Tuscarora Trails Ultra 50K
This run is approximately a 50K, and is run on well marked trails and forest service roads.
I drove to the start with local runners Katie and Daryl, arriving about an hour before the 8 am start. We checked in, dropped off our contributions for aid stations, visited bathrooms, and sat in the car because it was cold out. At check-in I reluctantly picked up a turn sheet with the trail and road details for the course. All ultras I have been in had things marked extremely well so I didn't think we would need it. But since it was there for us, I took one and folded it up to fit in a vest pocket. With something like 30 individual instructions I didn't expect to try following it turn by turn.
After some instructions from the race director, the group of about 50 runners was off. We 3 ran together in about the middle of the pack. The course started slightly downhill on a single track trail. Almost immediately there was a bottleneck as the rocky trail forced a slower pace. It certainly seemed like turning an ankle should be expected.
We wound our way through the forest with some wet and muddy spots between longer rocky sections. Eventually there were some small stream crossings and almost everyone slowed to pick their way across the few rocks that allowed crossing with dry feet. I really wanted to just go around and charge through the water in these spots like a "real trail runner" would do. And sometimes I did, only to feel bad passing and stepping aside to keep our little group of three intact. Somewhere around the 2 mile mark we lost the trail. The person at the front of the mid pack crowd missed it and the rest of us followed. In a few minutes someone following us came along and found the turn we had missed and we were back on track. We were nearly 3 miles into the run when we came out onto a road to the 1st aid station. I think I took a couple of cookies, but didn't need any water for my bottle. I had only just gotten warm enough, after feeling too chilly when we started.
Our little group most often traveled with me leading, followed by Katie and then Daryl. Now and then we would pass someone or be passed, meaning our three in a row arrangement was briefly spaced by someone we didn't know. After the aid station the course had turned uphill and somehow it seemed most of the rest of the day we went uphill more than level or downhill. There were lots of places with briars and other jaggy/thorny plants.
|Scratches from the thorns and one of those thorns that stuck.|
We had all agreed that we were not racing, that our goal was to finish. Katie described finishing a 50k as a bucket list item for her. Daryl and I were using this as part of our training for the Sole Challenge 24 Hour race in two months.
It seemed we were part of a larger pack of a dozen or so for at least an hour, much longer than I am used to in larger races. The first big climb was on a steep rocky fire road. People gradually spread out during this challenging stretch. Our group changed too. Katie moved ahead, power hiking more steadily. Daryl and I fell behind a bit as she outpaced us. When we finally reached the top Katie waited and our group of 3 reformed.
The day went on more or less the same way for several hours. We would run together on the downhill and flatter sections and hike the uphills. When climbing on roads, Katie normally hiked in the lead. Now and then we'd stop and regroup. We'd take our time at aid stations, being sure to get what we needed. On some of the mountain tops we'd stop for me to take pictures. We didn't plan it, but we looked like the blue team.
The day had started out cloudy and cold. It warmed up and I suppose by noon was mostly sunny. I think the north side of the mountains were always windy and colder. Before we finished the daytime warmup was done and temperatures held steady or dropped a little at the end of the run.
One road was used early in the race and again after halfway. The arrows marking the turn for the first pass were still on the road on our second pass. We followed those arrows and got off course for a half mile or so. We turned around, retracing our steps until we got back on track.
Somewhere after about the 20 mile mark, Daryl fell behind a little more. Katie and I continued without waiting since he had said to go ahead if we could. Not much changed during this time. Lots of uphill. Walking when we needed to, running when we could. It seemed to me that we walked more than Katie needed to because I needed to take the uphills easier. Trail sections were tougher and slower. I was generally sore from the hips down, especially my left ankle. Katie had trouble with hip flexors that were quitting on her. We stopped when she needed to stretch.
In spite of the difficulties our attitude was holding up ok. I don't think Katie did any complaining and her good attitude was good for me.
The turn sheet I had picked up before the start was being pulled out more often by this point. It was partly to make sure we were going the right way and partly to try to determine how far we still had to go. I had forgotten my GPS watch and hers had stopped due to low battery. At the last aid station we were told we had 7 more miles. We were thinking it would be only 5, so that was a disappointment.
We had one stretch of forest road that was mostly snow/ice covered and uphill for a mile or so. On Bear Pond Trail we had to pick our way through rocks and downed trees. There was one place where the trail blazes indicated a turn but the main trail seemed to go straight. We spent a good amount of time making sure we were following the correct route. There were some snowy spots later along this trail that showed enough footprints to confirm our route.
The last stretch of road seemed like about 4 miles of rolling but mostly uphill gravel. We continued with our run/walk mix. The race director had said there would be prizes for the best wildlife photos. We had seen no wildlife except some birds. Along this road Katie stopped and announced she found something for a wildlife picture. It was a wooly caterpillar on the road. It was curled up but alive. We stopped and got a picture of it. And since pictures of wildlife chasing runners was to be especially prize-worthy, we posed a shot of Katie escaping from the wooly bully.
We checked our progress against the turn sheet description of the landmarks on Hemlock Road. An old growth hemlock grove, Big Round Top Trail, scenic overlook. Then we were to follow a trail to the abandoned Path Railroad tunnel. When coming down to the road after this trail section, we saw Daryl on the road. This allowed us to finish the race together. We turned off the road and followed one more single track trail to finish where we started. It was 7 hours 53 minutes since we started. We added our names, distance and time to the race results.
I was a long and fun day for me. I got to know two local runners better while spending the day outside. But it was a lot more of a challenge than I had expected.