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Joshua Holmes Barkley Fall Classic TSD1

El Clásico de Barkley (a 2017 odisea de carrera)

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the barkley fall classic
frozen head state park
wartburg, tn
16 sept 2017

it is a race like no other
based on an even more insane
impossible event like no other
the barkley marathons
the race that eats it’s young

the barkley fall classic has grown quickly
to over 400 runners in just 3 years
trying to finish
wicked
gnarly
back mountain trails and hillsides
to get to laz
for a bonus loop
for a 50k – mile finish
for as advertised it is more
bang for your buck than just 31 miles
some say 48 miles
the lowest estimate was 40 miles

you see
no gps is allowed at the barkley
despite incessant cicadas beeping at mile 1 and beyond

before the race started
as i was getting my gear together
while downing my fourth organic pop tart of the morning

Joshua Holmes

a race vet
in the car next to me
told me that we were required to have a light
in our drop bag at mile 22…ahem 35
i had not even brought a light from the west coast
because i didn’t plan to run past the sun
but it was for sure more of a safety precaution
in case one got lost
as frozen head state park has been known
to swallow a wardian or two before
i had my phone flashlight
but RIF member cathy downes told me
she had an extra headlamp in her drop bag i could use if needed
her kindness stuck with me
as i thought about how many nice things
run it fast members have done for me over the past few years

Laz Lighting Up Barkley Fall Classic 2017

the race starts with the laz lighting a cigarette
just like he starts the big barkley in the spring
laz lit up and we all took off like any other race
yet we all knew we were about to enter a vast unknown

400 of us dashed down the paved road
taking advantage of the smooth surface and cool temps
about 50 feet in i hear some dudes behind me saying,
“someone is really going to miss that water bottle later.”
so i remember my soft flask i had stuck in my pocket pre-race
and check my pocket and it’s not there
so i immediately start swimming upstream
against a torrid stampede of anxious and eager buffalo
i finally see my bottle and runners stepping on it
oblivious to what was going on
they just saw this runner going the wrong way without a guide
i finally grab it and spend the next few min cleaning it with my shirt

so back to moving forward in the correct forward position
all of a sudden felt like getting shot out of a cannon
the first mile is on pavement before you reach the famed yellow gates
of frozen head made famous by the barkley
the race that eats it’s young
a sort of golden arches of sorts for ultra mile junkies

everyone was full of optimism and nerves
knowing that likely just 120 or so of the 400 starters would finish the 50k
i wondered who the other 119 would be myself

any race i begin
i visualize myself with only one outcome
coming out clean on the other side
no matter how ugly or desperate it might become

as unforgiving as little bark is
there is still some insurance knowing that you can
take a marathon
more like true 50k finish
if it goes to hell or you don’t make the cutoff at laz

the first few miles from the gate were on a single track trail
the climb was pretty gradual
and not too technical

Joshua Holmes Barkley Fall Classic TSD1

even though we were slowing climbing
i pushed the pace
i had gone out aggressive
to avoid massive conga lines
to find some space
to be able to operate
breath
find rhythm
the marvin gaye type
smooth
easy
effortless
and not over run
to avoid being over run
or be hung up
on the heels of whoever lay before me

i worked through this section
with rif member lisa van wolde
we would move past other runners
on this single track together
which made it easier for both of us
to get by quicker using less energy

you come upon the first aid station about 4 miles in
where the coalfield boys
high school football players held the jugs
that didn’t have moonshine
but had water and sword instead

i quickly refilled and kept down the trail
until coming upon a photographer
not my first in this life
a couple of us tried to run past her
continuing on down the trail
but she quickly said, “no, that way!”
as she pointed into the true wilderness
down a ravine into a giant lake
but it wasn’t a lake but just massive fog
onto of the moguls
this was testicle spectacle

quickly into testicle
i found a steep
slick
down where i could get no footing
i had put on my brush clearing gloves
as i knew i was about to be tested
my legs came out from under me
and i slide down the hillside about 20 feet
before i could get my legs under me again

this went on a few times
with some moderate climbs
for a mile and half or so
then we turned left into some low lying ground
and waded through a creek

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luckily i was behind dewayne satterfield
who has done big bark
because none of this was marked
there was for sure no trail at this point
just some creek funk thing
that looked a bit like the forked deer in west tn

well found a road on the other side of the marsh
then quickly over a wooden bridge
we ran
into a small white country church
that had an aid station to the right of it
as advertised it had water
sword
slim jims
and long elongated yellow fruits
this was also where we got our first bib punch
i think it was the letter i

testicle is an out and back
being near the lead of the pack it meant we were going to see
a lot of terrified faces coming at us
escaping testicle on the way out
is even more difficult than it was sliding down
into this foggy bottom

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as my mouth burned from slim jims
that were obviously soaked in tabasco
i quickly found myself on my hands and knees
trying to get up the muddy hillside
it is amazing how high your heart rate rises
when you are on all fours
trying to get any grip of the earth you can
to climb up

the two way traffic wasn’t easy
people were slipping and sliding into each other
but everyone was polite and understanding

once we escaped testicle
we hit that same photographer again
for the after ts photo
as i have told other runners
always know where the photographers are

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thinking we were getting a temporarily hiatus from the gnarly stuff
i took my gloves off
as we crossed the trail down into methlab hill
some parts of meth were worse than testicle
it could have been called testicle part 2
it included more butt sliding
and knocking other runners further down into the ravine
shortly after you bottom out on meth
you hit the prison

i hit it in 3 hrs 7 min 6 sec from the start

brushy mountain state penitentiary that is
an expired prison where james earl ray
the white supremacist
who killed the transcendent Martin Luther King was jailed
for many years
laz says he got the idea for barkley
back in the late 70s when ray escaped
it took several days for authorities to recapture him
but they did 58 hours later
he had only made it 5 miles in that time
due to the intense rugged mountains and lacking a garmin

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the prison looked straight out of shawshank
i went in the front door
and walked through the first building
then into the second building where most of the cells where located
a volunteer told me that cell 27 had been ray’s
as i walked by and looked into 27
all i could think about
was what a cowardly
loser
pos ray was for killing king
a man of peace

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after the cells it was out the side door
into the back yard behind the penitentiary
where we scaled a ladder over the back prison wall
and down the other side
where i got my second bib punch of the morning
the letter r

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the bib puncher
keith dunn
directed me to run around the back corner of the prison wall
and through a long
dark tunnel
the tunnel had a feint light at the other end of it
there was a slow stream of water flowing through the tunnel
more flashbacks to andy durfresne escaping from shawshank
it was pitch black in the tunnel
but i ran and trusted my footing would not be compromised

Prison Tunnel

then i took a sharp left
into some overgrown
green centrifuge
a couple min into it
as it started to climb
i asked another runner
if it was rat jaw
the infamous rat jaw
up the steep mountain side
under the power lines
the answer was in the affirmative

gloves back on
it was wildly overgrown
from a healthy rain season
i moved pretty quickly
up the first half of this rat’s nest
then i started to see a long line of runners stack up above me
stuck in the greenness
briars
thick
long
executing briars
that none of us could escape
i asked another runner if the half marathon was merging with us
as so many runners had grinder to a halt
stuck in the thick of it
it was so overgrown and thick with no where to go
a path had to be slowly carved
with human bodies

robert youngren
who moments before grabbed my feet below me
to give me a solid surface to climb up
as i couldn’t get a grip
started a new
revolutionary path he started blazing
with a mini train behind him
i was about the seventh car in this train
this was painfully slow but rob was taking most of the abuse
as the conductor of this train
our train was slow but steady
moving faster than the longer train
that seemed stuck in a paused motion
perhaps mighty casey had run out of steam
rob got us to the top
passing several in the other train in the process

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it took time but finally we reached the top of rat jaw
60 runners had stacked up behind us

rat jaw had been the great equalizer
almost like a nascar caution flag to bring the field all back together

quickly we climbed to the top of the watch tower and back down
quick aid station stop after the tower for refills
and then some downhill jeep roads
to garden spot
then to bald knob

most vets had underestimated how hard the back side
of the race would be
since rat jaw and testacle were knocked out earlier on

bird mountain was a formidable foe
it wasn’t gnarly or impossible
but due to not knowing exactly how long the course was
it seemed to go on forever

i knew we were many miles beyond what the map said
but as they say laz miles are way longer than actual miles
like 1.5x longer
the bird mtn miles seemed to go on forever
i kept thinking we had to be close to laz and dropbags

finally we come off the trail
back onto park roads
and after about 1/2 a mile later to our drop bags
and then laz
with an elapsed time of 8:03:30 to that point

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laz punched my bib
and made mention of how well i was doing
seeming a bit surprised
maybe it was because when i first met him on the ferry
in dorena landing years ago
at the start of the vol state
he looked at me and my crew
consisting of my high school cousin and his buddy
and told me
look to your left and your right
one of you will finish this race
i could tell his confidence was not in me being the one
i was very green then
i am just light
lime green now

other runners had warned me that the last loop was 9 miles
like 9 actual miles not laz miles

the climb up to chimney top was a long 5-6 mile climb
others had opted to grab poles out of their drop bags
i didn’t want to cheat my exercise routine with poles

early in the climb i was passed by a handful of hikers
i mean runners
as the climb wore on
i started to catch and reel in a couple of them
by being persistent and relentless

Chimney Top

i finally hit the top of chimney top
and you know how i knew it was the top of chimney top
because there was a mf chimney at the top of the climb
in the middle of nowhere
no house with it
no signs of a house
just a chimney and fireplace
no smoke
prevent forest fires
it was then i realized that i was at the top of chimney top
i did not need a sign to tell me

after chimney’s top started a gradual downhill
not many other runners were around at this point
another runner was in front of me
and after a mile and a sharp turn to the left down the mountain
we both started to get nervous wondering if we were on the right trail
or if we had become lost
and if so how lost where we and would we have enough time
to get back on the correct trail and make the cutoff
i pulled out my cloth map several times
and each time wadded it back into my pocket
unable to make sense of it
we both were running well
but simply did not see any other human beings
as more and more indecision began to set in

finally we saw another runner
and a volunteer
with a hole puncher and jugs of water
i refilled all 4 bottles i had with me
the volunteer punched my bib
and knew exactly how much of the course remained
he told us 2.5 miles back to laz
and about 3.4 total to the finish
and that it was all down hill

i took off running
knowing i needed to be perfect
if i wanted to break 11 hours
i knew i was about in 23rd position as well
however i didn’t know the terrain or the accuracy of the distance
but i ran hard smelling the barn
or perhaps it was myself
but either way it fueled me to another gear
that had been abandoned miles earlier

i caught a couple runners including youngren
who was probably simply tired
from sleepless nights with his new baby
and then shortly after there was laz and friends
i slowed just enough to ask if we needed another punch
laz said no and i turned it up knowing 10 hrs 52 min had expired
on the clock

1 mile
8 min or less
again was the distance accurate or not
i didn’t know
but i ran harder

another runner was alongside me
as i had caught him near laz
we were both chasing sub 11
we ran that last road like it was a legit 5k
i hit the pavement and emptied all my bottles
to get as light as possible knowing every second would matter

the other runner
nathan i believe
got a few feet in front and i followed in his wake
a couple turns hoping the end was in sight
clock ticking
a clock with no mind or mercy of what i wanted

i finally start to hear people
then i see the grassy field knowing to turn right
for the finishing arches
i see the clock at 10:59:30
i sprinted in comfortably over those 40 yards
crossing the finish line in 10:59:43

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a time that would matter only to me
breaking 11 hours that would only matter to me
but it had mattered to me for several miles
because it helped me stay focused and on point
it helped me prevent bad miles
and gave me something to focus on
and help drive me those last few miles to the finish

my last mile was 7 min 11 sec

the first person i saw after finishing was my good friend
rif member and bfc rd steve durbin
it was good to see him
he congratulated me and i thanked him for an amazing event
i was then presented with the prized
croix de barque for finishing

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i caught my breath
drank a few bottles of sword from the orange cooler
and then walked backwards on the course
to cheer in other runners
and root for my fellow run it fast members than remained on the course
slowly
one by one they found the finish as i had
some had made the 50k cutoff and finish
others had been turned in early
but all seemed satisfied with the effort they put forth that day

they knew they hadn’t don’t a normal race
and they were proud of the valiant effort they gave
they had been challenged in a new way
and had dug deep or discovered a new depth for the first time

after a few photos and hugs
i redeemed my post race meal card for a veggie burger
i am not even a vegetarian but it sounded like what my stomach
would agree with
and it was spot on

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i beat the rat

i traded war stories from the course and other battles
with other veteran ultra runners
from the past and present
the weather had been perfect
the course ripe
and i was pleased with my effort

my goal had been to finish in the top 20 and sub 11
i was 20th overall and 18th male
in a time of 10:59:43

Run It Fast Barkley Fall Classic 2017 Finishers 2

it was a good feeling to run well
and share in so many others achievements
i wore the rat bites and dozens of flesh wounds with pride
a very special running
epic event
race directed by my good friends durb and laz

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rif members before the lighting of the cigarette

congrats to all who were brave enough to toe the start
whether you got a finish or not
it takes a lot to take on a task like the bfc

thank you to all the volunteers
and football players
and friends
who were encouraging
helpful
resourceful
and made it possible to finish
marathon/ultra #197

and a special thanks
to all my Run It Fast friends
who continue to inspire and drive me
every race
step by step

joshua holmes
run it fast
2017

barkley fall classic results – 2017
photos: susan typert, daryl ann patton

Posted in Barkley Marathons, Race Reports, Running, Ultra Marathon0 Comments

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Goodyear 1/2 Marathon Race Report from the Ground and High Above

Goodyear Half Chris Baker with Blimp - Run It Fast

Goodyear ½ Marathon and 10 km Race Report from the Ground and High Above

As Christa and I were on our drive up to the Creemore Vertical Challenge (25 and 50km race near our home in Toronto), last weekend we got the word from Run It Fast #1 that we could go to Akron and ride in the Goodyear Blimp while the Goodyear ½ Marathon was going on. As the week progressed we found out that due to additional video equipment onboard only one of us would be able to go up. Christa pitched the idea of her running the race, while I was high above in the blimp. The race organizers went for the idea and the following article is our race review from the ground and high above! Below is our views on this fun race from high above and running on the ground.

Getting There

Given the 6:30 am start, we left our home in Toronto Canada after work at 5:15 pm on Friday night and arrived in Akron at about 11 pm. We were barely able to put our heads down, when our 3:45 am wakeup call came. Christa had to meet race organizers before 5 am at the start, while I had to drive out to Goodyear Launch facilities 20 minutes from the race course before 5:15 am.

Goodyear Half Marathon Christa Baker with Goodyear Blimp - Run It Fast

Christa Pre-Race

We arrived at the race start so I could pick up my race kit before 5am. Getting to the start was quite easy since there were roads still open and the race start was in the parking garage so you just drove in and parked. I went to pick up my race kit which included a t-shirt, bag, towel and Goodyear blimp magnet. The bag drop was just a few feet away where they were ready to take my stuff.  They already had clear plastic bags to put your stuff in – you didn’t even have to worry about this part.  So far I was really impressed. Did I mention how easy it was – I guess that’s what happens when you are the first runner to arrive! Since I had a couple hours to kill I decided to walk around and familiarize myself with the start line and all that was available to the runners.

First off to make every runner happy there were tones of port-a-potties set up in different locations around the start line. This made it very easy when the crowds started to arrive as you never really had to wait that long. The finish line was already all set up with ice, water and Gatorade which was great but I also notice there was a band setting up, 3 food trucks and a beer tent not to mention a few other vendors setting up. I could tell there would be a good party going on at the finish.

Twenty minutes before the start I met up with another RIF member – always nice to meet new friends! We chatted for a bit and then I lined up in my corral which was easy to find because they had tons of signs. The pacers had already started lining up in their timing slots. That’s when I noticed that the blimp had started to circle the start line. It was exciting to see because I knew Chris was up there – what an opportunity. I asked one of the ladies beside me to take my picture with the blimp in the background, I wanted a picture of Chris and I at the start – when I told them that my husband was up in the blimp they instantly knew why I was so excited. It was about at this point that the announcer came on saying that the race start would be delayed by 15 minutes due to heavy traffic arriving for the race. Then we were off!! Time to burn some rubber!

Chris Pre-Race

Arriving at the Goodyear Airship facilities I could see the Blimp in the distance. Once signed in, I met the other 3 gentlemen that had been invited to report on the race. Also on the Blimp were our pilot and a video technician from Goodyear. We took off about 6:10 am and we were over the Goodyear facilities where the start finish line was in about 10 minutes. Having run in many races, I am usually part of the masses lining up behind the start line. I was able to look down and see the nearly 3000 people in the Half and 10 km taking their positions. One problem, cars were still trying to come off the highway and make it to the parking lot. One of the race committee members was onboard the blimp and radioed down to ground that these people would not make it to the start by 6:30 am. There was a 15 minute delay to the start of the race. Traffic cleared quickly and at about 6:45 am the race was on.

Christa During the Race

There was a bottle neck right at the start line because they forgot to move the Goodyear race car off the course before the race; but we got passed it pretty quick which was good. I quickly started following the 2:05 pacer who introduced himself as Dave. He was from Akron and seemed like he knew what he was doing telling us that we were going a bit fast off the get go and needed to take it easy as we settled into our pace. He also seemed to know the course pretty well telling us about the next hill coming up. He was friendly and knowledgeable just what you need in a pacer. I felt like we were in good hands.

Since the race started at 6:45am the heat wasn’t a factor until later on near to the finish which was great. A lot of the course was shaded because of the time of day, but it did end up getting pretty warm near the end of the race. The course went out and came back past the start finish where I stopped to take a picture of the Goodyear race car. How often do you get to be this close to a race car? We then went into the Goodyear training ground where they do all the testing and training for the Goodyear blimps. Normally this is closed to the public so this was a lot of fun to be behind the scenes. We went headed down by the derby track where they hold the derby races in Akron.

The aid stations, provided water and Gatorade, where well staffed with friendly volunteers and approximately 3k apart. Some of the aid stations offered gels and they even had a spray station where runners got sprayed down with water as they ran by. We went through various parts of the city ranging from subdivisions to busier main streets; traffic was not an issue since all the main streets were closed off to traffic with police monitoring so no one would get hurt.

The rest of the race flew by with many parts of the course lined with people eager to cheer us on to the finish. The last part of the race took us around the Goodyear race track where you looped around to the finish line. During the whole race the Goodyear blimp was circling the course which gave us the feel that we were competing at a major sporting event.

Goodyear Half Chris Baker with Blimp Pilot - Run It Fast

Chris During the Race

It was quite the site to see runners quickly spread out and a lead pack formed immediately. Our pilot followed the race leaders and we snapped quite a few pictures from high above in the Goodyear Blimp. Since I am not from the area it was hard for me to keep track of who the leaders were, since I didn’t know the course route. Even though we were only 1000 feet off the ground, the trees lining the streets made it hard to see runners at all times. Given that there was a 10 km race along with a ½ marathon, it didn’t take long to see the lead 10 km runner enter the Goodyear Test Track (about 1.5 miles from the finish) and see that he had a commanding lead. As he ran the last mile, he was gaining a bigger margin between him and the second place runner. Up in the blimp we estimated that the winner finished in about 33 minutes. It was hard to track the lead ½ marathon runner as they would have encountered traffic from the slower 10 km runners when they merged. We finally found him and estimate he finished in about 1:09.

As we were in the blimp, I was wondering what I would write about. Anyone who has read any of my previous race reports knows I don’t like to focus on me and I want to provide the reader with information they will be able to use when deciding if they want to run this race in the future. I know it would be hard, 1000 feet up in the air, but as the morning went on I got some great (at least I think they are great) ideas to cover.

First of all, the roads looked very wide and I don’t think crowding on the course was an issue. There is nothing worse than a race, with skinny narrow roads where hundreds of runners bottleneck up. That can really impact your pace and race. Given the size of the roads, the runners spread out quickly.

Second of all, I saw a couple of the water stations and they seemed long. This is great, as runners can go further down the water station where it isn’t crowded to grab their drink. Given the heat and humidity that was expected Saturday, a 6:30 start was a great idea. The course seemed to be shaded in a lot of spots so for much of the race I thought this would offer relief to the runners. From above, the course looked fairly flat too. No major hills that I could see. I loved the idea of running 1.5 miles around the Goodyear test track. It looked hot and open, but having the ability to run in what is normally a restricted area has always been a positive in a race for me. (Being a big sports fan, I have always remembered my finish on Ford Field in Detroit, finishing at center ice at Copps Coliseum, where an AHL Pro team plays and running on the Formula One track in Montreal).

With the ease of parking in the Goodyear parking lot right at the start line, from above it looked like a great race. I know Christa’s report will echo the same opinion from the ground!

Goodyear Half Aerial Race Photo - Run It Fast

Christa Post Race

The finish was very well organized with cold water and Gatorade being handed out by volunteers as well as ice cold towels. They were so refreshing and a major perk because of the heat. All race participants had 2 food tickets and got one free beer. They had 3 food trucks at the finish, offering half pints of Stricklands chocolate and vanilla ice cream, Eddies Famous Cheesesteak sandwiches and Galley Boys from Swenson’s which has been featured on the food network. Beer was free for all runners and they had a variety of Bud, Shock top and a local IPA which was a nice surprise. They also offered live music the whole time during the post-race party which ended at 11am. This gave all participants an opportunity take part in the festivities. All in all I really have no complaints about this race. The organizers did a fantastic job and put on an amazing event. I would highly recommend this race or any other race in the series to anyone who wants to enjoy a great race and be well taken care of from the start to beyond the finish.

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Chris Post Race

We continued to circle the start/finish area until about 9:20 am. This gave finishers a chance for photo ops with the blimp and I understand the award ceremonies wanted to have photo ops with the blimp. We could see some of the slower runners still out on the course, while some of the 10 km and faster ½ marathon finishers were already in their cars and leaving the race site. It was very relaxing in the blimp, comfortable seats and open windows to take some pictures. It really was perfect area to view a race from. The pilot was extremely friendly and gave us a lot of information about the Goodyear Blimp program. The blimp is fairly quiet and we could hear the announcer below us. If you ever get the opportunity to ride in the blimp then you should. It is an amazing experience. We landed back at the launch site, with some Boy Scouts looking on. The pilot showed off some of the blimps capabilities (the new one can do a complete 360 while hovering in the same spot, something the older models could not do). I jumped in my car after a few more photos and drove back to the race site to meet Christa. I found her right beside the finish line. It was a unique feeling, to see the same finish area from the ground, where only 45 minutes before I had seen it from the air. It was a lively atmosphere, with a band still playing, beer being given out (yes Christa saved me a beer ticket) and food being handed out. I was a little jealous of the medal she received as it was quite cool. I wish I could have been up in the blimp and then ran the race. Maybe next year, I will come back to Akron and run the ½. If it wasn’t for the 5 hour drive it would be on my list in 2016. I will have to see if I can make it fit my schedule.

 

Overall Conclusion

From the time Chris was put in contact with the organizers to getting my feet back on the ground, communication was excellent and all the little details were taken care of. From what we both experienced, our opinion is that this race series is going to continue to grow as the attention to detail is not an accident. The runners are taken care of and for the price of the entry fee, it’s a great value. Thanks again to Run It Fast, Goodyear and The Rubber Running Series for a once in a lifetime experience.

Chris and Christa Baker (August 2015)

Posted in 10K, Half Marathon, Race Reports, Running0 Comments

‘The Rock’ – Marylou Corino’s Vol State 500K Race Report (2015)

‘The Rock’ – Marylou Corino’s Vol State 500K Race Report (2015)

Marylou Corino and Lisa Van Wolde Finish Vol State 500K First Females - Run It Fast 2015

The Rock

“We were born to blaze new trails and roads, partake in great adventures, take daring risks, be God strong and foolishly courageous. “Let faith not fear be your compass” and so began on Thursday July 9th, 2015 at 7:30am, a journey of a lifetime, a journey to the rock.

Just before the Last Supper, Greg Armstrong and his beautiful wife Shelley spent almost 2 hrs with Lisa Van Wolde and I, going over the route, showing us maps and providing us with amazing insights about the race. We greatly appreciated them graciously giving their time to help us, newbies to Volstate. People like them truly make our sport the best in the world. At the LAST SUPPER, we met Lazarus Lake (the Race Director), got our shirts and went over a few rules. Things were becoming real and nerves were beginning to form.

Vol State 2015 Run It Fast Members Ferry

The next day, we were to meet at 7am at the Dorena-Hickman ferry. I, of course wanted to be there super early for fear of getting caught in morning rush hour traffic or lost. Lisa just shook her head at me. There is no traffic in Hickman Kentucky, none what so ever and getting lost was unlikely. Needless to say we were the first ones there. Due to high water levels, we had a 20 minute virtual ferry ride (which entailed standing for 20 minutes ) and then off we went.

We made it through Hickman Kentucky with relative ease and passed the Tennessee State Line. We would be in this wonderful “state on the sun” ( our new name for it ) for a good part of our journey.

Josh Tyner Vol State 500K with Marylou Corino and Lisa - Run It Fast

We were quite charmed by the little towns we were passing and were greeted by a few Run It Fast® members. Thank you Josh and Jamie! It was great to see them out there! ( a special thank you to Jamie’s wife for allowing us into her work to cool off). It was on our way from Martin to Dresden where we caught our first glimpse of heat and humidity. It seemed like the state road was freshly paved and that steam was rising from the ground. It was also the middle of the afternoon which probably didn’t help matters. Our focus changed quickly however because it was here were we first experienced the warmth and kindness of the people of Tennessee. This was to continue through the duration of our journey. Many handed us popsicles, freezes, water, ice and although we had crew, these were still uplifting moments. We made sure to tell every person we met that there were runners doing this on their own and to please find as many of them as they could.

Vol State Day 2 Marylou Corino and Lisa Van Wolde

Our goal was to reach 9o miles (the town of Lexington) in the first day. That was our plan ( silly naïve Canadians- throw away the plan right Joshua Holmes? ) We didn’t quite make it there. Our total distance for day one was 76 miles. We knew after day one that our goals from then on would be the following a)not to plan b)survive the heat, c)keep moving forward, and d)listen to our bodies and enjoy this tremendous experience as it was already shaping out to be.

On day two, we made it to Lexington but not before passing some pretty towns, in particular Hungtindgon. In Lexington, we rewarded ourselves with sonic slushies and sweet tea. These two things were to be a staple for the remainder of this “ vacation on foot” as some people have called it. Once we turned left out of Lexington we knew we would be on the US 412 for roughly 95 miles until we hit Colombia. For a moment that seemed quite daunting but we knew it was the only way to get to the rock. We passed many towns on this long stretch of road including Parsons where we enjoyed a nice dinner listening to live music. We made the trek through the town of Linden at night and this seemed to be just one never ending climb with really no shoulder to run/walk on. We made it to the other end of town and took a much needed nap in the car. We ended day two with another 65 miles for a total of 141 miles.

Lisa Van Wolde and Marylou Corino Day 3 Vol State 500K Waterfall - Run It Fast

It was much hotter on day three and day four and it was starting to show. These two days were our low mileage days but included some incredible moments. We reached the halfway point ( 157) where we enjoyed a beautiful waterfall.

Marylou Corino Vol State 500K Bench of Despair 2015 - Run It Fast

We made a concentrated effort to look at the miles we covered and not the ones we still had yet to do. We hit the famous “Bench of Despair” which made us quite emotional. The store owners left a barrel of ice and water bottles and markers to sign our names and times on the bench which we gladly did.

The next 7-8 miles were quite beautiful and went by rather quickly. It was also on this road where a family left lawn chairs, an umbrella, food, shirts, salt pills and a number of different items for volstate runners. Again, one can’t help but get emotional at such a selfless act of kindness. We were going through a particularly hard, hot, humid, and hilly stretch into Lewisburg. We jokingly said that we could cross off running on the sun from our bucket list. We honestly felt like our skin was going to peel off. I remember making very small conversation with Lisa at which point she turned me and said “Mare I flatlined 3 hills ago” and that summarizes how we felt at times. Oddly enough, our skin didn’t peel off nor did we flatline. Day 3 and 4 saw us do 44 and 49 miles respectively for a total of 234 miles by the end of day 4.

The start of day 5 brought us to see our fourth sunrise. As the sun rose, so did we. It rejuvenated us. It was a new day, a new dawn. We had made it through yet another day in the Volstate. We also found this on the start of day 5 and were wondering if by using it we would get to the rock faster.

Day 5 Vol State 500K Marylou Corino and Lisa Van Wolde

Running highs were amplified but so were the lows at Volstate. We embraced the highs, became humbled with the lows and moved one foot in front of the other. We thoroughly enjoyed running to the town of Wartrace and from there to the US41. It was early in the morning, quiet, scenic and peaceful, just us and the road. The miles flew by during this section and we both could say we were in a dream like running state. I had never felt that before. I made sure I was present for every step because I knew deep down, I was probably never going to feel that again. It was along US41 where Whitney, a runitfast member came to see us bringing with her strawberry popsicles and some much needed salt pills. Thank you! The end of Day 5 saw us climb 3 miles up Monteagle. We stopped at the top, lay on the floor and admired the sky full of stars trying to absorb this whole experience. We ended day 5 with 44 miles and a total of 278 miles. In the last five 5days, we spent approximately 2 hours out of the sun each day and rested on average between two to three hours at night. This strategy worked for us for every time we hit the road we felt re-energized and ready to move sometimes slow, sometimes slower but always forward.

We woke up on day 6 knowing that we were going to make it to the rock. We made it through Tracy City, Jasper and Kimball where we saw Lazarus, Steven ( who had finished Volstate the day before),
Bill ( who crewed Steven but always made sure we were okay when he saw us, Thank you Mr. Baker! ), John ( two time Volstate finisher- uncrewed) and Sue ( women’s record holder for Volstate!) Seeing them made us smile. We were near the 300 mile mark at this point.

Marylou Corino Vol State 500K Resting in Alabama - Run It Fast

We made it to the bottom of the Mountain, dug deep and began our 6 mile climb into Alabama through the cornfields to the rock.

Marylou Corino and Lisa Van Wolde Finishing the 2015 Vol State 500K - Run It Fast

We had done it. 5 days , 8 hours , 6 minutes and 52 seconds later, we had made it.

There are so many people that were instrumental in our success. A special thank you to both our husbands who entertained the thought of us participating in this race and for taking care of things back home while we were away. To our crew. Alissa, Nikki Laura Lee and Bill. Words cannot express the gratitude we feel towards you and all you did for us over the 5 days, stopping every 3 miles, cooling us down, getting us food, being patient while we tended to our feet and just being positive and encouraging. We will forever be appreciative. ( I think Bill was taking the picture!)

Vol State 500K 1st Female Marylou Corino and Lisa Van Wolde - Run It Fast

To all of you that came by to visit, to those at home cheering for us, and sending us positive vibes, Thank you! We used that to fuel us and keep going. A special mention to Joshua Holmes for believing that I could finish this race when I asked him about it back in December. Thank you. It was everything you said it would be and more. To God, who shined his light on us every day we were out there. Congratulations to all Volstate finishers this year and to those who didn’t finish, congratulations for having the courage to tow the start line. A special congratulations to my running partner and great friend Lisa who not only completed her first multiday but was “officially” the first female to touch the rock. I would not have had it any other way.

Vol State 500K Lisa Van Wolde and Marylou Corino with Lazarus Lake in Kimball 2015 - Run It Fast

This race enters your blood and becomes part of who you are. It touches your core and captures your soul. One lives so much in those 314 miles that it undeniably leaves its mark on you permanently. We are definitely not the same people that started the race. It is an experience that develops your character but at the same time reveals it. It tested our limits and in the process, made us go beyond them. The journey inspired us, brought us to your knees and at times made us feel broken physically, mentally and spiritually BUT it didn’t defeat us. Somehow ,somewhere , someway along this journey we become MORE stubborn and relentless than the VOL STATE and step by step we overcame and made it to the rock.

Marylou Corino (RIF #410)
July 9-15, 2015
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King of the Road, Greg Armstrong’s Vol State 500K Race Report (2015)

King of the Road, Greg Armstrong’s Vol State 500K Race Report (2015)

Greg Armstrong 2015 Vol State Run It Fast Shirt

The Joy of Suffering: The Last Annual Vol State 500K Race Report

There are many parallels between life and running, especially ultra running. On the completion of my second VolState 500k (314 miles), my lesson is the “Joy of Brokeness”.

Completing an event like the VolState 500k is humbling and strips a runner to their absolute core (at least that was my experience). It forced me to reassess my goals and strive to not become self defeated. On multiple occasions I wanted to quit, doubted my ability, feared for my health, and just simply felt BROKEN!

I had and verbalized a lofty goal of completing the 314 miles in less than 72 hours and had a very detailed plan (hour by hour) to complete the goal. There is a 12 hour check in so my goals were based on 12 hour increments. Since the race started at 7:30 A.M., I broke it down into segments: 12 hour days of extreme heat and humidity and 12 hour nights.

Greg Armstrong 2015 Vol State 500K Day 1 - Run It Fast

The first 24 hours went exactly as planned (120 miles) and I felt strong going into day two. Day two was not as kind. Since the course runs west to east, shade became a rare luxury. I found out early on day two that the heat was a factor sooner in the day than I had anticipated. I made a few mistakes managing the heat early on and paid for it dearly. The first 12 hours of day two only produced 32 miles. The next twelve hours (7:30pm-7:30am) the wheels almost came completely off. I found myself in the middle of the night incapable of even walking a 30 minute mile. I was fighting to remain conscious and contiplated just laying in the ditch multiple times. The night of day two only produced 24 slow miles. My goal of completing the race in under 3 days was a distant memory.

Day 3 brought temps in the high 90s with an index over 100, but after modifying my approach to dealing with the heat I was able to muster a respectable 35 miles in the 12 hours of the day. I struggled through the night again with only 30 miles.

Greg Armstrong Vol State 500K Bench of Despair - Run It Fast

My goal now became to complete the race in under 4 days. That meant I had to complete 70 miles in 24 hours. Keeping in mind those 70 miles include 20 of little to no shade in 96 degree temps, two 3 mile climbs at a 7% grade and a brutal 3 mile descent at a 7% grade. Day 4 blessed me with strong legs, 37 daytime miles and 30 miles to the Rock just in time for a beautiful sunrise!

I must say one of my greatest motivators was my good friend, Johan Steene. He trailed me the entire race by just a few miles. The difference is that Johan was not crewed, meaning that he had to carry all his gear, fluids, food, etc. Considering the heat and the long stretches between aid, his performance is one of best I have ever witnessed! I thought to myself frequently “if Johan can do this at this pace without a crew surely I can”.

Romans 5 tells us that we can find “Joy in Suffering (Brokeness).” It goes on to say that “suffering leads to perseverance, perseverance leads to character, and character leads to HOPE!” This is the passage for the ultra runner. The Brokeness/suffering I experienced in this race taught me volumes about myself, far more than any joyful occasion ever could.. I hope and pray that my character has been enhanced as I glean from life’s experiences. But ultimately HOPE is what we long for! Hope is the expectation of future good! It helps us to remember how we will be delivered and that completing the race can be done.

Greg Armstrong's View from The Rock - Vol State 500K

Experiences like this remind me what my late grandmother Armstrong said about living through the Great Depression, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars to go through that again, but you couldn’t give me a million dollars to take away the memories/lessons learned.”

Currently I feel the same about the VolState, but like most ultra runners I will soon forget the intense pain/suffering and probably sign up for next year!

Greg Armstrong (RIF #373)

[Greg founded Run4Water which is a nonprofit organization that strives to raise awareness and provide solutions for the worldwide water crisis. R4W builds wells and help provide water in the state of Tennessee and countries of Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua. Read more about this great organization at Run4Water.net]

Greg Armstrong Repeats as Vol State 500K King of the Road

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Joshua Holmes at Born to Run, photo by Joel Livesey – Run It Fast

Born to Run 100 Offers Pink/Yellow Combo, Fails to Deliver Knockout Punch

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Born to Run is a mixture of races that take place in Los Olivos, California. The races were created and hosted by famed runner Luis Escobar.

Born to Run is a bit of a cult race with a hippie-like Woodstock meets Burning Man vibe to it with good music, large consumptions of alcohol, and other extracurricular activities, as well as a bit of running. This year’s event had distances of 200mi, 100mi, 60mi, 30mi, 10mi, and a 1mi beer run.

Run It Fast® member, and good friend, Jeff Liu had selected this race a few weeks prior to run as his 4th 100 miler. I wanted to be there to support him but was undecided on running it until three days before the race when I signed up. That’s enough time before a 100 to decide to run it, right?

Naturally, I was late leaving Los Angeles, traffic piled up, and I finally arrived at the BTR ranch about 10 minutes before the race was to commence. Since I had signed up at the last minute there was some confusion as to who had my race bib. I finally located it and rushed to get ready in my truck as Jeff waited shaking his head at my rushed entry onto the BTR scene. Jeff had been there for several hours, all set up, laid back in his Lazy Boy recliner soaking in the BTR vibes, scents, and mentally preparing to run 100 miles. I finally told Jeff to head on over to the starting line as I wrestled with some bags to find socks and Gu’s. Shortly after, I heard the final call to start the race and ran the 1/10th of a mile to the starting line.

Run It Fast Born to Run Pre Race

Right before the gun went off, I was able to locate the other RIF members there including Christy Scott, Liu, Jeff Genova, Martine Sesma. I found everyone from RIF except Ed ‘the Jester’ Ettinghausen, and Ed is very hard to miss. Not being able to find Ed before a 100 he’s supposed to be at (which is about every one) is like not hearing a screaming kid at Chuck E Cheese at closing time.

Luis fired the shotgun and we started the Born to Run 100 mile race as the sun was starting to set on the ranch. I spent the first mile chatting with Christy and then with Andrew Snope, from Georgia, whom I met back in August at the Six Days in the Dome races in Alaska. I then caught Scott Newton, from Soul to Sole, and we ran the next mile or two together before he took off and left me as I helped a poor oak tree from the tough California drought with a solid 53-seconds of hydration. It was during those early miles that I realized all the things I had forgotten to do in my mad rush to make it to the starting line. The most glaring was that I forgot to put on my Zensah® calf compression sleeves. It was not a major deal though since the race would return by my truck at the 10-mile point.

The first 10 miles was on what was referred to as the ‘pink’ loop, pink ribbon…pink loop.  The pink loop winds all over before bringing runners back to race headquarters. Then we headed out on a 10 mile ‘yellow’ loop (yellow ribbon) that returned us to the same spot as well. You do each loop 5x to reach the 100 miles. I’ll give Liu a pass because he had never done the race before, but Liu, Newton, the Jester, and everyone I spoke to before the race talked about how BTR was a fast course with some easy rolling hills. Four miles into that first ‘pink’ loop and I thought this isn’t that rolling or that easy. As fate would play out the ‘pink’ loop was the easier loop of the two. SMH!

Joshua Holmes at Born to Run, photo by Joel Livesey - Run It Fast

I finished the first pink loop in 1:29 which was pretty fast, too fast actually! I had run it thinking that the yellow loop would be as friendly or more friendly.  Upon getting back to my truck I killed several minutes, finding and putting on my Zensah’s, reloading my bottle, etc. I think I also grabbed my headlamp because the race had started at 6pm, and the sun would be down before I got back around. I headed out on the first ‘yellow’ loop and ran the first couple miles of it with Snope. He’s a super-fast young dude who is usually bare foot or in some Gandhi sandals. We talked a bit, co-mingled in the sunset, and I finally found some weeds to water so he’d get on his fast way. I was running too hard to keep up with his ‘easy’ pace.

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That ‘yellow’ loop was no joke. Yellow is supposed to be the color of friendship I thought, but ‘yellow’ was not mellow and slapped me around a bit. I quickly realized that this course was going to be challenging and that I needed to figure out how and when to attack it. It’s one of the advantages of doing a looped course. You’ll be back on subsequent loops so know where you want to run, power hike, let gravity pull you (and where the aid stations are). I got back to home plate finishing my first ‘yellow’ loop in 2:04 for that 10mi and 3:33 for the first 20 miles.

Somewhere between 15-20 miles into BTR my right achilles felt fried and like it was on the verge of popping. My lower back decided to join in around the same time and give me a two piece harmony of pain that couldn’t help me to not think that the next track to be played would be ‘Symphony of Destruction.’ I immediately prepared myself that it might be near impossible to finish 85 more miles and I might ring up my first DNF…after 143 races. After all it’s only a matter of time…I started to prepare myself for all outcomes. When a DNF does finally happen, I’ll just start another streak and hope it’s just as long as the first. However, I knew as long as I could keep taking a step forward that I would continue.

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The next ‘pink’ was slower but felt comfortable, followed by a slower ‘yellow’ as my run went deep into the night. My third time around was my slowest on each side, but I knew it was the last miles before the sun reappeared. My aggressive goal coming into the race was to hit 60 miles in the first 12 hours. I think in reality I hit about 57 miles in the first 12 hours. My achilles had slowed me a bit as had hunger and a bit of sleepiness throughout the night, but overall I was pleased with my movement over the first 60 miles that brought me back to BTR headquarters with the completion of three big loops (3 pink and 3 yellow). It took me 13hr 10min to do 60 miles. During that time I hit 50 miles in 10hr 27min.

With daylight anew, I felt confident with 60 miles completed. With the light it’s easier to feel more confident about your footing. It’s no myth that the sun brings energy with it as well. Also with the daylight there would be no more green eyes glowing back at me like they had throughout the night. The ranch had lots of cattle, deer, and other wildlife that kept you alert during the night. Like most trail ultras at night though, you are just going on blind faith and eventually get to the point where you don’t care what is out there…and even further to the point that it usually gets so bad during a 100 that you hope something will attack you and take you out of your misery, but even the wildest of wildlife has standards and will thumb it’s nose at you at that point.

On the fourth set of pink and yellow loops I was strong. I had my 2nd strongest pink loop on that fourth round and also my 2nd strongest yellow loop of the five total completed. I did the combined set of 20 miles from 60-80 in 4:33 (2:00/2:33). This left an ‘easy’ pink that would bring me back to BTR headquarters at 90 miles, leaving the tough yellow loop that I could simply mark off one mile at a time.

The last few times back to BTR HQ Tony Scott, Christy’s husband, who has helped me many times during the Strolling Jim 40 Miler in Tennessee, made sure I had was well fed and I had anything I could think of as he went above and beyond to help me have a good race. I’m very appreciative for Tony’s kindness and help during BTR & SJ40 two weeks before. His tent and food spread became my aid station. Tony had some great lil turkey sandwiches, with pepper jack, on Hawaiian bread that were amazing. I almost turned around once after heading out on a loop to get a few more.  And of course he had Southern favorites, Zebra Cakes and Oatmeal Pies.

During that last pink loop I finally found ‘The Jester.’ I had not seen him before or during the race so I assumed he was a no-show. When I lapped Ed he told me that he had been late to the start (sound familiar?) and had started 30 minutes late. It’s always good to see Ed. He was having a rough day but would go on to complete his 100th 100-miler. Yeah, that’s a pretty amazing number. The whole Jester outfit can really detract at times from what a great runner Ed is and has been for a long time.  He holds a 100 PR of like 14:50.

Around mile 80 I started hallucinating that I saw a hot air ballon with the same colors of my race bib.

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Pink 80-90 went smoothly and I headed out quickly for my very last loop, my last yellow loop. I was ready to finish and for several hours I had kept my focus on the number 22:30 to keep me tuned in and keep me tight on the rail to try to finish this race without burning too much more time than necessary. It’s 100% that RIF attitude of maximizing potential and seeing what we are truly capable of doing. On that last yellow it had warmed up as it was now the hottest part of the day. I was pushing pretty hard to finish, and I started to get a bit light headed coming up one of the long climbs. I dialed it back a bit, slowed down on that last big climb, and waited to turn it back up when the next descent hit.

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Around mile 96ish I went down that nasty triple-dip ridge descent for the last time. This left close to 3 miles to go and with that came a good feeling that my 30th 100-mile finish was in the bag. I enjoyed those last miles and kind of played the entire race throughout my head again as I also wondered how Christy, Jeff, and Ed were doing on the course. I had not seen Jeff in about 25 miles when we crossed at one point at an intersection. I kept hoping he had not DNF’d and succumbed to the vices of BTR HQ.

I then came down the last mile, through the BTR alley of cheering & debauchery, and crossed the finish line in 22:16:51. It was good enough for 5th overall. RIF’s Jeff Genova, the official race photographer, gave me my finisher’s amulet and buckle moments after crossing the finish.

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I was pleased with my finish and my time. I had battled for many miles against my achilles, gutted it through certain sections, but had given it my all every step of the way. I could have saved more time by being more organized with my gear/food/etc at my truck where I burned more time than I should have, but that is the only thing I felt like I could have done better. My moving time was 20:27:53….so I could have done better and been more efficient at my truck when I stopped at it for sure. I felt like I minimized time at the actual aid stations.

Here is a look at some of my splits from the 2015 Born to Run 100:

Pink Loops: 1:29, 2:04, 2:17, 2:00, 2:09
Yellow Loops: 2:04, 2:33, 2:43, 2:33, 2:24
20 Mile Loops: 3:33, 4:37, 5:00, 4:33, 4:33
10-1:29, 20-3:33, 30-5:37, 40-8:10, 50-10:27, 60-13:10, 70-15:10, 80-17:43, 90-19:52, 100-22:16

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Born to Run 100 Elevation Chart  - Run It Fast

Christy Scott finished sub 24 in 23:50:22 and was 1st female. Jeff Liu finished in 25:52:37. Ed ‘Jester’ Ettinghausen finished in 29:18:34 for his 100th 100-mile finish. Martine Sesma PR’d the 30-mile race in 6:00:14.

The great Oswaldo Lopez won the BTR 100mi in 17:10:07, Andrew Snope was 2nd in 17:45:22, and Ben Holmes was 3rd in 18:45:24.

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Born to Run is laid back and fun for those there running one of the races, but is also a fun atmosphere for those not running as well with the live music, spirits, etc. The course is more challenging than advertised or friends remembered from prior years, but it’s a pretty course with great views and wildlife throughout.

I hope to be able to make it back next year!

– joshua holmes (RIF #1)
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Strolling Jim Was A Walking Horse – The 2015 Race Report

First, this is a running race named after a walking horse.

The 2015 edition of the Strolling Jim 40 miler, a race that is actually 41.2 miles, was the 37th version. But then again if the distance isn’t accurate maybe this wasn’t the 37th. I guess we can believe it, I mean it’s not like the creator uses a fake name. If you haven’t run this one, you are missing out – missing out on an incredible experience and equally incredible pain. But its a good pain.

The early pack Photo Credit: Joshua Holmes

The early pack Photo Credit: Joshua Holmes

A Strolling Jim experience begins with camaraderie with ultra legends and ends with the same. The in between is where runners find out what they are made of. The course is brutal – and all road, this is as old school as races come.

DeWayne Satterfield, Dink Taylor and Brett Wilks Photo Credit: Yong Kim

DeWayne Satterfield, Dink Taylor and Brett Wilks Photo Credit: Yong Kim

My personal experience with this race includes multiple hours of running with ultra-personalities and hearing about their experiences in iconic races and other adventurous runs. I have been lucky to spend three plus hours each of the last two years running with Huntsville’s DeWayne Satterfield and Dink Taylor. Seeing that these guys have done great things in the ultra world for years, you can imagine the great yarns they can tell. As we ran the country roads in the early miles this year, Satterfield obviously had the Vol State 500K on his brain. When we would come to a viewpoint that held a long section of rolling terrain in front of us, DeWayne would spread his arms out to hold the scene and say with that perpetual smile of his, ‘this is exactly what Vol State is about.’ It’s great to see these guys get excited about these big events.

Around 15 or so miles into the race we passed a country church, I looked back. I did not turn into sand, but I did see the sign out front had the following verse/message on it: O Death, where is your sting (I Cor. 15:55). I pointed this out; DeWayne started singing O Brother Where Art Thou songs. Later on, in our own ways, we found out just where the sting was located.

In order to pass the time, because the early miles (1-26) are about passing the time until the racing or flailing begins, I asked Satterfield why Huntsville, AL has so many ultra runners. In fact, I asked a more pointed question – was there a person that got you guys into ultra running when everyone else was running 10k races? The answer was a gentleman named Phillip Parker. The cool thing about this sport is that every successful runner seems to have a person that they look up to and who taught them how to be the success they’ve become in the sport. Hearing this always reminds me to listen to those who have been doing this for a while to find out the good secrets and to talk to those who are new to our crazy group. Parker was that spark for Satterfield. To hear the admiration in his voice showed how special this man was. DeWayne has a Barkley Fun Run, a victory at Vol State, in fact victories for years and years at the ultra distances. DeWayne is a genuine, good human and for him to look up to another runner so admirably tells me a lot about Parker without needing to hear the stories. DeWayne told me of Parker running Vol State in the early years of the race, a tale that included Parker’s wife discovering on day two that she had an appointment back at home on the 4th day of the event. Parker did what any gentleman would do for his wife; he manned up and ran like a hundred and ten miles on day three to finish the race in time to make the appointment.

Parker would also answer the local’s question of ‘how far you going today?’ with ‘a couple dozen’. Classic.

Eventually, DeWayne and Brett Wilks took off from me. We were a couple dozen into the race. About a mile later, Dink passed me. Dink always passes me. Someday, maybe when I’m 50, I’ll get him back but it won’t be easy. Once the marathon is in the legs, Dink smells blood in those poor souls in front of him.

Last year at the marathon mark things got real for me. Luckily Joe Fejes (yes, that Joe Fejes) and I hooked up for the second half of the race, aka miles 28-41. Joe’s mental capacity to get through races is unparalleled; after all he is ‘6 Day Joe’. At mile 28 Joe told me exactly what we were going to do for the rest of the race. I did not question him. I just did what he said. Things worked out. This year there was no Joe – he’s in Hungary running for six days straight again. So it was me and my crew. Last year, my wife Sherrie handled the crew duties – that is when she made it to me. She got lost and couldn’t find me until I had made it about 25 miles into the race. I’m pretty easy when it comes to crewing, so I just adapted. This year though I had professional help.

Yong Kim at Lookout 50 Miler Photo credit: Jobie Williams

Yong Kim at Lookout 50 Miler Photo credit: Jobie Williams

When us Southerners say ‘Yong Kim’ it sounds like we are talking about an up and coming female rapper from Atlanta, but in reality Yong is a solid runner from Nolensville, TN. Yong had offered a few weeks back to crew me in this race. Yong has done some great races lately, especially the phenomenal effort he laid down at Savage Gulf marathon, where he was second overall with one of the fastest times ever on the difficult, technical course. Yong and I have also shared plenty of miles together and to say he is the most positive person I’ve run with will not shock anyone that knows him. So when he offered I took him up on it. Another good thing working in my favor was that Yong had witnessed first-hand some of my usual race stupidity. Like the time a few years ago when we ran Stump Jump together. It was the year that would become known by most of the entrants as the ‘Bee Year’. A hot day for sure and me not being one to consume a lot of fluids as I run, I thought the best choice for my water bottle would be one of those 6 oz Salomon soft flasks that fit in your palm. I was fine early, but once we hit Suck Creek Road the second time the light switch went off on me. I spent a few minutes trying to determine why the aid station worker was talking in Swahili. Eventually I came to my senses and realized that she was not the crazy one standing there.

Yong was solid all day, moving between crewing me full-time and a few others part-time. Next year I’m hoping that he jumps into the race as well.

As things deteriorated for me, Joshua Holmes was head hunting. Right as I entered ‘the walls’, Yong told me that Josh was very close and that I should work with him to the finish. We were in two totally different places at this point and Josh ended up running this critical section of the course strongly and got the sub 6 hour result for his effort. Very proud of him. Josh and I have shared some memorable miles, specifically at Badwater last year where I was on his crew. That week produced a lifetime of stories. Like the day after the race. We had stuck around for the finish festivities in Lone Pine and on the drive back to Los Angeles decided that we would celebrate the week with one last event – a soccer game between Manchester United and LA Galaxy. So we drove to Pasadena and looked for a parking spot around the Rose Bowl. Because we are cheap, we didn’t want to pay to park so we ended up in a residential area a few blocks from the stadium. None of us were completely sure if parking in this area was legal. After slow-rolling through the neighborhood like a bunch of combination creepers/terrorists, Josh pulled the big suburban full of runner and crew in front of a house and waffled with his decision to park there for a moment, then stated, “this is a rental, it’s not like anyone is going to know it’s my vehicle. I think we are OK here.” We all sat there a minute reassuring him it was fine. Then I remembered that we had not removed any of the five 3’x2’ race required signs from the vehicle. These signs had ‘Joshua Holmes’, ‘Run It Fast’, his race number – basically everything except his bank account on them. And that is why we are runners. Being a ninja or international spy requires more stealth and intelligence than we can produce. Just for the record we were a band consisting of one medical doctor, two attorneys, an accountant and a college student.

Jobie Williams and Joshua Holmes in the post Strolling Jim swing Photo Credit: Yong Kim

Jobie Williams and Joshua Holmes in the post Strolling Jim swing Photo Credit: Yong Kim

As I struggled through the 50K point that was marked on the road I looked at my watch to see how long it had taken. 4:18. Even though it was rough those last miles leading to the mark, my heat soaked brain was convincing me that a 4:18 50k is not terrible at all. Later that night as I thought about this I had to laugh. As I was feeling good about my 4:18, Scott Breeden had finished the race four minutes earlier. Everything is relative I suppose. Small victories, all that stuff. But Scott is a real talent and was doing this race on Barkley legs. I’d not be surprised if he doesn’t threaten the seemingly untouchable Strolling Jim course record in the coming years.

Jobie Williams "enjoying" the country roads of TN Photo Credit: Yong Kim

Jobie Williams “enjoying” the country roads of TN Photo Credit: Yong Kim

Those last ten miles were cruel and I made a joke of them. Mostly this race came down to me quitting on myself and that doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll have some unfinished business to motivate me next year. As I closed in on the finish and flippantly read Laz’s painted-on-the-road messages to the runners, like ‘only wimps walk here’ – walked, ‘big girls run this’ – walked, ‘only 5k to go, start your kick’ – walked, I was passed by a guy who ran right by me. And he kept running. Actually he had this Badwater shuffle going that was super effective. To stay close I would run a little harder and then settle into a walk. Basically it was the way a 9 year old runs a 5k. At this point I was crushing my ear drums with Rage Against the Machine tunes so that my walk was motivated. Yong had put ice into my water bottle so unbeknownst to me, I sounded like a jack hammer to everyone around me. Once we hit a mile and a half to go I decided I would run with this guy and see what his story is. I turned off my iPod as I caught up to him. His first words were, ‘I was wondering when you were going to catch me. I’ve been hearing your water bottle for a while now.’ Man, I bet that was annoying. Luckily he was a super nice guy and still talked to me. I told him that he must have been a Badwater runner at some point in his life because he had the Jerry West of Badwater shuffles going. He looked at me and said that he had won the first three. Tom Possert, I’m sorry for being a nuisance and an idiot.

Once I finished the race I got to see women’s winner Beth Meadows come in a few minutes later. (This is my way of letting the reader know that I beat all the women.) I had talked this race up to Beth who had just run Boston a couple weeks before. Beth is one of the super solid female runners from Nashville that performs very well in every race she enters. For winning Beth got this awesome trophy that is not dissimilar to the height of Clark Griswold’s Christmas tree. And Beth has Strolling Jim fever now. Something that you can’t get rid of – ask Dink who has done 29 Strolling Jims now.

Beth Meadows and Jobie Williams finish line smiles Photo Credit: Yong Kim

Beth Meadows and Jobie Williams finish line smiles Photo Credit: Yong Kim

Another year finished with the consumption of a big ole chicken leg under the tent in Wartrace. Many more stories were shared and fun had. But before that I sat down under the tent and Laz asked me if it was as easy as I expected. I answered that it was a rough day. He then made a reference to me doing the marathon. I guess I looked more like someone who had wrestled with a 6 hour marathon than a 6 hour 41 miler. I’m not sure what that says about me…

Posted in Race Reports, Running, Ultra Marathon0 Comments

Zion 100 Course Photo 2015 – Run It Fast

Zion 100 Race Report: The Battle to Live to Fight Another Day

Sarah Johnson Zion 100 - Guacamole Loop - Run It Fast

Zion 100 Race Report (April 10, 2015)

While pregnant with baby #4, I signed up for a 100 mile race called Prescott Circle Trail. It would take place about 8months postpartum. I thought it would be a good goal and help motivate me to get into shape after having a baby.

I started exercising at about 3 weeks postpartum. I eased slowly into things and overall felt really good. I ran my first race at 8 weeks postpartum; an 8k. It felt like a celebration of sorts. 1k in honor of each week my wee one had been earthside.

At 10 weeks postpartum I decided my body was ready for some hard conditioning and training. I started cross training and upped my mileage.

I continued to run races increasing the distance each time. I did a few races in the 25ish kilometer range until I decided I was ready for ultra distance. I started doing races in the 50k+ range. While getting adequate training runs in was a bit of a challenge, for the most part I felt strong and capable.

About a month out from Prescott Circle Trail the event was canceled. I was crushed. I had been looking forward to it for months. Every.single.run over the past several months had been in preparation for Prescott Circle Trail. I started looking for alternative options.  I considered running the course self-supported. I contemplated a Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. There was a 500krelay race in Tennessee that piqued my interest. All I knew is I was craving a physical challenge and had the support/resources in place to make one happen.

I got wind of another race called Zion 100. It happened to start on the very same day as Prescott Circle Trail. After reviewing the race information and course map, I was feeling pretty stoked. It was the exact kind of course I enjoy; technical trail with a decent amount of climbing. The race company is committed to putting on eco- friendly events. The race director has a very positive reputation in the ultra-running community. All the information on the website indicated it was a top quality event and very well organized. The location was easy to get to if I kept my travel itinerary exactly as planned. It would just include a few extra hours in the car to get there and back. It seemed like an ideal swap for Prescott Circle Trail! Now to make it happen.

A big piece of the puzzle for me was Baby M and who would care for him during the race. I had already made solid childcare arrangements for the older three boys but M had to come with me to the race. I checked in with my mother in law about potentially coming with me and hanging with M while I ran. Without any hesitation at all she replied, “Yeah. I can do that”. I am pretty sure that is her default reply to everything I ask of her; for which I am beyond grateful.  That was the green light for me to go ahead and register.

Shortly after I shared my ultrasignup registration I got a message from my friend Julie with a screenshot of the directions from her house to Zion.

My reply “Want to come with me?”

Her reply, “Yes.”

Done. I had a crew person.

A short while later I got a message from my friend Sarah, “Need a pacer?”

I replied, “Would it be you?”

“Yes”

“Then absofreakinglutely yes!”

Done.  I had a pacer; a pacer who had run Zion100 the year before with a strong finish. All the pieces were coming together super smoothly.

Five weeks out from Zion100 I had a75k trail race that was going to be my last long training run. While that race didn’t go quite as planned I ran with fierce determination and was quite pleased with my performance.

However my runs after that race were difficult. My left knee started to bug me about 15 miles into each run.  At first I ignored it. I was almost in denial. It was the worst possible timing to have something on my body not working optimally. I wasn’t 100% sure it was related to running since I was doing an ample amount of cross training. I thought maybe I had tweaked it at the gym or in ballet class. I remained hopeful it would heal quickly on its own. Two weeks out from Zion I did a 25mile training run on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Spa, Belgium. I was in so much pain at the end I could not run. I met my husband and kids at a restaurant post run. Hubby asked how my run went and while we ate, I confessed to him my knee had been bothering me for the past few weeks.  We discussed it as we ate and came up with some ideas of things to do that might help.

I also decided it would be good to give Julie a head’s up that my knee would probably be an issue during the race. She is a physical therapist which boosted my confidence some that her knowledge of body mechanics would be in my favor during the race.

Fast forward 2 weeks, an international flight (I live in the Netherlands), and a 6 hour road trip later and I was at the start line of Zion100.  I felt pretty good although I was operating on pure adrenaline and nerves at the point as the night before the race I had only gotten 1.5hours sleep. (jet lag + nursing baby + early race start).

The first part of the course was amazing. I moved swiftly and steady. I arrived at the first crew point (mile 15) well ahead of schedule. I needed to nurse M so I had to wait for my crew to arrive even though I was eager to go on. At that point I was aware of my left knee but it wasn’t painful. More or less I felt a little nudging sensation…almost as if it had a “Fragile. Hand with care” sticker on it.

Zion 100 Course Photo 2015 - Run It Fast

The next stretch was really tough on me. By mile 20 my knee was throbbing. The downhills were hard. I cussed a bunch on them. And loudly. (My apologies to other runners for my frequent Fbombs from miles 26 to 30). I already had thoughts of dropping in my head. I put on my headphones and cranked my music loud to serve as a distraction. I also apologize to other runners for my terrible singing. Somehow belting out Tesla, Guns N’ Roses, and Alice in Chains helped.  I arrived at the 30 mile crew point still a bit ahead of schedule however I was moving very slowly at that point. When I arrived my crew knew I was in rough shape. I said to them, “Right now I need logic and wisdom. No emotion. Ok? I have two options here.  I can drop. The consequence of that is regret. Or I can change shoes, roll/massage my leg, take an advil, put on my knee brace and assess pace at the next aid station. As long as I can keep moving and stay ahead of cutoffs, I should be ok”.  They said, “Option two!” and immediately started taking care of me while I nursed M. I left the 30 mile mark feeling renewed and hopeful.  Even with the BIG climb ahead I felt a surge of confidence after seeing my crew. Since my knee screamed hard on the downhills, I figured the next section would be ok considering it was flat or uphill.  Plus I am a hella good climber; it’s generally where I thrive on a course. The advil kicked in and the knee brace helped so I started picking up pace again. However, my gait was crazy awkward as I was compensating for my left knee and running in different shoes than usual. I started passing a bunch of runners who had previously passed me. Many asked me if I was feeling better and/or commented that I looked strong.  The comradery on the course was encouraging and reminded me why I love trail ultra runners.

I arrived at the next aid station ahead of schedule again and before my crew was even there. I wanted to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. I didn’t need to nurse at that aid station so I just wanted to check in briefly with my crew, refuel, and go. Sarah reminded me I had 12.5 miles before I would see them again and that she would start pacing me at that point (mile 47.5). Again I left that aid station feeling hopeful.

The next section of the course was called Slick Rock. It wasn’t very runnable for me and involved stepping up and down off large rocks. As the advil wore off my knee started to hurt again. I winced, clenched, and/or grunted every time I had to step down off a rock. Audible expressions of pain seemed to help. It reminded me of being in labor and grunting through contractions. (Not that the pain was on the same scale as labor, but I found myself instinctively using similar coping mechanisms). I had some advil with me and against my better judgement decided to take some more.

I didn’t see many other runners during this section so most of the miles were spent in my own head. I kept asking myself if I wanted to run a hundred miles on advil. It just felt very wrong to me. It felt as though I was ignoring my body’s natural feedback system. Was I comprising my body’s well-being for pride and stubbornness? It sure felt like it.

The last 3 or so miles of that stretch were pretty runnable (ie- flat) so I moved along at a good pace eager to see my crew. The temperature was also starting to drop and I welcomed the cooler air. I arrived at the 47.5 mile mark greeted by my crew. As usual they took awesome care of me. I nursed M, put on my night running gear, and off I went. This time with a pacer.

Sarah and I developed a smooth rhythm together.  At 14 hours I hit the 50 mile mark which meant I was still on pace for a 28 hour finish.  I asked her to try to keep me averaging at least 15 minute miles including aid station stops. I wanted to run all the runnable sections and fast hike the rest. At one point I even asked her to go faster. She said “we are doing 10 minute miles. Are you sure you want to be running this pace?”.  I did. I felt pressure to bank time as I knew going into the wee hours of the night exhaustion would set in and I would slow down significantly. We moved along mostly in silence (just like at Chimera100 where I had paced her). We long ago decided that few words were need between us to understand each other. She stayed a couple beats ahead of me, navigating the course, deciding on our pace and keeping me going. I liked how we worked together and I was very happy to have her with me. It also served as a good distraction from my knee.

At this point my feet were hurting. I could feel them blistering. I never ever blister. However I was running really differently than normal because of my knee. We were close to the next aid station but I felt like I had to take my shoes off right there. I plopped down on the trail and started working on popping blisters, all on my right foot. They were huge and ugly. I immediately had genuine empathy for people who regularly deal with blistering issues. Those bastards hurt! Many people who passed me asked if I was ok or needed anything. Again a reminder of what a generous heart many trail runners hold.

Sarah encouraged me to focus on getting to the aid station so we could tend to my feet properly. We worked our way down and once I saw how close we actually were to the aid station I felt silly that I had stopped mid trail. Sitting there in that chair at mile 57.5 I decided I did not like what I was doing to my body. I feared I was destroying my relationship with running by continuing on.  I said little during this time and was mostly in my own head. Sarah knew I was trying to figure out what to do. She seemed unsure of what to do or say to me. I asked her to tape my feet to give her something to do and buy me some time to think. I really wanted to talk to my husband but couldn’t get a hold of him on my cell phone. Sarah called Julie and asked her to come to the aid station. I didn’t know exactly what would be the outcome of her coming. Was I dropping and she was picking us up? Or was I going to figure out what I needed to do to keep going? When Julie arrived I took off my knee brace so she could massage/roll my leg. When I saw how swollen and misshapen my knee looked at that point I said with full confidence “I am done”.

Maybe I could have continued, but at what cost? I did not like that I was straying so far from my principles (to respect and honor my body) for a finish. It was not worth it to me at that point. I vocalized, “I feel like this is changing my relationship with running”.  That phrase struck a chord with Sarah and it’s as if she suddenly knew exactly what her role there was for me.

She looked at me directly and said “Will you do this again?” (meaning would I attempt another hundred miler). Without a moment’s hesitation I said “yes”. She replied in a gentle but firm voice “then stopping now is the right decision”.  She went on to say a bunch more and even though I only half heard her, I understood what she was getting at: Preservation of the passion for distance running trumps a finish.

Of course a DNF involves a lot of self-doubt and questioning of our ability as an athlete. But it also involves the opportunity for deep reflection and growth. The decision to stop running had been a hard one. I had basically been wrestling with it in my head from about mile 20. That in itself is draining.  And while I don’t expect a hundred mile race to be easy, my experience at Stagecoach100 had been positive and enjoyable thus showing me I didn’t need to “disrespect” my body to complete an ultra.

Rightfully so I was pretty down the next several hours (plus tired as heck). My usual smile, chatty, and happy demeanor was replaced with a grumpy ass version of myself. Instead of going to back to the rental house and going to sleep, I decided I want to help crew for my friend Josh. In part because I wanted to support him, but also I wanted to see the event from start to finish (ya know in case I ever decided to run it again). Josh went on to finish strong and I enjoyed watching the others runners came through the various aid stations.

The next day while I was still in a bit of a funk about the race and feeling pretty low, Josh sent me a picture he took of me as we passed each other at mile 22. When I looked at the picture my reaction was “Wow. That’s me! On the Zion100 course.  And even though I didn’t finish, my feet touched that piece of earth. I need to see value in that experience”.

Seeing myself in that pictured allowed a fresh perspective; one from the outside in. So much of an ultra (and running in general) is from the inside out. A change in perspective proved to be powerfully healing and exactly what I needed to find peace with my decision.

– Sarah Johnson

Posted in Race Reports, Ultra Marathon0 Comments

Joshua Holmes and Steve Durbin at Six Days in the Dome resize – Run It Fast

48 Hours of Doom at Six Days in the Dome – Race Report

Six Days in the Dome (48 Hour Race) 
Anchorage, Alaska – August 4-5, 2014

It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up nor wanted to miss. A chance to run the 48-Hour race at Six Days in the Dome with some of the all-time legends of ultra running. When Joe Fejes first told me about the race, the venue, and how he as going to try to break Stu Mittleton’s 6-Day record I knew I had to be there.

I knew it would start 12 days after I had run the Badwater 135. I knew I wouldn’t be my best, fresh, or perhaps even able to run it. I didn’t even buy my plane ticket until 6 days before the race. I also didn’t run a single step between my Badwater finish on July 22nd and the start of the Six Days in the Dome on August 4th.

I arrived in Anchorage around 3pm on Sunday, the third. I took a taxi to The Dome and arrived about 15 minutes later. I took a quick self-tour of the dome and didn’t see anyone else associated with the race. I then spent a few minutes on my phone trying to figure out where the pre-race mixer was taking place and to see if I had in fact packed a Toga (OK, that last part isn’t exactly true).

I found an email on my phone that the mixer was at Humpy’s. So I called the taxi company and arranged for a ride from The Dome to Humpy’s. I get to Humpy’s and can’t find Joe, other runners, or anyone else associated with the race so I walked out. Down $40 in cab fares to this point, and strapped down with my 50-pound backpack, I decided to walk the 3 miles to Wal-Mart to get stuff for the race instead of ponying up for another taxi. I probably should have called for a taxi but my frugality got the better of me. That was one very long three mile walk, with that heavy backpack on, in minimalist shoes, while the brisk Alaskan sun cooked me so slightly. I was smart enough to get a taxi back to The Dome after buying a good bit of junk at Sam Walton’s.

The Dome was a brisk with activity when I arrived back at it Sunday evening with my haul from Wal-Mart. I got my stuff settled at my race side table for the race and quickly made my pallet in a half dim room and relatively quickly, for me, found sleep.

The start of Six Days in the Dome was delayed 2 hours for timing issues. In retrospect, many of the 6-Dayers would say that was a sign of things to come. Everyone was ready to go at 9am and we got word that it would be delayed 1 hour until 10am and then that it would be delayed another hour until 11am. I had just taken a Gu Roctane and been through my pre-race rituals when news of the first delay got to me. Don’t let that sound like more than it is…I have very few pre-race rituals. But with a race delay, it’s beyond your control, and there is nothing you can do about it. So you wait along with everyone else. It affects everyone the same by and large.

Finally at 11am local time the race started. Most everyone probably started faster than they wanted to because of the pent up energy from being delayed for a couple of hours. I was pretty fast the first 40 laps on the 413 meter track but not nearly as fast as Zach Bitter who was there for one thing – to set the World Record for the fastest 100 miler.

I was lapping nearly everyone on the track at some point during that time, but Zach was lapping me what seemed like every 10 minutes or less. He was blazing fast, running like you’d see someone trying to put down a fast mile on a high school track. It would be easy to compare him to a gazelle or cheetah but in comparison to Zach any normally fluid animal’s form would be considered ragged and inferior.  And all the while he did it with a smile on his face, while we encouraged each other, and while he was gracious with every other runner on the track including going wide into lane 6 on several laps to high five dozens of elementary kids who were in The Dome for day camp that were cheering us all on. He was ultra smooth with the emphasis on smooth.

I ran really well for the first 15-20 miles. Through 20 miles I was right on pace to replicate my 100 mile PR time of 18:49 that I set at Across the Years back in late December.

However, my right ankle and feet were starting to bother me just 10 miles into the race. I thought it might be the shoes I was wearing (Hoka One One Conquest). So after 10 miles I changed into the Hoka One One Bondi B. The change helped very briefly before the pain and discomfort grew to a point that I knew a new 100-mile PR was not going to happen. The surface was harder than any other track I had run on before. I wasn’t the only runner to notice this early on in the race. Many complained about it as the race unfolded. I believe the hard surface along with the residual bruising, beating, and wear and tear from Badwater just 12 days before were likely the culprit for my feet and ankle feeling like they had been beaten over and over with an aluminum baseball bat.

And with that the entire race changed for me. I could have stopped at that point. There is no DNF after finishing 1 loop at a timed event. But I didn’t travel all the way to Alaska to run just 25 miles. For better or dumb I still wanted to knock off another 100 miler.  I walked as fast as I could and did so for most of the next 60 miles. The pain was still fluent, but it wasn’t as bad as it was when I would run. The bright side of walking for many hours on end was that I got to meet and talk with some of the pioneers and all-time legends of ultra running.

Those slow painful miles of walking were distracted by great conversations with Bill Schultz, Yolanda Holder, Marylou Corina, Joel Gat, Frank Bozanich, Josh Irvan, Andy Noise, Ken Rubeli, Bob Davidson, K-G Nystrom, Martin Fryer, Ed Ettinghausen, Lazarus Lake, Gregg Ellis, Brandon Wood, Francesca Carmichael, David Johnston’s son, Mark Mccaslin, Steve & Terri ‘Theresa’ Durbin and many others.

After about 15 hours of race time I took a shower and went down for a nice 3 hour nap in my sleeping bag. The rest and time off my feet helped a bit. I hit 24 hours with a paltry 71 miles. After about 80 miles I started to feel a bit better. The Dome had a gym full of weights right next to the track. So I’d lay down on the bench press, elevate my feet, and do a set of 40 reps just with the weight of the bar. This seemed to be a great magic trick to my body. I was able to run at a pretty good pace for several laps in a row after my chest pump. I believe elevating my feet, while sending the rush of warm blood to my chest, away from my legs and feet was a nice shot of adrenaline and redirect of the discomfort. I did this 3-4 more times over the course of that second afternoon and it helped each time.

I finally hit 100 miles in a Personal Worst of 33 hours and 45 minutes. I sat down and took a couple of small breaks before hitting 100 miles in an attempt to put my PW so far out of reach that I could never touch it again. I was extremely elated upon hitting 100 miles because of the mental focus and push it required to get to that point.

The miles were slow and painful after 100, but I continued to push through it. I made a deal with myself that if I made it to 110 miles before 1am that I’d go shower, lay down to sleep and not set an alarm. If I got up by 11am before the race was over I’d do more miles. If not I was content with what I had battled through to get to 110 miles in 38 hours.

I slept for 5-6 hours, quickly dressed, put on my shoes, and was back on the track at 7:30am with about 3.5 hours of race time left. I walked several laps at a brisk pace to wake myself up and to see how my feet, ankle, and the rest of my body was feeling. Once I felt like my body functioning at an operative level and well hydrated I started to feel the loud tick-tock of the race clock ticking down. I started chugging sweet tea and taking Gu Roctane again. I wanted to see how many more miles I could pour out of my body onto that concrete track before time expired. It was a point of the race where I could empty and dump all of my energy, and what remained in my body, to maximizing a strong effort until the end of the clock.

My motor started revving high and my legs started kicking and throwing down the soles of my shoes off the track at a pace that would have made a half marathoner and most 10K’ers proud. My laps went from 4:20 to 3:30 to 2:45 to 2:15, all the way down to 1:42 and 1:43 (6:40 mile/pace). I ran the last 20-24 laps between 1:42-2:10 and was able to put down several extra miles with my increased turnover of the track. I ran a couple of 7’s, and several 7:30-8 min miles during this stretch to conclude the race.

When I had started back at 110 miles, I had hoped to be able to get around the track enough to reach 120 miles.

The clock stopped and the trackside television monitor had me at 500 laps and 128+ miles. For some reason that number evolved down to 127.47 miles within a few hours of the conclusion of the race. It was nothing that I was going to throw a frenzy over or complain about at that point. As poor as my race had gone, I was able to feel really good with the way I finished it.

My quick explanation of my race is that I had a good four hours to start the race and a really great last two hours to conclude my 48 hour Six Days in the Dome…it was just that very poor and painful 42 hours in between those two strong stretches that had to be endured.

The highlight of my race was watching my friend Traci Falbo set a World and American record for running 242.35 miles in the 48 hour race. It was an amazing spectacle to behold. It was also a visual spectacular to watch Zach Bitter run 100 miles in 12:08 which is the third fastest American time ever. I also go to witness the first 60 hours of Joe Fejes’ U.S. record of 580.3 miles in six days. I was as equally impressed by power walking Run It Fast member Yolanda Holder who gracefully walked, at a very high speed, to 400 miles in six days.

A few days later, at the conclusion of all of the Six Days in the Dome races, I found out I was the 1st overall male winner for the 48 hour race. The 48 hour field was small, especially on the male side. I ended up 4th overall behind three great female performances and a mere 400+ laps behind Traci.

– joshua holmes

[photos: Jeff Genova/Joshua Holmes]

Posted in Race Reports, Running, Ultra Marathon0 Comments

Nathan and Melissa Judd Thunder Rock 100 – Run It Fast

Thunder Rock 100 Mile Race Report – Nathan Judd

Rock Creek’s Thunder Rock 100 Mile Trail Race

0-25 (Start to Reliance)

We began by crossing a long bridge across the Ocoee River with ACDC’s Thunderstruck blaring through the speakers. That was the perfect way to start the race. I made sure to start out very conservatively and to keep myself from getting caught up in the adrenaline at the start. The trail immediately started a climb, which was indicative of what would be upcoming all day. I felt very good for the first 5 miles and ran with a college buddy, Paddy Flanagan, for this stretch. It did begin to hail on us a couple of times in the first stretch. This made it actually kind of cold for a bit, but other than that, the weather was perfect for the start. Any more would have been too much. I came into the first aid station at Thunder Rock (mile 5) and had a quick refill before heading back out onto the trail.

I believe we were on the Benton McKaye for the next stretch. Again, this was a significant climb. I think it was after this climb that I decided to go ahead and push ahead for a bit. I met some interesting people along the way. I ran with a 17 year old girl for a bit, and she said it was her 4th attempt at a 100. It was fun talking to her, and I tried to give her some advice I wish I would have heard when I was her age. She was far ahead of her years. We reached the top of this climbing section probably somewhere around 15 miles in. There was an aid station here with some boy scouts who were playing. (I ran with a guy later who said one of the scouts hit him with a rock).

We had some muddy downhill for quite a while. I consider myself a strong downhill runner, and I really hit this section hard. It was downhill most of the way to mile 25, so I was able to pick back up on some of the time I lost on the climbing coming into 25 where I again met my crew. I rolled in there close to 4:30 pm I think. Just looking at the numbers, this was 1.5 hours ahead of 24 hour pace; however, they had taken into account inclines and things at various stretches, so the actual cutoff was at 6:00pm I think. Apparently, I was only 1.5 hours ahead of the actual cutoff. Either way, I was feeling pretty good for the most part. My legs were starting to feel a little tired which concerned me some, but mentally, I was strong and ready to keep going.

25-50 (Reliance to Servilla)

After Reliance, we ran across a bridge that crossed the Hiwassee. I saw Dawson Wheeler in a golf cart who commented on my Hokas. We ran east for a while following the Ocoee. We started off on a trail that was somewhat technical, and it eventually opened up onto the pavement for a long stretch. It was beating me up quite a bit, and I was really glad to come into the next aid station (Powerhouse at mile 32 I believe). The workers made sure we all had our headlamps. I didn’t stop long and headed out for the next stretch. This was the most difficult part of the whole course from what I can remember. There were two very steep technical climbs through this section. I bonked pretty hard for a while on these.

I simply couldn’t keep my heart rate down because of how steep the climbs and switchbacks were. Then, the trail would take a steep descent, but it would be too technical for me to make up any time on it. The only thing I could do was to keep moving forward. As I topped the second climb, some guys were walking back onto the trail from a small trail outcrop that was at an overlook. They told me to make sure to take the time to look at it. I was glad I did. I took a few minutes to sit down and to remember why I do trail running. I’m not sure how high the cliff I had been climbing was, but it had a beautiful overlook of the Hiwassee cutting through the gorge. To the right, the sun was starting to set. I took a picture, but it didn’t capture it (as most pictures usually don’t). I said a prayer of thanks to God for allowing me the ability to do this run and to see the things I saw, and then I began pressing on.

My anti-bonk was short-lived as I began to descend steeply and technically back into the gorge. At the bottom of the gorge, I heard a couple of voices behind me. I was about to cross a stream when I heard one of them curse behind me. I turned around to see someone fall off a large rock into the creek. I started freaking out telling them what I saw. They started freaking out looking for the guy around the rock. We couldn’t find him anywhere. This was my first hallucination of the day. The trail began climbing again for a very long time until it finally opened up to the aid station at Coker Falls.

I looked around for my crew, but the aid station workers said all of the crews were at the top of a hill. I went ahead and filled my bottles to save some time once I saw my crew. The sun had just set (right on 24 hour pace), but I had just enough light to get me to the top of the steep hill on the beginning of gravel road. It was roughly a half mile from the aid station to the top of this hill. I was happy to see my crew, and I let them know how hard that stretch was. They said I actually looked like I was in better spirits than most of the people who came out of that part. I think I stayed there about 8 minutes or so before getting up to head off into the night. Almost all of the night running was on gravel road. I met up with a guy named Benj. I ran with him almost the whole way to Servilla (from 40-50). We talked for a long time. He was a very cool guy. I think he said he was 25 (or about to turn 25… his birthday was on Sunday after the race. Happy birthday Benj). He began pushing on ahead right before we got to Servilla. This is where I picked up my safety runner, Alex.

50-75 (Servilla to Iron Gap)

It was nice having a little bit of company after being out in the woods and not knowing anyone. There wasn’t really a whole lot that happened between Servilla and the first stop at Iron Gap (mile 55 I think). There were some stretches of very steep climbing, from 50-75. I really enjoyed getting to the Pistol Ultra aid station at Bullet Creek. I don’t remember the exact mileage, but it was probably close to 61 or 62. Those guys know how to do an aid station. They had all kinds of crazy food. They had heaters blaring. There were Christmas lights everywhere. It was just awesome. It was a good way to wake up in the middle of the night. Alex’s wife, Cherri, was there to take care of everything we needed. I was wondering where my wife, Melissa was, and Cherri told me the roads had made her sick. I found out the next morning, that she had been very, very sick. I’m glad I didn’t know how sick at the time. It would have been a difficult mental barrier to cross.

After getting out of the aid station, we started a pretty major climb. The Pistol Ultra guys had signs on the side of the road with quotes of encouragement, funny one-liners, and things like that to keep the runners’ minds occupied as we climbed this “Heartbreak Hill” as the signs called it. Those signs helped a lot. Did I mention the Pistol Ultra guys know how to do it? (Their ultra is in January. I did it last year, and it was a lot of fun if you don’t mind running on some pavement). We were going to meet our crew again at the next aid station at mile 68, and Alex was going to jump out to take a break before starting to run with me again after the river crossing. That plan disappeared quickly when the crew wasn’t at the next station. It turned out they couldn’t find the station. Alex, by the grace of God, was able to get in touch with Cherri by phone (This was pretty much the only time he had cell phone service, and she just happened to have service at that exact moment, too). He told her to meet us at the river. This locked him into running more than 50k before he would even have the option of stepping out of his safety runner duties because there was no crew access at Iron Gap (the next aid station).

This was a very long 7 mile stretch. Again, it started on gravel road for a long time. Then, it went to single track for a while. This is where the sun started coming up for me. That was pretty cool. We could see Etowah (at least I think it was Etowah) off to the right side of the mountain as we ran. All the lights were on down there, and the light of the sun was just enough that we could see the structures of the city. It was pretty cool. After the single track, we got back onto a gravel road we had already run earlier. It was the stem of a lollipop section of the course. After finishing this stem, we arrived back at Iron Gap for the second time. I really had fun goofing off with the workers there. I was in very good spirits, and their positive attitudes helped bring me up even further.

75-100 (Iron Gap to Finish)

We started down the 8 mile horse trail to the river. This was mostly descending. There were some ups in it as well, but it kept steadily getting lower and lower. Alex and I got to see the view at the horse hitch on the left side of the trail as we headed south. The air was foggy down low, so it made for a pretty cool view of the mountains to our east. This was at roughly mile 78. We continued to move forward toward the river. This was a very long stretch. Every turn seemed like it should be the turn before we got to the campground, but we just kept going. Eventually, we saw our wives walking up the trail towards us. They were really a sight to see. It was also good to see Melissa feeling good again. Because they missed us at one of the aid stations, they were able to get to the river a little earlier to get some sleep. We slowly made our way to their car, and I laid down in the back for about 15 minutes while they refilled all of my gear. I didn’t go to sleep, but it sure felt good to get off my legs for a while.

I tried to get a little trot going on the way to the river crossing, but my legs barely worked. My parents were there to see me off across the river, too. It was cool to get some extra encouragement. It felt so good to put my legs in that water. It really did ice them, and they felt almost fresh once I hit the other side. I quickly got some grub at the next aid station (Quinn Springs, mile 83), and then I started the 2,200 foot climb over 3.9 miles up Oswald Dome. This climb was on my mind the entire time I had been running. I couldn’t help but ask myself the entire race, “What is it going to feel like to climb that after 83 miles?” Honestly, the climb wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be. I’m not saying it was easy, but the thought of doing it on tired legs was much more difficult than the reality of actually doing it. The hardest part of this stretch was that it started to rain on me.

It was probably about 50 degrees if that at the time. I started shivering uncontrollably. Alex was still running with me, and he actually took his shirt off to give it to me. I said no at first, but he said, “It’s already off.” It helped a lot, but I was still cold. Once we got close to the top, I asked him to run ahead and to tell the people at the aid station that I was really cold and had to find a way to warm up. A guy met me before I got to the station, and he led me to a truck. The heat was blazing in the truck, and they had really warm blankets as well. They also gave me a blazing cup of Ramen. It all really hit the spot. The next stretch was about 7 miles, and I honestly think I would have been in big trouble if I wouldn’t have been able to recharge my batteries at that point. I gave myself 8 minutes to get warm, and then I got back out into the cold. Immediately, I felt cold again, but I pushed forward anyway. Alex and I moved pretty quickly for a long time. It was a steady downhill stretch for several miles on more gravel road. The sky started to clear some, and the sun started coming out helping me out significantly.

We got to the final aid station at McCamy Lake (mile 93). My wife was waiting to jump in with me, and Alex got to jump out. That joker ran with me for about 43 miles after doing basically no training. He is sort of a freak of nature. I had heard that this next section of trail was all downhill and was very technical. At first, it was very smooth, and there were little tiny stretches that had some rocks. I thought to myself, “Is this what they were referring to as technical?” It was perfect.

That all changed after a while. We got onto some single track that just kept going up and down, up and down. There were stream crossings and rocks galore. At one point, we climbed up a large hill, and the trail had jagged rocks that made each step a chance of rolling an ankle. On top of that, to the left was a steep cliff. One wrong step, and it could have been a game ender. I intentionally took my good sweet time through this part. I was not risking losing the completion this close to being finished. I had plenty of time in the bank, so I just made it worth it. Finally, I saw a man up ahead standing by a sign, and I knew I was close. Wait! There wasn’t a man by a sign. I looked harder and harder, but he just wasn’t there. This was my second hallucination. Of course, I eventually started hearing voices up ahead, and I knew I was at the end. I came down a hill and banked to the left to cross the line to see my parents and Alex and Cherri there waiting on me. What a course!

Summary:

Going into this race, I had to make sure to prepare myself mentally. I attempted Pinhoti, and things just didn’t click for me there. My stomach went sour early on at Pinhoti, and I battled that up until around mile 70 before I felt it was getting dangerous to continue. I was afraid I would get stuck on that stretch, and a search party would have to come in after me. I figured out what worked for me nutritionally between Pinhoti and Thunder Rock, and I had absolutely zero vomiting issues this go around thanks to Tailwind Nutrition. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. It is the real deal.

In preparation for the mental barriers of the race, I wanted to know my “why” as to my motivation for finishing the race. Ultimately, I want my story to inspire others, not even necessarily with running. I am a counselor as a profession, and I work with teenagers with addictions. Many of them don’t even entertain the possibility of staying clean, and many of the ones that want to try don’t think it is even possible. They think they are bound by their circumstances, and because all of their families have been stuck in the cycles of addiction, they are destined to continue in the addictive cycles, too.

I want my message to be this: If I, an average guy, can devote myself to finishing 100 miles, you, the reader, can do anything. You simply have to start telling yourself that you can. Then you can start figuring out how to make it possible. I’m not telling you this will be easy, but it will be possible. You can do anything. This is the message I want my clients to receive from my finishing this race. I don’t really want any recognition other than others being inspired to do what they think is impossible.

Figure out what your goals are, and go get them!

Nathan Judd (2014 Thunder Rock 100 Mile Finisher)
RIF #166

RELATED: David Pharr’s Thunder Rock 100 Mile Race Report

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Thunder Rock 100 Mile Race Report – David Pharr

Thunder Rock 100 Mile Race Report – David Pharr

Disclaimer: Race reports often times can seem arrogant and prideful in the accomplishments of the individual. While that may be the nature of the beast, I want you to understand that I am humbled by this accomplishment. I would not have been able to do any of it with out the grace of God, the love and encouragement of my wife, and the countless friends and family that have been there along the way. The purpose of this report is not only to tell you all about the training and running of my first 100 mile race, but to be informational and inspirational. Because who knows? You may want to do one of these one day! While you may not think you can do it, with the proper effort and support you can do great things when you have great help.

“Pulling the Trigger”

It was January 16th and I had been sitting through a short course web conference class for the past 3 hours, but there was something else occupying my mind. Whether or not to sign up for an 100 mile race “in my own backyard.” As far as running has gone 2013 was not my best year. I began 2014 with the Pistol Ultras in Alcoa where I ran the lowest distance of a 50k. It was a wake up call that I was not in the best running shape and this 100 miler may be a pipe dream. I had watched the preview video for the Thunder Rock 100 several times, talked with my best friend about running it, and decided to pull the trigger. Then just like that, with a couple clicks of a computer mouse, I had committed myself to training for and running 100 miles. And so it begins…

Training for ThundoHundo

If you do a google search for a 100 mile training program you will find some. Most of them consist of several months of building up to a long weekend of back to back to back long runs. This type of long weekend simulates what it is like to run with tired legs. While that type of training may be ideal, the schedule of a busy life does not always allow for a 50 to 70 mile weekend of running. I grabbed a piece of paper and planned out what would be the next 16 weeks of my training. There was a half marathon that I wanted to do in February that I wanted to do well on too, so I threw that in the plan also. The training plan would build for three weeks and then have a week of lower mileage. I tried to make at least 50% of my runs on local trails and sought to have 80% of my runs to have some type of hill climbing. A lot of people avoid hills when starting to run, and I used to be one of those people. However if you are going to develop into a stronger runner, then you need to learn to love the climb. Hills not only make you stronger but they also make you faster, without doing the often monotonous speed training or track work. Through out the training I had the opportunity to do some long fun runs with my “training partner” Nathan Judd. Even though he lives on the other side of Tennessee, I ran more miles with him than anyone else. I usually train alone, but when I was in his town or he was in mine, we planned to do as many miles as possible. Two weeks before the race we even went to the Smokies for a Friday afternoon and Saturday putting in several miles and lots of climbing and descent. When the 16 weeks were up, I considered my training at least adequate to finish my first 100. In February I ran 128 miles. In March I stepped it up to 235 miles. April became one of my longest months to date with 310 miles. And in May I had one weekend in the Smokies, then the taper to rest for the longest run of my life on May 16th.

“Are you Ready?” 

This seems to be the favorite question for people to ask someone attempting a long distance in a race, just like the favorite question to a pregnant woman is “How are you feeling?” The reason may be that people do not know what else to ask. Whatever the case, I really did not know the answer to that question. How does one insure that they are “ready” to run 100 miles? I knew I was as ready as I could be, but there were several things that I wasn’t sure how to be ready for. What would it be like to run 1 mile further than my current long of 50 miles, much less 50 miles more? What would it be like to run through an entire night? What would it be like to try to stay awake for over 30 hours? What would my stomach do? Would I have to try to use the restroom in the middle of the woods? What if I twist my ankle? What if I want to quit? What if I don’t finish? With those questions and more in mind, the day of the race approached.

The Day before Thunder

The Thunder Rock 100 is held on a Friday beginning at Noon and the race is cut off Saturday at 6pm. As a preacher, having a race start on Friday instead of Saturday was excellent. That meant I could run the race and not have to take a Sunday off from preaching, that is if I could survive to make it to worship on Sunday. This Friday start, also meant that the pre-race festivities were pushed to Thursday. That afternoon as tried to pack as much as possible for the next days adventure. I needed to have my clothes and gear ready to go. The race allows for drop bags to be placed at certain locations along the race route. I needed to pack these with the supplies that I would need later in the race. I choose to pack 3 drop bags, one for mile 25, one for mile 54/75 and one for mile 83 after crossing the Hiawassee River. I also got my gear ready. I had recently bought an Ultimate Direction pack that I was going to use for the race. While it is usually a “no-no” to use a piece of gear that you have never trained with, I needed a pack to help me carry my water and other supplies that I might need in between aid stations. The night before the race I went to the packet pick up and pre-race meal at Elemental, a restaurant on the North Shore of Chattanooga. I was looking forward to meeting a group of online friends that were in the same enabling running club as I called Run It Fast. The food was interesting, called a Paleo bowl that I had grilled salmon added to, but it was not enough. The RD Randy Whorton talked about what the next day would bring and then the head medical Dr. spoke about all the dangers of running the race and some things to prepare for, one being the cold we were going to experience. Afterwards, because we were still hungry, Nathan and his wife, Melissa, Joshua Holmes and I went to Mellow Mushroom. It is always great to sit and listen to Josh give his sage advice when he is in town and hear of his amazing adventures. I got back home by 9 to finish packing and to get to bed early. Tomorrow was going to be a LONG day in the woods.

The Race Shirt and Buckle
The Race Shirt and Buckle

Thunderstruck!

Friday 8:00am-11:59am—I tried to sleep in as long as possible. The race didn’t start until noon and the cut off was 30 hours. So I was committed in my mind to being out there until then, so I wanted the rest. My family and I left the house by 9am, full packed for the fun filled day. We had to drop our daughter off at preschool first and then my wife and the boys were going to accompany me to the race start. The drive from Chattanooga to the Cherokee National Forest is only about an hour. I wanted to be there in plenty of time to drop my bags off and take care of some pre-race necessities.

The race is set in the Cherokee National Forest. It is a very remote part of East TN in Polk County. However its remoteness is second to its beauty. The race start was at the Ocoee Whitewater Center that was built and used for the 1996 Olympics. The Ocoee is still heavily used by rafters and kayakers for it’s world class rapids. We were going to use the Center’s parking lot and the bridge to cross to the other side. After a brief thundershower, the RD called the racers to the start. Final hugs, goodbyes, and high-fives were given before the clock would strike 12.

RIF before the race
RIF before the race

Friday 12:00pm-5:00pm (Mile 1-25)

AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blared over the loud speakers. 200 runners began to cross the Ocoee River by the Olympic Bridge. Perhaps we were all having some of the same thoughts, especially those of us who had never completed or even attempted an 100 miler before. I was thinking about the daunting task I had began, how that I could be on this course for the next 30 hours, how that it was going to be hard and difficult. However, I must keep a positive yet realistic mind. Endurance running is many times much more mental than physical. I had to keep my mind right the entire time.

After crossing the bridge the the single track trail turned left to make the first ascent of the day. I started the race near the back of the pack. This has its positive and negative effects. Positively, it lets you start out slow. There is no reason to sprint the first miles of an 100. It also can be motivating to move up the field by passing people. Negatively, it can be very frustrating not being able to run freely because there are so many people bottle necked on the trail. Trains of people develop on the trail. The head of the train is the person running the fastest in that group, the rest of the train is either happy to run behind the leader, or is striving to find a way to move up in the train to be the new leader or run up to the back of another train. I got caught in 3 trains during the first 6 miles, each progressively faster and less frustrating. The second train I came across had a familiar face in it. I saw Joshua Holmes, RIF #1, trying to fight through the train too. There is where I meet another runner Franklin and the three of us talked about what the day may have in hold for us. As a trio we moved through the second train and then through a third train, until it was just the three of us running on the single track making our way to the first aid station. The trail ended into the Thunder Rock campground and we turned right on to a bridge that would take us back over the Ocoee. I had been running for an hour and had drank half of each of my water bottles. So I filled one bottle with the other and then filled the empty one with new water. Once we started the next hike I would add my Tailwind to it. Leaving the aid station I got to see my family for the last time before heading into the woods again. Lukas was giving hi-fives, Linkoln was smiling, and Amber gave me a kiss as I passed by. I would not see her again until 10:30pm at mile 50.

The trio crossed Hwy 64 onto the trail. That would be the last road we would see until mile 25. We were now on the Benton McKaye Trail for the next few miles. The BMT is actually a 300 mile trail that was named after the man that came up with the idea for the Appalachian Trail. As soon as we started the BMT we started another steep ascent. We would be at least gradually climbing for the next 8 miles until we reached the top of Brock Mountain and descended to the next aid station at Deep Gap. As we started to make the climb the sky opened up  and with it came lighting, thunder, rain, and hail! This storm would last for the next hour at least and at times would be heavy rain. This rain caused the trails to be in very sloppy conditions for the entire day. The three of us continued to pass people along the trail through the deep woods. Then I fell for the first time of the day. I tripped over a root or rock or something and landed on my right shoulder up against a fern covered embankment. I quickly popped back to my feet and began running again. Franklin was moving on and I wouldn’t see him again until Coker Falls at mile 40. Josh was well ahead now too but I would see him again at the next aid station. Because I so quickly recovered from my fall, I did not do a full evaluation of my condition until I was down the trail another .20 of a mile. That is when I realized I had cut my left pinky just a little bit and it was bleeding, it wasn’t a big deal. But I also realized, I had lost a water bottle out of my back….that was a BIG DEAL. So I turned around and went back down the trail like a salmon going against the current of runners that I had just passed earlier. Thankfully I found it in the ferns just a short time later, to turn around again and fight a new train that had formed in front  of me. The BMT runs through the Big Frog Wilderness Area for a short section before going to Brock Mountain, unfortunately any athletic event is prohibited in “Wilderness Areas.” So this meant there was a section that had been “bushwacked” just for us so we could skirt the wilderness area. This section was basically a mudslide down to the trail…I slide on my butt several times trying to grab trees to slow me down on slide. The rain continued and hailed every so often as the trail meandered up to Brock Mtn where I came across Joshua again. He was kind enough to take a picture of me running behind him.

Photo by my personal race photographer Joshua Holmes
Photo by my personal race photographer Joshua Holmes

The two of us ran to the top of Brock and then started our descent. With in no time we were at the 2nd Aid Station at Deep Gap (mile 15). This aid station was run by a boy scout or cub scout troop. I refilled both of my bottles and didn’t see anything appetizing to eat, but I did pull out a couple of peanut butter sandwiches to eat sometime between here and the next aid station 10 miles away. This section was some of the lushes and prettiest of the course. The trail was single track and steep in spots. It would have been more runnable if it wasn’t so wet and muddy. Thankfully the rain had stopped and would not start again till tomorrow at almost noon. Josh moved on ahead of me and I played leap frog with a couple guys who were from Vermont. One guy had long bushy hair, the other had long bushy beard but was bald…I guess together it all evened out. Also during this section is a trail along Lost Creek, this too was so beautiful. The wide creek running beside you and a canopy of trees above you, an amazing area save the sloppy trails that could suck the shoes off your feet. After Lost Creek there is a steep switch backing climb and descent into the Reliance, TN.

I had run almost a full marathon. I had been on the trail for 5 hours, yet I was only 1/4 of the way done. Coming into the Reliance Aid Station, I first ran through a campground where a lot of crew  groups were waiting for their runners. As I ran through them, there was lots of clapping and cowbells and cheers. It kind of got to me, about what I was trying to accomplish today. I refilled my bottles, and found my drop bag that I switched out with the bag I had in my pack and I started running again.

5:01pm—10:30pm (Miles 25-50)

Leaving Reliance, the next 7 miles were not my favorite. There was a lot of pavement involved and frankly I was getting tired. The course goes over the Hiawassee River and then follows a trail/road along the Hiawassee until it eventually dead ends into the Powerhouse Aid station. While on this section, there was one little part of trail that connected various parking lots for the river. I was behind a fellow for a while and then had just got in front of him when we came to one of these parking lots. There was one car parked there. An older couple along with a young girl about the age of 7 or so sitting on a picnic table. As I approached them the girl looked towards me and yelled, “Daddy!” She jumped to her feet and ran past me to the man behind me and jumped into his arms. It was a sweet moment and made me think of my family. I wouldn’t see my little girl till Sunday, but I was looking forward to seeing Amber at the Coker Falls crew access, where we had planned to meet at 8:05pm. Once I got to the Powerhouse Aid station, I must have looked pretty tired. One of the volunteers there asked me a if I was okay…then about 30 seconds later she asked again. As I was filling my bottles and looking for some caffeine, she asked for the third time saying, “Are you sure you are okay? This next section is tough.” I felt tired but I was ready for the next section, I had run this section on a training run a couple months earlier. I got past the TVA parking area and then on to a beautiful and technical single track trail that followed the water but also had two steep abrupt climbs and descents. During my training run I had gotten loss on this trail. I followed it to the point where I had lost the trail earlier and….yep….I lost the trail again. It leads down to the creek and then just stops. I pulled myself up to the bank and fought through some trees and undergrowth looking for a flag or a trail or a person. I decided I would go back towards the place where I lost it and wait for someone when I saw 4 other runners jumping over the creek upon large boulders to the other side where there was a flag….So that is how the trail goes, across the creek! I continued on this section watching the sun go down and watching my watch. I wanted to be there at the right time for Amber, it looked like I was going to be there almost exactly on time. Josh also caught up to me on the ascent to Coker Falls and passed me. Evidently I had passed him while he stopped for nature. We came to the falls on our left and the aid stain was just ahead. I am sure the Falls were beautiful, but I was wanting to get to the crew access by 8:05pm. At the Coker Falls Aid Station, I refilled bottles, and drank some coke. Josh was there and sat down looking tired. Also there was Franklin, who I hadn’t seen since like mile 7. The trio was short lived though when Franklin said that he was dropping due to knee pain. I was upset for him, but also prayed that I wouldn’t hurt something out here either.

Leaving Coker falls I climbed a large hill on a dirt road till I got to the crew access. I saw Melissa Judd and the rest of the Judd Crew, but I didn’t see Amer. Melissa said that she saw her and that she was parking the car. So Melissa went to go look for her while I sat down in a camp chair they had for Nathan. It was the first time I had sat down all race.  I had run over 8hrs and 40 miles. The seat felt good but I didn’t need to be there long. I fixed my bag and put on my headlamp because it was getting dark. I wanted to get going but before that I wanted to find Amber. So I started walking up another hill where all the crew was parked. I started yelling, “Amber Pharr!!!! Amber Pharr!!!” as I walked along the long row of parked crew vehicles. I never found her there and Melissa came back down the hill saying she couldn’t find her either. I was a little worried, but wouldn’t worry too much more unless I missed her at the next cress access at Servilla Church (Mile 50). 

The next 10 miles was going to be mostly car restricted dirt roads. The sky was clear and it got dark quickly. I had my headlamp that supposedly would last for 6 hours. I had a cheap back up too, but didn’t want to use it. So instead I would just run by the moon light when I could and only turn the lamp on steep downhills or at crossroads. My plan worked well and made the night an enjoyable game for this part. The moon was very bright and for one entire down hill section there was a big truck behind me with very bright lights. I used his light to guide my way for at least a mile down the hill. The roads eventually lead to the next aid station called Manning Cabin. I don’t know what its called that, I didn’t see a cabin, nor did I see Peyton Manning. This was the first aid station where I started to get cold. I had my bottles filled up and I had some hot cocoa and my first cup of coffee of the night. I am not a big coffee drinking. I usually have like one or maybe two cups a week. This night I would have about 10 little cups full. As I left the aid station, I was getting cold. In fact I started to shiver as I ran away. I was wearing the same short sleeve shirt I had started with, the same one that had been in the rain, hail, and 46 miles of sweat. I had a long sleeve shirt in my pack and I had a pull over and gloves waiting for me at Iron Gap, 9 miles away. I decided that I would try to warm up while running and then change shirts at Servilla Church where hopefully Amber would be waiting on me. The dirt roads of Polk County turned to paved and we came to some houses and eventually an intersection where a volunteer was pointing me right, where I would see my one woman crew. As I climbed the hill to Servilla Church parking lot at about mile 50, a fireman asked me what my name and address was. I assume he was checking to see if I was okay. I told him and he gave me a high five. I then saw Amber up ahead and hurried to the chair he had for me. She told me she had some trouble getting to the first rendezvous point, but would tell me the whole story later, let’s just say she doesn’t do well on small curvy dirt roads with steep embankments on the side. It was wonderful to see her and a great moral booster. The last time she had seen me after fifty miles I was a mess, this time I was tired but resilient and ready to take on the next 50. I changed shirts and filled my bottles up. A kiss and hug good bye lead me to taking steps I had never taken before and miles I had never conquered.

10:31pm- 7:10 am Miles 50-82

The road from Servilla Church is dirt and ascends up to the Aid Station Iron Gap. This was a very strong section for me. Coming off of the high of seeing Amber I ran and power hiked hard all the way up. I ate some sandwiches along the way and passed several others. 4 miles later I got to Iron Gap. I filled the bottles and had some coffee. I grabbed my drop bag and took the running pullover and gloves out. I tied the pullover around my waist and put the gloves on my hands. I was so thankful for those gloves, and that I had packed the thicker gloves. Leaving Iron Gap is the stem of a lollipop section of the course. The climb continues till it goes down hill toward the next Aid Station called Bullet Creek. During this section I started playing a little game with myself. I would leave my head lamp off for all the ascents while I was walking and turn it on low for all the flat and down hill running. Something else that was motivating was using the head lamps of the other runners. I would look off into the dark horizon before me and see a flash of like or a dull glow in the distance. Then I would say to myself, I going to catch ‘em. For the next however long it took I would work hard to catch up to that light. This little game caused me to work hard when I might have relax in the darkness. After catching a few lights, I saw a red blinking light ahead off the side of the dirt road. I could see it for ever and was curious to find out what it was. Once I got close enough and walked over to investigate it closer. It was a sign saying that the Pistol Ultra’s Aid Station at Bullet Creek was only a mile away! That was an amazing sign of hope when I had been moving for 12 hours straight for 60 miles. Once I got to the Aid station it was like a Carnival! There were lights, music, heaters, and all kinds of food! I went straight for the Chocolate milk and m and m’s. I asked for some coffee and sat down for a minute to put on my jacket that had been around my waist. It was getting colder and I knew that once I left the heaters it was going to be tough. At the Aid Station, Joshua was sitting down getting his foot looked at and some moleskin added to cover up a blister. He quickly got up and headed out while I stayed for a few more mins to have another chocolate milk and some more candy. I would see Josh again at the finish festivities but not before.

As soon as I left Bullet Creek, I started the shivers again, but warmed up as I started moving. This dirt road was all part of the “pop” of the lollipop and I was going to have to make two sizable climbs before getting to Starr Mountain at mile 65. I continued to play the headlamp game and was looking forward to seeing Amber at the next aid station. I passed a few more people on this section and kept thinking that the headlamp in front of me would be Josh but it was always someone else. After about 5 miles I approached the Starr Mtn. aid station and Amber was there waiting in the van. She had fallen asleep on and off for a few hours so I was glad she was getting some rest. It was now 2:05 am, I was 10 mins early on my projected time. I sat down for a few minutes to get some coffee and have my bottles filled. I had a couple sandwiches since the last time she saw me and I put some in my pocket for the next section…a very long section.  

I would see Amber again in the morning before the River crossing. The next 10 miles seemed to never end. I was working my way back to Iron Gap and mile 75. The dirt road was not that bad, but we then went to more of single/double track trail. The lights of Etowah off to the right were nice, but I was getting really tired. I hadn’t got passed much during the race, but I started getting passed by some people at this point, it was usually two at a time. Not because there was two racers that close together, but because of the allowed “safety runner” that was with the racer. I decided I needed to eat so I had some more peanut butter sandwiches. I was just so looking forward to the next aid station and to the sun coming up. I had been told by several people that the sun coming up will give me energy. If I could just make it till the sun came up I would feel better. The sunrise would wake me up. This is my goal, the sun rise…but the sun would not rise for a long time. It was during this down time that I started walking more of the flats. My plan had been to power hike the climbs, and run the flats and downhills when possible. To help overcome my urge to walk I would tell myself, run till you can’t and then walk for a 20 seconds. That is exactly what I did. When I started walking I would start counting in my head and sometime audibly 1, 2, 3, 4…20, then I would start to shuffle into a run again. Sometimes I could go for a few minutes before repeating the process, sometimes it was only about 30 seconds. I found myself wishing for a climb so I had an excuse to walk. Sometimes I would evidently forget how to count to 20 and have to try a couple of times. All in all, I made it back to Iron Gap, mile 75. I drank coffee and filled my water bottle. It was sometime between 4 and 5 am and there was not glimmer of sun yet.

I had been looking forward to this next section in the race, because of my familiarity with it. During a training run Nathan and I had run up this trail, the Coffee Branch Trail and then back down. During the training run I tried to make as many mental notes as possible that I could use during the race. The trail is a horse trail that is wide and has some loose rocks on it. On our training run we flew down the descent at a steady pace. However in the wee hours of the morning and with the trail still sloppy from all the rain, there was not flying down anything. From Iron Gap to the River, it is pretty much all down hill…and for my me it was pretty much the same. This section that I had been looking forward to…stunk. It was miserable. I was past tired. I was sore. I was cold. I was impatient. Where was the sun! The sun was supposed to give me energy. I needed some desperately right now. I splashed and slid down the trail and at one point I fell. I tripped or lost my footing and went face and chest first to the rocky ground below me. I don’t remember it hurting but I do remember my two water bottles flying out of my pack and rolling yards down the trail. I do remember how hard it was to pick them off the ground with out falling over again. More people passed me. Some looked “fresh” others seemed pretty miserable too, but no one was as miserable as I felt. Where was the sun!? I kept thinking I would be at the bottom of the trail at any moment but it just kept going down and I kept going down. I was so tired and so out of it, I had forgotten to do the one thing that could have helped me get back into it…drink! I had left Iron Gap with two bottles full of Tailwind but not almost to the bottom of the trail and I had only had a few sips, stupid! The sun finally started to rise around 6:30 am, but with it came no energy, instead came foggy eyes. It was the weirdest thing. It seemed as if I was wearing glasses and they had fogged up on the lower half. However, in reality my glasses had not fogged up, because I wasn’t wearing glasses! Instead my vision was foggy, anything below straight ahead seemed blurry. This made the already difficult slipper trail even more difficult. After about another mile in the sunrise that did nothing for me, I came out to the Gee Creek campground where I would see Amber again.

I got to Amber and the camp chair and sat down. I told her all about how my life currently sucked. Before the race I had told her one major bit of instructions, “Don’t let me quit.” Thankfully she didn’t even bring that option up. Even though I was sitting but 3 feet from our van that could take me home to a hot shower and a warm bed, quitting was not an option. This was a low…very low in the race, but it would get better. If I stuck with it, it would get better. Before the race in conversation with Josh via messages he told me, during a 100 miler you will have several  highs and lows, the key is don’t let the highs seem too high and don’t let the lows get too low. I currently was fighting that too low part. I had some coke and cookies before walking towards the actual aid station about another half mile away. It was 7:10 am and people were cooking breakfast in the campground. During the walk was when I realized that I had stopped drinking. I downed the two bottles I had in my pack and then asked for more. I downed a third one shortly after that. I sat in the chair at the aid station while Nathan’s parents asked me some questions and asked me to pose for some pictures…I was not in the mood. From my chair I could see the Hiwassee River and Chilowee Mtn in front of me. They were basically the only two things keeping me from my finish. I switched in to some old running shoes that were going to get soaked, and I stood up making my way down into the ice cold Hiwassee.

7:11am – 12:00pm Miles 83 to 100

I had woken up the day before at about this time, and as I descended the rope into the water, I woke up again. The water was cold, slow moving and about mid thigh deep on me. It felt great in a way. The swelling I am sure I experienced over the last 80+ miles was being shocked by the ice bath type effect. About have way across the river, it hit me. I really need to go to the restroom. I had been running for over 19 hours and hadn’t had to #2 once…and now I needed to, and quickly. Thankfully when I got to the other side of the river there were some latrines in the parking lot of the next aid station. I made my way to the boys side and it was locked, occupied. So I went to the female said and the door opened, but no toilet paper…thankfully I had packed wipes. Afterwards I waked the 20 or so yards to the aid station and sat down to wait on amber to bring me a my shoes, fresh socks and a fresh shirt. I wasn’t feeling much better, but life didn’t totally suck at this point. Amber kept reminding me that I was a strong hiker and the 4 miles 2,000+ ft climb was going to be my forte. I refilled my bottles, that I was going to drink this time, and put on some tunes to motivate me up the mountain. The first few steps out of the chair was tough, but I was going to climb it. I had only 17 miles separating me from my first buckle. I fixed my hat down on my head so that I could only see a few feet infront of me. I did not want the continual climb to the top to overwhelm me. I was going to take this mountain 3 yards at a time.

As I started the descent and got into the set of switch backs I came across a runner sitting on the side of the trial. He shielded his eyes with his hands and said something to the effect of, “Don’t look, this is embarrassing.” I don’t know what he meant, and honestly I don’t know if he was even real or not, he may have been a hallucination, cause that was just a strange thing to say. As I climbed I felt strong and stronger. As I was going up the mountain my spirits were rising also. I ended up passing 5 or 6 people by just power hiking. I go to the top and turned let on another dirt road called Oswald’s Dome Road. At this Aid station there were grown men dressed up as giant rabbits and mice. One mouse had a crown on his head, I assume he was their leader. This was not an hallucination, but what they men at the aid station told me was a lie!  

I kid you not...Giant Animals!
I kid you not…Giant Animals!

They said, “It’s all down hill from here.” And, “This will be your fastest trail half marathon!” It was true that I had just 13 miles left, what was not true is that it was all down hill or that it was fast!

I ran strong down the road for a few miles and then the road started climbing. Up ahead I saw a guy in the woods equating up and down. He was about 6 ft tall and wearing a red and blue shirt. He would pop up and look around then squat back down. As I got closer, I realized that he was an hallucination. The all down hill from here part, kept climbing. So much so that I thought I had missed my turn off the road. So I pulled out my phone and turned on the GPS to see what road I was on…it was the right road, but it kept going up. Near the top of the massive hill I saw two guys that looked like they were falling apart. They walked swaying and pigeon toed. They were having a low point, but I was currently in a high. I ran past them and soon was at the McCamy Lake Aid station and saw Amber.

What a difference 9 miles makes! The last time I saw Amber I was miserable but determined. Now as I sat in the chair I was pumped and ready to finish this thing strong. The aid station worker said that “it’s all down hill” and that “it’s less than 6 miles to the finish.” He too lied. From the McCamy Lake Campground the trail was wide, smooth, gradual down hill, and awesome. I thought I am going to kill this! I have 1hr and 45 mins to run less than 6 miles to break 24 hours. THIS IS AWESOME!!! Then the trail turned to the left past Benton Falls. And with it came a steep down and up section that was completely unrunnable. There was roots and rocks. At one time there was steep switchbacks going down that had a even steeper embankment off to the left. The trail itself was so narrow that calling it single track made it seem wide, it was more like half-track. I had to use trees to keep my balance. The trail seemed to go on for ever. I had been running, well more like struggling down hill, for more than an hour by myself when I finally came to a clearing, there was a Ranger there with his ATV. Behind me was the two guys that seemed so miserable only 9 mile earlier. The ranger told us to turn right on this grass road/trail and I asked how much further. I assumed he would say a short distance. But instead he said 1.5 miles. This section was much more runnable and I ran as fast as I could. Evidently I had gone so slow on the technical part that even more people caught up to me. We were now all running in a train about 6 bodies long and I was the caboose. We got to a trail head marker that said we still had .7 to the finish. As we approached the end, we could all sense the 24 hours coming to an end and we all shot to a sprint. I call it a sprint because it was the fastest we could possibly move…but we probably were just running at a moderate pace. Down the hill to the left we could hear cheers and cowbells. I ran across the line and looked at the clock behind me, 24:00:15.

The Finish! 24:00:15

The Finish! 24:00:15

The Aftermath

I was beyond overwhelmed in completed my first 100 miler right at 24 hours. I hugged my wife that was there waiting on me in the now cold rain and we made our way to the van where we would drive to the finish line festivities. I was sore and tired, but I had completed something that a few years ago I had never even heard of!

There are so many people that I need to thank that made this possible. I thank God for enabling me with the ability and health to run and enjoy his nature. I thank my wife for her relentless encouragement and help through so much. The opportunity to see her face alone was what would get me through the lowest of lows in the race. I thank my friends that support me and cheer me on. I thank Run It Fast for being the enabling group of crazies that push me to push my limits. I thank my father who signed me up for my first race, the Art Fest 5k in Knoxville when I was like 11 years old and who would have me run 2 miles to begin and end every summer always reminding me that if I ever run enough that I would actually enjoy it, I certainly enjoy it now. I guess I should even thank my grandmother who taught me how to “nun.” (It’s a long story)

It was my race, but I needed all of them and more to make it happen.

I learned a lot during that 24 hours and 100 miles. And I look forward to learning more when I try 100 miles again!

David Pharr (2014 Thunder Rock 100 Miler Finisher)
RIF #185

RELATED: Nathan Judd’s Thunder Rock 100 Mile Race Report

Posted in Race Reports, THE CLUB, Ultra Marathon0 Comments


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