Dirty Spokes Mayhem on the Mountain 5 Mile Trail Race recap by Matt Haley
My first race of 2016 was also the first race of the Dirty Spokes Series. Mayhem on the Mountain was a brand new race on brand new trails at Sawnee Mountain, and now the series will start and end there. I got out on the new trails a week before the race to pre-run the course and I was really glad that I did. It’s a straight forward course that follows the ridgeline trail around the mountain. It doesn’t have a ton of overall vertical but there is plenty of up and down. I’d say it’s the toughest Dirty Spokes or XTERRA course that they have had so far. Everything is steep. There’s nothing overly long, but all the climbs are steep and they come at you one after the other.The course was laid out on the entirely new trail system that’s just been finished at Sawnee Mountain. The mountain has two peaks and is bisected by Bettis Tribble Gap road. The old trails at Sawnee, where the final race of the Dirty Spokes series is held, feature a four mile loop that goes up to the summit and has a cool lookout called the ‘Indian Seats’ where you can see the North Georgia Mountains and surrounding towns.The new trails are on the other side of Bettis Tribble Gap and run around the mountain, climbing up to near the summit on the backside. Laid out in a counter clockwise direction, the course saw the majority of the climbing spread out over the first three-ish miles. Normally, that would be a good thing, but since it was all short steep climbs and then short drops, it really beat you up by the time you got to the top. Still, that’s better than grinding out a two mile climb and then dealing with the short steep up and downs. I guess that’s the only way the course would have been harder. Remind me NOT to suggest that.I fell back into my normal ritual pretty easily pre-race. Pasta party Friday night then, of course, we were late getting out the door on race day. I had every intention of getting to the park at 7:30 to give myself an hour before the race started, but we didn’t get there until 7:45 which meant we had to park at the main lot and take a shuttle. I take full responsibility for being late and I’m super thankful that Forsyth county runs shuttle vans so we still made it there in time to get my number and do a short warm up.
When we arrived, I made my way to check-in where Linda from Dirty Spokes decided to ratchet up the pressure nice and early by giving me bib number 1.
I caught up with Mitch Novy, one of my running buddies down here. We both ran for Saucony Hurricanes for a little while before he left to join Reckless Running and now he’s running for Honeyy Stinger, which is pretty sweet. I mean they are no Untapped Waffles but Stinger Waffles are pretty good. Mitch and I caught up for a bit and did a short warm up jog on the last bit of the course. Neither of us were big fans of that, since the final mile or so of the course was downhill, which meant we were warming up by running up hill…no fun.
They ended up separating the two races (long course – 5.1 miles & short 3.1) by about 10 minutes to allow for spacing going into the trails. This was a really good idea because the parking lot/driveway area is pretty limited, so there wasn’t a lot of space to spread things out before getting into the woods. Fortunately the trail was pretty wide, three to five feet probably. That’s wider than a lot of the mountain bike trails in the area. You probably couldn’t run side by side he whole way but at least there was enough room to pass.
At the start I got out to the front pretty quickly then settled down to see if anyone was going to hammer early on. I was looking forward to running with Mitch, but since he was in the short race I was on my own. The other couple of guys settled in behind me and we went into the woods single file in a lead group of three with everyone else strung out behind us. I tried to stay relaxed early on, knowing what was in store for me later, and settled into a nice rhythm for the first mile or so. I gave it a little bit of gas at the top of the first couple of short climbs and ended up opening up a little bit of a gap. I kept telling myself to stay relaxed and just get through the climbs. I tried to keep a similar effort and tempo so that while the climbs would slow me down, they wouldn’t throw me totally off rhythm.
Side note: For the life of me I cannot spell the word rhythm.
Just before we got to the 1.5 mile split where the 5k took a cut through trail we dropped onto a double track section that looked like an old jeep road. After about 200 yards on the jeep road we hit the first of a couple of nasty switchbacks that felt like they were nearly vertical. Once I crested that and came down the other side I had a gradual climb up to the split. At that point I glanced back to see where the other guys were, and to my surprise they were out of sight. That was a pretty good feeling, knowing that I still had to run the toughest part of the course. I took a deep breath/sigh of relief as I felt like as long as I stayed on two feet and made it too the top in first that no one would be able to stay with me on the descent.
The next mile and a half was a real grind. A lot of short steep climbs then short steep descents, which absolutely hammer your legs. There was one particularly nasty set of switchbacks that I forgot about, which took me a minute or two to recover from before I settled back in. When I reached the top, I felt like I was crawling but I knew once I got over it I’d be able to get rolling. I tried to recover a little bit after we crossed over the lookout tower road then really got on the gas once I started going down. I was hammering at this point. The fresh trail was pretty well cut so the footing was really good despite all the rain we’ve been having lately. I had a couple of moments where I did’t fully trust putting all my weight into the corners, but my LaSportia Mutants were super stable and did a nice job of gripping but staying responsive and quick.
When I came up on the short course again I went to work on catching as many of the short course runners as I could before the finish. I ran into a little trouble on a short false flat where I was expecting things to stay gradually downhill. I was a little worried that I over cooked it but the trail dropped back down shortly after and I was able to let gravity do most of the work. With about 300 meters to go I set my mind on catching one last 3 miler but he must have heard my foot steps thundering down the mountain behind him because he took off. We were both all out sprinting down this rocking trail toward the finish. He held me off and I congratulated him on a great finish after I crossed the line.
I ended up running 35:11 for 5.1 so I was a shade under seven-minute pace. On that course, I will certainly take it. Since it was the first race on those trails and technically the first time they were open to the public that’s the course record. Next year I’ll have to shoot for sub 35. I was really happy to get the win and run pretty well on a tough course. I wasn’t quite sure what to except with it being the first race of the year, but it was a good solid way to start the year off.
After the race Amanda and I continued our search for good donuts with a trip to Dutch Monkey Donuts. I went with the maple vanilla swirl and it was excellent. We decided to take a day trip up to Chattanooga since we were already out that direction. We really just walked around downtown and did a little window shopping then headed over to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Patriots game and eat wings. Two nice back to back weekends to start the offseason.
I’m not 100 percent sure what I’ve got next on the docket. I’ll definitely be running all the Dirty Spokes and XTERRA races this year, so Heritage Park will probably be the next race. Right now my first big goal race will be River Gorge and then probably Peach Jam after that. I am also kicking around the idea of doing a 55 mile ‘gravel grinder’ on the bike in February. We shall see.
Almost forgot…here’s what the race looked like on Strava (go easy on me New Englanders. I didn’t decide it was a mountain!)