Rock/Creek Race Team member Owen Bradley won Carl Touchstone 50k in Laurel, Mississippi this weekend, turning in a sub-4-hour time in nasty, muddy conditions with many creek crossings. Impressive!
Carl Touchstone 50k Laurel, MS – March 3, 2012
As a kid I loved playing in the mud. I remember one cross country practice in middle school where we slid “Pete Rose” style along a muddy field. Fast forward around 20 years and I found myself driving through heavy thunderstorms and tornado warnings on the southward path from Birmingham to Laurel, MS. The weather was predicated to be so bad, schools closed early in Birmingham on Friday afternoon.
Against my better judgment and the warning of girlfriend I proceeded to Laurel. After getting through the majority of the storms I had prerace dinner at Waffle House in Meridan, MS. I was just hoping it would not be raining during the race.
The dirty roads that lead into the Desoto National Forest and the Long Leaf Trail were very muddy. This was a good predictor of the shape the trails were going to be in the 50 mile and 50k races. After a rushed 15 minutes before the race of getting bottles, GU, and a bathroom stop accomplished, I strolled to the start line to be greeted by my friend Chris Dollar, who was running the 50 miler. Chris had the honor of tattooing my chest with the famous Rock Creek logo in permanent marker.
Dennis Brisnette, the RD, (aka Running Bear) gave the start command and I blasted off in 5k fashion to quickly escape the 210+ people that I pretended were chasing me. I enjoy the quiet peacefulness of a trail run alone, so creating a gap early was my goal. The first mile was not too muddy and I made good time in less than 7 minutes. Then I was taken back to my playing in the mud days with thick shoe covering mud that was unavoidable.
By mile 4, I had been through three creek crossings that were deep enough to get my shorts wet. The cold water was a great way to temporally get the mud off my legs and shoes. The major difference in playing in the mud and trying to run a sub-4-hour 50k in it is the amount of rhythm and momentum that is lost with slippery footing and running into deep brown water where each foot placement is a pure guess.
At mile 8.7 of the 12.5-mile first loop, I was relieved to run an out and back section on the forest service road until mile 10.3. A hard packed dirt road was a pleasant change of surface that allowed for some speed (I passed the mile 10 mark at 1:10). I also got to look at who was the closest in the chase pack; two guys were about six minutes behind me. I hoped to shake them by this same point on the second loop. I pushed ahead to the start/finish area in a time of 1:29:31.
It was then off to repeat the same mud slog loop one more time. I was not looking forward to running it again. On the positive side, I knew what to expect and just had to make it to the forest service road. The trail conditions had deteriorated since over 200 pairs of feet had sloshed through it. I was trying to keep my pace similar to the first loop to make the last 6 mile loop a more relaxed effort to run under four hours.
Much to my dismay, I was behind pace at mile 5 when nature called and I lost 60 seconds. I started running again at 40 minutes into the second loop from mile five. I longed to get to the dirt road. The trail was very well marked with colored streamers hanging from trees and mile markers were posted high on the trees.
Once I got on the dirt road I realized the bibs were color coded indicating the race distance, white being 50k and yellowing being 50 M. I thought I remembered the two guys I had seen on the first loop having a yellow bid. I was not happy to see them about 8 minutes behind me on the second loop but was relieved to know they were not really racing me. I was impressed with their pace for a 50 mile race under these conditions.
I really wanted to stop at mile 25 when the second loop was complete. I was at 3:08:31, so I had run 9 minutes slower the second time around. I was hoping 52 minutes would be enough time to run the last 6 miles on the unknown blue loop of the course. The first mile was the same as the two yellow loops from before; then I took a left turn into new territory.
At this point I was frustrated with any deep water crossings, since I had fallen several times, and was wishing for smooth not too muddy running for the last 5 miles. No such luck, I was getting slower, I hit mile 3 on this loop in 26 minutes. I was now getting close to running over four hours. I was tired and just telling myself to keep moving as I was now running against the clock. I knew it would be a long drive home if I fell apart at the end and ran 4:01.
I dug deep and pushed on. I hit mile 30 at approximately 3:52; this was coming down to the wire. I hammered the last half mile, as hard as possible on slick mud and came out of the woods to see 3:59:08 on the clock, I finished at 3:59:26. Thank God! This was only 18 seconds slower than my trail 50k PR, on a different course in dry conditions.
Within a minute of finishing it started raining. I took a photo with Running Bear and got my cool trophy and limped to my car to take off my shoes that were full of mud. I would rate this as the toughest conditions I have ever experienced for an ultra. My hat is off to anyone who completed the 50 miler. A “Tough Mudder” does not have anything on the Carl Touchstone 50 if it has been raining the days leading up to the race.