The NC FA 50 is one of my favorite races, which is noted for it's pre-race and post-race hospitality. Allan Firth (the Run Across
America RD) and his wife Mary Firth open to doors of their picturesque log home in the shadows of the Mt Pilot to host the race.
Their hospitality is only interrupted by an "old school" FA 50K/50M run on the hilly country roads from King to Danbury and back
to King circling Saurtown and Hanging Rock Mountains. This was my 10th trip to the NC FA 50 and my 9th finish (I helped crew
the year I couldn't run.).
The RFH made up 100% of the field in this year's NC FA 50. Alex Morton, Brenton Floyd, Eliza Weston, Jeff McGonnell, John
Teague, Robert Crosby and I were the only runners willing to turn up in the face of a fast moving winter storm system that
brought freezing drizzle and covered the roads with black ice.
As the assembled RFH faithful were sitting down to Mary's pre-race breakfast, someone announced that the steady foggy drizzle
that had been falling for the last hour had glazed over as the pre-sunrise temperatures had dropped from 28 to 23 degrees.
Allan, who is the consummate insurance industry professional, said; "Do you think we should have a contingency plan? The
engineer in me said that; "The FA format lends itself to a minimum layer of organization, but we should have a plan in case the
weather worsens". From that point a simple plan evolved that mirrors the Infantry Paradigm ... Adapt and Overcome:
Plan A - Run the whole 50 Mi loop and P-t-P 50K conditions permitting
Plan B - Stop @ the 50K point in Danbury if conditions worsen. The downside to Plan B was would expose the pick-up
vehicles to traveling the length of the icy course to return.
Plan C - Park the pick-up vehicles and let the runners run to Brown Mountain Church (15M point) and return. The
downside to Plan C would not allow a runner to drop in the event of a problem.
Having developed a thin contingency plan our faithful proceeded to the starting line. The appeal of winter racing to most people
is adapting to and overcoming the challenges presented by the weather. To me, the real appeal of winter racing is seeing all
those fine looking women running in tight spandex. Our own Eliza fits into that image and is a lot of fun to watch no matter what
time of year it is. When Allan said; "Go!" Nothing happened. We were all slipping and sliding trying to get started up the 1/2 mile
hill to the main road. The entire road surface was black ice and the runners had to run on the sloping roadside shoulders. Out
of basic survival needs a unique racing strategy evolved. We had to run on the grass shoulders and walk the driveways, side
roads, and bridges. At the 1.5 mile mark Allan made a midcourse decision and implemented Plan D. The support vehicles
could not safely continue because of the ice, and everyone was taking spectacular falls (i.e. Like good training for Uwharrie). He
turned the field onto a side road looping back to his house and thus was born the NC FA Fraction Race. The new route formed
2.45 mile loop that could be safely sustained w/o endangering vehicles and/or drivers. This masterstroke, [that allowed the
RFH "Some Runner's are Both" to leave common sense behind and run despite the icy conditions], had one serious downside.
We now had to deal with a "Fractions Race". 4 out of every 3 people have trouble with fractions. The are confusing especially to
ultrarunners. Allan adapted once again and the result was a 12 loop 50K run with a 1 mile out-and-back tail on the end.
With the new course defined (ad hoc). The "Some Runners are Both" soldiered on. The weather worsened and we all
developed shells of ice as the freezing drizzle coated us. The crashes and jarring butt plants were frequent and the attrition
began. Alex and Eliza took their "Smiling Faces" back to those "Beautiful Places" in SC after Lap 2 thinking that "Ice is good for
drinks and hockey, but BLACK ice is good for nothing." Left alone, I spent the rest of the day trying to run down Jeff and John.
Persistence paid off, and I finally caught up with Jeff at the S/F as we started out last lap. He pulled away from me on the long
uphill from Allan's house. Jeff was sensing his 1st ultra win was in serious jeopardy at that point and took off. I was hoping he
would keep looking over his shoulder, slip, crash, and I could slip by. On the final 1 mile out-and-back, I met Jeff coming down
the hill as I was approaching to S/F. He really picked up the pace and did the out-and-back in at a record pace. Pepper spray will
do that when you don't hit them just right.
In the end Jeff gained his 1st ultra win on over 110+ finished followed by myself, Robert and Brenton. John Teague, who lapped
me during the middle of the race in a display of speed that could only be attributed to performance enhancing monkey gland
shots, literally froze up in the wintery mix and DNF'ed to the warm fireplace @ Allan's. I suspect John was not "Dressed for
Success". I commented before the race that his running outfit looked more like a "clown costume". I asked Eliza to give John a
little fashion counseling. John seemed to listening intently to Eliza, but something got lost in the translation when John decided
to implement Eliza's plan. The AMAZING images captured by the in-store surveillance cameras (See the Dressing Room.wmv
file attached) tell the rest of the story.