Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gnaw Bone 50K Race Report

I have no pictures from the race (except for my shoes to the left). The Gnaw Bone organizers (Running Fit and the Dances with Dirt crew from Ann Arbor) have a nice web site with pictures and a race video. The race folks seemed to take lots of pics--I may post some of those later.

Let me be clear about one thing---I don't like races that combine relays with the real ultra marathon. I especially don't like races that have intermingled courses for the ultra and the relay. Sometimes it's a shared course, at other times the relay is cutting across and going in a different direction. Lots of different colored ribbons to look for and, yellow, white, blue, orange...whatever. I prefer an ultra race to be an ultra race...focused on the ultra runners. One course. Possibly more than one event (50K, 50 Mile, 100K, 100 Mile), but everyone is doing an ultra distance.

The Gnaw Bone 50K runners were supposed to follow the pink ribbons. That seemed easy enough. I'm pretty good at staying on trail. The only race I've gotten lost at was Kentucky Arches...and that was marked with flour on a rainy day! You know what I'm leading up to...I got off course at Gnaw Bone. And it sucked. On the last leg, maybe around mile 28 or so, I came up a hill and reached a trail intersection. I looked both ways and saw a pink ribbon to my left (there was also a shirt hanging on a tree there). I went left. It lead me down a fairly wide dirt/gravel road. I started to think I was going the wrong way, BUT THEN I SAW ANOTHER PINK RIBBON. Cool. I'm on track and should be done in 30 minutes. I was running well and on track to break 6 hours for the race. I started to feel uneasy, is this really the right trail? I didn't remember running on a wide dirt road at the start (the first and last legs are the same)...especially one with rocks/gravel...and not for this long. THEN I SEE ANOTHER PINK RIBBON! Cool. I keep going down this section for about 2 miles, still feeling uneasy, and hit a road. No ribbons. No signs. I'm off course. Damn. I curse the race director. I curse the state of Indiana. I curse myself. At least I know exactly where I need to go back to...unfortunately it's about 2 miles back to that trail intersection. A complete waste of 4 miles and about 1 hour. I'm pissed. I'm not "Wrong Way" Marla. I can stay on course. And what gives with the 2 pink ribbons I did see on this trail?

Demoralized and depressed (and thirsty--no aid stations on this last section, and I've just gone an extra 4 miles) I find my way back to the fateful intersection. I stand there and look both left and right. I still see the pink ribbon to my left, but I now also see the pink ribbon far down on the right. I go right. More pink ribbons appear and I see a runner coming from behind. I'm no longer pissed...just feeling empty and discouraged. I was feeling so good, and running so well, I thought I might take an age group award. Oh well. I had more immediate concerns. The day was warming up (maybe 70 degrees and sunny) and I was out of water. I walked it in to the finish. But fate had one more "take this" in store for me. At the ski tower, where we go down a snow run that is muddy & steep, I go straight (and off course) down the wrong ski slope. It was REALLY MUDDY . I saw foot prints but all the ribbons were orange. About 100 feet down the hill, I wise up and turn around. I wade through the deep, nasty slop and find my way back to the tower. Yep, there are pink ribbons to the right. This was my fault. I go down the correct steep and muddy snow slope, turn onto the dirt road and get to the meadow where the race starts and finishes. I'm done in 7:02. They tell me I'm 3rd in my age group. Instead of being happy, I'm mad that I wasn't first. But I'm mostly just tired, hungry, and thirsty. And muddy.

I see the race director and go up to him ready to complain and ask what gives with the section I was on that had a couple of pink ribbons. I can see he's busy and frantically keeping everything together so instead of "Hey you bastard, why the hell can't you mark a course right!" I say "Hey buddy, where can I wash all this mud off?" Randy the RD says, "In the river behind the dinosaur." How can you be mad at an RD that says to wash off in a river behind a dinosaur? (Randy seems like a genuine dude. Except for the course markings, I have no complaints about this race. He did a fine job.) I look in the direction he was pointing and see a big blow-up doll of a dinosaur. As I clean off in the river with a few other runners, we all chat about the race. EVERY ONE OF US GOT OFF COURSE at some point. No one missed my turn. I didn't miss any of their turns. I feel better. The cold river water is nice on my feet and legs. I wash the mud and sweat off and get changed in my car. I suppose this race ain't so bad after all. I end up with a finisher medal, cool race shirt, race hat, and odd bone-shaped pen. All I wanted was a good trail run. I got that too. Time to drive 3 hours back home.

The Gnaw Bone course, at least the 50K and 50 mile parts, reminded me of a mix between Owen-Putnam 50K/50M and Tecumseh Trail Marathon. Makes sense since they are all in central Indiana. If you take the best parts of both courses, and toss out all the road sections at Tecumseh and Owen-Putnam, then stretch it out to 50 kilometers, you'd have the Gnaw Bone course. Lots of hills, many rather long. Lots of mud. Beautiful scenery. A woman I ran with on one section said "This seems like Jurassic Park. Do you hear all those birds? And the lush vegetation and ferns?" She was right. It was gorgeous. The single track trail meandered up and down small and big hills, over creeks, and across bridges. It wasn't as hard as the race organizers advertised. We had about a mile of off-trail "follow the ribbons through crap" section...but it wasn't that bad. A few briars and downed trees. I was a bit disappointed. If the vegetation (briars and poison ivy) had been higher it would have been much more difficult. I understand the relay runners do sections that are much more difficult than the ultra runners. Of course, they are only running single 4-7 mile legs! Big deal. Whoops, no time to get bitter again.

I'd like to go back next year and kick this course's ass. Now that I know what I'm getting into, I could run harder at the beginning. I won't miss any trail markers next year. And I'll dress more appropriately. I thought there were going to be lots of briars, fallen trees, steep "crawl up" hills, and other crap all along the trail so I wore a long sleeve shirt, hat, and gloves...even though the starting temperature was about 48...and it was around 70 degrees when I finished. Just dress for the need for anything special because of the trail course. Next year I'll win my age group and break 6 hours (7:02:05 this year--that is a lot of improvement for next year!). Here are other changes for next time:

-Be careful at all trail intersections. Look for the pink ribbons! Enough said.

-Stay in Nashville (5 minutes to race) or Bloomington (15 minutes to race) instead of Columbus, IN (about 20 minutes to race). If there are good hotels in Nashville, that would be ideal. If not Nashville, then Bloomington has tons of different hotels (and is closer to Champaign/Urbana anyway).

-Drink more at aid stations or carry 2 water bottles. The aid stations are about 3-7 miles apart. The longer stretches had me running out of water. If I drank more at the actual aid stations, then filled my bottle, I'd probably be fine. Many people had double water bottle packs or Camelbacks.

-Try Ivy Block (or other product) to prevent poison ivy rash. I don't think I got any this year, but depending on the seasonal weather patterns, that stuff could be all over the course in other years. Maybe bring some special soap to wash off afterwards too. My wife packed me Burt's Bees Poison Ivy Soap (I didn't use it, but at least I had it).

-Decide whether I want to race it (that's my plan next time) or just enjoy the trail (should have done that this year). Those are competing goals. If you want to "just finish and enjoy the experience" then bring a camera, go easy, and enjoy the day. If you want to race and beat the hell out of this course, strap on your iPod, lace those trail shoes, and let 'er rip!

-Plan to stay after the race for the party. It seemed like things were just about to start when I left. They have live music, beer, and lots of food (even veggie pizza). Mid-May is a nice time of the year to hang out and drink with your new running friends. Either designate a sober driver or book another night in a local hotel. You'll be trashed after running a hard 50K (or 50 mile) race and partying.

-Wear trail gaiters. There were quite a few places where dirt, small rocks, and tiny sticks could get in your shoes. Gaiters would help keep your socks and feet clean. I didn't get any blisters this time, but my feet sure were dirty!

-Recruit some Buffalo to join me next time. Srini and I were the only ones this year. This would be an EXCELLENT road trip since it's close by and has both a 50K and 50 mile event. And it even has that darn 100K relay for the buffalo weenies. Srini ran the full 50K it this year and seemed to enjoy it. If we can both do the 50K, so can all the other buffs.

To sum up, this is a nice race on a great trail. I'd do it again. I'm not sure I'll go to Hell, MI and do the other "Dances with Dirt" race in September. The relay there is enormous (375 x 5-person teams = 1875 relay runners!). I prefer smaller events.


ed said...


You had a great run to be on pace for a sub 6 hr 50K! It was good to see you before the start – sorry I didn’t warn you about the trail markings as that was the biggest gripe of everyone after last year’s races. I’d say everyone did get off course this year. I knew most of the course & had a high priority to keep on track this year but still took a wrong turn. Mike Nowacki, the winner of the 50K last year, and Russ Goodman, also a lead runner, passed me late in the 1st loop – both had apparently got lost! Hope to see you next year on (the) course.

Chris Ⓥ said...

Good to hear I was not the only one to get off course--even people from last year too! I should be back next year. It was a beautiful area and nice course.