Wednesday, May 12, 2010

RACE REPORT: Enoree Passage 40 Mile Trail Run

The Enoree Passage 40 Mile Trail Run is the 2nd race in the 5-part S.C. Ultra Trail Series. It's an out and back course, beginning at the Brickhouse Recreation Campground Area and turning around at Johns Creek Lake. The RD, Terri Hayes is simply awesome - a real inspiration. Her website says it all- after 27 years and well over 250 ultra mathons completed, ultras are still her passion. She more than delivers on her goal of providing runners with what they need to be able to finish while hopefully having fun.

This race has had a significant impact on me, so I've wanted to wait a day or two to let everything about the experience settle in. This is bound to be a long post, so for those of you who don't care to wade through the sea of reminescence, this is for you:

Enoree By The Numbers

9:35:08- Finishing Time
30/52- Finishing Place
5- Number of people passed after Mile 30
4- Number of falls I took
2- Number of massages I got from Denise
1- Number of ruined shirts, broken Garmins, dogs in the race, and bare asses I ran behind*

Now, for the long version.

Leopold and I drove down the day before the race and arrived at the Brickhouse Campground around 1:30. We met Terri right away, along with Denise (volunteer massage therapist- score!) and Krissy Johnson (bad ass trekker of the Appalachian Trail and eventual 3rd place female finisher) and the adventure began.

Off we went to fill up the water coolers. Terri had canvassed (read: begged) the nearby residents and found a generous soul willing to let us come by and "water up" via their garden hose.

From there, I drove Denise and Leopold around to the the different Aid Stations to scout them, and then out to Lake Johns Creek, the turn around point. (I admit it was hard not to notice how FAR the lake seemed to be from camp).

Back at the Campground, Krissy and her family invited us over to join them in a game of "Cornhole" . Yes, that's what it's called, and before you get all judgemental on me, you just try playing this game without instantly becoming addicited to it. Seriously.

After a while, Leopold was beating everyone and so we had to form teams to take him down.
Then we had a strange "run-in" with a Park Ranger with a serious authority complex. He had some problem with the way Krissy's second car was parked, and was compelled to keep repeating "Park in front of the van. In front of the van!" What's that you say? "In front of the van!". Where do you want us to park? "In front of the van!". Can we park NEXT to the..."In FRONT of the van!". Sheesh, Mister. Chill, already.

The whole environment was extremely laid back, to say the least. I was wondering if it would change in the morning, as most of the racers would be arriving then.
However, the next morning I found that pre-race anxiety consisted of waking up in my tent and waiting until I heard the first sounds of people stirring at the Campground. I dressed, woke Leopold up, and we headed over (all of 200 yards) to the Check-In area, where we had arranged for Leopold to be with Jenny at Aid Station #3, so that I'd see him at Mile 15 and again at Mile 25.

By the way, Jenny and Swaz are adorable couple #1. The guy in orange above is 1/2 of adorable couple #2, Joe and Sam. I don't have pictures, but adorable couple #3 consists of Rebecca and Doug.

I had hoped to meet fellow blogger Jason Sullivan before the race, and sure enough he was suddenly right there introducing himself. This is the first time I've been to a race where I've met a blogger buddy. It's pretty cool. And Jason is like a GIANT. I'm 5'4", and he's at LEAST a foot taller than me. (I later learned he is an ex-football player. Shocker).

So, it's finally time. At 7:30 we all lined up for final instructions. Terri said, "Go!" and she sent us on our way.

Mile 1: I decided to go for a little run.
Status: 7:30 A.M., and 40 miles to go.

We headed out from the Brickhouse Camp Ground on a trail that looks like this (picture compliments of the Beast Jason Sullivan). Everyone was moving easy, chatting, and having fun. I was trying to make sure I kept it way slow, and just relaxed into a slow pace. At this point, I was thinking about the race in thirds- that the first third should feel easy, the 2nd third should feel moderately hard, and the last third feels like whatever it feels like.

I noticed a definite down hill, and thought about having to come up that thing on the way back.

A little later on I remember running on pavement for a little while and just cracking up with Jason and Sam about phantom pains before a race. I was really enjoying myself. Then we pulled in to the first aid station, got some food and water, and off we went.

Back into the forest we went. I was looking forward to seeing Leopold at the next Aid Station. It occurred to me that it was Mother's Day and I was running my first Ultra and my son was strategically placed at the 15 mile mark to prevent me from turning around early. In some universe that probably makes sense.

Mile 15 - Feelin' groovy

Coming in to Aid Station #3, I felt OK, not great but certainly not terrible. It was awesome to see Leopold and a small party of people there to water and feed us. I still remember Aid Station #3 as having the nicest layout of food. I said goodbye, and headed to the turn-around point.

Mile 16, 17- Strangers are just friends waiting to happen.

For the next couple of miles I ran with a gentleman whose name I don't know. We had a nice conversation and it was really enjoyable. I felt good, and I may have picked up the pace here when I shouldn't have. I think I paid for it later. I later looked back at my splits. I did not speed up here at all, so I guess I was just feeling good.

Mile 18- Little pink houses for you and me.

I hit an early unexpected bad patch around 18. I was running through dense, dense single-track forest and I was now alone. It was nothing major, but I just started to notice I didn't feel as good as I thought I should be feeling. Then, out of the blue, this thought: "That's a weird place for a house." Huh? Why did I just think that? I know there are no houses here. Yet, I looked to my left just to be sure. It was the strangest sensation. I knew there were no houses, yet I had a definite feeling of 'houses on the left'. I spent a little time reflecting on what chemical malfunction could be happening in my brain to make this occur. Something about where images are stored in the brain...

Mile 19- Long distance running is 90% mental and the other half is physical.
The section around Johns Creek Lake to the turn around point seemed to have difficult footing. It was double track, but there was hardened, uneven mud and rocks that began to make my feet hurt. I ust had a terrible time getting ionto any kind of groove here. Plus, you're out in the open sun here and it seemed well over 70 degrees. I tried to take a couple of pictures.

Mile 20 - The Turnaround

Status: 4:15 hrs., 20 miles to go
I was feeling marathon tired at this point. It wasn't horrible, but realizing that I had to do the entire thing over again definitely pushed it closer to horrible. Time to dig. Don't think, just go.

Miles 21 - 25: Only after disaster can we be resurrected.

This is where things start to get interesting. At the end of the Dam, instead of seeing the marker for the Trail, I kept going straight. I eventually came to a gate, and there was a gentleman there who told me I was off track. I got back on the trail, and not 5 minutes later I was going down a hill and my foot hit a rock or root and I was down. Just like that. No thinking, just aaaaaahhh...splat! It happened so fast. A huge jolt of adrenaline went through my body. I checked to make sure nothing was broken, and kept on.
Note: I had my phone (for the camera) in my back pocket. One of the coolest things about this race is that I can say I fell so hard my ass took a picture. Of my mind.
Then it was back to dense forest single track trail. I was trying to remember the trail from the way out, but nothing looked familiar. I was thinking I wasin the section where I had the "houses on the left" sensation, when another weird thing began happening. As I would run by fallen logs or downed trees, they would look like bears. If they were lighter in color, they were polar bears. The darker ones were brown bears. Not real bears, but trees carved in to bears. It was also here that I thought I began to hear voices. This was probably the most disturbing thing. I had no way to know if they were real or I was imagining them. I got a little bit scared because something about hearing voices scares me. Not the voices themselves, but the fact that I'm hearing them and they may not be real. During this section I had a lot of fears about whether I was predisposed to being schizophrenic. I tried to recall anything I could think of about schizophrenia. Aren't you supposed to hear directional voices with that, or hear them only on one side of your head? Or is that just on crime/drama TV shows? (Later, I would notice that the couple with the dog were behind me- I'm fairly certain it was their voices I kept hearing. Not that that makes me sane or anything).

Like worrying about having schizophrenia's not bad enough, I came up to this huge downed tree and suddenly thought I was lost. I did not remember this tree with the red, red earth around it on the way out. I got a little panicked, and back-tracked to make sure I saw the yellow markers on the trees, which I did. Then the fact that I back tracked scared me because I thought I could get turned around and think I was heading back, when in fact I could be heading out to the lake- again. Somehow, I came to my senses, and decided to walk up to the tree to check it out (obviously something was off, as doing this in the first place was not my first, second or third thought). I felt completely stupid to find that I had been on trail all along, and I had just wasted god knows how much time having a panic attack.

I was coming up to Leopold's Aid Station when the final weird thing of this section happened. The moment I saw Leopold, I was overcome and began to sob violently. It was so unexpected and it was shocking how strong and fast it came over me. I reassured Leopold I was OK, just overcome with emotion. I pulled it together, and got some food and water. It was really, really hard to leave this Aid Station. But I saw Joy taking off, and didn't want to get too far behind.

Miles 26 - 30: Enjoy your pain, you've earned it.

I remember this section as ROLLING HILLS. As in, take 3 steps down, 3 steps up. Repeat hundreds and thousands of times. From these miles, I remember the couple with the dog, a gentleman, and Rebecca. I was trying to be aware of Rebecca to see if she needed to pass. I remember her making a noise, and then explaining she was just blowing air out so as not to suck in the swarming ball of gnats. For a while, it was the gentleman, Rebecca and me. My legs were getting sore and it felt like my feet had been tenderized with a sledgehammer. Yet I was just still moving forward, somehow. I do remember not wanting to take the lead, though. Later, I reflected on this and I felt selfish. I didn't want the responsibility of making sure we were on track, and deciding when to walk. However, at the time, I was just too tired to care.

Mile 30 -35: Courage, determination, pride...that's what little girls are made of.

This is my favorite section of the race. I had a good patch here, and so did Rebecca. I was feeling strong, even though "strong" was a relative term at this point. This is where the gentleman we were running with fell behind. We came up to a guy with blue shorts on wearing an iPod. We scared the crap out of him as we went by. We then came up to another guy, tall with red shorts, and passed him. We also passed the couple with the dog. Coming in to the final Aid Station we were feeling pretty happy and loopy. I sucked down black jelly beans and peanuts like it was ambrosia. Rebecca's boyfriend, Doug, was there and was going to run the last 5 with us. It began to occur to me that I was almost done.

Mile 35 -40: And you help each other realize that all the things you want to already are.

This is by far the most emotional section of the race for me. It went on forever, and every mile felt like an eternity. Doug was a godsend. He was there to help us, lift our spirits and provide some comic relief. He succeeded wildly on every count, although Iwas so tired, I bet I barely even responded to him. It was painful to keep going. It took everything to run when we could. Then it got worse. There was a mamoth hill. It turned my legs to jelly. I fell. Hard. It didn't even matter. I don't even know why I bothered to cry out at that point.
I was getting loopy, too. I had fallen so many times that a montage of my falls was running through my head- and it was cheering me up. My god, I think I'm drainbamaged. I began to feel proud about my cuts and bruises. I was definitely feeling like a badass. As horrible as it was to keep going, it was even more horrible to realize that if I didn't have a choice about stopping, I could keep going. Oh, my god. If I had to, I could keep running. I don't want to know this!!

Doug would run ahead and make sure he saw the yellow blazes. At one point, we were sure we were lost. We were in a forest of soot covered trees. My eyes were playing tricks on me. I was thirsty. I had forgotten to fill my water bottle at Mile 35.

He somehow kept us calm, and assured us we were almost done.

During the last two miles, I felt a very strong connection to Rebecca. I felt like we were similar in what we were going through, and that was so comforting. It was the longest distance either of us had run. Our feet hurt so bad. Our hands had swollen to twice their size - "Shrek Hands", as Rebecca put it. And we were almost done.

And then we were done. That wonderful, this-is-the-final-few-yards-of-the-race feeling. Amazing! The feeling at the finish was so powerful and unique. I later came across a quote that describes it best (even though it refers to a hundered miles):

"Going for a run always clears my head. But running 100 miles distills my soul."

* You know who you are!


  1. You are a bad a$$!!! Trail ultras are just a whole other world! I got word from Terri, I am in at Chattooga!!!!!

  2. Woo Hoo!! The Sean AND GeorgiaSnail. It's like I hit the Blogger lottery! This is going to be SO.MUCH.FUN!

  3. You hit the hallucinations a bit early - it's just the brain getting by with less energy than usual - and you've discovered that energy bankruptcy that hits in ultras. You also discovered the wonderful people who haunt the trails. Welcome to the dark side!

    Oh, and congrats.

  4. Can't wait!!

    Sounds like you got your money's worth at this one too. 40M... can't even imagine:) Maybe next year?


  5. I enjoyed taking the roller coaster again with you through the report. My favorite part is "I don't even know why I bothered to cry out at that point". Brilliant! Congratulations on this awesome accomplishment. It is yours forever and can never be taken away!

  6. Holy cow! Way to go--that is just amazing. I second what Jason said--this is yours and can never be taken away.

    Oh, and I am a true cornhole addict (and pretty good at it, I must say!)

  7. Wow girl! It sounds well.. a bit surreal. You are amazing!

  8. WOAH!! That's a lot of trail are amazing!! You finished a crazy ass ultra trail race! Wow!!! Love the pic of the inside of your brain :)

  9. Congratulations on your finish, and welcome to "UltraWorld" often known as the 'dark-side' :) - we chatted briefly for a couple of miles just before the 15 mile aid station I think.

    Four falls - fantastic, and the brain picture is awesome (if I stare hard enough, I can see a pink house I think).

    Can't wait to do another of Terri's races - I am sure I am going to do the Long Cane 50 in September.

    Congrats again.


  10. You are so awesome!! Seriously, you are my female super stud blogger friend:) Way to go Lady!! I love the pictures...especially the first one with you in your glory..dirty legs and all!! I am so happy for you and I knew that you could do it:)

  11. "Long distance running is 90% mental and the other half is physical. "

    greatest quote ever.
    Wow you did a great job fighting your way through the darkside. Great job

  12. Congrats on that race. Fantastic accomplishment. Just thinking about that distance scares me.

    Maybe there were some strange mushrooms in the "house/bears" part of the forest giving off hallucinogens into the air.

  13. It was wonderful to have met you. Your were a JOY to run alongside. Your blog is a great read! I know what you mean by the dark bark looking like creatures/bears...I have jumped at these myself.

  14. Woo Hoo! Congrats on a great accomplishment. Love the pic of the mind swirling. lol

  15. CONGRATS!!! This is so great. PLUS, I hear that you are doing a 50K soon w/ The Sean and GA now not only are you amazing, but you are a machine!!!

    I loved the report, but I had to admit that I laughed out loud at the line "I fell so hard my ass took a picture. Of my mind." LOL

  16. Great Job Psyche,

    I was sending you good vibes from the trails I was on.

    Yes, those final miles can seem loooong.

    If you do these more, and go longer, you might have the glory of saying in a race..
    "finally, only a marathon to go".

    40 miles and 50 miles are about the same. Might as well find a 50 now.

  17. Congratulations! Isn't the "dark side" a fun place?? I'm so glad I've found your blog. Totally enjoyable! Hope to meet you soon!

  18. Amazing job!! How freakin awesome! You should be mega proud of yourself :)

  19. That was a fantastic race report. 40 miles...I am not worthy! I'm amazed at how many details you remember, but maybe you didn't remember so many details. Maybe you just imagined that you did all that stuff....maybe you're still running and not even finished yet, and all this is just your mind playing tricks on you. OK, I'll shut-up. Congrats!! :-)

  20. what an awesome account ~ too bad you aren't hiking the AT (er, Appalachian Trail) as I would thoroughly enjoy 4-6 months of blogging a la Psyche.

  21. Six years ago we met, and then you & Charles were a godsend for me and Sean on the AT run four years ago, also in May. And sometime in the years since, I borrowed a mug for hot chocolate, which I still have (sorry). BTW, was the Nice man Charles? lol great memories, thanks to Facebook. Good to "see" you again!