Mt. Cheaha 50k Race Report – Matt Anthony

Race: Mt. Cheaha 50k

Runner: Matt Anthony

Race Date: 2/27/2021

Location: Mt. Cheaha State Park, Delta, AL

Results: 8:37:40; 152 out of 212;

Strava Activity Link:

mt. cheaha 50k race report
Photo: Gordon Harvey

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

1. Beautiful, rugged terrain!
2. Great people – runners, volunteers, staff
3. Challenging and unique

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

My only complaint was that the race culminates in a truly epic 1-mile rocky uphill scramble named Blue Hell around mile 28 of the race. It’s a natural end and when you’re done you’re about half a mile from the top of Mt. Cheaha (highest point in Alabama). But they run you on to side trails for 2-3 more miles and it was anti-climactic and tedious.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Blue Hell – ~28 miles in you climb the side of a mountain for a mile.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

Thanks to Coach Matt and my physical therapist, my running fitness and core strength were the best they’ve ever been. Felt like I could kick into a run whenever I needed to – basically everywhere outside of the climbs and the most intense of the rock garden trails. My gut was also very solid – I ate 1900 calories in Huma gels plus some sport drink and a few bites of food at aid stations. Started early and kept it up. Also managed my water despite much more heat and humidity than expected – drank ~5l of water and sport drink in almost any aid station.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

1. Lots of rocks – and they get slick very easily. Most of us walked in the worst of the rock gardens.
2. Tons of climbing – the pre-race hype is all about Blue Hell but you start climbing right away, I mean have to walk, hands on thighs, straight up hill climbs.
3. Lots of downhill! Felt good to bomb on some early downhills but 6 days later my quads are still blown – took its toll by the end of the race.
4. Watch the weather – went from 20’s, 30’s, 40’s to over 70 on race day – no direct sun but still tough.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

You never know – temps soared and had to adapt. Climbing was intense enough to add 2 hours to my previous 50k race times – in a race I felt good about! Rocks were a unique challenge – watch the regulars, trust your instincts – no place to get a twisted ankle.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Climbing and blue hell.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Fantastic – layered mountain in the distance both to east and west, high meadows and ridges, creek crossings – very pretty.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

I’ve only done three 50k’s but this took two hours longer than the others and I was in better shape!

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Yes, they nailed it.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Not really relevant for me.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Only thing I would do differently is book early enough to stay in the park at the lodge – otherwise it’s a 30 minute drive. I would consider camping too.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Lots of options, lots of help.

Weather and typical race conditions

I think it’s usually in the 40’s and 50’s – but not this year. Also, rain is frequent.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

Shoes with a rock plate and good drainage. Ability to carry everything you need – it’s point-to-point.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Kind of – if they’re willing to drive and hike. If not, they’ll see you at the end and tell you what a good time they had.

How’s the Swag?

Beer glass, wooden medal, t-shirt. Nothing special.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

5 stars – first one I’ve thought about doing again.

mt. cheaha 50k race report
Photo: Gordon Harvey