This past weekend I participated in yet another ultra run. My 6th 50k finish since starting in 2010. It was also my best and worst time. Back when I did my first 50k in 2010, I had practically no training and no knowledge of what to expect. I crashed early, started to walk, then got bad blisters before coming in with a time of 8:52. I was proud of that time, even though the course had maybe 500 feet of elevation gain. You could even put it at 1,000 feet to be safe if you wanted to. Fast forward a bit and I finish the Oil Creek 100k in 2012 with a time of 22:41. My first 50k split was about 9:30 and my second 50k split was about 13:15. But each loop of Oil Creek has about 5,500 feet elevation. Leatherwood has about 9,000 feet elevation for just the 50k. And that's a conservative estimate. So how does all this stack up? It means I toughed out a 50k course with more elevation than Oil Creek and pulled a respectable time out of my ass. Along with some mud.
The tough course is what makes this an attractive race. If you want to punish yourself, this is the place to do it. The views are great and compare to what I saw at Oil Creek. You're deep in the mountains and there's lots to look at, sadly though you spend a lot of time looking at your feet. I learned a lot about my training (I need to do more mountains), about race directing (seriously hard work), and about mental toughness (I finished).
Okay, the course. It's hard. Seriously hard. Along the way I came up with a little slogan. You need to be tough as leather, hard as wood, and made of the mountains to finish Leatherwood Mountains. The course has hefty elevation, steep grades, and is pretty technical. Despite raining all day the day before, there were only a few sections with thick mud that made things tough, and most of those sections were downhill. There were about 6 to 8 stream crossings, but only three where you had to get wet. The others could be easily bypassed of jumped over. The trails were mostly horse trails, so fairly wide. There were also a few miles of gravel fire roads and some pavement. All around I was impressed with how dry the trail was after all the rain. Guess that's just proof that the hills were steep. The footing was sometimes rocky but mostly dirt. Only a few short sections were painfully rocky. The route was well marked and all the splits, aid stations, and turns were easy enough to navigate. You had a wrist band for each loop that told you what color ribbon you needed to look for. When I found a section I wasn't sure about, I looked around and almost always found a streamer that I had missed (once it was right above my head). Those rare times I saw no ribbon, I ran a few more feet and saw one. I never had to backtrack.
There were two minor aid stations on the first loop, Bob's Branch and Split Rock. Both were well stocked but that early in the race you didn't need much. Rawhide, the third aid station was much larger and had plenty of things to choose from. The end of the first loop brought you back to the Start/Finish area at the stables and it was also well stocked and had everything you needed. The second loop put you through Rawhide twice more before going back to the finish. All in all, there was plenty of stuff and the volunteers were always helpful and nice. As usual, I limited my time there as much as possible until my last time through Rawhide where I actually sat down for about a minute before moving on.
Everyone that registered for a technical t-shirt and some ads in their bag. The 50k and 50 mile runners also got a pair of socks but no choice in sizes. Finishers got a pint glass. I have yet to see the photos but I'm sure they'll look great (even though we may not be smiling in the pictures). I didn't expect a lot of swag, especially for a first year race, but considering the price of the race and what you got, I think it's worth it.
In the middle of fucking nowhere. That's where the race is. If you do this race, I highly recommend you rent a cabin there. Well, they really aren't cabins as much as vacation homes. But rent one. Seriously. It took me a good 10 to 15 minutes to get from the house we were in to the bottom of the mountain where the restaurant/barn/start/finish area was. So unless you want to get up super-early and leave your hotel, get some friends together and stay in a house there at the Leatherwood Resort. Well worth it. The course is also in the middle of nowhere so don't expect a cell signal, GPS, or anything but radio to work. I could get cell service on the top of the mountain but not at the Start/Finish area. GPS worked in the mountains but without cell service, it was pretty useless. Despite it being in the middle of nowhere, you got to see some pretty country. Everybody waved to you and everyone was polite. You were very much in the South where tea is always sweet unless you ask for un-sweet.
Dinner the night before was tasty.
The start of the 50k.
Selfie before ...
... and after my fall.
Just some of the great views along the way.
And this was one of the three creeks you had to get wet crossing.
Temps were about 40F at the start and climbed to about 60F to 65F by midday before dropping to about 55F by the time I finished. The sun was out pretty much all day. The wind was moderate but would always come and go depending on which side of the hill you were on.
Fluids and Fuel:
Breakfast was toast and some coffee. During the race I had several bottles of Hammer Fizz, one bottle of double-strength Hammer Perpeteum, several Hammer Gels, lots of water, and two bottles of soda. I started the first loop (about 19 miles) with my hydration pack and two bottles. My second loop (about 12 miles) was just with handhelds. All of them worked out fine. Recovery was a beer followed by two giant burgers, two servings of fries, some TV, a shower, then bed. There was a hot tub available and I regret not using it but I was pooped.
Aches and Pains:
I'm stiff and sore after this one. Most likely because of the elevation but also because I skipped the hot tub. Really should have gotten in. Nothing really got injured but I did take a fall. Thankfully I landed in some soft mud instead of pointy rocks.
Like I said before, I started with my hydration pack then went with just handhelds. I wore my Altra Superior shoes and was impressed at how well they held up. They slid a bit more than my Lone Peaks did at the HAT 50k, but nothing terrible, just enough to notice. I started with arm sleeves, a buff, a winter hat, and gloves. The sleeves and hat came off quick enough and the gloves eventually followed. The buff stayed with me the whole time and alternated between keeping my ears warm early and late in the race and getting doused in water to cool my head during the afternoon.
N/A (I'm not testing during races)
Start to Bob's Branch - 1:30:30
Bob's Branch to Split Rock - 1:38:10
Split Rock to Rawhide - 1:35:42
Rawhide to Stables - 1:31:09
Stables to Rawhide - 1:31:54
Rawhide to Rawhide - 1:44:09
Rawhide to Finish - 1:19:06
Finish - 10:50:50