Race Report: Cloudland Canyon 50

First, special thanks to Coach Larry from Sweat Tracker for keeping my training accountable over the last few weeks and for bumping me up to their Performance Plus plan. The team at Sweat Tracker may be based over in Northern California but I feel like they’re cheering me on everyday. I really hope I can thank them in person some day. Please check out their site and consider one of their coaching plans. I’m not a professional athlete of any kind but having individualized coaching has made a huge difference in my fitness and training, and we’re only a couple of weeks in. Larry, and now Coach Dave, are helping get to the Georgia Death Race, and I already feel so much more confident (don’t worry RunBum, I’m still writing my eulogy). Much of this report comes from the recap email I sent Larry and Dave, with all the gory TMI details. Hey! We’re runners and we’re winners at over sharing.

If you want a general review of the race check out my review on BibRave. I’ll try to paint the best picture I can from the weekend. Friday morning I ate oatmeal with an egg. I had an apple in mid morning. For lunch I was supposed to have a half turkey on sourdough sandwich with a cup of matzoh ball soup. When I brought it back to work I realized that I ended up with a creamy mushroom type soup instead. I usually avoid a lot of dairy before a race but I still had about half the soup (it was good!). Not sure if it really made a huge difference during the race but something to be avoided in the future anyway (several spots in the woods would argue that it probably made a difference). I don’t remember exactly what I drank that day but pretty sure I had at least 1 cup of coffee, and a glass of Emergen-C in the afternoon. For dinner I had lo-mein with chicken, carrots, mushrooms, watercress, some other non-leafy veggies I can’t remember, and a soy based sauce. Then I had a big chocolate chip cookie around 7pm and I drank a glass of Nuun before bed.

On race morning I had a Picky Bar and coffee at 4am. About 20 minutes before the start I had a Huma gel. I did have access to a microwave at the group lodge where we stayed so I wish I had done an instant bowl of oatmeal instead. My typical pre-race breakfast is oatmeal with an egg, sometimes I add banana, and definitely coffee. This choice is nutritionally optimal with carbs, protein, fat, but more importantly, it helps, ahem, get things moving. If you run, especially if you run long distances, you know that this is great pre-race importance. Unfortunately, whether the breakfast choice or just the early start time, said bathroom action was less than optimal.

A HUGE improvement over last year’s race was the weather. It was 45 degrees at the start (as opposed to 15) and pretty much stayed the same all day. It was certainly cloudy and wet outside but never actually rained until the end of the day. If anything, I was dressed a little on the warm side in the morning but never got cold, even later in the day when the wind picked up and my body was not doing a very good job at regulation.

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The photographer was yelling at everyone, “Don’t look at me!” Took me a second to realize he didn’t want us blinded by the flash.


We set off at 5am in a line of bobbing headlamps through the woods. The first hour of this race feels really calm to me. The woods are quiet except for breathing. Somehow your feet just kind of find the path and the headlights (in this case, I was carrying a hand torch) prevent you from hitting trees and, hopefully, any face plants. I reached the first aid station about 1 hr 15 minutes in and after that just hit a steady rhythm for the next 15 miles or so. By this point you also seem to fall in with the same people for the rest of the day. Since it was a grey and very foggy morning, the darkness lasted almost 3 hours. Once everything clears up though and you get to put away your light, it just seems like a completely different trail. Suddenly you’re running a whole new race.

I carried a 3L bladder with Nuun and approximately ever 45min-1hr in the beginning ate a Huma gel. At the aid stations (every 6-7.5 miles approx), I grabbed 1 or 2 pieces of PB&J, pickles, maybe some potatoes with salt, and a few ounces of ginger ale. Sometime around mile 15 the lack of morning bathroom time caught up with me and I made enemies with the woods. By the time I was reaching marathon distance I would say is when I started having a hard time eating solid foods. I generally felt a little nauseous for the rest of the day. I knew I needed calories but solid foods just weren’t appetizing. I wish I had saved my Huma’s for later in the day and used more bars in the morning. In between some aid stations I tried to eat one of my picky bars and it just turned into chalk in my mouth. I’d eat a few bites, slosh some Nuun to get it down and then store the rest of it. I had several of the Picky bars with me at that point but barely got through 1 for the rest of the race, and I had no more gels.

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Just before I realize I am definitely NOT ok. Existential crisis in 3, 2, 1….


Mile 38 was back at the start/finish area. I was 40ish minutes ahead of cutoff. Since my mileage was down in Nov/Dec due to illness, Larry at Sweat Tracker had me treating this more like a training run. I was rolling along in zone 2 all day and just enjoying myself. My goal was just to keep going until I got cut. I never really thought I’d make it that far but kept an hour ahead of most of the cutoffs so I just kept moving. After mile 38 you basically had a loop around the canyon, down, and out for the final 12. When I made it there ahead of time I suddenly decided I needed to just keep moving. My friend Nisa who traveled with me, she ran the 12 miler, was also really excited and encouraged me to keep going. I’m really glad she was there, and I’m really glad I kept going but this was already new territory for me, and I was about to get a beating. This was where it came apart. Once my brain decided to keep going I left the aid station so fast that I didn’t take the time to set myself up for success. I didn’t 1) use the bathroom, 2) eat enough (I had a quarter potato and a pickle), 3) check my water. About a mile down the road I realized I was completely out of water. Even though the 9ish miles from aid station 38 were mostly downhill (with about 4 miles on road) I walked most of it. I was completely alone, cried a bunch, and the wheels just were off. About 3 miles in a participant drove by me to cheer me on (thanks Vice and Stephanie!) and I asked them for some water. They were able to give me 2 bottles of water and my mental capacity turned around a bit (still walking though). Around mile 40/41 is also where I realized I really needed the bathroom…again. I desecrated the woods again around mile 42. After this I kinda made a turnaround and started running/shuffling. It was too little too late though. The last descent into the canyon was around mile 43 (41 on my garmin, 43 approx course distance) and 2 volunteers kindly told me I had missed the cutoff (by about 15 min).

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Even on a cloudy day still got a great view of Cloudland Canyon. I’m also happy because I didn’t have to climb 1000 stairs. #SmallVictories


Honestly, at that point I was just happy to see other people. I had seen both of these volunteers at various points during the race and I’ve definitely seen them both at races in the past. ALL the volunteers are wonderful, kind, helpful, and they give up the whole day to stand out in the cold for your benefit. It sucks that I was cut, but I made it so much further than I expected and I learned much more strategy for the future due to this “failure.” At the end of the day, I avoided climbing 1000+ stairs out of the canyon, in the dark. #SmallVictories. Not all participants are kind about being cut. Cutoff times are there for your safety as well as the volunteers; please be kind. I may have rolled my eyes a bit when they told me that, even though I missed the cut, I still had to run 1.25 miles back to the finish. 🙂

Lessons learned:

  1. Stick with foods that are tried and true on race morning. A bar was convenient but it didn’t have the nutritional kick I needed before a big race.
  2. Eat as much solid foods early on and save the simple gels for later in the day when my appetite changes
  3. I’ve used Infinit nutrition for my endurance hydration in the past (mostly for long bike rides/triathlons) and I think I should switch back to that for ultra distances. It’s about 200cal/24 ounces so it would constantly force calories into me just by virtue of drinking. I LOVE Nuun but it has very little calories. This is generally fine on distances shorter than a marathon where I can balance hydration and fuel easily. However, in circumstances where I may lose my appetite over time, Infinit will allow me to force some calories. I’m also thinking about giving the OrangeMud Hydraquiver a shot and doing 1 bottle with Infinit and 1 bottle with Nuun. This way it will also be easier to fill up regularly at each aid station.
  4. I don’t want to waste time at aid stations but I really need to do a better job checking in with what I need. If I had used the bathroom, fueled better, and checked my water at mile 38 I think I would have been in a much better position to finish.
  5. ALWAYS travel to races with friends. I had Nisa and Frankie for the whole weekend. We road tripped on Friday afternoon, stopped for dinner in Chattanooga, bunked up at the group lodge (right at the start of the race!), and chilled at Cloudland until Sunday morning before heading back through Chattanooga (brunch and mimosas!) to Atlanta. We had a great weekend together. This was Frankie’s first trail race and he completed 38 miles! Huzzah!
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Race Report: Cloudland Canyon 50
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