This past Sunday, I ran the Quest For The Crest 50K in Burnsville NC. Burnsville is right beside Mt. Mitchell. Mt Mitchell is the tallest mountain on the east coast at 6,683ft (2,037m). While my friends from the Western United States laugh at the elevation of Mt. Mitchell, the difficulty comes from how technical the trails are with boulders, rocks and roots from hell. The steepness of the ascents and descents make the course almost un-joggable. Notice I used the word joggable instead of running. Many of the ascents and descents rise and fall with 20% or more being the norm.
|Martin at mile 28|
Video Link of the Course- Check It Out
Before I start complaining about how technical and hard the race was, the biggest draw was the views from the top of the mountains.
Quest for the Crest 50K Website Link- Check It Out
The race is advertised as the hardest 50K in the US. Speed Goat 50K has slightly less elevation change and run-able trails according to 2 runners I spoke with during the race. When you are hiking up hill, you have to time to talk between breaths of air. In fairness, Speed Goat 50K is at a higher elevation which means less oxygen to work with than Quest for Crest 50K. Quest for the Crest 50K punishes the runner by making you scramble and climb up big rocks all day where you are not able to run. When going downhill, I called it rock jumping as you are falling down the decline hoping to catch the next rock.
|This is what the easier downhills looked like|
You Tube Video Link of the Course by Kelly Cooper
I entered this race based on its description as the hardest 50K. 3 years ago I started running longer distances in order to see how I matched up mentally against tough events. I am a runner first who likes trails. The most successful racers at this race where trail people first who liked running if the trail allowed it. They looked like they were hovering over the rocks swiftly going uphill and downhill and could have cared less about their race time.
|Course Map- Click to Enlarge|
My "A" race for the fall is the Uwharrie Mtn. 100 Mile Endurance Race. Uwharrie is considered a technical course. After running the Quest course and using it as a comparison, Uwharrie looks a lot easier. I knew this race was going to be a stretch for me and a great core strength test. My main consideration after 3 miles was to finish the race and not leave injured. Because the race is a part of the Sky Runner Series, you had to carry a whistle, poncho and emergency blanket. All 3 of the safety items easily fitted between both my bottles with my Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2. It is a great way to carry 2 big bottles on your shoulders without any bouncing instead of a hydration vest which has cooked my back in previous races.
|Orange Mud Hydra Quiver 2 Vest|
The course is extremely remote so it was necessary to carry at least 44 oz of water. The aid stations at the top of the race had only enough water to fill up 1 bottle. Some racers brought a filtering system to fill up from the creeks we crossed all day. The volunteers did a great job of keeping us going. Some of the aid stations took the volunteers over 2 hours hiking so we could have drinkable water during the race.
The trails without rocks and boulders were overgrown so being able to lift your knees while jogging gave you an advantage. I fell 4 times through the race and consider myself lucky. I wore compression sleeves for the first time on my shins for protection from brush and rocks.
As I normally do in races, I focused on my heart rate to help me not over exert myself and bonk. My normal aerobic zone is 135 to 145 bpm where I am comfortable talking and breathing. The first 3 miles had an approx a 23% grade of climbing with the aid of my hands. I used my hands the entire race to help me with the climbing. I looked at my heart rate and it was at 159 bpm and I was doing a 22 minute mile. For perspective, I ran Umstead 100 miles (16 hours and 37 minutes) at an average of 141 bpm. I felt like I was hardly moving and my heart rate was beating hard like I was running a 10K on the road. My average heart rate for the 32 miles was 158 and the Quest For the Crest 50K race took me 10 hours and 1 minute to finish. I regularly run 50K's on an easy course in under 4 hours and my heart rate stays around 145.
There were 4 aid stations over 32 miles and as usual I spent less than 30 seconds in each one as I filled my bottle and kept moving. I carried all the food / fuel I needed. I am proud of my effort on the up hill sections as I was able to move through other runners. When it came to down hill and rock jumping, I was passed by what seemed like the whole field. Young runners would just fly down the "trails" bouncing off rocks and jumping over roots with descents at least 15%. 2 foot step downs were the norm and I just was not able to gain much speed going downhill. The little voice in my head kept reminding me that I have a family to support and didn't need to run downhill with reckless abandon.
My training was not enough to be successful at this race by my standards.
Here is my normal training schedule: Swimming at least 90 minutes on Monday & Friday to help my body recover, Running 7 miles or more on Tuesday through Thursday, 3 to 4 hour run on Saturday and 2 hours on Sunday. I also ride my bike 7 miles to the Y each day. At lunch Monday through Thursday, I go to the gym and spend at least 30 minutes on the stair master with my 20lb weight vest. I also do a 30 minute squats, lunges, dead-lifts, & plank routine 2 times a week. Based on the soreness I am feeling 2 days after this event, my training was not even close to being enough.
The winner was a young man (early 20's) who finished in 5:59 minutes to beat the professionals in the field. He told me this was his first Ultra race. He ran straight down hill (approx. 25% decline) for the last 4 miles in under 28 minutes to break 6 hours and get the extra $300 bonus. He lives with his parents and likes to run in the woods. I love his carefree attitude about running with friends when there is a local event.
Overall I am happy with my effort and time. I got to see parts of the NC Mountains I have never seen and the race gave me a new enhanced perspective of what is considered hard. All my gear worked flawlessly. My nutrition and pacing allowed me to finish strong. The last 1/2 mile is flat and I ran that portion at a 7 minute pace because I was so happy to be finishing and finally able to run.
Gear I used
- Skechers Ultra Shoes 2 Link
- Orange Mud HQ Vest Pack 2- Click this link to save 10% of all Orange Mud products
- Xtend Endurance- fuel for my water bottle
- Injinji Performance Socks
My next race is Dust to Dawn 50 Miler Link- Check It Out. Night race around Ft Bragg (Pinehurst NC) on the roads. I am looking forward to seeing how much time I can take off my time from last year when I won the race in 8 hours and 1 minute while stopping to be sick 3 times during the race.
As Mom always told me when I was young, "you will not set many records but you will keep em watching."