Foray – n. 1. A sudden raid or military advance 2. A venture or initial attempt in some field.
The definition for foray seemingly has two distinct meanings, an aggressive and decisive approach and a more tentative, laid back approach. My mindset prior to completing the 77 miles of the Cherokee Foothills Trail was see-sawing back and forth between the two. Could I break the existing FKT (fastest known time) by Matt Kirk or would this be an “initial attempt” at the record?
I had only attempted one FKT-type run prior to my Foothills Trail effort last weekend. It went well but this run was to be longer, tougher and would require much more patience than I’m used to putting forth. Announcing such things, like setting a new speed record, is sort of like putting it out there prior to a race that you are gunning to win. I was apprehensive and had much respect for this trail as I know it has been a conundrum to complete by many runners in one push.
My wife dropped me off at Table Rock State Park in the early morning hours. I had to walk in a mile from the locked gate just to reach the trailhead. The weather was near perfect with temps in the low 30’s but a bit breezy. I got going quickly as there is no point of wasting time when you are by yourself in the dark. If anybody in their right mind was up at this hour and looked up at Table Rock they probably thought that somebody had put a new road on the mountain. I was wearing three headlamps, one on my head and two on my waist, so I’m sure the glow of light could be seen for miles.
The first section of this trail is almost ten miles of climbing up to the top of Sassafrass Mountain, the highest point in SC. This section seemed to pass by quickly and uneventfully except for the grouse that freaked out at my presence. My subsequent scream could be heard for miles as well. After summiting Sassafrass the trail drops back down another five miles to the start of the Laurel Valley section. I reached the start of Laurel Valley in 2:49 which was slightly ahead of my schedule. Anne gave me my needed supplies for the next thirty-five miles, as there is no crew access within that portion of the trail. This section is tough for many reasons and not seeing a soul for hours and hours is a mental battle. I chose not to have anyone pace me as I feel that takes away a bit from the true essence of attempting a speed record. I made the choice to refill my handheld water bottles from side streams so as to not have to wait for iodine to work its magic. Over the next couple days I’ll see if this gamble was worth it.
I completed the strenuous Laurel Valley section in 6:19 which kept me well under the record going into the last twenty-nine miles. A lot of runners drop after climbing up the long stretch to the parking lot at the end of LV. At this point, runners are spent and have have not seen anyone for hours. The nearby civilization and a comfortable vehicle seem to beg one to climb inside and call it a day. I knew the temptation would be strong so I quickly got my aid and forged ahead. The next five mile section is rather tough because there are still a couple more miles of climbing before a nice descent back down to crew at Sloan Bridge. I was feeling pretty rough on this section as my stomach started to reject the taste of anything. The thought of consuming gels or anything solid was going to be a struggle from this point forward.
The next couple sections are only three to four miles in length, allowing one to get the feeling that one is actually making progress to the end of the trail. I managed to eat an energy bar which took me over thirty minutes to choke down and then I had my go-to fuel which is Ensure. Lots of calories and no chewing which is about all my stomach can handle after hours and hours of running.
I reached the point of the Chattooga River section which is over ten miles in length and anyone who has run this section will swear it is much longer. I’ve heard it referred to as the Bermuda Triangle. It is rather technical with lots of roots along the river and it just drags on and on which is why it took me right at two hours to complete. The movie Deliverance was filmed in this area so I had the added mental anguish of thinking about how that all played out. The fear of a banjo cranking up in the woods kept me moving to my goal of seeing Anne and the last six mile section to the finish in Oconee State Park.
The last section was a blur. I felt nauseated every step and I somehow just kept pushing ahead. I was red-lining for what seemed like hours and it would have been so easy to back off the pace in order to feel more comfortable. However when I’ve succumbed to this temptation before I’ve looked back on my effort and regretted not hammering it all the way to the finish. When exhausted it is easy to let the mind trick one into slowing down. However I know when looking back there is nothing like giving it your all and the feeling of a total and complete effort.
The last mile felt like an eternity. I was getting lightheaded and was running on fumes, as all I could take in was plain water at this point. Finally I saw a purple blur up ahead and heard a big hooray! If anyone knows my wife Anne, her favorite color is purple. I have never been so happy to see the color purple and the terminus of a trail.
My finishing time was 14:26 and I’m extremely satisfied with setting a new FKT by well over two hours. This was a near perfect day and I’m thankful to be able to look back with no regrets. I usually dissect my running accomplishments and find ways to pick apart my effort. It won’t happen this time.
Foothills Trail – 77 miles
Approximately 16,000’ climb
Shoes – inov-8 Roclite 295’s
Fuel – GU Roctane gels (15), GU Brew electrolyte drink, Ensure (3), energy bars (2)