Thrill in the Hills Trail Marathon,...I'm not really sure how to start this one. This was an XTERRA Race, which means I knew it was going to be on mountain bike trails, which are not always my favorite. I tend to enjoy more technical running surfaces. The race took place at Ft. Yargo State Park in Winder, GA. I had never been there before, which is a little odd considering I went to UGA, and it was not too far away. Nevertheless, I showed up race morning, early! Mapquest told me it would take 1 hour and 25 minutes, but I made it in an hour flat. I noticed driving in that the park was pretty with a large lake and the namesake old fort taking up the majority of the center of the park. I found my parking spot, put on my jacket because it was chilly, and headed to registration. The first thing I noticed at registration was a line about 50 people deep...sigh. The next thing I noticed was that the long line was for the half marathon option, and no one was in the full marathon registration line. I walked right up, grabbed my number, and headed back to my car for a little heat. I kind of chuckled to my self really. This race was my consolation for LOST 118, which I was supposed to be running this weekend. But, If you have read my previous reports, I'm just fresh from an injury, and not ready for a 118 mile race, unfortunately.
I sat in my car pondering the race. I wasn't feeling a 100% in my knees, not bad, but not perfect either. I also really haven't raced too many marathons. Considering all of the Ultras I've run, I have only raced 4 marathons. Weird huh? So, I tried to ponder what time I would run. I set my goal at sub 5 hours because I wasn't feeling race ready. I run street marathons at about 3:30, and my fastest trail marathon was 3:57 at Scenic City last May.
About 15 minutes to start, I put on my brace, grabbed my aid, and headed towards the start. As I jumped out of my car, the girl in front of me looks up and says "Are you Ryan Cobb"? "Why yes I am!" It was Jenn Coker, who I had not met before, but she told me that we shared some mutual friends....one of whom was my 6th grade girlfriend from Texas. How random! Anyways, that's another story altogether. I had not seen anyone I knew until I reached the start and chatted up Beth McCurdy, I saw Cindy Ralston, and heard Blanton yelling Chef Cobb...Chef Cobb!!! At least I felt a little bit more at home now, GUTS and the Rogues were represented.
And we're off! The first .7 miles were on asphalt to spread out the runners, which was necessary as there were 500 of them. Finally, in to the trails by the lake. There had been a recent brush fire, which encompassed the first two miles. The air was thick with smoke, and some of the tree stumps were still smoldering. Despite the spreading out, there was still alot of jockeying for position through the first couple of miles, which were rolling switchback, heading down towards the lake. Then, back on to a half mile of road, across the viaduct at the north end of the lake, and towards the first aid station at about 4 miles. I felt pretty good at this point, the next three miles were real easy, and I found myself battling it out with people I knew were only running the half, but I felt fast, so I went for it. I blew through the second aid station, just like the first....nothing for me yet. The next notable portion of the course came in the 7 to 8 mile mark when we arrived at the bottom of the dam...left the trail, and headed towards this dreaded power line section I had heard everyone talk about before the race. Ummmm......not so much, a gentle groomed hill about .4 miles long, followed by an easy downhill....obviously the vast majority of these runners hadn't run Sweetwater!!! After winding around the lake for a little less than a mile, we hit the second power line hill which was similar to the first, maybe a .10 of a mile longer.
At this point I was hurting a little, or at least I thought I was....maybe it was all in my head, I hadn't run long much this year. at 9.8 miles I smiled for the photographer, raced down a hill, and took flight after meeting a root head on with my toe. That's what I get for playing to the camera :). Anyways, I jumped up and continued on through the 10.5 mile aid station, up an 8 foot dirt wall, and towards the start/finish. The last mile towards the start/finish area seemed to take forever...my knees were aching. finally, I turned a bend, up a hill, and I was being ushered out for my second loop. I was thinking that I knew the first lap was done, and I didn't have to push it on the second lap. I slowed down, took a GU, and was passed for the first time in the day at 13.5 miles in. I kind of looked over my shoulder, saw no one else, and started jogging, at a much slower pace for the next two miles. I had let a sense of complacency set in...odd for me at only 15 miles.
Then, it happened. I remembered who I was. I am an ultra runner, and have gone through much worse than this. The pain was really minimal, and why was I bitching? I picked the pace up at about 16 miles and felt fine. I continued on for the next 3 miles without stopping, or seeing anyone else. My I-pod was cranking, and I felt good. At about 19 miles I saw another runner coming behind me. My competitive juices started flowing, and I picked up the pace some more, and left him. I was now approaching 20 miles and hit the mini power line section again...breezed up the hill, caught a runner, which energized me, picked up the pace some more, and continued to feel even stronger. The next major hill, I caught another runner, and breezed by him Sally Brooking style with a low to the ground power hike!!! On the second power line Jason Spruill caught up to me. He actually took me surprise and startled me! I didn't think anyone could have caught me because I felt so strong. We chatted for a minute, but I was determined not to be caught so I really kicked and took off. After I passed my landing area from the previous lap, I dropped my pace to 6:50's and never went above a 7:20 pace the remaining 3.5 miles in. I just kept smiling because I couldn't believe how great I felt. It had been a long time since I had caught the runner's high,and I was basking in it. With 1 mile left I caught the one runner who had passed me at the 13.5 mile mark, much to his dismay. I dropped to a full on sprint for the final .5 mile and finished strong....3:56. A PR for a trail marathon race. I was totally stoked, and actually wished that the race was a little longer!!
The time was good enough for 16th overall and 3rd in my age group, which meant I would bring home some hardware. I coudn't have been more happy. I stood around and talked to Sean Blanton, we shared a box of his Tag-a-longs, and I headed home, re-energized and ready for my next run. Good job XTERRA an thanks Tim.
Whats next? Southern Blue 200 mile relay, running the Silver Comet unsupported,...then what?.......