My Ultra Journey – Butts Park Run

I’ve been looking forward to Saturday morning all week. I got up at 6am, ate some pancakes with yogurt on top, drank some coffee, got my stuff together and headed out for Butts Park in Clinton, MS. I am registered for the Big Butts 50K on July 27th which is run at Butts Park. The course is run on a 6 mile loop through the woods, so as soon as I decided I wanted to run the race, I wanted to get out there and experience the course. My friend Trey ran the Big Butts last year and he was considering meeting me and running a loop with me. I planned to run 16 miles, but then just figured I’d run 3 loops for 18 total.

I got to the park about 7:30am and found the gravel parking lot. Another car pulled up but parked in the field next to a trail map sign, so I walked down there to see what they were up to. Trey had said if he was not there by 7:45 to go on without him so I had a few minutes to kill. There were two people studying the trail map and after introductions, I found out Terry and Jenny were training for the Big Butts 100K which is run at the same time as the 50k. They explained how the trail worked and while we were talking a guy named Rob showed up. He was looking for a group run that had apparently occurred the week before. But he too is training for the 50k, so a few minutes later the four of us took off in to the woods. Trey was a no show, electing to get some road miles with a group in Ridgeland, MS.

Terry was out in front setting an easy pace which was fine with me. This race will be a number of firsts for me. First race longer than a marathon. First trail race. First race longer than 3.1 miles in July. I don’t know how I am going to handle running for over 5 hours in the summer heat so pacing is a huge question. At right about 1 mile, Terry and Jenny took a walk break as part of their pacing strategy, so Rob and I pushed on being careful to follow the black arrows on the orange background to stay on the 6 mile loop. Rob and I ran together for a few miles, got separated then caught up with each other back at the start. I downed a gel pack and filled up a water bottle with half water half powerade and started out again. Rob had to go to his car for water so I pressed on without him.

The course is a single track through the woods. It’s mostly flat to gently sloping with about five steep inclines and declines. With the exception of places where you run out under the high line, the entire course is in medium to heavy shade. It rained last night so there was a lot of mud and standing water which made for extra fun avoiding the worst of it. On one turn I was planting and pushing off my left foot when it completely went out from under me and I fell. The ground was soft and forgiving and I was soon back on my way no worse for the wear. It’s really pretty. Pine trees, oak, dogwood and many other trees line the course and dot grass filled meadows. There’s a creek that winds through the course.

I usually start my Saturday runs earlier than 8am to avoid the heat, but I had decided to start late today to get a feel for the temps I’ll see on race day. It occurred to me at the start of the second loop that I should have started around 9 or even 10am because on race day I am going to be running from 8am to at least 1pm, maybe 2pm. Today even running slowly I would be done by 11:30am. This gave me an excuse to push the pace up to simulate the stress I would feel with hotter temps. I was wanting to run faster anyway. So I started clicking off 8 to 8:30 miles instead of the 9:30 to 10 pace I had been running. I came out under the high line and looked down at my pace which was 8:45 and compared that to the 8:30 I was running on the previous loop at the same spot, chalking the difference up to fatigue and heat. The third time in the same spot I was running a  9 min pace. At 2 hours and 30 minutes in to the run I was amazed at how good I felt. Four minutes later I felt like garbage. What a difference 4 minutes can make when you have run 17 miles and it’s hot.

At 2 hours and 44 minutes I finished the third loop for an average 9:08 mile pace. My trio of friends happened to be back at the start when I finished. Rob was heading home and Terry and Jenny were heading back out for more punishment. Overall a fantastic day on the trail. Maybe I’ll get some easy miles in on the Natchez Trace trail tomorrow.

Next time I go out to Butts Park, I’ll take photos and video and do a more thorough review of the trail from the runners perspective.