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March 11th, 2003 – Carl Touchstone 50 Mile run

June 3, 2009

Squish, squish, squish, squish.  I once wrote “The sound of onomotopoeia resounded through the air,” in a tongue-in-cheek line of poetry, but last night, falling asleep blissfully at about 8:30 PM, the sounds of the day’s running would not leave my ears – squish, squish, squish, squish…

 This weekend’s 50 mile run took me to the exotic locales of the Longleaf  Trail in the De Soto National wilderness south and a bit east of Laurel, Mississippi.  I fly through Dallas to get to Jackson, and of course the plane to Jackson is delayed; I get into Jackson at about 5:30 PM (instead of 4:00) and quickly go to pick up my rental car – which is within WALKING distance of the terminal.  And no, I don’t mean walking distance like _my_ type of walking distance – I mean about anyone’s!  It’s actually only about three hundred yards from the terminal gate… chuckling about this (and the
fact that the Jackson airport is, in size, somewhere between Springfield, MO and Pittsburgh, PA) I hop into my Chevy Malibu and head south – apparently, all of the compact cars had been rented, what with Mardi Gras and all.  Free
upgrades are good.

 Laurel is about 95 miles away, and I get to see a good bit of Mississippi on the way down highway 15 (including friday evening traffic around Jackson, which isn’t that bad).  I’m happy to be back in 50 degree weather, rolling hills, and all of the hardwood that I’d almost forgotten about being so prevalent here.  Huge copses of various types of pine are everywhere, and I’m content to just sigh and let dusk settle in as I head south.  I pass through Collins, Mississippi, which FEELS like it should host a long endurance run – sleepy and small, with that mountain-bike type of small-town
feeling about it.  I also drive by (but not through) Hot Coffee – I begin to think that I might have to upgrade Mississippi on my favorite states list.

 I pull into the spaghetti banquet just as it’s winding down, and manage to grab a large plateful and a sweetened ice tea and talk to several of the race providers, as well as pick up my bib (#21), my T-shirt (long-sleeve and cotton, but definitely a nice shirt – not as nice as my LeGrizz shirt, but almost as much so).  I glance over the huge number of people entered into the fifty mile race (58 or so, and there were only like 13 finishers in the fifty mile last year). I think I just might have some company over the last two loops of the course, and go check into the hotel for an early (8:00 PM) sleep, after laying out my clothes for the morning.

 The Carl Touchstone Mississippi Trail Races are actually three different aces rolled up into one – a 20k (12.4 mile, actually 12.5 here), a 50k/31.1 mile), and the fifty mile. (I’m a huge proponent of the 20k race – gives people an idea of what an ultra feels like, without having to kill youself.) There are four 12.5 mile loops for the fifty milers, two loops and
a small 6.1 mile loop for the 50kers, and a single loop for the 20k folk. I make the short drive down to the race start (in a light drizzle), realizing in the process that I left, of all things, my watch back in the hotel room. I marvel at the large number of people here (primarily 20k runners), and say hello to a few souls, looking for the yellow bibs that indicate fifty mile runners (a seemingly common convention).  I see few, but there are a lot of  runners.  We’re milling about the starting area when the airhorn goes off.  

Did I mention it rains a lot in Mississippi?  Fortunately, the rain mostly held off yesterday, with only smatterings of light rain and a light drizzle throughout the day.  However, the previous weeks’ worth of rain had made the trail pretty muddy.  Well, actually, I’m not sure how it could have been much muddier in places.  Starting in “surreal pre-dawn darkness” (as their website says, and it is definitely that, with a light haze/drizzle hanging in the weird grey air between large pines), we’re off on another oddysey. The first two miles are a gentle downhill run on soft trails and fire-roads,
with a couple of mudbaths and one of two stream crossings where you absolutely have to get wet (about 20 feet across).  We all bound right through, hooping and hollering as we go.  The next two miles are on runnable (at least, for the first loop) trails with a little bit of up and down, but most of us ran the hills the first time around anyway.  After mile 4, you come to the first aid station, which is after about a quarter mile on a fire, road – looking (and feeling) very similar to the second aid station at Sunmart.  The aid station volunteers are great, and I only stop for a couple banana slices the first time through.  Miles 4 through 8 are a mix of up and down, pine-needle and muddy trails, with the worst mud puddle (about 30 feet through shoe-sucking mud if you don’t try to skirt it at all) right after mile 5.  Right before mile 8 you come to the second aid station, by far the friendliest on the course – and the one that sucked probably three or four minutes off my time, which is fine, because I always left the aid station feeling better (primarily because of hot chicken soup and potatoes with salt, true ultrarunning race staples).  Miles 8 through 9 are probably the hardest to run on the course, because they’re both the newest (created for the race) and because they have the most odd switchbacks and varied terrain.
Crossing up to get to the final aid station on the loop before mile 10, you find another well-manned aid station – this time ran by a first time volunteer at the station, who did a fantastic job nevertheless.  (In all, I cannot say enough positive things about all of the race volunteers – truly a top-notch job!)  The last 2.5 miles back to the finish are probably the most enjoyable to run, with a lot of good downhill running, slight uphill road running, fewer (overall)
mud pits, and a couple of places between miles 10 and 11 on curving, sandy courses that would be an absolute joy to train on (good stability, lets you cut your downhill running teeth, just challenging enough that you have to pay attention.  The last 0.3 miles are downhill to the start finish area.

 I finish the first loop a little fast (1:55) – I’m coming off a really bad cold and I knew that I should hold back and just race as I felt.  (Not having a watch really helped with that, I might add.)  It’s light out, so I switch to my racing amber shades, decide to keep my longsleeve Chicago 50k shirt on (making three fifty milers and several other ultras I’ve worn it in the entirey, with a short sleeved body armor base layer – a good choice, as I stayed wet all day from sweat, mist and drizzle, and having the two layers helped keep me warm despite the moderate temperatures, which I’m guessing
never hit 60.  The second loop I hook up with a couple of runners at odd times, including John Michael Montgomery, whom I run with for about three or four miles at the end of the loop before I break off his pace.  I still finish the second loop fast (2:10), and I contemplate how I want to tackle the last two laps.  I quench another Ensure, remember to swallow a couple of salt caps, and head back out.  I start being much more cognizant of walking more and running less, as my goal is to finish, not to race for any given time – besides, being qualified for Western States AND nursing a body whose immune system is still down, I would have been more angry if I’d pushed myself.  I check in at the second aid station and find out I’m in like 7th or 8th place, and only about 25 people are running the fifty miler – and some of them may have dropped down to the 50k.  I chuckle at this, but knowI’ll give up a few more places ultimately, as I plan on taking it very easy for the last lap and a half.  I finish the third lap in just under seven hours (total), being lapped by the two leaders at about miles 8 and 9, and head out for the last lap.

 The last lap was actually odd – I was able to run good portions of it, though I still held back a lot.  I felt pretty good, despite a couple of nagging blisters that I didn’t dare pop due to the amount of mud and crap that would get in them, and the general muscle soreness in the legs, feet and back that comes from running all day.  The first six miles are very
lonely, and I see no one except for the aid station volunteers at mile 4. Miles 3-4 were particularly taxing, as a horse party with a wagon had gone through right after I had passed through the last time, making the course incredibly muddy, and bringing out much thicker mud that stuck to my shoes. Right before the second aid station another runner catches up, who describes himself as almost spent.  I’m actually enjoying the day at this point, just glad to be out there, watching for animals that now are actually making themselves known now that most of the people are gone.  He’s doing well, and I tell him that he has a good shot at ten hours.  He does the math, and although this is his first fifty miler, it looks like he’ll be able to finish well.  He eventually shoots off ahead, and I spend a few extra minutes downing two cokes and some chicken and noodles at the second aid station.  I mostly walk to the third aid station as the drizzle decides to get a few drops of rain in every now and again.  Between aid stations three and home, I’m passed by two more people – watching them I know I could keep up if I wanted to, but I follow my race strategy (if taking it easy can be called strategy!) and just let them go.  Still, at mile 11 I can smell the barn and I start to run more and walk less, and feel pretty good in the process.  I’m actually in sight of the finish line when I see it roll over to ten hours (which is odd, because it went from 9:59:59 to 0:00:00) – so, my official finishing time on the clock was 39 seconds.

 Steve DeReamer, the RD, stops me after I finish and gives me my finisher’s award – a nice, gold and silver belt buckle with Carl Touchstone – 50 Mile Endurance Run on it, as well as something I had won the night before at the pre-race banquet raffle – a really nice, Carl Touchstone 50 Mile endurance run hat, which joins my Sunmart hat as my favorite, possibly even more so, once I get all the dirt and grime off it!

 I change clothes (interesting to do in a rental car when you’re covered with mud!) – thankfully I’d planned ahead and was able to get all of my muddy stuff into one bag.  Saying goodbye, I head back to town, taking a wrong turn and heading south instead of north.  Oops. I recognize my mistake and head back north – which is when I see two beautiful white tail deer on the side of the road.  I slow, and they eventually see me and bound off into the woods, those beautiful tall, slender hardwoods with the gray mist hanging between them. A fitting sight!

 The rest is minutiae – I finish driving back to Laurel, grab a double-pepperoni and tomato pizza and gobble down about three quarters of it, along with several glasses of root beer; I go back to the hotel, have a nice long hot bath, where it takes me a good ten minutes just to clean my feet.  The bath is quite nice, and I then watch the last half of the Indiana/Iowa game while elevating my feet, and head off to bed at about 8:30 or 9:00 PM.  I probably managed to get ten hours’ worth of sleep which, for those who know me, is almost as hard to believe as me running fifty miles! 9Actually, probably tougher to believe!)

 10:00:39 – on one hand it bugs me that I didn’t break the ten hour mark, but on the other hand, this was far and above the hardest fifty miler I have ran so far (due to the mud and conditions), and I know I could have pushed myself much harder – and probably could have even beat my best fifty mile time, based on the first two loops.  Today, I’m glad I didn’t, as I actually feel strong, my legs aren’t that sore, and I was able to drive up from Laurel to Jackson without any problems, so hopefully I’ll be back to my normal running regimen by Wednesday.

 I would also be remiss if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that always creeps up, usually around mile two when “48 miles” seems like an eternity to run, and again after mile 20 or so and all the way to the finish.  That part of me doubts that I can finish the run.  I think that’s ultimately what makes ultrarunning such an amazing thing – your body thinks that it has its limits, and will always try to tell you what they are. Experience, fortitude and just sheer will are what gets you through that.

Results and more information on the race are available at

 The next run will be the Ouachita 50 miler near Little Rock, Arkansas, in April, which features climbing Pinnacle Mountain at about mile 4.  I’m especially looking forward to this one because my beloved grandfather will
be crewing for me – I’ve missed him a lot since moving to Chicago three years ago – not that I haven’t seen him or anything, but because I used to travel with him a lot, to all sorts of trade shows while he promoted business to the Branson area.  It will be nice for him to come to one of my events and be out just having an adventure again.

 Sorry for such a long email – but hey, at least I don’t send these out weekly anymore!  Cheers, Jason

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