Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 Savage Gulf Trail Marathon

2012 Savage Gulf Trail Marathon
March 17, 2012
Race Report by Timothy Pitt

This was by far the toughest and most beautiful race I have done to date. I really put in some great weeks of training over the past 4-6 weeks and felt confident in my fitness. This course was just tough. The climbs, the technical difficulty, the heat and humidity it was all tough.

The race starts in the parking lot of the Stone Door ranger station and quickly hits a service road. I started in the front pack and tucked in right behind Randy Whorton from the Rock Creek race team out of Chattanooga. There was about 8 guys ahead of us including three from the Chattanooga area one being Brian Costilow who is also on the Rock Creek race team. I held back and just kept it under control. I knew the first section was flat and easy. The service road dumped us out on the Big Creek Rim trail heading to the Stone Doors decent. This section is very runnable and includes some breath taking overlooks. Around mile three we arrived at Stone Door! The trail begins the drop down into the gulf through a massive stone formation crevasse!! After the three hundred foot drop via stone steps through the rock we were dropped back onto the descending trail.

It doesn’t take long before you begin to feel the humidity increasing as you run deeper into the gorge. The big bolder fields showed up early, and right before our first stream crossing. I had taken a gamble on my shoe selection, opting to run in a brand new pair of Brooks Pure Grit. I found out really quick that these shoes do not grip moss covered rocks!! My first slip/fall was the worst of the day mostly due because I was not expecting it! I yelped pretty loud as my left foot slipped and my ankle rolled!!

Once the first main decent was complete we turned onto a connector trail that followed the beautiful gorge floor. This section included three suspension bridges that crossed over deep flowing mountain streams!! I found out on the first bridge that running them was not easy. These bridges have a natural harmonic that does not match my running pace! I quickly felt like I was just jumping straight up and down!! Randy and I had a pretty good laugh about it, and I told him how stupid I must have looked trying to run across the bridge. The last part of the connector trail climbs out of the deepest part of the main gorge and onto the Collins Gulf trail. This climb was long, but included some level sections on a couple of switch backs. Coming out of the deep gulf I was surprised at how much I had sweated already. Most of this was due to the high humidity, but the temperature was already climbing and the sun was out in full force.

This section of the course was the most beautiful, and included a huge waterfall. It was breathtaking! We crossed over the rapids and stream on another suspension bridge right at the base of the falls! WOW!! I had to stop and soak in the view! The bridge ended at an enormous rock overhang with the trail continuing on under it. After another short climb the first aid station appeared at 9.4 miles. I threw back a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade and after smiling and thanking all the volunteers took off again (I try and follow the example of DeWayne Satterfield!!). Just shortly after the aid station we get to the biggest boulder field that we will encounter all day. This was slow moving for me, I had already fallen several times on rocks. At this point Randy took off and said he was going after the front runners. He had no troubles on the rocks with his Hokas.

The Collins Gulf trail turned into the Collins Rim trail, and I was happy about that! Finally some nice flat fairly smooth trail to run on, I was ready to move! This section of trail follows the East side of Collins Gulf and offers many beautiful views out into the main gulf! Up to this point the race had been going pretty smooth. At around mile 14ish I was crossing through a small stream about mid shin deep and bent slightly to place a hand on a rock. Yep, that bend was just enough for me to feel the first twinge of a cramp in my quads!! I had taken 2 s-caps before the race start, and two more right around the first aid station. I quickly took two more and kept moving, now focusing on shorting my stride some to keep from bending my legs much.

Around mile 15 the course starts another decent to cross the deep gulf again via the Stagecoach Road Historic Trail. This beat my already cramping quads pretty good! Just before mile 16 the course follows a slick washout/creek. Luckily there was a ranger giving out warnings to take it real slow due to the very slick rock. As I was getting closer to the aid station I pushed the fluids hard, draining my camelback. This aid station was a life saver!! They had a tub of salt and cooked potatoes!! It was a flash back to mile 24 of Mountain Mist!! I handed off my pack to one of the worker who filled it with Gatorade and began scooping heaping mounds of salt into my mouth with the potatoes. You should have seen how big the aid station workers eyes got when they saw how much salt I ate. I knew it was exactly what I needed. I thanked them in words and with smiles and continued on my way.

Shortly after the second aid station we returned to the Connector Trail. This was the only section of the course ran on twice. It was here that I caught back up with Randy who looked to be struggling from the heat. This connector trail took us back across those three suspension bridges and through several stream crossings. Just before the third and last bridge my stomach took a bad turn. I was reduced to walking. Lucky for me a ranger was waiting at that bridge and provided me with exactly what I needed!! When I returned back to the trail after a pit stop he informed me that only one person had come through. I took off feeling much better. I could also tell the salt was helping my cramping muscles!

I made pretty good time and quickly caught the guy that had passed me. I was expecting it to be Randy, but it wasn’t. We made a quick conversation and asked how each other felt. I quickly went on. The connector trail came to the Stone Door and Big Creek Gulf trail intersection. This is where the course continued on new section with the Big Creek Gulf trail. The name was clear as this trail followed the main stream through the deepest part of the gulf. It was a huge stream that was flowing with an abundance of clear mountain water. I pasted several cascading waterfalls that fed into the main creek. The sun had been baking down pretty hard all day it was hot! I wanted to stop and jump into a few of the deep refreshing pools of water I went past, but did not.

The Big Creek Gulf trail turned into the Greeter trail, which was a straight steep climb out of the gulf and back up to the top of the ridge. This climb was the worst of them all!! This section offered no switch backs, only straight constant rocky climbs. I hiked out of the gulf as hard as I could knowing there was the final aid station at the top and only a three mile section that was pretty flat to the finish line. I was so happy when I make it to the aid station!! What a climb!! I handed off my pack to be refilled again with water and thanked all the workers for the time and effort. I quickly took off and pushed the pace.

This last section was tough. It was so hot and my legs were cooked!! I just kept telling myself to keep my legs moving. The aid station works told me that I was currently in fifth place. I wasn’t sure how far the next guy up was, but I was going to push this section as hard as I could. This section was not scenic at all and seemed to go on forever! With about a mile and a half to go I caught a glimpse of someone ahead of me! I quickly caught him and took him by surprise. I think he had head phones in because when I called out on your left he did not move. I jumped off the trail to the left and bounded past him just as he started to walk. He gave a jump, and started looking around. By the time he realized what had happened I had put a gap on him. He quickly started running again. I put a surge in to make him think I was running stronger than I was so he would give up. Luckily it worked. He faded back and I was soon by myself again, and not a moment too soon. I started feeling my quads cramp up again. I suspect they were not happy about the pace or the surge.

I soon saw another person ahead and quickly realized it was a volunteer. As I approached I heard him calling into a radio runner. Just past him the trail dumped out on the road that leads into the park. I turned right and saw the finish line up ahead!! I unbuckled and tossed off my pack! I put my head down and turned it into an all out sprint to the finish. I had been watching the time and distance since the last aid station and thought I could finish under five and a half hours. I pulled the typical Pitt style finish and crossed the finish line in 5:30:03!! So close. I smiled and walked back to pick up my pack.

What a great race! It is the toughest and most beautiful courses I have done to date! I am already looking forward to running it next year!!

Tim started running in the  spring of 2006 to get fit and healthy and since then has run every distance from 5km to 50km.  He is heavily involved with Fleet Feet Racing and in the promotion of running in his hometown of Arab, Alabama where he holds the distinction of being the fastest man in Arab.  His team biography can be found here.