The Strolling Jim 40 Miler was the very first ultra I ran back in 2010. At the time I didn’t know another human on the planet that had run beyond the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles. I also didn’t know, in selecting The Jim, that I had selected one of the oldest and most historical ultras in the United States to attempt as my very first one.
This year was my 5th consecutive year running the SJ40. It’s held annually in the small town of Wartrace, Tennessee and consists of 41.2 miles on some of the most beautiful, scenic and rolling, green hills in the United States.
The race director’s for this year’s race were Steve Durbin (also RD for RUTS, Land Between the Lakes, Tunnel Hill 100) and Lazarus Lake (creator of the Strolling Jim 40, Barkley Marathon, and The Last Annual Vol State 500K).
The weather for this race is usually warm to very hot on the thermometer. This year, however, it was about 50 degrees at the start and only got up towards 80 degrees at the hottest part of the day. Most of the runners had already finished with temps in the mid 70’s.
I met many good friends before the start of the race including over 20 members of Run It Fast, posed for a few photos, used the facilities, and checked my two drop bags before the race quietly started at 7am.
I went in wanting to run well but also wanting to run smart knowing I had to run a 81 mile team race two days later at the Badwater: Salton Sea 81 Miler and do a double crossing at the Grand Canyon (R2R2R) two days after that. My plan was to go out at a strong pace and keep to it as long as all systems were in check.
Five miles into the race and then ten miles into the race I found myself in a large pack of very good runners consisting of Joe Fejes, DeWayne Satterfield, Dink Taylor, David Jones, Tom Possert, Jobie Williams and several others that was just a short distance behind the overall race leaders. 13-15 miles in to the race I was still in this pack and normally it would have been a sign that I had gone out too fast, but for the most part I had been running within myself and enjoyed the company and opportunity to catch up with several of the guys along the way.
Strolling Jim consists of rolling hills after rolling hill with four major climbs coming at mile 9, 19, 23, and 29.
Around mile 23 I was passed by the first female at the time, Natalie Pickett, just a few moments later I look behind me and realize I’m in the middle of a ‘chick’d sandwich’ as Aleisha Chaffin was on my tail. I was only in this spot briefly as the lower bun quickly passed and both pieces of bread left me in a carb free zone in their wake.
I struggled from miles 17 to 32. My stomach was a bit off, and I just felt a bit funny in general. I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was exactly. My ankles started to hurt in the new Hoka One One Conquests I had started the race wearing. My goal became to make it to mile 28 and switch into the Hoka Bondi Speeds. This was unrelated to my stomach but did cure my ankles. A couple of miles after this I was able to use the restroom and things started to look and feel better while I was running in ‘The Walls.’
Most runners dread ‘The Walls’ at SJ40 that start at mile 29 and go on for several miles. I like the shade coverage the trees provide and the solace that those miles give as the field is usually extremely spread out at that point. I came alive around mile 33 and started to catch a handful of runners that had passed me 15-20 miles ago. My mile splits kept getting faster as I caught Possert and Michael Lepley around mile 38.
As fast as I was moving, it wasn’t fast enough to hold off Brooke McClanahan who passed me around mile 39 as the third female. She was moving extremely well and ended up finishing 4 minutes ahead of me.
When things were bad I had given up on a PR here or even breaking 6:30. My goal was to do what I could to hold onto a sub-7 hour finish that would get me my second consecutive red shirt. But as I felt better and better over those last miles my pace increased and I started to realize a 6:20 was possible, and if I pushed even harder and shaved more time over the last 3 miles I could potentially have a new PR.
I dug deep and finished in 6:12:35 with a new PR. I was pleased yet still curious what I could have done without that long rough stretch. Maybe if everything lines up perfectly next year a sub-6 might be possible.
Here is a look at my finishes over the past 5 years:
- 2014: 6:12:35
- 2013: 6:15:50
- 2012: 7:34:43
- 2011: 7:04:32
- 2010: 7:38:00
One of the best parts of SJ40 is the post race feast. It always consists of bar-b-qued chicken, baked beans, and potato salad. It’s a place where war stories are told from years past and that took place over the previous 41.2 miles.
The Strolling Jim 40 Miler remains one of my favorite races. I hope to continue to go back year after year as long as it’s possible.
– joshua holmes