Sunday, June 29, 2014

My hattrick of ultra-running

Sunrise over Caesar Creek Lake

Three weeks after Another Dam 50k, and just one week after my first 50-miler at Mohican, I found myself at sunrise at the starting line of the Dawg Gone Long 50k at Caesar Creek State Park: 3 ultras within one month.

Like me, several other runners showed up in their new Mohican t-shirts. Some of them were running again, others were manning the aid stations.  The community of ultra-running is as small as it is dedicated.
Less than 100 runners were at the start

It was a muggy morning as the sun rose below a layer of clouds over Caesar Creek Lake, painting the sky in shades of purple that soon turned orange.  The temperature was already in the high 70s, the air was still, moist, and heavy.  It seemed a difficult day lay ahead.

Purple skies just before sunrise

The race consisted of 2 loops around the southern portion of Caesar Creek Lake.  I was still not fully recovered from last week’s race and had no specific time goal in mind. I simply wanted to know if I could complete two ultras on two consecutive weekends.

Reflection pond

After the dam crossing, the trail led through the Caesar Creek spillway where 450-500 million year old rocks had been exposed.  These rocks contain a myriad of fossils, mostly clam-like branchiopods, but also bryozoans, corals, and gastropods.  I spotted quite a few fossils but a trail race is not a fossil-hunt, so I did not pick anything up.

Some of the drainages have bridges over the creek beds

After that the trail winds through thick woods, traces the lakeshore in some places, and crosses a few drainages. About 5 miles into the race, the trail led through Caesar Creek Pioneer Village, a collection of historic houses from the 1800s maintained by a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving knowledge about the lives of early settlers in the area.

Water lilies on the East shore of Caesar Creek Lake

At mile 9 the route crossed Caesar Creek Lake on State Route 73 to the Western side, which was much hillier than the Eastern portion.  Throughout the first loop the trail was in fairly good conditions.  There had been a series of Thunderstorms in the past week, but Friday had been dry.  The trail surface was soft and tacky with mud in only a few places where the water had not been able to run off.
Ridge along the West shore of the lake

I completed the first loop in 3:45 hours.  I had paced myself well and thought that I might be able to maintain the same pace throughout the second loop.  How wrong that was!

After the rain the trail turned into a gooey mess

A few miles into loop 2 it started to rain.  Only slightly at first, it gradually intensified.  In most places, the soil had already been moist, and was not able to absorb any additional water.  Soon, many portions of trail turned into little creek beds.  Branches of shrubs and trees were heavily leaden with water droplets and sank lower and lower until the trail became a small and narrow tunnel. Up-right running was no longer a possibility and many sections turned into constant ducking and bush-whacking while stomping through a gooey mess as the soil disintegrated.  I was completely drenched but the temperature was now very pleasant in the mid 70s and there was no danger of getting cold.
The sun came out towards the end, illuminating the misty forest

As I got back to the Western side the bushwhacking was mostly over as the trees were taller, the trail was wider, and the undergrowth was less dense.  After a little while the rain stopped and even the sun came out in a few spots.  However, the gooey surface remained for the remainder of the race.  The trail was so slippery that I had to walk most of the downhill sections.  Fortunately I wore good trail shoes, which provided more traction than those of a few other runners who I passed during this last leg of the race.  Finally, I reached the finish line (at 53km) after 8 hours and 27 minutes – the slowest time of my three 50ks.  

It was still a lot of fun but I think I’m going to take a break before going out again for another ultra.

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