The Carl Touchstone Memorial Mississippi 50 Trail Run was this past weekend, March 4th 2017. The race itself has three distances – 20k, 50k, and 50 miles. I have not ran an ultra since I moved to New Orleans, and I figured it was time to break that streak. I ran the 50k distance and finished in 6:08:31 and 31/95 runners at this distance.
As I mentioned in my opening, I had not run an ultra since moving to NOLA. I have run some road marathons and half marathons, but never felt attracted to a race. In addition, I have been battling a few injuries that have caused some doubt to creep in about whether I still had the conditioning to regularly run ultra distances. Anyway, I have a race schedule for 2017 filled with road marathons as I try to run a marathon in all 50 states before I turn 50 years old in 2027. I had seen this race advertised on several websites including my friend’s in the Louisiana Ultra Running (LUR) group. I decided to give the 50k a go, and I am glad I did.
The race takes place on horse trails and single track in the De Soto National Forest in Mississippi. The De Soto Forest itself is huge and covers hundreds of miles but this particular race starts and finishes at the Longleaf Trail Horse Camp near Laurel Mississippi. The course consists of a 12.5 mile loop and a 6 mile loop. 50k runners run the 12.5 mile loop twice and the 6 mile loop once. 20k runners run one 12.5 mile loop and the 50 milers run the 12.5 mile loop three times, and the short loop twice. The trails for the most part were easy running and consisted of dirt with a few rocks and numerous potential stream crossings and slight overall elevation gain. I say potential stream crossings because this is one of the driest springs in Mississippi in recent history and there was virtually no water on the course, just a few streams that could be hopped over. My understanding though is that there is usually significant mud on the course and the streams have to be waded versus hopped over. The 12.5 mile loop features two aid stations, though the second one is visited twice due to an out and back, and the 6 mile loop features a single aid station. Each loop begins and ends at the start/finish line. Temperatures for the race were great with a start in the low 40s and midday temperatures in the 60s with no precipitation and a nice breeze to help keep things cool.
My goal was to use this as a long distance training run. I just wanted to get out and put some miles on the legs and try to be steady. Because of this my time goal was to average 11 to 12 minute miles for the entire race. This may seem slow, but trust me at the end of the race 11 to 12 minute miles did not seem slow at all. I achieved this goal with an overall pace of 12:01 according to my Suunto. My running was between 10:30 and 11 minutes and my walk breaks brought my pace up to the 12 minute mark. Keeping a steady pace for the entire race was really a key to me enjoying this race, but it is hard when everyone seems to want to take off. However, I find that people slow down exponentially as the race goes on. Looking at the race stats, my first loop was the 42nd slowest lap of all the runners. However, my second 12 mile loop was 2 minutes slower than my first, but was 23rd fastest of all the runners on that loop. Again keeping the same pace my 6 mile loop was 20th fastest of all the runners on that loop. It pays to be steady and consistent instead of fast and falling off as the distance accumulates.
I really enjoyed the course as it wound through tall pines that allowed me to see for a good distance in all directions. Most of the trail was covered with pine needles so traction was slippery at times, and the pine needles did a good job of hiding the roots from some of the trees along the trail. They were so good, in fact, at hiding the roots that I did a header at one point and scared the poor woman running in front of me as I crashed to the ground. Other than that the trail was in great condition and made for relatively smooth sailing.
I am always evaluating my running kit and nutrition, and this race was no different. For clothing I went with my standard – Nike Pro Combat compression shorts, and Nike Dri Fit running shorts. I have tried other combinations training but this is the one I trust. I wore a Nike Dri Fit running short sleeve shirt that worked well. For chaffing, I used Body Glide in all the areas I thought that I might have issues, and it worked as expected with no chaffing. For socks, I used the Injinji Performance Run 2.0. These socks combined with Body Glide on and in between each toe meant a blister free run. My shoes were old school Altra Lone Peak 2.0s. They are good and broken in and still have good tread and midsole left in them with only 150 miles or so on them before the race. However, I find the Lone Peak 2 sole to only be ok in mud, so I had a pair of Inov8 TR 245’s in my drop bag at the start/finish in case I needed serious traction. I never even considered switching though because of the dry conditions. I did not use a vest or backpack for this race since the aid stations were close together, but I did run with my old school Ultimate Direction Fastdraw with a 20oz bottle. The Fastdraw has a pocket that I can stuff gels in and has been with me on so many races that it just feels like second nature. I also wore an old running hat, and I had my sunglasses with me, but they spent most of the race on top of my hat instead of wearing them because I never felt overwhelmed by the sunlight on the course.
Nutrition is important to the success of any run and I mostly stayed true to my typical routine. The foundation of my nutrition is CarboPro. I like to drink calories, and it allows me to mostly keep an even energy level. I started with Carbopro in my bottle and refilled from my drop bag on every lap. My go to gel is GU, but I only used one about 30 minutes into the race when I felt hungry. I normally have a bagel and Nutella before a race, but since I camped at the trailhead the night before, I only had a Cliff Bar so I was a little down on real food to start. I made up some calories at the first aid station with a peanut butter covered Ritz cracker. My only real mistake nutritionally was eating Oreos at the second aid station on the first lap. I grabbed three the first time through, and that was good, but I came back through about 1.5 miles later and grabbed two more. This was two too many. No cramps or nausea but my stomach felt very full. The aid stations were great and had water, Heed, and various cola products. I generally drank a little Coke as I went through. I find that it helps with stomach issues, and the extra energy and caffeine helps me. The rest of the race though I had a Honey Stinger waffle, and my CarboPro and not much else. After the Oreos settled down, I felt good and pretty even energy wise the entire rest of the race.
The organization that puts on this race is top notch in my opinion. Registration was easy via the website; check in on race day was smooth and the venue was great. The Longleaf Trail campground was a good campground with plenty of flat spots for tents and such. I camped there both nights. There were folks with campers and RVs so there was some noise from generators. I would recommend ear plugs. The aid stations were on point. The first aid station around 4 miles in on the big loop had folks dressed up as Elvis and fun themed signs to motivate runners. The second/third aid station also had great volunteers. One of them made me a cup of coffee on the second loop and had it ready for me when I came in from my out and back. That’s great service. My favorite aid station though was on the short loop and was hosted by Louisiana Ultra Runners. They were great at making sure every runner had what they needed as they came through, and it was nice to finally meet some of the folks that I had only met online. I even went back and volunteered at the aid station after completing my 50k. I enjoyed encouraging the folks finishing the 50k and 50 mile distances.
This was a great race and one that I recommend for anyone looking for a trail run. The cutoffs are generous – 12 hours for the 50k and 50 mile distances and the ability to switch distances mid race. The aid station and volunteers were amazing and helpful and the overall venue was great.