Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Race Review: Paris Mountain 50k

Paris Mountain is a beautiful state park in Greenville SC. There's a nice little pond with paddle boats and some pretty serious mountain biking. There's an RV campground and some really nice hiking trails. There is also a pretty cool 50k. The Paris Mountain Ultra in fact. Bet you already figured that out.

Greenville is about a four hour drive west from Myrtle Beach. It's a pretty damn dull drive too. It's flat for hours, you drive by little more than swamp and Carolina type forest until you get to the outskirts of Colombia. Then you get some hills, some industry, traffic and such. But it's worth the drive.

Before moving to Myrtle we had wanted (and still want) to move to Greenville. Although we're going to make the best of Myrtle, we belong closer to the mountains and the woods. Greenville is good size city, maybe comparable to Worcester MA if I had to guess, but it sits right in some foothills that beckon you to run and ride.

So when an opportunistic contest came up to do an Ultra there, I jumped on it. And won. For a 50% rego you had to get the most "likes" on a Facebook thread. And I of course posted something about Heather's butt.

This photo was actually taken at FoamFest not Paris Mountain.

Godamn it's freezing in here. 

The Paris Mountain Ultra is put on through Upstate Ultras and Without Limits. A 10k, 13.1, 50k, 50m Relay and a 10hr Ruck were available at this particular event. We didn't drive four hours for a mini and a 10hr ruck doesn't sound like good ultra training, we're doing the 50k.

We were lucky enough to get a camp site Friday and Saturday night for this shindig. I didn't see any Porcupines, but I did hear Trains.


Imagine a 4hr drive for a race that starts at 6:45am? Shit, that would suck so bad. We left Myrtle around 11 or so on Friday and just enjoyed a road trip. Thank Christ there's Dunkin's along the way.

Packet Pickup! It's at Fleet Feet in Greenville. Makes sense, right? Pickup was a doddle. The folks there were wicked friendly and packet pickup included your bib, a quality T and some throw away gloves, plus event decals. Gotta keep the Spartan Mobile decorated.

Photo blatantly stolen from Relentless Forward Commotion. It is my T shirt though.

Off to the campground we go. It's about 3:30 now, and we want beer. Wouldn't you? Of course you would. We stop into a Kangaroo or 7/11 or whatever and get a 12'r of Yuengling. Don't judge. It's not my first choice, but the only decent beer we could find at this time. (I'm not going to post a pic of Yuengling)

The campground at Paris Mt is set up for RVs. We're currently tent people. I feel there's a complicated relationship between RV and Tent people. (Ya know, kinda like roadies and mountain bikers, or skiers and snowboarders.) I dig you have a RV with heat and water and shit, but you need to understand that I'm in a fucking tent. That means I can hear your damn diesel engine running at 11pm, your lights are illuminating my tent like a Burning Man prop and your little screaming little kids are making me think of other uses for this camp fire. 
But on a better note, the Park Ranger was great, the Camp Host was very friendly and the showers....the best Solo shower I've ever taken. So it was absolutely worth it to camp.

Race day morning was chilly. 40 degrees or so. Not bone crunching cold, but enough to make me wonder why I got out of my burly ass sleeping bag. We drove down to the start about 5:15 and sat in the car until 6:30, when nature finally called and we headed down to the start area.

Lots of people milling about the start. And anyone who's ever done an early morning race knows, there's always a line for the shitter. And there was a line for the shitter...when I finally got to sit down I actually had to yell " Eighty Six ass paper" to the other guys in line so they knew the stall was bingo toilet paper. Some incredible person handed me a roll over the top. Faith in humanity temporarily reinstated.

As dawn approaches we have the normal pre-race meeting. Unfortunately, the music was louder than the race director's megaphone, so I wasn't able to hear squat. But what I did hear sounded like normal pre-race info, directions, safety,etc.

At 6:45 every body lines up. 10k folks go out first. They're running the designated 10k loop only. Ten seconds later the Half runners go out. They're running the 13.1m loop. Ten seconds later the 50m Relay teams start on their 13.1m loop. Ten seconds after this the Rucks go out, I think maybe ten or twelve rucks, for their 13.1m loop. And last out of the gate are the 50k runners.

Photo courtesy John Lewis Photography. Heather and I sporting our Yeti colors.

I won't lie...this is a little bit of clusterfuck now. It's not a huge race with thousands of competitors, but the 10sec wave differential wasn't really enough to thin out the herd before we really got on the nitty-gritty of the course. And when the herd got to the first intersection...we all followed said herd and went the wrong way. Not even 1/2 mile in.

Course markings are such an integral part of a race experience. Especially on something of a 50k magnitude when you're out in the middle of nowhere. We were beset by a few imaginative course markings throughout our race. We ran into quite a few runners who either missed a turn or couldn't understand what the signage meant and got lost. 
In defense of the RD, there was a mountain bike race scheduled for the next day, and some of their markings were up, some of which coincided with our run, some which did not.
I'm also thinking the logistics of marking a course on State Park property are quite challenging. I doubt the RD had the liberty to hang ribbon as frequently due to park regulations.
All that being said though, for a better racing experience the course markings do need some revision for next year. A verbal explanation of the trail is nice, but if you've never run in an area before and you're 25 miles in....you want solid trail marks.

The course itself was perfect. Honest. It was everything I wanted/needed/hoped. Damn I love trail running. I won't try to regale you with the route, but will tell you the climbs were challenging enough to wake up your legs, but not Seven Sisters hell. 
The terrain kept me on my game, but was rarely dangerous. There were a few sections with some nasty ass roots, the like I've only seen here. 
There were a few water crossings. Although these created some bottle necks in the beginning, I was able to keep my feet dry.
There were also some sections of running down smooth mountain bike trails. Sooooo nice. Man, I hope I remember to add the pictures.

Shit! It's blurry.

Feels like New England.

With our first 13.1 mile loop finished we headed back to the Start Line to check in and start our next loop. Originally our emails had stated that our second loop would be the first loop going the other direction, well...at this point there are 50k'rs out here, lost. And there's also the 50m relay teams out here, AND the 13.1m and 10k loops shared parts of the trail. There's just people out here running. Nobody is really quite sure if they're heading the right direction because there's arrows going different directions, it's pretty chaotic. The aid station volunteers are very friendly, but they don't really know whats going on with the course.

Whoa now.  Should have been a Song Check or something. Tilt your head to the left.

Well, we make it safely to check in. Heather's GPS is showing just over 12m. That's cool, we're at least on track for mileage even if we did stray from course a bit. The crowd at check-in is very supportive, we hit up one of the three aid stations on course before we venture back out for loop two.

Loop Two seems to go okay. Heather has a really good head for this kind of thing and was able to put her touch on navigating the ambiguous signage. We ended up back on course going the opposite direction, as specified by our pre-race emails, but possibly countered by our pre-race meeting that was unfortunately drowned out by the morning DJ. 
Hey, no major harm done. We'll still hit our mileage and the aid stations. Good to go.

Ya know, I'm not gonna bore you with what I ate on trail or how much water I drank or what kind of lube I used on my toes. But I will tell you this. Pack toilet paper. Then, double to check that you did indeed pack that toilet paper. Ultra running is already smelly and gross enough without having to wipe with a handful of leaves. 

 Pack toilet paper.


Alright enough about my doody adventure. Let's jump into our 10k loop. The GPS is reading 25m or so before we start, so we are definitely going to hit our 31m. As mentioned earlier the 10k loop shared some terrain with the 13.1m. It's shares a climb, some water crossings, etc, but most importantly it shared some gentle descending. We were able to run a good chunk of it. That's a pretty big morale boost when you can't feel your feet.

Coming into the finish line of an event like this is a pretty great feeling. The RD is there cheering, there's a chunk of spectators cheering, it's great. It's not like the crowds you get finishing up a sub 4 road marathon, but you don't even want that. I'm not trying to bash the Road scene, but Trail running/racing has a different vibe. I wish I had a good analogy for it. 

We actually have the legs to run up the hill to the finish. Crossing with 31 plus miles. I'm starving at this point, I must have burned at least 3000kcal. And you know what's good to eat after a 50k? Pizza. And there was lot's of pizza at the line. Papa Murpy's I think. Unfortunately, there was nothing to drink in sight, so I liberated a Gatorade from the Merrel crew before all the little rat bastard kids running around took them all. Thank you Merrel, even if I don't win the raffle, that Gatorade was a god-send. 

I've had a couple of days to think about this race. And there's a few pros and cons on this event. I'll start my summary with the cons because I had a great time and want to finish on the positive. 
In no particular order:

Con #1. Trail Markings. The RD has already come forward to say that will be addressed next year. 
Con #2. No fruit at the Aid Stations. The Aid Stations had plenty of good carby/salty ultra food, but not a sign of a banana or orange.
Con #3. All the fun shit was gone at the finish line. The promised catered food, the photo booth, etc. All gone. This is not a huge deal breaker in and of itself, as I was there to run. But when you have to scrape every cent to rego for a race, you get particular about what race to do and you choose the race that offers the most value for that dime you pulled out of the couch.

Pro #1. The Course. Like I said, for me it was perfect.
Pro #2. The Aid Stations. No fruit, but whatever, I should have been prepared with my own fruit. But everything else at the Aid Stations was great. Lots of food, hell, they even had PowerGel.
Pro #3. Camping. This is a HUGE factor for Heather and me. Getting up at 2am to make a 7am race isn't a good idea, and jumping right into a car after a 50k is also not fun. Camping.
Pro #4. Greenville. 
Pro #5. The Race Director. That guy made all the tiles and the kickass Ruck awards by himself. That's not just cool, it's badass.

Photo courtesy John Lewis Photography.

This was only my third Ultra, The Silver State 50/50 and Infinitus being my others. This race combined the best of both of those experiences for me. I enjoyed being able to run 90% of it as in The Silver State 50/50, and I also really enjoyed the woods as much as in Infinitus. I don't think I will lose a toe nail like I did for those other two, but Heather may.

I'm eating pizza.

With any kind of luck we'll be living near Greenville next year
and can make this race again.  


  1. Replies
    1. If you have the opportunity next year...We should be there again.

  2. It was a nice course! Sometimes pleasant and sometimes really challenging. Thank you so much for sharing wonderful photos and impressions!

    1. My pleasure! Already looking forward to next year. There's a solid group of Ultra runners in that area that are doing wonderful things for the community,