I had a friend ask me once if I would sign up for a 100 mile race to which I replied quite abruptly “NO.” Little did I know, a few years down the road I would be toeing the line of that exact distance. Little did I know how badly I wanted to test my mental and physical ability. Little did I know how this would challenge me in every area of life, not just in running.
Running has never come easy for me. In fact, as a high school student, I despised it. I can remember our basketball coach driving us out into the middle of nowhere and dumping us out only to make us run back to the bus. During the ride out, most of the team was getting pumped for the run while I was seeking out short cuts through fields and timber to cut down on my distance. Plain and simple, I didn’t like to run.
After 15 years of post-high school living, I rediscovered running on “my terms,” and I actually enjoyed it. I enjoyed coming home from work and busting out a quick run on our gravel road. I liked getting lost momentarily from the daily grind and hearing the sounds of nature along with the crunch of gravel under my feet. My new found therapy gave me time to think and unwind from hectic days. It also opened the door to meeting new friends.
I met David Murphy through a mutual friend and we started running together. Our first outing took us to the world famous original Skunk Run trails. I had never run trails before but after completing my first 12 miler, I was hooked. That fall, I ran a road race in Las Vegas and had a chance to meet Scott Jurek. During our conversation, he mentioned he was going to be at Rocky Raccoon to run the 100 mile race. I told him I was planning on crewing a friend of mine there as well. Scott replied “The best way to get started running ultras is to be a crew member at one.” I thought I knew what he meant when he said that, but it wasn’t until I experienced crewing that I fully understood.
I crewed, I caught the bug, and I ran a couple of 50 mile races. I was very content with my running and happy with the distances I had covered. I was even asked on video after completing my first 50 miler if I was ready to sign up for a 100 miler. I quickly responded NO! That all changed on a Sunday night in a motel room in Texas. A few Missouri folks had made the trek to Huntsville, TX for the Rocky Raccoon. David Murphy and Jeff Jones had run the 100 and I had run the 50. As we sat around and watched the Super bowl, Jones busted in the room and said, “Wilson here is a race you have to do!” It was the Mark Twain 100. His reasoning, the belt buckle had a mustache on it. I told him he was crazy and that I would never sign up for that race or any other race over 50 miles, that was my limit. Jones went on to sign up for that race and did quite well. I found myself asking him questions about the race, like I was actually interested. I found myself talking to my wife about it, like I would actually sign up. I found myself with a growing desire to join a group of people who seem to be able to accomplish the impossible, running 100 miles. I found myself hitting the confirm button after signing up for the race.
Race weekend was a dream. The temperatures had leveled out after a few weeks of very hot and humid days. During packet pick up, sweatshirts and sock caps were a luxury. My mind was distracted from the fact I would soon be attempting a 100 mile race by trying to figure out if I brought enough warms clothes to run the entire race in. We got a motel in a nearby town and attempted to get a good night’s sleep before the race. Sleep evaded me so with little sleep, we headed out for the race. It was brisk out, somewhere in the 40’s, a welcomed change from the hot and humid weather I had trained in. I checked in at the start line and found fellow IRC members for a quick photo. Eric Trip and Derek Glos were also tackling their first 100 while Houston Wolfe and Chris Thomas were there ready to take on the 50. After a few photos and a good luck kiss from my wife, the race started. Everyone busted out, scurrying to the trail head where we all bottlenecked up and walked single file trying to get started. It didn’t take too long to get going again as the head lamps began to thin out from runners putting distance between themselves. I had the opportunity to run with Derek for awhile before he bolted off into the darkness winning first place. Congrats Derek!
The pace was slow and my plan was to complete the first 25 mile loop in 4.5 – 5 hours. I hit the aid stations and filled my bottles. I had decided on two camel back hand helds, both would be for water, but one would serve as my fuel bottle to mix Gen U Can in. My plan was to fuel with Gen U Can every hour and a half. Having the extra bottle in hand made this easy and provided an ample supply of water. Everything was great and I was able to shed my headlamp about four miles in. I wrapped it around my wrist and trudged on admiring the scenery as I went. The trail wasn’t what I was typically use to. It was single track making it difficult to pass on. You had to really pick your spots to challenge the runner ahead and be very vocal about your intent. On your left seemed to be the common statement until I reached the first aide station. After that, it got kind of lonely.
The miles clicked by and my crew refueled me along the way. Before I knew it, I was coming up on mile 20. I was due to refuel between the 20 mile aid station and camp so I figured I would do it when I saw my crew. This would be an early mistake. I got back to my crew feeling great. I changed a shirt and was in and out. One of my crew asked if I was fueling and of course I answered yes. I left without any Gen U Can and was on my way. I was too far down the trail to turn around when I realized I had forgot my fuel so I kept going. This short leg of the course was hard on me. The simple mistake of not fueling was costing me mentally. Only 28 miles in and I was tired, sluggish, wondering how in the world I would make the distance feeling this way. My mind tried to figure ways of making up and my fuel gauge was on empty. I hit the aide station and found some fuel. I ate a PB&J and some fruit, found some water and downed my Gen U Can. Mentally I felt better knowing I had fueled, but physically I was still dragging and would continue to do so for the next few miles. When I reached the aid station, I grabbed Shane, who recently completed his own 100 miler, and told him not to let me leave an aid station ever again without watching me down my Gen U Can. He would hold true to this and it kept me in good shape.
The miles clicked on and I felt great. I was looking forward to running with my pacers. Just having them there mentally was a boost. At 50 miles, I would pick up Bruce Stansberry who would run with me through a portion of the third loop. Entering in to start finish, I knew I would need a head lamp to get me through until I saw my crew again. I took a shot of Gen U Can and a couple bites of a cheeseburger and we were off. Heading down the trail it wasn’t dark yet but light was quickly fading. I followed Bruce through the switchbacks, up and down, around the country side. The first portion of the trail is pretty rocky. In fact, on the first loop, several people went down on the rocks spread throughout this portion of the course. We were scooting along, walking the hills and running the flats when I took my eyes off the trail. The next thing I knew I was crashing into some rocks face first. My headlamp hit a rock and left an imprint on my forehead. The wind was knocked out of me and my ears were ringing. When I looked up, Bruce was standing over me with my water bottles asking if I was alive. I had blood on me but wasn’t quite sure where it was coming from. He checked my head but it wasn’t the source. Turns out it was my hand, no biggie. We got up and headed on down the trail. My chest hurt, but my concern was my head. I wondered if I hit hard enough to do some damage. It turns out, my head was harder than I thought.
We cruised in the next aid station, got some band-aids and headed out. Mixing in some running with walking, “stuff” just didn’t feel 100%. My chest ached more and it seemed like I was having trouble breathing. When we met my crew, I needed to change into a long sleeve shirt. That is when it became noticeable that my head was not the issue, instead it would be my ribs. The pain was stabbing and was unlike anything I had ever experienced. My breathing was limited to short breaths due to the discomfort of breathing. Running on the trail hurt. Trying to breathe deep to get ample oxygen was painful. When I would slip or trip on the trail, the sudden jolt of me trying to keep from falling would cause my ribs to ache. I was now with Emm Foster, another 100 miler, and she was leading me through the dark pointing out roots, rocks, and gullies so I wouldn’t fall again. We walked and ran our way back to the start finish line. As the night progressed, it became harder to run. Emm walked with me, joked with me, talked about life, and asked me to sing. She was doing wonders for my mental state, but my physical state wasn’t responding. We made our way through the familiar winding trail. I saw the giant smooth rock in the trail and felt better knowing the start finish was close. The third look was complete.
I reached camp and found a chair. I need another shirt, gloves, and change of batteries. It was pretty obvious I wasn’t feeling good when I got to camp. Bruce had relayed what had happened and the concerns we were having. My crew began their assessment to see if I was good to go. While they were looking me over, David asked me if I wanted to keep going and without hesitation I said yes. I woke up that morning with the intention of running 100 miles, not 75. We needed to get out of there fast before things unraveled, before reasoning kicked in and I talked myself out of finishing. I told my wife that if I quit and went to the doctor, he would just say my ribs were broke, bruised, or cracked and send me home. I could hurt on the trail for a few more hours and go home with a buckle or go home now and hurt the same empty handed. My crew circled up and my wife April prayed for me. There is nothing quite like the prayers of your spouse.
I now had David Murphy, another 100 miler, with me. If you haven’t noticed by now, my crew was pretty experienced. Having people on my crew that have tackled that distance was a great benefit. Their experience and knowledge was exactly what I needed to help me complete my run. David and I got out on the trail and stopped for the real assessment. He quizzed me, we checked for external injuries, we checked for internal symptoms. After finding very little out of the ordinary, we decided we would go on, into the night, walking. This was the longest 25 miles of my life. Power walking through the night would take its toll. At times, the blistering pace of 20 minute miles was wreaking havoc on my chest. My shallow breathing wasn’t keeping up with my bodies need for oxygen. Before reaching my crew at the next crew accessible aid station, we discussed how I would present myself. My wife was obviously concerned and I didn’t need to worry her anymore. Even though I was in bad shape, when she asked, everything was going great, I felt great, my ribs were good. I was tired of Gen U Can and no intentions on taking it at the aid station. My wife had it mixed and ready, but I said no and she started to put it away. David knew I would need it and made me drink it. That’s why you need experience on your crew, to make the important decisions you need when you are not capable. I downed the milk shake and we were off.
We walked, David talked and I grunted. He led me through the meandering hillside. The sun rose and the headlamps were put away. Step by step, the chilly night was disappearing. Another aid station appeared and I ate some fruit. My Garmin had died somewhere in loop 3 so I relied on David for time. The entire race, I was taking Hammer Endurolytes every hour to keep me hydrated. I drank copious amounts of water along the trail and Gatorade at the aid stations. My fuel and hydration was spot on, I just couldn’t breathe. It was a long last loop and walking only made it longer. After finishing, David and I agreed we never wanted to walk 25 miles again, ever.
I found myself rounding the ledge and walking across the smooth rock. I knew we were close. When I rounded the corner, Jeff Jones and Emm Foster were standing on the trail and I was thrilled to see them. Jones was cheering, 29 hours into this race and he was cheering. Sorry to make you wait so long, but I appreciate it Jeff. With the finish line in sight, I felt relief. I was ready for it to be over. I crossed the finish line, found my crew and sat down. Beaten up, tired, and mentally drained I got my buckle.
My crew was awesome. They were experienced and all there with one goal in mind, me finishing 100 miles. Thanks Shane Naugher, Bruce Stansberry, Emm Foster, David Murphy, April Wilson, Wyatt Wilson, and Westin Wilson. Thanks to the other IRC members who stopped by just to say hi. As it turns out, after a trip to see the doctor, I found out my ribs were separated. The doctor gave me some pain pills, sent me home, and said rest. I would hate to imagine the pain I would have felt without the comfort of my new buckle.
IRC Note* Jon Wilson did indeed once claim that he would not, could not and should not ever run a 100 miler. He was very wrong on all three counts. Not only did he run a 100, he did it with relative ease despite separated ribs and he joined a very small portion of the running community that has ever completed the distance. He, like Derek Glos, is entirely too humble to tell the real story so I will. I have never witnessed a determination to finish what you started attitude of this magnitude. It was amazing and humbling to watch him push through and collect the buckle. To say that his buckle means more to me than any of my own is not an exaggeration. Job well done, Professor. We are all very proud of what you have accomplished and your leadership by example. I love this dumb little club. - David