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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!


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


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

David Wingard and Joshua Holmes after the 2014 Strolling Jim 40 Miler

Strolling Jim 40 Miler Race Report (2014)

The Strolling Jim 40 Miler was the very first ultra I ran back in 2010. At the time I didn’t know another human on the planet that had run beyond the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles. I also didn’t know, in selecting The Jim, that I had selected one of the oldest and most historical ultras in the United States to attempt as my very first one.

This year was my 5th consecutive year running the SJ40. It’s held annually in the small town of Wartrace, Tennessee and consists of 41.2 miles on some of the most beautiful, scenic and rolling, green hills in the United States.

The race director’s for this year’s race were Steve Durbin (also RD for RUTS, Land Between the Lakes, Tunnel Hill 100) and Lazarus Lake (creator of the Strolling Jim 40, Barkley Marathon, and The Last Annual Vol State 500K).

The weather for this race is usually warm to very hot on the thermometer. This year, however, it was about 50 degrees at the start and only got up towards 80 degrees at the hottest part of the day. Most of the runners had already finished with temps in the mid 70’s.

I met many good friends before the start of the race including over 20 members of Run It Fast, posed for a few photos, used the facilities, and checked my two drop bags before the race quietly started at 7am.

I went in wanting to run well but also wanting to run smart knowing I had to run a 81 mile team race two days later at the Badwater: Salton Sea 81 Miler and do a double crossing at the Grand Canyon (R2R2R) two days after that. My plan was to go out at a strong pace and keep to it as long as all systems were in check.

Five miles into the race and then ten miles into the race I found myself in a large pack of very good runners consisting of Joe Fejes, DeWayne Satterfield, Dink Taylor, David Jones, Tom Possert, Jobie Williams and several others that was just a short distance behind the overall race leaders. 13-15 miles in to the race I was still in this pack and normally it would have been a sign that I had gone out too fast, but for the most part I had been running within myself and enjoyed the company and opportunity to catch up with several of the guys along the way.

Strolling Jim consists of rolling hills after rolling hill with four major climbs coming at mile 9, 19, 23, and 29.

Around mile 23 I was passed by the first female at the time, Natalie Pickett, just a few moments later I look behind me and realize I’m in the middle of a ‘chick’d sandwich’ as Aleisha Chaffin was on my tail. I was only in this spot briefly as the lower bun quickly passed and both pieces of bread left me in a carb free zone in their wake.

I struggled from miles 17 to 32. My stomach was a bit off, and I just felt a bit funny in general. I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was exactly. My ankles started to hurt in the new Hoka One One Conquests I had started the race wearing. My goal became to make it to mile 28 and switch into the Hoka Bondi Speeds.  This was unrelated to my stomach but did cure my ankles. A couple of miles after this I was able to use the restroom and things started to look and feel better while I was running in ‘The Walls.’

Most runners dread ‘The Walls’ at SJ40 that start at mile 29 and go on for several miles. I like the shade coverage the trees provide and the solace that those miles give as the field is usually extremely spread out at that point. I came alive around mile 33 and started to catch a handful of runners that had passed me 15-20 miles ago. My mile splits kept getting faster as I caught Possert and Michael Lepley around mile 38.

As fast as I was moving, it wasn’t fast enough to hold off Brooke McClanahan who passed me around mile 39 as the third female. She was moving extremely well and ended up finishing 4 minutes ahead of me.

When things were bad I had given up on a PR here or even breaking 6:30. My goal was to do what I could to hold onto a sub-7 hour finish that would get me my second consecutive red shirt. But as I felt better and better over those last miles my pace increased and I started to realize a 6:20 was possible, and if I pushed even harder and shaved more time over the last 3 miles I could potentially have a new PR.

I dug deep and finished in 6:12:35 with a new PR. I was pleased yet still curious what I could have done without that long rough stretch. Maybe if everything lines up perfectly next year a sub-6 might be possible.

Here is a look at my finishes over the past 5 years:

  • 2014: 6:12:35
  • 2013: 6:15:50
  • 2012: 7:34:43
  • 2011: 7:04:32
  • 2010: 7:38:00

One of the best parts of SJ40 is the post race feast. It always consists of bar-b-qued chicken, baked beans, and potato salad. It’s a place where war stories are told from years past and that took place over the previous 41.2 miles.

The Strolling Jim 40 Miler remains one of my favorite races. I hope to continue to go back year after year as long as it’s possible.

– joshua holmes


Posted in Race Reports, Ultra Marathon0 Comments

Bandit 50K Course Profile – Elevation

Mugged by the Bandit 50K (Race Report)

Bandit 50K Race Report – February 16, 2014 

I decided a couple of days ago to run the Bandit 50K once again. It’s about 35 minutes away in Simi Valley, California. Last year it beat me up, ran over me, then spit on me finishing in 6:32:28. So this year I wanted to beat that. I was relatively fresh going in but aware that the temperatures could once again top 80.

The Bandit 50K is one of the toughest 50K’s in the U.S. and the toughest I’ve done to date. It climbs nearly 1,750 feet from mile 1.5 to 4.5. The total elevation gain for the race is around 6,500 feet with the same amount of descent for about 13k in total elevation change. The course is totally in the open without cover and really heats up the last 20 miles.

I ran and hiked pretty well for those first 4-5 miles up the first big climb before falling and hitting my left knee hard on the stone floor. It took a bit of time for it to feel mostly normal again. Naturally my fall happened while I was talking to a fellow a runner.

After the first aid station, you begin a steep descent that takes you all the way to the mile 9 aid station. It’s technical and a fast down hill. I kept misstepping here and there and turning my ankles and feet along the way yet nothing major.

For the next 2 miles you face another solid climb. Around this time the temperature started to become noticeable. I came into the race on the low side of being hydrated and the distance between the aid stations (more so just my lack of not having a big enough handheld/or two) quickly led to my dehydration.

The stretch from mile 11 to 15 is mostly down hill with a couple of smaller hills (relatively speaking to this race) before reaching the turnaround aid station at mile 15. I tried to down as much water as I could at this aid station along with some calories. I think those calories ended up being a Gu, an orange and a Rice Krispie Treat. I could tell by now I was dehydrated which impacts the body in numerous ways. I knew with the way my body was feeling that the climb out of 15, back up to mile 19, and down to 20 would be challenging and tough. Mentally I was also already thinking on the gradual climb from 20 to 24.5 and the massive climb from there to 27.5.

It took a lot of grit and grind, but I made it back to mile 20 and the aid station that was there. I was very dehydrated at this point, yet tried to smile and put on a good face while downing 7 cups of water, pouring one over my head, and downing a Gu and Hammer gel.

I knew the stretch from 20 to 27 was going to be brutal and steep especially the last 2-3 miles of it. About 1 mile into this segment I had to pee. I knew what to expect but it was still shocking to see my pee the color of Mello-Yello but as if someone had removed the water from Mello-Yello. Oh well, at least it was pee. My body was aching but the march continued, tattered, rattled and with an occasional 25-50 step jog. Yes, I counted!

Miles 20 to about 26.5 without an aid station during the toughest and hottest stretch of the race is very challenging (especially carrying just a 20 ounce handheld). I tried to pace myself with my fluids, but my body said drink now. So my handheld was empty and I still had about 2 miles to the aid station with about 1,000 feet of climb over those two miles.

Well that’s a steep climb and with my body aching and my head throbbing I had to sit down a couple of times on jagged half rocks to keep from passing out. I knew that I wasn’t going to quit, and I was hoping I wouldn’t get pulled. So I quickly realized that my hopes of finishing better than last year where over and to just finish the race. I kept hiking as fast as my body allowed and ran when I could even if it was for short spurts that might have been discouraging to others if it had been them. However, I found hope that with each pained and dehydrated step that I was a step closer to finishing this beast of a race. Then I could stop, lay down, and tell myself I’d never do this again…well at least not this race…maybe.

To speed up this race report so it doesn’t become as arduous and painful as the Bandit was for me (too late you say?) I’ll fast forward to when I hit that last main aid station. There I downed a couple cups of water, poured another one on my hair (it almost even soaked through it), and continued on knowing that the last 3.5 miles would have a lot of downhill but that it would be technical and tough on the feet and ankles.

I was cautious yet still running where I felt in control and moving forward at a good rate yet when I’d slow down due to technical dangers. I completely rolled over each ankle during this time. I knew that sub 6-hours was likely gone, but I kept pressing on.

With 2 miles left to go you drop about 700 feet within the span of a mile. It’s intense and technical! I was smart and remembered my #1 goal for every race, “To be alive at the end of the day!”

I was keeping an eye on my watch and knew I’d likely be around 6:02. With about 0.5 mile to go I realized that I could perhaps kill myself finishing and MAYBE break 6 hours. Death is not worth a finish in the mid 30’s overall at a race that most humans have never heard about. So I decided to run and finish as best as I could while feeling semi-comfortable (since comfortable left once the race started).

Around the last bend I knew I’d be 600 and change. I crossed the finish line in 6:00:40 and was never so glad to finish a race. I didn’t care about my time or much else at that moment. I went to my truck and laid in the bed of it for about 20 minutes.

As disastrous as the day felt to me I was very pleased with my finishing time. It was 32 minutes faster than the year before. I felt like I was battling for my life out there the last 15 miles and just tried to be smart but relentless to push through the discomfort and finish.

The Bandit 50K is a really good race. It’s very tough with 6500+ feet climb, the heat, sun, concrete like-technical trail, and distance in between aid stations. The RD’s do a great job hosting this race. It’s affordable (less than $100), nice medal and shirt, and everyone associated with the race is very pleasant. It has a very small town feel to it even though it’s in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Southern California.

I swore many times during this race that this was it and I’d never do the Bandit again, but i have this sneaky feeling that I’ve perhaps lied to myself once again.

joshua holmes (RIF #1)
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Posted in Race Reports, Running, Ultra Marathon0 Comments

Mount Wilson Elevation Profile – Run It Fast

My Day Running Up and Down Mount Wilson

Mount Wilson Summit Run – Sierra Madre, California
January 30, 2014

The stresses of life and letdowns from others can often beat us up and tear us down in our day to day life.

On Thursday I needed an escape. I needed a mountain to pound  against and wrestle with until my body was beat down and my head was clear.

I’ve been trying to maximize and find all the beautiful, wonderful, and amazing places to train and run in and near Los Angeles over the past few months.

So a couple of nights ago I was searching maps and googling different searches and found Mount Wilson. Every review I read about it talked about how serious a ‘hike’ it was and one reviewer described the climb as ‘hell on earth.’ Well after reading that I found myself at the base of Mount Wilson less than 10 hours later. It was about a 40 minute drive from Hollywood.

I knew the climb up to the summit of Mt. Wilson was roughly a 4,500-5,000 foot gain over the course of give or take 7 miles.

By the time I parked it was already 2:15pm which didn’t leave too much daylight to run/hike up to the top and run back down. The day was already void of sun as it was extremely overcast, foggy, and full of dark clouds. I knew I’d have to Run It Fast® up and back down to beat the dark on what was an unfamiliar trail.

Running Up Mount Wilson

I started up the trail and immediately saw a guest book/log and wrote out ‘Joshua Ho…’ before the pen dried out. I had on a hydration vest with two bottles and hoped it wasn’t a prelude to my own hydration fate up on the mountain.

Half a mile into the trail, I saw the last human I’d see over the next 3+ hours. I’d love to tell you the views were beautiful the higher I climbed, but I couldn’t see anything after 1,000 feet of climb up the mountain (see below).

The climb up Wilson was no joke. I was able to run portions of it the first 3.5 miles and fast hike the other parts. After about 3.5 miles it became even more steep as the thick fog and dark clouds started to circle around me. I had my first thoughts of not being to get back down before it was dark and the rains set in.

The temperatures started to drop and the misty rain started to come down faster 4 miles in. I was running in a cut-off shirt and started to think that it might get too wet and cold before I reached the summit. As I mentioned earlier, no humans were anywhere to be found, especially this high up on the trail. I debated turning back as my hamstrings and back were starting to ache. However, I kept marching forward and feeling more and more liberated and free the higher I escaped into the clouds. I wasn’t done battling the mountain, and I’d regret not finishing if I turned back prematurely.

The 5th mile up the mountain had over 900 feet of gain and seemed to go on forever. I could never see too far ahead due to lack of visibility, but the trail before me, where I was watching every single step I planted, was beautiful and rich with character.

The next two miles averaged about 600 feet of climb per mile, but almost felt relatively flat after that 5th mile. About 6 miles up the trail I hit a rough jeep road that I made pretty good time on. The last 1.3ish miles to the summit were on this road.

The first half of the climb up Mt. Wilson was a serious climb, but most runners/hikers in decent shape can do it. The last half (after the first 3 miles) gets very krunk. It’s technical, very steep, and desolate in nature. I’m sure most days there is a bit more, or at least some, traffic on the trail higher up towards the observatory, but there was none when I went up it. I kept wondering what wildlife hid behind the next turn or behind the fog, but all I came across were a few squirrels and birds.

The Summit of Mount Wilson

It took me 2:03:11 to reach the top of Mount Wilson. The distance from where I started at my car to the top was clocked at 7.3 miles. The total climb per Strava was listed just a hair above 5,000 feet to a point of 5,665 of elevation.

The top, as I had read elsewhere, was in fact anti-climatic. It was a welcome sight as I knew that the climbing was over and that I’d be running a lot faster back down the mountain trail to civilization. However the summit of Mount Wilson, it’s just a bunch of roads at the top, along with the observatory which was rather small, and not a single example of life.

Running Down Mount Wilson

The trip back down the mountain was a lot faster than the way up and therefore not worthy as of many words. It was a fast down that was at times too fast. Some of the more technical parts leave 2-3 inches to plant your foot or down the mountain to your death you go. So it was important to pay attention to every step and slow down and walk through some very tight passes.

The steep run down was refreshing and fast! I started to feel it in my quads half way down as they were starting to grow sore. The miles back down the mountain clicked off so much faster than the ones up it.

The flight down had of course 5,000 feet of descent and took 1:20:30.

Mount Wilson Run Details

Total Mount Wilson 14.7 mile run had 5,088 feet of climb and 5,088 feet of descent and took 3:20:41.

Mt Wilson Mile By Mile Ascent/Descent, Pace
Mile 1: +729 -70, 14:53
Mile 2: +686 -49, 15:47
Mile 3: +513 -42, 15:05
Mile 4: +718 -42, 18:42
Mile 5: +995 – 41, 21:40
Mile 6: +687 0, 18:51
Mile 7: +546 0, 17:01
Mile 8: +53 -404, 13:11
Mile 9: 0 -533, 9:56
Mile 10: 0 -952, 12:33
Mile 11: 0 -801, 10:24
Mile 12: +97 -480, 10:25
Mile 13: 0 -655, 9:50
Mile 14: +88 -683, 10:11
Mile 14.7: 0, -392, 5:07

It was a great run. I’m glad I decided on a whim to go do it. I felt cleansed, alive, and detoxed after it was over. I couldn’t help but feel alive in the rain and Los Angeles rush hour traffic as I slowly drove back home in much the same fashion as I had made my way to the top of Mt. Wilson.

I’d recommend this trail to anyone. It takes a big effort to make it all of the way to the top and back, but it’s still worth the drive and time even if you just want to do a handful of miles instead of the whole enchilada.

joshua holmes (RIF #1)

PS: You can park in front of the small park on E Mira Monta Ave for free and walk up or start up Mount Wilson Trail Road right next to it.

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Silverton 1000 – Mountainside Photos – Run It Fast®

Finding Gold (and Bears) at the Silverton 1000 – 48 Hour (Race Report)

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” – Albert Camus

The Silverton Challenge 48 Hour Race Report

The gods were Mark and Sharill Hellenthal. The condemnation they had laid down on us runners was a 1 mile loop in the mountains of Silverton, Colorado at 9,500 feet with a gain of 250 ft per mile and a subsequent loss of 250 ft per mile as well.

Others must have committed far worse sins for they had been sentenced to six days and three days on that mountain, repeating that same punishing loop over and over. Some even dared to piss off the gods by bringing tents to sneak naps and breaks in.  A portable shower was even spotted, but even it couldn’t diminish the stench the mountains had left on the imprisoned runners of Silverton.

My journey to the mountain was complicated, two flights to Albuquerque then a 5.5 hour drive to Silverton. In retrospect it was the calm before the storm. I checked into a small cabin, then headed over to prison headquarters, where I knew my sentence was to begin the next day. I picked up my prison number and spoke for a bit with the gods behind a veil curtain so that they could keep their omnipresence spell over us that had been sent there.

While there I saw the long faces and worrisome looks from the six and three day runners. They looked at me with jealousy knowing I was soon to retire to my cabin before returning the next day, but they also looked at me with sympathy knowing I had no clue what was about to happen to me the following morning at 9am.

I slept well that night, showered the next morning, and showed up early at the barracks to begin my sentence. I had assumed that this might do me some favor with the gods. It wasn’t the only faulty assumption I had over the next 48 hours.

The games of the gods began promptly at 9am after a group photo. The photo I assumed was to remind us eventual survivors that we had been the fortunate ones. The race started and those not long for this earth started sprinting up that mountain. We saw them again within 5 minutes as the altitude had filled their lungs and gravity had harnessed their pride back towards the laughter of the gods.

Two hundred and fifty feet of climb over a mile would be punishing enough but no, that would have been too easy for some. The 250-ft climb happened in the first 0.33 mile to the summit where we’d catch our breath, run on level ground for roughly 25 yards before our heads started falling ahead of our feet and our legs wouldn’t stop. Our legs were moving at a warped speed as we couldn’t slow down, we couldn’t stop and our minds were searching and begging for the slightest incline so we could slow down. Some thought they had fallen into a black hole.  No inclines were to be found. Our quads ignited, rocks beneath our feet gave way as we were moving too fast and cutting too hard on switchbacks down towards the gods, and spots in our shoes became hotter than molasses on a Tennessee sidewalk in the heart of summer.

The 250-ft asteroid-like fall from the summit back to flat land took just 0.25 of a mile. Flat land had never felt so secure before. It was also time to walk for a few seconds to let the muscles in the leg rescind back to where they normally reside. A third of a mile later we were back at the tented residence of the gods. The tent was full of food, drink, and mocking. The treats were an oasis of hope that did just that…it made us forget the punishment we had just endured and before we had realized it, we had exited the tent, usually with cookies or gummy worms, and were scaling back up the mountain towards the summit.

I went into Silverton hoping and wanting to reach 100 miles to repay my sins. I didn’t know if the angels would call before I reached that distance, but I thought that once I reached it that my sentence on the mountain would be over and that the gods would release me.

Just five miles into this spectacle, my hamstrings, calf muscles, and feet were begging for no more. They had run 100 miles the weekend before at the Lean Horse 100. I didn’t believe I’d be able to reach 100 miles on this hellanthalish mountain loop. I knew I could stop at any time, since it was timed, but that the gods would laugh, mock, and scorn me by flashing me with the 100-mile buckle I had fallen short of before decapitating me. Foolish pride and a constant restocking of gummy worms and grilled cheeses (upon request) kept me leaving that tent and going back up and down that mountain 100 times over.

After 100x up and down that mountain I had reached 25,000ft of gain and 25,000ft of loss. A hundred times should have been enough. It had taken 35 hours 42 minutes and 44 seconds.

There was one problem…the male and female that did the most loops on this mountain in 48 hours would receive a free pair of Hoka One One shoes ($170 value). It was a mean and cruel trick by the gods that toyed with two of our deadliest sins – pride and greed.

That’s when I realized a 12-yr old boy by the name of Colby Wentlandt was in second place and on my heels. Twelve years old and sentenced to 48 hours on this mountain. What was his crime? How serious must it have been for him to be sentenced with the adults? Had his parents abandoned him while passing through Colorado? Had he murdered his parents? It turns out his parents were on that mountain too, doing painful 1-mile loop after another, but they were so many miles behind young Colby.

Colby moved at such speed it was as if he we was hoping that he could improve the fate of his parents if he could do more miles than any of the other prisoners. However, the gods had no rollover miles plan where he could convey his bounty to his mom and dad.

Colby would taunt me when we’d cross paths under the tent of the gods. He’d tell me how tired I looked and how I should go down. I’m not sure if he meant I should take a nap or if someone with a longer rap sheet should put me down behind the barn. He was sneaky wicked like that and it helped keep me alert and on my toes. I made sure to stay on the opposite side of the mountain to keep him from sneaking up behind and cutting me.

He was easy to spot from the high side of the mountain as he was always with shady characters like a Jester that went by the name of Ed Ettinghausen and two other munchkins by the names of Brandon and Cameron Plate (all sentenced to the 72-Hour and trying to keep up with 48-Hour Colby).

The taunts continued among the inmates as the night became late. ‘The Jester’ and ‘The Boy’ kept putting down 1 mile after another as Colby started to get close to tres digitos. I remained roughly 6-7 miles ahead of Colby per the prison LCD screens that were connected to our anklet tracers.

Colby hit 100 miles (his second time to reach said distance) and everyone within the tent celebrated briefly for most still had many loops left to complete before any hopes of being pardoned from Silverton.

I came in after 107 miles to learn that Colby the Cannibal had retired for the night after 101 tough and strenuous miles. I had met a rough, rugged, and dreaded female convict by the name of Sarah Johnson during these early AM miles. I had spotted a wild bear during this time as I stumbled across one of the ridges high up on the mountain. The bear was a hundred feet away or so looking for food (or bearded runners) in a dumpster near the ski lodge.

I reported the bear to the gods and they called other gods with badges. The gods had planted the bear for us prisoners. My mistake was reporting the creature as the gods then scared the bear back up the mountain near our trail where dozens of us were still circling around in the dark.

The ‘Dreaded One’ stayed close either due to fear of the bear, thinking I had Oreos, or because she couldn’t figure out if her headlamp had an actual light. The company was nice even if albeit fundamentally radical.

Often the best guys are just those that can suffer longer, who don’t give up. And it’s so easy to give up, when you’re on a mountain and it’s really hurting.” – David Millar

After 110 miles (in 40:38:44) which was a new course record I decided I needed to attempt some rest and sleep as I planned a 6 hour drive back to Albuquerque to catch my flight upon my anticipated release date of 900 hours. I knew I had to be sneaky to dodge the gods so I curled up in the back of my rental car and probably slept for 90-120 minutes.

I was paranoid that Colby had arisen early (thinking it was a school morning) and gone back out on the course for more miles before the sun came up. I went back over to the holding tent and found out that Colby was still fast asleep and far away.

I was surprised to win the race and even more impressed by Colby’s 101 miles and second place finish.

There was great joy celebrating the liberation of several of my fellow companions on the mountain as they came in after 100 miles or more. Some of the highlights were seeing Eric ‘The Fireman’ Waterman complete 100 miles after several failed pardons during other prison stays. Collen Zato was impressive in setting the 72-Hour female course record while setting up several touchdown celebrations for others as they reached memorable milestones during the event and by pacing Rachel Spatz to the female 48-Hour course record. The Jester set a male 72-Hour record for most miles on the course with or without a Jester costume. I was impressed watching Rob Distante who arose from the dead (almost literally) on day two and ran out the rest of his sentence to reach 100 miles. All four Run It Fast – Club members went over 100 miles.

Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.” – Dag Hammarskjold

The gods were cruel but the punishment was cleansing like a toxic bleaching to the soul. The mountain had beaten us down physically yet our bodies were renewed from the pounding. We left the mountain not knowing if we could survive again on the outside. Many of us knew we couldn’t and we’d be back. Some of us knew that the gods would not give us a choice either way.

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that damn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

joshua holmes (Aug 31-Sep 2, 2013)

Posted in Race Reports, Running, Ultra Marathon2 Comments

Ian Sharman Leadville Trail 100 Run Finish Line – Run It Fast

Ian Sharman’s Winning Leadville Trail 100 Run Race Report

Ian Sharman won the Leadville Trail 100 Run (FULL RESULTS) on Saturday evening in 16:30:04, the fourth fastest time in the event’s history.  He was even faster in writing his Leadville race report as it was posted bright and early this morning.

Sharman stated that his body wouldn’t let him sleep so he got to writing. We are the beneficiaries of his sleepless night as he delivered a to the point race report full of his thoughts at different points of the race.

Here are a couple of excerpts from his Leadville Report:

How He Attacked Hope Pass as a Flat Lander: “I decided fairly early on that since I live at sea level and the race is almost all above 10,000ft I’d need to keep my perceived effort down to make my legs and energy reserves last the whole way. Plus I’d already run the other 100 milers recently so wanted to be conservative due to that too. So I hiked every step of Hope Pass both directions but I practice that a lot since I’m not a strong uphill runner and it seemed to work well since I got into second by the top (12,600ft) on the way out, although Nick and Ryan were just behind. Ryan dropped at this point with back problems after looking so strong through the first half.”

His Lowest Point: “Things kept going well through to the Outward Bound aid station at mile 76 and my crew and pacers, Meredith Terranova and Sean Meissner were looking after me well. Hiking up Powerline in the next few miles I still felt fairly good but by about mile 82 things turned and I felt delerious. On the downhill trail into Mayqueen (86.5 miles) I was dizzy and almost tripping over every rock. Nick managed to close on me during this section although I had no idea. Then after Mayqueen a toilet stop seemed to bring me back to life and I was able to cruise along the rolling lake single track.”

Click over to Ian’s website (HERE) to read his complete Leadville Trail 100 Run Race Report.

[image: iRunFar]

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Madison Marathon

The Madison Marathon Race Report by Jeff Liu

State #25 – Montana: The Madison Marathon – An Adventure to Remember

7/28/2013 by Jeff Liu

My 25th State marathon was the Madison Marathon in the Gravelly Mountains in Montana.  I had to get out my thesaurus for words other than “amazing,” “incredible,” “magnificent,” “stunning,” and “beautiful” to describe the course.  It IS the most beautiful course I’ve run in my in 33 marathon so far across the country and world.  It was also one of the toughest courses I’ve ever completed…  but, worth every step in these mountain ranges in Big Sky Country.

Being a city slicker from Orange County, CA, completing Montana started out as just a check mark on my way to completing the 50 States.  But when I stumbled across the Madison Marathon website I was struck by the photos of the incredible course.  Now, have you ever been fooled by hotel websites with unbelievable photography only to show and and find out that the place was a dump?  Well, make no mistake, the beauty of this race is as advertised.  If anything, the pictures cannot do the experience proper justice.  The endless blue skies and miles of velvet green fields, the smell of the wildflowers, and the touch of the gentle breeze are simple indescribable by words or photos.

My buddy Mike L. from Denver (AKA Yoda, finished in 4:11) and I decided that we’d meet to run this extraordinary race.  Mike brought his wonderful wife Michele and three boys and spent a week in Yellowstone prior to the race.  He was also kind enough to pick me up and transport me throughout the weekend.  My only regret was doing this trip in my usual fashion, which is to fly in Saturday and fly back home immediately after the race on Sunday.  This is a part of the country that deserves and requires days to explore.  The turn-around trip posed some logistic challenges.  The nearest airport to the town of Ennis (race central; hotels, bib pickup, shuttle to start) is in Bozeman approximately an hour drive away.

The drive from Bozeman to Ennis is straight forward and scenic.  It immediately screams, “you aint’ in the city no more!”  Miles of fields decorated by the occasional barn looked like oil paintings.  We saw families playing in the waters and floating in rivers besides the freeway on our drive in.  Something you just don’t see in the city (unless you are into Raging Water parks packed with pool peeing kids).

Ennis is a small town of approximately 1,000 residents.  From all the signage it looks like a terrific town to visit and do A LOT of fishing.  We stayed at a modest motel called Rainbow Valley Lodge. Main Street Ennis is the gather place of the marathon on Saturday and has several restaurants, stores and the town pump for our needs.

From Ennis, runners would be shuttled to the staging area and start of the race in the Gravelly Mountains approximately 2 hours away.  Sounds complicated?  It is and it isn’t.  The race organizers did a tremendous job providing direction and support of this small and intimate race.  In order to meet my flight time on Sunday evening, I requested for and took advantage of the early start option at 7:00 a.m. (regular 8:30) offered by race organizers.  I met the RD Sam Korsmoe Sat afternoon after our arrival at the bib pick-up.  Sam was friendly and we joked about the sophisticated timing device used at the race…  his hand held stop watch.  After a quick bite to eat at the local pizza joint (Pit Stop Pizza; very good by the way), it was off to bed early in order to make the early shuttle pick up at 4:50 a.m.

Race morning started with a gathering of the early starters at the town pump promptly at 4:50.  About 10 of us gathered and exchanged pleasantries in the early dawn.  Then we were divided into three cars for the two hour drive up to the start line at the base of Black Butte Mountain.  Now, I had the misfortune of getting the cherry seat in front of an extra cab pick-up truck with five other dudes.  And I don’t mean little dudes.  I think most of us stood at about 6 feet tall.  Imagine a two hour ride with six dudes in the dark with a little space and lots of morning breath of coffee…  But the ride actually turned out to be an entertaining treat.

Our driver was a local triathlete named Cory.  Cory is like a character straight out of “Born to Run.”  Between the sideburns and big laughter was one funny dude.  Between Cory and the elder European gent on my other side we got stories about marathons in Poland and living in Tokyo.  We also found out about the magic qualities of the coffee from the town pump and vodka in the morning.  With a few more stories about bear and sheep dog attacks on the marathon course we were almost at the start.

We arrived at the start promptly at 7:00 a.m. and began one of the most memorable runs of my life.  The course “road” is a dirt trail of mostly loose gravel and small pebbles.  There were a few sections with fist sized rocks.  The climbs are challenging and some descend are steep.  I was glad to have worn my Hoka Ones!  They saved my feet.  Ok, I’ll let the photos below do some of the talking…

At the start with fellow 50 Staters, Marathon Maniacs Cowboy Jeff, Melinda, and Sandy

At Monument Ridge rocking my RIF shirt for the first time

The Madison Marathon is billed as “highest road marathon in America.”  The course peaks at near 9,600 feet near mile four of the course at Monument Ridge.  My Garmin recorded a total elevation gain of 2,894 (drop of 3,547) throughout the course.  The first four miles presented the most major climbs but climbs continued throughout the course with some real tough SOBs after mile 19.  The last six miles were “hard” as the knees began feeling the effects of the descends.  I finished the run with a time of 5:23 which is one of my slowest recorded marathon time.  Am I unhappy about the finish time?  Not at all.  Do I feel like I let down the “Run It Fast” shirt I was wearing?  No.  Just the opposite.  This was a run for the adventure and a run for the unique experience of being in one of the highest and most beautiful races.  Was it “fast?”  Yes.  It was my fastest marathon at  9,600 feet.  It was my fastest marathon with the amount climbs and descends.  I ran it as fast as I could…  but more importantly than speed, I ran it with my eyes wide open like it was my first marathon.  There were places on the course so beautiful I wanted to cry.  At times during the run I forgot that I was running altogether.

Madison Marathon is a must do and I hope everyone gets to experience it in person.

Yoda and me at the finish

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,

Jeff Liu
Run It Fast – Club (RIF #275)
Madison Marathon Garmin Data

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Nickademus Hollon – The Barkley Marathons Finisher – Run It Fast

Nick Hollon’s Top 10 Strategies for Finishing The Barkley Marathons

Last week Nickademus Hollon became the 13th person to ever finish The Barkley Marathons. The race is considered the toughest 100 miler in the world to finish.  Nick was joined shortly after his finish by Travis Wildeboer who became the 14th finisher of all-time.

Nick took some time to write down his top strategies to help the newbie or vet conquer this beast. You can read more about his Barkley adventure on his blog by clicking HERE.

Nick’s Top Ten Strategies to become #15

  1. Know the region, get out to Barkley 1-2 weeks before and run every Jeep road, Fire road and trail possible. You should be an expert in that regions topography.
  2.  Know orienteering. Spend time researching, reading, taking classes on using a map and compass. Barkley is at least 30%  (likely more) orienteering skills.
  3.  Practice steep uphill climbs while hiking, train at a level where your heart rate stays low and controlled.
  4. Train on running steep downhills and flat terrain after blasting your muscles from climbing. Many people forget but there is also 60,000ft of descent in Barkley, being a good downhill runner can make you a finisher.
  5.  Eat and run with the next loop in mind, that means consistency. No one cares if you run you’re first loop in under nine hours…what matters is whether or not you even made it to the third loop
  6. Help others during the race, its good karma: a lost virgin, a confused veteran, a hungry runner, a cold runner or even just a kind word in passing
  7. Nutrition at Barkley is different than other races, you’re working for 60hrs not 24. That means your body is burning mostly fats and proteins so consume these and get used to running and training with them as fuel instead of carbohydrates. Eat and run with the next loop in mind
  8. Master the power nap or a mediation technique. A well-rested mind and runner at Barkley is 100% stronger and faster than a runner and mind who has come in and out of the camp in under fifteen minutes. Remember your going for nearly 60hrs.
  9. If you are even considering quitting the race, get the hell away from ‘convenient’ spots to quit. The more pain in the ass that you make quitting, the more likely you are to continue.
  10. Finally, be in a finisher’s mindset.  When you read below how I survived loop 2, it wasn’t because of my gear or physical ability, it was because I was in the right mind-set.
Congrats once again to Nick on his impressive feat. You can follow his running adventures on his blog NICKADEMUS.

Posted in Race Reports, Running, Ultra Marathon0 Comments

BLU 100 – Ed Ettinghausen and Joshua Holmes – Beyond Limits Ultra 100 – 2013

Beyond Limits Ultra 100 Mile Race Report – Joshua Holmes

We sometimes sign up for races that we know nothing about or other races whereby we’ve read dozens of race reports regarding what we might encounter during this or that adventure. Well, for some of you at least.  I don’t make a habit of reading race reports or writing them.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish I had more drive to document all of my races like many of you do.  I try to document the biggest ones, like the 2011 Vol State 500K, 2012 Vol State 500K, or my 42 Mini Race Reports from 2012.

Race reports don’t exist for first year events. So I often feel more pressure to write one after completing an event that was just held for the first time.

The Beyond Limits Ultra 100 Mile Race was held on March 16-17, 2013 at the Pathfinder Ranch near Mountain Center, California, which is just south of Palm Springs in the San Jacinto Mountains.  The race also had a 50 mile, marathon, 50k, and 24-hour options.

The beauty of this race, and perhaps curse for some, is that the 100 milers were gifted the use of a cabin for the weekend on the Pathfinder Ranch.  This made it easy to roll out of bed and onto the starting line.  BLU also provided a nice pre-race dinner the night before (did not arrive in time) and fully cooked breakfast in the diner the morning of the race.

The ranch also provided a campfire, cookout, ropes course, and canoeing (on the little man-made pond that we looped every lap) for family members that made the trek as well.

The race consisted of a 1.8 mile loop that was very flat for the most part. There was no tree cover on the course and this played a factor in the afternoon and early hours of the morning as I’ll go into detail shortly.

The race started at 8am after the legendary Ed ‘Jester’ Ettinghausen and Ryan Launder played the Star Spangled Banner on the trumpet.

All the races then started at the same time as we rubbed elbows for the last time as the field quickly spread out over the 1.8 mile loop. As the day passed on, the course became even more sparse as runners from the shorter races reached their finish lines and left us that dared the 100 to keep rounding that loop over and over.

I ran well early on. I did the first 10 miles in 1:37, reached a half marathon in 2:07 with the only disturbances being a quick stop to the cabin for the restroom.  I reached 20 miles in 3:15 and the marathon checkpoint after four hours and twenty minutes. I was running well but the weather was changing as the sun was starting to blaze and heat up really fast.

50k came and went in 5:14 and I continued to push hard but also realized that the sun was starting to bake me a bit, especially at the pace I was pushing. From the 50k mark to 37 I was still putting down solid splits but it was becoming a struggle and battle that made completing a 100 miles seem like a fictitious goal.

Around this time I started to feel like I had pushed too hard. My eyelids were spasming a bit, I was hot, and felt like I had to slow it down, way down, like go to the cabin and lay down for a small bit if my goal was to finish the 100 and not wimper down to a 50 mile or 24-hour finish. So that’s what I did. I went to the cabin where my family was finishing up ‘nap time’ and I took off my shoes, socks and laid across the kinder bed with my feet propped up over the footboard for the better part of an hour. It was good to see my family, recharge, and reenergize for the remaining 63 miles.

Once back out on the course I felt good but started back slow to let my body re-acclimate and not over-heat as the sun was on high and we had no where to hide (outside the cabins). I covered up as well as I could using my Bartlett Park Ultras hat that covered the side of my face and neck.  I began to run well as the sun started to show signs of hibernating behind the mountains to the west.

I knew my original goal of going sub 20 hours was over after laying down for an hour, but I started to run hard again as I kept checking the computer monitors to check my place and kept moving up spots as the moon came up and the cold with it.

At some point I hit 50 miles in 10:27 and then 60 miles in 12:44. At this point it was freaking frigid cold. Like it was 9 degrees when I ran the Yellowstone-Teton 100 and I wasn’t nearly as cold as I was during this point of the race. My body was running well as the temperature dropped but at some point I just started shivering….and shivering. It made it tough for me to run for whatever reason. I believe with no trees, nothing to absorb the cold, being near the desert that it just felt way colder than it actually was on the thermostat. It was actually probably in the high 30’s. It felt about -5 degrees.

For better or worse, the cabin seemed too tempting at this point. I wasn’t moving well and laying down would be worth it. There was a living room at the cabin that had a sofa. So I went in to lay on it for awhile, hoping that a quick cat nap would find me.  This was around mile 67.

So I laid across the 70’s print, floral sofa and rested although sleep never met my eyes. I knew the clock was ticking but I wasn’t eager to get back out in the cold and death march. Finally, after nearly two hours had passed I slid my shoes back on and went to the truck to find a hoodie to throw on top of what I already had on which included two tech shirts, arm sleeves, Northface pullover, and now a hoodie. I had put a pair of running tights over my shorts at some point during the night. Add to that two pairs of gloves and two knit hats.

I marched out the door and death marched, albeit at a respectable speed, with my head buried in my hoodie and my hands inside it. During my two hour hiatus I had fallen down the leaderboard like a meteor towards earth during dinosaur season.  That was ok! My goal was to finish this 100 and add another buckle to my collection.  I was able to quickly walk those early AM miles along with Mark Hellenthal who was aiming for like his 26th 100 miler (which he easily did).  Mark and I pushed each other (without running but with continuous forward motion). Mark’s a faster walker than I am so I had to run occasionally to catch back up with him.

Loop courses, of the 100 mile variety, have pros and cons naturally. One con is well…doing the same loop over and over or 55x in this instance.  The loop, as mentioned before, was flat for the most part and consisted of a dirt road/path. There was a 0.20 mile section that was paved, but you could run in the dirt next to the road if you opted to. I often ran on the asphalt as it was a nice variety from the rest of the loop that felt refreshing to the feet and was a bit faster.

At some point the sun crept over the mountains to the east and it warmed not only my spirit but my legs as I started to run really well once again.  Where was this the last few hours? Oh yeah shivering away like Jack holding on to a piece of wreckage from the Titanic in the frigid Atlantic Ocean. But that was then and this was now and I was running some of my best splits of the past 80 miles.

One reason I had picked it up was that I had done the math and calculated that at my then pace it would take me like 6 more hours for a 28:30ish finish. That was too far away and I was ready to put this race to bed. There is only two ways to do that, quit or run like you are being chased by a pink pony.

My family had also emerged from the cabin during this time and driven to breakfast and back. It was a boost seeing them and knowing that the end was near.

It took me 3 hours and 8 minutes to run the 10 miles from 80 to 90.  The last 10 miles of the race from 90 to 100 took 1 hour and 54 minutes.

I ran the last 5-7 miles trying to break the stupid number known as 26. I realized I’d easily do that with 2 miles left to go but continued to push hard, running with as much intensity as I had left at that point, to finish strong and with as little left in the tank as possible.

I came to the last 1/3 mile of the loop/race that went around the small pond. My family met me and my son ran with me for the last 100 yards as we crossed the finish line together. Mark and his bride-to-be had waited as well for me to finish which was very kind of them.

In summation: Race directors Stephanie Kundlin and Ken Rubeli did an amazing job putting on this first year event. Everything from the shirts, buckle, cabins, meals, and aid stations was first class.  I didn’t perform as well as I’d like, but I put down a lot of good miles.  I wasn’t totally prepared for how hot and sunny it got during the day or how frigid cold it got at night. I’ll be better prepared for both next time.  I’d highly recommend this race to anyone that is considering it in the future. It was a great weekend away from civilization.

BLU 100 Splits

  • Half Marathon: 2:07
  • Marathon: 4:20
  • 50K: 5:14
  • 50 Mile: 10:27
  • 100K: 13:13
  • Miles 1-10: 1:37
  • Miles 11-20: 1:38
  • Miles 21-30: 1:48
  • Miles 31-40: 3:25
  • Miles 41-50: 1:59
  • Miles 51-60: 2:17
  • Miles 61-70: 2:16
  • Miles 71-80: 5:50
  • Miles 81-90: 3:08
  • Miles 91-100: 1:54
  • Finishing Time: 25:52:22

Sidenote: I enjoyed all the conversations I had throughout this race with my fellow runners. It was also a pleasure to share the course with some true greats of the sport including Eric Clifton, The Jester, Dave James, Michael Miller, Brian Recore, John Wog, Anthony Culpepper, Stacey Costa, Alexander Scherz, Mark Hellenthal and others.

I also want to be sure to note that photographer Lynn Cao went above and beyond. She was out there as much if not more than most of the runners taking photographs throughout the day and night. She then posted the photos to her Facebook page for download free of charge. Check her out on Facebook HERE.

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