Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sylamore 50K Race Report


First thing: This is a recap of how we ran our races.  It’s not a very good description of the race or the race elements.  Nicholas Norfolk has done a pretty good job of documenting that here.

The Sylamore 50K is now in the books for Kevin and I.  It was a great race and we met a lot of great people.  Most of them I have talked to or heard from in one way or another, but it was great to put faces with names.  The volunteers were exceptional and the loot was great as well! 

As we looked back on our performances during our drive home on Sunday morning, we talked about a lot of the highs and lows of our individual races. It was pretty cool discussing what each of us experienced so we have decided to recap the race from both of our points of view.


Kevin and I have been trying to set 3 goals for our races.  Our ideal, and then 2 goals to fall back on.  Here were mine for this race. 

Scott's Goals

1. Finish under 8 hours
2. Finish under 9 hours

Kevin's Goals

1. Finish under 7:30 
2. Finish race in PR if I miss 7:30, previous PR is 8:02


After much debate on whether to leave the night before the race or the morning of, we settled on getting up bright and early to be in Allison by the start of the race.  Allison is a small town just outside of Mountain View, Arkansas and is where our adventure began.  We arrived at roughly 6:15am and began to prepare for the race.  It was a cold morning, just below freezing.  As we were getting our gear ready it decided to spit snow flurries.  I have started races in cold weather before, but this one just seemed colder.  Maybe it was knowing how far we had to go that made it seem worse.  The temperature was supposed to reach the low 40's which, under normal circumstances, is perfect running weather for me.  I would normally wear short sleeves and shorts and not think twice.  I fought the decision in my mind and decided to go with a skull cap and long sleeves.  I was glad I did.

We approached the starting line and were off at 7:00am.  The first mile was primarily a combination of pavement and dirt road.  We followed the pavement down to a dirt road and turned off down the hill.  The road led to the trail head and just through the trees was the infamous Sylamore Creek crossing.  This year we seemed to be lucky.  The water was only knee high which made the wade across a little less pain full.  I gritted my teeth, got across the water and headed up the hill towards the first aid station at Blanchard Springs.  

Allison -> Blanchard Springs


The first section of trail between Allison and Blanchard Springs is technical.  There are a lot of rocks, tree roots, and other various obstacles to navigate.  Kevin and I started out together but he was feeling great and started to pull away early.  At roughly mile 2 he dropped back to me so we could catch the group in front and try to latch on.  I was able to hang for a couple of miles and just decided the pace was too fast for me to conserve energy for later in the race.  I let them go and would catch them at the Blanchard Springs aid station.  I settled into a comfortable pace and proceeded on to Blanchard Springs without incident.  I was mostly running alone, which would be the case for nearly the entire race.  I reached Blanchard Springs in just over an hour feeling pretty good.  I was in for some food, a refill of the bottle, and then I was off.


The start was a pretty quick one, but hitting the creek early at mile one can be important so you don’t get stuck in too big of a traffic jam.  I arrived there first of our three (Scott, new DailyMile friend Darron, and me), with Darron just a couple spots back and Scott a few more spots back. After the climb from the creek Darron and I found ourselves on the back of a decent sized train of about 12 people.  Hooking up with a good pace train can be a great early race strategy.  The pace was good and steady and I felt like we could hang with this group at least until Blanchard Springs.  I was running with Jenny, a popular runner from Arkansas, who had the misfortune of falling in the creek.  Rumor is that there is a good video of the fall.  I got to see it first hand, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the video too.  So I was with her at the moment she realized she had lost her cell phone in the creek.  Her reaction was classic and all the funnier now that she has recovered her cell phone from a runner that fished it out and it actually works.  Scott still had not caught the group so I told Darron I would drop back and pace with him back until he caught this group.  I felt he could handle this pace if he could get through the traffic.  I dropped back, found Scott, and we proceeded back to the train.  At the moment we almost reattached I saw Darron pull out of the train.  I told him “don’t wait, we are almost there”, but it was obvious something else was wrong.  He had a significant calf injury, possibly a pulled or torn muscle.  We chatted with him just a bit and we thought he was going to limp to Blanchard and then pull out of the race.  Scott and I never caught that train again. 
Race starting line at Anglers
Photo credit

Scott bottom left, Darron in front of him, Kevin to the right of him.  No, we did not plan the yellow.
Photo credit

Blanchard Springs -> Gunner Pool


The next section was from Blanchard Springs to Gunner Pool and was a bit longer than the first. This section was the steepest incline and decline on the trail.  We headed straight up the hill out of Blanchard Springs.  The sun started to peak out and the scenery was awesome.  I kept maintaining a comfortable pace on the flats and descents while power hiking the hills and felt great. I was with the group up and over the first climb and the descent down.  After that, I had to let several runners pass that were keeping a much faster pace than I was, but I tried hard to fight the urge to go with them.  This is where I decided to let Kevin go.  I would only see Kevin twice the rest of the day.  Once as he was passing me at the turn around and again at the finish line.  We pass by the creek a couple of times on this section and a waterfall if I recall.  After roughly 5-6 miles, the decent into Gunner Pool was very much welcomed.  Again, I ate some Pringles, a couple of pretzels  topped off the water bottle, and I was on my way to Barkshed.


I saw Darron’s wife at the Blanchard Springs aid station and explained his injury.  I didn’t expect him to go on after Blanchard Springs.  Scott and I left out of Blanchard Springs together with five other runners.  I took the lead of this small group and proceeded to power hike up the big climb out.  This is the steepest climb of the day, but provides a good descent on the back side.  Our group fragmented on the climb, but reassembled at the top for a good descent.  Scott had pulled back to the back of this pack.  On the next climb we fragmented again and on the descent into Gunner Pool I separated with a Crossfit guy from Memphis names Justin.  He was not a runner, he was a lifter and Crossfit guy, but had no problem keeping my pace. Note to self: Check our Crossfit.  Justin and I came into Gunner Pool together.  I did not see Scott at the aid station.


Gunner Pool -> Barkshed


The section between Blanchard Springs and Barkshed is the easiest section of the race.  It consists of pretty easy terrain, mostly soft trail and consistent elevation.  This was my fastest section of the trail.  I was able to pick my pace up a bit and hit a groove.  I was still running alone but had received a boost of confidence that helped me shave some time and get to the turn around point at Barkshed fairly well.  However, about a mile outside of Barkshed (roughly mile 14) I began to get a bad headache that I chalked up to dehydration.  I had been drinking about 20 oz of fluid between each station, but apparently it wasn't enough.  I wasn't hot, so this caught me by surprise.  As I descended into Barkshed, Kevin was already heading back to Gunner pool.  He passed me on his way out and looked strong.  I knew at that moment he was going to PR this race.  I reached Barkshed and knew I needed salt.  I had already taken 2 tablets on the way in and I was still suffering from a headache and could tell cramps would be coming soon.  The awesome volunteers gave me some chicken noodle soup, some potatoes with salt, and a peanut butter sandwich.  I ate, topped my bottle off, and headed back to Gunner Pool at 3 hours and 33 minutes.


I left out of Gunner Pool aid station more quickly than Justin and proceeded to run by myself.  I caught and joined a woman about 2 miles in and we paced this section together. We would spend quite a bit of time stepping out of the way to let the lead runners passing us on the way back have the full trail.  I believe that you always yield to leaders and downhill runners.  This is by far the easiest section of the whole trail and I felt really good.  Justin would join me just before we reached the aid station.


Barkshed -> Gunner Pool


The first mile after the turn around was rough.  I was still experiencing the headache.  It wasn't until about 2 miles in or so that the food I ate at Barkshed really kicked in.  Once that happened I was able to kick it into gear and make good time back to Gunner Pool.  I was still by myself but only a couple of runners had passed me back at this point.  I was feeling pretty good at this point and made it back into Gunner Pool in a little over an hour.  I really wanted more salty food to make sure I didn't begin cramping.  More chicken noodle soop and a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich (yes, it was awesome) hit the spot.  I filled the bottle up with some Gatorade and I was off to Blanchard Springs.


After the turn-around I left out with a group of guys about 5 deep including Justin.  5 minutes into this section I would pass Scott and give him five, but we didn’t stop to talk.  5 minutes after that, much to my surprise, I would pass Darron.  He was actually giving it a go.  After talking with Darron for a minute and fumbling to turn on some music for the first time of the day I lost contact with my train of guys.  I ran a lot of this section alone just jamming to O.A.R.  I would catch this train just before we reached Gunner Pool.


Gunner Pool -> Blanchard Springs


The section between Gunner Pool back to Blanchard Springs was the hardest for me mentally.  The trail out of Gunner heads straight up the hill.  I power hiked thinking I was never going to see the down hill of this section.  I felt exhausted and my feet were really starting to hurt at this point. A few runners I had passed coming out of the turnaround were passing me back and I was beginning to get discouraged.  I had already downed most of my bottle and still had a couple of miles to go.  I pushed on slowly until I had finally made it back to Blanchard.  This aid station came at the perfect time.  The last few races, the final aid station has propelled me to a strong finish.  I ate some chicken noodle soup, boiled potatoes with salt, and sucked on some rock salt.  I drank a couple of cups of Gatorade, topped my bottle off, and I was gone.  I headed to the finish line back at Allison.


I spent a little more time at Gunner Pool and several other runners came in.  There is a short section of road, maybe half a mile that interrupts this section of trail.  We went from trail to road but then missed the trail on the other side and proceeded to power hike the road.  We would go a quarter of a mile before someone mentioned this didn’t seem right.  It dawned on me immediately and we headed back down the hill.  We’d lose 10 minutes before hitting the trail again.  Once we hit the trail my new groups’ pace was too much for me.  I was really starting to labor and couldn’t hold on to the back.  Jesse (is awesome) from Arkansas would join me with another guy, but soon their pace was too much as well and they would drop me too.  I’d descend into Blanchard Springs by myself just catching Jesse and his friend before the aid station.


Blanchard Springs -> Allison


As I mentioned before, the section of the trail is the most technical.  There are a lot of rocks and my feet were not happy about it.  The first mile or so out of Blanchard is fairly smooth so I was able to cruise along without much pain.  The food was kicking in and I was feeling pretty good.  I would soon hit the rocky terrain and the pain reared its ugly head again.  Each step hurt and slowed me down.  I was almost there so I fought through it the best I could.  With about a mile to go, I saw the Sylamore Creek again, the one we had crossed that morning.  I have never been so happy to cross water in my life.  It numbed my feet and allowed me to get up the hill to the road without tip-toeing. As I reached the top of the hill and hit the pavement, all I could think about was getting to the finish line.  I was walking because my feet hurt so bad.  At that moment, a new running friend of ours showed up behind me. He had hurt his calf pretty bad very early in the race.  I honestly thought he had dropped because of the pain.  It was really good to see him because I had been running alone most of the race.  I hadn't looked at my watch in a long time because I just wanted to finish.  My friend told me we still had a chance to break 8 hours.  We had 4 minutes to do it! Both of us could barely walk but we took off.  Immediately he had to stop because his calf locked up.  I didn't want to go without him but he insisted.  I mustered up everything I had and trotted across the finish line in 7:59:15 and was very happy about it.  Kevin had finished about 30 minutes earlier and cheered me into the finish line.  It was good to see him and I knew he had a fantastic run. As soon as I stopped, I turned around and our friend crossed in just under 8 hours as well.  His run was one of the most gutty performances I have ever seen.  I would have dropped early with his injury. Everyone seemed to have accomplished something they thought they couldn't.


I left out of Blanchard alone and a bit demoralized from the previous section.  Soon, Ying, a woman that had passed me on this section last year would pass me again this year.  I tried to hitch on and stay with her and she eventually would drag me back to Justin again, but just as I had a chance to say hi to him I blew up again.  I would spend the rest of this section alone.  I hit the creek and asked the woman at the creek how much further.  She told me a little under a mile.  I checked my watch and felt 7:30 was still possible and I took off.  I held a decent pace until the bear of a hill that is the dirt road.  I power hiked this hill passing a photographer and I held my hands high because 7:30 was going to happen.  I ran down the pavement toward Allison before having to walk a bit.  I then mustered up enough energy to run in and finish at 7:28:38.

Kevin celebrates the shot at sub 7:30
Photo credit
Kevin finishes with way too many arm accessories.
Photo credit
Scott finishing strong, going to get his sub 8:00.

Post Race

I crossed the finish line and received my finisher’s glass (which is pretty cool) and immediately began to scan for Darron and Scott.  They more than likely were behind me, but given my 10 minute detour they could have passed me there.  I did not see them.  I would learn later than Darron made the same mistake, but took it even further, 3/4ths of a mile.  I went to my truck, grabbed a drink, put on some pants, and proceeded to the finish line to cheer in the other runners.  A bit later I saw Scott and Darron coming in together.  I cheered them both in as they finished sub 8 hours.  Incredible for both of their first trail 50Ks and Darron with the injured calf muscle as well. 

The word says it all.

Later That Night

We joined some friends we met on DailyMile (Michael, Joshua, Jody & Jody’s wife) at Anglers for supper, a drink, and a live band.  Darron and his wife would join us later.  We chatted about the race before Scott and I returned to our cabin at Holiday Mountain Resort less than half a mile away for a celebratory toast in our new Sylamore glasses.

Our finishers loot - Sylamore 50K Pint Glasses




Overall I was very pleased with the outcome of my first Ultra.  The weather was perfect, I just met my goal, Kevin met his, and we met some great people.  After the race there was no way I was attempting the 50 mile at 3 Days of Syllamo, but now that I have let the pain wear off, I am going to try.  I hope I have found the new pair of shoes I need to make it through.


In the days after the race I have crunched the numbers a hundred different ways and I can’t seem to calculate a way to success at my first 50 miler next month.  Even though this race went really well I still feel that I am not ready for the 50 mile stage at the 3 Days of Sylamo.  I’ll hit that start line because a DNF is always better than a DNS.

Sylamore 50K Route

Sylamore 50K Elevation Profile



  1. Great report, guys! I was out there with you but unfortunately didn't meet you. Congrats on your races and for meeting your goals. See you out there next time.

  2. Thanks David, Wish we had met, even at these smaller races it can be hard to meet very many people. Hope to see you out there next year.

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