2013 Big Butts 50k Race Recap
Got up today ready to race, even though it was raining. The forecast had called for rain off an on during the night and throughout today. The forecast was right on. Had trouble getting to sleep last night, but once I was out I got some good quality sleep. I was up at 5:30am, made some coffee and ate two pieces of peanut butter toast and drank a couple of cups of coffee. I had used my packing list to get all of my food and gear together the night before, so after eating, I showered and packed things up. Left the house about 6:30am heading to Butts Park near Clinton, MS.
I arrived at the park and the trail where the race would start. There were a lot of cars already there parked in the field. The atmosphere for an ultra is so different from a road race. People are carrying supplies, setting up tents, grills, coolers – it’s not a race, it’s a destination. It had stopped raining, but it was already getting pretty muddy around the little tent city that had sprung up. All of the tents were set up around the start/finish area, but I had decided to set up a chair and my cooler with a dry bag of extra socks, Vaseline and towel at a spot on the trail that was a half mile from the start. The trail bends back around and comes right by a little gravel parking lot. So I parked there and carried my gear about 50 yards and set up on a bed of pine straw. I picked up my race packet and it started raining again. I went to my car to put on my race bib and change in to my race shoes and wait for the start.
Shoes. I had decided to run in my Saucony Kinvara TRs. These are minimal trail shoes, 4mm heel drop, with studs for traction. Turned out to be a good idea. I loved running in these shoes and my feet loved them too. No feet issues, no blisters, even after running for over 5 hours completely soaked in water and mud. If you are used to running in the road version of the Kinvara, the trail version is very similar but seems to me to be more roomy in the toe box section. With all the mud I just tied em up a little tighter than usual.
The rain tapered off. About 15 minutes before the start I ate a Chia gel joined everyone milling around the start area which is literally a tiny round charcoal grill sitting on the ground by the trail. I exchanged greetings and well wishes with several friends and after a few comments from John Brower, the race director, he just said okay let’s start in 3-2-1 go…and we were off just a few minutes after 8am.
The first of the five loops through the park was the easiest, and it was not very easy. The rain had really done a number on the course and the mud was already getting churned up. About a 1/4 mile in to this course, you have to go down a steep dirt embankment, then up another equally steep one. In order to get up that first slick hill you had to grab roots, tree limbs, tree trunks, anything you could to claw up the red, mud sludge. After the first loop, the race director elected to re-route around this one obstacle. Probably a smart move. There were a number of runners who may have DNF’ed at the base of that hill before the day was over. I think John made the right call. I finished the first loop averaging 10:08 per mile which felt like a smart pace. Turns out even that was too fast as I underestimated how much energy it would take to run through mud and puddles. For each mile that I ran, I would take a one minute walk break to save energy and change up muscle groups. This strategy has always worked well for me. I drank a bottle with Nuun on the first loop and as I came through the start, I refilled my bottle with water and grabbed some peanut butter filled pretzel balls on the table. I ate the pretzel balls as I started out on the second loop.
Using regular walk breaks, you pass and get passed by the same people sometimes several times. I got in to a rhythm with a guy named Andrew from Smyrna, GA. He is an experienced ultra marathoner and was actually running the 100k. Really enjoyed getting to chat with Andrew and hope to see him at future races.
I fell hard near the beginning of the second loop. It was a right turn as I was starting up a hill. I was running in the leaves on the right edge of the trail trying to stay out of the thick mud and next thing both legs are out from under me and I fall on the side of my right knee and right hip. No sharp pains, so I got right back up and moving again. By the top of the hill, I surmised it was superficial scratches and probably a bruise on the hip, but relieved I was not done for the day. I would fall one more time on this same lap before resigning myself to slowing down more in the tougher parts, which as the day wore on the entire trail got worse and worse. My station was a half mile from the start, so I pulled in there, put a Nuun tablet in my bottle, grabbed the banana out of my cooler and was off again, eating the banana as I ran. I kept up the run/walk intervals and passed and was passed by a couple of younger females from the coast. These two ended up coming in 1st/2nd in the womens 50k. One of their husbands also ran the 50k and she loudly announced in the finish area how she had finished “61 minnutes” before he did. Everyone got a laugh out of that. I drank about half my bottle by the half way point of the second loop so I refilled with water at the halfway aid station and drank about half the bottle before I completed the loop.
Pace was still averaging 10:08 after the second loop and I grabbed some more pretzel balls and ate while I ran. At my aid stop I decided to change socks. This took longer than I had hoped because it was hard to untie my water socked shoelaces. I was probably there for 3 or 4 minutes total. Changing the socks probably did not help much, because the new socks were almost instantly soaked again, but re-coating my toes in Vaseline was probably worth the stop. Grabbed the salted, red potatoes and a fresh bottle with Nuun. I knew I had burned up some time because Andrew and the girls caught up to me, so I pushed a little harder earlier in the third loop, averaging a 10:02 pace. The sun came out a little during the 3rd loop which heated things up and for a while it felt like a sauna. My overall pace was pretty steady during the third loop, but I was tiring.
Since this was a loop course and my first ultra, I had asked if anyone wanted to run a loop with me, for fun and encouragement. I had two takers. Sam just graduated from high school and is an athlete, including running cross country. I decided he would run loop 4. Ashton is my oldest son’s girlfriend and a cheerleader for Mississippi State. She’s a runner and in great shape due to cheer. After running the loop three times I was concerned that the course might be too tough and that one or both of them might get hurt. But once I saw them they were so excited I knew there was no talking them out of it.
As I came through the start after the third loop, I grabbed some peanut butter and jelly crackers, refilled my bottle with water and started out on loop 4. I met Sam and my wife Denise at my aid stop, dropped a Nuun tablet in my bottle and grabbed a bottle of my homemade energy gel. From this point, it would be 5 miles for Sam. He was in charge of timing my walk breaks, carrying my gel bottle and getting me moving again at the end of the walk breaks. He was fantastic. He was pretty tired toward the end of the loop but hung in there and helped me push through. I was really tired and beat up as we passed through 20 miles. There was only about a half mile section of the course that was not totally muddy now and it was just wearing me out. I downed the gel bottle which was like eating two gel packs and drank my bottle. Had to keep reminding myself to hydrate. Grabbed some cheeze its and a couple of banana sections after loop 4, refilled my bottle, thanked Sam and headed out.
I was still considering trying to talk Ashton out of this. I knew by the time I got to my aid stop Sam would have filled them in on the difficulty including he risk of falling. But when I got there Ashton was all smiles and over flowing with energy, so I just decided there was no stopping her. I dropped a Nuun tablet in my bottle, grabbed another gel bottle and we took off. Ashton did not have a watch so I just counted the walk breaks in my head. I’d pick an object up ahead and we’d walk to it and then move out. Ashton was awesome on the course. Her running motivated me because she was so agile and quick. She slipped down once but laughed through it. She kept me moving and I actually ran the last loop as fast as the fourth loop, passing four people on the way that I strongly suspected were in front of me. I had lapped a bunch of people, but I thought I remembered seeing some of these folks out front early in the race. In the one dry section I pushed hard and got my mile pace down below 8:00 for a little bit. The closer I got to the finish the better I started to feel. When I told Ashton we were a mile from the end of her loop, she was surprised at how good she felt. I think that girl seriously could have run another loop.
At the end of the fifth loop, in order to finish the mileage, you have to run an out and back of about a mile in length on the park road. NO MUD! Yay. I averaged a 9:11 pace on the dry ground. The road goes through open fields. I had no idea if anyone was not very far ahead of me or closing on me, but this would be my chance to find out. I would be able to see anyone out ahead of me on the out n back and I could look back to see if anyone else had turned on to the road behind me. At the start you can see several hundred yards until the road bends to the left and I did not see anyone. I started running and just imagined someone had just emerged from the woods and had me in their sights which motivated me to push the pace. I hate getting passed late in a race. I knew I had improved my position on the last lap and did not want to lose what I had worked for. I made the left turn and could see almost all of the way to the turn around….no one. So there was no one to catch, only imaginary people to run from. At the turn around I used the hole punch to punch little hearts in my race bib to show I had been there and started back toward the little charcoal grill finish line. After a few hundred yards, I saw the two females from the coast come around the bend. They were running well, but not fast and I knew I could keep hammering in to the finish in my current position.
5:19:59 was my finish time and a 5th place overall finish! I know that puts me in the top 5 males also because the ladies who finished after me were 1 and 2 for the females. I felt elated, proud and tired. My back hurt from being bent over keeping my balance, but other than that I was just tired. I don’t know yet how I did in my age group but I’ll update this post after the official results are posted online. Overall this was a great experience for me. I slowed a lot on the 4th and 5th loops which taught me a lot about wet weather running and the tax it places on your muscles. No cramps!!! My eating and drinking strategy was good. The one long break to change socks my have cost me 4th place, but I won’t know that for sure until I see the final standings. Probably did not make a difference.
Already been looking at race schedules looking for the next one. Perhaps the Mississippi 50 will be my first 50 miler. I’m thinking one more 50k between now and then. I’ll also run the Mississippi Blues Marathon in January as I have run all six of those and want to keep the streak going. Right now, I’m going to rest.
- Butts Park – The Furnace, The Meadow and Features (patthomasson.wordpress.com)
- Big and Hot (patthomasson.wordpress.com)
- My Ultra Journey – Butts Park Run (patthomasson.wordpress.com)