This was my 3rd year running the Run Bum Cloudland Canyon 50 miler. I LOVE this race. Sean “Run Bum” Blanton knows how to put on a great race, with amazing volunteers, great aid stations, and a “Do Epic” attitude. If it’s Sean’s race, I’ll probably be running it, or attempting to run it.
Cloudland Canyon is a beautiful state park in Northwest Georgia, near Chattanooga. Most of the trails on course are non-technical, with not too much elevation gain. The views in and around the canyon are worth seeing at all times of year. This year, much like year 1, the forecast called for below freezing temps with a start around 15 degrees and temps barely rising above 20. In addition, we had the benefit of snow and ice the night before the race. I made the call to head to chattanooga area earlier on Friday in order to avoid the mass hysteria of a potential snowpocalypse. My drive was easier than expected, since many people were already avoiding the potential wintry condition. I had lunch in Chatt with my awesome sister-in -law and then headed to the park.
One of the best things about the Cloudland race is that there’s option bunkhouse lodging right at the start! For $50 you get to stay in a cozy, warm bunk house with kitchen and showers, right at race central. Since the 50 miler has a 5am start time, the ability to roll out of bed, make coffee, get dressed, and walk right outside to the start line is one not to be missed. Plus, you get to hang out with other runners.
On race morning I woke up at 3:30 and headed to the kitchen for some coffee. About 5 minutes later Run Bum came in to tell us the park service had called him a few minutes earlier expressing concerns about getting EMS and other volunteers to various aid locations on the course due to overnight snow and ice fall. It was also obvious that many participants would not be able to get to the race due to icy road conditions. As such, the course was shortened by about 15 miles and start time pushed back to 8am. I was a little bummed not to have the opportunity to finally finish the 50 mile course, but more than glad to run in daylight. Run Bum did a great job of making good of a potentially bad situation. When most races in the area were canceled last weekend, Cloudland Canyon still went off in epic, and safe, fashion. Bravo.
Race morning was clear, sunny, and fucking cold. I wore 2xu tights, yeti wool base layer (this stuff is the jam!), a Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover I bought in Chatt the day before, a ski beanie, heat holders knit gloves with hand warmers, and a wool buff as a neck and face mask. For the 15-20 degree temps this all worked out very nicely. My legs were cold but manageable as long as I kept moving. The only issue I really had was the absolute shredding my lungs took throughout the day in those temps. I used an inhaler several times to help keep things open but there were various points during the day where difficulty breathing made it near impossible to run even the flats.
I made the correct decision back at the start/finish area, mile 17ish, to switch to dry clothes so that I wasn’t wearing wet base layers. I knew I’d slow down going in and out of the canyon and would have difficulty staying warm in my sweat damp clothes. This took longer than I’d like at an aid station but was worth the effort. I ended up falling several times on icy rocks in the canyon loop. Falling freaks me out, for fear of injury, so I quickly turned into a granny, slowing my pace to a snail’s crawl. I lost a lot of time on this section due mostly in part to tricky trail situation, rather than fatigue. I felt surprisingly strong, and not uncomfortably cold, throughout the entire race, with only my lungs and the ice giving me any real trouble.
That is…until 600 steps out of the canyon in the last 1.5 miles of the course. WTF?! Even in a race that Run Bum will tout as run able and friendly, he’ll still make sure to throw in one epic showdown, and those stairs are no joke. There are several awesome waterfall spur trails along the stair climb that are beautiful and help break it up, but it’s still one hell of a bitch. Once I made it to the top, I barely shuffled the last mile. To my ecstatic surprise, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who I saw 4 hrs earlier when I passed through the start/finish aid station, were still waiting for me in the frigid temps. Jenn ran me into the finish and I’ve never been happier. What an awesome surprise and gift. I can’t wait to run with her in her first half marathon in March!
Next year Cloudland Canyon will be a half marathon and 50k. I’m always looking forward to what Run Bum has planned…he just announced a 100 miler from Chatt to Cloudland and back…
Any interesting race stories? Tough race conditions? Modified race plans that turned out awesome? Chime in below!