Sunday, October 4, 2015

Table Rock Ultra, a study in red clay, rock outcroppings and good ol' fashioned downpours.


Picture credit, Lonnie Crotts.



Table rock 50k sept 26 2015. Leg One.

(as yet incomplete and it reads well enough in this state and i may or may not finish it later. pulp aesthetic is the new varnish.)

what we didnt see in 2015, as seen in October of 2014. Photo credit Lonnie Crotts.

Friday morning.

My wife had attached a Disney poncho as a last minute addition to the outside of my pack. It was flimsy and shredded at the seams and I vowed to never use it.
In pursuit of a rain shell, I stopped at a local outfitting company before starting the drive to Morganton NC. Wilmington has a couple of shops and I chose the newer, more expensive spot to begin. They had a beautiful Marmot for 100 dollars that I liked and posted everywhere were signs advertising “25% off storewide” and I was excited, asked the attendant if the jacket was discounted.
“No, I’m sorry. That one’s fresh in the door.”
I left empty handed, hit I-40, and within 20 minutes I hit rain.

Friday evening.

Six hours later I hit Morganton's historic downtown. I pulled into a puddled parking spot alongside Catawba brewery for packet pickup and proceeded  to pickup my packet where peter piper picked a pepper .... never mind.
The drive had been a grueling, rain-blind thing with multiple wrecks and a helluva lot of stop and go traffic. Stressful driving, white knuckle hours.
I was glad to arrive but the rain persisted and the light-fade of evening was not far off. I drove the final 30 minutes to the camp and put on my Disney poncho and walked around the marshy land of Steele’s Creek Campground to find a spot where my tent might find a slight lift of perch above the collecting rain. Found a spot, near my choice from last years much dryer affair, and set up quickly the tent, moved bags and a cooler into the vestibule. Set up the stove, cooked up my wife’s wonderfully rich and filling meatsauce pasta. A bit of a tradition, Kas almost always makes me my pre-race meal and it never fails to warm me up, relax the nerves, and start the mind thinking about the distance ahead.

My fine rain-protective Nemo tent making its stand on the banks of Steele creek.

I sporked the last of the sauce into my mouth, collected and consolidated race things, opened Celine’s Death on the Installment Plan to the continuing thump of rain.
Being absolutely alone on a rainy night with the mountain-dark of night beginning to prey on one’s mind can be unsettling to me. I was alone, I had no service, and the looming depression of previous weeks began its work.
I fucking started to tear, to cry, then to sob. Terrible feelings  and self-doubt and the hauntings of my anxiety began to rip at me deeper.
I drove out for a call to Kas, said hello, heard a quick NPR story which faded to static as I pulled into my campsite. A few pages of the book, a brushing of the teeth, a check of the battery powered alarm clock, and I was as close to sleeping well as I ever have been while camping before a race.
It may have been a perfect catharsis.

Saturday, 2:30am.

Some nearby 50 milers are up chopping wood. It is loud and intrusive and 3 and a half hours before the race. Appalled, I work to reclaim sleep despite the hacks and bass thuds of logs splitting, rain spitting against the rain shell of the tent.

Saturday 5am.

The 50 milers are roaming and calling out to one another. Cars begin pulling in from hotels. Runners sit in cars and stay dry. The rain has picked back up to a decent pace.
5:30am. The lights of the starting area go up and an announcement. Wheres my Disney poncho?
I crawl out of the tent onto a saturated and pooling earth. Bathrooms are always a problem at races the morning of but Table Rock was different. There was no line, just a wait for the current occupants to finish. Ultrarunners and their clock-tight bathroom rituals. And all the homemade pastas of the world converge the nervous pacing hours before the starting horn. Yet everyone sat in their cars listening to radios.
5:44am. Alarm hits and I lay. Repeat three times. Campstove and instant coffee, hot oatmeal, half a banana, Vaseline in all the right spots, race bib, and a relatively calm morning before removing my Disney poncho and heading 125 yards to the start.
6am. Announcements are made and people gather in various layers of speed ambition, the fastest moving forward. I worry that I’m underdressed for the rainy day as everyone wears a rain shell. Im wearing a sleeveless singlet and a neckerchief. Am I fucked? I’m fucked. I’ll never finish this. If I get in trouble im in the middle fo the fucking woods. God help me I’m fucked.
Brett runs up and announces himself literally seconds before he is dq’d for not being present . My spirits lift. He’s wearing a rain shell. I should’ve brought my Disney poncho. Its gonna be cold at the summit some 20 miles away.

“START!”

Brett and I bid each each good luck and strong legs and off I go with the head pack. Hanging in behind the morning hacks and wheezes and the swishing trample of trail shoes on wet mountain grass that is such a wonderful sound, we cross the bridge over Steele’s Creek and began to move through the darkness towards the mountain that we cannot see.
First wrong turn happens about mile 1.5 and it is the head group that makes it. Brief, but a reminder that these things upset many a race effort.
First miles were easy miles. Passing double track fs road that leads into the first single track and the churned, chewed red clay of Appalachia. Running on it was sketchy, like running across red clay that a potter wets, prepares as slip. Grassy roads then roll and build towards the deeper hollows and higher launches of stone and wood, the mosaics of rock outcroppings and fallen leaves.
It was light by the first creek crossing and it was a knee deep cross that got the shoes good and heavy and the mind reinvigorated. The rain was a patter and one almost anticipated a break in the clouds, a false hope, but a real one.
AS 1 was 4.8 miles in. everyone seems to have looked at a course map and knew when to expect these things. I had not. I was a little lackadaisical about these things.  Fucked.
A mile later would prove the more worthy crossing. One scaled a rock face and across the corner stood Brandon, the co-RD and a helluva mountain runner himself, who had hoisted a rope across the gushing rapids. The roar of the water was punk loud and I stepped in up to my thighs. I was tight, slow, but I held the rope and kept moving across the fairly strong mountain rapids. For a flatlander, it feels way perilous to make blind steps across river stones, and it was not a brave or athletic crossing. Frankly I felt a slight wave of embarrassment as I landed on the other bank.
The course ran across the river banks and had some fun push-pull of body, climbing and walking, a little running, and the everpresent beat of rain on head and shoulders. The temperature was mild, not warm at all, but it was just cool enough to keep my questioning the cold of the summit and how that intense climb would affect my body.
Another few crossings of Steele Creek, a continued downpour, a coupl’a GU gels later, my legs felt good, the quads alive but not struggling, the core churning a bit strange but whatever, the mind in a fine meditative space. The day was shaping up to a nice performance. Not competitive, but an enjoyable push.
We ran up a bit of road and an out-and-back that led eventually to the upper point of a gravel road. AS 2 was maybe mile 9. And there was much rejoicing.  The volunteers looked at me with concern when I asked where to go next … I guess there’s this expectation for a runner to look at a course map before heading into the woods. I turned and started heading back down the mountain road, gravel crunching every step of the way, enjoying the fact that I would soon cross the half marathon point.
I don’t remember many specifics along the way here. I remember stopping alongside the road and relieving my stomach and cleaning myself with a handful of leaves, but that’s for another time.
Halfway mark came just around 3 hours. I was making my goal time and I felt good. The next coupl’a  miles were a brilliantly challenging trudge up gravel road to the next AS at the base of the real profile trail.

Photos by Daren Wilz,Composited, mile 26ish of 2015 Table Rock.
Achieving the summit, but in 2014. Still love the spirit of the picture.