Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Oak Mountain (50k) Experience

This past Saturday, I had be pleasure of joining around 100 runners at the Oak Mountain 50k outside of Birmingham, AL. It was my first official race over this distance having covered it before in my training last fall while preparing for Santa Barbara 9 Trails (an injury prevented me from actually participating in SB9T).

Our challenge for the day

The Oak Mountain race is actually more of a 50k+, with the overall distance hovering somewhere around 33 miles. With 3,900' of total elevation gain this race has some climbs but is not impossibly hard. Perfect for my first 50k!

My lady and I made the two hour drive to Alabama the morning of the race fully appreciating the hour time difference. The temperature at the start was a comfortable 50 degrees. Everybody was in good spirits. There were smiles everywhere. It was going to be a good day!

Water bottle? Check. Camera? Check. Race beard? Check. Goofy smile? Check. - Good to go!

33 miles to go!

We started off on the yellow trail with some steep inclines forcing us to walk almost right away. My strategy was to run very conservatively until the first major aid station. I wanted to get through this part feeling fresh with plenty of energy left in the tank. It was here on the yellow trail that I met Andy, a local with whom I would zig-zag all day long. He was full of info not just about what was coming up on the course but also about the area. I loved talking to him!

Once we passed the first major aid station (1:15, North Trail Head), we were off to tackle our first big climb of the day. It was here that I realized my legs feeling good today. At the top of the ridge I caught up with Andy again (I tend to take a while at aid stations). The trail was pretty much table top flat up there until we dropped down to the most beautiful point of the course: Peavine Falls.

Crossing the base of Peavine Falls

It's a rocky climb down to the base of the falls and then a steep climb back up. You definitely needed all four to make it to the top. It was awesome!

Climbing back to the top of Peavine Falls

Soon after, we hit the Peavine Falls aid station (2:30). My lady was waiting for me here with a couple of gels and a big smile. Fueled up and feeling great I hit the white trail. My legs started feeling a little tired during this section. I guess this race wasn't going to go by pain free...

The white trail was beautiful single track and took us to the top of the race (Shackleford Point, 1260').

The White Trail

From there, we hit a steep and rocky decent back down to the North Trail Head station (aid 3). During this decent, I caught a second wind and was flying as I reached the beautiful spread of food (3:55). I was getting hungry, so I spent some time here eating. I used the entire 3+ mile incline on the red trail, which we were now headed up, to eat and then digest.

Once back up on top of the ridge, I was all alone for about 45 minutes. It was time for some tunes (Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam)! Getting to Aid 4 (back at Peavine Falls) was the biggest challenge of the day for me. Listening to the music and singing out loud made things a lot easier. Once I reached the Peavine Falls parking lot (5:05), I knew things would be all downhill from there. Literally. The majority of the rest of the race was mostly downhill.

Oak Mountain

The problem was that they told me I was in the top 30. 29th to be exact. "Whaaaa? Are you kidding??" I now had my lady pacing me and running downhill is my strength. Let's see if I can finish in the top 30! It was on this downhill that I caught my third wind. I quickly lost my lady (we had discussed before the race that I would just go if I felt good) and continued to attack the downhill. It was here that gravity just took me for a ride. I probably ran about two miles somewhere in the low 7s. It was unbelievable! I passed five people before I finished with a lady who had I had seen on the course all day (she's a GUTS member, but I didn't catch her name). My final time was 6:09:41! The results aren't posted yet, but it looks like I finished in the top 25! (The results are now posted. It lists me as 23rd overall, however, Enid Gonzales beat me. She was 23rd, I was 24th.)

Feeling great at the finish!

It was great to hang out after the race and talk to some of the other folks I had run with. Eventually I got talking to Alan Abbs (check out this interview Scott Dunlap did with him and his wife Bev Anderson-Abbs; they must be the best ultra-running couple in the world). Alan was in town to see his folks and just finished 2nd overall (DeWayne Satterfield won). We talked for a while as I was enjoying my post-race burger. Hopefully, I'll see Alan again at some other race either here or out West. He is extremely nice and awesome to talk to. I wish him and Bev the best of luck at Western States this year!

Alan Abbs and I enjoying the post race festivities

I want to thank RD Scott Parker and all the volunteers for wonderful, wonderful race! It couldn't have been better organized. I loved the no-frills approach (no sponsor logos anywhere!). Next up: SweetH20 50k!


runningtwig said...

What an awesome race you had! Congrats!! It looked like a beautiful day...glad you were feeling good. Keep it up!

Jason Rockman said...

Nice work Dave. Let me know when you are recovered and ready to go. This weekend I'm doing 20 and then kicking back to 16 the following weekend.

Congrats on the strong finish.

Peter Lubbers said...

Congrats on the strong finish. That looks like a pretty tough course.
You're right about Alan and Bev -- I ran Rucky Chucky this weekend and Alan's wife Bev took first female, third overall.
Take care,

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Dave, big congrats on your first 50k, always a milestone accomplishment. Looks pretty (waterfall inclusive), gnarly enough (log blocking trail) and fun. Great you could meet Alan--was wondering where he was, but never got around to asking Bev.

Jean Pommier said...

Cool, Dave, and congrats for this first! One one of the pictures, you look like me before crossing a creek in my first 50K (daring at the rocks). With time, you will learn not to stop; getting your feet wet is part of the trail running joys... ;-)

Glad we sent such an ambassador from our Western running community. As our main point of contact with the Eastern one, hope you can pay us a visit soon too.

See you soon, then!


Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

I actually enjoyed the river crossing the most. I know it looks like I'm hesitant to get, but I was just trying to balance. There was a guy right in front and right behind me, which is hard to tell by the picture.

The SweetH20 50k next month will have two serious (i.e. roped) river crossings. I'm looking forward to it already!

Sunshine Girl said...

Those dry trails are enviable - it looks like a great course: lots of up and down, some sweet single track and some great scenery! I can tell you had plenty o' FUN and enjoyed a great day on the trails.

Addy said...


How did I not realize this was your first official 50k? What an exciting accomplishment :) I love all the photos (the waterfall is great!) and appreciate you taking us along on your journey

Those fast finishes are the best! Congrats again

kelly said...

Sounds like an awesome race. Congrats on your first 50k! Keep up the good work and maybe our paths will cross out on the trails somewhere.

Adam said...

dave great run! congratulations on being able to cross another distance off your list. it seems like you're becoming quite the trail runner. hope things are well. let me know if you'll be up here anytime soon.