If I told you that the toughest course conditions I’ve ever run came on a half-mile pitch, I’d forgive you for thinking that was a bit strange.
If’ you’d run the Lipbuster Challenge on Sunday, you’d know what I was talking about. And you would likely agree.
Dreamed up in the minds of some pretty twisted people at TATUR Racing, this particular trail race is all about one thing.
Turkey Mountain has some pretty gnarly singletrack trails, but I’d say the toughest stretch come on a clear-cut straightaway called the Powerline Trail, a ribbon of old jeep track that goes up two good-sized hills that are, in portions, quite steep.
The southernmost incline is not the biggest, but it is the steepest — lovingly named “Lipbuster” by cyclists who have attempted to navigate it and found themselves going for quite a tumble, and presumably, busting their lip in the process.
I’ve quietly campaigned for a trail race on Powerline, though I can’t take credit for this one. Someone else conjured up this hour-long sufferfest for which I gladly signed up.
It goes something like this: You start at the bottom of the hill. The top of the hill is a quarter-mile away and 136 feet up. Run to the top of the hill, then run back to the start.
Turn around. Do it again. And keep doing this for 60 minutes. The person with the most laps completed in the least amount of time wins; if you’re in the midst of a lap when the 60 minutes are up, the unfinished lap doesn’t count.
Plenty of folks won’t see the big deal out of a 136-foot hill climb in a quarter-mile, but consider this: The first eighth-mile is relatively flat, with all of the elevation gain coming in the next eighth. I won’t lie, it’s steep, sandy, rocky and technical. And damn hard.
Organizers divided this into three heats. The middle heat was for elite runners, who would compete for cash prizes for first, second and third place. You’d have to complete at least two loops to qualify as a finisher, and finishers got saucer-sized medals.
I competed in the first heat and overall, finished near the middle of the pack: eight loops (4 miles) in 58 minutes, 58 seconds. Not spectacular. But within that time was a total elevation gain of 1,088 feet. Outside of some really big trail races in mountain states, when was the last time you saw that kind of elevation packed into just 4 itty bitty miles?
Here’s the kicker: The winner hit 14 loops. That’s 7 miles, 1,904 feet of elevation gain, and he did it in somewhere around 57 minutes. He was one of two people out of 69 who ran the entire time. The rest of us mere mortals were forced, after a few punishing laps, into hiking the uphills.
And here I thought I had a chance of winning my heat. Not even close.
In any case, when I finished I wanted to watch the elite runners do their thing and cheer for some of my friends who were running the last heat. Chief among those: The dean of Turkey Mountain trails, Ken “TZ” Childress.
My message to TZ was simple: “I got eight laps. Your goal is to get nine. Beat me.”
Of course, me challenging TZ is a total laugher. He runs ultras. Like, 100-mile ultras. But he played along and sandbagged a little bit, trying to make me feel better.
I took photos and videos higher up on the hill, but cheered the other runners from closer to the finish. One by one, the people I knew were all surpassing me, which was just fine. They were earning it.
TZ got his eight laps in, and did so in a time that beat me by nearly 4 minutes. So yeah, he beat me. He did so by employing classic ultra strategy: Hike those uphills, bomb the downhills. From what I could see he was cooking on all the downhill legs and maintained a constant pace in his splits. I’m quite certain he was not in the least bit concerned about besting me, not with his pedigree. But just allow me this motivational delusion.
So after all the leg- and lung-burning that Lipbuster had to offer, a couple of thoughts:
Yes, I would do this again.
I think this is a good spectator race. The course is compact, so you could have a ton of people lining the trail cheering runners on. The support that was there was pretty great as it was.
I think we need to entertain the idea of having a 5K that encompasses the entire Powerline Trail. We’ve proven that the steepness and the singletrack nature of the Lipbuster portion of the trail is manageable for an event, so why not create the cruelest, gnarliest 5K in the land? Lipbuster is but one incline on that trail, and making people do an out-and-back on the Powerline would be a pretty stiff test for anyone, even with a distance as short as a 5K.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088