Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tailwind Update - Quest for the Crest 50K

The “WORLD’S HARDEST 50K” and Tailwind
If you want to add a new dimension to your running life, give this race a try

The article for last month’s newsletter was primarily about using Tailwind, the all in one ultra runners drink. Well, I now have a new experience with Tailwind to report on. A few weeks ago I ran a race that billed itself as the “The World’s Hardest 50K.” That’s a pretty big statement considering races like Speed Goat 50K in Snowbird, Utah and OCC (Orsières - Champex - Chamonix) one of the Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc races in the Alps. I know the Race Director from the “World’s Hardest Race” and he is a bit of a showman. I knew the run would be hard but I also assumed this “Hardest Race” stuff was mostly “hype” to promote his race.

Over the years I have run what I thought were pretty tough 50Ks like Stump Jump 50K in Chattanooga, Mt Cheaha 50K and Mountain Mist on Monte Sano in Huntsville. I have not run any races in Europe or Speed Goat with its 11,800 ft. of elevation gain over 32 miles, but I have run two races in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, one of those races passed along the back edge of Alta Ski Resort which joins Snowbird. The trails in the Wasatch Mountains are steep and technical in places and some of the climbs are huge reaching elevations greater than 11,000 ft. Nothing I encountered in the Wasatch compares to the course for the race I ran on May 30th in North Carolina, near Mt Mitchell.

The race was the Quest for the Crest 50K and the Race Director’s statement was not hype. This is a totally insane race. I loved it, now that it is over. It was a 50K, that’s 32 miles, which took me 11 hours, 21 minutes to run. That's almost exactly the same time it took me to run the 2014 Lookout Mountain 50 Mile which is a very difficult 50 miler. The Quest may well be "the hardest 50K on earth even though the elevation of the Quest is significantly lower than the other races in Utah and the Alps. Until I find a harder 50k, I have to agree with Sean, this is the toughest! 

There is a lot of climbing in both races, just check out the elevation profiles of each, below.

The Elevation Profile of the Quest for the Quest
The one thing that makes the Quest for the Crest course so difficult is the terrain. For example, the 2.7 mile stretch marked as "Tough" on the elevation profile above, to me, was harder than the two, 3,000+ feet climbs that preceded this short section. This was a section consisting of steep scrambles up and over short cliff bands and large exposed boulders, then steep treacherous scramble back down. In some places there was the potential for a very serious fall. In a few places, a fall could be fatal.

A couple of shots from the 2.7 mile Ridge of Black Mountain (the "Tough" Section)

The above shots were taken on the way over the mountain after the first climb, still early in the morning. The following shots were taken later as I started across the rugged 2.7 miles stretch of ridge referred to as "Tough" on the race profile.

The clouds were swirling on the "lee" side of the mountain.

Then there was the extremely steep section on the final climb up Mt. Mitchell called the "Switchbacks from Hell." And they were. By the time runners reach the switchbacks they have climbed and descended in the neighborhood of 15,000 ft. By this time, my legs were "shot!" The switchbacks started about mile 22.5. I estimated the 6.5 mile climb from Colbert Ridge Aid Station at mile 17.5 (Bottom of Hill before final climb) to Big Tom Gap Aid Station at mile 24 would take two hours. It took almost 2.5 hours. 
When you are using Tailwind it is not a good idea to make a big mistake estimating the time between aid stations like that. I had extra water in my hydration pack but I had not correctly connected the hose and couldn't get any water out, and I didn't want to take the time to stop to fix it. I even had extra Tailwind I could have mixed in with the water in my pack. I kept thinking, "I must be almost there." Consequently, I rationed the water in my bottles to "stretch it out" until I finally reached the top. I paid for the bad decision not to stop and fix my water supply over those last 30 minutes of the climb. By the aid station, I was getting dehydrated and totally out of energy. On the steep climb up to a turnaround, one half mile above the aid station, my legs started cramping. Fortunately I carried extra electrolyte caps, just in case. If I had stopped, correctly attached the hose and added Tailwind to the extra water, I could have continued strong to the top feeling good, no, feeling "OK" (I would still have been zapped) and would not have had to deal with cramp.

Once runners reach the Big Tom Gap AS they have to make this hideous climb straight up a washed out gully to the turnaround. This thing has 515 ft. of elevation gain is less than .5 miles. Then you turn around and come back down. The good news, from that point to the end, the trail is virtually flat or downhill all the way to the end. After leaving the aid station runners start an almost flat, 2 mile traverse around Mt Mitchell's Eastern Face. Then they start the descent. Now the Bad News! The descent is really tough. It is rugged and steep and technical in places. In reality, if this descent were early in the race it likely wouldn't be that big a deal. It is only 4.5 miles. By this point, it felt more like 8 miles. It took me about an hour and 20 minutes to make it down.

A couple of borrowed pictures from along the ridge

Like I said, the trail marking was great and the scenery spectacular.

Will I do it again? Absolutely. This is one of those races you love and hate at the same time. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! I would recommend it to anyone that is comfortable with big, difficult climbs and "sporting" trails. (Sporting is a British term for trails/climbs that scare the hell out of you!) The course was extremely well marked. You never have to wonder if you missed a turn. Sean had also cleared miles of trails with a weed eater and chopped off thousands of limbs. The views are spectacular (along the ridge) and the Rhododendrons were blooming. Well done Sean Blanton.

Again, I used Tailwind and only Tailwind. Other than the stretch near the end where I didn't want to take the time to get my hydration pack working everything went perfectly. Even after that, by the time I had gone a few hundred yards beyond the last aid station headed down the mountain, I felt good again and ran all the way to the end. The only thing I consumed during the race, other than Tailwind, was three "half" PBJ sandwiches, a few potato chips and three "half" bananas. (Not even my usual cookies) That's it. Give Tailwind a try. If you live in the Birmingham area or within a reasonable drive, try it at one of our upcoming races. Tailwind is our race sponsor in 2015 and we have it at all races, premixed in the exact ration needed. Fill your bottle before the start and drink nothing else during the race. It works.
When using Tailwind, you can’t “stretch our” your water/Tailwind mix. You should start by consuming 20 to 24 oz. every hour. Adjust your consumption to your needs. If you drink less than you need, you will crash!

Our next races are:
Hotter 'N Hell Trail Race, July 25th at Oak Mountain State Park. The race starts at 8:00 AM at the Cedar Pavilion. 9 Mile or 18 Mile Race options.

Ridge 2 Ridge Trail Race, September 5, Oak Mountain State Park. The race starts at 8:00 AM at the Redbud Pavilion. 10.5 or 21 Mile options.

Birmingham Mountain Stage Race, September 25, 26 and 27, First stage at Ruffner Mountain and starts at 8:00 AM at the Ruffner Mtn Visitor's Center (Run one stage or all stages.)

Tranquility Lake 50K, November 21, The race starts at 7:00 AM at the Redbud Pavilion at Oak Mountain State Park. 25K or 50K race options.

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