The race was located in the Croom Forest, a section of the Withlacoochee State Forest near Brooksville, FL. It was limited 250 runners competing in 15 mile, 50k and 50 mile races.
This was my first attempt at an ultra marathon and I could not have asked for a better race. The forest was beautiful, the race was well organized, the volunteers were awesome – now if they could have just done something about the heat.
The course is a 15 mile loop around the forest consisting of mostly single track hiking trails. 15 milers ran one loop, the 50k was two loops and the 50 milers started an hour early to complete three loops.
It was mostly flat or gently rolling hills with the exception of the last four miles of each loop which had one challenging hill after another. We were also forced to descend into several sinkholes for apparently no better reason than that they were there. I later learned that one of these was aptly named the “Pit of Despair” as it had a descent so steep it required handholds to navigate.
I was surprised at how dissimilar this race was to my two prior marathons. The slower pace, fewer but much more elaborate aid stations, and a strategy that included some walking made this a much more enjoyable experience. In marathons I have always reached a point, usually around 22 miles where I just wished the race would end and finding the motivation to continue required a great deal of effort. I never reached that point in this race. I loved every minute of it.
I had one close call in the race at about mile 15 when I tripped hard on a root. I managed to stay on my feet but banged my toe pretty bad. In fact, I was afraid at the time that I broke it. Luckily I was only about a mile out from the half way point. Stumbling along for that mile I felt something moving around inside my shoe and convinced myself that it was my toenail. When I reached the aid station I took time to take off my shoes and examine my toe which thankfully still had the nail. It was throbbing but I decided I could still run and was determined to continue. The pain subsided after a few miles but I would occasionally get a painful reminder of the injury when I landed wrong on something hard.
While I was examining my toe at the start/finish aid station I glanced at the person sitting next to me, a 15 miler who was done running for the day and devouring a hamburger like it was his last meal. He was holding it tightly in both hands slouched over it as if to protect it from being snatched out of his grip. I looked longingly at that burger while I shook the sand out of my shoe and secretly wished a strong breeze would blow some of that sand onto it. I don’t think he would have cared.
My race strategy for the race was pretty straight forward:
Slow down to take in fluids every mile
Walk the inclines
I carried a 20 oz water bottle to stay hydrated between the aid stations which were spaced 3-5 miles apart. This worked well on the first loop, but by the end of the second, with temperatures in the mid-80’s I was quite dehydrated. I will definitely need to improve my hydration in a longer race.
I did take one gamble with the race. I decided to wear my new Merrell Trail Gloves for the entire race. I put 80 miles on them in training, but never more than 14 miles in a single run so I was not sure how well I would manage in them for a continuous 31 miles. As a precaution I had a spare pair stashed in my drop bag but didn’t need them. My gamble paid off and the Trail Gloves worked great. With the exception of my toe, I didn’t have any “bad” pain during the race, not even a blister. The only issue I had was with sand and debris finding its way into the shoes. I had to stop three times to shake them out. I think some lightweight gaiters may help solve this problem. I absolutely love these shoes.
I am hooked on trail running now and on ultras. I will definitely return to this race next year and attempt the 50 mile run.
|These caveman feet served me well.|