shoulders are the worst. It is a task just to keep my arms moving. I try to do arm circles and stretch them out which helped but it is still painful. I am also breathing pretty hard at this point and am seriously doubting my chances at even a new PR (my C goal) I decide I will at least fight through the 3rd loop (half way point) at a sub 5 hour pace so I can say I got in a solid long run before I had to slow down. The third loop was 51:07, which is above sub 5 pace but I had about 4 minutes in the bank at this point.
I consider walking the first hill in the fourth loop but decide that I will remain on sub 5 pace until I blow up, even if that means blowing my chance at a PR. I wasn't so much interested in a PR as I was seeing how hard I could push myself. At the end of the fourth loop I am feeling really crappy. I am searching for motivation, then it came to me. I start thinking about Mike's PR performance 2 weeks ago at Mendon Ponds. I think about how he didn't slow down late in the race, he kept going strong, and I was going to do the same thing. From that point on, with 10.5 miles to go I have no doubt I am going to maintain my pace and run sub 5. Lap four was 51:36, which is again above pace but I know I could run the last 2 laps under 50.
on the fifth loop my shoulders finally begin to loosen up but now it's my legs barking at me. It is hard to keep running all the hills but I haven't walked a single step of the course all day and if I want to break 5 I can't afford to walk now. I come through on lap five in 49:44. I know have about 52 minutes to finish lap 6 to accomplish my A goal.
I decide to go shirtless for the final lap, as to feel more like a bad ass. At this point I really feel like I have it in the bag. I don't see anyway I will let myself fall off pace with 5 miles to go. I hammer up all the hills, happy that it is the last time I will be seeing them. I skip the final aid station and pick up the pace with 2 miles to go. This being my 6th time around the course, I know exactly where everything was. I enter the final wooded area and can see a sliver of the shelter at the start finish area and know I am only 2-3 minutes from the finish. I pound the last couple minutes and cross the finish line for a lap time of 49:02 (same as second lap) and a total time of 4:56:55 maintaining my 4th place postion (as far as I know, anyway.)
Bartarm Forest is a great small town race with an RD who really understands what the runners want and need (Example: Who wants a finishing medal? I'll take the giant ginger bread man!) There were all kinds of treats at the aid station, and great course markings.
I have run many races this year and continue to learn something new from each of them. Today I learned that if you want to have a great race you have to risk blowing a good race. When I was feeling bad halfway through I could have settled and walk the hills using up the time I had banked and still finish with a PR, but I decided to push even if it meant a total melt down. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. This time it did.
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