by Jeffery S. Bryan

Carl Touchstone Mississippi 50 Trail Run Laurel, Mississippi

Swamp, swamp, swamp, swamp music
When the hound dog starts singin’
I ain’t got them big ol’ city blues
Well, hey pretty mama
Lord, just take that city hike
Said go ahead pretty mama
Lord, just take your city hike
Well, I’d rather live with the hound dogs
For the rest of my natural born life
– Lynyrd Skynyrd

There was an old children’s joke that once went: M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I, spell it. Well as far as I’m concerned, it is spelled “Carl Touchstone Mississippi 50.” The race web site (, which is excellent, is handled by the back office expertise of the man known as “Running Bear” (He also doubles as the finish line photographer). The site provides the following description, “The Carl Touchstone Mississippi Trail 50 is held the first Saturday in March each year on the Long Leaf Horse Trail in the De Soto National Forest just south of Laurel, MS. The race was started in 1996 by Carl Touchstone, a local dentist and popular ultra runner. The next race on March 1, 2003 will be the 8th time the race has been held, and the third that commemorates Carl’s untimely death due to cancer. The course features soft dirt trails, pine needle paths, and fire roads on 12.5 and 6.1 mile loops through the piney woods. It is a rainy time of year in Mississippi, and there are a lot of small creeks on the course, so hot dry feet are not usually a problem.”

In the Star Wars trilogy, Jedi Master Yoda trained an aspiring Jedi Knight in the swamps and bogs of the Dagobah System. So what better place for Tallahassee Ultra Jedi Master Gary Griffin to drag two of his protégés for ultra training than the swamps and bogs of Mississippi. I have been studying under the Master for a couple of years now but for Jo Lena “the Kentucky Wildcat” Pace this was a brand new experience. Jo Lena had never run an ultra before and had only one marathon on her running resume (2002 Country Music Marathon). I have learned from observation that she tends to enjoy running in the rain and mud with John Kalin on the local Tallahassee trails but this poor girl had no idea what she was getting herself into by heading off with Gary and I on one of our ultra trips. She can’t say that fellow Gulf Winds Track Club members didn’t try to warn her.

The trip up to Laurel was pretty uneventful. Since I was the one behind the wheel on this trip, my passengers had the pleasure of witnessing my wonderful Yankee driving skills. These skills involve rapid lane changes, repeated windshield wiper adjustments, and being able to simultaneously cuss out multiple drivers while searching for country music on the radio to keep Gary happy. The biggest highlight of the trip on the way up was the major traffic jam in some small town called Waynesboro, Mississippi. It seems there was a Gun Show taking place during the weekend and all the locals decided to head into town at the same time on Friday afternoon. Cars were backed up at the red light in all directions for what appeared to be a quarter mile. We managed to extricate ourselves from this situation by trading Jo Lena for a shotgun and a case of jerky (Just kidding. We all know that she’s worth at least two cases). We proceeded on to nice town of Laurel and somehow arrived at our hotel without any major harm to ourselves or others.

Packet pick-up and the pre-race pasta dinner were held at the South Central Regional Medical Center Wellness Center on Friday evening. A great spread was laid out before us. There was plenty of pasta, salad, and dessert to feed the masses. There were multitudes of door prizes given out and several individuals were recognized for their dubious ultra achievements. Andy Colee from the Florida Panhandle was presented a cake commemorating his 300th ultra and/or marathon. Many of the usual suspects from the southeast ultra running community were present swapping their fish stories, tall tales and lies. A great time appeared to be had by all.

Unfortunately, the morning came early. The endurance runs began together promptly at 6 a.m. in surreal predawn darkness. There are three choices of events. There was a 20K, a 50K, and a 50 mile. An interesting feature of this race is that the organizers allow runners to switch races after one or two loops. There was some switching going on but it was in the downward direction and not up. I noticed several 50 milers changing to the 50K but I didn’t hear any 50Kers say “I have a few extra hours to kill so why don’t I just switch up and keep going.”

Despite my best efforts and statements to the contrary, at the gun, I took off with the front runners. I guess that you just can’t teach an old hound dog any new tricks. When the front runners contain the likes of Dewayne Satterfield and Dink Taylor, you know that you won’t be with them for long. These guys take off in a 50 miler the way most of us take off in a 5K. The difference is that they don’t slow down. They dropped me quicker than Jennifer Lopez drops boyfriends.

Keep in mind that this is no city hike, the first stream crossing occurs in the first eighth of mile and your concerns of trying to keep your shoes dry goes out the window. You then don’t care anymore and can settle into the task at hand. If the first stream doesn’t get you, there are at least ten more on the loop to try to avoid. Good luck. This is a multiple loop course so you have the honor of hitting all of these streams again. As advertised, “hot dry feet are not usually a problem.” The biggest thing that I learned when navigating the first loop was that remaining vertical while still moving rapidly forward becomes an acquired skill. I was able to successfully remain on my feet for the duration of the 50K. The first loop wasn’t without incident, though. I did manage to get lost twice and run approximately an extra half mile. At least I had company when I did it. I don’t recommend this as a regular ultra race strategy.

Jo Lena was having her own fun out on the course. She witnessed a guy go down while attempting to jump a stream. I can barely believe her when she says that she didn’t laugh when she saw it. These rookies never learn. You are to supposed to laugh. It is proper ultra etiquette. Gary, you need to explain this part to her.

As the race wore on, it seemed harder to keep running. There were well supplied aid stations positioned every two to four miles staffed with incredible volunteers. No one has to worry about dehydration or starving to death at this race. The choices of nourishment were plenty. However, there was a full course chicken dinner waiting at the end so I avoided the snacks and saved my appetite. Boy, was I happy to see the finish line and the food. After crossing the line, I was unexpectedly grabbed and the third place overall award was shoved into my hands by the smiling Race Director, Steve DeReamer. Photos were taken and I suspect “Running Bear” will be forwarding copies to the proper authorities with the Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce Firing Range. Gary was the unofficial master winner. Officials in Waynesboro had no comments regarding Mr. Griffin.

Gary and I hung around the finish line area awaiting the arrival of the third member of our team. Jo Lena eventually emerged from the woods being chased by a pack of guys that were hooting and hollering after her. She looked no worse for wear as she crossed the finish line of her first ultra. Gary asked her what she thought. Jo Lena said something in Kentuckian that I believe translates to “I won’t do another.” With post race comments like that, she is well on her way to becoming a seasoned ultra runner. Not only did she finish her first 50K, she was the 2nd overall woman. I guess Gary, the Ultra Jedi Master had another successful student.

All in all, the folks in Laurel, Mississippi are to be commended for putting on a first class event. All the volunteers were awesome, including “Smiley” who gave us the directions to the start and was manning the finish line aide station. I would recommend this race to anyone looking for a unique ultra experience with a great bunch of folks.

Lessons Learned: 1) Learning to spell Mississippi as a child can help you later in life. 2) Mud is fun and called “soft dirt trails” in Mississippi. 3) If you carry your dinner plate near the finish chute, you must defend your biscuits at all costs. 4) The folks in Waynesboro couldn’t have had as much fun as the folks in Laurel. 5) “Running Bear” lives along a golf course and has free food if you can find his house. 6) Steve DeReamer and his volunteers are to be commended. The Carl Touchstone Mississippi 50 Trail Run is a First Class event and should be placed onto everybody’s ultra running calendar.