Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon, part 1

Last Saturday (5/17) was the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon in Summerville, Georgia.  The course looked fun and scenic and the timing worked, so we headed down.  Summerville is in northwestern Georgia at the base of Taylor Ridge.  The race started at James H. (Sloppy) Floyd State Park and followed some of the Pinhoti Trail through the Chattahoochee National Forest.

I was somewhat concerned that the race would be too hot, especially with the 9 am start.  Luckily, that was not an issue.  It was in the upper 40's when the race started, and stayed cool throughout the day.  The rain also kept it cool.  We started in the main picnic area for the park and looped the lower lake.  The dam was pretty much the only stretch not under tree canopy.

The half marathoners and the marathoners started together.  There were 250 or so of us, total.  Probably not much more than 50 marathoners.  I certainly did not want to get caught up in the race excitement and start too fast, so I made sure to drop back a bit early on in the race.  We split off from the halfers maybe around mile 3.  After looping around the upper lake, we headed off for the fire break.  I had read about this part in the reviews.  This stretch was a "straight" fence line through the woods.  It would only be considered straight if viewed on a map.  It wasn't much of a fire break, since it had considerably grown over.  There wasn't much of a trail, but luckily the ground was still mostly dry at this point.

The fire break lead straight to the ascent of Taylor Ridge.  Becky's Bluff, the top of the ascent, had gotten much publicity for its difficulty.  It was steep, but not quite as bad as the Dam Full Marathon's Stairway to Heaven in Pennsylvania.  Of course I was walking up, but I never felt like I was climbing a stair.

I was happy when I got to the top of the ridge.  There was an aid station at the top, and part of the course was a dirt road that was fairly smooth and level (relative to the trails).  We ran up to a cell tower, and coming back down, I felt optimistic.  The course then left the ridge and lane and followed a twisting trail down off the ridge.  Two miles of steep descent, after which we were to turn around and climb right back.  I took the downhill pretty fast.  Joy and Laney met me at the bottom, which was nice.  It was raining steadily at this point, and I had a long climb in front of me.

Once I got to the ridge top, I had to run in the other direction along the ridge for another out-and-back leg.  I asked the aid station volunteers how long the spur was.  They blithely answered that it was 4 or 5 miles, which sounds like a reasonable margin of error to someone not running.  I, however, wanted an answer much more substantial than that.  Running eight to ten miles before getting back to that point seemed like a tall order.  The out-bound part of this leg is where I fought the mental demons.  It was challenging feeling like every step is taking me further from the finish, instead of every step taking me closer.  I had to force myself to focus and remember that I was going to be fine and that I was happy to be able to participate in events like this and to see such beautiful creation.

Most of the outward bound stretch I was alone, and not even seeing other runners pass me in the other direction.  Eventually, people I recognized started coming past, and giving distance estimates, both of which were encouraging.  At the turn around point, a military man was handing out watermelon slices.  I felt much better.  The watermelon hit the spot, and the sight of the serviceman put the race in perspective.  Going back, another runner named Aaron ran with me, and the miles quickly passed as we talked.  The descent from the ridge wasn't too bad, with only small sections steep and slippery or steep and very rugged.  I didn't have too much left for the loop around the campground and lake, but I was determined to beat six hours.  I finished in 5:48.  It wasn't the most challenging race I have don't but it was not an easy race.

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