Sunday, February 24, 2013

Black Warrior 50K Race Report

"If you can't win, make the fellow in front of you break the record." - unknown

Let me start off by saying this quote is only partially true because the fellow in front of me did break the course record but it had little to do with me pushing him and more to do with the fact that he was running on a whole different level during this race. As we were running the first few miles, one 25k participant told me that it was going to be a slow race due to the wet and muddy conditions.  So congratulations, Lee, on proving him wrong and setting a new course record. (Side note: If you live in the Nashville area - be sure to check out Lee's running store called the Nashville Running Company!)

The Black Warrior takes place in the Bankhead National Forrest just outside of Moulton, Al. The race was only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Nashville,  so my wife and I decided to head down the morning of the race.  When we arrived I picked up my race number and did a quick warm up. The start of the race is on a bridge about .3 miles from the finish so I headed over there and ran the first few hundred yards past the start to see what kind of hill we had to run up at the beginning.  I did not know anything about this course other than the first 2.5 miles were up hill and the rest of the race was on a single track.

Just before the start
At approximately 8:00 a.m. 150 people set off in a brisk 34 degrees up the dirt road towards the muddy single track.  Both the 25k and 50k racers started at the same time, and considering I did not know who was in what race, I set off at my own pace.  From the start I was running up front with Lee Wilson and a 25k racer.  The first 2.5 miles were advertised as being up hill but after about 1.5 miles the road started to level out.  As the three of us turned onto the single track, I looked back and realized that we had a  good gap on the rest of the racers.  I was immediately greeted with what would become the theme of the day... MUD.  I knew since the course took place on a horse trail that it would be muddy but I did not realize it would be this bad.  We were going under fallen trees, over fallen trees and through mud pits that were 20+ ft in length but this is what trail running is all about.

After about 6 miles Lee took the lead and I decided to let him go in hopes of catching him later.  The 25k race split off from the 50k at the 8 mile mark so I was left running by myself. We had a couple of creek crossings that washed the mud off of our shoes but then we were immediately running through mud again.  I was feeling good and hoping to keep Lee within striking distance.  As I came up to the 12.5 mile aid station where my wife was waiting, I was informed that Lee had already put 5 minutes on me.  I refilled my bottle and grabbed some fruit and headed back to the trail.

The entire course consisted of rolling hills that were all runnable.  All in all there was about 3,600 ft of climbing and if it was not for the wet, muddy conditions, I believe someone could easily break 3:30.  Everything was going well and I thought I was keeping Lee within striking distance but I could not have been more wrong.  As I came up to the 17 mile aid station they told me he was 9 minutes up.  I still had hope but it was slipping quickly.  Only 2 miles later, I came to the deepest creek crossing where they told me I was 13 minutes back.  At this point he was putting time on me quickly and I knew I would not catch him.  My mindset changed from winning to holding on to 2nd.  The mud pits were taking an effect on me both physically and mentally.  I was hurting and not in a good place.  I was growing more and more frustrated with the mud and actually cursing it every time I saw another pit.  I knew the 24 mile aid station was coming up and wanted to get to it so I could refill my bottle and get some calories in me.  As I came into the aid station I was surprised to see 2:53 on the clock.  That meant I had 67 minutes to go the last 7 miles to break 4 hrs.  I left the aid station in high spirits.

Mile 19

I was running down the hill and doing the math in my head.  However as I came up to another a creek crossing I saw a sign pointing me in the direction I needed to go and that's when I saw it - 50K Race 24 mile mark.  I had the wrong mileage at the last aid station.  This deflated me and really sent me on a downward spiral.  I had checked out of this race mentally and was ready for the finish.  I was running but at a slow pace, and I kept looking behind me expecting to see another racer.  Since I did not know the course I was not sure where the last aid station was.  As I made turns I would look up hoping to see the tent but I never did so I would look back down and see more mud.  Finally after what seemed liked forever I looked up and saw the white tent.  That signified the last aid station and a down hill dirt road without mud all the way to the finish.  I made a quick stop at the aid station and started running because I knew someone was coming.  I only had about 2.8 miles to the finish and wanted to hold on to 2nd place.

Final few strides before the finish
I got to the steep down hill and took one last glance behind me only to see nothing.  I picked up the pace and crossed over the start line.  After about 200 yards past the bridge I could see the final turn which led to the finish line and that is when I heard it, loud cheering behind me.  I picked up the pace to ensure he wouldn't catch me and crossed the finish in 4:16:20. Christopher Borden crossed the finish just 48 seconds later... talking about a close one.

This was definitely an up and down race for me.  I had some good moments and some bad.  I did not finish in the time that I was hoping for but I think the trail conditions had a lot to do with it.  This was only my 4th ultramarathon and there is a lot I still need to learn.  I feel that with every race I run, I learn something new.

One thing I learned from this race, was to be the one who chooses the music we listen to before my race. Against my better judgement, I let my wife choose the music during our car ride to the race. One of the songs she played was a Taylor Swift song that I later learned is called "I Knew You Were Trouble." During a majority of my race, I had this song stuck in my head. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it) I only knew one line of this song. I have to admit that it was a first (and hopefully last) for me.

Once again thanks to my beautiful wife who stood in cold weather at the aid stations to crew and cheer me on.  I couldn't ask for a more supportive woman to call my wife - even if she does have terrible taste in music.


  1. Glad to hear all-in-all the race was a good one.
    Congradulations, Robert!
    I like reading your posts they are interesting.

  2. I know how you feel...I hate it when I miss calculate the miles! Best to just put your head down and keep moving as well as you can. Taylor Swift?

  3. Congrats on a great race, man. You were a beast! Good luck on the rest of the season. Maybe I'll see you again next year at the BW50K?