Posted on 28 October 2011.
Big Dog Backyard Ultra Wartrace TN
As Tom Dolan said, “What was I thinking?”
I had wanted to run the Big Dog, a 4.2 mile trail loop that is run once an hour, every hour, until the last man is left standing, when I first heard of it but, for some reason, did not sign up. Sometime early September, Forrest started talking about it and I decided to get in, then found that the 42 person limit was full. Along with missing out on getting in Umstead 100, I had already struck out twice.
Friday afternoon, I got an email, letting me know that a few runners had come to their senses and decided either not to run or could not make it and that there was a couple openings, and if I wanted to I could get in. I immediately decided that yes, I wanted to run, then figured that I really needed to ask Terri since she had our Saturday evening planned. I called Terri, all excited, and as dedicated wives usually do, was cleared to go “play in the woods”.
Sometimes short notice on something like this is really all you need. Dolan had been on me for 2 weeks to go to Chicago with him and run the 50 miler and I had thought about it, but really could not miss Friday and Saturday work. He had come by earlier and I gave him my half bottle of Hammer Electrolyte tabs. Never thought I would need them this weekend. Boy, could I have used them! When I got home from work around 6, I started getting my stuff together. I’m pretty anal about a lot of things when it comes to racing, everything has to be right or I stress about it. I got a loose pair of shorts, My red Strolling Jim Tee shirt, The Swamp2K singlet for when it got warm (70 degrees) light jacket, gloves, 2 pair of trail shoes in case I needed them and a pretty good selection of food (Fig Newtons, pretzels, Peanuts, bananas, 2 gallons of water and a 2 liter bottle of Mt Dew (great for long distance running), put it all on ice and went to bed around 9 for a 3AM wakeup.
The clock went off, and I quickly got my stuff in the truck and headed out. It’s about 65 miles to Laz’s house and I made it with about an hour and a half before the 7AM start time. I always like to get to a race with plenty of time to unwind. When I pulled up, there were about 20 tents set up in the yard with sleeping runners inside. Most of the 42 runners were from out of state, only 6 were from Tennessee. You really have to know Laz to realize the influence he has on crazy ultra runners. One of my intentions in running this race was to get to know him better, since my 2013 plans include running the Barkley Marathons at Frozen Head State Park and there are only 35 entrants allowed in Barkley, which is one of the hardest races in America to get into. I setup my folding table about 15 feet from the official race tent and right beside the trail that we would be running on. I spent a half hour getting my stuff just exactly where I wanted it so I could grab what I needed without having to dig. Body glide, bandaids, headlamps, clothing changes, etc would not be a problem finding.. Once I got setup, I spent the next 45 minutes mingling with the awakening runners. My buddy Naresh, who ran the Vol state 500k in July in a pair of Vibrams was one of the first to greet me (He wore the Vibrams here too), then Diane Taylor (no relation) who runs every ultra that she can. I met a bunch of folks that I had read about, some heavy hitters in the ultra community.
At 6:57, the whistle blew 3 times, then 6:58 two times, then one and at precisely 7AM, Laz rang the cowbell and we were off. The loop consisted of a short out and back on the highway so the runners could string out a bit before hitting the single track trail. From the start to the highway was a small rise, which turned out to really be a bear in later hours. Down a hill and a turnaround at the gas tank, which literally was a car gas tank laying 20 feet off the road. It was a bit wet as we circled the gas tank, which turned into slop in later runs. Back up the hill on the highway and the turn into Laz’s driveway, past the tents, up the hill, and the hard left onto the singletrack. At this point, I was in 3rd or 4th place and really did not know what to expect since I had not been on the trail. Most of the runners had walked the trail with Laz the day before and had some sort of familiarity with it. I quickly figured that there would not be a whole lot of passing once you got going. Immediately, Laz’s evilness showed up when, as we entered the trail on what should have been a short straight part, he had wiggled the trail between cedar trees, in and out and in and out for about 30 feet, just enough to break any momentum that you might have. Then across some big rocks that you literally had to jump off of as you descended the hill, curves, up another hill and on and on. At the 7/10 mile mark, we passed Laz’s backyard then an hard turn and down another hill. Where the ground appeared smooth, there were roots and little stobs where trees had not been cut even with the ground. Another left hard turn and at the mile mark was a small cedar tree that was leaning into the path and you had to lean over to keep it from slapping you in the face. At this point, I was in second place behind Sal Coll, who was about 50 feet in front of me.
More rocks to jump off of and then the first creek bed (on the return loop, this would be the One mile to go mark). The creek was 60-70 feet of big 10-15 lb loose flat rocks that would move if you didn’t step just right. Up the bank, another wiggle place in and out of small cedar trees and into a clearing for 100 feet. Back into the woods and a jump between 2 trees that were growing in a V shape. You almost had to turn sideways to get through them. Somewhat past this, you came into what would later be called the Perpetual loop. Up a pretty good hill with a bunch of stones (which I walked on most laps) then a right, up another hill with a cave on the left at the top of the hill. More curves, a 1/4 of downhill, which felt pretty good, then another creek bed to cross and up another hill. A great big shagbark hickory had fallen and it had to be climbed over. The rough shagbark would tear at your bottom as you scooted across it. This thing ended up being part of ending my race. As I threw my legs over, it caused a pretty good charleyhorse to work up in the back of my leg. At the 2 mile mark was a big rock that had enough room to scoot between it and the fence. The next 1/2 mile or so was up and down with at least 2 places where you ran between big rocks with lots of hard turns, then a long straight place, along a fence then a turn into another meadow that was slightly downhill with sagegrass and lots of loose rocks. A giant oak tree with a deer stand was on the left and then we made a hard right back into the woods, through some marshy ground, which got sloppy after a few loops and back up another hill, in and out of trees. Another long straight place, along a fence and then….the perpetual loop began. I did not notice that at the end of the fence, I was suppose to turn 360 and follow the other side of the fence, so I went on, back up the rocky hill and as I passed the cave on the left, Since I am quite observant of my surroundings, I quickly figured out that I had been here before. I was quite a bit in front of the 3rd place guy, so I stopped and listened for runners. I could hear nothing, so I turned around and ran back to the fence where I ran into Chase Cantrell. At that point we made the correct turn. 11 of the later runners ran completely around that mile loop the 2nd time and I think one ran it 3 times. The crazy thing is that most of these had walked the course the day before! In the daylight!
At that point, we were back on the original mile back, wiggle through the cedars, the creek bed with the big flat stones, jump through the V tree and follow the fence. You really had to watch your footing in this place due to the stobs and roots. A Hard turn to the right and up the hill to the backyard of Laz’s house. At that point, it was about 1/3 mile back to the finish. The final part had the big rocks that we had to jump off of, except this time, you were going the other direction. Once on top of the rocks, through a clearing with a telephone line overhead, wiggle through the cedars and a hard right onto the road back to the finish.
I finished my first lap in 44:00 or so, and felt pretty good. I took a small rest in my chair, drank some water, ate a bit and waited on the rest to come in. There was some worry in the camp that some of the pre-race favorites were not going to make in within the 60:00 cutoff time (they were on the perpetual loop) and as the time wound down, it was obvious that they would not make it. At that point, Laz decided that he would bend the rule and allow them to start the next loop as long as they could finish both laps in 2 hours. A couple did not make it and a couple hit it with only seconds to spare. At 7:57, the whistle blew three times, then 2, then 1 and at 8AM, the cowbell rang and we were off again. This time, I had a good idea what to expect and race my run under control. Needless to say, I never missed the loop part again. Someone had thrown down a red hat to mark the spot, which helped a lot. I finished 2nd again, in 42 something, about half a minute behind Sal Coll. Laz mentioned that we were running faster. At the end of lap 2 there were 2-3 runners already gone.
Lap 3 started at 9AM and again, I handled it with no problems and finished in about 45-46 minutes. I kept noticing that some of the guys were finishing in the mid 50s and decided that maybe that is what I should have been doing. Less time to cramp up, of course, less time to rest, but in some cases, rest is not good. I finished lap 3 in about 48:00, then lap 4 under 50:00. It was getting warm and at that point, I changed my tee shirt for a singlet and started carrying a water bottle. Lap 5 was in the low 50s, lap 6 around 52. Almost every lap, we were losing runners and by lap 7 there were about 18 runners left in the field. It was getting harder. I had run a hard 9 mile Longview hill run on Thursday, which I would have never done 2 days before a race and I was starting to feel the effect of that. Lap 7, I came in under 53 and then lap 8. Every time I climbed over the big shagbark hickory, my charleyhorse was working me, then I started having an issue with the left hip. When I finished lap 8, I had just about all that I wanted. I finished in the 54 min range and could have certainly gone on, but decided to call it a day.
I was really getting hungry, having run for 8 hours so I wolfed down a bunch of food and sat in my chair while lap 9 started and finished. I watched 9-10-11 and at the beginning of lap 12, darkness was coming upon us. The winner of lap 12 would receive $50 and we all watched Dave from Ontario whip the field to claim the $50 in the dark. By the time lap 13 had started, the field had dwindled to about 8-10 and runners were doing face plants. Laz had built a big bonfire and as it was getting cold, the survivors had pulled their chairs around the fire to warm up and cook some brats. My first attempt at the brat resulted in a half cooked brat, which after a bite of a slimy bratwurst resulted in several more minutes of cook time. Sal Coll’s wife had made some awesome nut bread which he gave a loaf to each person there and we ate brats, bread and told war stories while the remaining runners ran in the dark. Lap 13 finished at 8PM and at 9, the cowbell rang again. Runners were coming in without smiles on their faces and in some cases, barely made it in time to start again. Lap 13 had 2 runners to finish in 59:59. At that point, once lap 14 began, I went to get the truck to load my junk all up. I was tired, had a lot to do on Sunday and decided to trek it on home to Gallatin.
I ended up running 8 laps, finishing in 17th place, a pretty decent showing considering that almost all that were there were Ultra legends. Counting 2 runs to the truck and back and a small 3 mile run after I quit, I ended up with about 41 miles for the day. Not too bad, since I had no idea that I would be running the day before.
The race ended up going 18 laps and Tim Englund from Seattle WA ran one more lap than Dave from Ontario. I think the race finished at 1AM. I read about it all the next morning on the chat page.
What did I learn from this race? First, that if you are in really good shape, you can do just about anything you want to, That Laz has a demented mind. I met a lot of cool people from all over the USA and Canada that I will run with again.
What would I do different? I would run all my laps in the 53-55 min range with less time to rest. Those first 4 laps were too fast. I would not have quit at 8. My goal was 10-12 and I was a wienie for stopping. Winners don’t quit. If I had known that I was running earlier, I would have camped there.
Will I run this race again? Absolutely!!! Would not miss it for anything. Next year, I will drag some of my HRC buds to Wartrace with me to experience Big Dog Ultra.