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How Not to Run 100 Miles ;)

Superior Sawtooth 100

September 10-11, 2010

First we need to start with a quick review of 2010.  You recall I took a business trip on short notice back in February and decided to run Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas.  Overall it was a great race for me – well up until about mile 97.   But, I was still comfortably under my goal of 24 hours.  I wanted to leave open the option of running The Beast Series again.  Although I seriously doubted I would do the whole thing, I at least wanted to run the subset of the Beast, the Lynchburg Ultra Series.

That meant I had to run Holiday Lake 50k, in the snow, the following week.  What a wreck of a race for me!  I finished unhurt, but I’m not doing that again!  I still had to train for my Spring goal race, Massanutten 100.  After Holiday Lake I also ran Seneca Greenway and the monsoon ridden Elizabeth’s Furnace.  Each event seemed more of a struggle until my body said “Enough!” and completely shut down.  Terrapin Mountain 50k was a no go and the LUS for 2010 no longer an option.  A couple weeks of dealing with bronchitis ensued and I struggled with the Chocolate Bunny in April.  While hiking up Bird Knob with a heart rate approaching 5k race speed, I knew I was done – MMT was not going to be an option.  I spent the rest of April recovering.  The overtraing was so bad I didn’t even feel like running for the first time  in my five year running career.  But, I felt pretty good by May and ran Capon Valley 50k.  I shaved a nice chunk of time off 2009.   Clearly this training thing is way overrated.  😀

Then comes the record breaking Summer that the Weather Channel called the worst in the nation for Washington, DC.  I just could not get the mileage up in this heat.  I wanted to do a new three day event for 2010 – The Trilogy – in October.  I think I could be ready by then so I did a three week “test” in July of three 50k’s in three weeks.  The last was the 110 heat index Catherine’s Furnace 50k.  I passed my test.  😉

Then later in the Summer I got a “bug”.  I mentioned to Dan, aka Metal, aka Big Boi, that I wanted to run another 100.  I didn’t mean “now” but sometime soon.  His response was that he’d pick me up at the airport on September 9th.   He too was running SS100 as his first attempt at 100 miles.   That would be in Minnesota.  Here I go again going into another 100 miler on a whim.  LOL!

How hard can it be? :rollseyes  They give us 38 hours.  And look how cute the hills are on this 102.6 mile course with over 20k in elevation gain:

Okay…ask around about SS100 and I learn it’s more technical than Massanutten with more elevation change.  I sure hope it’s more roots than rocks.  Sean A, who holds the SS100 course record, said I’d love the course.  I do love rooty courses, but rocks are a struggle for me.  Well, they had been up until late Summer.  While Trilogy training, I was spending some time running the rocks of the Appalachian Trail and doing mountain repeats at Maryland Heights.  I got to the point where I could run every rocky section from Keys Gap to Harpers Ferry, something I couldn’t have imagined last year.  My one “big” weekend was triple repeats of MD Heights Saturday then a seven hour outing up there again with double MD Heights in the middle.  My quads didn’t blink.  However, my midweek mileage was still pathetic.  My body was ready, but I would like to have been in better cardio shape with more midweek mileage.  I knew I could keep moving for a long time, so let’s go!

Off to Minnesota.  Big Boi picks me up and we head to the huge Superior Sawtooth Expo!  Okay, it was spaghetti in a little room with a bunch of trail runners.  Another Dan was there.  Dan K, the guy I spent most of 17 hrs running Laurel Highlands 70 in 2009.  And, Adam Casseday, the Co-RD for The WV Trilogy was there.  Hope he wins!  We rode up with Tim and Angela and would do so again the next morning to the start.

Oh, I forgot to mention I hadn’t run for 10 days.  My heel was hurt.  This same thing happened the 10 days prior to those three 50k’s in July.  I told people I’m going  to need a good 30 miles to get back in shape!  Let’s just hope the heel holds up as it’s untested.  Look…it’s Dan and me all smiling pre-race.  I’m the single car blue train.  😉

And, the other Dan, Dan K.  Have you noticed that super ultrarunners have the initials DK?  Yep, this DK from Ohio.  There’s some guy from California with a marketing machine that tells how awesome he is.  Then the most famous DK, the TrailDawggie from PA!!  🙂

8 AM Friday – Here we go!  Let’s go ahead and address the mistakes.  I definitely know how to execute a long race.  But, there’s a big difference between knowing how and actually doing it.  Mistake #3 – we stopped for some caffeine on the way up.  Any sized coffee is the same price?  Sure, I’ll take the big one!  Wait, where are Mistakes 1 and 2?

The first section of the race is very runnable.  I spent a little time running with Susan Donnelly who’s done SS and MMT many times.  I tried to get a better idea of the course, and it’s just “different” we concluded.  Finishing times are very comparable.  So, I figured somewhere in the 32-33 hour range would be quite reasonable for me.  Based on previous years’ times, that would put me at least top third.  At a minimum, I wanted to be done before dark Saturday.

We make our first “big” climb and have spectacular views of Lake Superior.

Here’s a good representation of the early trail with Dan K running into an aid station.

Very nice trail and quite runnable as you see, but you generally have to pay attention.  And, when I say “pay attention”, I mean to the trail.  The scenery is awesome up here.  We keep running next to and over fast running rivers and waterfalls the entire race.  I could not help but look at them.

Oh l0ok, I’m a turtle!  See, when you’re looking at a waterfall, and not the roots, you can instantly be on your chest.  A little bit of skinned knees and hands, and the pack jabbing me in the chest – no problem.  Look, the knees are just a little red rolling into the second aid station.  I think this is the aid staition that had signs telling you the aid station was a few hundred yards away and this final sign said something like 5 feet…funny.

Another thing you should never do is mock the trail!  😉  On even the tiniest creeks they had cute little bridges.  Clearly they’re afraid to get their feet wet up here.  I’m just cruising along.  Up, down, up down.  This course does that over and over and over again.  I was running with one guy and we were talking about the course.  He said the terrain I’d been on so far was pretty much what I’d see the whole time.  Then I learn he didn’t get past 50 miles his first attempt.  One I knew it was false or sub 30 would be easy; two he lost all credibility with that one.  LOL!   Later we cross a bridge and run along a river for a while.  Then I take a left and follow the trail up a hill.  Umm, which way to I turn at the top?  Here come other people.  Uh oh, I shouldn’t be up here.  Back down.  Now it’s quite runnable for a while and I’m just cruising along.  Then some more climbs and I’m up on a ridge.  Let’s readdress mistake #3.  I’m tired!  It’s that after lunch time for me and I’ve come down off the caffeine high and I’m sleepy going through this grassy section up on a ridge.  Then it’s wake up time as the course smacks you in the mouth.  Roots?  Umm, nope.  These climbs may be a whole lot shorter than we see in VA, but some of them are very steep and extrememly rocky.  One thing I notice is the big steps you have to take to get down some put a lot of stress on the knees.  Check out Big Boi.

More ups, more downs.  Some of the ridges were a giant, fairly smooth rock.  Once section had to be pushing a quarter mile.  It was neat.  And, we also had spectacular views on the opposite side of the Superior Heritage Trail.  Looking kind of cloudy over there huh?

The RD told us about markers to keep us from falling off the cliffs at night.  Here’s an example.  These things were practically flashing neon signs when your light hit them at night.

Up down, up down, rocks…you get the idea…   I was right; it did take a good 30 miles to get going.  I’m feeling great and moving along nicely.  Well, moving as fast as the course would let me….

Rolling into an aid station.  Mistake #4 and I didn’t know it.  Woops!

Later I arrive at Tettagouch, mile 34.2.  There’s lots of activity here with aid station workers and crews waiting for their runners.  “Where are the drop bags?” I ask.  “We don’t have drop bags here.”  Oh crap!  My little light is in there and it was at the previous aid station.  I had a little one stashed just in case I don’t make it to the next aid station before dark.  I’ll be fine, right?  A crew member tells me to take his and drop it off at the next station.  But, I can easily get there before dark, right?  He said it’ll take three hours.  Oh my…  That was mistake number #1.  You think after going down the switchbacks at Weaverton in the dark last year I would’ve learned to just carry my light.  No, I had to choose to save a few measely ounces in pack weight.  Off I go.  Now I’m runing on a trail that reminds me of the Bull Run Run 50 miler course.  Nice and smooth with similar trees.  Very runnable.  Three hours huh?  I know how this works and I’ve said it in previous race reports.  If it’s that easy now something drastic will change very soon.  Sure enough the course gets extremely technical and steep.  There’s one down that even had a railing.  (I always wonder how they get the materials up there and who builds this stuff?)

I did have to break out the light for 30 minutes at the end of this section.  And, I was really wishing I had my good light at this point.  I was with about four other people and I couldn’t keep up with them the light was so weak.  But, that wasn’t actually a bad thing because two of them would not shut up!  I mean for hours I’d hear them off and on.  And, I would continue to do so.  Although I do have my chatty moments on the trail, this was excessive and loud.  I did learn at Laurel Highlands not to waste energy and run away from that.  Dan K remembers too well.  LOL!

I then roll into County Road, 42.8.  Here’s the drop bag with my jacket and “real” lights.  Woohoo…my favorite part of the race, night running!  I also break out the iPod.  But, then there’s a panic moment.  Where did my handheld light go, I just had it?  Look around the grass…on the table…argh…Black, in a black bag in the dark.   Somebody helped me find it after I sat down looking through the bag.  There’s a first.  I have never sat during a race.  The closest liquid was ginger ale.  That’s always safe, right?  I chug a couple cups with some supplement that have helped solve some of the hip flexor issues I have last year and I’m off!  Uh oh…I start one of my coughing fits.  Damn…there goes the ginger ale and snacks.  Not good.  Shortly after it starts lightly raining.  I had the visor for this and didn’t mind at all.  I nibbled on an oatmeal bar.  Typically I love those things.  It probably took me a half hour to get a bunch of it down and it tasted like cardboard.  Now it’s really raining, like a whole lot!  It won’t last, right?  Then I start to get cold.  Here we are with Mistake #2.  See, the jacket I had was simply a light, thin running jacket.  It wasn’t meant for rain.  The jacket I had for rain was at a drop bag for the morning.  We dropped off the bags the day before and the last forecast I saw before that had the rain coming in the morning.  Nope, it was 9PM and pouring.  Remember, don’t mock the course.  I’m soaked and running through puddles.

During the night, we crossed a lot of these wooden bridges and they were quite slippery.  Some were covered in chicken wire which helped a ton by grabbing the shoe tread.  I’m not sure what section it was, but we crossed a very long section of these bridges.  I’m in the middle of what appears to be a big lake.  It’s quite “spooky” in the fog and rain.   This must be the beaver dam section people were talking about.  The water was right up to the little bridge.  I really didn’t want to fall off this thing.  Not that I could’ve possibly gotten wetter or colder, but I’m pretty sure there are pirranah and alligators in there!  And, I think I saw Nessie’s brother!  O:o

Eventually I arrived at the “midpoint”, Finland, 50.5.  I’m shivering and practically looking for a way out at this point.  If there had been kittens I was done!  (Let’s see who gets that reference…HA!)  The solution?  A trash bag.  No, not the big black kind of trash bags, the white kitchen bags.  Now, imagine that stretched over my 6’3″ frame.  I had my elbows pinned to my sides waddling around like a penguin.  The idea wasn’t to stay dry, but trap in as much body heat as possible.  As soon as I left that aid station I knew there was nothing that was going to stop me.  I also knew I was going to pay for this big time with a brutal recovery period.  It was approaching midnight, so I was about an hour off on my projected 15 hour arrival.  No problem, I still assume a two hour slower 2nd half and 34 hours is fine.

The next section is a blur.  No iPod because it’s still pouring.  Just keep moving and attempt to stay warm.  Oh, I did have a cup of chicken noodle soup at Finland.  That’s the only thing I could stomach.  All I know is lots of ups downs, rocks, slippery bridges.  At some point I fell going down a hill sideways and smacked my hip.  Eventually I get to the Christmas Light lit Sonju Lake aid station, mile 58.  Stand by the fire to keep warm, a little more chicken soup, and waddle off for more of the same.

Then up a long, gravel road to Crosby Manitou, 62.4.  Where the heck is it?  Eventually I get there.  And, I had been looking forward to this all night because that’s where my waterproof jacket is!  All three of my drop bags were at aid stations starting with the letter “C”.  Easy to remember!  🙂  Didn’t work out not looking at the name of the one that had my little light though huh?

Off with the wet jacket and shirt and put on another short sleeve.  Argh, it’s wet!  Hmm, maybe it was me being soaked that got it wet.  So, back off, shivering, and put on a long sleeve and the jacket.  One thing that always happens to me in the long stuff is edema in my hands.  It doesn’t affect my feet at all, just hands.  Since my elbows had been pinned at my sides for hours now my hands were huge!  I also had them in a fist the whole time trying to keep them warm.  When I straightened them out I had a fold running across the back like a fat roll.  Zero chance I could get my little knit gloves on and one of the many awesome aid station workers helped put them on.  Then he kept asking me if I wanted my pit zips on my jacket opened and I kept telling him no because I’m freezing!  I stood shivering for a while longer while attempting to down another cup of chicken soup.  But, I had to wait as it was way too hot.  Good grief I’ve spent more time at the last four aid stations than the total of any previous race.

Eventually, off I go.  I get moving and finally I’m not freezing any more.  Oh cool, a very loud waterfall!  I couldn’t really see it in the dark rain, but it was obvious.  Down, down a long set of stairs with some observation areas for the waterfall.  Then I go along a little rocky trail and cross a creek.  Wait, this is a real creek.  No cute bridge?!  Umm, no markers, no footprints.  Sigh…back across, back up the long stairs.  I read the signs again for the trail and sure enough, right next them was the course marker indicating I should’ve gone right not left.  Once again, too mesmorized by the waterfalls!

This section is really long and wow it’s tough!  I remember getting to the top of a steep down and stopping to figure out the best approach for getting down it.  I think I went sideways on some and admit to grabbing rocks here.  This is one of the most challenging sections of the course, but light’s soon coming!

Later some very fast people are passing me.  The 50 miler leaders that started early in the morning were flying.  I also had some 100 milers catch me.  But, I’m moving at a decent pace I thought?  Nope, I was going really slow and didn’t realize it.  The effort was there, but it wasn’t working.  It had now been over 12 hours and all I had was a little soup.  I had no energy at all.  I couldn’t even keep up with them at their walking pace!  This isn’t good.   A nice pacer offered me a gel and tells me I need electrolytes.  I knew she was right but I didn’t want anything.  I’ll force something down.  eGel?  I used to eat them exclusively for marathons.  Sure, as long as it’s not cherry.  She pulls out a bunch of cherry.  Okay, fine.  It went down okay.  Then, it’s time for some magic!!  Sugarloaf, 71.6.  Got some more soup that was way too hot.  So, the nice lady added water.  Still too hot!  More water.  Now it’s pretty much just water.  I look at all of the food offered.  Blech!  My stomach wanted none of it.  But, there were these coffee cake muffin things.  My “rule” is if it looks good I can eat it.  Let’s try.  Oh my that was awesome.  I grap another and I’m off.  The pacer was mentioning I was fine with the cutoffs.  Huh?   What do you mean cutoffs?  I’ve never worried about a cutoff before, that’s silly.  (Insert Jim Mora rant here and replace “Playoffs” with “Cutoffs”.)  Soon I’m running and passing the people that passed me.  But, now I’m having other issues.  Wow my feet hurt.  Not the type of hurt ankles and shins from past races, but the bottoms.  It had finally stopped raining, but the trails were trashed.  My feet have been wet for hours in previous races, but not constantly soaked like this for over 12 hours.  And, they would never dry.  It was just varying degrees of wet – wet or drenched.

Cramer Road, 77.2.   “C” means drop bag.  I had fresh socks and shoes.  But, I wasn’t quite sure how much that would help since they’d just get wet again right away.  Well, maybe a little bit of dry will help.  I sat again, for a while trying to get this figured out.  A crew member had  stuff all set out for his runner and told me to put some of his powder in my socks.  Wow the bottoms of my feet looked crazy!  The were all white and wrinkly, and the skin was very tender.  “Anybody have any duct tape?”  Somebody gave me some.  But, what am I supposed to do with it?  Dunno!  So, on with the new stuff and let’s get some food.  A grilled cheese sandwhich was pretty good.  Oh, there’s Tim and Angela.  She said they were over a 1/2 hour behind me a few aid stations ago.  Her goal was sub 38…uh oh, I really slowed down.  I ran off and on with them for a bit and my feet just kept getting worse and worse.  I’m now avoiding putting weight squarely on my right foot and was jogging/hiking on the outside of it.  Do you know what that does to your little toe?

Tim and Angela left me as my feet were killing me.  I caught them again at Temperence, 84.3.  Oh look, there’s Big Boi!  Umm, shouldn’t you still be in the race?  Done at 50.5 with major foot blisters.   Look, I have my jacket tied around my waist.  Actually, to this day I still do.  I’m never letting it go again.  And, I’m carrying a flashlight 24/7.  😉

It’s not terribly easy to see, but if you compare my hands in this pic to the one of me taking off the pack earlier, it’s a big difference.  No veins at all showing here.  Big Boi noticed and laughed at them.  Off I go.  Here’s what the trails still looked like that weren’t covered in rocks.

Now I’m doing everything I can to avoid the “drenched” level of wet.  Every time I’d get in a puddle it stung.  So, I’d straddle the trail, or even bushwack around the larger stuff.  It was very slow going, but it was either that or the sting.  It’s a beautiful afternoon!  Too bad my feet are gone.  Then it’s Sawbill, 90.0.  I made the cutoff easily, but for some unknown reason, the cutoff for the next aid station is only a very short time later.  Yeah, I’m now talking cutoffs.  Woops!  I think the cutoff for this station probably should’ve been sooner.  The aid station volunteer asked me what I wanted.  “Gels!”  Well, they don’t have any.  But, she said she had a gel flask in her car and told me I could drop it off at the end since she was going to be sweeping the course.  Okay.  She ran and got it and told me it was espresso flavored.  Thanks!

The next section is “only” 5.5 miles.  The first piece is pretty easy.  Then I see the top of a cliff.   Surely we won’t be going up there, but around it.  Wrong!  That was serious climb.  I caught Tim and Angela here only to lose them shortly after.  This time I knew it was for good.  I was going very slow now.  50 milers were passing me like I was standing still.  So frustrating.  Maybe a mile or so later my race was over.  There was no chance I was going to make the cutoff for 95.5 and I was okay with that.  Not only that, how was I going to get there?  I could no longer even put any weight on my right foot.  So, I just stood there wondering what to do until it quit hurting too much.  I slowly hobbled through the woods. 

Then all changed instantly.  I felt a warm rush on my toes.  It seems as if a giant blister just popped.  More magic and I can move again.  Plus, that espresso gel has kicked in big time.  Nice, I’m on some of the sweetest single track anywhere.  And, it’s gently downhill.  Maybe I can make the cutoff?  So I hauled ass and was running faster than any point in the race so far.  I saw signs for a parking lot, that must be it!  Run, run, run…cross a river.  Huh?  Where was the parking lot.  Now I’m on a dirt road.  No markers?  I’m now bummed and walking thinking I’m off course and it’s too late.  Soon I hear people.  But, I know I missed the cutoff by a few minutes.  I get there and they ask me if I had a light.  No mention that I’m 7 minutes late.  I’m sure I looked quite perky!  Of course I had a light.  Not one, but two!  (Like I’m going to let that happen again!)  They want to see it working.  Okay.  Then off I go.  “Only” 7.1 more.

Now I’m flying.  There are bunch of runnable stretches here.   Run really fast, make a u-turn, repeat.  It’s now time to turn on the lights and break out the iPod.  This is the night running I was looking for the previous night.  This was fun!  Oh, and the best part about being out so long?  Hallucinations of course!  They’re like a game to me.  I see something, but what’s it going to be when I actually get up to it.   A few sticks and leaves.  I also saw a bunch of big rabbits that glowed under the lights.  (Those were real.)  I had seen lots of fuzzy brown squirrells all day long.  The fungus was also very different than what we have in the Appalacians.  There are giant, yellow mushrooms with lots of colors mixed in.  And, really cool fungi attached to trees.

Another neat thought was this would be my first DFL.  (Dead F’n Last) That’s always a good story.  But, there are lights up ahead.  So, I couldn’t even get that part right!  It’s Tim and Angela.  I stuck with them a while and apparently Angela was not in a happy place.  She wanted to stab me because I got chatty all hyped up on espresso gels.  LOL!  I wanted to go.  So, I passed them.  Then a bit later I go down a very steep, and long hill.  I think it was Moose Mountain.  But, there were no markers anywhere.  Argh.  I stop for a couple minutes to see if Tim shows up.  Nope.  So, I head back up then see him on top and yell, “Is this the right way?”.  “Yes”.  Off I go again.

Of course this high point cannot last and the feet start really hurting again.  Oh, lights behind me.  They caught me again.  No, it’s somebody else.  I didn’t turn around to actually look, but we started talking and I recognized some of the comments “Jeff” made.  Wait, what’s your last name?  It was Jeff I knew talking to and trading messages on Facebook.  Funny!  He was running the 50 miler and said the course was it’s slowest ever.  I think I could’ve figured that out on my own…LOL!  He shows me the lights of where we’re heading and we immediately to the opposite direction.  His buddy catches up and said it was pretty cruel to tell me that.  HA!  I’m slowing down again as my feet are toast again and the caffeine high is gone.  But, I’m still plodding along and eventually get to a road.  Only a mile left!  Of course that road seemed like a few miles as I passed buildings I thought this is the building to turn into…this…no this one….  Ah, there’s the turn, there’s the finish.  Big Boi’s and Angela’s moms yell as I pass, and I’m finally done!  Big Boi is there to snap a pic.  Official time 38:02.  Remind me I never want to be on my feet that long again…

This is the part that amazes me after a 100 miler.  As soon as you’re done you can barely move.  And, it gets way cold.  Put that jacket back on.  Dan helped me find my bags and get showed me how to get inside so I could take a shower.  Wow look at those feet!  Permanent dirt and a mess of blisters on both feet.  I have never gotten a blister running one of these things before.  My right little toe is a wreck.  Soon we were headed off to Duluth.  Very cool…we saw a Timber Wolf on the way home.  Stunning animal.  We stopped and Dan got me a quart of milk.  I couldn’t eat the sandwiches at the end.  That was the only thing I could stomach.  I’m pretty sure all of that caffeine pre-race and in the gels destroyed it.

The rest of the adventure is getting up and down stairs, to and from the car, and through the airport the next day.  I scored a bulkhead seat after I told the lady at check-in what I just did.  🙂  I had all of a part of a piece of pizza and some juice all day.  I didn’t even want to eat the next day.  That’s not good for recovery huh?

When I got home I wore my finisher’s jacket around the house.  Not because I liked it so much, but I was cold and it was 73 degrees in there!  That’s typically pretty hot for me.  My electrolytes were completely out of whack and my immune system was gone.  On came getting sick and no running for quite a while.  A week later I was messing with the stuff that had engulfed my little toe and it just fell off.  Oh look, it’s a brand new pink toe!  How cute!  😉  Look how clean that toenail looks.  Wait, there isn’t one.  Woot!  Lost my first toenail.

So, that’s how Not to Run 100 Miles.  🙂  There were some positives.  I was really happy with the way my legs held up.  I also didn’t have any of the lower leg and ankle issues that plagued me the year prior.  I added something that I think contributed a lot to that over the summer.  Two or three times a week I would lose the shoes for the last half mile of my run on concrete.  It did wonders to build up the feet.  And, I learned some things.  Like carry a light from the start and have a jacket early.  😉  Actually, simply having somebody to crew would’ve saved me at least a few hours.  I could’ve had the right jacket ready at any aid station, some Nesquiks – my “Go To” for long races which I didn’t have this time and easily could’ve gotten me through the night well nourished on an unhappy stomach – and figured out a way to deal with the feet.

I suppose we could argue another positive is I didn’t quit.  Although the better argument for that may be stupidity and stubbornness because I really paid for it.  LOL!   Any one of the three bad things (stomach, freezing, feet) could’ve easily knocked me out of the race, but didn’t.  They are also issues that I’ve never experienced.  As they say, there are no two 100 milers the same…

Thanks to Dan and family for the hospitality!  And, for some of the pics!   I said I’m coming back even if it’s only to crew for him when he finishes next time.  I really liked the course, and the people were great – even if they talk funny…  😉  It would’ve been far more fun with about 6-7 hours less on dry feet…

The “Experiment” – Rocky Raccoon 100

One of my goals in 2009 was to be able to run any distance on a week’s notice.  Why a week?  Well, I’d want some time to taper if needed.  My definition of “any” distance was really 50 miles max.  I mean, who would just go out and run a 100…unless your name is Snipes?  🙂  Two weeks ago my boss talked about the possibility of heading to Austin, TX for most of last week.  Gotta check out the race schedule, right?  I asked if I could stay the weekend.  No problem.  (Yes, on my dime of course.)  I mean how often will I find myself in TX only a few hours from one of the biggest 100 mile races in the country?   Plus, it’s so much flatter out there, so how hard can it be?  LOL!  😛

Even though I’ve only done one other 100 miler,  I’ve done enough longer races that I think a large part of completing them is race execution.  I’m not talking about going out and racing, but finishing.  So, let’s try it!  I’ve barely put up a couple hundred training miles since the beginning of December.  But, Hellgate was only 2 months ago and I did have a really long MMT training run three weeks ago.  Sunday I entered the race…

We arrived in Austin early Monday and it rained through Thursday.  Buckets of the stuff.  Yeah, the same storm that nailed the East later.  Wonder what that would do to the Rocky course?  One of the neat things about this new Internets thing is finding other runners around the country.  Sandy (Slowdown) from RWOL said the course drains extremely well.  I found out why, firsthand later…ugh..  He’s also part of the huge Dam Road aid station along with “jlynnbob”…he’s the AS captain.

Thursday afternoon I make the 3 hour drive to Huntsville.  There were some interesting towns I went through along the way…  Friday it was pretty nice.  I checked out the historic part of Hunstville, drove over to see where I had to go the next morning and did the packet pickup deal.  Rocky Raccoon is a multi-loop course.  I wasn’t sure how I’d like doing the same loop five times?   Also, just finishing this thing wasn’t going to be enough.  I must get the sub 24 hour award.  And, not push so hard that I can’t get back to training very soon.   I scribbled out a plan the evening before.   I wanted to be right at 8 hours after the 1st 2 loops with each loop after that a bit slower.  The plan came to 22.5 hours which should give me room for the “unexpected”.

Up at 4AM, take my time getting ready and make sure everything I need is in my drop bag.  This was a challenge.  I had to pack business suits and all of my running gear without checking any bags.  So, stuff that I might like to have didn’t make the trip.  I also did a “pseudo” 2nd drop bag which I wouldn’t get back.  They weren’t bringing those bags back until 1 PM after the race.  I had to be on a plane that afternoon.  There’s another reason I better not take too long in this thing huh?  I hit Target and got a $2 bag and zipper cooler for my, as you should know by now, my “go to” Nesquiks for later in the race.  So, don’t use one of those cheap cooler bags.  Even with the ice inside plastic bags, its still melted and soaked some of the stuff in the main drop bag at the start/finish.  That would be including a change of socks if needed.  Woops!

6 AM and we’re off!  There are somewhere around 350 people running this thing and a similar number would start the 50 miler an hour later.  I have one of my disposable flashlights that I intend to put in the Dam Road drop bag at mile 6 to grab later if needed.  I also put a few granola bars and gels in that bag.  So, no big deal if I never see any of it again.  It was more for parking stuff like the gloves and headband which I intended to grab at night.  I really like this running surface.  In the dark the hills weren’t that noticeable, but you could see that’s it’s a rolling course once the Sun came out.  It was a near perfect day for running.  At most aid stations the next couple loops I’d grab a handful of PBJ quarters, quesadillas, grilled cheese, etc.  But, no sweet stuff…yet…   There were only a few short muddy stretches.  The course did drain extremely well as a lot of it is now packed sand.

I finish the first loop and drop off the gloves in the main bag and grabbed a bar or something.  I didn’t look at the watch until I headed back out.  3:50.  Maybe a hair fast, but darn close to where I wanted to be.  I should slow down some.  It’s really starting to get nice out.  My favorite part of the course is the 10k loop between the Dam Road aid station, which I should see 10 times.  With the 5o milers out there now, it sure is a busy place.  I’ve never seen one with that much going on.  The loop was the most technical section of the course with lots  of twists, turns, little ups/downs and root, roots and more roots.  I like rooty trails as that means no rocks and it’s soft!  😀  I dropped off the long sleeve shirt when I came back out of the loop and just kept plodding along til I finished loop 2.

Now it’s time to grab one of the 3 Nesquiks.  Time out of the aid station was 7:58.  Nailed that 40 mile goal time.  Then it’s mistake #1:  I chugged the Nesquik so I wouldn’t have to carry it.  I was also carrying one of these.  So, I didn’t want too much to haul around.  It was getting warmer too.  Maybe mid 50’s by now?  Well, I may have been able to get away with chugging it when it’s colder and I’m walking, but that didn’t go over well.  It took me 45 minutes to get to the next aid station only about 5k away.   I was okay after that.  Funny thing is I knew I wasn’t going to be happy at mile 40.  You’ve already covered a lot of distance and you’re not even half way there.  It’s mostly a mental thing.  Now let’s see if I can get back within a half hour of getting dark as planned?  Just kept on slogging along.

When I got to Dam Road this time I finally found Sandy and talked long enough for me to inhale a half a cup of coke and a Roctane.  Yeah, it’s time to start moving over to sugar and a little bit of caffeine.  Blech, that gel tasted awful.  Mistake #2 (Don’t eat anything that doesn’t look appealing.) This isn’t going to go over well…and it wasn’t more than a few hundred yards and I didn’t have to worry about that stuff any more.  I’ve heard many stories about stomach problems in these things, but I had been bullet proof prior to this.  I did have a granola bar and nibbled on that and drank some water during the 1ok loop.  Got back to the temp drop bag and grabbed the long sleeve shirt and light I stashed earlier.  I’m still moving along pretty well.  I was worried about the multi-loops getting annoying, but it wasn’t bad at all.  The familiarity could be a good thing at times and it was fun seeing some of the people going the opposite direction, including a few VHTRC people including the legend – Frank Probst.  😉  As planned, I had to use the light shortly before I finished that loop.  It took a bit longer than planned though because of the “chugging” and gel.   My foot had been bugging me for a while now.  It was a “hot spot” on the ball of my left.  I’ve had that feeling before wearing the roomy Vasque Blurs on technical downhills as my foot tends to move around a little, but it’s never been an issue.  This time I wore a hybrid, my Mizunos which is basically a road shoe with a trail tread.  I assumed that’s the issue.  I thought about changing to thicker socks, but they were wet from that stupid cooler.

Now it gets fun!  Night running!  This stop took a bit longer than the others.  I grabbed the visor, Petzl Headlamp, Fenix flashlight. my pacer the iPod (which I attached to the water bottle) and the gloves.    I think I planned 4:30 and with the long stop it was 4:45, so not too bad.  Still, plenty of room under the 24 hour target.  I planned much slower for the next 2 loops as running at night is simply slower and the miles were adding up…  As bad as the start of loop 3 was, this was the opposite.  I was having a blast.  This time I also grabbed a Nesquik and nursed it til the 1st aid station.  That worked well.  Still probably needed to eat more though…hmm…  Once I got to Dam Road again I was cold; not good.  I drank a little bit of coffee.  Umm, yeah, that didn’t work out well either.  Here we go again…ugh.  I’m not really sure it was my stomach though.  I noticed when I got to TX my allergies kicked in big time.  They said mold was at a crazy high level and that’s one of my biggies.  And, I was doing some coughing.  I think it was actually the runny nose and coughing that triggered it all.  Well, things just aren’t going well now that I’m not eating enough.  I did eat another of my bars I stashed in the bag which kept me going.  But, good grief was I getting cold at this slow pace.  Even with the light running gloves I had to keep my hands in a fist.    And, the cooler weather kills the iPod battery much faster, so it was done with a good hour to go in this loop.  Can’t wait to get back to the drop bag!

I finally finish loop 4 and grabbed my jacket and the other iPod.  That loop was about 15 minutes slower than planned, but not too bad.  Mistake #3.  I so didn’t want to carry anything the way my hands felt.  So, I left the water bottle in the bag with the intent of only drinking at the aid stations.  I couldn’t open the last Nesquik and one of the awesome volunteers helped while I chugged a cup of chicken noodle soup in the warm tent.  The jacket made a big difference and I was moving along nicely after I warmed back up again.  Not bad for over 80 miles!  I did really well on the loop this time and even at 90 miles was moving along very well.  But, it just kept getting colder.  We’re not talking crazy cold here, just 30’s.  But, with shorts, a light jacket and thin running gloves, that may be too much at a half marathon pace, but not enough at a late 100 miler, low heart rate slog.  So, I started running faster on the uphills to get the heart rate up to help keep me warmed up.  The foot was bugging me…well, lots of stuff was hurting now and what felt like running was probably a shuffle at best.  I think I grabbed some more coffee to warm me up a bit.  No issues…another cup of soup later, but that’s it.  With a planned 5.5 hour loop, that’s just nowhere near enough and boy would I pay for that.

With 8 miles to go all I wanted to do was get in the car and crank the heat.  My hands hurt and I was too cold.  I blasted through the aid stations just wanting to be done.  I knew this wasn’t the right thing to do, but I didn’t care.  I was still trying to “run” up the hills but that was getting harder with no energy.  With about 3 miles left my legs just didn’t want to go and I was reduced to mostly walking.  And, it was some slow walking.  It was so slow I started to doubt the sub 24!   This was a “mega-wall” unlike no other I’ve experienced.  And, it was my fault.  But, eventually I got there!  And, the very nice man congratulated me an handed me my sub 24 buckle!!!  Mission accomplished with almost a half hour to spare…phew…too close.  Here’s a pic I took of it when I got home.

Buckles

Quickly I attempt to find the car.  Oh, it’s the other way.  Then I held my hands in front of the full blast vent for a good 15 minutes.  Uh oh, I still have my timing chip.  You mean I have to go back out there?  Just that 15 minutes and my legs will barely move now.  I handed to the first volunteer I could find, and of course he was happy to help.  Why?  Because Ultra volunteers are awesome!  These people were standing out there, in the cold, all night helping us.  I cannot thank them enough!  I also started shivering wildly and struggled to get into the car.

Now it’s time for the next challenge.  Cleaning up, changing clothes and heading back to Austin on no sleep.  I had a nice breakfast of champions at McDonalds, some coffee, and then hit the road.  I needed a 2nd cup to make sure I stayed awake.  I got to the airport and had almost 5 hours to hang out, which was fine as I’d find some food and find a place on the floor to stretch out.  Hmm…a flight is boarding for Dulles in 15 minutes.  Let’s see if I can get to the end of the terminal.  Standby…I’m in!  Amazingly I made it home before the Superbowl started.  Why so amazing?  Dulles airport officially had 32 inches of snow the 2 days prior!!  Most flights had been canceled.  And, I’m home today writing this because the DC is still pretty much shut down with another foot or more on the way tonight.  Good thing I don’t have to run any more this week huh?  Look what showed up while I was gone…the plate for my Beast trophy.  🙂

Beast Trophy

As they say, there’s always something to learn in the long races.  Just an extra $2 while at Target and I could’ve picked up a pair of those cheap knit gloves and a hat that would’ve made a huge difference.  Or, packing an extra pair to layer.  And, don’t listen to the forecast which had the low much higher than that when I left VA.  No more cheap zipper cooler which I thought wouldn’t leak that do.  Oh, I did have pretty much everything else in the drop bag in zip lock bags, so that wasn’t an issues with most stuff.  Eat regardless!  Eating for this race is a bit different than other races.  This was 9 hours faster than Grindstone which means a lot more running.  It’s easy to eat and digest stuff when you spend an hour or two hiking up a mountain.  Not so much when you start running immediately.

So, what about that foot?  When I cleaned up after the race there was a bunch of fine sand inside my socks that apparently got through the webbing of the shoes.  It was almost like I was wearing sandpaper socks.  Still, it was just worn a bit?  But, it wasn’t until I could see it in the light when I got home that I noticed a big blister…my first!  So, change socks if I run into that situation again.  Maybe wear a real pair of trail shoes that won’t let that stuff in also.

Rocky Raccoon 100 is a great, well run event.  The volunteers were outstanding and I really liked the trails.  The “dreaded” 5 loops were kindof neat.  Also, this course isn’t nearly as flat as some say.  It’s far from a mountain course, but it has some nice rolling hills that grow pretty big by the last loop.  😛   Asking me about another long race or MMT at about mile 95 would’ve gotten you a dagger.  But, I’m definitely happy I did it.  Just a few minor changes would’ve made a good experience even better.  Lessons learned and mission accomplished.

Hellgate!

First, I want to thank David Horton and Clark Zealand for putting on six great races this year.  And, what an outstanding group of volunteers they had at each one.  Special thanks for the awesome Hellgate volunteers standing around in frigid temperatures!!

12/11/09 – Off to Camp Bethel in Fincastle, VA for the Hellgate 100k which is the final race in the Beast Series!   Some GPS readings have this race at 66.6 miles, so let’s go with that.  Fitting huh?  Here’s a course profile that I stole from Alisa that I think originated with Keith:

I’ve been more worried about this one than all five of the others; yes, even Grindstone.  So much that I somewhat “sacrificed” any chance at a great Mountain Masochist 50 five weeks earlier.  I kept “throwing training miles” at Hellgate and paid for it with an awful first half of that race.  But, I did a real taper for this one.   The Hellgate course is challenging enough before you add in a 12:01 AM start in the middle of December with tight cutoffs.  Yeah, it can be very cold in those mountains and the forecast seemed to drop every day we discussed it the preceding week.  Looks like we’re flirting with single digits and light wind on top.

I hate being cold.  But, no matter how many times I do it, I seem to forget how much cold I can deal with when I’m running.  So, of course, I wore all kinds of stuff including a neck warmer and the highly recommended wrap around glasses to avoid “Hellgate Eyes”.  People have had their corneas freeze at this thing and being able to see seems beneficial… We all hop in vans/cars and head to the start.  12/12 at 12:01 and we’re off on a typical fire road that we’ve seen in a few of these races.  Of course it wasn’t 15 minutes until I needed to lose the neck warmer.  That means pulling off the mittens, messing with the iPod (I’ve learned I like the iPod for night sections.), pulling off the hat, and trying to get everything back on while running.   It’s about this time Kam, Jaime and I settle into the race.  We all ran early miles together at Grindstone and MMTR as well.

The water crossing!  It’s unavoidable at around 3 miles.   This one’s knee deep and there are  people attempting to put on trash bags over their legs.  We just blast right through it.  There had been a lot of snow then rain the previous week.  Just the one big water crossing that everybody talks about?  Nope, I think I counted 9.  However, my wet feet were never an issue the entire race.  Gotta love Drymax Trail Socks!  We pop through the aid station then head up a dirt/gravel road…and up…and up…and see about 100 lights above and below me.  I really don’t remember a whole lot of detail about the early night sections of the race which is unusual; I do remember lots of climbing, and sections of icy road.  I just kept trying to make sure I’d eat near frozen gels and chews, and stay hydrated.  Just keep moving and spend very little time at any of the aid stations.  I did have to put the hydration pack hose under my jacket to keep it from freezing.  I also remember my running pants smacking me in the lower legs because they’d freeze almost instantly after the water crossings.

At Camping Gap (AS – 3) I left Kam (Jaime took off a bit earlier.) and kept on going up.  Ah, this is what I’ve been looking forward to!  We’re now on a piece of the Promise Land 50k+ course which is race #3 in the series.  That’s my favorite type of course with lots of climbing and a nice mix of trails including “cruisey” grassy fire roads and single track.  This was a fire road section.  The first mile or two was gently downhill and covered in a few inches of snow.  It was awesome!!  I ran a whole bunch of this section until I got to some tricky single track and more climbing.  Eventually we’re back on gravel road heading up to Headforemost (AS – 4) and the highest point on the course.  Near the top I look to the left and see the lights of Lynchburg and a sliver of the moon.  It’s beautiful!  There’s a lot of activity at this AS and it’s cold!  I had my drop bag waiting with a fully chared iPod, but I didn’t feel like dealing with it.  I had stashed the 1st iPod since the cold killed the battery extra fast.  I just wanted off this mountain, avoided the bonfire and wasted no time getting out of there.

Down, down, down and soon the Sun started coming up!  There’s a mix of nice, grassy fire roads and some tough single track.  Eventually I’d pop out at Jennings Creek (AS – 5).  This is the breakfast aid station.  They offered me all kinds of stuff including sausage and quiche. Sounds awesome, but I avoid that, grab a handful of silver dollar pancakes and head off…and up…and up…and up.  This gravel road seems to go on forever!  Then down, down, down on a mix of fire roads, technical trail, I don’t remember…ha!  Just keep moving and eventually I arrive at Little Cove Mountain (AS – 6) which, I think, was a group of energetic Horton students.

Off I go and things now start to turn ugly.  This section is just awful.  The single-track is anything but level and there are rocks, and rocks, and rocks.  And, lots of hidden rocks under leaves.  This is SLOW!  Now I’m asking myself why in the world did I register for Massanutten, the “King” of rocky races?!  Sophie snapped the next three pics while finishing her 5th Hellgate and her 1st sub 15!  Now how do you expect me to run on this,  which is appropriately named “The Devil Trail”?

Not only were the trails just awful in this section, I was just in a bad place in this part of the race.  Not a good combo huh?  But, it’s a long Ultra, this happens, and it will get better!  So, just keep moving.  Hey, there’s Mark!  We run for a bit together and get to yet another water crossing.  He rock hops.  Me, I’m heading right through it and it’s almost knee deep.  Why?  My ankles had really started bothering me and I learned a quick remedy earlier this year.  Just get ’em cold and wet and it’s like an instant fix.  It helped.  Eventually, after forever, we arrive at the 2nd big aid station, Bearwallow Gap (AS – 7).  I was really looking forward to this.  I need to change things up and get out of this funk.  The drop bag!  Do you remember what my “go to” is later in the race to help get me going?  Yep, Nesquik! Please don’t be frozen!  Ah, chugged it and had yet another brain freeze.  That was at least the 3rd time this race as the water at the aid stations was slushy.  I also got rid of the hat and mittens, and grabbed the iPod, stashed another Nesquik and some gels in the pack, and said bye to Clark for the 3rd time as he was hopping aid stations.  Let’s go!

As horrible as that section was, the next was the complete opposite.  A lot of people don’t like this section, but it’s my favorite.  There are some steep climbs on single track.  Steep as in heels not touching the ground, thinking about pushing on your quads steep.  However, nothing out here compares to the Grindstone climbs, so it’s a non-issue.  Once they’re done you are so rewarded with this:

…and this looking to your right:

But, there was one bit of an issue.  I was flying down one of those cruisy sections above and what seemed almost instantly I’m off the trail.  Rebekah was about 50 yards in front of me.  Here’s her “recap”:  “We were heading to Bobblets and all of a sudden I heard a crash behind me. When I turned around he had fallen all the way off the trail and was rolling down the mt. He grabbed a tree and stopped himself.” She yelled, I yell back, “I’m good!”, pull myself back up, took off, catch back up to her and laugh about it.  I learned she had a bad fall on the ice earlier.  We played the back-n-forth game the rest of the race.  But, what tripped me?  I actually caught a toe three more times in this section while going fast and never really saw anything.  The only real explanation are the evil trail gnomes!  🙂

After several of those sections, we’re dumped out on another road and head up to Bobblets Gap where I see the awesome aid station captain “Mr. Kilt Man”.  He gave me a nice “warning” before making sure I got everything I need.  He said this next section is long, and it feels long.  Uh oh!  I head down another chewed up gravel/dirt road.  Tangents?  Not!  This is one where you have to dance back and forth to find the more runnable side.  It’s tough to get a steady pace.  Eventually it smooths out and I’m still going down.  “Long and feels long” huh?  I know how this works.  That couple+ miles was pretty easy so this means I’m going to pay big time.  Now it’s up some steep switchbacks, lots of twisting, turning, up/down single track, some of it rocky, some not.  This goes on forever.  Later I find out this section has a nickname, the “Forever Section”.  Yep!

Finally we reach the last aid station and I head up the very long climb with Rebekah and one of Horton’s students that joined her.  Did I mention it’s long?  But, we’ve now covered over 60 miles and the end isn’t far!  I just want to be done, so I turn on the iPod and take off not far from the top.  Then it’s all down to the end.  In previous races this year the legs struggled with even the easiest downhills late race.  This time I was able to just let ’em fly.  Well, at least it felt that way on legs that had just covered 63 miles.  I didn’t need my quads any more after this, so I ran the whole last few as hard as I could.  Then, I make the last turn into camp, just a little more to go, then cross the finish with the clock at 17:05!  Horton opens the door and announces to a room full of people that I had just finished the Beast!   Then, he hands me this 15 or so lb monster:

Yep, almost a year’s worth of work was now complete!  Soon they’ll send us a customized plate for the front.  He also handed me a nifty Hellgate finishers half zip and a long sleeve, collared Beast Series Finisher’s shirt.  Patagoinia of course.  Very nice stuff!

I’m not sure there’s anything like Hellgate.  Horton simply calls it “special”.  It must be because how can something so brutally difficult be so amazing at the same time?  Again, thanks to everybody associated with the Beast and congrats to my new “Beast” friends from this year.  I’m sure I will continue to see many of you at future races.  Also, thanks to all of those that supported me throughout this adventure…

Grindstone 100

Swoope, VA:   Friday October 2, 2009:  Here we go!  Grindstone 100.  1’000’s of training miles, several Ultras ranging from 50k’s to 70.5 miles, and it’s time to see it all come together starting this evening.  My buddy Todd’s mom lives less than 10 minutes from the Start/Finish at Camp Shenandoah and Todd has volunteered to be my Saturday crew in my long journey.  We arrive midday to drop off my night drop bags and attend the pre-race meeting.  Lots of familiar faces of those new friends I met at previous Beast Series races and many VHTRC friends will all share in what is billed as the hardest 100 miler in the east.  My first decision is what shoes to wear.  The cushy and lighter Mountain Masochists, or the bullet-proof Vasque Blur SL’s?  Forecasted showers made this one easy; it’s got to be the Blurs as they’re far better on wet rocks.  The MM’s will soon be on their way to the Little Bald Knob aid station in hopes I can switch to them for the more runnable, and firmer midsection of the course.

Robby - photo by Quattro

Quattro pic

My goal?  Since this is my first, it must simply be finish.  Although I’m thinking 32 hours is a realistic number.  The plan is to just start out slow and take what the course gives me.  That means walk the ups, run the flats (all what, 100 yards of it total?), and run the downs as long as can.  Grindstone challenges us with over 23,000 ft of elevation gain and the same amount lost on an out-and-back course over some pretty technical terrain.  Take a look at last year’s elevation profile.   The course was modified slightly this year to push it out to 101.85 miles.

We gather at the start and at 6PM we’re off!  Yes, one of the things that makes this 100 miler different is the evening start which means I should be moving well into the 2nd night of the race.   The first segment is over some trails, fireroads and, of course, some rocky single-track.  Approaching aid station 1 it’s time to break out the lights.  I use a Petzl MYO XP for general lighting and a Fenix L2D handheld.

I hung with Kam and Jaime for a while early and we set out on the first steep climb up towards Elliot Knob.  Here’s a pic of the 2 of them and Dorothy heading back down on day 2 of the August training run.  Unfortunately the 3 of us would never see this section in daylight.

Training Run:  Coming down from Elliot Knob

Training Run: Coming down from Elliot Knob

The closer we get to the top, the thicker the fog gets.  By the time we are there, we can barely see 10 ft ahead of us.  The people we pass on the short out-n-back to punch our bibs (to prove we were there) would all tell us where it is.  That’s the way everybody in these types of races is – always helpful.  Here’s a pic of Sniper, Kam, Dorothy and Jaime on top of Elliot Knob during the training run.  The orienteering punch was attached to the fence.

Training Run - Top of Elliot Knob:  Sniper, Kam, Dorothy and Jaime

Training Run - Top of Elliot Knob: Sniper, Kam, Dorothy and Jaime

Now it gets “fun” as we have to go down the other side.  We get our first taste of nasty, rocky, single-track.  This is off and on all the way down to Dry Branch Gap.  It’s somewhere around here I had my first ankle roll of the race – ouch!   Next it’s time to climb Crawford Mountain.  Yeah, pretty much the story of this race is up a mountain, down a mountain and repeat until done.  Although this is all single-track, it’s similar to the first up/down in that it’s far more technical on the down side.  My biggest weakness in running these things is rocky downhills, so I just take it easy.  Soon I’m getting close to Dowell’s Draft and roll that same ankle again, but this time hard and I yelled!  This one’s going to take a bit to walk off.  Now I’m favoring that leg and my knee’s acting up.  Perfect for only 22 miles into the race huh?  So, I slow down and tell myself all I have to do is keep moving.  Coming out of Dowell’s I think about how nice the trail is.  Oh yeah, I remember it from the training run as my favorite part of the course.  I just hope I have legs to take advantage of it coming back down.

After climbing and climbing and coming back down a bit, there’s some very fast, runnable fireroads leading up to Lookout Mountain aid station.  I was asked how I’m feeling, “Great now”, I said.  “Because you’re here now?”.  “Nope, because I just ran a couple miles hard and it was great.”  Head on out and a bit later roll into the North River station at what they call the TWOT parking lot (The Wild Oak Trail).  This is one of the busier stations and I swich out my iPod, that I started using when I was first by myself, for a fully charged one.   I fill up the Wasp and begin the long climb to the “easy” section of the course.   Later I pass Donna who says, “You’re the one that talked me into this thing.”.  Yep!  HA!

I’m feeling pretty good on the climb and eventually I’d see Karl flying down the rocky trail effortlessly.  One thing I liked about the out-n-back course is that I’d get to see people.  Much later, I saw a few more of the leaders and was just getting very tired of climbing, it’s approaching 7AM and I’m around mile 40.  Ugh, 62 more to go.  Then, I finally pop out on top and the Sun is starting to rise.

GS1 8-8

Training Run - Between Reddish and Little Bald

Shortly after that it was like magic when that first ray hit me.  I had new life and I was running hard; probably too hard.  I saw Gary and Dave hanging out at Little Bald, I grabbed a blueberry pancake and flew out of there.  (Notice, I didn’t change my shoes as planned.)  About a mile or two out from Reddish Knob it finally happened; I saw my first bear on a trail run!  Awesome!  Then, shortly after, another was crossing the fire-road in front of me.  “Hey Mr. Bear”, I yelled; it took one look and was gone.  Finally I reached the top of Reddish Knob – Stunning views!  Punch the bib, and head back down.  Now I’m on a paved road running pretty hard.  I feel every shocking step in the Blurs.  Oh my I wish I had changed shoes.

Wohoo!  There’s Todd and lots of other people cheering.  Q informed me that my Terps were already down 2 touchdowns.  Not good since the game doesn’t start for 4 more hours.  Brenda yells “Hey!”.  Up to the turn and back and there’s Todd coming up the road to inform me he locked the keys in my truck.  Woops!  No more iPod or the sunglasses.  No worries, he’ll figure it out and I head out.  Hmm, the road hills are much steeper than I thought.  So, that’s not good that I pounded down ’em.  Yeah, it did a number on the legs.  I wasn’t running very fast now.  I roll back through Little Knob and began the long descent to North River.  I had seen John a few times during the race and we do some more back-n-forth.  He informs me, “I’m tired of downhills.”  Me too!  He may not be too tired of them since he always pulls away from me on them.

Yep, Todd made it along with lots of others and had my camera.  I didn’t witness this, but here’s Horton putting the Sharpie mustache on an unsuspecting sleeper.

Horton 2

Do Not fall asleep

And, sporting a chain saw…

David Horton

David Horton - You can't be surprised at this!

66.5 miles is in the books.  Todd gives me a bag of giant cantaloupe slices and I grab a Nesquik, head out and encounter this nifty bridge.

GS2 8-8

Bouncy Bridge

I navigate some rocky single track while eating the fruit; it’s awesome!  Then head up…

GS5 8-8

Training Run - Who says it's not rocky? (TWOT)

…and up…

GS6 8-8

Training Run - (TWOT)

…around more turns…and up…

GS4 8-8

Training Run - (TWOT)

Then, I had this “doubt” moment.  Todd had asked me if I wanted my light.  No, I’ll get it at Dowells.  The math started playing tricks on me.  Maybe I wouldn’t make it there before dark.  So I took off.  I finally caught back up to John and he mentioned I found new life.  “Nope, I’m just going uphill now!”  We reached the top and I was running the downhills again.  The long climbing break helped a lot.  I rolled right through Lookout and began the 8 mile stretch to Dowells; some more climbing then down for a long time.  It was this stretch where things started getting interesting…  Why did somebody leave a fancy camoflage outdoor lounge chair out here?  Is somebody in it?  Oh, it’s a moss covered log.  Check out the crane.  They’re water birds, so why is one here?  Yeah, it’s a stick.  I should note that my ankle and knee were feeling very good much of the race.  That quickly changed as I rolled it once again and almost fell off a ledge.  I had managed to grab a small tree and had one foot near the top.  It wouldn’t have been a long death-type fall, but it may have ended the race for me.  And there were no other trees near it…  So, my wish of flying into Dowells wasn’t going to happen.  My downhill running is done for the race, I think.

Todd hooks me up with some more fruit and another Nesquik and I’m gone.  This is where it gets tough.  I “only” have 22 miles to go, but I know it’s going to take over 7 hours to do it and there goes the Sun.  Although I never had a doubt I could do the climbs.  Crawford is a long one that also teases.  You think you’re at the top and even have a nice, runnable single track section only to learn you need to go up another 1k ft or so on rocks that just make me wonder who put them there?  Part of the trail is rocks piled on rocks to create a “passable” stretch.  Click, click, click as they knock together crossing them.  I think about who was out here creating these trails and how they did it. Todd had mentioned earlier hearing there were sections that took an hour to cover 2 miles. Yep, this would be one of them.

The climb does reward you with some awesome running at the top and I was flying.  Well, at least it felt like it.  I had the iPod cranking some fast paced tunes and was having a blast.  Down, down, down the other side, slowly and there’s the aid station.  Hey everybody!  I’m in a great mood and grab the last Nesquik off to do what is probably the most evil section of the course.

The climb up to Elliot is just nasty in sections.  Again rocks piled on rocks and thinking you’re near the top and you’re not.  Then I start losing it.  Physically I’m fine climbing, but now I’m wondering if I’m going the right direction?  Was this trail even here before?  No way!  Well, I see markers.  It’s so much longer.  Maybe they sent me the wrong direction at the aid station and I’m on the wrong mountain?  I’m seeing all kind of animals and objects that turn out to be a few leaves or sticks lit up by my lights.  This is actually amusing because I know logically they aren’t there, but I see them!  Now I’m on a bunch of smoother single track just gradually going up and up.  Where in the heck is the top?  More rocks, more switchbacks, argh!  It won’t end!  Finally I pop out onto the fire road!  I was going the right way after all.   That was the last major climb.

Now to go down this awful, rocky road.  And, no running downs on shot legs any more.  This too goes forever.  There’s the turn!  Nope…there it is!  Then I see the reflector way down the hill.  This has to be the turn coming up?  Nope…finally I make the sharp right and am on some overgrown single-track.  Crap!  My handheld loses power down to almost nothing.  But Todd just changed the batteries.  This isn’t good.  So, I adjust the headlamp, which I don’t like shining down, and very slowly make my way forward to the creeks.  This is unbelievably confusing.  Which way do I go?  Where are the markers?  Somebody redid this section and is sending me the wrong way!  How am I going to get out of here?  I guess and move on.  Didn’t I just do this section?  I keep going and later I recognize I’m in the correct place.  Phew!  So, one thing Vicki told me was how helpful a pacer would be the 2nd night.  Oh my she was right!  Just somebody who wasn’t a mental wreck would’ve been nice to have around…HA!

Let’s review the race description:  Grit, endurance, temporary loss of sanity.  You might need all of these if you want to attempt Grindstone.   If you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.

How in the heck is this section taking me 5 hours?  (It didn’t.  My math was way off.)  Finally way down the grassy, rocky fire road that went on way too long I popped out at the last aid station.  This time I was freezing from going to slow because of the light.  I grabbed the jacket and some stretchy gloves.  I’m OJ and can’t get them on because my hands were now huge!  Todd hooks the light up with fresh batteries, I drop off the Wasp and grab a handheld and I’m off for the last 5+ mile stretch.

I cross the railroad tracks and here we go again…where’s the turn…this trail wasn’t here!  I’m going in circles…the wrong way!   It certainly was a lot hillier than I recall and I did a lot of climbing.  No, I didn’t imagine that part.  There are the nasty rocks and another creek crossing.  I think I’m going the right way.   Then I get near the camp and what’s evil is as soon as you see it, you head away from it.  Argh, I was just here, right?  Then I’m running around the back of camp, yeah running pretty hard and had been a lot during this section.  The gloves were in my pocket and I thought about taking the jacket off.   Some more ups, downs, twists, turns and now I really know I’m in camp.  It’s the one mile to go sign!!!  Hey, there’s another racer.  I say “hey” as I run by and just keep on running.  Finally I reach the end of the lake where we have to drop straight down a tiny hill then climb back up.  Of course I couldn’t find the climb spot at first.  Run across the field.  Run down the road and I see the finish!  Somebody yells, “Who’s that?”, and I shine the light on my number.  I hear Todd yell and get to the totem pole and hug it as we were instructed.

Finish

The Finish! eco-x Photo

Oh, I didn’t cross the finish yet?  Guess I better do that huh?  So, I do then hug the totem pole again.  Clark then gives me my first buckle and finisher’s shirt.  I’m done in a little under 33 hours.   Clark and team did a fantastic job with this race.  Thanks to him and all of the volunteers!

No need to hang around at this time of night.  I just wanted a shower and I remember Todd’s mom saying she had ham for sandwiches.  I want one!  Sitting down in my truck felt great as it’s the first time I sat since getting out of it late Friday afternoon.  Todd drove me back and as soon as I got out I was shivering uncontrollably.  Get me inside fast!   Check it out.  I’m so dirty I look like I’m wearing white socks after I take the black ones off.  No blisters, no hot spots, nothing.  Drymax socks rule!  While I showered Todd had made me 2 sandwiches and even brought them upstairs.  It was awesome having him around Saturday.  It really made a difference having someone to look forward to seeing and knowing he’d have stuff there I wanted. What a great friend!  And, he’s not even a runner.  As we runners do while on the trails, he too made friends with the other crew members.  The Ultra community is a great bunch of people.

Four hours later we got up and headed back to camp for the post race breakfast and awards ceremony.  Where’s the coffee?  I love caffeine!  But, how did I do that whole race without any?  Adrenaline of course.  It was neat seeing people and sharing stories.  Probably the best story was Kam (in the picture on top of Elliot above).  Kam missed the cutoff, but kept going anyway and finished around 9AM.  How awesome is that?  I think he came in while we were inside.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to see him, but I will soon…Mountain Masochist awaits…