Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2009 Tsali Frosty Foot Fest 50K

Donna Thackwray and I ran the Frosty Foot Fest 50K on Saturday, January 3rd. Also competing was Lynne Evans who has either been following me to races or vice versa and the Dales (Kevin and Summer) who I have started running into lately, as well. If any of them would like to contribute to this course review, I encourage them to do so.

The race takes place on the bike/horse trails in Tsali. I'm not sure if we covered all the trails, but it was certainly a substantial portion. There are actually three races of 8/25/50K distances. This review is for the 50K, but I imagine the shorter distances faced similar challenges--and actually shared the trails with the 50K for much of their race.

All three races began at 9:00 a.m. in a parking lot, but that 300 feet or so of asphalt is all you'll see during the race. The 200 or so runners are quickly compressed into a single-track dirt trail at the end of the parking area. This is important to note if you are capable of winning one of these races because once you hit that single track, it becomes difficult to pass and slower runners may hurt your time. The majority of the course was single track and from what I recall, it really didn't open up until very late in the race. The single-track trail has the typical roots and rocks to dodge and actually gets narrow enough at a few points to where branches are brushing both your shoulders. There are some beautiful views of Fontana Lake (thought the lake level is depressingly low--there were some houseboats sitting in mud.) The views were a welcome distraction to the pounding we were taking on the trail. One thing that made this race difficult mentally is that you never really knew where you were in relation to the finish line. Though the pre-race e-mail told where most of the aid stations were, I couldn't remember that during the race. One station told me I was two miles ahead of where I actually was so it was a blow when I got to the next station and found out I had two more miles left than I realized. I'm not going to complain much about this, however, because I never really knew where I was for much of Mount Mitchell or Triple Lakes. Had I been better prepared and maybe hadn't started out too fast (those 8K & 25K people sucked me in...) then I wouldn't have cared about another two miles.

For our race, it was very muddy for about the first half or so. This can vary day-to-day and year-to-year, but it will slow you down somewhat and will definitely make you sore in new places as your legs can't always keep their natural motion. Some of the single-track runs along a ledge that should you fall off, could cause quite a few scrapes and bruises. It's not steep enough to make you nervous, but enough to make you careful. Footing is especially important in those areas. For the most part, the hills were rolling as we wound around the lake. There were a few longer ones but the downhills seemed to more often be long, gradual ones rather than steep descents, which allowed you more time to recover from the uphill.

The aid stations were spaced 4-5 miles apart which isn't unusal for a trail ultra. I carried (and always do) a water bottle and would recommend anyone do so for this race. The first few stations had water only and gels didn't appear until later in the race. I would liked to have seen something other than just gels at the later aid stations, even if it was just some bananas. Donna remarked that she actually got very hungry at one point in the race and most runners know that gels do nothing for hunger. The aid station volunteers were friendly, however, and actually a couple stations offered you the entire bottle of water (or Powerade as Donna learned at one station.)

The organizers claimed 4200' of climb over the course of the 50K which seemed low to me as the DuPont marathon claimed 5200' of climb and Tsali felt to have more climb than did DuPont. It could have just been the tougher terrain made it feel worse than it was. Another claim was that the race was a 50K but many people I talked to felt it was longer. This too, however, may have been based on how our legs felt rather than how far we actually felt we had run. It certainly seemed longer than the other 50Ks I had run, but they were fairly flat and did not have the mud. My legs felt like I had run a forty-miler, though the following day, I had recovered more than the day after my two forty-milers.

Post-race was sort of anti-climatic as most all of the 8K and 25K runners had left. They held a raffle (tickets were in your packet) but ended up just handing stuff to a few of the runners because most everyone (by that time) was either still on the course or had gone home. From the list of raffle items in an e-mail we received, it appeared that the bulk of the items went to the 8K and 25K competitors. The awards were broken up into two ceremonies as the male winners received theirs shortly after the third place finisher came through and the female winners had their ceremony shortlly after the third place female finished.

I had originally told Donna that there was no way she would be caught by the eight hour time limit, and she wasn't. However, the difficulty of the course and certainly the rain shower, put a few people in jeopardy of being pulled. Once Donna finished, we came on home as we had a 2 1/2 hour drive back, but I think everyone was finished by 5:00 p.m. There wasn't a lot in terms of post-race food, but the organic vegetarian chili was very good (and warm.) The shirt in our packet was a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt. Ours was orange, but I think the other races had different colors because I saw one that looked light blue.

I selected this race over the Frosty 50K in Winston-Salem the following weekend. It made the Winston-Salem race seem like a fun-run. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging 50K. If it helps you gauge the difficulty, my time was almost 50 minutes slower here than at the Frosty 50K.

Tsali Frosty Foot Fest 50K

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