“The world’s hardest 8K.”
A few weeks ago we signed up for the Sassafras Struggle 8k, billed as the world’s hardest 8k. The elevation gain is roughly 1,900 over ~4.8 miles. Very few downhills or flat sections exist in that span. It’s a punishing run where the hills come one after another with varying grades. Were we able to survive? Did we walk? crawl? or even make it to the top?
We’ve both been running training consistently for a few months and felt confident signing up for the race. It is exciting to race a course you have never been on. We also knew the Foothills Trail intersected at Sassafras Mountain summit [the end of the race]. So we turned this race into a longer adventure by taking the Foothills Trail down to the car as a cool down after the race.
We arrived at the race venue in Sunset, SC about an hour before the race start. The race was hosted out of the Rocky Bottom Retreat and Confrence Center of the Blind. We had decided before arriving that we would both do a warm-up together consisting of 2 miles and several drills and strides. It was nice to get warm because it was only 40F degrees.
About 10 minutes before the start of the race we had a racers meeting and walked in unison to the start of the race. It began at the 178 intersection and went straight up to the summit of Sassafras Mountain. Standing around we chatted with some of the other racers and it was fun to meet some new folks.
The time to suffer has arrived!
The race started with a quick but manageable pace. Paige and I were in the top 20 or so leading out into the first hills.
The first three miles went by fairly quickly. I kept the cadence high and focused on being efficient. I really worked to keep my breathing rate consistent and heart rate in the correct place. I’ve learned over the last month how to relax more and focus on running, not tensing up in the shoulders and losing focus. Neither of us had any water or nutrition going up, but it was such a short race there was no reason to carry it with us.
We had moved up a few positions around mile 2.5. We studied the course the night before and knew at mile 3 the course began climbing more stiffly. I saw the turn ahead which signified mile 3 and began to push to create space between myself and anyone behind me.
The stoke factor was high because I knew there was only 1.5 miles to complete the race. Time to turn it up. It wasn’t long before we neared the top.
I could occasionally see Paige and I realized we were definitely in the top 10 at this point. We had made it to the final paved climb, a last push before running one last stretch to the observation tower where the race ended at the top step. We kept the pace fast but doable around 7:30 minute grade adjusted pace. I thought with competitors so close, it could be an all out sprint at the end. The closer I got to the finish the more competitors I heard behind me. I decided I had to push hard to get to the finish.
I pushed on the gas and somehow had some fuel left to pick it up. I finally made it to the last snow and ice covered stretch. This was honestly one of the hardest parts of the race. The occasional loose footing made my legs feel like lead weights. I saw the steps to the tower in the short distance and before I knew it I crossed the finish line. Proud to say without walking at all!
I crossed the finish line for 6th place overall in 47:28. Paige crossed for 7th place and 1st female finisher in 48:16. This was Paige’s first race on the Rock/Creek All Mountain Team, and she put on a strong showing. The full results are listed here.
The race was over. We chatted with a few people but didn’t stick around long. We had more running to do. We decided to follow the Foothills Trail down to the car.
It was nice to have a time to keep the blood flowing to the legs and enjoy nature. If you have never explored the Foothills Trail you should consider it. The trail itself winds through some very unique and diverse ecological areas in SC. The portion around Sassafras is some trail work genius and has to be explored to be appreciated. I hiked the trail in college, it rained everyday all day long, but it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
We have found the Upstate Ultra races to always be some of our favorites. The courses are well thought out. The races are organized. Matthew the race director pictured above is always approachable and quickly answers questions. It creates a positive competitive atmosphere with community dynamics. I’m already trying to decide which one of the next events I will sign up for this year.
I used this race as a building block in my training. I’ve been lucky enough to have Coach William Baldwin working with me over the last few weeks to solidify a training schedule for this year based on races and goals. This has helped in many ways from knowing functional capacity, increasing running efficiency, and more secrets that can’t be told!