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

Goodyear Half Chris Baker with Blimp - Run It Fast

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

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

Getting There

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

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

Christa Pre-Race

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

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

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

Chris Pre-Race

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

Christa During the Race

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

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

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

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

Goodyear Half Chris Baker with Blimp Pilot - Run It Fast

Chris During the Race

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

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

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

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

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

Goodyear Half Aerial Race Photo - Run It Fast

Christa Post Race

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

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Chris Post Race

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

 

Overall Conclusion

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

Chris and Christa Baker (August 2015)

Posted in 10K, Half Marathon, Race Reports, RunningComments (0)

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

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

Greg Armstrong 2015 Vol State Run It Fast Shirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Armstrong (RIF #373)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run It Fast Born to Run Pre Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Born to Run 100 Elevation Chart  - Run It Fast

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

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

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

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

– joshua holmes (RIF #1)
Run It Fast®

Posted in Race Reports, Ultra MarathonComments (0)

Zion 100 Course Photo 2015 – Run It Fast

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

Sarah Johnson Zion 100 - Guacamole Loop - Run It Fast

Zion 100 Race Report (April 10, 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My reply “Want to come with me?”

Her reply, “Yes.”

Done. I had a crew person.

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

I replied, “Would it be you?”

“Yes”

“Then absofreakinglutely yes!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zion 100 Course Photo 2015 - Run It Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Sarah Johnson

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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!

Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

#runitfast

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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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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)

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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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