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  • Writer's pictureBryan

YABRR: Dark and Dirty 50k 2021 Edition

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

AKA: Edward Bulwer-Lytton Edit

Thanks to Ellie for continually posting about running at Robbers Cave State Park, it was worth the trip. Thanks Dylan, Shama, Justin, Steve and Amy for being foolish enough to make the trip as well. Thanks to the RD and staff, who had to deal with just a little moisture. As always, thanks to my partner in crime, and life, Shellene. Thanks to Edward Bulwer-Lytton for the best opening line possible for this report.


"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which ..."

Actually, while stormy it wasn't too dark, as the lightning did an outstanding job of brightening up the trails.


When I registered for this race, I looked at UltraSignup and got the wonderful news that it would take me just over 11 hours to finish . When I looked at the records, saw that the fastest time was just under 8 hours I began to wonder what I had signed up for. The course record for the Barkley Fall Classic is 7:37, was this harder than BFC? I looked at the profile, and got even more confused; it had less than 175' of gain per mile. After running it, I now understand.

The course itself wasn't that hard to run, it was a mix of (water runoff) single-track and rock gardens, with a couple of nice smooth sections and a gravel road at the start/finish of each loop. At the race brief, we were warned that we would get some harsh weather, and it was up to each of us to determine our limits. This race allowed for claim-jumping, so people could stop and claim a lower distance finish at any time. In true DDR fashion, Steve claim-jumped up from the 25k to the 50k.

I had set my strategy up early, go as hard as I could until dark.

The first "test" on the course is the gravel climb .2 miles with 100' of gain, jogged/power-walked it and felt good to hit the trail. On the first section of single-track I did something unusual for me: I chose the worst lines possible. The lines I chose were so bad it was funny. We then hit the section at Robbers Cave, where we were supposed to run the concrete pathways - but a couple of runners started short-cutting by jumping over a bench/fence or just skipping one concrete section. I found that rather annoying, but it is what it is.

First loop, photo from race website

Shortly after that, we hit the second "test", "Hells Rock Climb". This was about .1 miles with another 100' of gain, and took a little effort to cover. It was nice though, all the rocks were solid.

After the two major climbs, there was a water only stop, and some nice runable trail. We also passed a pond that had some serious bullfrogs in it, that got loud late in the evening.

The third "test" was Rough Canyon trail. It is well named, and while not the in-your-face climbs of the gravel road or Hells Rock Climb, you were going uphill as you navigated all sorts of rock garden.

Rocks, photo by Shama

The final "test" was the gravel road downhill. Due to all the climbing, you end up dropping 250' in .3 miles. To make it even more fun, I timed it as wrong as possible and got to the top as the 5/10k runners were coming up it. These were not the leaders, and there were a lot who were looking down at their feet or the feet of the person in front of them. I had another runner on my heels, so I did what I do best. As we came flying down the hill, I started letting out "whoop"s! Most of the runners heard me, looked up, and saw sudden death flying downhill towards them. We hit the turn around and immediately started passing them on our second lap. The 5/10k runners going up the climb were now in a bad spot: they had fast runners charging downhill, and uphill at the same time. As far as I know, nobody got trampled though . Once I got to the single track, it was a bit harder to pass. Had one lady in front of me, with earpods in, who must have had her music way too loud. I announced "On your left" twice, getting louder each time, and she didn't acknowledge me. I then yelled as loud as I could, still nothing from her, but a runner further ahead yelled back that he didn't have anywhere to move. I called out that I wasn't yelling at him. I ended up touching the runner on her shoulder so I could pass, she jumped.

Nice and fast section, photo from race website

I saw Dylan early on, and then didn't see him for a while and got a bit concerned. I also saw Steve, Amy, Ellie and Shama at various times.

Made good time on my second lap, but decided to grab a headlamp from the Jeep (which was parked on the gravel road). I am glad I did. About 1 mile from the start/finish it started raining - hard. Stopped by the Jeep and got my Salomon vest with rain jacket and headed to the start finish. Geared up, ate some food and went back at it. Loop 3 was pure flashback to Zion, Chattanooga and Big Cedar Wilderness. When 1/3 of your trail is water runs, the flow can get fast. The trail ended up with two types of mud. The single-track mud was soft but not sticky, the gravel road mud was slick and sticky. To make it worse, the rocks that I was able to float over when dry were enough to cause me to slip, and at one point on the fourth loop I twinged my knee. Time to seriously slow down.

Salomon shoe ad, photo from race website

I finished loop 6 and sat down for a break. Decision time: I could call it and take the 25k finish, I could switch to gravel and not have to worry as much about the slick rocks, or I could just go slower and be safe. Decided to keep going. As I was finishing up loop 7 I saw Shellene, she was still going strong. I told her that my knee was sore, and was considering stopping. She planned to keep going, so I told her I'd catch her and walk with her. I had to actually move to catch her, while she wasn't outright running, she was still moving at a good clip.

At the finish of Loop 8 (I think) Ellie gave us the news about Dylan. Rest and heal, you'll be back.

As we were walking, Steve caught us from behind, turned off his tunes and joined us for the rest of that loop. It seems that after his 25k he was just out walking/running with others. Somebody find him a hobby.

Heading out on Loop 9, there was a runner coming downhill with a Kogala RA and headlamp. I called up asking him to please turn it off, he was blinding us. His response was "close your eyes".

No need for a headlamp at the start/finish, photo from race website

I finished in 8:44, 45 minutes slower than my goal time (I wanted sub-8), first of 10 masters to finish. Amy was behind me, and then behind her was Justin and Steve. Amy won overall female, Shellene came in a third female and DFL (she got a nice plaque for each).

The winner ran it in just over 6 hours, proof that it can be a fast course. It's really not the course that makes it hard, each of the three years they have had serious wet weather, and that course is not one to be taken lightly when wet. The storm this year was bad enough that it blocked out the GPS satellites at one point, made for an interesting course map.


The numbers for this race are fun to look at. When I checked out bib numbers on Thursday there were officially 55 people entered. There were only 20 finishers as a large number (probably) took the 25k option. Out of those 20 finishers, 10 were master's age (50+). All the female finishers came out of the 50-54 year-old group. Old folks rock!

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