Monday, May 16, 2016

More Jewel than Cruel

The lake at the finish of the race

This isn't going to be a race report. I think most of the time those are pretty boring. No one cares about the minute by minute nutrition strategy or how I felt at mile 25 as I miraculously managed to follow the obvious pink ribbons marking the impossible to lose singletrack for 60 miles. Or at least I don't. But I do think some reflection and ideas are worth sharing for myself and future Jewelers interested in running the race.

Lets start off with some numbers. The race's name is "Cruel Jewel 50", implying its a 50 miler. Its been my experience most races hold pretty tightly to the idea that an extra(but not less) mile or two is within reasonable error for the justification of starting/finishing at a convenient spot. Or if its significantly more, then they name it appropriately, case in point, the Telluride Mountain Run, a 38 miler. The Jewel takes this liberty a bit further. While the name suggests its a 50, the course description clearly states its more like 56 miles. However, my GPS and many others who measured it came out with closer to 60 miles. As far as the vertical goes, the website claims 15k, which my GPS supported, while my official race shirt oddly states 17k.
Starting shelter(in the south everything has bible verses on it)

Basically I came to the conclusion that neither the race directors nor anyone else has a 100% accurate idea of just what the stats are for this race. I find that a little perturbing, since it seems like it wouldn't be that big of a deal to get that stuff nailed down. The bigger thing I find puzzling is why the race is an extra 6-10 miles in the first place when there are 2 very contrived sections of trail that could easily be eliminated that would allow the 50 mile mark to be obtained. There is a 5ish mile loop at the beginning that could be cut, and an 2 mile out and back shortly after that as well. The answer as to why they did this likely was to make the course harder and allowing to see more of the mountains. Certainly it made the course harder, but I didn't find those sections of trail to be any more scenic or pleasant than any other part. My advice would be to cut both those sections of trail, making it closer to 50 miles and also would save them manning and supplying the two required aid stations as well. This would result in a pristine point to point course with no repeats or overlap. I find it annoying when course directors add on out and backs and pointless loops just to increase the mileage(i.e most of Matt Gunn's races). I'm sure others disagree.
Lake at the beginning of the race

Regarding the actual course, it is a very beautiful course with clean, elegant singletrack that constantly flows up and down through lush green forests.(who doesn't love that?) But the one thing I was disappointed about was the lack of viewpoints. Out west, running in the mountains allows you to see for miles and miles. Not in Georgia. This time of year the trees are thick with leaves and line of sight is about 100 yards. A summit, or "bald" as they call em, never seemed like it was that impressive of a place to be. It never felt like I was in the mountains, just in the forest. Maybe winter running up there is better for that purpose.
The high point of the course Coosa Bald. Its no Handies Peak is it? 

The Duncan Ridge Trail, or DRT, or Dragons spine or whatever you call it, isn't all its cracked up to be as far as steepness, difficulty, gnar, etc. Many of the entering racers talked about it in hushed tones, fearing its notoriously steep ascents and technical descents, and insisted on saving your energy for the last 20. News flash: The DRT was like every other section of trail on the course, it went up and it went down. I hiked the up and ran the down. It was mostly great trail, and nothing I would consider remotely technical compared to rocky stuff out west(the dive and plunge of Wasatch 100). Certainly it was difficult, but what isn't after having already run 30 miles? Don't fear the DRT, its challenging, but fun.
There was a few miles of road, but that's to be expected

The course marking was flawless. Very clear. The aid stations were fine. I don't expect a lot from aid stations so it had what I needed. The shuttle service to the start was much appreciated, and food at the end was great. However, the price is what is really sets this race apart. $80 for a 60 mile course is a bargain. In our day when a 5k costs $100, 100 mile races run upwards of $300, and the badwater 135 costs an absurd $1395, a race for less than $1.50 a mile is really cheap.
Cool bridge we had to cross

Some final thoughts for myself mostly. I decided that despite my undertrained state, I wanted to run as much as possible, so I told myself I would never let my legs say "its too painful". I think it worked for a large portion of the race and my legs never seized up. Inevitably I found myself unable to do more than shuffle around mile 50 but by then I was pretty happy with my effort. Another mental game I played was when I hurting was I remembered how crappy Florida is to live in and how great it was to be running in something resembling mountain terrain. I believe AJW on one of the ultrarunning podcasts said it was a privilege to be out there suffering in the mountains as 99% of the worlds population can't or won't have that opportunity. That really hit home for me and I tried to enjoy the experience despite the pain. Having said that, the 100 milers out there I passed looked beyond the point of this mental trickery having any effect so I'm still set on no more 100's.

Looking at the top ten on Ultrasignup, I was the 2nd youngest in the group at 30 years old. And the 10th guy was 60 years old! Amazing how widespread the age group is in ultrarunning, as how you don't have to be in your 20's to do well at a race. Gives me excitement that I have at least 30+ years of good running left, not that I care a ton about organized races. I'd much rather be out there with the boys on our own adventure than some organized event.
99% of the course looks like this