"Intoxicated by the madness
I'm in love with my sadness."
- Smashing Pumpkins, Zero
Summing up 50 miles is hard to do, but that song that popped into my head around 30 miles certainly feels appropriate. A lot happens in the course of more than 9 hours of running, but at the same time nothing happens at all. An entire day of running feels like it takes all day but in many ways it goes by in the blink of an eye. After preparing for the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile, which covers trails in both Tennessee and Georgia, for a couple months, it felt a bit surreal to actually be running it. I didn't really know what to expect in my first 50-mile race, and I'm still not certain what I've taken away. I do know this: it was an experience unlike anything I've ever had. I expected some grand epiphany, but really, it was just a day in the woods. A great day. A horrible day. It was something I'll never forget...for so many reasons.
The event really started on Wednesday afternoon with a trip to my parents' affording us easy access to the airport for our early morning flights on Thursday. D and Sam headed off at 7:00 to D's parents' house for an extended break, while I headed for Charlotte at 8:30. An uneventful flight and long drive across North Carolina and into Tennessee later, I arrived at the Extended Stay Chattanooga, which would be the moderately acceptable accommodations for the duration. On Friday, I did a dry run to the start/finish location of the race at Covenant College atop Lookout Mountain along with some course recon exploring the trails on either side of the 34/38 mile aid station. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily during my short jog, but it was good to get the travel out of my legs in preparation for Saturday's effort. And, I was comforted in the fact that the rains would end for race day—that doesn't mean things would be dry. It was also good to get all my getting lost around Chattanooga out of the way, which was a constant for most of my car-based excursions around the city. Finally, I met fellow Trail Monster, Nathan, at packet pickup, and we headed back to the hotel to make some dinner and get our drop bags and race supplies in order. Nathan was also running his first 50-mile race, and we exchanged our thoughts as we prepared to dive into the great unknown.
With it still dark on Saturday morning, we made our way to the race site while temperatures remained in the high 30's. In fact, it stayed dark until just before the start, when the sun seemed to rise so quickly that it felt as if someone had flipped a giant light switch. Complete with multiple pop-up tents, a long row of porta-potties, a fire pit and an inflatable start/finish arch, it was clear that this was a serious operation, and I was confident that this meant the course would be well-marked and the aid stations well-stocked. Even expecting no-more than 2 hours between aid stations, I went with my two-bottle Nathan waist pack, primarily because it allowed me to carry the variety of gels, Clif Shot Bloks and Honey Stinger Waffles that I thought I need/want along the way. I fully planned to utilize the aid stations later in the race for some solid food needs and Mountain Dew or Coke if need be. Additionally, tucked away in my bag of tricks was a random connection that allowed me to trade emails with last year's race winner, Troy Shellhamer, to get some intel on the course itself. Troy assured me that while there were plenty of hills, the course was overall fairly moderate. Armed with this knowledge, I was expecting a tough, but not overly difficult or ridiculously hard course. The lesson here: the fast people lie.
Despite being fairly nervous on Friday, I was very calm on race day and was ready to go at the start. Knowing from the course profile that the first ten miles were essentially downhill, my goal was to keep things in check but also take what the terrain gave me. My rough goal for the race was between 8 and 9 hours, so 10:00 per mile was what I was shooting for overall, knowing that the first 10 would no doubt be faster than that. I wished Nathan good luck, moved a bit closer to the starting line and headed off down the road with 264 other hopefuls. I watched the front runners pull away quickly and let others around me pull away as well. The first mile was primarily pavement, and my only goal was to not race anyone as it seemed others were intent on jockeying for position. I let couple people duck around me as we entered the singletrack ensuring that I didn't have anyone breathing down my neck on the first bit of technical trail. Soon, however, as we swtichbacked downward, I was leading a train that dwindled each time I heard "On your right," or "On your left." I was intent on not pushing too hard, so I was happy to let others go around, confident that I'd see them later on.
As the trail continued to descend beneath a number of rock outcroppings, I was struck by two things. First, the beauty of the views and the trails themselves. Being on the northern side of Lookout Mountain, we were in the shadows as the sun rose, but the river valley below was well lit. Secondly, the technical nature of the trails. Despite what I was lead to believe, the trails were very rocky and wet. It was the wetness that was the predominant feature as my feet were wet almost immediately due to multiple stream crossings in the opening miles. Whether it was the mental shift I was attempting to make due to the technical trails or the fact that I was trying very hard to not race during this race, I was feeling pretty off for the first couple miles. I couldn't find my rhythm at all. Then, while ducking under an overhanging rock, I twisted my left ankle. It was bad enough that I had to stop and walk for a minute or two. My Garmin told me that I was only 3.5 miles into the race, and I was very worried that I'd come all this way only to drop at the first aid station. Luckily, it did seem to loosen up a bit, but I was very cautious for the next few miles not wanting to reinjure it. And, thankfully, I never rolled it badly again the rest of the day.
The trail brought us along the edge of Lookout Mountain, around its northernmost tip and directly into the sun. It was nice to get a bit of a comfort here as even with my gloves and long sleeve shirt under my Trail Monster singlet, I was a bit chilly at times. The trail remained technical and muddy as we wove our way under the Incline Railway twice and switchbacked further down into the valley. After turning my ankle, I reconnected with the group I was running with, which numbered about ten, and together we reached a gravel bike path that led us gradually downhill to the first aid station. Obviously, we were all happy to be able to open up our strides and run freely as we fanned out across the road and the pace quickened dramatically. It was here that I ran my fastest mile of the race: 7:58. I didn't stop at the aid station since I still had plenty of Nuun in each bottle and had already downed an Espresso Gu and a Honey Stinger Waffle for "breakfast." My Garmin clocked the aid station at 7.75 miles, which was a bit shy of the 8 miles advertised, so I knew my pace was a bit quicker than it was reading, as I came through here in 1:14:34.
|Enjoying the sun just past the 8-mile aid station|
The next bit of trail was among the most runnable of the whole course with a mix of smooth singletrack and gravel roads. I was hopeful that the really technical sections were behind us. I was very mistaken. It was in this section that I chatted quite a bit with fellow-New Englander and eventual woman's winner Debbie Livingston of Connecticut, and soon we came upon two volunteers who warned us that there was a river ahead. They weren't kidding. Friday's rains combined with a rainy previous week has caused the river to overflow its banks. Apparently, when the race director marked the course on Thursday, the river was still down, but by race time I found myself wading through water that was mid-thigh in places. We should have been following the river for 200 yards, but, instead, we were right in it. It really wasn't a huge deal, and I was feeling good enough at this point that I found it pretty humorous. However, there was a gravel road a few feet up the bank that we would have all been just as happy to run on. Granted, my feet were already pretty wet, but I didn't need my shorts to be as well. This difficulty for difficulty's sake was definitely on display in couple sections of this race, and it's really one of my two complaints about this race. Everything was well-organized and well-run, but we didn't really need to go through the river, and there were other sections of "fake" trail, clearly used only for this race that we were routed onto when other gravel roads would have been just as easy to use and actually made a bit more sense. That being said, wading through the river does make for a better story, and I was still squishing from shoes when I reached the mile 15 aid station.
|Not me, but a good look at the river—the shallower part anyway.|
My Garmin was even shorter at this stop, closer to 13.5, so I estimated my average pace to be right around 9:30 per mile or so thus far. Again, on mostly downhill terrain. I also moved right through this aid station, getting ahead of Debbie, but catching up with her husband, Scott, on the next climb. We ran together for a couple miles as we negotiated a small climb and descent before the major pull back up to the start/finish area. As I made my way around one blowdown on the climb, one of 5 or 6 we'd already negotiated, I also took note that the trail was becoming more technical again, and it stayed that way for the next 5 miles up to Covenant College. Although I run on very technical trails at Bradbury Mountain State Park, I'm comfortable saying that the real technical bits aren't my forte. I was silently hoping that the second half of the course would be smoother.
The trail on the climb back up to the start/finish reminded me greatly of the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail. In fact, if you had beamed me onto this trail and asked me to hike them for a bit, I would have guessed that I was in Georgia. Speaking of hiking, we hadn't hit much real climbing to this point, and, in some ways, that first short climb, which was about a mile, was a good wake up call. And, a good reason to walk. Following a fairly gradual descent, the real climb began. It was about 3 miles back up Lookout Mountain, and a bit intimidating when I looked at it on the elevation profile before the race. I felt that this climb would be a good barometer as to how I could expect the rest of the race to play out. As it turned out, it didn't at all, but rather gave me what was either a good mental boost or a false sense of hope. I felt very comfortable on the climb. I mixed running and walking liberally and was never out of breath or felt I was working hard at all. Walking felt good. Running felt good. I was feeling very positive about my "first half" of the race. The only negative was whacking my left knee badly on an adjacent tree stump as I climbed over yet another blowdown.
I reached the paved road at the college catching up to another runner who promptly announced that he was dropping. "What? Why?" "I won't be able to make it the whole way," he said as he peeled off to his car parked a few yards away. With the race's major climb behind me and the sun shining brightly, my spirits were running high, and I couldn't fathom stopping now. I shrugged my shoulders and said to myself, "Well, you won't make it the whole way with that attitude," and smiled broadly feeling good about my race as I hit the aid station at the start/finish area in about 3:30. I had my one and only drop bag at this point and took just a minute or two to refill a bottle with Nuun, pick up an entirely new bottle, dispose of some trash and refill my pouches will gels. I was very conscientious to take a gel or shot bloks every 30 minutes during the race, and my stomach held up pretty well with this schedule the whole day, give or take.
While the first portion of the course is one large loop, the second part consists of a 12-mile out, a 4.5 mile loop, then those same 12 miles back to the finish. I noted my Garmin read 20.5 miles as I left the start/finish area, meaning that was reading about 2 miles short. More importantly, this meant that I could expect the next aid station, which was 5.5 miles from the start/finish, to appear at around 26 miles on my Garmin. And, even though the trails had been trickier and much wetter than I had hoped for, I was still confident that I could get under 9 hours; 28 miles in 5:30 seemed reasonable.
The trail leaving the start/finish was a smooth gravel road, but quickly morphed into singletrack along a stream, and it was the twistiest, muddiest, most slippery singletrack of the whole race to this point. "Hmmm…this is not good," I thought, as I was hoping for smoother running. Luckily after about a mile and half, as noted on my Garmin with a "Thank God I'm out of that" watch check, I reached a stretch of powerlines. I also figured that I'd be excited to know that I only had a mile and a half left when I was headed for the finish. I passed a couple people on the powerlines and soon got into a train with three other guys, shortly after turning back into the woods. The trail was twisty, but very runnable and slightly downhill, and the four of us were moving along at a pretty good clip. We crossed a stream that was about mid-calf deep. A spot the race director noted, "You'll probably get your feet wet." The four of us joked about this as our feet had been wet all day. I was happy to run with this group for a few miles as it was the most consistent company I'd had in quite a while. Despite a few other wet spots and slippery rocks, the trail remained fairly runnable until we crossed a paved road.
Shortly after crossing this road, one of the group said, "Wasn't the aid station supposed to be here." His name was Brian from Knoxville (?), and he had run the race last year. Another of the guys concurred as we crossed a slippery wooden bridge. We shrugged it off as we entered a rhododendron thicket. This was the first of a handful of such thickets and in each of them the trail became extremely twisty winding its was around the tangled trunks and branches. In short, I hated the rhododendrons. I could no longer find my rhythm and was struggling to maintain my pace. At some point in the thicket, my Garmin clicked passed 26 miles, and I began to wonder if the aid station existed at all. We did eventually emerge from the thicket, but the trail remained singletrack and was also climbing. And, suddenly, I wasn't having fun anymore. With each step, the aid station failed to appear, and with each step, I was get crankier and crankier. Even the runnable singletrack wasn't feeling runnable, and anything truly technical was a chore. This section kept alternating between the two, and cranky was morphing into anger. "Where is the !$(*^%!$(* aid station?!?!?!" 26.5 miles, no aid station. 26.75 miles, no aid station. 27 miles, no aid station. 27.25 miles, no aid station. Looking at my Garmin every minute or so certainly wasn't helping. Additionally, my average pace was creeping up with every step. I was feeling pretty awful and seriously questioning how much longer I could keep going. I was still running just behind Brian, who was probably feeling about the same way I was, when we reached a rocky section of trail that was very slippery due to the water running over it. We had to climb down the rocks. "Are you $%*()#%^ kidding me?!?!?!" Even though I was prepared to fall and break myself on the rocks, leading to a lawsuit against the race director, damn the waiver, I stayed upright. And, turning a corner at 27.5 miles, the aid station appeared. Seven miles is very different from 5.5, and this is my only other complaint with the race direction. The aid stations really need to be marked appropriately. Looking at the course map from last year, it simply looks like they changed the location without changing the map. Being mentally prepared for 7 miles would have made a huge difference.
When I arrived at the aid station, I asked for some EPO and an ATV, but my requests were denied by the volunteers. They did offer me everything else they had, which was an extensive selection, but none of the solid food options were appealing. I may have audibly grumbled my disinterest but downed my first cup of Mountain Dew of the day. I begrudgingly trudged out of the aid station at around 4:45 on the watch. A few seconds later, I was treated to an amazing view of Lula Falls and had to laugh as I thought about one of our mantras from the AT, "Yeah, yeah, beautiful…tra la la…whatever..." My attempts to turn my mood around was short lived, thanks to a ridiculously steep climb—not just steep for running, but steep for anything. In fact, at the top, three separate sections of rope had been fixed in order to pull yourself up. "WTF?!?!?!" It's a good thing the race director wasn't at the top.
|Passing Lula Falls...tra la la...|
At the top of the ridge, which offered a nice view "yeah, yeah, whatever…" and very runnable, grassy old roads, I caught up to Brian. Neither of us were particularly rosy. The road alternated between flat and slightly uphill, and on each uphill section, we walked. We chatted a bit, but mostly trudged along in silence both sensing the other's disinterest but need for a friend right now. During another bout of walking, Brian said "I'm gonna run. I'm getting too comfortable in my sadness." Off he went. I walked for a few more strides but figured that it couldn't hurt to run myself. Soon after, the trail turned off the ridge and started downhill. The surface remained the same, which was great, but, as I'd found, in true Lookout Mountain fashion, nothing would be so simple, and the trail was blocked by one of those can't-go-over, can't-go-under blowdowns. Whose idea was this again?
Turning off the old woods road onto some singletrack, all I could think was "Oh great, now what?" Thanks to a tornado, I wasn't disappointed. The original trail along a river had been obliterated by a tornado, but an unthinkable amount of chainsaw and trail work had created a new path through the forest. It wasn't particularly runnable or fun, but it was the best they could do under the circumstances. Granted, this rational and complimentary description comes thanks to being removed from experiencing it. At the time, I wouldn't have had such nice things to say. I was not enjoying my run in the South and was seriously thinking about calling it a day. The trail was far too twisty and lumpy to get anything close to a running rhythm going, and I didn't want to go another step. On top of that, I had to come back through here…if I wanted to finish. At this point, I didn't care. Finishing seemed unlikely.
Then, in an instant, it all turned around. I reached a gravel road, and said, "Hey, I know this road!" After leaving the last aid station at 27.5 miles, I figured that I would reached the 34-mile aid station in about 33.5 miles, guessing that my Garmin was still a little short. However, I had turned around at this gravel road during my recon run on Friday, and it took my about 10 minutes to run that stretch to the aid station. This stretch was only about 4.5 miles, and I was about a mile from the aid station. I instantly picked up the pace, and I knew that I was going to finish the race. Of course, I was still walking the singletrack that I had run the day before, but I thought it wise on this uphill stretch to the road. Shortly before that road, the leader and eventual race winner went past me. He was flying and looked a lot better than I felt. Hate that guy. Once on the quarter-mile stretch of road, I saw Troy in second place and the third place runner close behind. Interestingly, those were the only three runners I saw, and I was feeling pretty good about my place in the field. With the 4.5-mile loop ahead of me to get back to this point, I guessed I was hovering around the top 25.
My attitude had completely turned around even as I walked up the gravel road into the parking lot with the aid station just beyond. I joked with some spectators as I walked, "This isn't a very triumphant way to come into an aid station!" My watch was reading 5:45, which meant 2:10 for the out portion of the out and back. Reaching the aid station bounty, I chowed down on potatoes with salt and a cup of Mountain Dew. The volunteers asked me how I was doing, and I said, "Man, you guys aren't kidding around! This course is serious." They got a laugh, and as I took off to run the 4.5-mile loop, I jokingly yelled "See you in 28 minutes!" This got an even bigger laugh…if only I knew why…
At the aid station, I had caught up to Brain, whom I thought was long gone, and we left together. "Ready to trudge along?" I asked, but I got a bit ahead of him as he walked up the hill behind the aid station while I ran. I had run the last half mile of this loop on Friday, so I was looking forward to that final stretch. It took me forever to get there. This entire loop was either twisty, uneven singletrack or improvised trail. I couldn't get any mojo going the entire loop, and even when I thought I was running well, the Garmin would tell me otherwise with mile splits all in the 12's, 13's and 14's. It was in this loop that I realized I would be out for at least 9 hours. I'd completely turned the corner, however, knowing that I would finish, but I knew it was going to take me a while. Slowly over the next few miles, I became more and more comfortable with that fact. What was less comfortable was my stomach. As I was "running" through yet another rhododendron thicket that seemed to dominate the second half of this loop, my stomach became incredibly queasy. It came on quite suddenly, but, luckily, thanks to a ginger chew, it dissipated just as quickly. Very odd. Knowing the "half mile to go" point of the loop, I was a bit frustrated when I realized that I'd been running the loop for over 4 miles without reaching that spot. That spot was actually marked by a stream crossing, and each time I came to a new stream, which was fairly often near the end of the loop, I'd be disappointed to find it was in fact not the stream I was seeking. It did finally appear, and doing the math, my Garmin would measure the loop to be about 4.75. It was so twisty, however, (think Island Trail at The Brad...for almost 5 miles...), it had to be longer than that. My guess is over 5 miles. I reached the aid station at 6:45. My "28-minute" loop had taken me a hour.
One thing I'll never forget about this race is the look on the volunteer's face at the aid station. As soon as I arrived, he asked me, "Can I get you anything? Water? HEED?" I handed him my opened bottle and said, "Mountain Dew!" I downed a number of potatoes with salt as he filled my bottle with rocket fuel and headed off. I'd been passed by a couple guys during the loop, but my spirits were still high as I left the aid station. It seemed unlikely, but I had 2:15 to break 9 hours. I was feeling mentally good, and hoped that I could get a second-wind physically that would really push me to the finish. Interestingly, I was now well beyond my furthest run to date, but I never really thought about it. Leaving the aid station was the 38-mile mark. I wasn't focused on the total mileage just the fact that I had 12 miles to run.
I got another boost shortly after I left the road, as I came across Nathan just before "my" gravel road. He was doing well and feeling much like I was—this course was much harder than we had thought. We chatted for a few seconds before we split to do our work.
This time through the tornado section, I was in much better spirits. I was still moving slowly, but at least I wasn't angry. It was also sort of fun to come across all the other runners on their way out. Everyone was very encouraging, and I tried to be the same. Admittedly, I knew that all of them would be out for a lot longer than I would, and I really fed off their positive attitudes at facing that task. It was also in this section that a very interesting phenomenon started happening. I'd be moving along at what I perceived to be a decent pace, when I'd suddenly hear someone coming up behind me. I got caught and passed a few times and marveled at how fast each of these guys was moving. Maybe I was moving slowly… In fact, I was. So, this is what 50 miles feels like.
Finishing up the tornado section, I arrived back at the old woods road that climbed to the ridge. I had gone about 40 miles at this point and decided that if I was going to have any chance at 9:00 I was going to have to start running. I figured that this move would either bury me or jump start for a strong finish. At this point, I stopped saying much if anything to those still headed out and just put my head down and ran. It was the first time in the entire race that I worked to a point of breathing heavy and being unable to speak. I pushed that pace as long as I could, but even once I gained the ridge and started the gradual downhill, I could tell I wasn't moving all that fast. By the time I reached the top of the ropes for the downclimb, I was cooked. It was with very wobbly legs that I negotiated that descent and trudged into the final aid station.
I knew 9 hours was out the window, but I was in much better spirits this time through. Unfortunately, they were out of potatoes, but the Pringles hit the spot along with more Mountain Dew. From mile 34 on, aside from the potatoes, Pringles and Nuun, everything else that went into my mouth was required to have caffeine in it. Caffeinated gels and shot bloks were key. The wet rocks were easier to negotiate while climbing, but the following uphill was a bit of a grumpy walk. I was still mixing running with walking, but my running wasn't very fast. My legs just weren't responding, specifically my quads. It was a feeling I was very unfamiliar with. In my most recent marathon and 50k, my legs were tired, along with my lungs. At Lookout Mountain, I wasn't breathing heavy, but I was done. Even when I was done at MDI, I was still moving at a good clip. Fifty miles is an utterly different feeling.
Shortly after leaving the aid station, another runner passed me offering a ton of encouragement. "Run with me. We can still break nine hours!" Seven miles to go in 1:05. I told him I appreciated his enthusiasm, but it wasn't going to happen for me. I hung with him as long as I could, but I hit the rhododendron thicket and slowed to a crawl. Running on smooth singletrack was difficult, but anything technical was an utter disaster. It was all I could do to stay upright. I still ran when I could for the rest of the way in, but it was really about just getting to the finish.
The last five miles were actually comical. I was only caught by four or five more people, and I did my best to stay with them each time but I was barely moving. I was dead, but I wasn't down. I was actually in a terrific mood. It was extremely odd. Knowing that I was still completely functional, I tried to run all the flats and push it when I was passed, but again, my legs just wouldn't work. The stream crossing 4 miles out from the finish was a bit dicey as my wobbly legs weren't thrilled with the rushing water and slippery rocks. And, it was just on the other side of this stream that Debbie reeled me back in and sped steadily away. Needless to say, it was obvious how much downhill there was on the way out. While walking the lengthy hill back to the powerlines, my stomach started growling. I ate another Honey Stinger Waffle, laughed about eating something with only two miles to go and watched a handful of people run away from me. But, it wasn't like I was running, so I might as well walk and eat. Again, normally, when I'm shot, I'm completely shot, but this was not the case. It was as if I was carrying a huge weight and just couldn't move forward.
The final bit of comedy came with less than a mile to go, when Brian caught me. I hadn't seen him since mile 34, and he slowed when he got to me. I laughed and told him not to hang out with me, since I was barely moving. Seconds later, I was tiptoeing down a short hill watching Brian pull away. It was fitting.
As I came up to the finish, it was with mixed emotions. I was thrilled to have completed my first 50 mile race but disappointed that I couldn't finish stronger. I'd lost a lot of time in the last 10 miles of the race, and I'm not really sure why. Lack of training? Wrong type of training? Lack of fuel? Lack of experience? Did I go out too fast? Did I run too hard in the middle? Could I have pushed more in the middle? These are the questions that went through my head as I came up to the finish, but really, I was just happy. They announced my name as I approached the line: "Ryan Triffitt from Topsham…[long pause]" "Yup, it's Maine!" I yelled. "From Topsham, MAINE! We've never had anyone from Maine here." I pumped my fist over my head a few times and crossed the line. Final time: 9:23:19 in 27th place. As it would turn out, only 155 runners finished the race for a close to 40% drop out rate. Yup, it was a tough day out there.
I grabbed a bag of Fritos and my finishers pint glass. I was also told to grab a prize from the schwag table, which ended up being a North Face Junction hydration pack. It was a bit breezy as the sun was starting to go down, so I hobbled to the car as fast as I could. I called D telling her the good news and got a "Good job, Daddo!" from Sam. Amazingly, I had no blisters or chaffing to complain about. I changed into dry clothes, went back to the finish area and ate a cheeseburger by the fire. I spoke to Troy, who had finished second and was waiting for some friends to finish, and I chided him about his description of the course. He said he was also surprised by the difficulty and that they made a few changes this year, each increasing the length and difficulty. He also said that all the water and mud were the biggest surprise making it feel like a completely different, much harder course this year. I did take some solace in knowing that the course really was a difficult 50-mile course, as this was also the consensus of all the other experienced runners I spoke with. In short, the course was beautiful, I hated it. And, as always, it was great to share war stories with the other runners post-race, many of whom I'd seen along the way, but as soon as the sun went down it got very cold. I had planned to wait for Nathan to finish, but since I was shivering uncontrollably, I decided to get warm in the car, grab a pizza and head back to the hotel. Nathan did show up eventually, finishing in 11:47, stoked with his first 50-mile finish as well.
So, the obvious question remains…well, actually there's two. First, why do I pick such hard races?!?!? The only marathon I've run is MDI, and the only 50 mile I've run is considered a "doozy." But, the real question is: Will I do another 50 mile? The answer is yes. I've been hobbling quite a bit since then and my ankles were quite swollen, but I would definitely like to try this distance again. I've made huge strides in both fitness and knowledge since my first 50k, and I'd like to think I could do the same at this distance. That being said, I'm definitely going to choose a less hilly, less technical course. One thing is clear: I'm just not as strong on highly technical terrain. It's not that I don't enjoy running it, it's just that it doesn't necessarily suit my strengths. I'm best at getting into a rhythm and hammering. No chance of doing that at Lookout Mountain. Ultimately, though, I don't think the longer stuff is for me. I really like the marathon and 50k. I'm not really sure why. Those two just seem like the "right" amount of time. Maybe I'd like a 50 mile if I could run more. I really don't like hiking. But, it's tough to say until I've had more experience. All that being said, the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile was a great experience and one I'm thankful to have had. If the schedule permitted, I'd definitely run this race again, which is says a lot about the beauty, the organization and the people, since it was so damn hard and unfun at the time. I'm not certain when my next big race will be. Right now, the plan is to relax and recover. Some day soon, I might even go for a run.