Salt Fork Challenge - May 6, 2017
Salt Fork State Park, Ohio
A 10.4-mile trail course, The Salt Fork Challenge in Southern Ohio, turned into a muddy trudge just short of the half marathon distance. The deep, slippery mud and rerouted course was the result of a week of heavy rains. I had read this is “the course that eats trail shoes” and it certainly lived up to its reputation. This was one of the toughest courses I have ever attempted and in December I will do a 50K race, Bigfoot, on this exact same course! It is a beautiful trail but the altitude gain and loss in slippery mud was difficult. Numerous times I slipped deep into the mud and lost my left shoe twice but luckily it remained attached to my Altra gaitor so it was recovered easily.
Weather - drizzle, overcast, 43F, wind 7 MPH
Miles 1-3 It was a slow start and I jumped to the conclusion this was not going to be as difficult as I had initially thought. The bottleneck of runners entering the single track trail prevented me from going out to fast. The first few miles were very slow but I realized quickly that I may be in trouble at mile 2.5 when the mud made its debut and the pack began to disperse.
Miles 4-6 This was possible but the pace was terrible. At this rate, it was fairly clear that a three hour cut off may not happen. The mud was just too thick and slippery, Everyone had slowed down to a snail's pace. Being at the back of the pack made it worse because all of the runners in front of us had trampled down any vegetation we may have gotten a foothold on. Each step was a challenge because not only was the mud deep it was slippery. The stream crossings were a blessing because they allowed us to rinse off the mud from out shoes. Hills - this place has a lot of hills! My Achilles tendon aches and I think I may not be able to finish the race. I realize my limited training on hills may be a reason for a DNF. I slow down my pace and keep pushing through making a silent vow to do more hill training.
Miles 7-10 I have no idea how many times I have fallen these last few miles but I know the end is near. It has to be....There are only a few people nearby so I'm certain I'm going to be the last finisher and this is fine just as long as I finish. How in the world am I going to do this for 30 miles in December? And WHERE is the finish line? I'm still out in the woods and my Garmin proudly displays 10.9 miles. Am I lost? A hear other runners chatter and we all are wondering the same thing - Did we take a wrong turn? How much further? Will race officials keep the finish line open?
Miles 11-12.4?? The end has to be near. I'm pretty sure my legs will not last much longer. The discomfort of heavy mud, cold, and steep ascents have seared themselves into my brain. I think of quitting often but then what? Sit in the cold mud and wait to be carried out? That does not seem like an option - keep pushing through. How much farther? I keep trying to trick my brain that the finish line is around the next bend - hang in there! I should have been done 2 miles ago, my brain is on to me, it knows I have no idea how much more of this there is. FINALLY, the woods thin out and there is a parking lot and beyond that is the finish line. Yes, I am going to finish! Just keep going......
Results: 3 hours 14 minutes 38 seconds - Rank 161 of 213
Altra Lone Peak 3.0 - These shoes performed well with the slippery mud and the lugs definitely helped with traction. The ZeroDrop design and larger toe box make this shoe ideal for trails.
Board Shorts - Swim shorts are normally not my go to running gear but I thought I would give them a try. I knew the weather was going to be wet and my other shorts had recently started to bunch up on my inner thighs when they got wet. I would not say board shorts were the best idea for this race but they were not the worst. Next time, I will wear something with some length because I did scrap my legs up quite a bit on branches.
Nathan Quick Draw Plus Handheld - This bottle is great but its rigid design made my hand ache and by not switching hands, my right arm was fatigued. Having two free hands would have been ideal. It was necessary to grab trees and branches for balance assistance and having only one hand available made it a bit challenging.
Flipbelt - This has been an amazing product that I use on every run. I'm able to secure my iPhone 7 Plus along with my keys, ID, and nutrition. It does not move around and is durable.
Injinji Toe Socks - I have never had a blister with these socks even when they got wet!
Eddie Bauer Tech Tee - This shirt kept me fairly dry, warm, and breathes well.
Moving Comfort Sports Bra - This is a must for women with a size C or larger. It is a bit of a challenge to get on but the support is unbelievable. If you do not believe me, try it!
Clif Organic Energy Food Beet and Banana - I consumed packets during the race and a third one would have been a good idea.
Nuun Energy Tablets - These always work well. I refilled my Nathan handheld twice during the course and put a new tablet in each time.
Aid Stations - Due to the course detour I unsure of aid station locations. This served as a reminder to always have a backup plan for nutrition. Once I got to the aid station (same one twice) there were Oreo cookies, bananas, pretzels, and potato chips, water, and water with Nuun. I stuck to plain water and used my own Nuun tablets.
The most important thing to me post race was changing into dry clothes. There were plenty of food options. Many of the same items that were at the aid stations and included peanut butter and jelly. Oh and beer! Your finisher glass included a ticket for one free beer. I've never been a big beer drinker after a race so after my glass was filled I was only able to take a few sips and then gave it away.
Next time I will:
Bring a Houdini Running Jacket - I was often chilled at times because of the slow pace and drizzle. The Houdini is light enough to have provided rain protection and provided an extra light layer of warmth.
Book a hotel room - A hot shower and some rest would have made this more enjoyable. Driving home 3 hours immediately after the race was not good for muscle recovery. It took me longer to recover from this race than my last marathon. I think this was due to the long drive.
Consume more fuel - One more nutrition packet would have been helpful. I was fatigued by mile 8 and few potato chips at the aid station did not satisfy my fuel needs.
Bring walking sticks - I probably will not do this but I saw a few participants that had them and I thought that was a brilliant idea.
Leave the gloves in the car - Yes, it was cold but after a few falls in the mud my gloves were dirty and heavy. I had to stash them in my flip belt and it was uncomfortable.
Wear longer shorts or tights - At the end of the race, I had cuts all over my legs from branches and thorns.
This was overall a great race. It made many of us dig deep and seriously contemplate why we were out there pushing ourselves to the limit but in the end, we are reminded it is always worth the effort! Has anyone got great trail tips or information you would like to share? If so, please add your comment! Happy trails!