(I probably won’t post this for another week, after more photos are gathered, but wanted to at least write a little while everything is still fresh in my mind.)
(Still no photos so I think I’ll post now and either update later with photos or make a 2nd post instead!)
It’s six days later, and I’m still shocked and elated at my BFC performance this year! Even when I’ve not struggled at this race, my best finishes have been in the “top” 30-40%. Spoiler alert – this year I finished 28th out of ~400 starters for a top 7%!
2018 I was well trained but started cramping within the 1st two hours. Cramps moved from my feet, slowly up the body, to some muscles I didn’t even know existed, to my fingers cramping on my poles climbing Chimney Top. I think the only thing that didn’t cramp was my face! Despite the issues, I still somehow suffered through to a 50k finish, but learned my lesson — don’t burn too many candles too soon, especially in the heat and humidity. (It was a very HOT year!). Finished 108 out of 400+
2019 I was barely trained — I had taken off 6 months from running *completely*, from November 2018 to May of 2019, with ZERO running due to a sacrum/groin issue. (I had been on the bike and in the gym, though.) When I got the call to BFC in late August, I had run less than 200 miles all year, but could not resist saying “yes.” I had a more sane pacing strategy, but the lack of run volume caught up to me later in the race and my feet were shot. Finished 86th out of 400+
2020 was the covid year, when only ~120 runners started, and most of them had to have had a prior 50k finish.. It was a similar story to 2019 – lack of run volume caught up to me, but I probably felt the best I have at BFC, mainly due to an “easier” course, but also due to much color temperatures with a low dew point. Finished 37th out of 120+.
2021 – I got an invite 3 days out but had already made family plans to go to parent’s weekend at App State, including football tickets, etc. So I declined the invite. Laz made fun of me for going to parents weekend, saying:
i still remember my days in college
ridiculing the students whose parents came to parents weekend.
2022 — I ended up 29th out of roughly 400 starters! I’m still not running many miles, in fact my yearly totals to the start of BFC have been:
- 2018 – 1322
- 2019 – 200
- 2020 -737
- 2021 – 443 (did not run BFC)
- 2022 – 608
But I have been much more serious about strength training in 2022, and am still getting out on the bike (or “getting in,” on the bike trainer!) a fair bit.
Now, to back up. I had planned to stay with my friend Carey who had moved to Oak Ridge recently, but the week before I’d be driving to TN, I got an email from TN state parks saying “we look forward to seeing you!” I had totally forgotten I had booked a primitive camp site in Flat Fork nearly a year ago. (Big Cove had already sold out! So I decided to drive the van over and camp. I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d be allowed to sleep in the van, so I did take the time to set up my tent:
After setting up I headed over to the football game to meet Carey and hang out. The runners got called out on to the field at half time, which ended up being a Coalfield blow out. I had not yet had dinner so I left after halftime and had a late Mexican dinner.
Friday morning I rode my bike around camp a little, and stumbled across Laz and crew at the start/finish area, so I jumped off and helped set up the barriers and helped hang the flags. After that it was off to packet pick up to get the maps, and then to the Prison to have lunch with a big group, study the maps more, reminisce, etc. After that I went to Starbucks to catch up on some work, grabbed some sushi from Kroger and headed back to camp, to put my gear together now that I knew the course:
It gets really dark early in Flat Fork, so I was probably sleeping by 9 p.m. I did wake up a couple times to check the time, but all in all, it was good sleep. I had set my alarm for 5:30 but when I woke up at 5:00, I decided I might as well get up and have a leisurely morning and enjoy my coffee:
Soon enough it was time to head to the start. I had decided to ride my bike the ~1.5 miles to the start rather than drive the van and have to park it in the crowded parking area, so I left Flat Fork pretty late, maybe 6:40. Got to the start at 6:50, locked up the bike, and started heading to the start line. I was probably in the front fifth of the pack when I realized I couldn’t see very well — I didn’t have my glasses on, and couldn’t find them!! Oh no! A little panic, but I went back to the bike to look around. They weren’t right at the bike, but about 15′ away where I had stopped to make some kind of adjustment to my pack or gear. Thank goodness — it would have been a VERY long day without my prescription sun glasses! I headed back to the start and ran into Carey. We were further back than I had been, but that was fine by me.
Pacing strategy was to take it easy to start — no more sprinting up Flat Fork road to get to Bird Mountain early to avoid the conga lines — especially this year when we wouldn’t go up the single track but would instead take Quitters Road up a few miles before hitting trails. I probably got to the yellow gate in 200-250th. I still took it easy up the climb, employing a 7-11 strategy — run 11 breaths, walk 7 — but only when the terrain wasn’t too steep. Too steep was all power hiking. I did pass a few here, but maybe 25 – 35 tops. Got to the 1st aid and just topped water and headed out as quickly as possible, probably passing another 15-20 folks who spent more time there than I did.
On the next two single track mountain sections, both up and down, I really started passing a lot of people. It’s a balance of not wasting energy, but also not losing too much time. I’m still glad I had started slowly, but a little bit of me wonders if perhaps the extra energy spent passing would have been better spent going just a touch faster at the start? At one point I was near some guys talking about their projected ultra-sign up finish times, and one was 13:21 (1 minute past cut-off), and another was even slower! I used that opportunity to say “I better get moving” and passed a few more. (Further conversation from those guys and one of them was a 7 for 7 50k finisher, but I felt good and wanted to keep moving.)
I don’t think there’s much need to do a play by play of the course, but will share a few photos:
And I will share my splits here, which show the story — slow to start, and fairly steady climbing up the rankings after that.
The anomaly is 80th on Prison ->Tub , which includes the prison on going up Rat. About half way up Rat I was really suffering and on the edge of nauseuosness — due to a mistake I had made at the Prison aid station. I knew heading back after the difficult out and back section, I really needed calories and salt. So I took a little more time than normal there, putting in two tailwinds in one bottle and an LMNT electrolyte packet in the other. My mistake — really laziness — was not getting out my bladder and filing it with plain water. And due to the heat and effort climbing rat, I really really needed plain water! So I had to slow and take some breaks on the climb, find a little shade from the relentless heat. It is odd that the numbers show me in 80th on that section, but only lost 3 spots overall?? Maybe a lot of those 80 missed the cut-off there or at the next one?
Once the climb was over, including the fire tower, I slowly head down to Tub and got a lot of fresh plain water in me, as well as a little more food, before taking it slowly down SOM so I could recover. After that recovery (48th) I got back in the mid 20s (place per section) for the last leg and an overall finish of 28th.
Here’s another view pacing and placement that someone on FB put together that I thought was cool:
I would add here that when I got the map on Friday, I wasn’t intimidated by anything, I had seen everything on the course other than part of the 50k finishing loop, but in talking to others, that wouldn’t be too bad. In hindsight, I was wrong about the Tub to Tub section — it was a really difficult out and back section covering all of the hard, out of park hills, in both directions. I had never been down Rat or up Meth before. As I was climbing Rat, I realized that it was going to do in a lot of people vying for the 50k finish, and I was right.
A couple of anecdotes. Love this Facebook post by Laz:
I can say for sure, the one part of the course I thought would be hard was going up Meth, and I was right! Really takes a lot of energy to crawl up the side of a “wall” that is really loose scree and sand!
The main interaction I had with Laz was as follows… I got the the Decision Point about 10 hrs 15 minutes into the race, and came in solo with not anyone I could see in front or behind. I see Laz up ahead and he yells:
“Marathon or 50k?”
I say “Be honest with me, if I go left, will I win the marathon?”
Laz: “Yes you sure would! You’d get that elusive 100% on ultra sign up, what’s it gonna be?”
Of course, there was only one answer. I came for the 50k finish, so a right turn it was, for another ~ 6 miles and 2500′ of up and down! 🙂
Finished in 12:02 and some change, for 28th place, and my 4th 50k finish!
Gear: nike dry fit shorts, XO skin thin tight under neath, Stio Eddie button down (which I took off for the bushwhack sections — didn’t want to snag the shirt or get blood all over it!), injinji toe socks, bucket hat used only in the sun, Ultimate Direction middle size pack, goat skin gloves, naked running belt, Hoka Speedgoat 5.
Food: six packs (1200 cal) Tailwind; 500 cal Vfuel (gel, in a flask); 4 or 6 LMNT packs (electrolytes); 4 date rolls, half bar from the aid station at Tub, one Justin’s peanut butter cup at Tub outbound, as my “reward” for getting to my mental half way point. So maybe 2000 cal, or just over, for 12 hours. Overall I think I was fine on calories — the nausea on Rat was due more to not having plain water.