“If I never do this again, it will be too soon…” I told the race director as he picked up trail flags behind me
Music City Trail Ultra 50k. Pegram, TN. March 14, 2015. 3rd year for the race.
That’s right, there’s a story behind this one, it’s a long one! My short & simple race review can be found at Bibrave.com. Otherwise grab some snacks and get cozy.
Registration: This was available online through ultrasignup.com. When I registered it was around $55 with a shirt included, as race day neared the cost rose to $70. This also included a finishers glass, and aid station help. No medals, no chip timing.
Now why did I pick this race? Laura and I were looking to up our running game, I searched races available for the date of March 14, this one popped up, and it was a days drive. So of course, we signed up. We also jumped into a training program already at week 11, as we have a good mileage base. We did not read the message on the website:
WARNING – The Music City Trail Ultra is hard especially for the 50k. We are not saying this to impress you, read some of the reviews from last years runners on our site under the “News” link. If you’re willing to take this challenge and still be humble, we welcome you.”
Packet pick-up / expo / pre-race email: The week of the race an email surfaced from the race director. This had information about where and when packet pick-up was located and the general race information. It was a 11 page pdf. It was harsh, but honest, and had us wondering what we were getting into. Things like “add the map to your phone” “it’s going to rain” “follow the flags, don’t get lost” “bring a positive attitude” “it’s not a 50k walk.”
There was no expo, this is a small race, maybe 200 people tops. However packet pickup was at a Fleet Feet store near Nashville, the evening before. You could also arrive early to the race and pick up your bib. We were a little early, so we browsed the store. Once the pick up was open, all we had to do was say our name (no id was asked for and you could pick up someone elses) and we got our shirt and a bib in a bag with a couple of flyers for local companies, which is great if you lived there or had time to spend to use at the chiro.
After we grabbed our things, we hit the grocery store for some breakfast, and headed to our hotel, which was about 8 miles from the race start, but nothing fancy. We were both nervous, and I had developed a weird cough.
I woke up feeling feverish, chills then hot, but I laced up my shoes, took some Tylenol. We got in the car and drove to the race start. It was cloudy and 50-60 degrees. We parked in a pasture at this house.
Pre-race: plenty of parking for everyone in the grass pasture. Port-o-potties lined up. Nothing fancy. An announcement was made 10 minutes before the race was to start, saying they would wait for the port-o-pottie line to die down, then they would start.
8:05 am – race announcements were made and runners had to take an oath. Then the race started. We just wanted to finish. We were given 9 hours to attempt our feat.
Course: There were 3 race distances that started at the same time; 12k, 25k & 50k. The shorter distances would eventually turn around or run a different route.
Trail, single track trail, ravines, mud, creeks, leaf covered ground, and some gravel. The terrain was tough, lots of elevation change. Up and down, through creeks, slippery, sloppy and wet. Course was marked with orange flags, some were placed really far apart.The course was a giant loop through a hunting preserve.
There were 6 aid stations (3 out and 3 back) with plenty of water, Gatorade, chips, pretzels, gummis and candy. The volunteers were friendly, but realistic if running slow. Some of them took photos. You were on your own aside from the aid sations.
There were no bathrooms on the course, just nature. No spectators. No mile markers. No medics
My race: Laura and I started out in the back, we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Also the start was crowded, everyone was forced to slow down as we left the pasture and entered the woods. It was one by one, up the first incline and the trail was single file.
Once the racers spread out, Laura and I stuck together through the terrain. It was tough, even one section where we had to be careful not to slide down the entire hill. The rain the area received all the days before the race did not help. We also kept pace with another couple running the shorter race distance, we would catch them on the uphills and they would pass us on the down.
We approached the first Aid Station, had some drinks, snacks and refilled our handheld bottles. This was at mile 4.5, but my Garmin was tracking all strange. However I was using it to watch our pace. We were all over the place, a 10 min mile, then an 18 minute mile. I was somewhat worried as I knew I had to maintain a 17:23 mile to finish the course in 9 hours.
We were slowly covering the course. When we got to AS2, they checked our bibs against the time and were doing fine. We grabbed some snacks and moved along. This is when things change. Laura fell. I am not sure how it happened, the trail we were following was mostly covered in leaves, hiding things like rocks and sticks. She got up and continued. Then she fell again, this time we were heading down a slight decline, her foot gut stuck up under her, she was in tears. I asked her to make it to the next AS, which was approx 2-3 miles ahead. She was still in tears, it hurt her really bad.
At the beginning of the race, we made an agreement, not to leave each other behind. We started to walk, Laura couldn’t run. We kept moving as it didn’t make sense to back track. I got my phone out, I was preserving battery life on airplane mode as I knew it wouldn’t last on regular mode. I had pre-programmed the 2 contacts in my phone for emergency. I sent 2 different texts, as we were instructed to text because of spotty service.
We kept moving. In this time another runner, Katya, stopped. She said she was a nurse, she attended to the tearful Laura. She determined nothing was broken, just a bad sprain. She gave Laura some encouraging words, Motrin and a Kit Kat. I waited for a text response, as my battery life ticked away.
Finally we hit a “Jeep road”, a part of the race that is a more defined trail. I finally got a response via text. I sent our location, and they said they would send someone on their way. We stayed put in one spot. I watched the time tick away on my Garmin. Another runner coming from the other direction passed us, he also said he would get some help.
Then I heard the SUV, I answered one last call from the race director. I remember making a comment about finishing the race on time, since I was now about 35 minutes behind. He said he would allow me to finish. I then said some parting words to Laura, and the man who picked her up.
I was now on this journey, on my own. I had no one, no music, nothing but my thoughts, my fever, and nature.
I finally made it to the next AS. It seemed like it took forever to get there, I am not sure Laura would have made it that far. When I got there a guy was just leaving, he said there were a lot of water crossings ahead, some even waist deep. This had me ponder taking my phone with me, my one and only life source. I left it behind along with my extra GoPro battery. This was also the longest section of the course without aid, a 6 mile loop. I fueled up with some more snacks and was on my way.
It had also started to rain, and the scenery was all starting to look the same. I made sure to keep my eyes on the orange flags. I crossed a few creeks, and then was off to climb through the woods. I kept moving, I even saw some wild turkeys, to which I had a quick thought, “will they attack me?” “If a tree falls in the forest, will anyone hear it?”
I made my way back to the AS, making it my 4th aid stop. They said I was not the last runner, this lifted my spirits. This AS was also my favorite, very positive and the gummi Life Savers were delish! I also made it back not having to cross any creeks at waist deep, maybe that guy got lost? I reclaimed my phone and battery, and trotted on my way. I was also 17.5 miles into the race. My Garmin was close to beeping for 19 miles.
Once again, more climbs, more mud, downhills, more trees, more orange flags. It was all looking the same, but I just kept one foot in front of the other, pushing forward. It was the only thing I could do. I made it to AS5, I asked how I was doing with the cutoff time, they said I was close. I was looking for encouragement, which I did not receive., which was also very mentally hard to keep pushing alone. They were friendly, I said later and left.
I only had one more aid station, then I was going to finish. I wanted to finish! I was even visited by the guy who rescued Laura, I told him I needed some new legs, he didn’t pull me from the course. Then I heard it, beep beep – low battery! My Garmin, the one electronic device I had. I wasn’t about to turn on my phone, I might need it for an emergency. I ignored the beeping and trotted ahead.
By the time I had finally made it to the last AS, my Garmin was dead and I was delirious. My fever was back! I was thinking of pulling myself. I chatted with the guy at the AS, he told me I had 6 more miles to go. I was so confused as I knew the last stop was at mile 26.1. I also asked for the time, I was told “15:52” ugh, I had to do some math on a soggy brain. I had about an hour to go 6 miles in this terrain, which I knew I could not do, but I was told I could finish.
I popped some more Tylenol, ate some more candy, filled the handheld and was directed to cross the creek and follow the flags. I didn’t notice flags in any other directions, in fact there was a pile of flags that had been pulled. I gave myself a pep talk, “I am going to keep moving, I will do my best, I am not going to quit, I need to finish for Laura, they will have to pull me from the course!”
I climbed up and out of the ravine, running when I could. I was then at this familiar cross road, the spot in the pre-race emails I was warned about when I came to it at about mile 6 ish. WHAT?!?! Was I lost, did I take a wrong turn? I thought back, I knew I wasn’t feeling well, but I was religiously following the flags. I pulled my map out of it’s plastic bag, where the heck was I? Which was was north? All the trees look the same, brown with bark.
Don’t panic, think this out. I fired up my phone. Carefully looking at the map, I discovered I was sent the wrong way at the last AS. I was sent in the same direction we went when we left the AS the first time, after mile 4.5. I pulled up the Google Earth map that I loaded, it was taking a while as phone service was spotty, since I had to clue where was north, and no clue where I was in relation to Nashville, I then placed a phone call.
The race director was not surprised, I told him where I was, and I wasn’t going to move. He was going to have someone pick me up in 10 minutes. So I waited, I stood, stared at the trees and mud. I then placed a call to Josh, told him the situation, he was a little confused, but it was nice to talk to someone. I kept my phone on and stood there, about 5 minutes passed, I got a phone call, my ride would be 10 more minutes, so I stood some more.
Finally, after what felt like another day I heard a car approaching. In reality I would guess about 25 minutes passed. As the truck got near, there was another familiar face in the cab. It was Katya, she too had been led down the wrong trail, but she had ran a lot further. So, when I called for a ride, they were out rescuing her.
It was time to determine what to do? We met up with the race director, John. He said he would drop us at a location that would be comparable to the distance we had already covered. This was a problem, because I had not covered as much ground as Katya. Katya also had a plane to catch in Nashville at 7pm, it was already after 5pm, and technically the race was over. We were told the last AS workers had switched, and the replacement person wasn’t familiar with the course.
In the voice I had left, I told them, I would really like to finish the race. In my mind it really wasn’t my fault I was so behind with the time, I would have finished the race in the allowed time, without my setbacks. I however was not feeling great, so I was happy with being dropped off at the same spot as Katya.
John said he would run the remainder with us. We were also worried Katya would not make her flight. She hopped out of the truck the minute it stopped and barreled through the remainder of the course. I got out of the truck and slowly picked up my pace to something people would call running. All that standing, then sitting didn’t do anything for me.
John in his khaki’s and hiking boots, eventually caught up with me as I walked up an incline. He was removing the orange flags behind me. I did my best to run when I could, but my legs were shot, I was exhausted and I was sick, however I was determined to finish the race I was given.
John and I made awkward small talk. I think the thing I was most amazed to learn, people actually run the entirety of this course. It’s a beast, I admit I took on more than I should, the climbing and descending really ripped apart my legs. John told me it would be easier to actually run the downhills as your body naturally wants to descend. He also mentioned he would like to move the course to more natural trail and away from the more “maintained” jeep roads. This is when I told him, “If I never run this again, it would be too soon”
I carried on, doing my best. I then saw the opening to the pasture from where we started the race. I had no energy to pick up my pace, but I did keep a steady run and crossed what was left of a finish line in the mud. I HAD FINISHED AN ULTRA. Was it a 50k, no, but some where I ran about 29 miles. I was happy for myself.
Finish: There were finisher pint glasses with the race logo to fill with beer from the local Jackalope Brewing. There were also peanuts, candy, cookies and Gatorade. Pizza was available earlier in the day. The food was all spread out on the porch. There were hand made awards given out long before I arrived.
At the time I finished, there was no one left except Laura, some AS volunteers, Katya, and John. There was also just snack foods left. I surprisingly was not too hungry, I did however want my beer!
I had all kinds of thoughts. Laura was supportive, but still upset. I was happy they allowed me to finish after the course had closed, but it was obvious they all would rather be some place else, and I didn’t want to hold them up. They were very accommodating though. After one of them helped us get our car out of the muddy pasture, a bag full of peanuts, and another beer, Laura and I left the property.
Overall: As I mentioned I would not run this again. This course is a BEAST!!! I should have taken the warning more seriously, but I am not sure how you train for this crazy terrain. Yes, it’s trail, but it was also super wet and muddy, it was also steep, constantly changing elevation. If you want to prove how badass you are, do this race!
Personal: I think I have felt every emotion or feeling possible, just from one running experience.
- Heartbreak – I really feel sad for Laura, she would have never been able to finish the race in her condition, yet she put in the miles to do her best.
- Failure / disappointment – I didn’t complete 50k
- Joy – I finished the race I was given, it was an ultra distance on the toughest terrain I have ever encountered. I never quit
- Sick / worthless – the night after the race and for an entire week, I suffered from the flu. I have never been so sick
- Redemption – I want to run a 50k
- Accomplishment – You never know what you are capable of until you set out to do it, I learned how strong I was after my first marathon, and have been pushing myself ever since. If the challenge doesn’t scare you, it’s not the right one for you.
- Inspired – the people who conquered this course, running, are amazing!!
So yes, I am an ultramarathonner. However I have yet to accomplish that 50k distance. I will get there! Thank you to everyone that pushed me along the way, thanks for all the kind words of encouragement.
Video of the race https://youtu.be/STWsTsjnENo