This weekend I ran in the Cumberland Plateau Stage Race! My very first long trail race! I participated in Stage 2, which was 20 miles. I had a 20 mile run on my training schedule, so I thought this was a more enjoyable alternative to road running! I was excited about the shade while running in the woods, soft trails, and a brand new course!
I wasn’t nervous for this race because I love trail running, you can walk up hills, and I wasn't racing so I did not have a specific goal. Plus, at the aid stations, they usually have fun snacks so I was really looking forward to this part! At least I wasn’t nervous until I got the 18 page race info packet. To be fair, it is a stage race, so they included information for each day as to what to expect. This was probably the best communication I have ever received for a race! We were advised to do research and be able to identify poisonous snakes and what their bites looks like. There was also a recommendation to Google what to do if you encounter a Wild Boar, which usually weigh around 250 lbs. Luckily, I was not the fastest runner there and we hoped that the faster runners ahead of us would scare all of this wild life away! I did not encounter any snakes or wild boars along the way. There is also a strict warning in the packet to stay hydrated and conserve energy, especially after the steep climb, where many runners have depleted all of their energy. For a couple of minutes after reading these advisories, I worried that I may be getting in over my head.
FRIDAY NIGHT - PIZZA AND RACE PREP!
I stayed in a cabin close to East Fork Stables on Friday and Saturday night, with two of my running buddies Jen and Jen. The cabin included a four horse stable, how cool is that?
For dinner on Friday we had pizza, which we ended up making in the oven instead of on the grill. It turned out great! I made the dough first thing Friday morning, and then put it in the freezer until I was ready to leave!
Somehow I remembered every single tool and ingredient necessary for successful pizza making, including a pizza peel, cutter, Himalayan sea salt, etc. which added up to quite a few lululemon bags packed full!
After dinner, we started getting our race gear organized.
While I was prepping my hydration pack I realized I only had one packet of Hüma gel.
HOW COULD I REMEMBER EVERY SINGLE TOOL AND INGREDIENT FOR PIZZA BUT FORGET A MAJOR NECESSITY FOR THIS RACE? Hüma is the only gel that doesn’t give me a stomach ache and some of their gels are packed with extra electrolytes which I knew would be important for this hot run.
Luckily, our fellow running buddy Gail showed up at our door after dinner and had two extra Hüma gels that she let me have! WHAT A LIFE SAVER!
SATURDAY - RACE DAY!!
On race day, we woke up at 5:15 am so we could leave the house by 6:20 am and be ready for the race pep talk at 6:45 am. (I got sunscreen in my eyes on the way over... typical.) We started the race sun-screened and bug sprayed at 7:00 am.
Part 1: Miles 1 - 4
The first four miles of the race were pretty much what you would expect for a trail run, including a couple of puddle/mud jumps and lots of thorny stickers.
We also traversed over a prairie-like stretch of land which eventually led us to our first aid station (if I remember correctly!). We encountered so many different types of terrain during this race, one of the most memorable parts!
Part 2: Miles 5 - 6.3
At mile 5, we started our descent which lasted 1.36 miles at a -13.6 grade and a 972 ft elevation loss. Much of the trail was rocky and sprinkled with sticks, it was slow going and quad stimulating!! I'm not sure I've ever 'run' down such a steep decline!This is definitely an area for improvement for me and something to work on for my next trail run in November!
Part 3: Miles 6.3 - 12
The climb began around mile 6.3, we wouldn't reach the rim until mile 10 or so. This was the kind of climb where you can’t see the top until you actually step out onto it. Where the person in front of you looks like they’re 100 feet above you. There wasn’t a super clear trail so we did a lot of climbing over and under fallen trees.
The first chunk of the climb was at a 14% grade and a 449 foot elevation gain in only .6 miles. Before the second part of the climb we came upon an old rusted bus. How this bus got into this part of the woods, I would really love to know!! I had my first big fall on the second climb, I completely jammed my knee into the rocks we were climbing over. I scuffed my knee, hand, and a tiny part of my chin.
The views along the rim of the trail were breathtaking and I wish I could have accessed the trails we ran on with my real camera! Rolling hills covered in trees for miles.
I fell three times, and each fall was more of a smack into the ground. When your foot gets caught on a root or rock, you are propelled forward and your mind barely has half a second to react. Or at least this is how it happened for me. The second time was over a root into some sand, and I can’t remember the third time but I know it was in the sand.
Part 4: Miles 12 - 20
After the last aid station, around mile 14 or 15, I encountered a hornet or wasp of some kind, which stopped me in my tracks and made me scream and shout expletives. It hurt so bad that I looked around for a snake and then kept checking my leg to make sure there were no sticks jammed in my calf. After the race, it was the most painful part of my body.
The last five or six miles were all in the SAND in open sun.
Running in sand SUCKS anyways, but add in 90 degree heat, no shade or breeze, it was tough! Yes, you're tired physically, but I think mentally this part of the run was the hardest for me.
I had chills intermittently during this part, I'm not sure if it was a side effect from my sting or if it was because of the heat, probably the heat!
I was happy to see that we were headed into some wooded trails after all that time in the sand! This part led us back to the mess hall and to the slip n’ slide.
I dove on the slide and then stood there while some very nice gentlemen sprayed my head with a water hose.
It was a religious moment.
I did it! I finished my first trail race! I came in 6th place for females and 13th overall for Saturday. I'm happy with how things went, and am looking forward to next year's race! I definitely took it slow since I didn't really know what to expect. During the pre-race pep talk, they said to conserve energy so that you can finish strong. I know I could have pushed it a bit more, but am glad I was conservative!
SUNDAY - SEND OFF & SHAKE OUT RUN!
The next morning was Day 3 of the stage race, and we got up to send the runners off for the day! We did a four mile shake out run, and we all let out an 'ooomph' when we started running. My bite/sting site was a little bit painful, super itchy, and definitely swollen so I was ready to hop in the car and head home! (72 hours later as I am writing this, my leg is super swollen and still pretty itchy!)
I had such a good time at this race and couldn't be more impressed with the communication from the race director and how smoothly everything went. The volunteers at the aid stations were angels. Every time I walked up to an aid station, someone said, how can I help or what do you need? They grabbed my hydration pack and filled up the big bladder and both small handhelds. At the last aid station (right before I got stung!) someone poured water on my hat and it had a magical effect on me! Great volunteers definitely helped make this day a success! The running part went by so quickly, and I loved all of the views we took in along the way! I would love to participate next year - maybe I will run more than just one day!
Want to join in on the fun next year?? Head over to Hardwin Adventures to get more information and stay tuned for details on the Cumberland Plateau Stage Race in 2017!
Next up for me is the Chicago Marathon on October 9th! If everything goes well, I will be running the Blood Rock 50K on November 19th in Alabama.
Have you ever run a long distance trail race? If so, I would love to hear about it! Leave me a comment below!!