If Gator Trail 50k is anything, it is homegrown and unpretentious; it is a trail run, as gutbasic as it gets. Grant Egley is the race director and he is a tall man with a pleasantly slow speech in which one may find traces of mississippi where he started a fifty miler a quarter-century ago. He shook my hand as he briefly discussed the trail conditions, explaining the smoldering areas, the fact that some runners were already on the trail, and his history in ultrarunning. Number pickup was a piggly wiggly bag with a runner's world number bib and a navy blue sweatshirt, sort of military-style with big block letters reading “GATOR TRAIL RUN 2011 50K.” An aid station was being set up with home-style plates piled with cheeses, pretzels, trail mix and bananas beside coolers of gatorade and water. Cokes were to the side with apples and jars of pb and jelly and breads. The finish chute was sliding around by a canvas tent of computers and the ubiquitous digital clock.
Several runners loosened legs and danced and stretched or sat patiently on truckbed tailgates. I stretched anxiously as someone yelled “hey! We don't stretch at these things!” Turns out this sagacious taunt was from a man completing his 300th ultra who spoke with another runner of “around 250 of these things.” A lively group of all walks of life.
Conditions were ideal at an overcast mid-40s to start, capping at mid-50s with barely a sprinkle along the way. 28 runners toed the line as race director Grant spoke the magic words “racers ready? Well go then!” We passed kyote (crying crimsoned-faced and horror-stricken as short-shorts and compression suits blurred by) into the surrounding trails. I made an amateur error of not tying my shorts well and the four gels pulled on my upper thighs then middle thighs and were getting lower before I stopped to deal with it, about 400 ft into a 31 mile run. Not an auspicious occurrence. But from there we snaked into the trails and I passed towards the faster mid-pack and fell in behind a familiar pace for the opening loop. The first two miles traversed smoldering pine forest, part of a seasonal controlled burn, but the smoke was negligible. I thought it resembled a battlefield and I thought of the Sommes or the Bulge and had a few moments of wild imaginative thinking. But the deepening sand interrupted my fictions as the sand worked my feet and legs, losing a good 20% of kick efficiency, enforcing the sand's role as a detriment to my day's running. But as I learned on these trails: if there was no sand, you could bet on roots, and if there were roots, you could bet on knobs & rock-juts hidden in tangles of pine needle and fermented leaves, like large knotted boschian arms reaching across the trail. And these arms (as my spontaneous ultra-guide Mark noted) got stronger and longer as the loops got deeper.
The sandy access road converged into a trail of new grass and plank-board bridges bouncing on muddy digs from the lakes runoff. Primitive and ribbed passages of kinky trail carried you to the turn-around where the numbered sticker from your bib was pinned to the board, indicating lap number. Then the trail blazed back for one and a half miles and veered left to jag and jack through the most technical terrain of the run, with more rustic plankboards laid across the worst of it. A full stride was impossible as you knee-highed the densest passages of trail roughage. The break came at the wooden walkway where you turned back into the state park office and started the next loop after a short road run.
Mark was my running partner and he was a powerful runner who could've easily left me in the dust, but like some trail running boddhistiva stayed back to support me. We discussed several runs, from the pike's peak marathon to the t-shirt run (mangum track team) to Mt. Mitchell challenge (thats something you might like he said), and kept me invigorated about the accomplishment of endurance running. When a root body-slammed me in the fourth loop he let a good-nature chuckle and said, “well at least you got that out of the way,” and I had to grin even on the fifth cycle/ 27th mile as I passed the location.
Overall I met some good folks, ran some tight trails on strong legs, and pulled in to a wholesome experience of healthy principals. I was presented with a finisher's frame as Mrs. Egley made me a fantastic pb and jelly sandwich (which I initially could not eat, was just like a big ball of drydry flour in my mouth, but that passed to voracious hunger). I pulled on warm pants to be kindly chauffeured home by my wife as Kyote shouted “truck” all the way home to the shore.
I am researching other races down the road, all long distance events, with Bull Run Run 50 and the JFK 50 and the Mt. Mitchell Challenge staying in the favorites list. Trails are most preferable, and I must really plan around the busy season at my restaurant, among infinite other things. I am no longer an unemployed college student with nothing but time and boundless energy and a discern for poverty and a head full of romantic philosophies. But I do braid that narrative into current dynamics; I am a living river sourced at every point before this one. But who knows what will follow and who would want to.
Meanwhile I thank all those who supported this goal and who read these ramblins and stuck with me as I learned that I could run fifty kilometers in less than five hours and enjoy it. I assure you, if I can do such a thing, almost anyone can.
If you want to get utterly mocked, just try to predict your life; you will be astounded.