18/19 February 2012. by Viktor Trukov
Foothills Trail 77 miles (124 km) Ultra Marathon Run.
Suffering turning into torture… 😉
24 hour run with a twist! 🙂
18/19 February 2012 turned to be a significant personal achievement for me and Jason Sullivan. Because it marks our completion of entire stretch of Foothills Trail from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park in one long 77 miles (124 km) run thru the mountainous terrain.
I’m still dazed and shocked of this ordeal and thankful to my organism for being able to accomplish it! Training and building experience helped greatly to complete this distance. This is only my second year of running and althou I ran 15 Ultras/Marathons before this run, my longest was only 85 km (53 miles) in 14.5 hours during One Epic Run, 24 hr (RD Joe Parker). There I realized, that I could run 100 km and maybe a bit longer, and started to think about training and attempting FHT on 17 March 2012 with a group of friends.
This run came along unexpectedly… One of the running friends, Jason Sullivan, put out a plea to run with him and help with crewing, because his planned 100 mile run for this date did not go thru. But I already was registered to run 50 km at Conestee park in Greenville, and all I did in preparation was running routine 10 km a day, and about two weeks before the planned run started to do more – 16, or 21 km runs. I was thinking of running this 50 km and then come up to FHT on the same day and run a section of it, preferably Table Rock to Laurel Valley, that I did not run before, so I told Jason “considering” on FB. But… my run was cancelled just a week before the date, and I decided to try full FHT, and informed Jason, that I’d be running too.
My acquaintance with FHT started last year, 26 March 2011 during Bad Creek 50 km Ultra Marathon, and this year 21 January 2012 I ran Laurel Valley 55 km (~ 34 mi). Both times did very well, finishing first! At that run I told Dan Hartley (RD of www.columbiascmarathon.com and http://harbison50k.carolinaultras.com) that Foothills Trail loves me for some reason! He suggested I should try the whole Trail than. The only section I did not run prior to this was Table Rock to Laurel Valley entrance – Half a Marathon distance, that goes thru Pinnacle and Sassafras mountains. Funny thing is, I used to live less than one km from Table Rock St. Park about 10 years ago and even run on its roads, when a brilliant idea struck me – to run on park’s trails! I was thinking – why people run in the cities, when they can run in parks, and instead of running Marathons on exhaust filled city streets how great it would be to run it in the woods! At that time I did not know anything about trail running and ultra running. Average person has no clue, because mass media doesn’t even mention it… I even gathered maps and started planning, but… moved to Greenville and left it all behind me. Who’d knew that I’d be back to it more than ten years later!
So, this was a time! With just one week before the run I started to get ready – tapering off… Ran about 8 km the day before in easy gate and walked 4 km 🙂 If all the preparations for long runs could be that easy! 😉
Packed everything the night before, including extras for all items, and lots of food in a form of candies and bars, made a liter of electrolyte drink by dissolving two tablets. Took 8-bottle fuel belt and had plenty of apple and grape juice to fill it up. Mama made chicken soup with rice and carrots to take it hot in thermos to eat at the stops. Also got my small Casio Camera, knife and medical kit with me. But forgot the lighter… Mama would go with me and be my crew. I had a very good dinner, went to bed and managed to get at least 5 hours of sleep. Driving to table rock only took about forty minutes. Arrived to Table Rock State Park on time and saw Jason and Mike Riggins already there.
1 stage: Table Rock State Park to Laurel Valley access.
Half Marathon distance.
It did not take long to get photos taken, get the gear on and three of us started to run at 6:57 on 18 February 2012. I run in my usual mode – shorts with a fuel belt. Took three bottles for the first stage – one with electrolytes and two with juice. At this time visibility was already good, no need for lights, and it was getting lighter by the minute. Weather was good, ~ +10 C (50F), not much wind, no rain. This was a very first time I did not eat anything before the run, but felt actually better than usual, good dinner the night before was enough!
Trail turned to uphill climbing immediately. Jason and Mike walked, but I being fresh tried to run as long as I could and got ahead of them.
They followed close behind, I heard their voices, and we yelled at each other periodically.
By the Pinnacle mountain, where trail marks painted right on the rocks, they did not return my yells, so I thought I was further ahead, but by the time I was almost done with taking photos they came up looking fresh and in good spirits! Unfortunately my camera started to tell me “low batteries” and my attempts to take a group photo all failed… I was so disappointed… At least I already took many good photos of the trail and Nature. This section is a most beautiful, because it has many long views from the tops of the mountains!
Well, off we went again to Sassafras mountain. More uphills followed, by that time I power walked most of them, except slight ones. Here I met two advanced aged men walking to Table Rock – the only two hikers for the whole trail. I drank electrolytes and juices and ate sweet staff for fuel.
Sassafras mountain soon appeared, I ran into a parking lot, and saw some cars, but no person in sight. I started to holler, knowing that Lester Farmer supposed to be here, waiting for Jason. He came running from a far corner and we got acquainted. My time was 2:30 into a run, he showed me direction to the trail, and I went ahead. It took an hour to run to Laurel Valley entrance, but it was pleasant downhill running.
Laurel Valley access road appeared thru the woods, I came up yelling Russian “Ура-а-а!” (Hooray) and saw our Toyota truck and mama near the bridge! My time was 3:30 into the run.
2 stage: Laurel Valley to White Water Falls.
34 miles (55 km) distance.
Here I took about 20 minutes break, eating hot chicken soup, drinking one can of non-sweet drink, reloaded all 7 of my drink bottles with electrolytes and juices (2 liters total), loaded pockets with sweet bars, took flashlight, and started up the road to the ladder leading to Laurel Valley. All additional weight was on hips with nothing on my chest! I feel it quite easier to run without a back pack, no resistance to breathing, no forces pushing down on shoulders on each step! In my previous run thru this section I used 2 liters of liquids, so I thought it would be enough now. This section of the Trail is about 55 km long (34 mi) and practically has no easy access points. Once you start it, you better finish it! With our timing we would finish it in the dark.
Laurel Valley starts with steep steps uphill, that is a foretelling of what we’ll be a common encounter thru-out this section! Weather was still good, not hot, cloudy, with a rear glimpse of sunlight. Despite running shirtless, it felt warm, and I started to splash my face, neck and arms almost in every creek to cool down! 🙂 It felt so good. Periodically I’d eat and drink on the power walks uphill, trying not to waste time for it on downhills, that I run gladly. Laurel Valley is such a misnomer… Valley lasts about a ten kilometers or less, but to get to it you run thru mountains, and after it all there is – more mountains… You’ve been warned!
When I got to Toxaway River sign, I saw two bottles of Coke behind it. Trash? Checked, they were full. Then I remembered from mail list emails, that this was left for Jason. Okay, let it be.
My liquids supply lasted only to about a half of the distance… And what a poor runner to do? Yes, get water from the creeks!
This area is so remote, water comes from the mountains, and now is a cold season. So, water “should” not be contaminated much. 😉 Tried it – tasted okay, but rather bland (no salt, no sugar), especially after juices. Filled up three bottles (800 ml) and drank another one. At this section I saw only one animal, mid-sized bird of prey, close to the trail. I felt okay generally, but started to feel tired, those steep uphills and steps got to me, at one point even felt like getting close to be nauseated, but that dissipated without progression!
Splashing the head with water helped, and I started to eat sweets more often. I was getting more and more tired… To the point that I did something, that I never did before – started to take SITTING breaks on some stairs, when I did not have a power to go… But, hey, we are here to have fun, right, and not trying to kill ourselves. Right? Had to fill my bottles two more times from creeks. Used up to five liters of liquids thru this section!
After circling Lake Jocassee, the trail goes toward White Water Falls, and I started to feel approaching end of this section. Took a short sitting break at power lines crossing, knowing that it’s “only” a Half Marathon distance left, about 4 – 5 hours of this run. It was still a day, but was not much left of it. I run as long as I could without light, but eventually turned it on right before the bridge marked with blue checkers (Thompson River?). The rest went with flashlight in my hand and temperature started to fall, which I liked!
Close to trail intersection leading to Bad Creek I saw a light going towards me, and the voice called my name (!) in the middle of the woods! Soon Dan Hartley ran into me, on the way to Jason Sullivan, and told me, that I am about 4 miles (6.5 km) from WWF!
We talked a bit, he asked me how am I, and my reply was – hitting my low point… I was feeling more and more tired. My only goal at that time was to reach WWF. Soon after meeting Dan, I ran into a trail intersection and stopped to look at the schematic for a few moments. Realizing where I should go, I resume running, and immediately felt a pain on the lateral side of right knee… Pain was quite strong, made me limp, and my first thought was – That’s it, no full FHT run for me today!.. Then I reasoned, if pain subsides, I’ll run, if not – it’s over. Pain slowly subsided and I was happy to run downhill towards Bad Creek access point, and soon reached it. Now, I knew I was very close to WWF and kept running flats, mild uphills and downhills. Soon was glad to see the bridge over White Water river, crossed it, climbed the final steep portion and ran towards WWF parking lot. During this run I made a rule not to wait anxiously for destinations, but let them come to me in due time. So, I was not looking at every turn and thinking – that’s it, as I would usually do, but kept running till the destination would come up! That was much easier, and I should switch to this mode permanently! The gate to a parking lot appeared ahead of me and yelling “Ура-а-а” (Hooray) I ran into White Water Falls Parking lot and was greeted by mama and Jason’s support crew!
Surprisingly saw Joe Parker, RD of One Epic Run there, along with others, visiting to cheer us up! The most difficult and longest second stage – Laurel Valley to WWF was over! Time was about 22:10. It took me 11 hours to run Laurel Valley, two and a half hours longer, than I ran it in January. First stage thru two mountains, one of which is a tallest peak in South Carolina, exerted a heavy toll on me! 🙂 Again, I managed not to get off course by constantly looking for white blazes on trees!
77 km completed, can I go for 77 miles? That was a question in my mind…
Here, I took a long 40 minutes break. I wanted to recuperate and decide if I will continue further. I was hoping, that If I run to Burrell’s Ford, at least I’d get a 100 km distance, and that would be a longest ever for me, not to bad to stop at. So, I ate warm chicken soup, drank a can of non-sweet drink, changed socks, lubricated toes. Sitting in the warm car felt so good! Finally I loaded with liquids and food for the next stage. It started to rain, so I put on glasses and took dry cloth in the pocket to wipe them.
3 stage: White Water Falls to Oconee State Park.
29 miles (46.6 km)
Lester Farmer, Jason and Dan arrived at the WWF just when I headed out to the next stage. Lester was done and the next stage Jason would run with Bo Millwood and Nick Cerda. I decided to go from stage to stage and see how I’ll feel. This final stage has a few cross roads for aid access, and can be subdivided on smaller stages.
WWF to Sloan Bridge – 8 km.
My long break did wonders for my condition! When I started to run, the trail went uphill and I even run it for some time, before resorting to normal power walk. It seemed as a long uphill, then it leveled and turned downhill! I was running it happily. Saw opossum crossing the trail in front of me, and one rat sized animal a little later. Dan Hartley ran into me, going from Sloan bridge to meet Jason, and it happened right on the State Line! So we stood on the trail one leg in NC, another in SC! 🙂 Dan would repeat this over the whole run – running to meet Jason, go with him to next stage, then drive all support crews to next crossing and run to meet Jason again. The road crossing finally appeared and despite my yelling, both support crew cars were dark – everybody was asleep. Woke up mama, took about 5 minute break, refilled bottles with electrolytes and juice, and off on the trail. If I could find it… Took me a few minutes to find the trail, and I was running it again. It was still raining, but not heavy.
Sloan Bridge to Fish Hatchery – 5 km.
I felt okay, getting increasingly tired, but was able to run flats and downhills! My goal was to get to Burrell’s Ford to make a 100 km, and then decide on the rest. This is a shortest stretch to cover, and I met Dan right before getting to next stage. Rain continued non-stop. On the parking lot wormed up in the car, refilled bottles, and went off toward Burrell’s Ford!
Fish Hatchery to Burrell’s Ford – 6 km.
This is the most pleasant stretch, as it’s mostly downhills! But my legs were getting really tired and right knee, and then the left started to hurt more, especially on downhills… Non the less I ran thru this section in good spirits, met Dan close to the end of it, and came to parking lot feeling okay. 100 km distance completed! On this distance I started to feel blister forming on the front of my feet, mostly due to downhill running and maybe to different socks… Another 26 km ahead for the whole run. But it has long 16 km (10 mi) Chattooga river section and then easier final 10 km to Oconee Park. I took a bit longer break here. Finished my chicken soup, drank liquids, reloaded and decided to keep going while I can. The last few sections mother was asking me if it’s enough for me today, so I told her, that if I will finish it tonight, I will not need to try to run it again!
Burrell’s Ford to Cheohee Rd – Chattooga River – 16 km.
This is a most technical section of the whole trail, as it’s very close to the river, trail is uneven, has many roots, some rocks, wet and muddy at places and gets on sandy dunes next to water also. It seems as a constant rolling mild uphills and downhills. Raining made it even more challenging – slippery. It felt kind of surreal to run in solitude in the middle of the forest at night during a rain… I was still watching white blazes carefully, but the mind was slipping out of it more and more often… I was hoping to get on upper “high water” trail, but missed it… Dan told me there is no sign there. So, I kept going along the river. At one point later I saw a sign “High water detour” and tried to run it, but it kept going backwards, without switch back to the right direction… Had to return, realizing that it’s probably a place of the end of detour merging with the trail… Wasted a few minutes there…
By this time I only had a few kicks of the roots and rocks on the second stage, no other traumas. Somewhere in the first third of Chattooga section I came across a tree, laying over the trail. In the middle of it was a knob, on which I decided to put my foot for going over it. Next thing I feel – sliding on the tree and hitting a left calf against it, barely able to not fall flat completely… The knob turned out to be a soft fungus… Moral of the story – never put trust in the logs. Recovering from this ordeal, slowly walking away from the tree, I slipped on the root and fall flat on my left side, even hitting the head against a grass (good thing is, not against a rock!:). Tiredness definitely played a big role in those falls. Started to run again, and fall one more time a little later. Must be much more careful running over 100 km, especially at night and in wet conditions. I barely escaped a fourth fall, when I came to another small log across the trail. I decided to jump over it, but did not jump high enough and landed with both feet right on the log and started to slide on it, screaming… Fortunately the force of a jump was enough to push me over and I slid off to a trail, without a fall. 🙂
I saw at least six camping sites along the Chattooga river, with dark tents. I just run by them quietly, wondering what reaction the people would get if they’d see me here in the middle of the night running in just shorts? 🙂 In one large camp there was a huge bonfire going to the right from the trail.
Both of my knees were hurting bad now and to the point of being painful on downhills… That’s when suffering started smoothly turning into torture… I don’t really mind suffering, I can tolerate it for a long time, but torture is another story… If I can’t run downhills, the only mode left is walking, until that’ll also starts to hurt…
Once the trail started to veer away from the river on a couple of long switchbacks, I knew this section is coming to its final stretch. At one point I got really confused, because the trail made an incomprehensible left U-turn, and I was really worried that I started to run in opposite direction… Yet, soon Dan came running towards me, and told me that I’m close to the final turn towards Cheohee Rd. Very good! That turn came in quickly and trail was steadily climbing, so I did most of it by power walking. Cheohee Road finally appeared, and the first thing I did – checked time! It was 05:30. When I asked my mama, if I should stop here – she started to laugh, knowing, that I’d continue running, coming this far already and being in okay condition! 🙂 I spent just five minutes here to drink, took two Ibuprofen tablets (400 mg total), reloaded and started at 05:35, hoping that I can get to Oconee Park before 07:00 to beat 24 hour!
Cheohee Road to Oconee State Park – 10 km.
I started to run this final stretch of the distance in very high mental state, trying my best to beat 24 hr. I ran non-stop first three km, which were all downhill, but the rain still going and the fog started to get thicker reducing visibility to just a few meters ahead… My long uphill walk from Chattooga to Cheohee Rd provided necessary break for the muscle tendons and I was glad that I could run flats and downhills again. I felt that I was running as fast as I normally do in training, but that was not true, of course I ran slower. Paid increased attention not to get lost at trail intersections. Eyeglasses were getting fogged and wiping them helped only for a few minutes, so, I had to remove them. It started to become lighter, and finally I turned off my flashlight at the FHT access turn.
Soon I came to the trail head yelling “Ура-а-а!“, but did not see anyone… They were a bit ahead at the parking lot. Time check – 7:07 Almost made it in 24 hrs… If I wouldn’t spend time on photos, or if I just… Anyway, total time is 24:10, and I am official 77 miles (124 km) Foothills Trail finisher! That’s three Marathon distances in the row on mountainous terrain! Ура-а-а!”
Jason Sullivan finished too, with his final stage runners – Bo Millwood and Nick Cerda, which made us two official FHT finishers this day! Congrats to Nick Cerda for completing his first Trail Ultra Run! Unfortunately, Mark Hickman, who started a run ahead of us at midnight, did not finish it, stopping at 70 miles.
I’d like to congratulate and thank Jason Sullivan (read his report!) for an opportunity and encouragement to participate in his run. He told me back in December, during One Epic run, that he thinks I’m ready for a 100 miler. Seems that he might be right. 🙂
Now our results ore on official http://www.foothillstrailultras.com site, that Jason maintains!
Many thanks to Dan Hartley (RD of www.columbiascmarathon.com and http://harbison50k.carolinaultras.com), who helped support crews to get to the next Aid Stop and for encouraging me during final stage running! As it turned out later it was Dan’s birthday! We wish him the best!!! Only a real friend and a very good person would come up on his birthday to help friends running thru the night!!! We really appreciate it, Dan, and indebted to you! My mother is also very thankful to you for help in finding Aid Stops at night!
1) This is a very difficult Trail Run and better be done in groups. Requires serious preparation. Mountains will wear you down! If your average 50 km distance is around 6 -7 hours, consider this to be around 24 hour run.
2) Hydration and food are very important, especially for Laurel Valley inaccessible 55 km section! Electrolytes drinks must be constantly available thru-out a run! It’s very important to have real hot food, like chicken soup in thermos on stage breaks!
3) For runners, expecting about 24 hour finish, it seems to be better to start at Table Rock at nightfall, about 18-19:00, so the night running would be done in the beginning, while being fresh, and most technical Chattooga river run will be during daytime!
4) Support crew is also important, otherwise supplies must be put at every access points with a hope of being there on arrival, and then must be removed after run.
5) Have a minimal survival kit on the run – knife, lighter, matches, flashlight, minimal medical supplies.
6) Follow White blazes on trees consistently, and you will not be lost (for long:)!!!
All pictures of this Trail Ultra Marathon Run you can see at my Picasa Web Album: Foothills Trail Run, 77 miles!
It’s open to public, so you welcome to download, add, upload your photos, tag and comment! Also, the same album is on FaceBook. 🙂
Damage report: 1.Five big blisters on both feet. Treated them by cutting small holes in them (fenestrating), draining and bandaging. 2. Toenail count: before the run – 7.5, after – 6.5 (due to subungual hematoma) – getting ridiculously low… 🙂
Recovery: Quads and leg muscles sensitive for about three days. Used massage with pulsating knobs twice a day! On fourth and fifth day ran 10 km, ready to go back to regular running. Blisters hurt more than muscles! 🙂
Resolutions: 1) BE CAREFUL ON THE TRAIL – DO NOT GET HURT!!! 2) Do more training, 3) Keep losing extra weight.
Good exercises for good health everyone!!! Do not overdo, do no harm to yourself!!! Exercise safely!!! Please do not force yourself over the limit trying to break the records, go according to your abilities!!!
P.s. Please, tell me if you want your name to be partially omitted from post.
Also, please, let me know of any mistakes I made, English is not my native tongue. And feel free to talk in Russian with me any time! 😉