Cheaha State Park outside of Anniston Alabama was the center for the Mount Cheaha 50k Trail Ultra Marathon. Run partially on the Pinhoti Trail and partially on local trails, the race pits man vs mountain. And while man tends to win the war, the hills take their toll in the form of time, scrapes and blood. I’ve never seen as many front runners torn up on a 50k.
As Karl Meltzer commented about the area after winning the Pinhoti 100 mile ultra, “If you ever get a chance to run here, you won’t be disappointed.” Speedgoat Karl went on to say, “Todd Henderson does a great job with organization, trail marking, (and) logistics.” I couldn’t agree more.
Featured Picture: Emily Ansick – 1st Place Female
Above are: Johnny Clemons – 1st Male, Henry Wakley – 2nd Male, Vince Molosky – 3rd Male
Lindsay Beckner – 2nd Place Female, Sally Brooking – 3rd Place Female
The event is staged at the Cheaha State Park Bald Rock Lodge. This has to be one of the nicest places to host an Ultra. Completely remodeled in a beautiful rustic western style there are multiple fireplaces, a commercial kitchen, 12 rooms that sleep a total of 30 people. Each room with private bath and individual climate controls. Stay here, get a great nights sleep, jump on the bus to the start line and get racing. And, this is also the finish of the race which welcomes you back to those fire places, cold beverages and hot food.
While scouting the ultra’s course I found numerous instances of large rock fields, stream crossings, climb hills and descents but nothing prepares you for Blue Hell. Aptly named this .6 of a mile climb covers 1100 feet over roots, large rocks, over and between boulders. Additionally, the rain likes to use this trail as it’s wash. The name Blue Hell comes from the fact that someone went a little overboard with the blue blazes painted on every other rock and tree the whole way up. Having hiked Blue Hell 3 times, I still contend that it’s one of more difficult trails routes I’ve ever hiked; there are no switchbacks, countless ways to trip and has zero forgiveness if you do. Yes, there are harder and longer trails but to find a little monster like this in the middle of Alabama seems almost unbelievable the first time you climb it.
Congratulations to all those who made it up Blue Hell and finished. Johnny Clemons of Cleveland TN was the race winner, 4:22:25. Second and Third were Henry Wakley of McCoy Va and Vince Molosky of Tallahassee FL.
First female and ninth overall was Emily Ansick of Auburn Al. Second was Lindsay Beckner of Nashville TN and Third was Sally Brooking of Marietta GA.
I was fortunate enough to hike with the final finisher, Michael Wilson, the last 3.5 miles. Michael who developed a severe tendon strain, bear crawled, hopped and hobbled all the way up Blue Hell and over those last miles. Pain like that, knowing you have the option to stop, is a window into your soul and a way to battle your inner demons.
Thank goodness for Ultra Marathons.