BREAKING NEWS: Scandal at Big South Fork Trail Run Rocks Racers & Community
by Sheridan Ames
Oneida, TN // September 28th, 2013
The three-hour hour drive from Chattanooga to the Big South Fork 17.5 Mile and 10K Trail races is well worth the effort. This year was the 20th Anniversary and in keeping with most of the previous years it included good weather, great racing, bees (lots — most of them pissed off), beer and delicious BBQ. It also provided some unexpected finish line drama.
Bobby Glenn made his usual pre-race announcements, with most runners choosing to ignore him or too busy talking to notice. He went to great effort to explain the course turns for each of the respective races. As a practical matter, it involved one different turn. For the front runners, their lack of attentiveness would lead to scandal and intrigue.
This year the Park Service had just bladed the short stretch of gravel road leading to the trailhead and by doing so made it much softer and more run-able. That said, I once again had a typically too fast start in an effort to enter the narrow single track that leads in short order to the first aid station and turn. It’s at this point the 10K runners go hard right and the 17.5M runners go hard left. As was explained previously (see paragraph 2) this was the only point where the two courses diverged.
Shortly after the turn I was passed by a few runners and by my count I was running in 8th place by mile 9. Pleased that I was in the top 10 at this point I worked very hard to maintain contact with Eve, the fellow runner who consistently stayed just ahead despite my best efforts to close the distance between us. While I stopped briefly at the second to last aid station to harass the workers there, she gapped me by a reasonable distance. Thankfully I managed to stay within shouting distance as it would later turn out.
A long couple of miles later you reach the last aid station where all runners converged on the way out before turning on their respective course. It was here that I noticed Eve take a sharp right turn (the trail we all came in on previously), when I knew (from having done the race more than a few times before) that was not the course as I knew it. When I arrived at the aid station the enthusiastic workers adamantly directed me as they did Eve. Oddly enough, after several steps headed in the direction pointed I had a bubble thought appear that told me to question that command.
I loped back to the aid station, inquired about which way to go, and was again firmly directed the way we came in while adding it was the way they had directed all those ahead of me. As I turned that direction I asked if the course had been changed from year’s past. “No”, was their response. It was at this point the smell of blood in the water flooded my nostrils.
I promptly yelled for Eve to come back. As I bolted down the correct trail I advised the workers to send those behind down the correct trail. I was now the first 17.5 Mile runner on the Official Race Course.
I ran the next few miles with such reckless abandon that by the time I got to the (now * optional) wood ladders leading to the final stretch; my calves were cramping so badly that I had trouble walking let alone running. Thankfully, as I stole a look back just before the finish line there was not another runner in sight who was in a position to pass, I was safe at home.
It’s at this point you readers get to play race director and decide the “winner” of the 20th Anniversary of The Big South Fork 17.5 Mile Trail run. For what they are worth; here are some undisputed facts to take into consideration:
1) The race course was published online and readily available.
2) The race course has not been different in over a decade.
3) The race course and turns were related to all runners pre-race.
4) The aid station workers (**) did direct the runners in front of me onto the wrong trail for the final few miles.
5) The difference in distance of the alternate route remains in dispute. (Assume it’s negligible.)
6) The alternate route is a much easier course/trail.
7) It’s very likely that the first (of 7) runner who was misdirected would have remained in first given finishing time.
8) The 8th runner sequentially across the finish line was in fact the 1st Runner across the finish line that had run the “Official” Race Course.
All said; is the race Winner the first runner to cross the finish line or the first runner across the finish line having completed the “Official” race course? Your Call.
Regardless of how the awards were presented and what matters most, all those in attendance were presented with plenty of beer, BBQ, slaw, baked beans, cookies and bee sting ointment to soothe the challenges of the day. A terrific post race celebration, to be sure!
Notable finishes by other local runners:
1) Lori Wilson Ames-Grand Masters Winner in the 10K
2) Mike Martin-Ran 17.5M race 34 minutes faster than last year.
3) Sherman Ames-1st in Age Group 10K (After a 17+ year medically-mandated hiatus from running)
4) Adam Webb-2nd in Age Group 17.5M
(*) Originally, the ladders were necessary to descend/ascend from one rock ledge to another because there was no trail around them. Due to course change after the first few years you now only encounter them the return trip. There is now a trail that (disappointingly) allows you skip them entirely. For the record; I consider taking the trail here as cutting the official course.
(**) In defense of the Race Director; there was a worker at this location who had run the race at least 10 times in the past. Just goes to show you just when you think you have all your bases covered……
Shirt: Patagonia Air Flow
Shorts: Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts
Socks: Smartwool PhD.
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia
Hydration: Nathan Quickdraw
“Keep your eyes on the traffic; the light will not hit you”
~Sheridan Ames, Rock Creek Race Team 2013