Black Diamond 40 Miler Race Report: Back in Black

Back in Black

The Black Diamond 40 Miler was without a doubt the best race I’ve had in my short running career.  Not only did I set a marathon PR and 50K PR, but I ended up getting 2nd overall in my first race past the 50K mark.  An added bonus was that I got to do it in a hometown race with some of the best people I know.

I’ve titled this report Back in Black because this was really a comeback race for me…ok and because that’s one of my favorite pump-me-up songs of all time.  My last race was The Jackal Trail Marathon back on June 23rd.  After battling a nasty case of plantar fasciitis for several months I really started feeling good again in September so I decided to start training with my RIF brother, Nathan Judd, who was training for the Stump Jump 50K and Lookout Mountain 50.  In addition to rebuilding my mileage, I really stepped up my strength training and by the end of October I was craving a race.  The Black Diamond 40 was exactly what I was looking for, a RIF race, local, low key, awesome people and a new milestone for me to reach.

Now the morning of the race, despite a nasty head cold, I felt like a caged lion.  Five months is a loooong time to go without racing by the way.  Well after some good socializing, the race began and almost immediately I had to talk myself into sticking to my game plan.  For those who don’t know me I am notorious for allowing my angst to take over when a race starts which more often than not results in me starting out too fast.  Ask my wife, Leah, she has some great stories.  So in light of this struggle of mine I was prepared to run 10 minutes and walk 2 minutes, run 10 and walk 2 and so on.  I figured I would stick to this strategy as long as I could because I wanted to make sure I paced myself and left something for the final 15 miles.  It was also my goal to finish in 7.5 to 8 hours.  When the race started I found a groove pretty quick.  When I reached the 10 minute mark every cell in my body wanted me to keep running but I stuck to my plan and started walking.  Not long after I started running again I saw Leah for the first of many times throughout the day. Allow me a moment to say that Leah did an incredible job crewing for me all day in addition to checking on, encouraging, and taking pictures of the rest of the field.  Thank you Lord for my amazing wife!

By mile 5, I wasn’t too far behind Brad Box, who was in the lead at that point, so I started to stretch my running time out since he was picking up the pace a bit.  Between miles 7 and 8 I finally caught up to Brad and we chatted for a bit while walking up a long hill.  My shoes at this point weren’t feeling quite right so I let Leah know I wanted to change shoes the next time I saw her.  A few minutes later I watched as Leah went into NASCAR Pit Crew mode whipping the car around the shoulder on my side of the road, jump out of the car, grab a lounge chair out of the trunk and set it up on the shoulder with my shoes next to it.  I sped up until I reached her to make sure I didn’t lose any ground with Brad, I sat down and she untied one shoe while I got the other, yanked my shoe off and put the new one on me.  I think it literally only took about 20 seconds total.

Those first steps in those fresh shoes felt like I was running on air so I instantly got a burst of energy.  It’s amazing how little things like that make such a big difference in a long race.  That quick stop also allowed me to see that Joshua Holmes was only about a minute behind me.  For some reason I felt like I didn’t need to let him catch up to me, which makes sense considering I’ve only run past the marathon distance one time and Josh has run 40 or more miles oh I don’t know a million!  Yeah that makes total sense. HA!  Anyways, it’s at this point that I really start to entertain the idea that I could actually win this race.  Mile 10, the first relay exchange spot, came and went.  From miles 11 to 15 Brad and I ran together quite a bit and I had the chance to get to know him better.  Great guy by the way.  Being a father of 4 ranging from 5 years old to 13, Brad was kind enough to share some good parenting advice with me.  As we were nearing mile 15, although I was very much enjoying Brad’s company, I was in full-on race mode so I was looking for an opportunity to make a move and at mile 15 I did.  According to my Garmin, I ran mile 15 in 8:22.  At this point, I’m running on pure adrenaline.  Okay maybe Roctane and oranges too, but the point is I was feeling good so I let loose.  Once I felt I had built a substantial lead I reinstituted my run 10 min./walk 2 min. strategy.  Of course Leah continued be an unbelievable support and before I knew it I had reached mile 19.34, the second relay exchange, basically the halfway point.  It was one of the highlights of the race for me because my mom, dad, sister, and nephew were waiting for me with a sign to support and encourage me.  With a huge smile on my face, I gave them all a quick hug and said, “I gotta keep moving I’m in the lead.”  Seeing my family and having so many people encourage me was so energizing.  Before heading on I crossed the street to Regean’s Supreme Muffler, which used to be owned and operated by Charlie Reagan, a great guy and super fast runner who was tragically taken from us over a year ago.  After that I headed on towards Humboldt.

By mile 22 I asked Leah to stick with me every 1 to 1.5 miles.  Although I was still in the lead and feeling good I knew I was likely start slowing down due to not knowing how my body was going to react when I passed the marathon distance.  It also really started to dawn on me at this point that I was on the verge of setting a PR for my marathon, which I ended up doing by 20 minutes!  Not long after that I started to get a little queasy which started to slow me down.  Leah informed me that Josh was about a quarter of a mile back but gaining.  Unfortunately my stomach continued to feel more and more unsettled, which meant walking more.  Having to walk more really got me to thinking more about the miles for the first time all day.  By mile 29 Josh finally caught up to me in Humboldt. We talked for a few minutes and when I told him about my stomach issues he was gracious enough to offer me some ginger capsules to help.  I was hesitant to take them because I didn’t know how my stomach would react to them.  Well about 5 to 10 min. later I started feeling worse so I asked Leah to see if she could get the ginger from Josh since at this point he was a minute or two ahead.  His offer still stood so the next time I saw Leah she gave me the capsules and they started working almost immediately.  So I picked the pace back up a little.  By this time we had made it to the third and final relay exchange at around mile 30.

Now I’m gonna be honest people my top three goals the last 10 miles was to avoid cramping up, puking and pooping my pants.  The body begins to react in unpredictable ways when you push it to new limits.  I’m happy to report I ended up achieving all those goals.  The ginger helped the later to and in order to keep my quads from cramping up I ended up taking 23 Hammer Endurolytes over the course of the whole race 12 of which I probably took in the last 10 miles.  When Josh asked Leah how I was doing and she told him about me being on the verge of cramping up he once again went above and beyond the call of good sportsmanship and gave Leah 2 potassium tablets to give me at around mile 35, which helped calm my left quad down allowing me to keep running.  So what does taking all that stuff do to a man you ask?  I was so bloated I felt like a running Santa Claus those last 5 miles.

At mile 38, after getting me one last refill of water and spoiling me all day, I asked Leah to go on ahead to the finish line to wait for me.  I gave it one last push and ran in the rest of the way.  Roughly 20 minutes later I finally saw the church where the race had started almost 6.5 hours earlier.  I picked up the pace and crossed the “finish line” a.k.a. Josh’s truck at 6:31:27, just 9 minutes behind Joshua Holmes, a seasoned ultra veteran!

As I was celebrating with my family and friends it really started to sink in what I had done.  It was very surreal.  Four months earlier I was only able to ride my bicycle and here I had just averaged a 9:39min/mi. pace for 40.5 miles!  What a comeback!

– Jonathan Harrison

More Photos of Jonathan Harrison at the Black Diamond 40 Miler

Inaugural Black Diamond 40 Miler Official Results

Black Diamond 40 Miler Finisher’s Medal

[all photos submitted by J. Harrison]

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