Not as short version:
So I went into this race with the mindset of keeping it a training run. Last year, I started the race running alongside a friend of mine, Dink Taylor, at a pretty aggressive pace, then proceeded to slow down for the entire second half. This year, with the Delano Day , my "goal event," two weeks away, I decided to treat Cheaha as a good final training run, and I therefore intentionally ran the whole race at a decidedly more comfortable, conservative pace.
The race starts in a small gravel parking lot for a trailhead, and runners are immediately funneled into a singletrack trail, so to avoid getting stuck in a conga line at the start of the race that can potentially take around 2 or 3 miles to thin out, an ambitious runner must sprint out to the front few, which I did last year. This year, in my effort to force myself to take it easy, I started in the middle of the pack and eased into the race.
The section before the first aid station has some considerable hills, which can quickly take "it" out of your legs, and quite a bit of passing occurs during this first, shall we say, introduction to the race...
The majority of the course is run along narrow, rocky, rooty, singletrack trails, which can be an adventure to traverse. The ankles take a beating as runners traverse numerous rock gardens, often with the entire trail on a slant due to its location on the side of a mountain. This, along with the fact that there probably aren't a cumulative 3 miles of flat running on the entire course, makes this race a relatively tough, slow 50k. I love it.
This year was considerably drier than last year's edition; not nearly as much mud and running water along the course. If someone wanted to keep his or her feet dry, he or she could do so, although in one or two spots, some substantial thinking (and rock jumping) might be required. I, on the other hand, think that the main stream crossing of the race, somewhere around mile 20, feels great, and plowed right through the frigid water. I was not disappointed, as the cool rush provided a nice bit of relief to my rock-beaten feet.
Whereas most of the course is along singletrack, a few miles are along some gravel and paved roads. When, a few miles after the creek crossing, we got spit out of the trail onto the gravel road that leads to the paved road, I licked my chops. Given my road racing, XC, and track background, whenever the technicality is taken out of a run and I can simply dial in a pace to hold, I can generally make up some time on most of the purely trail runners. This came in handy with the almost constant incline that the roads held, during which, it is incredibly tempting to take walking breaks periodically, especially when you take a turn, and up above the trees, you see Mount Cheaha, which you are well aware that you must climb very shortly. It's somewhat intimidating, realizing that you're legs are already trashed from running farther than a marathon and that you're taking more out of them now by running up a hill just to get to the trailhead to take you up the mountain, and then seeing the mountain and thinking "I've got to run up that?" Again, I love this sport.
Once I got past the last aid station, I began my ascent of Mt. Cheaha, and it went relatively uneventfully. Yes, it was steep. Yes, it was somewhat difficult. Yes, I was very glad to be at the top. But I expected all of those, so it was, in a strange way, kind of easy to get through.
Once I got to the top, just a few more minutes padding around the top of the mountain, and I was done. 5:38~ish (completed, of course, with the requisite flying heel click at the finish line...). Another 50k in the books. The funny part is that, even though I played around with this race and ran it with a much more relaxed attitude, I ran 10 minutes faster than last year. Funny how all that works...
I managed to put in 14 today (Sunday), and soreness is about how you would expect. 2- weeks until the big one; on to Delano....