My five year road to Leadville
I thought it would be worthwhile to sit down and write out my journey, and ultimately goal of reaching the finish line of the Leadville 100. The journey has taken me over 5 years to finally complete. At 8:35 on August 21st, 2016 my dream finally became a reality! Surrounded by friend and family I stepped across the finish line, after moving through the mountains for 28 hours and 35 minutes. My official time was 28:35:30. This is what it took me to get to that point.
I, like many others first read about the Leadville 100 in the book Born To Run. I won’t go into the details of the book, as many of you have read it, and if you haven't, I suggest you do. After reading the book I was hooked. I read magazines, searched online, and talked to as many people as I could about it. Being from small town Oklahoma, there are very few people, think none, locally who have even heard of the race. I spoke with a few people online, and got some training suggestions, but that was about it. To say I was way out of my league, and completely lost, would be an understatement! I wasn’t even an average runner. I had faked my way through a few 10k and half marathons, but that was it. I had never ran farther than 13.1 miles, ever. So why not sign up to run one of the tougher 100 mile races in the U.S. What could possibly go wrong?
I reached out to a guy named David Clark, from Colorado, on Facebook. I messaged him my resume, insert laugh, and asked if he thought someone of my skill level could finish Leadville. His simple answer was yes. If I did the work, I could finish the race. But what did the “work” look like? I believe he told me to run, a lot. Sounded good, but what was a lot? My usual weeks were in the 15 MPW range. Probably not going to cut it. So I started running. My long runs were 7 to 9 miles at most, and were taxing to say the least. Well crap, already signed up, so might as well do my best. On a side note, I have never really had a coach. I’ve never been a stellar athlete. I don’t feel like I am a gifted runner, or have the genes of a freak. Just a regular guy like so many others. I was overweight, and had been suffering from back issues.
As my training progressed, I began to have bad lower back, leg and ankle pain. I had injured my back years before, and periodically it would rear its ugly head. It got to the point, that I was limping severely all the time. I couldn’t walk straight, let alone run. I finally broke down and had an MRI. My primary doctor called, and gave me the results. Severely herniated discs at L5, S1, with a piece detached, pressing against my sciatic nerve. So what does that mean, can I run? According to him, I needed surgery. Thankfully for me, my mother had worked in the rehabilitation field, and recommended we get an appointment with a neurologist. I met with the doctor, who after an array of strength tests, and questions about my ability to pee, sent me on my way. No surgery! I asked him about running, and his advice was, run a ¼ mile, and see how you feel. Add a quarter as you can. Yeah, thats not going to work out. I went home and ran seven miles. I began stretching, and working on flexibility, and was soon back to running virtually pain free. I eventually got to the point of running 12 to 15 miles on the weekends, and averaged about 25 to 30 miles a week. Well short of where any rational human being knew they needed to be.
On the advice of a friend I signed up to run the Midnight Madness 50 miler in early July. I was terrified. I had still never run more than 15 miles at once. Let’s do a 50! What the hell am I doing here was apparently the only mantra I could come up with. No fueling strategy, my father was my crew, and I knew nobody. I somehow managed to run, walk, and stagger my way through to finish in 11:30 something. My feet were so sore, I could hardly walk on them. My legs and feet were swollen for days after, but hey, first ultra complete. Now just to run 50 more miles. In the mountains. Which Oklahoma has none of. We don’t even have hills.
So for the trip out, my father, and cousin Chris and myself, drive in on a Thursday before the race. My mother, and her husband Mike would arrive on Friday, making up my crew. None of which had any inkling as to what was about to happen. But of course, neither did I. I got checked in, weighed for medical check in, and got my bib #. On Friday, we drove to all the aide stations, so that they had some idea as to where they would be meeting me. At several different occasions I had the “oh shit” feeling of what have I gotten myself into. I have to go up there? Twice? I had literally done hill work on a ¼ mile hill about three times. That wouldn’t get me to the starting line. I was now officially scared!
Race day! Slept about 25 minutes on Friday night. The crowd was electric. Temps were cold, below freezing I believe. Everyone had a nervous shiver. Some people were pumped up, and beating their chest, some were talking with friends nervously, but excited, and I stood there alone, like a baby deer in a field of wolves. Freaked out wouldn’t even come close. I didn’t belong there, and I knew it. I had no plan. My crew had no plan. My fueling strategy wouldn’t get me through a marathon, and I had the clothing for a cool 5k at best. At 4am, Ken Chloubler fired the gun, BOOM, and we were off. Merillee was chanting “I commit, I will not quit”, over and over as the runners poured past. And just like that it began. The miles came easily at first, as we made our way down the Boulevard, and around Turquoise Lake. I was caught in the line of people who alternate between walking and running as the trail permitted, often too narrow and treacherous to pass safely. I had no business passing anyway. Shortly after the first aide station, Mayqueen, we climbed up Sugarloaf Pass, to approximately 11,100ft elevation. At the top, we began our descent of Powerline. Powerline gets its name from the high voltage power lines that run down the mountain. The voltage is high enough to hear the crackle and growl of electricity flowing through them. It is a steep dirt right of way, with deep washouts running its length. This first year I didn’t run much of it. At Fish Hatchery, which is the next aide station, I was already walking a ton. 24 miles in, and things were already unraveling. I wasn’t eating much, and had already gotten into my head. I continued on, slowly towards Twin Lakes, and the only water crossing of the course. This was a first for me. I had ever ran a race where my feet were going to get wet. Being such a newb, that really worried me. How would they dry? Would I get blisters? Is the water really cold? Its embarrassing to say now, but I honestly had those thoughts. After crossing the river, the climb up to Hope Pass began. This is the high point of the race at 12,600ft, and lies at mile 45, and 55 respectively. Holy hell its steep! I could feel my heart beating in my throat. People were lying on rocks, vomit all over the ground. What hell was this? I don’t remember reading about people puking, moaning and groaning on the ground. Is this what is going to happen to me? The higher I climbed, the harder my heart would beat, until I had to stop every 10 feet to bring my breathing out of a pant. Finally, after about 3 days of climbing, I reached Hopeless aide station. Oh look, llamas, I thought, aren't they cute. For those that may not know, they use llamas to carry the supplies to the aide station, because thats about all that can get them up there. It was at Hopeless aide station my first attempt at Leadville was over. I beat the cut off to descend into Winfield, but my will to continue was gone, and I knew I wouldn’t make the cut off in Winfield. So, after eating the best Ramen noodle/instant mashed potato soup I have ever eaten, I began the long trek down Hope Pass, to my crew waiting in Winfield at mile 50. I was defeated. I was sore. And I was hooked. I was so far away from where I needed to be, but I felt I had out performed what I ever thought I could. And I hadn’t quit. At least not outright. And I had learned a ton!
The next year, I ran several different distances from a 50k, up to 64 miles a couple different times. At a local race dubbed the Autism Run, a timed event consisting of 6 mile loops beginning every 90 minutes, I met David Murphy. I had already signed up for Leadville in 2014, and I was using this run as a training run to prepare. This was my first interaction with The Idiots Running Club, and David. I was immediately drawn to David, as I learned he had considerable knowledge of longer distance races, and had 100 miler experience. Beside the fact he was just a genuinely good guy. Whether he knew it, or not, I picked his brain throughout the day for anything he was willing to share. This brings me to a point I will dwell on a little later. Before you begin a journey such as this, surround yourself with good people! My weekly runs progressed well, until I pulled my calf muscle, sidelining me for almost a month. I trained hard after my injury healed, and made the most of my last few months. I was far and away a better runner than I was in 2012. I still had not cracked the 100 mile distance, but felt I was ready to do so.
Race day in Leadville #2! No more baby deer or wolves! I was nervous, but calm. I was chatting with people, and not staring in disbelief. I had a bigger crew this time, and pacers. Kathy Fowler whom I had met only briefly in Leadville the time before as a spectator, had graciously signed on again as crew. Little did I know how loyal she would become to my endeavors, and I now consider her one of my closest friends. Then there was Kerri. She had signed on to pace, along with a co worker Jeremy. Kerri has also become a close personal friend as well. My father and uncle played their typical chaperone duties, and mom and Mike were there as pacer and crew as well. Again, surround yourself with good people! This year there was a heavy IRC presence in the race. David was running, a guy named Jeff Jones, and his pacer Derek Glos, and others were lining up also. I could have never guessed how fortuitous this meeting would be. The race began almost identically to 2012. I started easy, and slowed from there. Powerline came and went with much more running this time, as did much of the first half. I caught Murphy at one point, and found out later, it just wasn’t his day. I won’t try to explain that for him, but many of you who really know him, know what took place. Secretly, passing him was a boost for me. He didn't know this until now, but I hope he takes it as a compliment. I knew I was passing a superior runner, and under the circumstances, I didn't care the reason. Sorry David. I climbed and descended Hope Pass without incident, and picked up my pacer Mike at Winfield, mile 50. At the trailhead leading to the trail up Hope, I asked him to grab more water. He complied, and sent me up the trail with the intention of catching me soon. BIG MISTAKE!!! After we parted, I never saw him again, until Hopeless aide station, where I had been waiting on him for several minutes. I climbed a couple thousand feet, with only a bottle of water. I had thrown up, and was done. No jacket, no headlamp, no fuel. I quit right then and there. Suddenly he came hiking over the top. He was hurting as well. We gathered what we could of my shattered will, and headed down, rejuvenated. We made Twin Lakes with minutes to spare. I changed shoes, and Kerri and I were off. Kerri leading the way, and I was following, which is what I had told her to do. I was hurting badly by this point. My knees were shot, and things were setting in badly. Lesson #2 learned from Jeff and Derek, don’t walk too much. Oops. We came into Mt Elbert aide station, mile 69 ish, where another mistake bit us. Over planning. Kerri had a card with several different times on it. Cut off times. During that section, the times got confused, and we thought, or at least I thought we missed the cut off. For quite some distance I walked slowly in the knowledge we didn’t make it. As we came in, the realization hit us that we had, in fact beat the cut off! At that point, I never regained any sense of where I was at, either in time, or position on the course. We made it to Treeline at approximately mile 71, where I quit. I literally quit. I was cold. I was hurting. And I was done. Kerri has carried that burden with her for TWO years! The self imposed burden of failing at something she had never done. Initially I blamed her also. The times were right there on the card. All 10 of them. No pressure, right? How could one get those confused at 1:30 in the morning, hiking through the mountains on no sleep? I would later revisit those moments on many occasions. And I often questioned bringing friends in on another trip. I couldn’t ask them to do the impossible, and then judge them when I failed. These people gave up time with their families to help me achieve my dream, and now they were suffering. That doesn’t make sense. I spent the next two years trying to convince Kerri that it wasn’t her fault. That I had over planned, and put too much on her. I think she has forgiven me, and honestly hope she has forgiven herself. I headed back to Oklahoma, head low in the intent of never returning to Leadville.
Fast forward to March 2015. I signed up for the Prairie Spirit 100, in Kansas. I decided it was time to run an “easier” 100 to get the monkey off my back. The training leading up went well, until I developed a stress fracture in my ankle. Two weeks out, and I wasn’t running. Happily I had my usual crew of Kathy and Kerri on board again. And this time, Jeff Jones was pacing the back 50. We had only briefly met in Leadville, so I didn’t have a lot to go on. The first 30 miles ticked by well. My ankle was sore at first, but amazingly must have gone numb by mile 15. I played leap frog with Shane Naugher, who Derek, and eventually Murphy was pacing, and went on to crush the course. Another great guy, and tremendous runner! Coming into 50 miles, I was hurting. Flat 100’s in my opinion hurt worse than the hilly/mountainous ones. At 50 miles, Jones jumped in. What ensued could best be described as a Broadway show on how to pace people! He was this animated, dancing, singing production of energy, and good vibes. My race changed immediately. Apparently Bruno Mars was the music of the day, so away we went. The things I learned on that run, I carry with me today. They are not obvious. They don’t always make sense. But if you want to be a pacing superfreak, you must know them. I wanted a meatball sandwich so bad before I even knew they had them. He convinced me to eat when all I wanted to do was puke. He made me run when I thought I couldn’t walk. We chased headlights through the night, like a game of cat and mouse. I clearly remember him saying, “there's another headlamp up there, let's go get these fu@#ers”! All I could hope for was, no more headlamps. We would start running more. Chasing other runners. As our voices got louder, you could see them turning around to see how far back we were. Eventually they would speed up, in an attempt to stay ahead. Slowly we reeled them in, one by one. I bet we passed 30 people that night. I was destroyed, but always ready to pursue the next light. That is how you motivate someone! That is how you pace! It is an art. You don’t just walk up and pace without experience. And I had asked others to do so, in one of the toughest races in the U.S.. I still feel terrible about that. I eventually finished in a time of 22:48. My first 100 mile finish. I hope my crew, and Jeff understand what that finish means to me. That was the beginning of me feeling like a runner. I felt like I belonged. I also realized I couldn’t do these things on my own. I finally had my buckle. To me the buckle symbolizes everything a 100 means. It’s the crew, the pacers, and the friends you make along the way. Its as much their achievement as it is mine.
After completing Prairie Spirit, I was still having issues with my ankle. I didn't run much for the weeks following, as I had pushed pretty hard there, and wasn’t recovering well. I decided to run a half marathon almost a month to the day after, in hopes of a PR. I signed up to run the Oklahoma City Memorial half, as my mom was walking it, and it was my first half I had run years before. I was able to eek out a 1:47 finish, which was a large PR for me, but was also quite painful with the ankle. After, I took several weeks off to hopefully let it heal. I ran mostly for fun after that. No real goals in mind, no plans to race. Until December, I believe, when I entered the Leadville 100 lottery, for just one more shot.
Eventually I heard that Jeff, and Derek were running the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February. I wanted to be a part of the race, and hoped to be a part of Jeff’s race if I was needed. I didn’t feel obliged to pay him back, but I had hoped the opportunity might arise so that I could get my own payback. I made the trip down to Texas, and basically hung out all day, watching the guys work. If you ever get the chance to do so, jump on it! Watch people, talk to people, and learn from what they do. That experience is priceless. I paced Jeff for about 27 miles of Rocky. Pacing Jeff, is like pacing your running buddy on a 5 mile jog. All I did was enjoy the run, and occasionally ask if he had eaten much, or wanted to run this, or that section. Pretty cake. At one point, Jeff remarked as to how well I ran the root covered trails at Rocky, for someone who hadn't run there previously, at which point I ate shit about three consecutive times. He then said, never mind, you suck. Jeff killed the course that night, and reset the fire inside me for sure. I now understand why most people would rate pacing higher than racing. It's a very rewarding experience.
I was notified by E-mail, that I had been selected in the lottery for Leadville. Time to really focus on the training, which over the years had evolved into a much more specific regimen than my original approach. I started hitting some bigger mile weeks, along with much more hill work, both on the treadmill, and what hills are available in our area. I focused on quality, over quantity. My bigger weeks were in the 70-80 mile range, somewhat smaller than the 100 mile weeks many use. I just feel this style training fits me better, and I really wanted to stay healthy. Something that had eluded me for the past year. I chose a fairly tough mountainous race in early May 2016. Collegiate Peaks 50 is at an average altitude of 8500 to 9600 feet elevation, with a 7000ft gain/loss per 25 mile loop. There is so-so aid, and no crew access except for the 25 mile turn. It would be a great indicator for where I was at for Leadville, and what my weaknesses were that I needed to work on. I was able to pull off an 11:36 finish time, where only half the field made the cut off. That includes the fact that most of the runners were from Colorado. Not a fast time, but I was happy with the finish after seeing what the course was made of. I needed to work on my climbing for sure, and my nutrition was borderline, but working. The next few couple months flew by, as they always do. I had done some recruiting, and was elated when I heard Jeff and Derek were going to make the trip out to pace and crew me! Kathy, Kerri, and Tifiny as always were already on board, as well as my mom, and stepfather Mike. My father, and uncle, played their usual chauffeur roles, making these races much more affordable. I could never have dreamed I could have this group of people around me, and I can’t express enough to any one of them, what their presence meant to me. Who travels 10-15 hours across the country, just to help others reach their goal, and ask nothing in return? I am indebted to them all. It was literally my dream team.
August 18th rolled around, and we were on our way to Colorado. I felt strong, and confident. My training had gone as well as I could have hoped, and above all else, I was healthy. I got checked in on that evening, and everything else was set. We spent the majority of Friday going to the expo, and mandatory pre race briefing. Kathy and Kerri had volunteered for packet pick up that morning, and I just hung out talking to racers as they checked in. I was able to finally meet many of the people I had only known through Facebook for years before. After a bit of a nightmare with hotel arrangements, I ate dinner, and settled in for the night. I did the usual sleepless night gig, which I fully expected, sleeping maybe 1-2 hours at most. 2:30 came quickly, and it was time.
The race begins at 4am. Derek and Jeff had arrived sometime during the night, and were somewhere around the start line. Tifiny had also arrived the night before, whom I had previously thought wasn’t going to be able to make it. I unfortunately ruined the surprise, which I am very good at, but it was a great surprise none the less. The gun went off, and we were on our way. Heading around Turquoise lake was the usual conga line of runners and walkers. I stayed calm, and enjoyed the easier section. I saw several heartbreaking incidents in which runners races ended quickly, reminding me just how fast things can go wrong. At Mayqueen, mile 13.5, I saw Jeff and the others, got my bottles filled and was on my way. A big focus this year was keeping aid station times to an absolute minimum. I don’t believe any of them were longer than 5 or so minutes, most in the 2-3 minute range. I made my way through the first half of the race in what I considered great time. Coming down into Twin Lakes at mile 40 though, I noticed the toes on my left foot were really taking a beating. The shoes I had chosen had gotten me through a 50 miler, but I had not run the sustained downhill like I was here. At Twin, Derek laced my shoes into a heel lock, which in hindsight, I should have done at the beginning of the race. Lesson learned. The water crossings after Twin were cold and clear. The main crossing was approximately knee deep, and felt amazing after on my legs and feet. The climb up Hope Pass was familiar, and while just as tough, I was at ease. It wasn’t new anymore. The trail was a bit more technical, as rains had exposed more rocks, and some roots, but that’s trail running. I made Hopeless aid station well before cut off, and after some Ramen soup, began my descent to Winfield, the crew, and Derek. My toes took another beating on the way down, so as I had requested they had shoes ready to go. I think I was about 1.5 hours ahead of cutoffs in Winfield, so after the shoe swap Derek and I were off. The climb was going well, but I soon noticed I was having trouble getting a deep breath. I focused on keeping calm, and breathing as deeply as possible. We passed a man who was hitting the “reset button” on his climb, or descent, and I had to focus on other things so as to stifle my own vomit. As we neared the summit, I took a gel, which I violently regurgitated all over the trail. After regaining my composure, we made our way into Hopeless for the second time. Derek pointed out many of the sheep that live up high, which was a beautiful sight. His constant company was a much needed break to the miles before. The scenery from atop Hope Pass is breathtaking. We made great time down the mountain, and as we descended, I felt better. As we approached Twin Lakes inbound, Derek was to run ahead, and get things ready for my arrival. His parting words were, “Keep pushing, and get into town; don’t be a pussy.” Pretty clear! Another quick shoe change, Jeff and I headed up the next climb out of Twin. If you haven’t noticed, there are a few climbs around the Leadville course. This was the beginning of the section that spelled my demise in 2014. I was apprehensive, and I needed to stay calm. I was struggling to breathe, and the brain worms were doing their thing. Jeff’s boyish enthusiasm, and steady conversation was just what I needed. We made good time over the next few miles, coming into each aid station with ample time to spare. I was still quietly confident, but there was so many miles left to cover, I dare not let myself believe it was in the bag. I had seen fresh people’s races end in less than 8 miles, just hours before. I was not fresh. At Treeline, Derek jumped back in, and Jeff went to get some much needed food, and rest. These guys had driven almost all night. Derek and I covered one of the more boring sections of road and trail, as quickly as I could, but my breathing was really starting to weigh on me. I didn’t want to bring it up at an aid station, for fear of being pulled from the race. At Outward Bound aid station, it was decided I would be paced by John Nobles, a friend of Derek and Jeff’s, and an excellent runner. I went with their decision, and we set out towards Powerline. I had plenty of years waiting for this moment. I had dreamed of how hard it would be. It did not disappoint! John was full of witty stories and bad jokes, all of which were very welcome, although I don’t think I had enough breath to tell him. He was an excellent pacer, and we moved well. Nearing the top of one of many false summits on Powerline, I threw up yet another gel. Between breathing hard, and being nauseous, I was struggling with calories. As I stood there, dry heaving, John grabbed my arm, and said let's keep walking. He then promptly handed me another gel. I think it only took me 15 minutes to get that one down. We descended into Mayqueen just before daylight, where I picked up Derek for the last time. 13.5 miles to go, I just needed to hold on, Derek hiked hard, pushing me to keep pace. He had done the rough math, and knew what we needed to be doing. I was red lining the entire way. He kept telling me how well I was doing, and how big of a feat I was about to accomplish, keeping me in the game for as long as he could. I really wanted to run, but when I did, it took so long to regain my breath, it felt like a losing battle. At Tabor boat ramp, and about 8 miles left to the finish, Jeff jumped in for the last time. The home stretch. The home stretch that just will not end. You would think after 90 some odd miles, 8 more would be just a breeze. That couldn’t be more wrong. It drug and drug on. Trail turned to dirt road, turned to road, and finally there it was: the finish line. Jeff said he would run ahead, and get the others ready for my arrival, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I am not a sentimental person. I do not cry, and if I do, no one else will ever see it. As I came over the hill into Leadville, I knew I had made it. As I hiked along, tears rolled down my face for the first time since my kids were born. The emotions of the past 5 years were all so very raw. The failures. The victories. All the hundreds of miles I had run. And most of all the friendships that Leadville had brought into my life all came rushing to the front. I was happy that I had finally achieved what I had set out to do so many years before. Happily I was able to regain my composure as my mom ran out to greet me. The people that had been there from the beginning, were all still there to see it happen. I was asked if I wanted everyone to run across with me, and I said I wanted to cross the line alone. I still am not sure why, but it seemed like the way I needed to finish it. Hopefully they all understand that somehow deep down. Although I don’t fully understand it myself. My official time was 28:35:30. And I finally had my buckle.
A final word on my crew. My father and my uncle have traveled hundreds of miles with me over the years. With a young family, it is financially tough to do many of these bigger races. They have made it reasonable for me to do so, besides driving me when my legs are shot. My mom and stepfather Mike, have also been there from the beginning. Providing crew, and even pacing duties in 2014.Then there is Kathy, Kerri and Tifiny. Through many training runs, and following me to Leadville and Kansas, they have been my super fans. Learning the ropes of crewing through trial and error. And supporting me at all times. You girls are the absolute best. Hands down, the best crew, and friends I could possibly ask for. And finally Derek and Jeff. These guys drove across the country to help me bring my dream to conclusion. They pushed me to get all I could out of myself, and never wavered in their goal to bring me to the finish line. You two have my utmost respect! I share this achievement with all of you. I may have run every step myself, but it takes a village to get these things done.
That is my Leadville story. A goal is just a goal, unless you finally achieve it. I never gave up hope that I would eventually get here. It took longer than expected, but remember, I had never run more than a half marathon prior to beginning this journey. I have now gone farther than a marathon more than 10 times, both in training, and races. I don’t say that to boast, but to give you an idea of the evolution that can take place if you will simply try. It’s really that easy. And I will end with my favorite quote. “I will do things today that others won’t, so that I can do things tomorrow that others can’t.”
My Vol State 500K
I was sitting home one day after calling in sick to work (not really sick though) when I was contacted by a running friend of mine asking if I wanted to run the Vol State 500k with him. My first thoughts were “are you f*****g crazy” but for some reason what I said was, “I don’t know, let me look at it some”. After reading about the race on the website and looking at a couple of race reports, I realized that he was indeed crazy and that I needed to be there to keep him from doing damage to himself (That’s my story and I’m sticking with It.) So I signed up then asked my wife if she would mind. Luckily she did not.
We had decided on a plan of running the first 30 miles then resting out the heat of the day. (From noonish until 5 or 6) then running another 40 miles during the night when it was cooler. After reaching our target miles we would rest for 2 or 3 hours then do it all again. Funny thing about plans, they don't always go as you might think, then again, sometimes they do.
The first day went pretty much as expected with the exception there was no real resting during the midday break. Within the first mile we saw our first road kill and I mentioned to my friend Jbob that we should take a photo of all of the ones we see and make a coffee table book called “the road kill of VolState 2016” with captions on what animal we thought each one might have been and where it was spotted. We didn't bother taking photos but we did count them along the way, I ended up with 176 with the majority going to the armadillo closely followed by the opossum. Tennessee is not a friendly state of either.
Day 2 was more of the same making our goals in and around the same time as day 1.
Jbob is a very good runner who is always occupied with the details. He would on occasion (several times an hour) call out the pace and mileage. I on the other hand am a run by feel kind of guy. Pace is dictated by external factors such and terrain, heat, humidity, fatigue, nutrition etc. I try to feel the effort I can sustain based on all those factors. So far it's worked for me. But I do enjoy the data as well and it gave us something to talk about. We are very different types of runners but we seem to mesh well anyway. We don't all have to do things the same way. It's the outcome that matters.
Day 3 brought some added heat early in the day and we started to slow to keep from overheating. We still got our mileage in but it took longer than the previous two days. It was during the noon day break that I really started to notice the discomfort in the legs and knees during our rests. I would lie on my back on the floor with my legs on the bed trying to keep my feet elevated but within a short period of time my knees would feel like they had been packed with hot coals. So I would take my legs down. Then my calves and or feet would start to hurt. During these long breaks I was only able to sleep about 1 ½ hours. During the shorter 3 hour breaks after the night run I was able to sleep about 1 ½ hours . No matter what I was only going to get a short nap each time. Luckily the pain in the legs would go away when I started running again.
Day 4 broke hotter than the others with no relief in sight. Early on the heat took its toll on Jbob, he was starting to slow to a walk and couldn't keep anything down, not even water. We got him to his wife/crew who was very worried about him. She got him cooled down some and he and I talked. We both know at some point we would have to part ways and run our own race, and this seemed to be the appropriate time. But here's also where I need to say something about Jbob Jones. He is the toughest man I have ever met. We had run over 200 miles together but we weren't running the same race. This man has been through more than most could imagine and still can get it done.
He has had multiple back, shoulder and knee surgeries as well as others that he hasn't talked about. And not once does he use it as an excuse. He man’s up and gets it done. He is an inspiration and I am proud to call him a friend.
I think it was about 2 pm when I made it to my crew and rolling aid station where I showered, ate and settled down for a nap. When 5 pm came around I was up and ready to get at it. If everything went as planned this would be my last night of running, but this time I would be running it alone.
The start of the night went without incident but as it got darker, the roads got more twisty and the shoulders got narrower. At one point I was coming up an incline on the inside of a curve, I was running toward traffic but in that situation the drivers of oncoming traffic couldn't see me. I saw the lights approaching and as they rounded the corner and I could see they were hugging the shoulder. I had just enough time to bail out into the ditch as the car went flying by me. I felt my left foot go through something as I landed in the ditch, I’m not sure what it was but it felt like a culvert pipe perhaps. Either way there seemed to be no damage done and after that I made it a point to cut back and forth across the street to run on the outside corners when there wasn't a sufficient shoulder to run on. The last 25 or so miles for the night had really started to wear on me (along with the previous 200+) and I was struggling to keep moving at a decent pace. I remember thinking that when I got to my crew I would stop for the night even though I hadn’t met my goal. I just couldn't keep my eyes open anymore.
Now here's where I need to say something about my crew, which consisted only of my friend Jade Oaks. I had met Jade last year while running Eastern States. She was running the Call of the Wilds Marathon, which was going on at the same time as my race. Jade noticed our teardrop camper and came over and started talking to us prior to the event. Then when she was done with her race she and her husband and brother waited for me, with my wife, while I finished mine. When I signed up screwed (unaided) for VolState, Jade was quick to jump on the “opportunity” to crew for me. She said she had never crewed before but was willing to give it a go.
So, back to me getting ready to tell Jade I was done for the night even though I was 15 miles short of our goal. She must have somehow known what I was thinking because she took control of me from the second I stopped at the truck to the time that I found myself running down the road again. It was like a whirlwind where I had no control, I was fed, watered and kicked back out the door before I could protest. At this point we were doing 5 mile segments between stops, so I could go 5 more then drop for the night…...only to find myself, pulled in and spit right back out again….. How the hell did she do that? On my last 5 for the night I was jolted awake because I had kicked something in the road. I had been sleep running! (how long I’m not sure but i doubt it was very long). What I had kicked, with my big toe no less, was what seemed to be a 3 lb magneto or coil of some sort. Needless to say I was now fully awake. I made it to my rest point for the night at around 5 am or 6 am. I still had about 35-38 miles to go to finish the race.
The Last Day
The start of the 5th day was ugly, but I was optimistic. My big toenail was ready to fall off, whatever I had done to my leg when I jumped into the ditch now was starting to hurt enough to affect my running…..and I was tired. Very tired. But this is what I had signed up for, to see what I could give when I had nothing left to give. Up to the point where Jbob and I split, we had been running in 4th and 5th. After the split I had been in 4th. But by the last morning Jbob was only 2 miles behind me. He’s one of those guys you never count out, even when he’s lying motionless on the ground. He has the ability to spring to life and run like it was day one. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't there to beat Jbob, I wasn't there to beat anyone, I just wanted to do the very best I could. And having him, or anyone else closing in on me helped give me fire. After a hard push up Monteagle, a 3 mile 17% grade, I was having a really hard time running. The pain in my left shin was extreme and running was near impossible. I power hiked for what seemed forever. Finally Jade told me I was going to have to get a move on. We iced my leg for a few minutes then I tried a slow run, it hurt like hell but I kept it up. Within a few minutes the leg went numb enough to run on. I think we did this for a 3 or 4, 3 mile cycles before I couldn't bear it any more. By then we were in Jasper, somewhere around mile 295. I told Jade I wanted to ice my leg again and that I needed to rest for a minute. I found a shade tree and lay on the ground for just a minute. I woke up with Jadelooking at me worried. She had been talking to me and I went out like a light. I wasn’t on the ground very long but I realized I better make that push to the end now while I still could.
We saw the RD (Laz) in the town of Kimball as we passed through (mile 300 ish), he told us to give him a text when I was crossing the blue bridge. We did and I told him I thought I would be done in about 2 hours. (I think I heard him laugh out loud.) I saw Laz again at about mile 308 (10k out) it had been about an hour and a half since I sent him that text. He told me any man worth his weight could do a 10k in an hour. This 10k was mostly straight up I think. It would be another 1:45 before I would see him again, this time at the rock. But I didn't care. I had finished the Vol state 500! Something I didn't know if I could do or not. I was scared as hell when I hit the submit button way back when. And here I was standing on the rock, just 4 days 14 hours and 30 minutes after starting. 4th place over all.
It's all still a blur to me but it's coming back in small bits and pieces. It was a grand adventure and one I was so blessed to share with Jbob and his wife Bonnie and the best crew money didn't buy, Jade Oakes-Hatt.
So how do you top something like that? Well, there’s always next year running it screwed, but that will have to be decided another day. For now I’ll enjoy this one.
Soggy Bottom 100 Trail Race 27-28 FEB 2016
As I crossed the start/finish line for the 5th 20 mile loop, my finishing time was 30:21:04. Not the time goal of a sub 24 hour finish I had anticipated going into this race. It’s true; I’m almost always disappointed in my running performance for a race. Someday I’ll get where I want to be…today was about finishing.
Some background on this race; it was during February which should have been quite cold, and it was advertised as 1800-2000’ of climb per 20 mile loop. But I had a couple of strikes against me as the temperature nearly touched 70 degrees during the day (I don’t care for warm/hot weather racing), and in reality the climb per loop was 4500ish’, over double the originally advertised climb. I could have dropped from the race based on the correction to elevation published 1 week before the race, but I kept thinking it was an error and it was meant to read as “total elevation” meaning climb AND descent per loop. I even emailed the RD, but it was confirmed as climb elevation. Still I doubted those numbers, so I planned on attending.
Back up the time machine a few months. Based on my last 100 mile race finish, the Mark Twain 100, I knew if I wanted to improve I needed help. I kept having injury which always seemed to prevent me from attaining my race goal time. I did some research, and decided TEAM PRS FIT offered a solid program that utilized heart rate training, and they had a specific coach for ultra-marathon training…Mr. David Murphy. I got his phone number, we talked and I decided he’d be a great fit to my training. So on the 18th of October 2015, I took my first heart rate training step. Now you’d think the first step in training would start off easy, but nooooooo! I had to do what is known as a lactate threshold (LT) test. The purpose of the test is to determine your maximum sustainable heart rate then based on that number, assign 5 HR training zones. In a nutshell, this test goes something like this; put on a compatible heart rate (HR) strap and synch it with your running watch. Do a 15 minute slow, easy warmup run immediately followed by an all-out sustainable effort (sprint) for 20 minutes straight, then a 10 minute cool-down run. This is not an easy task. As it turns out, my max HR ended up being 182. Based on that number, my primary training zone is zone 2 meaning I did the bulk of my training based on HR from 152-162. For the entire 18 week training cycle this number was always work for me to reach; but I was running harder and faster than I had ever training previously. I think most folks initially end up slowing down for HR based training, but because of the strong aerobic base I already possessed, it meant for me getting leg strength caught up to aerobic capacity. I’m still not there yet.
In short, my average training mile time went from my old typical 8:40ish minute per mile to right around 8:00 flat. I trained a total of 1086 miles for a total of 173 hours and 20 minutes of running time. I had right at 81,700’ of climb during training and burned 131,753 calories…all while maintaining an average HR of 151.
The race started at 6:00 in the morning. My crew/pacer Team of Ryan Ploeckelman, Travis Esterby and Patrick Greene accompanied me to the start line. Only 9 of the 12 that signed up for the 100 mile race showed up with temperatures right at the freezing mark. The first thing I thought while scoping out the other runners was “why are they wearing so many clothes”. I knew within a half mile or less I’d be plenty warm. We got the “On your mark, get set, go” from the race director just a few seconds after 6. Within a quarter mile all 9 of us had taken a wrong turn up a steep hill. What looked like adequate markings on my recon the day prior was not so good during the hours of darkness. We all figured it out pretty quick, but what a way to start a race. The loop is advertised at 20 miles, but in reality it was more like 18ish. Save for about a 1.75 mile section, it was constant up and down, with the last 4-5 miles of the loop being hell containing extremely steep hills and nearly half of one loops worth of elevation. I made it through the first loop in 3:58:50, slightly ahead of pace for a desired sub-24 hour finish.
Lap number 2 went fairly well, but I had already slowed due to terrain. It was starting to warm up now, and by the 3rd loop it would be near 70 degrees…in February! I think it was this loop or the next that my crew switched me over from a handheld water bottle to my vest which freed up my hands for using a set of trekking poles Travis let me use. As it turns out, those poles are what allowed me to finish this race. Without them, I seriously doubt I could have completed simply due to the steepness of the terrain, aka “vertical switchbacks” which seemingly never ended. The steepness of the up and downhills got steeper! I finished the second loop in5:02:27, about an hour slower than the first loop. It was going to be a long day, and night and another day.
I picked up my first pacer Ryan at the start/finish line to begin the 3rd loop. He was in good spirits and ready to rock. I on the other hand had begun to experience stomach issues. It was kind of queasy feeling. I’d been having a hard time with eating…as in I couldn’t really ever find anything to my liking at the aid stations…all they seemed to have was saltine crackers, animal crackers, potato chips, pretzels and M&Ms. I was looking for real food like boiled potato, soup, grilled cheese, burrito, etc. The food I was eating coupled with UCAN (a slow release and protein drink) was not setting well at all, and consequently I got behind on my nutrition and caloric intake required to maintain any kind of decent pace. Ryan kept pushing me despite my whining. At some point I could see Jeff Jones (the eventual winner for this event) and his pacer Derek Glos; they were about ½ mile away as the crow flies, but in reality about 4-5 miles ahead of me as the course goes. I let out a big “Wooooooo”, and they responded back with another big “Woooooo”. The miles and terrain were starting to hurt now as I pressed on. We rolled in completing the 3rd loop in 5:56:47…about 2 hours longer than it had taken on my first loop. It was also dark now. Funny incident on this loop as Ryan was dive-bombed by a pissed off owl, and then coming across an opossum who didn’t quite know what to make of us. It scurried up a tree and hissed at us as we passed by it. Thank you Ryan for getting me through that loop; a pacer really wants to run and ‘pace’ you, but this was more of a power hiking event with a touch of running mixed in.
As Ryan and I rolled in at the start/finish area, Travis was up next for pacing duty. I chugged down another bottle of UCAN, and my stomach was still not cooperating very well. I whined about drinking it, but Travis shut me down pretty quick and said “if you’re keeping it down, keep drinking”. Travis was just what I needed for this loop. He is an active duty soldier, I am a retired soldier. Based on his actions alone, I knew what to do…not much talking during the loop other than his occasional “keep pushing, good job, etc.”…these words kept me going. He would take off running without saying a word, and I took off running as well. He knew just how far to push me at this stage, and he kept me running for as much as he could. But I was running out of gas even using the trekking poles he had lent to me. We soon got passed by Rebecca Johannsen, the eventual 2nd place winner, and the only women to complete this 100 mile event. I kept up for a short while, but her pace was too much for me to maintain. It was painful to watch the distance between our headlamps increase, as I had not been passed all day long up until now. Travis got me through the loop though…thank you. This loop was even slower at 6:59:44, a full 3 hours slower than my first loop. I see a trend here…
I should note that about the middle point of each loop (11ish miles around each time) I was met by my crew who weren’t pacing me at the time. This point is where they always forced me to drink another 20oz of UCAN, replenish my Gels to eat, check on clothing I needed, etc. Great job guys.
Next up for pacing duties was Patrick. This would be the last loop to complete 100 miles. He was ready to go as Travis and I arrived at the start/finish line area. It was colder now, and just standing still for a couple minutes chilled me to the bone. I drank yet another UCAN, whined some…and took off walking with Patrick. I would venture to say 90% of this last loop was spent hiking. I was not injured, but the amount of climb had taken its toll and I had just enough strength to walk up and down hills. Breathing became extremely labored, I didn’t want to eat or drink…but Patrick kept me straight by feeding me small portions of whatever he had the entire 20 mile loop. I knew I would finish, but just wanted this to be over. I had a few miles of negative thoughts that I verbalized to Patrick, but he was not having any of it! A good pacer may not be able to make you run any faster, or run at all, but the positive energy can be a lifesaver towards completing a race. We saw the sun rise, and I went through that last horrible 5 mile section a final time. As we got back up on top of the ridge near the start/finish line, we only had about 1.5 miles to go. I was greeted by my Team of Travis and Ryan who along with Patrick ran that final mile with me to the finish line. It was hard for me to run at that point, so I’d say something like “when we get to that dirt road coming up in 100’, make me run to x location”. I did this several times and made that final turn towards the finish line. It was over. I crossed in 30:21:04, nowhere near my goal, but I finished proudly for a race that was well above my capabilities given the terrain and technicality. Had I known more detail about the course condition and elevation in advance, I probably would not have even entered this race. Or at a minimum, my training would have been much different to account for the type of race this was. I got a 2nd place male finishers award, but no buckle…yet. The Race Director explained there was a manufacturing error with the finisher’s buckles, and once that was corrected they would be mailed out. Good enough. Everyone was just staring at me at the finish line…I think the small crowd at the finish line was just amazed a guy 10 days from being 59 years old could finish this event. The rumor from the local running store in Springfield was that no one could finish this race!
My Coach David Murphy put together an awesome training plan based on time I had available to get ready, but neither he nor I had much insight over what the actual course and conditions would be like…it was the first year for this event. My first real clue was when all the ‘local’ runners decided to run the 40 miler. They knew the deal! Of course the one local Idiot that ran it was Jeff Jones, but he’s just an idiot coming off a 100 miler only 3 weeks prior. Thanks Coach for coming out and helping where and when you could.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some folks and running communities. Thanks to The Runners Hub for getting me supplies when I needed them. Thanks to my local running clubs/community/families Middle Tennessee Trail Runners (MTTR), Clarksville Running Club (CRC), Team Red White and Blue (RWB), Tennessee Endurance Athletes (TEA), Team Swagger, Team PRS FIT…the list goes on and on. All the input I read about as well as interaction with these groups is what gets you to the finish line…not me. You may cross that finish line by yourself, but I challenge anyone to say they did it on their own.
I got back to my hotel and showered the funk off, followed by a bath of Epsom salts. As I sat in the tub a thought occurred to me, can I get up out of this tub? I didn’t even care at that point. Eventually I somehow managed to get out, went to McDonalds for something quick and warm, then promptly got in bed and slept for 14 hours. I made the 6 hour drive back home on Monday the 29th of February, already thinking of what race I wanted to do next as once again I was not content with my performance. Someday I’ll get it right.
Looking at my reflection as I kneeled at the river crossing splashing the, cold, February river water all over my face and head just after evacuating the contents of my already panging stomach, I was asking myself why the hell do you do this??? This is fricking Idiocy…..
Three weeks after running my best 100 ever, I was on a high. Running has helped me cope with some things but it has also been a burden. Like a manic depressant sometimes coming off of a 100 miler I battle depression. Sometimes I am on top of the world. Coming off of Rocky Raccoon 100 I couldn’t be stopped. So I went straight in to Soggy Bottom 100….
There were many opportunities available to get a free preview of Soggy Bottom to local runners. I didn’t take that opportunity due to the fact that I was much too busy and that I didn’t really want to know what was coming. I had heard that this was a legit course, but I had run several tough courses in the area before (Mark Twain & OT 100) so I can handle this right?
The Soggy Bottom 100 began at 6am. Just a few of us joking and laughing. Just a handful gathered in a barn just south of the parking lot. Some may think this insignificant, but this was a very interesting proposition. As a new 100 miler being offered not many wanted to experiment. 100 milers are tough. The unknown can be frightening. An inaugural 100 miler is quite a challenge and the little I knew about Soggy Bottom, I knew this would not disappoint.
Through the first 8 miles all of the 100 milers stayed pretty close to one another. As with most 100 milers the pace is slow. A lot of people talked about previous 100 milers, finishing times, and trials and tribulations they faced along the way. One thing that was different (for me) on this race was I have had this conversation several times and this time I had a resume…. I was becoming the veteran. This was quite unusual to me. Normally I am fascinated with the stories of this race and that. This time I felt like the real deal. We wound ourselves around some corners and up some hills nothing too unusual for the first several miles… until about mile 6. This was the first time we hit the loop where the Lane family was providing support. This aid station split up a .8 mile loop that went straight up and then straight down. I really don’t know how to describe this but one half mile straight up and slightly less straight down. To the point that everyone I saw was walking downhill. You know the Hills are big when you walk down them.
The trail continued briefly along a creek bottom and then up another hill before entering –what I will refer to as the Cribbs’ Loop, as Heather Cribbs was manning the aid station at Mile 11/14ish of the 20 mile loop. There were a few intimidating hills along the loop but the last hill at miile 13…DAMNNN>
It took a bit of a hike but I had it in the bag, but as for all looped 100s you have to remember at this point you have to do this 4 more times.
The race didn’t get any easier from here… The trail seemed to go from bottom to top of the hill over and over.. I joked that some jack ass got the switchbacks wrong and went up and down instead of back and forth. This course did not disappoint.
Sadly finishing off the 1st loop I had heard rumors that I had cut the course. Unfortunately the course was not marked very well early on. The group of 100 milers wandered off course several times just in the first few miles… I was a little angry and didn’t know really how to take this… I was told 3 of us had cut the course in the first 5 miles and that we would have to make it up. I spoke with CJ of Act Now racing, the timing company putting it on, briefly on my way through the start/finish about the discrepancy and they jumped all over it. After some investigation all 100 milers were on the same course 3 re-layers were off by a little. But CJ jumped on it quick and the course was fixed and marked amazingly.
After a few kinks were worked out on the first loop we headed into the second. The second loop is typically an irrelevant loop in most looped 100 milers that I have ran. But this one was a bit different. I began feeling fatigue….Not the normal fatigue that you feel on mile 70 of a 100 miler. A new fatigue…This was going to be a battle. I went up hills and down hills through valleys but worst of all across fields on top of the hills. This is where the sun and heat began to get to me. Although it was a very nice day in retrospect, for a February run it was just straight up HOT. I started feeling the sun beat down and it really began to get to me.
If I had one negative thing to say about the race (let’s be honest this was an inaugural event) it was the aid stations….NOT THE VOLUNTEERS….the food inventory. It was a little lacking. Mathematically speaking you burn about 100 calories per mile running, on average. You multiply that by 100 miles and BOOM 10,000 calories…IKR? Unfortunately the aid station fair was mostly pretzels, animal crackers, and saltines. So by mile 35 things started going SOUTH!
Just feet from the mile 40 loop I started puking. (Just a little). At the time it seemed catastrophic, but it was just a little. But I was done. I WAS DONE. My son was going to be here and I was going to explain to him why daddy quit. “Son, just like you learn in Cub Scouts -you do your best….Daddy did his best and the day was just too hard…” I was heartbroken. I would not be my sons hero, I would just quit…. Things were bad and I was sick… Derek Glos came up to greet me and ask what I needed and I told him that was it I’m pulling the plug… Derek laughed and said “Shut up, quit being a pussy, and go finish the loop (a section of field a little over a mile that you circle before the finish) we’ll get your shit together and we’ll get this done.
Of course I’m paraphrasing, I’m not 100% sure what Derek said to me but I am sure it contained shit and pussy at least. But at this moment all I know is that he got me out on the third loop, and that is what mattered. (I was in strict violation of rule #6) but I was also in a place I had never been, on a hundred while recovering from a 100. Much of this race, so far, I had spent running against another young kid Ian Kallay from Ohio. Ian was a very fast runner and was tough… He would run ahead of me and I would run ahead of him throughout the majority of the run. He was new to 100 milers and he was pretty cool. But I think on this race he saw things he never thought he would see on races. The first being a man on his knees bathing in a stream…..
I was feeling unusually sick 5 miles into the third loop when Glos looked at me and said, “Dude you are working way too hard.” I must have looked like ass. “We have to get you cooled down” Glos said.. Dude get into that stream… And I knew that was a great idea… The new guy laughed at us as I was on my knees at the creek crossing splashing my head with cold water, but these are very pivotal points in the journey that may make or break the race…I am not sure where I stood at that point but it felt great. Just a few short miles later I was projectile vomiting in the woods laughing as I asked Derek if he was seeing this…I have never puked on a run before. Oh I have been close, but I have never puked.
The third loop ended in the dark, and I felt terrible. I had puked up all of the calories I had, and then some, and most of the liquid. Luckily my awesome wife, Stefani; David Murphy, Kris Bossart and other OMRR (Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners) members, came through and hooked me up with a fantastic dinner of left over beans and pulled pork and mixed fruit….This made me a new man! The fruit my wife brought back saved me as much as Derek getting me to step off on loop 3!
Loop 4 was just another loop. I was feeling better and knocking out miles as fast as you could on this type of course anyway. Derek was going to pace me 10 more miles and then I was going to meet up with Mr. David Murphy for the remainder of the race. I honestly was dreading running with Murphy because I had been through hell and back, covered in river water and puke, but I know that when Murphy comes out it is all business, but not tonight…. We are a serious bunch. Most people would describe us as crazy, invincible or immortal, but when it comes to our families nothing is more important, and tonight Murphy’s girl, the IRC princess, was running a fever and Harper needed Dad…. Murphy had to go be another type of hero…. I know he hated leaving, but we both know there are more important things than Ultras, and as I was coming in on the mile 80 loop I saw Murphy’s truck pulling out of Soggy Bottom knowing his head was in the right place.
Derek was back. Derek and I have been to a lot of good and BAD places together…We have punished the shit out of each other in the name of running. Derek coming back out was quite the relief. I knew Murphy had a lot on his mind, and tonight it was somewhere else. Derek coming back out was comforting. We stepped out on loop 5 discussing the other runners and the advantage we had at night because we have been there before….but something just didn’t feel right, and not just for me. We cruised through 3 miles, and I was trying to keep ahead of nutrition. I had already been in a bad place that day and I didn’t want to go back. I noticed Derek wasn’t eating either, and that was just strange.
I started to do the math in my head and realized that Derek had been pacing me for at least 35 miles and probably 10 hours…Derek had just finished one of the more remarkable races anyone in this area had ever completed. As much as Derek may kill me for writing this I knew something wasn’t right, and I was being a selfish DICK. Derek refused to eat because it was killing his stomach… Have you ever had a friend that refused to eat because he knew it would make it more difficult to run and pace you? Yeah I know. Derek was having pancreas issues and refusing to eat so he could keep running with me. That will work for a few miles but not 15, especially after having just run a 50k…It was time…I was kind of worried. I am leading this race and my pacer needs to duck out. Derek hated it, but we both knew that it didn’t make sense…Derek is not a quitter, the dude is a beast and no words can explain how he helped me on this race but this was a moment…. A time…where it just didn’t make sense for him to continue pacing.
So he sidestepped in to the 5 mile aid station on loop5, and I was in uncharted territory. At first it was a bit strange. I was in the woods, in the middle of the night, by myself, and my headlamp was dimming. Ultimately I will chalk this up to fate. I had wanted to test myself without a pacer for a while and I got my wish at the worst possible time. As Ultra marathoners we question ourselves regularly. We run a 100 to see if we can. We run another to see if the first was a fluke. We meet adversity head on and push through, that is the point of what we do….At the Soggy Bottom 100, I met adversity, from puking on myself to bathing in a river, to pushing through 15 miles in the early hours of Sunday morning without a pacer.. As I say over and over…anyone can have a good race from time to time but it is the tough races that make the best stories…
I finished Soggy Bottom 100 early that next morning; proud that I had pushed, thankful that my friends had helped, and happy that my family had seen me finish, especially my son who had never had the opportunity to be a part of a 100 mile finish. It was like many others in a way; you always learn things about yourself. But like many others, this one will be special too.
Rocky Raccoon 100 2016….A look back! Fair warning…this is looonngg!!!
Well guess I’ll start at with this. Despite being as ready as I have ever been for a race of this magnitude…RR100 2016 was sadly a DNF at Mile 72.5…AGAIN!!!! OK Now I’ll start from the beginning.
A little history. I attempted Rocky Raccoon 100 a few years ago back in 2013. I had a pretty rough training cycle, lots of injuries, stress due to husband's job loss and in general everything felt very forced and my focus was lacking. At Rocky 2013 I DNF’d at Mile 72.5 due to two reasons: One I foolishly took a caffeine pill to stay awake and that totally messed up my heart rate causing it to race crazy high to where I could not run without gasping for breath, so I had to slow down to a shuffle. Two I was totally unprepared for cold that hit my body and since I could not move fast enough to keep warm I went into early stages of hypothermia. I was shivering uncontrollably, was stumbling everywhere and in general a total mess. Essentially since I could never get warmed up…it was deemed unsafe for me to continue at the Damn….DamNation aid station!!!
Fast forward to Spring 2015. I was finally starting to get that itch to take on something big again! After few years of good and bad races…I decided to take look at different training approach and talk to someone who would help me get there ready! A couple of messages with the one and only Swaggerific David Murphy and a phone call later, it was pretty clear to me that he was right person to guide me and mentor me on this journey! Training officially started with David on June 2015. I gave myself plenty of time to get used to the HR training method and not crash course the training like I did the last time around. David was very clear about the fact that I’d be running lots of miles and miles on tired legs to get me to race day prepared! There were few small hiccups with injuries, but we worked through them and for once I felt like I was training smart! The last month of training was a heavy month. 30, 35, 40, 50 mile training runs and more miles on a treadmill that I ever thought I could bear to do!! But I got them done and recovery in between runs were going great so confidence heading into Race week was high!!
Thursday morning we left for Huntsville, Texas. Multiple potty stops, inappropriate jokes, laughs and 12hrs later we arrived at the hotel. Dinner done and we all crashed. Since sleep is going to be hard to come by the next few days, we all slept in. Nothing like a solid 9hrs of sleep to feel refreshed and ready!
Friday was really when I started feeling the race butterflies. We headed over the park and was able to get the crew spot set up early which meant prime spot for the KC Chiefs tent ☺ that got some serious photo time because of where it was. Yep my tent got a picture with Ian Sharman ☺ Finished up getting my drop bag and crew prep done, last minute items at Walmart and lunch at the Farmhouse Café…and yes I had Pie…AND I may or may not have pre-ordered a pie to take back with me….and then headed to Packet pickup and trail brief! It was about to get very REAL!!!!
Met David and chatted as he checked up on me to make sure things were good. I introduced him to the hubs and crew. Also met Derek Glos and his crew which was nice! It was truly dawning on me what I was about to undertake! We all found out course change now mean DamNation was a mile longer and that there was a rock filled section as you headed into and out of it…that was a little curveball… but at this point it was what it was! I was worried that I would have flashback of the race 3 years ago…but oddly enough it never entered my mind! We headed out after things wrapped up and went back to the hotel, got the car packed up for the next day leaving only last minute stuff for the morning, then headed to Pita Pit for dinner and off bed.
I slept soundly which is always nice the night before the race. Woke up to my 3am alarm and thunderstorms. This was good as RD mentioned a little rain would help take the dust out of the course. We headed into the park around 4.30am so got a good spot. I rested and gathered my thoughts, ate breakfast of banana, bagel with almond butter and 30mins prior to start downed my Vanilla UCAN and then hit the customary pre-race potty to make sure I was ready to go!
We all gathered around the start line…temps were pretty perfect and was what I like to run in. A hug from my pacers and a long hug and kiss from the hubby and went to the start. I stood at the start line just staying within myself! I felt calm and collected and oddly not nervous at all! Deep in my heart and in my head I knew this was MINE! I felt the good vibes of all the folks that had wished me luck and I carried that as we hit the timing mat and started! I had no music as I don’t use it anymore for longer runs and simply listened to the runners hooting and hollering around me and random conversations. Slowly and steadily we moved forward in the conga line for little while. I watched my footing as I knew the first few miles were pretty rooty. I absolutely Love early morning runs in the woods. There is such peace out there and I had this overwhelming sense of “Ahhhhness” that I am able to do this out here! There was no need to go out fast and get caught up in the adrenalin of the group. I had a plan outlined and I knew that would get to me to where I needed to be!
The minute the watch beeped at Mile 1…I had 99 bottles of beer on the wall pop into my head. When I saw David at the first aid station I told him that…and yes that is now on video forever ☺ I chatted with some folks off and on and then we turned into the Oh so Lovely jeep road that was now packed with stones to head up to DamNation. Water refilled, S!Caps and then grab and go…I was moving well. I knew this was the section that would be the grinder. While Rocky is touted as a ‘Flat’ course, it does gain some elevation through this section and as the days goes by these inclines just start growing…AS do the roots! I chatted with a lady from Hawaii and she was amazed at the fact that so many folks were in shorts that morning. We exchanged some stories about weather and she went on her way. I wanted to make sure I was running my race and not getting caught up in someone else’s race. I crossed the timing mat around the mid part of the loop and then was happy to be heading back to the aid station. Sun was up and things were going well. Got back the aid station quick refill of water, another food grab and off we go! More rocks as we head towards the next aid station…yep…these got old later on for sure! But for now they were manageable! Park road aid station, a quick potty stop and then made my way back to the start/finish at Dogwood. I had forgotten about the switchback section headed back in so while you know it’s so close the Dogwood aid station takes longer that you think it does. A few road crossing and then boom…20 miles done! Plan was finish in 5…rolled through is a little under 4:45 for first 20. Right on target…so far so good!
Tony and Lynette were there as got me situated. I changed my shirt as I knew I would get warm. Grabbed my cap, more water, a couple of turkey sandwiches, checked in with David real quick and went on my way. With so many aid stations keeping them short as possible is critical. I slowed down and walked at the start to get some of the sandwich in and make sure I was hydrated and got in more S!Caps. While the temps only topped out at only around 60F, I warm up pretty quickly and I knew this would be the case on the back end of this loop. I was done eating PB&J anything by this time, so I would just simply grab whatever else looked good each time I hit an aid station. I typically don’t know what I want until something looks good and this had worked well so far so I kept doing that. I stopped to potty at Nature Center and realized pee was not the right color so started drinking a little more to catch up on my hydration. Yep…much better!!
And then we’re back those damn stones again! I did have several people comment on my power walk up this section which made me feel pretty good. I didn’t really practice on hills much this time around but I was glad I could still haul my butt up these sections. More water refills, more snacks and back into the 7mi loop! By this time the small muddy section were softening up and I was very happy with my shoe choice in the Altra Lone Peak 2.5. I felt no slipping at all which was great!! I just kept chugging along this loop. Around 4 miles in the Garmin just stalled on the distance. The time was still running but distance was stuck. I wasn’t too worried since the time was going. I did catch up to Bobby from Austin after the timing mat. We pretty much finished up the second loop together and it was really great to have company for a while. Turns out he knew folks from KC as his band would come to town to play! The world is such a small place when it comes down to it! We just chatted about all sorts of things…funny how 10miles out on a trail can make you the bestest of new friends ☺
Somewhere in last few miles my right foot landed on one the stubby roots that stick out from the ground. That hurt like crazy and I was really hoping I hadn’t done anything crazy! It was tender for a bit but I think I forgot about it until I mentioned it David and the hubs once I got back in to Dogwood. Loop two was done in 5:15. 40 miles done around 10hrs! I just went back and looked at my 40 mi training run which was indoors…on treadmill. That was done is 9hr 42mins…see treadmill training does translate pretty well onto the trail even ☺ Still on track as I wanted to finish up 60 miles around 15-16hrs. Changed into a long sleeve shirt as it would get cooler, grabbed headlamp and flashlight and downed some UCAN and went on my way!
My goal was at least get to DamNation before it got dark. I was pretty happy when that happened. I grabbed my jacket from the drop bag as it was getting colder by the minute. Refilled my water, grabbed some quesadillas and headed out. Around the time I was getting close to the timing mat I needed the jacket and light. And just like that it was went from little light on the trail to no light at all and were all just specs of light! My power walk was still pretty good and I was able to move well. I could tell my foot was a little tender. Somewhere in here I managed to get my foot caught on a long skinny root that about took a nice tumble. Although I didn’t fall all of the sudden my right foot felt weird. I shook it off and kept moving. Came back into DamNation, grabbed water and food and kept moving. The foot was feeling off and all of a sudden I was kicking every rock and rolling it on every other step. There was so much cussing here! Freaking rocks!!! Might as well be boulders as this point! But over 50 miles down I was still moving and I was good with that, but the foot was definitely hurting by now. Some broth and water at Park road and I headed back towards Dogwood. Those bridges suddenly seem taller on my way back…weird!! I rolled into Dogwood, checked through the mat and headed towards crew. That loop took 5:50ish and total time was a little over 16hrs so it was still close to where I wanted to be after 3 loops.
As I sat down to drink some hot cocoa and change, my foot was definitely letting me know something was up! It was throbbing! We cleaned my feet…no blisters AT ALL! Woohoo…but the top of my right foot was hot and bright red and there was some swelling. Hubby cleaned up my feet, re-lubed and new socks were in. Each movement of the foot hurt like a bitch!! I was also getting really, really cold! The temps were steadily dropping and went down to around 30F overnight. I was whimpering a little and I knew this was a critical point. David and I had talked about this…and I knew I had to change into warm clothes and get out into the dark. I knew this was coming and was mostly ready! I was being a bit of a baby here and Hubby was being gentle and firm. He told me exactly what I needed to hear! He told me that I have this and that I’m ready and to get out there kick some butt! Between the three of them they got me completely changed from head to toe. New headlamp, flashlight, two layers at the bottoms, three on top, gloves, and I was ready to get back out there. Lynette jumped in with me and we slowly got back out there while drinking more chicken broth!
This was where things started to slip away! Lynette was the perfect pacer for this loop. I’ve known her for about 2.5yrs now and we bunked together during our Pikes Peak adventure and we always have so much fun! We can talk about anything under the sun and go back and forth between serious and completely stupid. She kept me moving and walking…albeit slowly since every step hurt! I kept apologizing for being so slow and she just kept letting me know that it was ok and to move! There was at least twice where I got a little nauseous with pain…but we kept moving! We grabbed some more broth and a quesadilla from Nature Center and headed toward DamNation! The rock lined road headed toward DamNation made me want to throw up in pain.
Once I got to DamNation we stopped and had them take a look at my feet. The right foot was definitely swollen more than the left at this point. They loosened my laces and retied them differently to hopefully ease some pressure. The lady at the aid station also put some KT tape on my foot in an effort to help things out. They were convinced it was tight shoe laces…but I know my body and this was not that! We grabbed some Ramen noodles, refilled my water and headed into the loop. It was ridiculously slow going in here as I was reduced to practically a crawl! I had flashbacks of the 2013 race and was feeling that finish line slipping away. I was trying desperately to fight it! It took me 4:22 to go 8.5miles and hit the timing mat around halfway of DamNation. Once we made our way back to DamNation I JUST could not bear it anymore. Given the pain I was in and how slowly I was moving I knew this may be it! I told Lynette that I’d get back to the aid station and see how things were. We got there and after a time check and realizing that I had about a little over 2.5hrs (I think) to go 8miles…I realized with the pain and slowness this was not going to happen. Part of me desperately wanted to at least get to Park Road so I wouldn’t DNF at the same freaking Aid station I did 3yrs ago…but I knew my foot was not going to handle the rock filled road down to the next one!
After a very long deep breathe I made the call! I called the Hubs and talked to him and then also made the call to David and let him know as well. I was so mad, angry and sad and was fighting back tears at this point! Some craziness at the aid station distracted me for a few mins… but at this point we were just waiting for the truck to take us back to the start/finish! I basically just huddled into the blanket they gave me and tried to hold back the tears! Once I got to start line I was checked by the race medic and once released we headed to the local ER to get checked as well. Luckily no break…so that was good!
Post race thoughts….
It took me over a week after the race to write this very, very long report! I had my doc checkup and diagnosis is a Lisfranc ligament strain. Doc said that he was glad I stopped when I did as going further may have led to a rupture of the ligament or joint which would have meant surgery! Right now its 3-5 weeks with no running or until I can do toe raises on that foot without pain and then I can work my way back up! As much as sucked to stop…I am glad I listened to my body and stopped when I did. I actually just got done chatting with my brother who lives in Australia. Right before the race he and my sister in law found out her dad had cancer. Over two weeks the docs are still trying to work up a diagnosis while he steadily deteriorates! My bum foot is a very small thing compared to what he’s dealing with! Life is funny! I was feeling so incredibly defeated, disappointed and sad because I DNF’d and while I’m not discounting any of those feelings, Life gave me a reality check! I’m incredibly lucky to be strong enough to even try something like this…even if I didn’t finish, I was able to train and start it! There are so many folks out there that would give anything to just start a race…not a 100 miler, not a 50…but a 5k…just to run a mile, run a few yards and I need to always remember that when I feel down on myself!
This race and training cycle showed me that I am stronger and tougher than I think I am! Setbacks happen, but adapting and moving forward is what makes me strong! This past week also showed me who my true friends are and who I can really count on! Hard lesson learned, but always good to know! I have no time or need for fake friendships in my life! Life is too short to be wasted on that!
I’m so thankful for the incredible support system I have around me! I’m so Thankful for the army of fabulous Idiots in this group and teammates that I have never even met for so much love, support and encouragement always!!! So incredibly thankful for true friends that stick by me through all my challenges! Extremely thankful for Coach David who challenged me and brought me to the starting line stronger and more ready that I have ever felt for any race! Never would have gotten to the start without his mentoring! For a family who supports me even while thinking I’m totally insane for doing these things…and first, last and everything in between always and forever Thankful for my hubby and my fur baby who love me and are proud of me even if I don’t ever run a single race!
“I am not failed, my Success is just Postponed”
You saw the video but….
Rocky Raccoon holds a special place in my heart, as it does for a lot of us in the Idiots Running Club. This was my third time running Rocky. 2013 was my first year, and first ever 100, I made several Rookie mistakes including racing a veteran ultra runner for 40 miles, not eating well, and running the course completely wrong. The second year I showed up and came down with a terrible chest cold. To say that I have been unlucky at Rocky is a bit of an understatement. I skipped 2015 out of spite, and well… because I didn’t think I could run the Damnation Loop section of the course one more time and keep my sanity. But 2016 was going to be different.
Although my training has suffered since I had taken my new job a little over a year ago, Derek Glos was able at least keep me accountable for my 3 most important runs. The rest I was able get in, between meetings and lunches with clients; but the truth is the flame was burning dim. Running had taken a back burner in my life and I spent 2015 on a roller coaster of mediocracy. I still liked running, but the love was mostly gone, and to be honest I was looking at running Rocky one last time before throwing in the towel on Ultra Marathoning. (BUT) Glos drug me out on a rough 30 miler. Then coerced me out on a, not too awful, 40 mile training run. Finally, he got me out on a mildly enjoyable 50 miler, each training run clicking just a little better than the one before.
The trip down to Huntsville, Texas was hell, 3 traffic jams and a couple of hours behind schedule left me showing up at the park well after the pre-race briefing, where everyone found out that they added an extra mile to the Dreadful Damnation loop. I had just enough time to pick up my packet and check my drop bag. After a brief moment setting up our canopy tent at the start finish, we were off to get some food and call it a night. By the way if you ever get an opportunity to hit up the Farm House Café in Huntsville Texas DO IT!!!! It was fricking rad and you need to get some fried pickles.
Since the majority of the people who will be reading this have access to the 2016 Rocky Raccoon IRC video on David Murphy’s YouTube page, I will spare you the fun and games. If you have not watched the video then it is a great supplement to this race report and you can watch the full 50 minutes here…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xMjy2qG0EU
Honestly the fun and games provide a good distraction from the reality of the race. 100 milers suck and will push you to your limits. They will make you ask a lot of questions about yourself, they will definitely make you overcome your perceived limitations, and they will make you Dig Deep; and that is why I love them and Rocky Raccoon would be no different this year.
I often hear from people.. “oh… Rocky Raccoon is flat and fast….” you will never hear that from someone who has run the course. Rocky has enough net elevation gain to subtly kick your ass while the shallow roots make it difficult to find solid footing. I have seen people coming into the aid stations covered in blood from the wicked beating they have sustained though the darkness of the night. But this year was feeling good. Training went well, I was loose, and so I did something I haven’t done in a long time... I started toward the front of the pack.
The first loop I stayed focused. I had a couple of familiar faces run by me. Derek Glos and Kelvin “The Ultra Cowboy” Reid; both easily passed me up in the first three miles, along with several others. I thought I may be running a little slow but I liked the pace it was just slightly above my comfort zone and not too exhausting. Only one thing was really going through my mind at this point. Beastie Boys “Girls” for absolutely no particular reason…(other than Beastie Boys provides a pretty good cadence for trail running)
Girls, all I really want is girls And in the morning it's girls Cause in the evening it's girls
I like the way that they walk And it's chill to hear them talk
And I can always make them smile From White Castle to the Nile
Back in the day There was this girl around the way She liked by home-piece M.C.A.
He said he would not give her play I asked him, "Please?" he said, "You may”.
Blab la balab abbla blab la blabla b blabl
Blablblb blalb < sorry I forgot the lyrics and I just would start over.
(You were singing it in your head, weren’t you??)
I came in very ahead of schedule for the first loop, and was not really happy knowing I wasn’t running the conservative pace that I had planned. I saw Mr. David Murphy and my wife Stefani cheering and getting everyone pumped up and I felt a sense of pride, because I knew they saw that I was pushing the pace, at least a little. Stef being so consistent as a crew chief, is a huge part of my races because she always makes sure I am doing what I need to without having to think too much. At the 12:00 minute mark you can see she doesn’t let me get too far when I get off plan.
Loop two would have been mostly insignificant except for the fact that at about mile 35 I began to get sick. It is a feeling that is a mix of slight flu, hunger, and exhaustion that lets you know you’re running a little hot. There is only one thing that can get you through these situations and that is experience. You have to know how to shut it down, eat and hydrate while still making progress. It is like walking a tightrope, one false move and you can end the race. You can see this interaction at the 15:00 minute mark of the above video. When a runner doesn’t know what will help they are “HAVING ISSUES”. I was able to get some sugars, hydration, and dial it back just enough to stroll in a bit ahead of schedule for the second time…
I had one thought that never made the video... “Ahead of schedule and behind on nutrition, right where I wanna be”. It was kind of a smart ass way to say I’m screwed, but still could get a laugh out of your friends and crew.
Loop three you become a scientist. You are going through complex mathematical equations that would perplex Einstein. If I do 100 calories every 1.45 miles and 5 oz of hydration.. I need to dial back the pace by 15 seconds per mile because… It is only about 52 degrees that is 20 degrees cooler
than… but 15 degrees warmer than…. The third loop is critical! You are running in the heat of the day so hydration and calories are extremely important, and pushing the pace can destroy everything you have worked for thus far, so I dialed it back a little and tried to get everything under control. With an upset stomach still haunting me, I thought “maybe I had been lying to myself up to this point and I need to go back to my comfort zone”. I found a fellow runner who was struggling as well, and we started to pace off of each other and chat as we made our way through the dreaded Damnation loop. I have done this in the past and have allowed myself to slow down too much. I remembered hearing Derek Glos’ voice taunting me saying “Jones, you get out there and get too friendly with people and hang out when you should be running” and I broke away. I left the comforting feeling of someone else who was struggling to make up more time.
I was doing great, in my eyes, up to this point and it was killing me because I selfishly wanted to prove how awesome I was and not take a pacer (Months before I had planned to do a 100 without a pacer). Although I knew deep down inside I may have survived without one, I broke down and asked for a pacer. Not only the one I expected at mile 80 when I arrived, Justin, but wanted another to come out earlier to help me get through the 4th Damnation loop. This interaction happens at about 20:00 minutes into the video.
I arrived ready to go out on the fourth loop hoping to hear the good news about having someone ready to pace me through Damnation and Lindy Glos hopped out of the tent in her running gear. I’m not really sure if I was more shocked at running with Lindy, or that I was heading back out in daylight; both of which didn’t seem realistic to me at the moment, but after a brief stop we were on our way. I remained pretty confused throughout the loop, as I thought I was going to head out with Justin McCune into the Damnation Loop, although Lindy was going through the loop with me…whatever, I’m still not really sure what happened. But let me tell you, I was all laughs with Lindy. She was extremely encouraging to each runner out there, to the point I thought, in their weakened states they would find her enthusiasm overly chipper and try to trip her; but nobody seemed to make an attempt at her life, so I just rolled with it. On a side note, I expected a long thank you letter from the Race Director graciously thanking the runners for keeping the trail cleaner than they had ever seen it. I, however, would have known that Lindy picked up at least a full trash bag of litter throughout her time pacing. I dropped her off back at Damnation, so she could get back to Derek and picked up Justin for the final 28 mile run.
Justin McCune. I don’t know what to say about this dude. I was once told by a wise, Yoda like, running coach, “You can get to know someone pretty well after running 20 miles with them” I would also say to Mr. David Murphy you can get to know someone pretty well after having a couple of beers with them, as well. I always look forward to these opportunities! I have taken this advice and found that just because you run 20 miles with someone and get to know them doesn’t mean you have to like them either. I now use that as a benchmark for any new friend that wants to know more about Ultra running….They will find themselves on a 20 mile run with Jones, and usually Glos. A few people have passed this test… but McCune got an A+. I had the pleasure of running with this guy in Kansas last year and had an absolute blast. So when he came down to Texas it was like running with an old Marine Corps Buddy or College Buddy…whatever. McCune and I go way back.
McCune came in at a great time and his humor was even better than it was 50 miles into his own hundred that I had paced him on the year before. I’m really not sure why??? The last 20 miles was a blur and I hated it mostly. I recall trying to give Justin the Rocky Raccoon tour in an attempt to get him to think about this as a future race. We had several hilarious conversations that included tethering and flatulence, and I absolutely hate the fact that I didn’t have the camera to record all the fun we had, and I will never be able to do it justice…..because, well, you can never put in words the impact your pacer has on your race…but again, (I give Justin and A+) and look forward to the next opportunity to hang out even if one of us is running a 50 or 100…. I HAD A BLAST!!!
Finally, during the last loop, while I was having an out of body experience, I told Murphy (41:36 minutes in the video) that I would do a 19:30, I actually meant a 19:50….I cussed myself for a few minutes and told Justin several times that I was stupid and I meant 19:50…but you know what??? JUSTIN KEPT ME ON PACE. In an error and a moment of weakness I said 19:30 and that became prophecy, because, JUSTIN KEPT ME ON PACE.
I am very happy with this year’s Rocky Raccoon. Not just because I PR’ed. Not just because I had a successful race. I am happy because the fire started burning again. It started with a spark (Murphy giving me a goal) and started to glimmer in the second loop. The fire burned stronger in the fourth and raged in the fifth. I hope the fire continues to spread…..It is so hard to get focused with the daily grind of work and our day to day…..Remember that although we face the criticism of our peers and the funny looks we get, as if we are only weekend warriors…..We need to embrace it. Sometimes we get an opportunity to go do something great. We get to bond with those that lift us up in a way that others will never understand….We get to do something great….Go do something great!!
Dating back to a 100-yard dash I won at my elementary school, running has always sparked a fire in my soul. I was required to run a great deal while playing soccer in grade school and high school. Later in life, I was handed a pair of Asics by my wife which was followed by some tender instructions to adopt running as a hobby in hopes it may allow me to burn off stress. As a kid, I was able to run laps around the field with a great deal of ease as I stayed in front of the pack. However, as an adult, I was terrified at the thought of running a mile. With a great deal of clarity, I remember running 4-miles across town with my kid sister supporting me every step of the way. I will never forget that run nor will I take for granted the confidence instilled in me that day.
At some point, I became intrigued with the thought of running a half marathon and adopted a Hal Higdon training schedule. Somehow, on October 3, 2010 in St. Charles Missouri, I realized my goal and completed my very first half marathon with a very dear friend in my life. This race opened a Pandora’s Box in my feeble little mind. I asked myself, do I run one race and quit, should I try another this year (I did less than a month later), what about a schedule? Do I run in the snow or only warm months? You get the picture. So off I went, more races were ran while training different ways over several years with a multitude of folks that I am blessed to call friends. Each event posed a unique set of rewards and heartbreaks for me and my goals. While the fire was ever present and very real, the flames were not as white hot as they were leading into October of 2010. In fact, I found myself getting injured and feeling like the runs were more work than pleasure.
So, how do I get back to the 100-yard dash and St. Charles feelings? No damn clue but boy I wanted it and in a very bad way. Along the way, I humbled myself and came to the realization that I was an Idiot. What does an Idiot do? Seek guidance and knowledge from more seasoned Idiots I suppose? I recall a very real conversation with one of my best friends on earth, Nathan Rau. During that conversation I opened up and admitted my desire and frustration in getting over the hump. As always, Nathan was truthful and admitted some changes would need to take place and it would take time and wouldn’t be easy. Months later and after completing my second full marathon, I very loudly screamed UNCLE and signed up with Team PRS with David Murphy as my coach.
David asked me what my goal was and without hesitation I told him to beat my half marathon PR of 1:54:53. After David reviewed some of my running data and monitored daily runs, I worked up the courage to ask him if my goal was realistic. David said there was no doubt in his mind that I could beat my PR time but it would require me to put in the work. Jeff Kline was kind enough to perform a gait analysis and provide me with some productive feedback that I adopted one piece at a time. The change in gait was a pivotal piece in allowing me to realize progress. I then stepped into a pair of zero drop Altras and said goodbye to my $300.00 custom orthotics. My training went from running set miles with no direction to running for a period of time in very specific heart rate zones. No longer did I take days off. Instead, I would do core workouts on off days. PS, I am a runner and not a weights or core workout guy. Incidentally, I cussed David’s name a great deal during core workouts. I recall stretching on Nathan’s porch one Saturday morning and his wife, Annette, asked how things were going and I responded amazingly well. She asked, what had changed? I responded, everything from stride, to shoes to heart rate to results (hopefully???).
What better way to set a PR than where it all started. St. Charles or bust! The Missouri Cowbell wouldn’t be just any other race for me. This race would be the first time my wife (Lauren), our friend, Becky and our friend, Russ would run their first half marathons. While I had put in the work and expected great things for myself, seeing these first timers anticipate race day and experience the pre-race festivities really took me back to 2010. The excitement only built as we met up with Nathan and Annette prior to the race. Our expectations were unique from one another, not spoken out loud but clearly existed in real and meaningful ways for each and every one of us that day. Unlike any race I’ve ever run, when my foot hit that line, it was mine and I knew it with conviction. I recall breaking the race up into 2 - 5 milers and 1 - 5K. The first 5 miles were executed at a pace 5 seconds below the PR pace I needed. The second 5 miles, I dropped it down 10 seconds lower than the first 5. At around mile 8, I passed Lauren and Becky as they were heading in the opposite direction. I was overcome with joy in just seeing those two smile and taking in the moment. Lauren yelled out, “you’re doing it, babe”. I responded, "the shit is going down" in a very real way today. Later on , Lauren and Becky said the crew around them loved our exchange and saw it as a very cool moment. As promised, I felt pain and hit a dark place during mile 10 but kept pressing as there was only a 5K to go. From that point on, it was mind over matter and it really showed at the finish line.
5 years and 1 day later, at the same finish line as my first half marathon, I realized a PR by more than 5 minutes and showed a sub 1:50. My goal, very different than 5 years ago was realized. The fire was hotter than ever. Perhaps, it was more gratifying to see Lauren Weber, Becky Lowe, Russ Thomas, Annette Rau and Nathan Rau cross the line and receive some really unique payoffs for a great deal of blood sweat and tears put in for months on end. Our goals are certain to change, results will vary and the people who we realize these goals with likely vary over time. However, the reward is not in race day alone. The reward is in the journey which I could not have realized independently. None of us are promised our next planned run. So, get out there today! While on the trail, look around and take in who and what is around you. I can’t promise you much but you will never be able to relive this day as experienced. While I wish I could relive October 4, 2015 one more time, I am happy to file it away but anticipate another amazing day with this great group plus one of my a best friends Greg Lowe who regrettably could not be in attendance as he was out of town serving our great country.
Thanks for listening to an Idiot ramble.
Make a plan, and be prepared to change it!
2015 Mark Twain 100 Trail Race Report
By: Jeff Stafford
This was my second attempt at a 100 mile trail race…the last one (Indiana Trail 100) ended with a DNF at mile 68 due to IT band issues. That particular race was this past April 2015, and I knew I had to get back on the horse to git r dun.
I got on http://www.ultrasignup.com within a week of the Indiana race, and found a nearby trail race that intrigued me, the Mark Twain 100. Also joining IRC (Idiots Running Club) I had read some of the past race reports for this event which helped me make a decision to enter. I also had an opportunity about 3 weeks prior to the event to make a trip out and run the Berryman trail which is the host trail for the Mark Twain 100. I learned quite a bit from that one 25ish mile long training run; I expected the rolling hills, the single track trails, a few larger hills and also got a feel for stream crossings and such…what I was not expecting was the amount of ROCKS! Very little running on dirt trails, the majority of the trail seemed to be of mostly crushed rock which was gravel-like with mixed in doses of softball sized rock and roots from trees. This in itself slowed me down as negotiating up or downhill was at times “traction challenged”…particularly at night with muscles that barely could respond late into the race. I’m glad I could preview the course!
I loaded up my camper behind the truck and headed out for a 6 hour drive to Berryman campground to set up shop on Thursday the 17th of September as I was unsure if campsites would be available arriving on Friday afternoon (there are only 8 ‘designated’ travel trailer campsites…no hookups). I arrived and found only 1 other travel trailer in the campground, so I set up everything and fired up the generator and just took it easy. It should be noted that cell phone reception is predominantly nonexistent, so plan on a run into either Potosi or Steelville if you want to check anything. I got up Friday morning and made myself 4 scrambled eggs with some bacon (OK…6 slices!) with coffee and orange juice and a banana…gotta have fuel! I then took off on the Berryman in a clockwise direction for about 1 mile, and then turned around to come back in. I wanted to know where that “Flat stone” was I kept reading about in quite a few race reports. Turns out it is 0.4 miles from the finish line, but a good indicator of a 25 mile loop is about to be completed during the race. I should note that this race is four 25ish mile loops around the Berryman trail. My Daughter Andrea drove out to the campground on Friday and we departed soon after she arrived to go to the pre-race pasta dinner and race in-brief. We chowed down on spaghetti, green beans and garlic bread with a brownie for desert. Travis Liles started the race brief about 7:00 p.m. and went over any last minute changes.
Andrea and I arrived back at the campground and chatted for a while about what I needed her to do for me; she has NEVER crewed any racing events, nor is she a runner…she did it because her Dad needed help. I was going into this race without a pacer, and without any crew…she saved my bacon later on in the race a couple of times. I drifted off to sleep war-gaming all kinds of contingencies, and what I would do if I encountered any problems.
We both awoke to a noisy cell phone alarm at 4:30 a.m. I jumped up and ate about an 800 calorie breakfast; it was a Pro bar, Honey Stinger, and mixture of UCAN and Succeed Clip 2 drink. I also drank about 8oz of water along with a cup of coffee. Nature took its course, and then I got dressed for the day. Andrea and I carried my drop boxes over to the start/finish area and placed them in their designated spots; these drop boxes had all the “Oh $hit” items to cover most anything that could go wrong. In a perfect supported trail race, you’ll never need to open them. I mingled around with the other runners and at 6:00 a.m. sharp, the race started with “GO”!
I left about mid-pack, and it was painfully slow for about the first 2 miles in the dark. As a group the conga line was averaging about 18 minute miles, so I broke free right after the 2 mile point and started getting a steady run going. After about 30 or 40 minutes the sky started to lighten up, and I took off the headlamp. The first aid station is advertised at the 5.25 mile mark, but I knew from my training run it was closer to 5.8 miles. Reloaded my 20oz water bottle with Skratch (electrolyte mix), and ate some of the aid station food. I wanted to minimize time lost at the aid stations by grabbing some food and eating on the way out walking. The next aid station was around mile 9.8, and I here I met Andrea for the 1st time during the race; this is the only spot other than the start/finish area crew are allowed. She asked me all the questions I had jotted down for her to ask me, reloaded me with GU and Honey Stingers along with Succeed S caps (salt pills) and got me in and out quickly without fanfare. The big uphill climb waited leaving the aid station along with the only water crossing of the race course (Brazil Creek). I managed to rock hop and stay dry, and then ate my food during the 250’ climb up the biggest hill on the course. All was going well, and soon I was at the next couple of aid stations repeating the process. I had predicted my first lap to be in 5:20 minutes, and I came in at 5:19…close enough. The plan was to run the first 2 loops at 5:20 each time.
I took off on the second loop running great, everything was going to plan. Then just like somebody flipped on a light switch at mile 31…my left IT band where it attached near my knee began to pain me. This is what knocked me out of my previous 100 mile attempt, except all previous IT band issues have always been on the right side. It was very minimal pain, so I continued to run. It slowly got worse, and by mile 40 I was having a pity party for myself and contemplated dropping to the 50 mile event. I thought long and hard about this as I made the decision at mile 68 during the Indiana Trail 100 to drop…I have regretted it ever since. This was my first low point during the race. I also developed what I thought was a hot spot on my left heel which was concerning. I was doing about a 50/50 ratio of walk/run at this point. The second loop took me about 6:40 to complete…it looked bad at this point. I was 12 hours into the event, and halfway through the 100 mile course.
I pulled into the start/finish area hobbling a bit. Travis Liles asked how I was doing and I told him the issues. For those of you that know Travis, he is a very positive and energetic person. He asked me my intent, and I had made the decision to continue…he gave me a great pep talk as my Daughter began treating and dressing a blister the size of a ping pong ball on my left heel. He saw it and stated “gnarly blister dude”, but continued to boost my morale. I put on a fresh shirt and clean socks after surgery was complete, and took some Motrin to ease the IT band pain along with an IT band strap. Andrea did a great job slowing me down to properly take care of my feet while I fussed about time wasted in the aid station area, but this was a necessary evil in order to continue with any chance of finishing. I’m sure glad I had gone over dressing a blister with her a couple of nights prior. I left on loop #3 walking, but very motivated. The hills were beginning to take their toll.
I decided to power walk about 2 miles to give the Motrin a chance to work its magic, and also to give my IT band a break before attempting to run again. A quick note about using NSAIDs…generally speaking the use is not recommended for these types of events, use them at your own risk. I was well hydrated and felt the risk was worth a shot to finish. When I got to the flat ridgeline about 2.5 miles into the loop, I took off running. It was not a fast run, but it was indeed running so I was pleased with it. By the time I reached the first aid station in the loop, it was dark. Time to don the headlamp and prepare for a long night. The further I got into this loop, the more I found myself power walking due to blister and IT band pain.
I had only run 1 training run during the night with any kind of distance, a 28 miler out at Land between the Lakes (LBL) with Ryan Ploeckelman, another local trail runner from my area. That run was valuable as I had a headlamp failure, and ran behind him for about 4 hours that night. I learned I needed to always have a spare battery for my headlamp, and also a spare small flashlight. No problem, I was prepared this time around. Sometime around 2:30 in the morning my headlamp (Petzl NAO) blinked 3 times, indicating it was getting low on battery. No problem, I’ll just stop here on the trail and change it out with the spare I was carrying. I got out the small handheld flashlight from my backpack and turned it on to do the headlamp battery change…nothing, it was dead. Great. I had also thought to carry spare batteries for it as well…no problem right? I changed those flashlight batteries using the dying headlamp quickly and put the flashlight back together. I clicked it on and…nothing. Awesome, I guess I would be changing the headlamp battery by feel in pitch black but wait; I remembered I had one other .99 cent Wal Mart keychain light attached to my pack. It saved the day while I finally got my Petzl battery changed out. All this took about 10 minutes or more sitting in the middle of the trail listening to coyotes yip nearby, and what I believe was a bobcat fight, or bobcat attacking another animal. I took off running once again listening to the hoot owls for a long time, and then decided I needed another walk break. While I walked, insects would begin to appear in my headlamp beam when all of a sudden I see something whoosh through the beam…what the French toast was that? As it turns out, I had quite a show watching bats swoop after the insects! Less running and more power walking ensued for the 3rd loop. I knew the last loop would be painfully long.
I rolled in to the start/finish area and did another sock change along with using the “Trail Toes” product liberally on my feet. This is a great product, but cannot prevent blisters on ill-fitting shoes, or technical terrain as you cannot prevent your shoes from moving around on your feet. This was yet another lengthy stop that I complained about to my Daughter, but she was having none of it…she made sure I was ready to go for my final loop. As it turns out, I walked the majority of this loop, and I reached another low point as I realized when my watch showed 99.97 miles that I was still over 5 miles from the finish line. I kind of laughed and imagined Murphy walking close behind me with a stick popping me in the head every time I slowed down. That was the longest 5 miles ever, and took 1 hours and 40 minutes to complete. I crossed the big smooth rock about 0.4 miles out and could hear the generator running, and people talking. I made one last run attempt and saw Travis at the finish line holding my 100 mile finishers belt buckle. I finished in 27:51:02 (6th overall), and my Garmin Fenix II GPS watch showed 105.52 miles…your results may vary. The course was advertised at 10,000 feet of climb, but I had 11,368’. Most folks were showing between 102 – 104 miles for this event. I burned about 11,000 calories according to my watch, I am glad I kept up with nutrition, hydration and electrolytes during this event. I figure I drank over 400oz of Skratch and water and had 7 servings of UCAN (another 60oz) along with several glasses of water, coke, etc. at the aid stations. That’s about 3.7ish gallons of fluid! I never felt “The bonk” during this race, so nutrition was spot on. I ate at least 150c per aid station along with supplemental food I carried and ate between aid station. All and all I managed about 275c per hour…that’s approximately 7700 calories I consumed. So glad I have a cast iron stomach and had no tummy issues to deal with.
Some lessons learned:
1. Have 3 light sources with you during darkness.
2. You can make it through an ultra without crew or pacer…it will just take longer.
3. Slow down and make the time to fix things right the first time.
4. Bathrooms with handicap rails in the stalls are a blessing.
5. Don’t fear the nighttime run…embrace the show!
6. IRC rule #6.
A special thanks to my Daughter Andrea for stepping up and taking on the task of crewing for an Ultra race. Thanks to the IRC folks who answered my questions about the course, and David Murphy for reviewing my training and race plan I put together. Thanks to The Runners Hub (Travis and Sara Esterby) for all their support and Ultra-expertise. Thank you Ryan Ploeckelman for the night runs, and general running knowledge. Thanks go out also to Team Red, White and Blue (Team RWB) and my local trail running bunch, Middle Tennessee Trail Runners (MTTR) and road running crew Clarksville Running Club (CRC). All these organizations and folks had input at some point to my training. It was good to finally meet Travis Liles and Tommy Doias the race directors for the Mark Twain 100…great guys. The aid stations and workers did a stellar job! This is not what I would consider an easy 100 due to the terrain and technical nature, but it is one I would certainly recommend. 100 miles is 100 miles regardless of terrain and technical sections, so no such thing as an easy 100 I guess.
If I am going to do another one of these ultra-races I need to find a good coach, and figure out how to fix my IT band issues once and for all. See you on the trails…
Adventures and Races Submitted by Idiots