Today I ran the fifth and final race of the Appalachian Series. Today’s race was in Unicoi State Park in Georgia.
We were originally supposed to run on trails. The same heavy rains that we encountered in South Carolina also moved through this area. Although it didn’t rain today, the trails were in no condition for running. Instead, we ran on an alternate course.
The alternate course was a cross-country route that Clint Burleson measured and marked with surveyor’s flags. We used the same start/finish area, but ran around the perimeter of a few large fields. The grass was wet, but there weren’t too many puddles. The few large puddles along the route were easy to avoid. It was an out-and-back route that we ran 16 times.
I stayed at the park lodge. Aside from having nice accommodations, it was a convenient location. The start/finish area was less than a half mile away.
I was tired today, but I didn’t have any sore muscles. My left hamstring, which had been tight for the past few days, felt better today. To finish in four hours, I needed to average 15 minutes per lap. I didn’t know if that would be realistic on a cross-country course. I also didn’t know how hilly the course was going to be. I started at a conservative pace and waited until the turnaround before deciding if I would try for four hours. By then I had seen the whole course.
There weren’t any significant hills. I reached the turnaround in 7:25. Anything under 7:30 put me on pace for four hours. I was skeptical, but decided to give it a try. On the return trip, I picked up my effort a little.
The course had a slight downhill trend going out and a slight uphill trend coming back. The start/finish area was the high point of the course. Despite picking up my effort, I finished my first lap in 15:08. That wasn’t quite fast enough. Picking up the pace some more wasn’t an option. Already, the pace was too fast. I was out of breath after only one lap.
Realizing that four hours wasn’t a realistic goal, I gradually slowed down. My next lap was 15:57, but I was still out of breath. I slowed down to 17 minutes and then 18 minutes, and I was still out of breath.
In the fifth lap, I made a bathroom stop. I thought after stopping for a couple minutes, I would catch my breath. As soon as I started running, I was out of breath again. Also, my legs stiffened up. It took a few minutes of running to loosen up again.
My pace eventually stabilized around 19 minutes per lap but I was still winded. I’ve never been very good on grass. I run much slower on grass, and I also find it to be more tiring than running on roads. There seemed to be more going on than that. It took a heroic effort to break four hours on day two, and I had to dig even deeper yesterday. I just didn’t have anything left.
I reached the halfway mark in 2:22. That included about five laps that were faster than my current pace. I also didn’t know if I would continue to slow down. I wasn’t confident that I would break five hours, but I couldn’t worry about that yet. I had to just keep plugging away and finish each lap at whatever pace I could manage.
It wasn’t all bad news. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out and it was a comfortable day for running. I wasn’t cold or wet, so it wasn’t a bad day to be outside for longer than usual. I also didn’t have to drive to another city. I was staying in the park for another night.
Most of the time, I was watching my footing. When I looked around, there were nice views of wooded hills.
With five laps to go, I seemed to finally get my second wind. I wasn’t breathing as hard. After a 20 minute lap, I improved to 19 minutes. Then, with a little extra effort, I ran two straight 18 minute laps. I knew at this point that I would break five hours. The last two laps were tough, but I kept up my pace, finishing in 4:52:20.
In addition to a Georgia medal, I got an additional medal for running the entire series.
Here’s what all the medals look like when they’re chained together. If I tried to wear this, it would hang down to my knees.
Since I was staying in the park for another night, I didn’t need to be in a hurry to leave the finish area. These races have some nice food. It’s comparable to the aid stations at some ultras. I don’t eat during a marathon, but I was able to have lots of food after I finished. I also had a chance to visit with other runners and watch other people finish.
Because it’s getting close to Halloween, a few people wore costumes today.
The closest town to the park is Helen, GA, which is about three miles away. Helen is patterned after an alpine village.
We had our group dinner in Helen last night. Today, I returned there to have dinner with another runner at the Hofbrauhaus.
Then I went to Hansel & Gretel candy kitchen for dessert.
My goal for the series was to break four hours every day. These races were much more difficult than I expected, so that probably wasn’t a realistic goal. I’m happy to have finished four of the five races under four hours, but my time today was unusually slow. I think I paid a price for running so hard the other days.