by Martha Wright
I arrived at the Sedalia Center on Friday afternoon right before the deluge began. It rained for several hours, so there wasn't a big crowd at the pre-race dinner, but it was nice to catch up with old friends, and to meet some newer ultra runners. Many folks set up their tents right inside the large picnic shelter rather than risk being flooded in the field. (I was staying in my cozy minivan, which worked well...although I wish I'd had Linda's idea of bringing a portable DVD player.) I was asleep by 9 and slept until 5, when the remaining runners began arriving.
The morning brought clouds and fog, but no rain, and the temperature was around 50 degrees. At 7:00 a.m., with the loud clang of a gong, the race started. We headed down a country road for about 1/2 mile (the only flat section, as it would turn out), past a few houses and a field of cows. Then we started up, about 2400 ft. in the first 5 miles (plus a creek crossing to wade through). When the long climb finally ended, we were treated to an equal amount of downhill...a downhill so long that you hoped it would end before your knees did. I was running with several friends who are about my age (let’s just call us “seasoned ultrarunners”)--Grattan Garbee, his friend Wilbert Hooper, Dave Snipes, Vicki Kendall, and there we were, pounding that downhill like a bunch of kids. We're either athletes or we're crazy. (And by the way, great run, guys! They all went on to finish ahead of me.)
Best moment of that section: briefly being above the clouds in clear skies and seeing the tops of mountains rising above the cloud layer.
Then it was back up, for the most part, for a long while. I'm at a loss to describe exactly where we were, but it consisted mainly of pretty nice (albeit uphill) fire roads. Part of the course here is also part of the Promise Land 50K and Hellgate 100K races. Most of the time it was so cloudy and/or foggy that we were spared from seeing how steep the hill in front of us actually was, or how long it went on. I stuck to a strategy of run 100 steps, recover, run 100, recover, repeat ad infinitum.
I finally hit the top and then another long downhill back down to the aid station. This is where I made a big mistake (yes, me, who prides herself on running "smart", LOL)...I left the aid station without topping off my water bottle. And about 10 minutes into a climb up Terrapin Mountain that was nearly vertical, I realized I was going to be out of water within minutes. I debated running back down to the aid station, but I couldn't face the climb back up those rocks again (plus I wasn't anywhere near the top yet). And then help arrived, in the form of elite ultrarunner Eric Grossman, who was out for a training run and was headed toward me, downhill. He gave me the rest of the water from his Camelbak (it turns out that I was the second runner to stop him; I'm lucky he was carrying plenty of water with him!) So, with my water bottle now full and my panic level subsiding, I resumed the climb up Terrapin Mountain. At the top we had to bear right to a small outcropping of rocks and actually climb out on them to reach a hole punch to punch our race bibs. On a clear day, we would have been rewarded here with a beautiful view…instead, we had about a foot of visibility. (sigh) Maybe next year.
Then the course went over some giant boulders, followed by a squeeze through a rock formation called "Fat Man's Misery" (not for the claustrophobic). Then a long, long downhill on very rocky singletrack. At the bottom, we had a half-mile trek in and out of an aid station, and then...more climbing. This section seemed mostly uphill (to me, at least), with some runnable parts. If there were any "Horton miles" in this race, it felt like they were here...it went on forever. At long last I came back out to the hill we originally started up on, and now headed downhill to the welcome sight of the "one mile to go" sign, then the flat road to the Sedalia Center and the finish line (6:32; about 50 minutes faster than my average Promise Land time).
Clark Zealand, the race director, put on an excellent race. This is the second year; he changed the course from a long marathon to a 50K this year. There was also a halfmarathon (all the fun of climbing, with only half the pain). The aid stations were wellstocked and helpful, and the course was very well marked. Plus they served wonderful hamburgers post-race, along with some awesome chocolate cake (also vanilla). Finishers kept coming in right up to the 9-hour mark.
Very approximate elevation breakdown…most elevation gain and loss seemed to come in large chunks:
Miles 1-5 - 2,400 ft. of gain
Miles 5-10 - 2, 400 ft. of loss
Miles 10-20 - 3,500 ft. of gain
Miles 20-25 - 1000 ft. down, 800 ft. straight up (Terrapin Mtn.)
Miles 25-30 - 2500 down, 500 up, 1000 down