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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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A Very Rare Barkley Marathons Finisher’s Race Report (2013) – Nick Hollon

A Very Rare Barkley Marathons Finisher’s Race Report (2013) – Nick Hollon


“The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.” – Plato

Prelude by Lazarus Lake

The conditions this year were impossible,
yet there were finishers.
Nick Hollon, and Travis Wildeboer,
each making their third attempt,
made a lie of human limitation…at a price.To be at the yellow gate after a Barkley finish
must be experienced to be understood.
I felt like a child at the grownups table…
listening in…
13 and 14, collapsed in their chairs, bundled in blankets,
talking with the others who had been where they had been;
in the rarified air of loops 4 and 5.
talking of experiences I can only imagine
with a combination of awe and shuddering fear

their tales are harrowing ones.
of numbing fatigue, desperate climbs and heart stopping descents,
of constant fear and uncertainty
of a time limit that is always just behind them,
when a single error could bring down everything they had worked for.

I felt, at once,
both humbled…

and elevated…

at this glimpse into the thoughts of those
who have been where no man can go
and done what no man can do.
it is hard to explain,
but seeing the barkley done makes it seem more impossible.
not less.

Just Before Barkley:

At 5:00am my friend finally hit the alarm and turned the damn thing off…The boat was rocking back and forth with a fury that caused me to develop some degree of nausea. I wasn’t feeling well as I gathered my race bib and light warm jacket for the boat ride to the start line of the race on the south side of Catalina island. Ahh! I ran back in and grabbed a few more layers, it was freezing outside and a small dingy traveling at 13-15 knots was not what I wanted to hop into at 5:30am. By 6:00am we were off, the spine chilling breeze numbed my hands instantly as I gripped tightly to the sides of the dingy while we splashed over 3-4ft waves. The sea was choppy and white caps stretched out across the ocean as far as I could see. Then a wave came from the side and soaked what little cotton clothing I had on. I was drenched, shivering, numb and miserable at 6am in the morning…”think of a happy place…think of a happy place” I said over and over again to mysel. My friends brother smiled at me and said “we’re not even around the unsheltered part of the island yet, the wind and waves get way worse around the corner.” And then we turned the corner and suddenly 9-10 foot waves rose and fell like an earthquake across a grassy field, a constantly shifting series of hills, the dingy was a small play toy for the ocean and I was a mere human…I eyed the shore and figured when the dingy capsized, it would only be about a mile swim…”think of a happy place” My friends Dad who was driving the small dingy then decided it wasn’t worth risking our lives to continue and get to the race start, we turned around…I was freezing cold, demoralized but happy to be alive as I watched a beautiful sunrise from that small dingy atop the frigid wavy ocean….Little did I know this seemingly insignificant (and stupid) moment would become a crucial point of reference to completing the Barkley Marathons 2013.

I arrived at the yellow gate a week early. As I drove up in my rental car which reeked of new car smell I could see that a few other runners had already arrived. “Barkley…ahhh…It felt good to be back…I felt at…at home…

That afternoon it started pouring rain and a dense fog blew in over the seemingly small 3000ft mountain range. Perfect conditions to train for the race I thought, as I assumed these terrible conditions were going to be far worse than what I was going to be facing the race weekend. I got out to chimney top and played around on the park trails and jeep roads, just trying to get a ‘feel’ and understanding for the region. I wanted to be so familiar with Frozen Head State Park, that by the time the race came around, I could have easily been a park tour guide. The worst training day was Tuesday. There had been snow blizzards for the past twenty four hours and there was now over a foot of snow scattered throughout the brushy mountain state wilderness — not the ideal terrain I wanted to be running in for Barkley. I went on a run anyway and in the midst of a horrendous climb I came across three white tailed deer. Their tails were long, elegant, and lifted high into the air, and they pranced through the forest and snow, making a mockery out of my small labored steps.

What seemed like an infinity at the time had now passed and my crew which consisted of my Mom, Dad and Girlfriend were now putting the final touches on my nutrition plan before trying to get some sleep before the night of the race.

The conch was blown at 8:05am, but I had already been awake and ready to go since 4:00am. I was going to be racing for the next 50+, maybe even 60hrs, and knew sleep was important but my nerves weren’t letting me have any of that.

Loop 1, Day 1, Miles 0-20,Clockwise direction, Starters 40, Finishers: 21

9:05am: A bunch of anxious, hardy runners, hikers and endurance enthusiasts lined up behind the infamous paint chipped yellow gate. The weather was crisp and overcast and I just prayed it would stay ‘overcast’ having remembered a video of the race from 2010 when it was pouring rain the entire time. I looked around and saw Bev and Alan Abbs lining up toe to toe with John Fegy and Jarod Campbell (two of last year’s finishers) and I could tell they were ready to go.The simple flick of a lighter broke the silent morning and the smell of sweet nicotine penetrated the air. It was go time.

I learned last year that being the first person up bird mountain doesn’t do much for you in terms of winning or even completing the race. So I held back with the middle of the pack, there was no need to push myself this early in the race. After all I was going to be out there for hours, no days on end. I hung back with my friend Ryan Dexter, an extremely accomplished runner who was well versed in 100+ mile and multi-day racing, I knew he had what it took to handle the sleep deprivation and pacing aspect of Barkley, so I decided he could help me with pacing and in return I would help him navigate the course. He started off with two packs though, one for nutrition and one for clothing…A bad mistake, Barkley is dangerous (well duh..) you run a very thin line each loop between bringing too much gear (weighing too much) and bringing too little gear (risking running out of food, water or inadequate clothing of which I experienced all). But clearly in my opinion, two backpacks, was over packing and I could tell by the end of the first ascent was placing unnecessary strain on his body.

It took 33 minutes to get to the top of Bird Mountain. That was a whole 11 minutes slower than my time up from last year, but thankfully I knew where I was going this time. Getting lost was just something that was not going to happen this year…I wasn’t going to allow it. After grabbing the first page at the coal bench, there was a pretty tight knit pack: myself, Ryan (a virgin Barker) and a mix of about five other hardy-looking nervous virgins and overconfident veterans. The group began to spread out as I took point down the descent of Checkmate Hill, a wicked 1,300ft descent in half a mile, which I knew I was going to have to ascend on loop 3, 4 and possibly 5.

I joked with Tim England a runner who I had come to know in the last week while training out on the trails near the course about how he had a PhD in theoretical mathematics but was being led by a guy with a BA in Anthropology and Spanish.

At this point in the race I had become what I heard other veterans refer to as ‘virgin latched’…First time racers latching onto anyone who has ever done the race before in hopes that they knew where the books were or knew how to navigate the course properly. The virgin I was with was talking about how the other veterans John, Travis, Alan and Jarod who had taken off ahead of me knew the course so well and knew what they were doing and he lamented that he was stuck back here with a potentially inexperienced veteran…Obviously he didn’t know who he was running with. Rather than verbally correct him, I decided I would lead the navigation to the next two books (the new section of the course)….book #3 flawless navigation. Book #4 flawless navigation…The virgins (and veterans) were now believers in my navigational skills, I knew having trained and studied orienteering so much was going to help. Tim England said the following in a recent recollection email,

“Coming from Leonard’s Butt Slide and heading towards Fyke’s Peak. Nick Hollon was leading, followed at some distance by Iso, Eva and Jon. I was bringing up the rear. Nick knew the area well and seemed very happy to share with us mortals. When I finally crested the rise at Hiram’s Pool and Spa, there was Nick sitting on that nappy-assed bench seat grinning from ear-to-ear and looking pleased with himself. We regrouped and off we went again.”

Then before the group really began to separate on testicle spectacle and pig head creek, the virgin who had once doubted my navigational skills was running alongside me and said, “hey I really, really appreciate you helping us back there, I don’t know how many minutes or possibly hours I could have spent looking for those books…I don’t know if you believe in karma but you’re set man, you’re going to kill the race this year” His words evaporated into the thick briar patches as I swam up the hill through slick mud and sharp briars…Having difficulty remembering that the course was this hard…

My intentions were to end the loop in around 9hrs flat. Leaving me sufficient time to refuel and get back out there for a quick night loop. I finished in 8hrs and 22mins, I caught up to Alan & Bev, Travis and John who were at the beginning of the loop almost an hour or more ahead of me.

Loop 2, Night 1, Miles 20-40 direction, Starters 21, Finishers: 5

5:00pm: I took about a twenty five minute break at the camp, just enough time to get re-fueled with some warm soup, put on some new shoes, a new shirt and change my headband for some warmer night gear. I didn’t bother putting on pants; the day had been overcast and I didn’t feel or see any rain at the time. I began walking towards loop 2 just a hair behind Alan, John and Bev with nothing but short shorts, long socks, a light rain jacket, a cotton scarf and a pair of fingerless weight lifting gloves which were already soaked in sweat from the previous loop.

I looked at Alan and Bev and they didn’t seem to be wearing much more either. Alan was just in a plain t-shirt. Risky, I thought to myself, for what could potentially be a very cold night.

I ran with John and the Abbs until the top of Jury Ridge where the course began traversing downhill. I then took off and figured I would run ahead and try to catch up with Travis who had been running strong.

After only a short few miles, I caught Travis on the ascent up to Garden Spot (book #2). The sun was now gone and although I had no idea what his face looked like we began running together. I referred to him as ‘dude’ and ‘man’ for the first few miles we ran together…As I couldn’t seem to remember his name for some reason or another.

First one drop, then another and another…Something terrible was about to happen, I could feel it in my bones. Rain, constant rain began to shower down through the thin leaves of the Tennessee forest as we made our way through briars and cliffs to the jeep road that led us to book #3. This section of the course was called Leonard’s buttslide because literally the only ‘safe’ way down the 75% grade was to slide on your butt…And now with constant showers, it was nothing but a death slide…I went down first, grabbed onto a tree and accidentally snapping it in half causing me to just tumble down through the briars and mud, I made a new personal record getting to that book! But not in the way I had intended…I don’t know how me and Travis got back up that wicked buttslide…but somehow or another we did and we were off beginning to ascend to book #4.

That’s when the fog began to set in. Like a slow creeping death I could see from a distance, my field of vision became more and more clouded while the rain remained constant. It was difficult now to see Travis and he was barely thirty feet from me. Luckily, without much trouble we grabbed book #4 and separated off down Fyke’s peak.

Not that it mattered, but I beat Travis over to the next book and decided I would wait for him and just eat something while he caught up. By the time he did, the rain had intensified and then I looked ahead at the horrifyingly steep testicle spectacle and remembered how difficult it was to climb that thing, during a dry year.

Halfway up the Testicle, it had already been about half an hour longer than normal, we had spent precious minutes stepping and slipping face first then five feet backwards on the 60% grade. There was no forward progress…No moving, every step forward was ten feet (or more) backwards…I yelled in pain as I slipped and accidentally grabbed a healthy red briar to catch myself (the red ones were the thickest and most painful). Travis joked about our slow progress and pulled ahead of me as we neared the summit and began reentering the thick fog that hovered around the 2000ft mark.

The rain was annoying and I was beginning to get pretty cold, but I really didn’t think about it too much. I knew so long as I kept moving and I kept eating something that I wasn’t going to die and so long as I didn’t die, I figured I had a decent shot at completing the race.

Well, the problem we now faced was the ascent up Rat Jaw, essentially a mess of cut down briars and fallen power lines with which desperate runners pull themselves up on. This portion was entirely out in the open. It was now raining harder than it had been all night and a gusty 20-30mph breeze had settled in among the exposed, steep ridge. As we began to ascend the first of several pitches, I grabbed the wet and slippery power line and almost immediately lost my grip, barely catching myself before falling face first into a patch of briars. Then the fog came.

This was the worst fog I had ever been in in my entire life. I know people joke about and refer to this all the time, but I literally couldn’t see my hand out in front of me. My visual field which is essential to navigating properly during Barkley was suddenly reduced to my feet and a small diameter of about five feet.

I led the navigation up Rat Jaw with Travis right behind me. I would stop every 20-30ft and ask, “Ok, do you see cut down briars on the ground?” “Yup”…” he’d reply. “Ok, then, we’re still on the right course.” We continued climbing. I felt like a blind man walking through an endless rainy, windy, cold hell. When we had reached the second to last pitch (only discernible by a large sandstone rock,) I was starting to shiver. Although I had been consuming ~300 calories per hour, I had little to nothing left in my pack now at this point, and my short shorts, light rain jacket and fingerless weight lifting gloves were no match for low 30’s weather, cold rain and high winds atop a 3,600ft peak at 12:00am at night –and this was all starting to set in and run through my mind.

I thought back at that moment to a time when I was doing another race called the Arrowhead 135, where at 2:00am in the middle of February in northern Minnesota I had crossed an ice lake with a recorded temperature of -40 Fahrenheit. Surely this couldn’t have been nearly as bad. I thought then to a time at the Death Race in Pittsfield, Vermont, where the race director made me stand in a small reservoir full of 35 degree water up to my chest for thirty minutes. Surely, I realized again, this wasn’t as bad. And finally, I thought back to the anecdote at the beginning of this race, surely this wasn’t as bad.

I knew that since I had survived and made it through all of those situations, I could certainly make it through this. As I continued to compare past experiences in my mind, we suddenly peaked out at the fire road where a headlamp kindly greeted us in the storm. A crew member of Tim England’s had braved the climb to the top of the tower at this dark hour, and as we approached the book, discovered he was caring for a runner who was curled in the fetal positions inside of a trash bag shivering violently from what looked like some degree of mild hypothermia. I couldn’t think about it much or else I may have succumbed to the same fate. I thought again to myself, I’ve survived worse, I’ve been through worse ,and I can damn well keep going. I ripped out my page, took my first step off the mountain, slipped onto my ass and started rolling. I wish it would have been a more graceful exit but I did what I could in the conditions that I had.

At this point in the race I knew, similar to the opening story, that I had to two choices: I could stay on the top of the tower and wait until I develop hypothermia and die, or I could keep eating things and keep moving down the mountain until I was relatively warm again. Unlike 16 other runners that loop, I decided to keep going.

Halfway down the climb, we came across the Abbs and John just about to start the ascent towards the fire tower. John, last year’s finisher, was shivering and wearing a rain jacket about as thin as mine when he said, “I’m in a bad place, man,a bad place.” I couldn’t help but think about the reality of his words; from where he stood, he needed to climb 1,300ft through mud, briars, fog and pissing rain just to retrieve a page from some old romance novel –A bad place was likely a gross understatement. I patted him on the back and told him that I wanted to see him finish loop 2 and that I would see him shortly back at camp. John ended up making it to the tower, but developed hypothermia and shivered his way back down Old Mac Trail to the campground. Barkley had just consumed one of its best young.

On the final descent to the prison, Travis and I spotted a distant headlamp across the valley in the forest. “Whoever it is, it looks like they’re descending.” It’s Jared, we realized! Travis quickly did some calculations: “That must mean he’s like 5-6hrs ahead of us…that doesn’t seem right…” We just ignored it and ran down until we descended into the prison tunnel. The moment we stepped into the tunnel, I felt the water rise to my mid-calves and a shivering chill went down my spine as I looked down the distant tunnel to pitch darkness. Worse still, the tunnel was leaking, and every 10-15ft a downpour of prison water would fall onto me like a crappy shower in a cheap motel. I couldn’t help but think about the millions of small bacteria of murderers, rapists and other psychopaths that was now traveling down my face being carried by the water. It slightly disgusted me, so I pulled my hood a bit closer and picked up the pace.

Although the next two ascents were the most difficult climbs in the course, Travis and I were excited. The Bad Thing, Indian Knob, Zipline, Big Hell and Chimney Top were all in the forest and ran in dense leaves, which meant no mud and less rain! It took my mind off of the fact that both the Bad Thing and Big Hell were 1,500ft+ climbs in a little over a mile.

We navigated perfectly up to the capstone where the ‘Eye of the Needle,’ the distinct course marker for Indian Knob, was located, buut the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see anything. One rock was indistinguishable from the other rock, one ridge looked the exact same as the next ridge… we could have been going in circles for all we knew. I quickly made the decision to navigate over to the Mart’s field trail to the north of Indian Knob, a definite trail and an excellent handrail on the map for relocating our position on the course. Within minutes we were able to relocate and find the ‘Eye of the Needle,’ avoiding what could have been a potential disaster.

When we got to the spot where the book was supposed to be, though, I panicked and looked around. There was no book! Travis and I spent about five minutes searching the knob before concluding that someone had taken the book and misplaced the thing. Jared must have shown up, seen that the book was missing and quit, I figured; perhaps that was the distant light we saw. Or perhaps the conditions were so bad tonight that Laz had cancelled the race for the safety of the runners? What a nice guy, I thought…And then I remembered: Laz would never do that. He was probably rolling around laughing ,busy playing taps as hoards of runners poured into camp, begging to be tapped out of their misery.

I left a note so that the Abbs and John (who I didn’t know dropped out yet) would know that we had passed through but hadn’t see nthe book. I figured if they grabbed my note and showed it to Laz, that would verify that we all were at the book, despite the page not being there. Travis and I navigated the rest of the loop quite flawlessly. I had, at this point, mastered the mental strength and sheer determination it was taking to stay warm. It was really a combination of moving and eating; if I stopped doing one or the other my soaking wet short shorts and light rain jacket would surely not be enough and I would have soon succumb to the same fate as John and the other 20 runners on that dreadful night loop.

Loop 3 Day 2, Miles 40-60 counter-clockwise direction, Starters: 5 Finishers: 5

I got into camp 10-15 minutes before Travis, giving me enough time to get settled and slow down for a 45 minute nap. I had learned from past years that taking naps during Barkley was essential; after all, I was trying to move my body for potentially 60hrs. I discussed with Travis on the way in, too, that a well-rested body and mind can move and navigate flawlessly, where as a sleep deprived mind and sloppy body will make countless mistakes and waste endless hours ‘out there’.

Before I left camp, I saw a very broken and shivering John Fegy and heard word of his close encounter with severe hypothermia. I was happy to see that both him and the runner close to death at the top of the tower were now both back at camp, safe and warm, a feeling I knew I wouldn’t get to experience until at least 38hrs from then.

Travis left camp first. He was about five minutes ahead of me until I caught him going up to the third switchback in the reverse direction on Chimney Top. We passed the Abbs who were descending into camp and I quickly verified with them that there had been no book at Indian Knob, but they hadn’t grabbed my note, which turned out to be ok. Laz had believed us and actually given me another book to bring back out there and replace the one that had been lost.

Before long, we ran into a broken and beaten Jarod Campbell. The guy who had finished Barkley last year in 56hrs flat was now shuffling down Chimney Top with a beaten expression on his face. “I’ve been lost for at least seven hours,” he said in an exasperated and tired voice. He had completely botched Indian Knob. It turned out that the book had actually been at the knob,  but on the opposite side (some runner had misplaced it while trying to put it back). Jarod ,who was navigating by visual field and not by compass, knew that when he came across the book he was supposed to go left and did so, not realizing that left in this case (because the book was on the opposite side of the knob) was actually the direction he had come up already, hence the distant light Travis and I saw during loop 2.

All of loop 3 was navigated near perfectly, with very few mistakes and very seldom lows. Hallucinations had not yet set in and Travis and I had maintained constant conversation, keeping each other attentive, busy ,and focused on the course. However, we communally decided that we could take this loop ‘easy’ in order to conserve energy, memorize the markers in the opposite direction for the night and really focus on nutrition. Though the intentions were good, we ended moving  too slow for comfort, and I arrived in camp ahead of Travis and about an hour before sundown.

Loop 4 Night 2, Miles 60-80 counter-clockwise direction, Starters: 2 Finishers: 2

I had been here before: this fatigue, this tiredness, this exhaustion. This was loop 4, the second night, my nemesis, and my worst enemy at Barkley. I knew what I was up against now, though. I knew the sleep deprivation, the hunger, the sleepiness, the delirium were all going to set in shortly. I just needed remember all of it was temporary…temporary…temporary…

I took a thirty minute nap before heading out on the fourth loop, I knew it was going to be difficult and I knew that if I didn’t get sleep now, I was going to either misnavigate or hit an extreme low like I did last year. So, although I was only a mere three hours ahead of the cut-off time, I sacrificed an entire hour to sleep to mentally prepare and fuel myself for the next loop.

Travis took off before me again. We were now the only ones left on the course. Jarod, Alan and Bev had all managed to get in Fun Runs this year, and as for the other 35 competitors, they all got a healthy taste of what Barkley is like in rough weather. I was now hiking through the forest, but I wondered if really I should be racing through it. Suddenly, I felt the urge to catch Travis and start pulling ahead of him. After all, this was the fourth loop! Mile 60 of 100, I thought. It was time to start surging or at least stay close to your competition. I pulled off about 3-4 switchbacks ahead of him on the climb up Chimney Top. I was breathing pretty hard. My heart rate was high and I wasn’t able to chew or really eat any food because I was working too hard. What I was doing was not ‘sustainable.’ I slowed down and Travis caught me before the final pitch of Chimney Top.

Out of instinct, I told him I had started to compete with him on this loop and that I was feeling the need to pull ahead for some reason. “Why? We’ve got a while left in the race. We should stick together through the night, motivate each other and nail navigation like we did in loop 3. I know the last loop was slow, but we just need to pull that off again this loop and then we can sleep for a whole hour before taking it ‘easy’ on the fifth loop.” His logic resonated with me as we began descending down towards the beech tree. I guess I had no rhyme or reason to be competing with him yet. He had helped me out with navigation just as much as I had helped him and we were working great together as a team; I had found myself constantly motivated and well-fed when I was hanging with him.

We were dead on pace in comparison with the last loop when we neared the summit of the tower. Travis’s crew was cheering for us in the far distance, and then he started to break into what I thought was an extremely appropriate song: “Where is my mind? Wheeerrreee is my mind? Way out in the water…I see it swimming…” And then I tried to sing along as my voice cracked trying to imitate the lead singers high pitched voice: “Except for the little fish”…my voice cracked. Everyone was laughing, and we were awake, smiling and full of energy. We quickly grabbed our page and  headed back down the mountain into the endless climbs of the second half. It wasn’t until we reached the summit of Meth Lab Hill that it dawned on me that I was now in new territory. Last year ,I had quit here, atop the testicle, alone in the solitude of 2:00am. I yelled violently into the empty woods and cursed myself for being such a miserable failure. This year was different. I gave my middle finger to the spot where I had fallen over last year and taken a nap. Travis and I  raged on.

Close to book #4, near the reverse of Leonard’s Buttslide, things were really starting to fall apart. Hallucinations, sounds, and images were all starting to become horrifyingly real. I could stare at almost any rock, tree branch, stump or stick and suddenly it would become some wicked animal and start slithering, hissing or just staring at me from a silent distance. Travis was convinced he was hearing voices speaking to him from the creeks and kept telling me that auditory functions are usually the first to go when hallucinating. What I always experience is far more visual.

At the Garden Spot roughly 8 miles from camp, I decided to drink an entire energy drink and mow down a bag of skittles. I felt great for about ten minutes and then started violently dipping into one of my lowest lows yet. I had foolishly pulled ahead of Travis at this point because he had me convinced that we weren’t going to make the cut-off time for the next loop if we didn’t hurry (truth be told, we were actually pretty close to the time cut-off for this loop.) I was crashing hard, though. There were centipedes, some real, some not, crawling all over the ground, and  I heard a baby crying somewhere in the distance. When I looked back, I saw a runner dash behind a tree. I stopped for a moment. I then turned around and investigated the other side of the tree. Nothing. A few miles later, I heard Travis in the distance yelling “Help!” “Help!” I stopped again, turned around, but coudln’t see his headlamp or a light in the distanced. As I turned back around, I glimpsed something else dashing behind a nearby tree. There were a few snakes on the ground that turned into sticks as I stepped on them, and a porcupine and a weasel, possibly real, possibly not, were playing around on the trail towards the top of Jury Ridge. I was really starting to lose it.

And then it happened: the worst low of the race. Emptiness. Vast nothingness. It wasn’t depression, nor was it sadness. The problem was, it wasn’t anything. A hollow emptiness slowly crept into my soul. I remembered Thomas the Choo-Choo Train from when I was a kid. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Come on, Nick, come on, Nick, come on, Nick.” I started to cry out of delirium; then I laughed and saw a menacing, shadowed figure dart behind a tree and chuckle. “Come on, Nick, come on, Nick,si se puede, si se puede, si echale ganas guay…ponte perro…vaminos! Come on, Nick. Keep your shit together.” Then I started to pretend I was my parents: “Nick, we’re so proud of you, keep going ,Nick, we believe in you” I said to the forest. Suddenly, I was some of my friends from high school: “Nick, you crazy guy, how do you run so far?” Then I was my girlfriend: “Come on, Nick, keep it together, you got this, you can pull through! I love you! Come on!” I was everyone, all at once. Ten or twenty different people possessed my body for the next thirty minutes as my mind drifted off into the clear, obsidian sky that night. I just had to make it to sunrise…I just had to make it to sunrise…

When Travis caught me I was talking to myself and cursing at some deer that had been whispering incoherently to me. It was good to talk to someone human again, though my parents, girlfriend and friends all kept me company. I began to doubt they were there. At least I knew Tra? Travertine? Trevor? Traroy? I couldn’t remember his name. Who was he? What was I doing in this forest? Barkley, Barkley. What a strange sounding word… “Hey, man,” I said, since I couldn’t recall his name. “How are you holding up?” “Dude,” he replied, (maybe he didn’t know my name either) “I’m not doing so well. I’m seeing things like mad, man. You?” I responded “Yeah,  definitely…it’s pretty rough. We should probably stick the rest of this loop out together.” As I fell behind his pace on the downhill, I knew I could have run faster, but I didn’t want to risk losing my race to my mind at this point. I had come too far and I wasn’t going to let insanity stop me.

On the last climb, nerves got to Trev…Travis…and he began surging up Checkmate Hill. I couldn’t keep the pace and my stomach wouldn’t shut up. It was as if I was battling against three different forces throughout the entire race: my mind (which was lost on loop 4), my body (which was in a constant state of loss since loop 2,) and nature (which constantly beat me down each loop.) Sometimes these three forces worked together, and sometimes they fought fierce battles against one another. The sun was just starting to peak up and as the more vivid and frightening hallucinations began to fade and the climb came to an end, I was thankful that I was through the worst of it.

Loop 5 Day 3, Miles 80-100 counter-clockwise direction, Starters: 2 Finishers: 2

I came into camp about two to three minutes ahead of Travis despite him pulling ahead on the climb, I managed to catch him on the downhill, he had worked out the math and informed me that we only now had about 45mins of ‘cushion’ to make a sub-12hr loop for an official sub 60-hr Barkley finish.

At 8:15am, I started off in the counter-clockwise direction for my final loop, I was anxious to get going and worried that I may not be able to produce a 12hr and 45min loop at this point…especially if I got lost…

“I want to be in you when the sun goes down…oooo yyaaaaaaa….I want to be in you when the sun goes down….oooo yyaaaaaaaa” This was the worst techno song I had ever heard in my life…The sun was just starting to come up over the mountain when I ascended rough ridge for what I realized was the last time…I paused, took a look around, admired the rhododendron and plodded down the hill…That stupid techno song…It was ruining my mood, “gah a snake! Nope that’s a stick…Oh look a pig! Nope, that’s a log…” The hallucinations were still coming in pretty strong. I could hear voices whistling in the wind and speaking to me from the distant creeks, indistinct but audible. I had clearly lost my mind somewhere on the fourth loop, but that was ok, I really didn’t need it anyway, it was starting to weigh me down.

At the top of Chimney Top Trail in the rising sun, I spotted what looked like the same three deer I had been seeing throughout the entire race. Spiritually, I decided that those deer were my crew watching over me during the course, my mom, my dad and my girlfriend, carefully watching over me ensuring that I completed Barkley this year. I muttered to myself and the deer, “frikkin’ showoffs…” as they pranced away at what I figured was a 5:00min/mile up the mountain…I bet those deer couldn’t run Barkley non-stop…

By the time I hit the top of Chimney Top, I was awake. I felt new, almost fresh. The sun was finally out –I literally hadn’t seen it in about a week; it  had been raining, snowing, overcast or raining again. But now the air was fresh, the trails seemed dry, the sky was blue and the sun was there and that was simply enough.

I slowly awoke while simultaneously moving and navigating through the course with perfect accuracy. I would like to think that at this point, it would have seemed unnatural to me to even deviate slightly from the route that I had been running now for the past 30+hrs of my life.

When I began ascending lower Rat Jaw, I looked at my watch and realized I was moving about 45mins faster to this point than both loop 3 and 4. Something had either left me or taken over me.

Halfway up the climb to the top of Rat Jaw, I came across a dark coal filled mud puddle. I then turned towards the trees and addressed the woods of Tennessee, “Barkley, you have taken my blood, you have taken my pride, you have taken my strength…I will now take from you your blood, your strength and everything you have left…You have left me nothing…I will strip you bare” I took off my shirt and dipped my fingers into the soft, dark mud and coated my arms and face in the Barkley blood.

I raged down the hill and disappeared around the corner before I could even process how quickly I was moving. Travis was headed in the opposite direction, as is customary in Barkley tradition (you don’t want the runner to experience the whole race without being alone now do you?) And I was worried that if he was near Rat Jaw, that he would have a more than decent chance of beating me back to camp. I raged up the rest of the climb, in a state of fading admiration and respect for the course. In the default world, I constantly yearned to find climbs this steep and here I was complaining about it? No that simply won’t do, I cherished that moment from then on and began singing a Modest Mouse song out loud. Then in the far distance, I noticed my girlfriend and mom atop the jeep road at the radio tower and once within earshot of me, I let out a raging roar. As I got closer, I got happier, this was the last time I had to ascend Rat Jaw…I said with my arms flexed out to the side leaning back on the last steps of the climb, “DO YOU THINK THE BRIARS ARE YOUR FRIENDS?? I WAS BORN AMONG THE BRIARS!!” doing my best to impersonate Bane from the most recent Batman movie, my mom and girlfriend cracked up, hurried me over to the book and filmed me as I ripped out one of my last pages. “Nick, we will see you back at camp at around 7:00! Go kill it!”

As I came down Pig Head Creek, I made a last minute decision to descend Danger Dave’s climbing wall instead of Pussy Ridge, for which I had taken all of the other four loops. Danger Dave’s is an 85% grade and descends about 200ft in roughly 0.0001 miles…it’s basically a 200ft cliff with some cushy leaves on it so you can fall semi-gracefully. I don’t know where the energy came from, but I gracefully flew with style down Danger Dave’s, making fresh tracks, apparently I was the first and only runner to attempt this ridiculous descent this year. I figured the blood I took from Barkley was in some sort of Buddhist-Karmic sense making me ‘one’ with the forest.

When I finally met Travis going the opposite direction, he was about half-way up testicle spectacle moving at a decent stride. “Have a good hike!” he said.  I still couldn’t remember his name from the previous night…and said “best of luck to you man!” I was down Testicle Spectacle in a record eight minutes. I don’t know how I was moving so fast.

And then as I was ascending Fyke’s Peak for the last time, I noticed what had been there all along on this entire loop. There was a light breeze blowing at my back, pushing me forward. This breeze was the manifestation of the love, support and positive energy outpouring from those who were watching me at this race, the fellow ultrarunner’s, the fallen virgins of the race, my friends, my family. They were the wind at my back and suddenly, I realized why I felt so good and why I had that energy on the fifth loop…it was simply the wind pushing me along.

The hallucinations returned towards the top of Fyke’s Peak, a runner in a red rain jacket disappeared behind a tree, and then another runner in a blue flannel yelled out to me before disappearing behind another tree to my left. Ahead of me an older man was walking in a yellow rain jacket, leaving boot prints in the muddy ground. None of this was real…or was it? I liked to believe at this point, these images, these people, were real, they were the spirits of those fallen, of those who didn’t make a loop, a fun run or a finish and their souls were doomed to walk the Barkley forever. I wasn’t going to become one of them.

As I was listening to the sounds of my feet shuffling through the leaves on my ascent towards Garden Spot for the final time, I thought hard on the word ‘final.’ It was so weird for me to be using that word ‘final’… ‘final’… this was it, these were the last times I would have to be out here. I paused, took a look around and just stood and admired the sheer beauty of the course. The waterfalls, the yellow beech trees, the moss-covered and dirty sandstone caprocks…I had really come to love this course and this part of Tennessee. Now, getting to run through it for the last time…it almost felt like I was saying goodbye to a really good friend who was moving to another state or something for a job promotion. What I felt was a combination of elation, respect, admiration and sadness.

The cocktail of emotions, hallucinations and wind blowing at my back was producing some extremely powerful energy as I burst into one of my more powerful runner’s highs.

It was a furious and ephemeral high I yelled as loud as I could into the empty woods of Tennessee.  Lyrics from a techno song my uncle had once shown me, “is THAT ALL YOU GOT?!?!? LET ME SEE YOUR WAR FACE!!! AHHHHHHH!!!”  The raw stumps that were my legs were suddenly oiled and moving at break neck pace (literally–had I fallen–I would have broken my neck!) I was pounding out what felt like miles…only to discover thirty minutes later when the high was finally wearing off that I had only covered about 1 mile.

I stopped and stared at what I thought was the most beautiful bird, an extremely vibrant orange and red cardinal just sitting atop a leafless gray tree. As I got closer and admired it, I was happy to see it wasn’t flying away…when all of a sudden it took off, but not like a bird…like a leaf and fell slowly to the ground…

I was now on the final ascent of Barkley 2013, I knew I had the finish within my grasp, I figured Travis had already finished now and that I was definitely going to be second place, none the less, I powered up the final climb, looking back, catching the last few glimpses of the last 57+hrs of my life.

“NOW YOUR PLAYING WITH POWER!!!! GRAHHHH!!!!!!!” A manic insane yell exploded from my mouth, my legs were bleeding, my knees bruised and on the verge of collapse, my shoulders throbbed in pain….I split the distance between me and impossible….coming up over the final ascent before reaching the Cumberland trail I was getting anxious…I started hiking quickly and then nailed a huge rock with my right foot and fell face first into the leaves right at the final steps of the climb…Barkley…you bastard…you don’t get to have the last laugh…not this year…this year is mine!…and down to the steps of doom I went…I had tears coming down my face…I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t laughing…it was some strange combination of laughing, crying, breathing and running a 6:00min/ mile…

Once I hit the peak of Bird Mountain I looked at my watch…6hrs and 29mins…I wanted to be done by 6:45…let’s get flying Nick–this ain’t no sob story, GO!!

And then I fiercely raged…raged like no Barkley runner has ever raged before…with the spirits of ultrarunner’s past and present at my back, those three deer somewhere in distance watching over me.  I was the impossible.

As Laz said, “we made a lie out of the human limitation” no one should ever be capable of running that fast after running for 57hrs and 20mins straight…however, I was running as if I was competing back in a high school cross country meet…flying around each corner with such precision and accuracy while placing my feet for microseconds on the tips of rocks, roots and muds as I floated over this hellish terrain for the last time.  In what I figured was a few switchbacks away from camp, I let out a huge roar into the empty forest…had there been anyone not associated with the race I would have scared the living daylights out of them…Tick—Tick–Tick…it must have looked like I was coming back from a 5k the way I was darting through the forest.

Laz described what he saw in the distance as a fast moving blurry image somewhere up on the mountain…And then the final muddy switchback…the end…this was it…all that had come to be…all that I had become…was about to end. Without thinking about it, I ripped off my earphones from my iPod that were still fresh with the blood and sweat from the descent, flexed my arms and let out a mighty roar as I raged at what must have been near the fastest 200 meters of my life and slammed my fists onto the yellow gate as Laz, my family and the few remaining Barkers burst the silence of the woods with applause.

I have watched at previous years Brett finish, Jarod finish, John finish, it had always looked like such a struggle such a difficult and labored motion…over-exaggerated arm swimming, legs that looked broken, a face that said it all…I was nothing like them, if only for that 13 minutes it took me to cover the last 2 miles of the race…I was immortal…I was invincible…I had just conquered the impossible and was damn well going to look like it…Barkley…I wasn’t going to let it have the last laugh….

My message to you all at the end of this race report..isn’t that I hope you ever complete Barkley…but that you find something or have something out there in the world that is your ‘own’ Barkley and that you decimate it….Forward, relentless, determination…A wise friend once asked me “what’s the wealthiest place in the world?” To which I simply replied, “ probably China…because of all the billions of people or maybe the Middle East? Maybe even Africa with all their diamonds and natural resources? No…wait…” The expression on my friends face was unwavering “…ok, ok so maybe something more metaphorical…uh…the United States?”  “Why?” he demanded. “..uh…because of the vast amount of opportunity and chance for upward economic mobility?” “No Nick…none of these places are the wealthiest…if you look at life’s value as a collection of ‘lived experiences’ not monetary wealth…than the ‘wealthiest’ places in the world are graveyards, cemeteries, burial grounds…why? Because this is where everyone has gone with their un-lived experiences, this is where the person who never ran that 5k, ran that 10k, wrote that book, sung that song, painted that picture, talked with their dad again, quit that job they hated, this is where people have taken their hopes and dreams to the grave.”

I understood immediately at the moment what he meant. As I wanted nothing to do with it, I resolved that my grave will be nothing but a pile of bones and a corpse with the bearings of heavy use. I encourage you all to do the same, find your own Barkley and do your part in making cemeteries that much less wealthy.

If the Barkley Marathons are the race that eats its young, I advise that all finishers (such as me) coat themselves in syrup of Ipecac prior to starting the race, in order to be less appetizing.

Nickademus Hollon XIII

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

Read more of Nick’s ultra running adventures on his blog ‘NICKADEMUS

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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.

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2013 Delano Park 12 Hour Ultra Race Report – Charlie Taylor

2013 Delano Park 12 Hour Race Recap
March 9, 2013

When I read the description of this race, I knew that it would be a good test of how ready I am to run my first 100 miler, so I signed up early in January.

Training had not gone according to plan most of the first of 2013, I am about 100 miles behind last year at this point, but last year wasn’t what I had wanted it to be either. Other than the 2 races I have run, a 50K and a 100K, I have not run but about 2 runs over 20 miles. Some of it was due to injuries that I had in early December and some of it as just plain lazy I guess. Last Saturday, I had intended to knock out a 20, instead, went on a trail run with my friend Doug Boomer on our pipeline course. We had discovered a new trail and as we ran through the woods, we came upon a property line fence. Boomer climbed over it and as I stepped on the bottom wire to cross and swung my leg over the top wire, the bottom wire broke, hurling me directly to the ground with 2 of the barbs gouging a big place from the back of the knee all the way up into my butt cheek. I was bleeding like a stuck hog and I know Boomer wanted to laugh, but I think he didn’t because he thought he might have to come over and help me get out of the clutches of the barbed wire. Well, we went on and finished our run, seeing that we were still 5 miles from the car, with my leg throbbing with every footstrike. So now, I have a 12 hour race a week later and I have cut the crap out of my leg. Just what I needed!

Fast forward to Friday night, March 8th. Because I am cheap, I decided to drive down to Decatur, Alabama the night before and try to get some sleep in the truck instead of leaving early Saturday morning. Terri thought that I might be uncomfortable trying to sleep in my Ford Ranger so she graciously offered me her van. It was only 140 miles away and I made it to Delano Park around 11PM, was happy that I could park within 20 feet of the course, and did so. It was about 35 degrees, not terribly cold, but I figured that I would be ok with a little bit of cover. I crashed pretty quick and sometime around 2AM, woke up freezing. At that time I decided that I probably should put on a few more articles of clothing and went back to sleep, having covered up a bit more. I must have slept pretty darn good because the next thing I remember, It was daylight and there were cars around me everywhere. I didn’t hear a one of them come in. Sure was glad I had the best parking spot on the entire place!!

The race started at 6AM and it was still in the mid 30’s. It is pretty nice on these kind of races because you have your stuff right beside the course and every mile, you pass your spot. I decided to start out with a bunch of clothes on knowing that I could shed anything I wanted any time I wanted to. I had set all my stuff out so that it would be easy to grab whatever I needed as I passed, wasting very little time. One thing I consistently see in these kind of races is runners spending a lot of time stopped at their spots. I don’t think many of them realize how much overall time they are wasting and if they could just cut the stops by a minute each, they would be able to get more miles in. My goal was to spend about 20-40 seconds at my stops.
6AM and the race is on. The course was one mile long and kinda wove in and out, backtracking itself in one place-separated by a banner, then a couple little rises (about 10 foot of climb in the entire loop), around a water tower, past Decatur High School, then back to the start/finish where you crossed over the timing mat to start all over again. I intended to start out at a respectable 8:40-9:00 pace and never get any faster than about 8:30. My mileage goal was 65 miles. Having never run a 12 hour event before, I was not sure how I would feel in the latter stages. I had run 54 miles last summer in a 10 hour event and was sure I could do it, but I do remember “falling apart” the last couple hours.

My first miles were right on target, 9:04, 8:44, 8:37, 9:01, and 8:36. At Mile 8, I took my first it stop and that one came in at 10:15. I hit the 10 mile mark in 1 hr 30 min, feeling pretty good. I continued back on my goal pace, stopping again at mile 13 and was at 15 miles in 2:18. It was getting rather warm, the high was supposed to get to 70 and I made sure to drink a lot of water and shed more clothes. I had also drank about 6 oz of ASEA before starting and intended to drink 2-3 oz every 30 minutes. I hit the 20 mile mark in 3 hours 3 minutes and felt like I might be able to top out at 70 miles instead of the 65 goal I had set.

I took a little longer break at mile 21 and stretched the legs a bit. My miles were starting to be in the 10:00-10:30 range and I crossed the line for 26.2 miles in 4:06, not a bad time considering that I still had almost 8 hours to run. My 50K split was only 15 seconds over 5 hours, which would have been a great finishing time on some of the 50k’s that I have run, however, some of them are crazy hilly and this race was flat.

My mile splits are getting a bit slower and this is the time in ultra races where the little demons start talking to you, making you want to quit and telling you how stupid you are for running. I pressed on, ignoring them as much as possible. When one runs ultras, there is a lot of time to think of things and if you don’t find something positive to think about, the negatives will kick your butt. My trick is to constantly do the math on the percentages of how far I have gone and what percentage I have left. When the clock hit 6 hours, I had just crossed the line for my 35th mile and from there it was downhill, halfway to the finish. Now as I’m sure everybody can imagine, this is easier to talk about than to do but it does do something in my mind, knowing that there is less time to go. Mile times crept into the 12 minute range and during this point, I took a 5-6 minute break and really stretched out. This 20:12 mile turned out to be my slowest mile. I hit 40 miles in 6:57 and then 45 in 8:04. I started feeling better and getting the splits back down into the 11’s. I remember thinking that I had 4 hours to run 20 miles and hit my goal. That should be easy. Should be, but then again, I had already run 45 miles. I started concentrating on getting 5 miles per hour, including my stops, which were coming more often. A lot of times, I would stop for 10 seconds and drink some more water. One good thing about running mile loops is that I did not have to carry anything.

As I got closer to 50 miles, I thought that I might be able to break 9 hours (I had run 8:55 in my 10 hour run last year), but crossed the line for 50 miles in 9:03. Now the finish was getting closer, but still a long way off. Mile 55 was at 10:07 and I hit 60 in 11:08. My last 4 miles were 10:31, 11:50, 10:03, and 8:50. When I crossed the line at mile 62, I had 23 minutes left and knew that I could get 2 more with an outside chance of 3. When I completed mile 64, there was a bit over 5 minutes left and I went on, thinking that I might get close and they might count it, but ended up being 3/10 mile short, officially finishing 64 miles.

I always knew how far I had run and occasionally later in the race, the race director would call out the distance as I crossed the line, but I never knew what place I was in. I did know about the guy who was first overall, heck he lapped me 14 times, but I knew there were several others that I had not lapped and had not lapped me and I figured there were several of us that would be close to each other. Turns out, first place was 78 miles, 2nd was 68, 3rd 66, and 4th thru 7th had 64. I was the last of those 4 and ended up 7th overall and first place Master division (over 40).

I felt good at the finish, however, I had finished pretty hard and immediately went to my chair and sat for 10-15 minutes. 12 hours continuous running really takes a toll on the human body! As I mentioned earlier, I have been drinking ASEA for year now, and drank about 16 ounces during the race and I attribute this to my amazing recovery process. After finishing, I had relatively little pain, which is a common thing for those who drink this amazing product.
With the race being over, I got my award, loaded the van and headed back home to Gallatin, cleaned up, and got a great night of sleep.

What did I learn while running this race? Call me crazy, but I like these kind of races.. a lot. There is plenty of time to think, the pace is much slower than marathon pace, and I actually do pretty good at long distances. I’m learning more and more how to eat before my stomach starts growling in races and how important that is to not bonking. I also got to see super Awesome Dewayne Satterfield win the 50 mile race in a crazy 6 hours 23 minutes (or somewhere close to that)

What did I like? The race was very well organized, plenty of food and drinks and most importantly, plenty of cheering folks to help you keep going. The one mile loop was nice because it allowed me to break each lap into halves, they did go by pretty fast (in my mind at least). Friendly North Alabama folks, as always. I have come to really enjoy those North Alabama races.

What did I not like? Nothing really. The gravel got a little soft in a couple places and it would mess with footing. That little 10 foot climb became something I dreaded every lap (you have to have something to dread). I really did not like having to stop and remove my shoes a couple times to get gravels out.

Will I do Delano Park 12 hour again? Definitely

What’s up next? This Saturday, March 16, I will run the Savage Gulf Trail marathon in Bersheeba Springs, TN. This thing runs down into what they call the grand canyon of the east with lots of technical footing, lots of climbing, lots of big rocks, and a couple creeks to cross. Me, Doug Boomer, and Scott Jordan are gonna go see what we’re made of.

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2013 Savage Gulf Marathon Race Report – Charlie Taylor

2013 Savage Gulf Trail Marathon

This race was billed as the toughest trail marathon in the country and was limited to 100 entrants. My friend Scott Jordan had entered early and everybody thought it would fill pretty fast but even a couple weeks before the race, there were still 20 openings. Scott had been talking me and Boomer about running it with him and one morning while running, after about 5 minutes of chatting about Savage Gulf Marathon, both of us decided to throw in and sign up. What were we thinking?

Savage Gulf is part of the South Cumberland natural area and lies just north of Beersheeba Springs, Tn. The 1000 foot deep gorge is shaped like a giant crow’s foot and contains the most spectacular rock formations in Tennessee. The race starts at the ranger’s station, goes through the woods for about 3 miles before dropping down into the gorge through a 10 foot wide, 150 foot deep split in the cliff called the stone door and that is where the fun really begins.
I had just run the Delano Park 12 hour ultra the Saturday before logging 64 miles, however, my legs felt great and I thought I was at least somewhat ready for what was to come. I have been drinking ASEA, a cellular replacement product for a year and sure as promised, my recovery has been phenominal. ASEA puts redox signaling molecules back into the body, the stuff in the body’s cells that help it to heal and to recover. As we age, our bodies, due to wear and tear, what we eat and drink, stress, and other things, make less and less of the “healing molecules”. That is why youngsters heal faster than we who are older. The result of ASEA is faster recovery, more endurance, and an increased level of antioxidents.

Scott, Boomer, and I decided to head out for Savage Gulf about 4:30AM, since it is only about a 2 hour drive from Gallatin. After a quick breakfast at the Waffle House and a quick meeting with Frank Schmidt (Smitty), we were on our way. The drive, once you get off I-24, through Pelham, up Highway 50 to Beersheeba Springs is beautiful. It reminded me a lot of some of the final part of last year’s VolState road race, just one mountain to the east. We arrived at the park with about an hour to prepare for the unknown. I think, deep inside, we all knew what to expect.

Runners were arriving, we stood in line to get our race numbers, and were happy to get some pretty good loot in our Goodie bags, a nice Tech shirt proclaiming the Savage Gulf to indeed be the country’s toughest trail marathon and a really nice $30 Rock Creek running cap. Rock Creek, a Chattanooga outfitter is really the bomb diggity when it comes to taking care of trail runners. They sponsor 10 our more great Chattanooga trail races including Stump Jump, Upchuck 50K, Lookout Mt 50 miler, and more, not to mention throwing out goodies at races like this. Thanks for the cap Guys!! I will wear it proudly (and often). We also got a cool Savage Gulf Window decal.

One thing I really like about running trail races is that the elite runners act just like the rest of us. If you didn’t know who they were, you would not know that they would end up winning the race. We met and talked to Brian Schmidt (Smitty’s son) who would indeed win this race with an outstanding course record time of 4:21 (yep, that’s super fast for this marathon). My friends Michal Scott, Phil Zimmerman from Nashville, Wilson From Rome Georgia, and several more were there. We all chatted a bit, tried to keep warm in the early morning 40 degree weather and got our race gear on, waiting for the final call. The weather forecast called for 72 degrees, warm for March in middle Tennessee and we all figured (except Scott Jordan) that we had better carry a little more water than normal. I had decided the night before to wear my Nathan backpack which holds an 80 oz water bladder, along with a few pockets, handy for my trusty Olympus Stylus Tough Camera, some Kramergesic skin lube, a couple 8 oz pouches of ASEA, making it easy to access any of my stuff. Boomer had a couple hand held water bottles but Scott only carried one. Big mistake!

The call was made, we all shed our outer layers, down to bare bones and hurried over to the starting area. We all immediately noticed the official starter, dressed in Colonial Garb, with a gun that almost looked like a small cannon. As we prepare for the start, we were told that the gun was a 96 calibre black power and was packed heavy. This thing had such a kick that it had to be mounted on a frame, I don’t believe 2 men could have held it when it fired. We were given a few instructions and that big gun went BOOM and we were off.

Like I said before, the first 3 miles were really runnable and run we did. I looked at my Garmin and noticed that I was doing a 7:50 pace and thought to myself, “what am I doing going this fast?” Everybody knows not to go out too fast. That would be slow in a road marathon but this wasn’t any old road marathon. After our initial 3 miles the course turned right and went down through the Stone Doors, a massive 10 foot wide split between the cliff, and about a 500 feet drop, violently into the gorge. Immediately, the terrain was different. As we descended into the gorge, there were big rocks and twists and turns, many switchbacks, fallen trees, and some runnable trail. At the bottom of the gorge, we made a hard turn to the left and crossed a 100 foot cable bridge over a dry creek bed. They tell me that after only a little rain, this creek is a mighty rushing river and when hiking in Savage Gulf, it is always a good idea to pay attention to where you are if it rains. The sign before the bridge warned that there was no running allowed crossing the bridge. If you weren’t paying close attention, any running would shake the bridge so violently that it could throw you off. I ran anyway, heck it was runnable surface!

Immediately after crossing the bridge, the terrain went back up, climbing up the grades and jumping over more rocks. There were several places where the boulders were covered with moss and footing was somewhat treacherous. At mile 7, there was another swinging bridge and the first aid station was on the other side of it. I still had plenty of water in my backpack so I passed on a refill. After a very quick food refuel, I was back on my way. The course ran alongside the dry creek before angling off to the left and back into the woods. About a mile after the aid station, the Chattanooga cave and rescue team had set up a rope system across the creek. The creek bed was dry but the rocks were slick as glass. I heard later about several runners taking big falls on those rocks. Immediately after crossing, the trail headed up the south side of the mountain. The sun was coming up pretty strong in the sky and as it bore through the tree tops, I wished that I had brought my sunglasses. The temps were rising and I guess that it was somewhere in the 70 degree range already. I looked up and could see some of the runners who had passed me earlier climbing the hill in front of me. My, my, they were a long way up the side of the mountain!

Running the switchbacks became a game. How many would there be before I topped out? Almost every time the trail would go back to the left, I had a bit of somewhat level trail and I made the best I could of it. As I neared the top, I came upon some awesome limestone cliffs on my right. Right beside the cliffs was very runnable but as I passed them, the terrain again became violent. Weaving in and out of rocks, jumping from one to another, watching every place the feet landed was the order of the day. Just a bit past the 9 mile mark, I came into a clearing and the view almost took my breath. I was about to cross another swinging bridge that crossed a raging stream and directly on the other side of the bridge was a massive overhanging cliff that I was to run underneath. As I came under the giant ledge, the dirt was well marked with the footprints of the 30 or more runners who were in front of me. The overhang was at least 50 feet over my head and extended another 50 feet to my left. The cliff was shaped like a giant crescent and I immediately imagined a thousand years ago how the Indians probably camped and lived underneath this shelter.

When running races, there is not much time to dwell on things except running so as I ran inside the semi-circle, I looked off to my left and the raging creek was just a foot slip away. The trail took another little jaunt through some trees and There I saw my friend Smitty and his grandson. Smitty had gone on ahead to cheer on his son Brian and graciously had carried a couple things for me to pick up at that point. He told us we were a little over a mile to the next aid station. The trail went back into the woods, more switchbacks and eventually wound up at the aid station. I found myself getting a bit hungry and made it a point to eat a couple boiled potatoes, some gummy bears, a few potato chips and refill my depleting water pouch. I usually do not waste much time at aid stations and found myself getting back in front of several runners who had passed me earlier. I never did see any of them again. I was informed that the next aid station was 6 miles away and that 3 miles of that would be easy trail through the trees. Best news I had heard all day!! I was tired of climbing on rocks and looked forward to being able to stretch it out a bit. They were right, there were almost 4 miles of ups and downs but most of it was easy on the feet, most of it running the ridge on what appeared to be the east side of the canyon. There were several places where you could see for miles and miles and the temptation to stop and stare was enormous but runners gotta keep running and on I went.

At about mile 15, I passed a Ranger taking pictures and he informed me that I was about 2 miles from the aid station. Just after that, the trail became a wagon road, filled with big softball sized rocks, and heading straight down the hill. This ¼ mile drop then made a hard right and again, followed directly under the cliffs that I had been running on before. All the way, there were some massive cliffs off to my right, many with pretty waterfalls coming toward me. The wagon trail that I was running on, I found out later was a stagecoach road, carved out of the hillside in the mid 1800’s by slave labor. Wow, what an experience! I cannot imagine pulling a stagecoach across these hills!

On my way down this hill, I came upon what appeared to be my friend, Doug Boomer. He was walking and didn’t look like he was doing well. As I came upon him, he turned around and said he knew that it was me behind him. We talked for a second, his foot was killing him and I said I was going on, and that was it. The rock infested road then made a left and back into the trees. I was about a mile from the next aid station and as I got closer and closer to the creek, the greenery increased and the path got easier. All of a sudden, I came upon the aid station, stopped for a couple minutes, refilled the water bladder, ate some more potatoes, drank some gatoraid, and was on my way again.

I was 9 miles from the finish and felt like I had already run 100 miles. The next 4 miles was backtracking where we had run coming into mile 7 aid station and since a lot of it was downhill, I knew that going back was UPHILL! It was, a lot of it technical and some of it smooth trail. Miles seem to go by so much slower when you are tired and they really went slow here. I remember hitting mile 20 and realizing that I still had 6 miles to go. I knew that the last 3 miles was probably the easiest part of the race but I was still 3 miles away from the final hill that I had been warned about. I came back to the first cable bridge, crossed it and started the dreaded climb back toward the Stone Door with all the switchbacks and rocks. As the trail passed by the turn where we originally came down in the beginning and proceeded on toward the final hill, the course would climb 300-400 feet, then drop back down almost to the creek. Every time I would get close to the creek, I was tempted to just take a dive but knew that I probably would not finish the race. I passed at least 3 scouting groups out on day hikes and they would look at me like I was crazy or something. At that point, I would have agreed with them. The cliffs on the right were massive and I knew that somewhere up there, there was indeed a finish line. I went on. Whenever it would seem that just maybe I was getting closer to the big climb, the trail would turn left and go down to the creek again. Then.. I started up another hill and just at the bottom, there was a ranger with a water cooler. He asked me if I needed anything and told me that I was a mile from the final aid station. That meant that I was getting ready to bust that big hill that everybody had told me about!

The final climb was brutal, however, not nearly what I had expected. It was rocky and steep, probably a 30 degree grade for ½ mile or so, but the hardest thing about it was that I had dreaded it so much. I really had expected like a 60 degree grade, something that resembled a Barkley Marathons hill. Don’t let me kid you though, it was hard. I passed a family walking up the hill and they were barely moving. I was barely moving, but I still passed them. About halfway up, I decided that I would lay down on a big flat rock that was on the left for a minute or so and that did help my attitude a lot. I got up after a couple minutes and went on. Eventually, I came to a right turn which consisted of a massive amount of exposed tree roots that were just begging to grab onto one of my toes as I passed by. Another few feet and, wow, it became flat!
From there, it was a short distance to the final aid station. I stopped for a second and then proceeded the final 3 miles. At this time, I had about 33 minutes to break 7 hours and for a moment I thought, “wow, this will be a piece of cake”. It was 2.9 miles to the finish and I found myself not really caring whether I busted 7 hours or not. Like the weinie I am in the late states of a difficult race, I decided that I really did not care. I was so worn out that I would run ¼ mile, then walk for a minute or so, then run, then walk. Every time that I would look at my watch and realize that I still could break 7 hours, my insanity would take over. To make a long story short, I turned the corner upon entering the highway, with a 200 yard uphill climb to the finish at 7 hours 20 seconds. I crossed the line in 7:01:21. Just knowing that I could have done it is good enough for me.

Upon finishing, I received a nice Outdoor Research cap and congratulations from all who were around. I sure was glad this thing was over! As I passed the finish line, I also passed a folding table loaded down with BBQ, beans, coleslaw and decided that I probably needed to go sit down for a minute before attempting to carry a plate. Scott Jordan was sitting at a picnic table and informed me that he had run a fine 5:58 and finished 25th overall and first in the over 50 division. Great Job, Scott!! Turns out that he had severely twisted an ankle on one of the rocks, had to have it taped, but had finished strong in spite of the injury. Scott had also not carried enough water and had paid dearly for that. He became really dehydrated and drank 5 bottles of water at the 17 mile aid station. Boomer had made it in via a 4 wheeler ride. Our friend Brian Schmidt had indeed won the race in a new course record time of 4:21 (the old record was 4:55). Actually the top 4 broke the old record. The first female also broke the female course record. I sat for a bit before getting myself a nice loaded up plate of Tennessee cooking.

After eating and resting a bit, my body started feeling somewhat better and we all loaded up in the truck and left. It was a good ride home, all 3 of us were hurting in our own way, probably Scott hurting the most.

I had no idea of where I had finished, thinking that I probably was around 60th. Sunday, when the race results were posted, I surprisingly found that I had finished 48th and 5th Grandmaster. There were several runners who did not finish, no shame at all in that. This is the toughest course I have ever run.

What did I learn? That if you keep on going and don’t quit, you can really do about anything you want to (might not be the smartest thing you ever did though). These Cumberland mountain trails are rugged but extremely beautiful.

What did I do wrong? I weigh about 20 lbs too much, have absolutely got to lose the weight if I want to do well in my racing career. I started a little too fast and was not aggressive enough on the uphills. I could have pushed harder

What did I do right? I carried the camera, glad I did. It is always cool to get good pics of a tough race, helps you remember it much better, not that I will forget this one soon. I carried the Nathan water pack. I did drink about 200 oz of water and could have drank more. I carried my body glide, no chaffing and no irritation of the barbed wire fence butchering of my left leg.
Will I run this again? At first I said no but after waking up Sunday morning and thinking about it a bit, I really do like this kind of race. If I plan on ever attempting Barkley, which makes this race look like playing in the sandbox, I will need many more of these for pain tolerance. Barkley is in 2 weeks so a race like this 2 weeks before will either have you ready or you are not ready, nuff said.

In summary, 7:01:21 finish time 48th place overall – 5th Grandmaster

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Joshua Holmes – Denmark Dash 5K – Feb 2012 – Run It Fast

42 Mini Race Reports: Joshua Holmes’ 2012 in Review

42 Mini Race Reports: Joshua Holmes’ 2012 in Review

Here is a quick look at the 42 races I ran in 2012. That total is comprised of 32 ultras and marathons that averaged 50.50 miles and ten shorter races consisting of 10k’s, 5k’s, etc.

2012 Marathons and Ultras for Joshua Holmes

  1. Walt Disney World Marathon (26.2) – 3:32:23 – One of my faster marathons. Great training with James Krenis leading up to this race to help him to reach his goal of running a sub-4 hour marathon. If you had to train for one marathon and really wanted a big, grand experience with a lots of sights and people then the WDW Marathon should be on your list.  – January 8, 2012
  2. Maui Oceanfront Marathon (26.2) – 3:37:58 – I broke a couple of ribs surfing two days prior to this race. I could only take half breaths and rib cage/chest/arm became extremely painful the last 15 miles. Couldn’t lift arm afterwards without extreme pain in ribs. Always fun catching up with the speedy RIF #70 Chuck ‘Marathonjunkie’ Engle. Maui Oceanfront is a beautiful marathon with amazing views the last 18 miles along the coastline. – January 22, 2012
  3. Jackson Jackass 50K (31.0) – 6:29:29 – A race I decided to put together to help a friend run his first 50K. I was nursing a broken rib so I was cautious throughout the race, yet still slipped and fell 10x on this very muddy and messy course from heavy rains the night before. A very challenging yet fun day. – February 4, 2012
  4. Carl Touchstone Memorial 50 Miler (50.0) – 10:22:07 – This was a very muddy and wet course. Over 80 water crossings, most thigh high and extended for 20-30 feet at a time. A tough day with the conditions but solid performance considering the conditions. The joy from this one was helping RIF #3 Jonathan Bobbitt train for this race and successfully complete it.  I also enjoyed running part of the race with RIF #12 Kevin Leathers and RIF #24 Emily Conley.  – March 3, 2012
  5. Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon (26.2) – 3:59:41 – Drove down to NOLA immediately after finishing the MS 50 Miler the night before. Big thanks to RIF #38 JD Favara for picking up my bib for this one.  I was horrible, sluggish and not very good for the first 18 miles. I was on a 4:15 pace to finish yet came alive the last 8 miles to slide under 4 hours. I enjoyed catching up with several RIF members from Jackson after the race including RIF #35 Todd Shadburn. – March 4, 2012
  6. Land Between the Lakes 50 Miler (50.0) – 9:25:33 – A new 50mi PR after setting one the prior weekend down in Mississippi. I felt pretty good for most of this race. It was cold at the start yet bearable. I pushed hard at the end to go sub 9:30. It turned out to be a comfortable and beautiful day to run. It was good seeing my good friend RIF #2 Naresh Kumar before, during this race, and at our post-race meal at the po’chop place.  – March 10, 2012
  7. Savage Gulf Trail Marathon (26.2) – 7:25:52 – An inaugural event that no one knew anything about. The most difficult and most beautiful marathon I’ve run to date. Lots of the course was un-runnable due to intense roots and boulders. A must do for the serious marathoner than is not afraid of a challenge. You will only PR at SG if it’s your first marathon ever. Met RIF #18 Rick Jarvis during the early miles of this one.  – March 17, 2012
  8. Umstead 100 Miler (100.0) – 23:36:11 – This was another 100 PR for me, and I had the chance to share the course with good friends RIF #57 Trent Rosenbloom, Beth McCurdy, RIF #88 Hideki Kinoshita, RIF #92 Steven Lee, etc. I was strong for the first 50 then my legs started to fall apart a bit. I walked most of the last loop and was happy to finally have a sub-24 hour 100 mile finish. It concluded a crazy March of racing. – March 31, 2012
  9. St. Jude Country Music Marathon (26.2) – 3:34:17 – I have historically ran very poorly at this event in the past. It was my only race scheduled for April and maybe that helped me some this time. I was coming off some minor injuries from Umstead but felt semi-healthy. This is the first race I ran in Hokas. A lot of people faded during this one due to the heat, but I stayed pretty strong throughout. Ran into RIF #63 John Hudson and RIF #35 Todd Shadburn shortly after finishing. RIF also had a large number of members show up for the pre-race photo. – April 29, 2012
  10. 34th Annual Strolling Jim 40 Miler (41.2) – 7:34:43 – Another event I haven’t performed extremely well to date at. I was off to a good day as it was overcast and cool the first 15 miles to start this one. Then at my mile 15 drop bag I downed 3 Boosts and a couple of other things. At about that time the sun came out to play and my stomach was never the same. I spit up various things for most of the last 25 miles but pushed hard, especially the last 10 miles, to have a relatively strong finish. Always a great party after the race and I enjoyed spending time with several RIF members and friends. – May 5, 2012
  11. Scenic City Trail Marathon (26.2) – 3:57:31 – I ran this race in 4:27:34 the previous year. So I went in wanting to go sub 4-hours as my goal. I pushed the pace early on the first loop and was able to keep it close to the first loop pace on the second loop. I was strong until the last 2 or 3 miles but being so close to sub-4 helped me push to finish under my goal. A great race put on by the Rock/Creek people. – May 19, 2012
  12. Run Under the Stars RUTS (10 Hours) – 55 miles – My most miles put down at RUTS in my three years running this race. This is a great event and one of my favorites. It’s like a party within a race or a race within a party. About 20 Run It Fast – Club members ran this one and helped make it a blast. Enjoyed watching good friend RIF #151 Chris Estes put down 63 miles. – June 9, 2012
  13. The Jackal Trail Marathon (26.2) – 4:32:32 – Another event that I put together that went off really well. It was a very hot mid-June day in West Tennessee that upped the degree of difficulty a bit. I felt good throughout, finishing third overall, and used it as heat training in case I decided to run The Last Annual Vol State 500K in July. – June 23, 2012
  14. The Backass Jackal Trail Marathon (26.2) – 4:52:51 – I ran the previous day like it wasn’t the first of back to backs. I ran about 2 miles before the race as I was trying to set up water coolers and find Sulaiman before the start. My legs were tired from the prior day, but I was competitive as RIF #151 Chris Estes and I battled throughout the day for the win which he ended up with. Five of us finished this one after doing The Jackal Trail Marathon the day before.  – June 24, 2012
  15. The Last Annual Vol State 500K (314.0) – 5:17:04:04 – An epic race that I did for the first time last year. I wanted to just finish the race in 2011, but this year I wanted to be competitive and see how well I could perform over this grueling slugfest that covers 314 miles on hot asphalt in Tennessee and touches several other states.  The weather was a chill 85 degrees the first day, and I decided to take advantage of it and see how many miles I could put down before finding rest. I recorded 93 miles in 23-hours before heading to the hotel where naturally I couldn’t really sleep.  During the next day I covered 49 very slow miles. To make a long story short I was in fourth place after four days and ended up with a mad fury of miles on the last day and sped up Sand Mountain to finish second place overall with a time of 5 days and 17 hours.  Special thanks to RIF #13 Mikki Trujillo, RIF #2 Naresh Kumar, RIF #183 Kirk Catron, and RIF #143 Scott Flowers for helping crew me for all or parts of this epic race.  – My Full Vol State 500K Race Report – July 12, 2012
  16. Blister in the Sun Marathon (26.2) – 3:58:16 – A challenging race in Cookeville, TN that good friend Josh Hite has put on the last three years. It’s a 5-loop course on what is usually a very hot day. I was still recovering from Vol State but didn’t want to miss this one since I’d get to see many of my best marathon running friends.  I ran a bit better than I thought I would considering my Vol State rust. I originally thought I’d take it easy and run something over 4 hours. I got in a groove though among RIF #79 Dallas Smith,  RIF #196 Bill Baker, and RIF #186 Danny Staggs and pushed probably harder than I needed to but was honored to finish just a few seconds behind the great Dallas. – August 5, 2012
  17. Pikes Peak Marathon (26.2) – 7:59:23 – For a West Tennessee boy from the flathills this turned out to be quite the challenge. I’m sure I was a bit dead-legged coming in but this turned out to be a really tough, dizzy, and staggering day for Cosmo.  The run starts at around 6,500 feet and goes up to 14,115 feet at the halfway point before gravity pulls you back down to the starting line to finish. I did pretty well the first 10 miles going up but then the altitude gave me a headache, made me a bit dizzy, and I started staggering like a drunk. If you trip to the left going up then you fall several thousand feet to your death. I took it easy as I didn’t feel right the miles leading up to the summit and for several miles on the way back down. I ran pretty well the last 4-5 miles. It was a beautiful climb and view from the top of Pikes Peak, but from a running perspective I did nothing that day that should be put into a time capsule. I did enjoy spending time with RIF #83 Brad Box who had a good race.  – August 19, 2012
  18. Lean Horse 100 Miler (100.0) – 22:41:28 – Leanhorse happened to be just a week after Pikes Peak, but I felt pretty good going into it. This was my second time running this race so that was worth something. This race takes place in beautiful South Dakota.  I stayed at a hotel close to the convention center where the buses would depart from for the starting line at 5:30am. I mistimed walking over that morning and missed the buses. Luckily, I was able to hitch a ride with an older couple at the hotel next door that was going to the starting line 15 miles away to see their daughter start this one.  Leanhorse has the best running surface I’ve run on at any race. It’s a very finely crushed limestone/dirt mixture that is smooth and easy on the legs.  Being late to the starting line, I forgot to take a pre-race Roctane and a couple of other things. Luckily over the course of a 100 miles you have time to remember that and catch up without falling too far behind.  I ran well at Lean Horse for a majority of the race. My bottle went dry a couple of times during the hottest part of the day and my stomach got a bit upset, but a sweet woman from Canada and Lanier Greenhaw gave me some ginger during the race and it settled it down. My goal was to improve upon my 26:30 time from the year before and go sub-24 hours.  I tired over the last 20 miles but kept pushing and was able to finish LH with another new 100 mile PR of 22:42:28.  A great 100 I’d recommend to anyone looking for a new one or for a place to run his or her first 100.  – August 25, 2012
  19. Tupelo Marathon (26.2) – 4:05:33 – Tupelo was the week after Lean Horse, but I had signed up for it months before and wanted to run it again and see many of my running friends.  Tupelo is a rolling course with some minor hills that starts at 5am in the morning, in the dark, before it gets too hot and humid. However, the heat never really came this year but it was extremely humid from the opening bell.  I felt like I struggled and had a mediocre first half but after a quick pit stop and reversing direction for the second half I ran well and passed many people.  I realized I was pushing too hard to go sub-4 during the last 5 miles or so. I finally realized I would likely miss sub-4 by a minute or two so I pulled back a bit and played it safe to finish.  I was still really drained and tired but enjoyed the food and fellowship after the race as a few others and myself waited at the finish line for everyone to finish. – September 2, 2012
  20. Endure the Bear 50K (31.0) – 6:29:46 – This was a first year race that took place in Big Bear Lake, California, which is high up in the mountains in a very beautiful Gatlinburg-esque town.  I had no clue what to expect going in to this one. What’s new, right?  RIF #5 Lisa Gonzales met me at the start with some Roctane (since I was out), and we caught up for a bit before this one started. It was a straight up-hill climb for the first 5 miles or so then it had big hills up and down throughout the day. One of the more challenging 50K’s I’ve run. I was very tired at the end but pleased with my effort overall. – September 9, 2012
  21. Big Sur Trail Marathon (26.2) – 4:07:02 – I gave RIF #5 Lisa Gonzales a ride up to this race since it would be way too risky and dangerous riding with her.  Big Sur was a beautiful marathon that took you up towards the heavens for the first 3 miles before dumping you amongst the big trees with sneak peaks of the blue Pacific Ocean from time to time.  I ran stronger and faster with nearly every mile and with the intense descent back down to the finish for the last 3 miles I blistered a couple of sub-7 minute miles to finish 10th overall and with a pretty fast time on a challenging trail marathon course. I also tweaked or did something to my left knee during those last couple of miles as well.  – September 29, 2012
  22. Yellowstone-Teton 100 Miler (100.0) – 21:23:55 – This race was a lot of fun and amazing on several levels. It’s only the second race I’ve ever had a crew to help me out with. I was very thankful that RIF #5 Lisa Gonzales made the trip to Idaho/Montana to crew me for this one. She was really a great help outside of finding me a cheeseburger.  I have to admit it was a bit daunting at the start of this one. The race started in West Yellowstone at 6am. It was pitch black and 9 DEGREES. It was briefly overwhelming to be that cold, that dark, that early in the morning knowing I had 100 miles to run.  Three miles in my handheld was frozen solid. I ditched it and would only drink water when I’d see Lisa.  The sun finally did come up and the temperature did a bit as well.  It got up to about 46 during the warmest part of the day before dipping back down to the low teens once the sun hibernated again.  I was having a great day for about the first 30 miles then I tore something in my left knee that progressively got worse for the next 12 miles.  At about mile 42 it was so painful and uncomfortable that it was a struggle to walk much less run. I was about 98% sure I was going to drop when I decided to change shoes and put this compression sleeve around the knee. I then rolled the sleeve up and down until the pressure was so intense that I could barely feel anything.  The knee was still painful but with every step thereafter I was able to block it out more and more.  I then began to run more and walk less and thoughts of dropping started to recede from my mind with each mile I was able to click off.  I think the extreme cold helped once the sun went down. It was distracting and helped take my focus off my knee. I knew I likely could do serious damage to my knee and be out of commission for awhile, but I was on a PR pace and in the Top 10 for most of the day so as a stubborn ultramarathoner I kept ‘falling forward.’  I wasn’t fluid with my running over the last 60-70 miles, but I gave it everything I could.  I was able to finish with a new PR, a top 5 finish, and an age group win.  – October 6, 2012
  23. Javelina Jundred 100K (62.0) – 16:33:34 – This was by far my worst race of the year and perhaps my life.  I signed up for the 100 miler yet had only been hiking since Yellowstone since my knee was still jacked up and on strike. I think my meniscus was torn.  So my first step of JJ was the first I had run in almost a month. I didn’t know how my knee would hold up or respond until landing that first time.  I found out it wasn’t 100%, but it was never a concern for me on this day as too many other things turned out to be more pressing and depressing.  My first loop and a half (roughly 21 miles) I was great and ran extremely well. Then when I hit my second drop bag on the second loop everything went south. Like south of Hades south!  I drank a couple of Boosts, had some food, and switched water bottles since my strap had broken on my main one.  I don’t know if it was the JJ water or food poisoning but over the next few hours I visited the porta-potty about 15x and in a not to be shielded from the intense sun kind of way.  From that mile 22 point for the next 5-6 miles I was in a bad place.  I felt like I was getting stabbed in my stomach to the point I couldn’t even walk. Someone or something was holding me hostage within my stomach and they weren’t exactly abiding by the constitution. All I could do was bend over to my toes and wait for it to subside a bit so I could slowly walk some more.  At one point there was no porta-potty for at least 3 miles and I needed one bad so I wandered off into the desert (no trees) and finally found a small incline that would have to suffice as a prop.  From there, which was pretty low, I didn’t think it could get any worse but it did.  A few minutes later I was on all 4’s between two cacti puking once then twice. Dozens of runners passed, some laughing, as I was just happy to still be alive.  The puking helped a little. I was able to walk slowly after that. All I wanted to do was get to the aid station at 28 for porta again and then walk the 2 miles back to headquarters at 30 and drop. So I’m walking slowly towards 28 when I scoot over slightly for a runner to pass when I suddenly feel this piercing, striking pain in my right thigh. I look down and this cactus ball had jumped off the cactus and stapled itself through my shorts with over 100 of it’s barbed needles.  I had no words. I tried to pull it off and it wouldn’t come off.  I then decided to run with it before deciding better that I needed to get it out or it might cause some sort of infection or be poisonous.  So i finally grabbed the bottom of my shorts and ripped them away from my skin as hard as I could and it violently came off leaving 60-80 needles still lodged in my skin. I stopped to take them out one by one as I was literally shaking my head in disbelief.  Finally, un-barbed, I began my march again.  The Garmin data would later tell me I put down a 48-minute mile during this stretch. My stomach was still a mess, ginger wasn’t helping, and I was trying to get back to mile 30 so I could drop and go back to the hotel.  I finally finished the loop and I was still sick yet for some odd reason, instead of heading to the car, I took that first step onto the third lap (walking) as I did slowly for the next six miles. Finally, I started to feel a bit better and ran pretty well from 36 to about mile 50.  That is when the sun started to set. I also realized that due to my stomach that I had not consumed any calories in hours.  That reason along with the tricky footing in the dark among the rocks made me start to reevaluate my goal.  I didn’t want to injure my knee worse, and I also knew I’d have a hard time catching up on calories.  I then decided to make it back around to the headquarters and take the 100K finish that is offered for finishing 4 loops and count my blessings that I was able to push through for 40 more miles and finish 100k after my intense brush with the dark side earlier during the race.  I felt pleased with my effort and what I had overcome on this day to accomplish a meager 100k. One that will never come close to the personal record books but that will never, ever be forgotten. – October 27, 2012
  24. Catalina Eco Marathon (26.2) – 4:40:32 – This was a very beautiful race on Catalina Island. It’s a small island that takes 1-hour to get to from Los Angeles. If you can survive the ferry ride without losing your breakfast then that’s half the battle.  This was another race where we gained around 1,500 feet the first 4 miles before it leveled for some fun and scenic running. It was extremely windy throughout this one and it felt at times as if it was going to blow some of us off the cliffs.  I ran well until around mile 18 or 19 when I hit the Catalina Crush. I was already starting to be crushed before it, but the CC is a climb that can’t be run by us mortals. It’s extremely steep as you can only stare at the heavens as you walk up it.  I managed over the next 3 miles or so and then ran strong down the semi-technical trail for the last 3 miles back to the finish.  A must-do race if possible or within your budget. I’ll be back to this one at some point for sure.  I enjoyed meeting RIF #69 Nadia Ruiz Gonzales and Aaron Nowlin on the ferry over to Catalina. – November 10, 2012
  25. Malibu International Marathon (26.2) – 4:21:15 – RIF #5 Lisa Gonzales picked me up and hauled my tired legs and body to the start line of this one in Malibu. The first 10-12 miles is inland and boring. My legs were bored and tired as well from the beating they took the day before at Catalina. But around mile 12 we reached the ocean and ran on the Pacific Coast Highway along the ocean all the way back to Zuma Beach in Malibu. It was beautiful, scenic, and I saw a couple of dolphins jumping in and out of the water as I was running. It’s flat with a handful of medium sized hills near the end. – November 11, 2012
  26. Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon (26.2) – 3:49:30 – My favorite road marathon of the year and one of my all-time favorite races. I had to start with the early-starters due to a death in the family.  I missed out on some of the festivities having to do that but still had a lot of fun running this race on what turned out to be a cold November morning.  I was the first across the finish line (of the early starters 😉 ) Many more finished ahead of me from the regular field. This race is such a great homecoming of great runners and friends from across the South.. The post-race spread is worth the price of admission itself.  Big thanks to RIF #57 Trent Rosenbloom for all the hard work he puts into making this event great. Thanks to RIF #151 Chris Estes and RIF #5 Lisa Gonzales meeting me before the early start. – November 18, 2012
  27. Black Diamond 40 Miler (40.5) – 6:22:48 – Another race I put together that went extremely well according to those that took part. RIF #65 Jonathan Harrison set a blistering pace for the first 30 miles as I couldn’t catch him. Then as we approached Humboldt I started to gain ground and passed him once we made it into the city. I felt good for the first 34 and PR’d 50K and other splits.  I ended up winning this race by about 9 minutes (and a new 40 mile PR). I had such fun watching several RIF club members set PL’s (personal longs) in knocking back 40 miles for the first time. – November 23, 2012
  28. Death Valley Trail Marathon (26.2) – 3:57:02 – There was great weather this year for the Death Valley Marathon after the wind cancelled the official version last year. This race has a slow gradual climb up until about mile 12.5. From that point it drops from 5,300 ft down to sea level (0) at the finish.  It was all about the Quad City DJ’s on that intense downhill. I left everything on the course and ran it as if I didn’t have another marathon scheduled for the next day.  I’d highly recommend this one to anyone who loves a challenging race with unique and powerful views along the way. – December 1, 2012
  29. Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon (26.2) – 4:14:51 – Dead legs and just an overall cranky body from the Death Valley Trail Marathon the day before made for a miserable first 16 miles in Sin City. I ran into RIF #114 Rigoberto Tellez at mile 16 and seeing a fellow RIFer, that I was not expecting to see, among the masses picked up my spirits. We ran together and paced each other for the next four miles. I picked up the pace from there and finished with a decent overall finish. I had calculated around mile 15 I was on pace for a horrible 4:45 finish so I was pumped with how it ended up turning out. I also enjoyed meeting and talking to RIF #20 Laura Raeder before the start of the race. RNR did a great job fixing the problems with this race from the year before. – December 2, 2012
  30. Lookout Mountain 50 Miler (50.0) – 10:24:06 – LM50 was my first 50 miler a couple of years prior. I had no clue what I was doing that day back in 2010. Luckily, I’ve raced a lot since then and learned a lot along the way. I was curious to see how much I had improved since that first time on Lookout.  I came in with tired legs and a couple of nagging things but overall I felt pretty good.  Two years ago I ran this race in 13:02:23.  I ran well for the first 25 miles and had a nice split, but from 28-38 something didn’t feel right. I was off and struggled through those miles. However, I was able to sew it back together, and I finished strong over the last twelve miles and was very pleased with my time, knocking almost 2 hours and 40 minutes off my 2010 time.  However, my favorite part of this race was getting to run it with several RIF members including RIF #57 Trent Rosenbloom and RIF #65 Jonathan Harrison and  seeing RIF #83 Brad Box, RIF #221 Karl Studtmann, RIF #166 Nathan Judd, and RIF #185 David Pharr complete their first 50 miler.  It was a great event, and I hope to be back again next year.- December 15, 2012
  31. Trail of Fears (10 Hours) – 43.0 miles – A race I put together based on Laz’s Big Dog Backyard Ultra with a few tweaks and changes to it. The basis of the race being that runners have 60 minutes to complete a 4.3 mile trail loop. If they couldn’t then they were eliminated or if they didn’t toe the starting line for the restart of the race every hour they were eliminated as well until one runner remains standing.  The time was dropped by a minute after four loops/hours and eventually got down to 50 minutes for the last loop. I got in 10 loops/43 miles and was pleased with my effort. I could have done a bit more, but I wanted to take over as RD and cheer my friends along and enjoy the show.  A great day and event as I got to witness many friends and Run It Fast – Club members go further and beyond distances they had done before.  I was 85% sure it would be my last race of the year.  – December 22, 2012
  32. Across The Years (24 Hours) – 100.8 miles in 19:49:39 – Well it turned out I had one more race in 2012 to run. I felt like I needed one more long tune up before the HURT 100 in January so I decided to drive over to Phoenix for the ATY 24.  A race I’d been eying for several years. I had wanted to do the 72-hour, but I knew I needed to play it safe and run the 24.  This is a great event where a lot of really cool runners show up to hang out and put down a lot of miles. I enjoyed running with RIF #66 Robert Boluyt and RIF #121 Ed Ettinghausen. I put down some fast splits for the first 30 miles then struggled mightily from 30-40. Mostly it was just tired legs and a bit of fatigue. During this time, Vikena Yutz gave me some great advice that helped with my dead/tired legs the rest of the way.  For several miles from 30-40 I just hoped to get to 50 so I could call it a day, but I hit 50 and kept going. I was on a PR/sub-20 pace and I kept nailing my splits as I crept towards the century mark.  It helped drive me that I had never gone sub-20 hour before for a 100.  Long story short is that I had it timed perfectly to go sub-20. Then another runner reminded me for the math to work right I’d actually be going 100.8 miles.  So I pushed hard the last 10 miles to make up for that extra 0.8 and ended up hitting 100.0 in 19:39 and 100.8 where I stopped in 19:49:39.  I could have easily kept going or walked the last four hours and won the event (as it turned out), but I did well to keep my focus on the HURT 100 and not getting hurt at ATY. Another great event that I hope to be back at in 2013.  – December 29, 2012
All the Smaller Races of 2012

  1. Denmark Dash 5K (3.1) – 19:50 – Ran pretty well. Finished 8th overall, 2nd age group. – February 25, 2012
  2. Run for Haiti 5K (3.1) – 20:47 – Finished 3rd overall, 1st age group. – April 14, 2012
  3. Milan Glow in the Dark 5K (3.1) – 20:47 – Pretty warm nighttime 5K. Finished 2nd overall, 1st age group – April 19, 2012
  4. West TN Speech & Hearing 5K (3.1) – 21:50 – Cold and very windy. Ran poorly. 8th overall, small field. 1st of 2 races on this day. – April 21, 2012
  5. Leadership Jackson 10K (6.2) – 44:08 – Ran well after doing a 5K right before this one.  Finished 2nd overall, 1st age group. – April 21, 2012
  6. Strawberry Festival 10K (6.2) – 43:11 – Planned to take it easy. I was in 10th place after three miles then everyone in front of me peeled off for the 5K finish so I had no choice but to Run It Fast and win this one. – May 12, 2012
  7. Zoom thru the Zoo 4 Miler (4.0) – 28:25 – A very hot and humid afternoon in Memphis. I gave a strong effort and finished 31st out of about 1,200 runners.  – May 24, 2012
  8. Buford Pusser 5K (3.1) – 20:57 – One of my favorite 5K’s in West TN.  It’s always hot, humid, and very sunny for this one.  I finished 6th overall, 1st in my age group.  – May 26, 2012
  9. Milan Knock Out Cancer 5K (3.1) – 21:02 – Small field of 20 runners. I won this one. It was hot and humid and no one was close to me for the last 1.5 miles. 21:02 should never win a 5K though, even in the Sahara.  – May 28, 2012
  10. Bluesfest 5K (3.1) – 19:32 – Hot June day. I ran well and scored a new PR while finishing 4th overall and 1st in my age group. – June 2, 2012

I want to thank all the great people in the Run It Fast family, my friends, and especially my family for all of their support in helping make 2012 such a great success for me. Remember that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. The mind is stronger than the body. – joshua holmes

Posted in Marathon, Race Reports, Running, Ultra MarathonComments (1)

Deo Jaravata Finishing the 2012 Malibu Int Marathon – Run It Fast

Malibu International Marathon Race Report (2012)

Malibu International Marathon – (Nov 11, 2012)

Malibu, California – MIM was my second marathon in my back to back marathon weekend. I was tired and my body was thrashed from the day before at the Catalina Eco Marathon (race report) where the big hills and drops had done a number on my legs.  The progress my left knee, which had been recovering from a torn meniscus, took several backwards the day before on the island.

Run It Fast member Lisa Gonzales (RIF #5) picked me up early at my house to make the hourish drive over to Malibu where we parked near the finish line at Zuma Beach. From there you hop a bus for about an hour to where the race starts inland.  Before the race I ran into Deo Jaravata, Nadia Ruiz Gonzales, and Yolanda Holder from the day before along with Maniac Rocky Morales and several other running friends.

I hate to complain or knock marathons, and this will be my only complaint about the Malibu Marathon, but the race was supposed to start at 8am and we didn’t end up starting til 8:30am because the RD’s made everyone wait for someone to arrive at the starting line for the race.  A delay of that length can throw off many runner’s nutrition, race plan, etc.  This race is big enough that it should have started on time.

Everyone shivered and waited hurdled together for the race to finally start and it finally did.

The first 10 miles take you from inland, through several turns around farmland, until you reach the Pacific Ocean at about mile 10. I struggled for those ten miles leading to up to the water. I was slugglish, tired, and my knee and feet were hurting from the day before at Catalina. But getting to where the water started was good mentally as nature’s beautiful scenery started to unfold in front of me with majestic mountains and hillside to my left and the endless ocean and beaches to my right. Somewhere around mile 15 a fellow runner pointed out dolphins jumping in the water to me.  It was a truly wonderful site to witness during the middle of a marathon.

I had good and bad stretches over the last 16 miles of this race. I became stronger on the uphills as there were several long uphills as the race got closer to the finish. I was able to keep running up them and past many other runners as they walked and fatigued. I’d then float and speed down the downhills and straightaways as I started to count all the targets I was knocking off. I met a sweet woman over the past 3 miles that pushed me as I pushed her as we were eager to get to the finish and put this one in our race journals.

The medal was great and instead of a finisher’s tech tee like at most races they gave everyone a Malibu International Marathon beach towel which was a nice touch. The finish area had two food trucks and a live band as runners relaxed on the beach, in the water, and at the finish to watch the remaining runners came in.

I waited for Lisa to come in (that’s Deo above not Lisa) and she did with a smile as she had hit her pre-race target. We ate some food from one of the food trucks and then made the trek back home.  I’m thankful for Lisa picking me up and dropping me off for this race. It wasn’t necessary on her part, but it made it easier on me having run and traveled to Catalina to race the day before.

  • Medal: 8.5/10 (see here)
  • Course: 7/10 (last 16 miles 9.5)
  • Scenery: 8/10
  • Support: 8/10
  • Crowds: 5/10
  • Price: 7/10
  • OVERALL: 7.5/10

A beautiful race in one of the most beautiful places in the United States.

Joshua Holmes (RIF #1)

You can follow Joshua on Twitter @bayou

Posted in Marathon, Race Reports, RunningComments (0)

Catalina Island Eco Marathon Scenery

Catalina Island Eco Marathon Race Report (2012)

Catalina Island Eco Marathon – (Nov 10, 2012)

Catalina Island, California  – This was one of the most beautiful and challenging marathons I’ve done to date. It’s a bit of a hassle to get to as you have to take a hour long boat ride to get over to the island, but it’s well worth it. Enjoyed meeting Aaron Nowlin on the boat ride and discussing his upcoming 50-Miler. I also enjoyed meeting fellow Run It Fast member Nadia Ruiz Gonzales (RIF #69) before and after the race, Guinness record holder Yolanda Holder, and Maniac Deo Jaravata as well.

The race started with a 1,500 ft climb within the first 3 miles of the race that drained the hammys for the rest of the day. Once ‘atop’ Catalina the view continued to impress more and more as you could see almost the entire island at once.  It was very windy in parts with 40 mph side-ways gusts, but I kind of like that type of extra added challenge that helps separate the field from one another.

I struggled at different points during the day as I felt a bit out of shape from not training much in the past three weeks since the Javelina Jundred. I did have some good stretches at different points though.

Different parts of the race included almost every type of trail imaginable which helped to battle the mental fatigue that can sometimes come from seeing the same thing over and over.  Catalina had some really great running from mile 10 to 19 but then, oh then, mile 19…the Catalina Crush!  The Crush was a straight climb/walk/crawl to heaven as the back of my legs and back ached and caused me to stop and let the throbbing relax before continuing my slow crawl to the top and to the rest of the marathon.

The last 3 miles of the marathon are a twisting trail dump back down 1,500 feet with the last 1.5 miles of those 3 being on asphalt as you re-enter the small town to finish right in front of the beachfront.

This race is not easy and not for everyone based on degree of difficulty but you won’t find a more beautiful trail marathon anywhere.

  • Medal: 9/10 (see here)
  • Course: 9/10
  • Scenery: 10/10
  • Support: 7/10
  • Crowds: 1/10 (would ruin it anyway)
  • Price: 5/10
  • OVERALL: 9.5/10

It’s not in the small print but it’s going to cost you a $79 boat ticket to get to and from the island.

– Joshua Holmes (RIF #1)

You can follow Joshua on Twitter @bayou

Catalina Island Eco Marathon Medal (2012)



Posted in Marathon, Race Reports, RunningComments (0)

Joshua Holmes – Bum Knee – Yellowstone-Teton 100

Yellowstone-Teton 100 Miler Race Report (2012) – Joshua Holmes

RIF #1 Joshua Holmes at Yellowstone-Teton 100

Yellowstone-Teton 100 Mile Race Report

Intro: I wanted to do a road 100 miler with cooler temps in or around October. After searching Ultrasignup I came across the Yellowstone-Teton 100 Miler. There was not much info on the interwebs about it since it was an inaugural event last year, but I wanted to run it anyway. I went in with almost no expectations except that it would be cooler than most races I have done the past year.  Temps turned out to be much cooler to put it mildly extremely.

So here is a breakdown of the 2012 Yellowstone-Teton 100 Miler:

Weapons: Hoka One One – Evo Tarmac (45 miles) and Hoka One One – Stinson B Combo Hybrid (55 miles)

Course: Point-to-Point – Starts in West Yellowstone, Montana and finishes in Driggs, Idaho.  The course winds through the town of West Yellowstone before heading down the Hwy 20 towards Idaho Falls. At mile 37 runners take a left off of the semi-busy highway onto Scenic Mesa Falls By-Way with a wide open view of the Grand Teton Mountain range for most of the way.  At mile 67.5 the course turns to gravel. The sun had just gone down as I found this part of the course. The road had some bumps and indentions that made it tough with a headlamp to see accurately.  It wasn’t bad but after being on paved road for the first 67 miles it took some time to adjust to.  The course returns to a nice asphalt road at mile 70.9 when we took a left onto Hwy 32.  The road was smooth and good running until hitting a gravel road again at mile 92.7 when we turned right onto N. 2000.  The gravel road during this part seemed packed better or else I just didn’t care at this point. At mile 97.5 we turned right on Hwy 33 towards Driggs and it was a straight shot to the Dreamchaser’s store in Driggs for the finish.  OVERALL – Fair and fast course even with extremely cold temps. No obstacles to worry about outside of highway traffic during the first 37 miles. There were a handful of decent climbs in the race from miles 8-10, 56-60, and around 80-87.

Elevation: 5,394 ft gain, 5,899 ft loss.  Minimum Elevation 5,316 ft Maximum Elevation 7,092 ft

Organization: The race was extremely well organized. Race director Lisa Smith-Batchen and her husband Jay did a great job of marking the course, making it easy to pick up bib/race packets whether it be in Driggs, Idaho at Dreamchasers or at the hotel in West Yellowstone, Montana at the pre-race meeting the night before the race.  The aid stations were good but not great. It didn’t matter too much as most of the runners had crews.  I wanted hot soup when it became dark and cold again but half of the aid stations didn’t have any or the soup was cold at the one aid station later in the race that had some.  The volunteers at the aid stations were great and made sure I was ok and if I needed anything. RD Lisa was amazing as she drove the course checking on us runners at several points. She was very positive and enthusiastic towards us which was worth a boost of energy.

Weather:  It was brutally cold for this Tennessee/SoCal boy. It was 9 degrees at the start. My handheld froze up 3 miles into the race and all of my hair was white with frost during the early miles.  I had to ditch the handheld and just drink water when I’d see my crew. The weather did gradually warm when the sun finally came up. Temps rose to the mid to high 40’s in the late afternoon which made for very comfortable running.  However when the sun went back down that evening temps dropped once again to the low teens with some cold spots dipping into single digits briefly. It was cold but once layered up it wasn’t that bad. I’m for sure a warm weather runner, but I enjoyed the challenge of running in the opposite extreme.

Food: Tangerines (10), Double Stuf Oreos (22), Vespa (4), Roctane (25), Cups of Soup (4), Cheesy Hamburger Bun (1), Boiled Potato (1), Gummy Bears (147)

Drink: Water and Nuun (Lemon Tea)

Handicaps: My crew…I joke. I injured/tore something in my knee around mile 30. By mile 42 it was very painful. I tried a knee strap, but it didn’t seem to help much. I knew I’d have to DNF or quit with 58 miles remaining unless something changed.  I felt like my knee was hanging on by a thread. I was at peace with the possibility of having to accept my first DNF and quit the race.  In a last ditch attempt I put on a tight knee compression sleeve and rolled it up and down to where there was a lot of pressure on the part of the knee that was hurting. I also changed my shoes at this point to hopefully change my landing spot a bit.  It wasn’t a magic or perfect fix but it did seem to make the pain more manageable.  The knee also seemed to heal or regenerate a bit when I’d walk in between my running. Sometime during this I sprained my right ankle. It was not a bad sprain and probably occurred from overcompensating from my left knee.  It eventually faded away.  Once I made it to mile 50 I started to feel like I would finish the race and eventually I did.  Since the race my knee has definitely felt like something is torn in it. I can walk with no pain but occasionally a certain step or going up a stair causes intense pain in the knee.

Crew: RIF #5 Lisa Gonzales graciously agreed to crew me for the Yellowstone-Teton 100. With aid stations at the race being sparse and far apart I thought it was vital to have a crew to help me perform at my best.  I had only used a crew twice before, both times during The Last Annual Vol State 500K.  Lisa was very nervous early on in the race. I tried to reassure her that she was doing a good job, to relax and enjoy the day. She relaxed as the day went on and quickly picked up on what I’d want or need when I’d come upon her on the course.  It was great to have her company throughout the race and weekend. She for sure helped me perform at a very high level for the #YT100.  I’m very thankful for her help.

Hardware: Beautiful finisher’s belt buckle that has a large ‘Y’ and ‘T’ separated with an engraved bison with the phrase ‘Running With the Buffaloes – 100 Miler’ beneath it on an arrowhead shaped buckle. One of the more beautiful buckle’s I’ve received to date.

I finished first in the 30-39 male age division and received a hand painted tile of snow capped mountains and trees by a local artist. My finishing time was 21:23:55.

Splits: Mary-4:20, 30-5:10, 50K-5:20, 40-7:14, 50-9:25, 60-11:38, 100k-12:06, 70-14:00, 80-16:30, 90-18:53 = 100mi-21:23:55

Summation: A wonderful 100 miler that I would do again.  Not many races of any distance will be more scenic.  Dreamchaser does a great job putting the race on and making sure all runners are as comfortable as possible for 100 miles.  It helps to be crewed here but with added water stops this year it’s very doable without a crew. Congrats to Lisa on putting on a truly great race.

Joshua Holmes @bayou (October 6-7, 2012)

Yellowstone-Teton 100 Mile Website

[photos by: Lisa Gonzales, Lisa Smith-Batchen, and Joshua Holmes]

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Vol State 500K – Joshua Holmes Finishing Another Hardee’s Cheeseburger

One Mutant’s Last Annual Vol State 500K Race Report (2012)

Vol State: A Tale of Regeneration and Falling Forward 1,657,920 Feet

The Intro

Every dreaded race report has more I’s than an optometrist’s office the day after a solar eclipse.   So I want to start this race report with ‘we‘.  We did it!  That we encompasses many people including family and friends that made sacrifices of varying levels to help me perform at a very high level over several days.

I must start with my wonderful wife and children who let me sacrifice my body and time for a second straight summer running/hobbling/crawling/walking along my beautiful home state of Tennessee.  They were in California for the week for my wife’s high school reunion and to visit family.  While far away, their sacrifice was close to my heart and my thoughts of them fueled me throughout as to make sure the time away from my family was not wasted or without direction.

My crew was amazing! I truly admire all the runners who do the race without a crew, but I’m very thankful to mine and what big of an asset they were to me during those days.  I can’t thank Mikki Trujillo enough for anchoring my crew and being with me throughout the entire journey. She was extremely mature, professional, and on top of everything I needed at all the right times.

She was joined throughout the race by several close friends who helped crew me through some of the toughest stretches and longest nights.  Jonathan Harrison helped for the second year in a row. He helped the first night as I marched towards my ambitious goal of reaching Lexington within the first 30 hours. We were able to do this in less than 23 hours thanks to the work Jonathan and Mikki did in taking care of me throughout that first night.

The next two nights Mikki was joined by my good friend and former Vol State 500K finisher Naresh Kumar.  Naresh wasn’t afraid to jump right in and help my feet feel better.  He was a great encourager and is one of my best running friends. The help he was able to provide during the next two nights was crucial as I survived some of the longer and tougher sections of the race.

Naresh was joined by college friends Kirk Catron and Scott Flowers on Saturday night as Mikki retreated to the hotel for rest. This was vital as a fresh crew is just as important as a fresh runner. Their company lifted my spirits and drove me through some very tough and painful miles.  I looked forward to each time I’d approach the crew vehicle to exchange stories with them and reminisce on yesteryears.  During this time I was very thankful for high school friend Jennifer Morrison driving to meet us shy of Columbia to help with laundry and truly keep us ‘fresh.’ I truly appreciate the sacrifices all of you made, and I will never forget them.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I hate writing race reports.  I don’t believe I’ve written one since last year’s Vol State 500K race report.  It’s kind of like covering the Super Bowl then being asked to report on your local high school football team’s Jamboree victory.  That’s how I feel about writing race reports since the one I wrote after my first Vol State finish last year.  Don’t get me wrong, many people enjoy and love race reports. I just can’t really muster the energy to discuss a 26.2 mile race. “I ran really hard and then there was a turn and a water stop and I started to have a negative split until I hit that last water stop.”  It all seems mundane after 314 miles through Tennessee in crazy conditions with some of the most interesting mutants on the planet.

This race report won’t be as detailed as last year’s race report.  I had less time to take photos and take in everything.  I don’t want to bore everyone by repeating too much from last year anyway. If you want to read last year’s massive Vol State 500K race report then you can by clicking HERE (300+ photos, 11,000+ words).

The Last Annual Vol State 500K is a race that gets in your blood like a bad virus once you get on the ferry in Dorena Landing, Missouri, and it never leaves your system.  I dreamed of it for weeks after the race was over last year. I’d even be moving my legs in my sleep as if the race never ended. In some ways it never did.  Not many days passed since finishing last year that I didn’t think about the race.

So you might have thought it would be an automatic that I’d enter the race once again this year.  Not true! It’s a brutal race that taxes you in ways that you would never wish on your worst enemy.  I decided one week before the race this year to do it again.  I had it in the back of my brain for months before, but I was unwilling to commit to it.  I knew that if I did I’d be more aggressive than last year and take more chances.  Last year I finished in 8 days and 7 minutes. My goal for 2012 was to finish in the 6-day range and at best take two days off my time from last year.

I felt like if I could get it under 6 days that I’d have a chance at winning, but it was never my focus. I knew I could only control my performance and effort.  The race is too long to worry about your competition and what they are doing.  In the last 24-36 hours of the race you can start to think about placement if you’ve worked hard to put yourself in a good position at that point.

Not everyone will be able to finish this race.  You know it when you get on the ferry to start the race. The first year Laz said, “Look to the person on your left and right. Only one, maybe two of you will finish this race.”  I felt sorry for the person to my left and right.  I never have thought about not finishing Vol State. It requires too much effort. But then, I never think about the finish either.

I just focus on the next step. I break everything down into extremely small races within the race.

Vol State is a race where you are a hero if you are able to finish it. You are respected for just starting it.  If you are close to the leader in the last 72 miles then you might start to think about winning it or holding another runner off for placement. If you think too much about it early on then you will be the one knocked out of the race.

Day 1: Dorena Landing/Hickman, KY to Lexington, TN – Miles 1-92

Two nights before the race I booked my first planned stop/hotel room in Lexington at mile 92 of the race. I wasn’t going to stop or go down for sleep until reaching mile 92.  I had written out a loose yet aggressive plan that had me arriving in Lexington at 10:30am on Friday morning…27 hours after the start.

Due to good weather (mid 80’s) I was able to run well the first day and throughout the night at a nice pace.

Jonathan Harrison showed up around sunset to help Mikki crew me throughout the night and keep me strong. They worked exceptionally well as a team.

The last 10 miles from Parker’s Crossroads to Lexington was a bit slow and painful, but I pulled into Lexington at mile 92 at 6:16am. I had the lead at the 7:30am checkin on Friday as I started to rest and recover at the hotel. I didn’t care about the lead, but I was pleased to have reached Lexington so quickly. I knew it would enable me to sleep/be off my feet for a bit longer and put me back on the road ahead of schedule.

So I had the first 92 miles done in 22 hours and 59 minutes – roughly.

The stop at the hotel in Lexington was my first hotel of 2012 Vol State.  The hotel in Lexington last year was my third hotel of the race…to put it in perspective.

Eventual winner Daniel Fox said he thought I went too far to start. Maybe, maybe not! I did what felt good at the time. I actually regret not going further before going down for sleep. I only slept about 3 hours roughly when I did crash in Lexington. I was off my feet for about 6-7 hours if I remember correctly. It wasn’t easy to sleep….a trend that would continue til the end.

Day 2: Lexington, TN to Hohenwald, TN – Miles 92-140

The hotel I stayed at in Lexington was about 2 miles from where I stopped to come in for rest. So once we had the car packed up I thought I’d be moving on foot again in about 5 minutes. Well perhaps the odds were against my restart because it was standstill traffic for those 2 miles. It took about 45 min to get back to where I had stopped. Valuable time wasted sitting in a car. Finally, I was back on the road and started a slow walk from Lexington towards the river.

I wasn’t sure how far I’d make it after putting down 92 miles just a few hours ago. It was hot starting back. I can’t remember if I had on my ice hat or not. I just started plodding away. Soon I realized my crew was lost or perhaps had decided to quit and return to society as a normal human being. My bottle went dry, the miles became longer, until finally I got ahold of Mikki on the cellular phone. She had stopped at the Walgreens but upon getting back on 412 she went West instead of East.  She is originally from Colorado, perhaps she was trying to flee towards home. Eventually she found me, refilled my bottles, had a Subway sandwich for me to fuel up on, and I was quickly on my way again after a fast change of socks.

Shortly after I came up behind Jay Dobrowalski. We talked for a bit. Jay was strong and was pushing on. Soon after walking and talking with Jay I came upon Daniel Fox coming out of a little store where he had been refueling.  He wasn’t very talkative, but I persisted to talk for a bit knowing we’d likely not see each other again until afte the race was over.  You would have thought the sky was falling according to Dan. He talked about how horrible his day had been going, and that he didn’t know what he had left moving forward. He would go on to become King Dan. At this point though he was King Sandbagger but I knew that. I had done my research before the race. I knew he was a very strong runner and had done extremely well two years ago uncrewed. I knew he was being a sly Fox towards me and perhaps for good reason. He likely didn’t know a thing about me except that I had just put down 92 miles and had the lead after Day 1. I was feeling good though and was running at this time so I wished him luck and kept on.

My crew was waiting for me at mile 100. Jay and Dan were 500 yards or so behind me. I waited on them so we could get a ceremonial mile 100 photo together. I knew after this point the runners would really start to spread out, and I’d likely not see two other competitors at the same time again.  This turned out to be true.

I felt good after mile 100, and I ran well into Parsons. I saw fellow Run It Fast Club member Nathan Judd as he shouted at me from his car.  It’s always good to be shouted at or yelled at during this race even from people you don’t know.  It gives you a jolt, wakes you up, and makes you feel like someone is paying attention to what you are doing or, someone is about to shoot you.

I continued to move on towards the Tennessee River. My good friend and Vol State alumnus Naresh Kumar joined Mikki to help crew as I was nearing the river. When I finally made it to the river we all stopped for a photo before I crossed.  It’s always a significant milestone crossing that river the first time. It signals to me that the first part of the race is over….113 miles in the bag. Roughly 20 or 21 miles since I restarted back in Lexington.

The goal after the river becomes Linden which is at mile 125.  The miles from the river to Linden are very dark and lonely. It was after a bit before midnight, and it was just me and the road and an occasional bat that would fly towards my headlamp.

I don’t remember much about the march towards Linden. I do believe I was moving well and running a good bit. When I stopped around mile 126 on the east side of Linden I remember another car pulling up and stopping. The man got out to ask what we were doing. Naresh or Mikki explained to him about the race. His wife was waiting patiently in the car for him. He went on to give us religious pamphlets about the end of the world or perhaps the upcoming revival at his church. It must be pointed out that it was about 3 or 4am when this took place. Weird, odd…Vol State!

Upon leaving Linden it somehow gets even darker as you cross the low lying bridge that is like walking the long green mile before the big hills slap your hammys awake.  But unlike last year, it was dark, cooler, and I marched onward, upward, and downward into the abyss.

As I came to the fork in the road around mile 128 that turns into Old Coon Creek Road (412) I met Naresh and Mikki at the gas station there. They were waiting on me, and I was glad. My feet were hurting and a blister was rubbing me from having put down 128 miles in the past 43 hours or so. Naresh went to work on my feet and did a great job. I might have changed shoes. My feet were in a good bit of pain. However, I got right back on the road as quickly as possible. I knew I was going to Hohenwald and the quicker I got there, the quicker I could get off my feet and rest. However, I didn’t know how hard those miles would become or how deep I’d dig to cover them.

I also wasn’t expecting an injury to happen…at least how it did. I debate now whether to even mention it here in print.  But Vol State is about the highs and the lows. It’s a race where you can be flying high to have it all of a sudden end in the dumps….literally.  I guess it was around mile 133 when I asked Naresh for the wet wipes, a ziplock bag and about a 5 minute head start before they packed up and passed me.  That’s a code even the French could break. So I walked on up the road, turned my lamp off, and went for a squat there in the middle of the road. All went well until I stood up….I’m not sure what I did but I did something to the back of my knee. It was extremely uncomfortable and immediately turned my thoughts to whether I could finish the race with over 170 miles remaning.  The moral of the story is that even a supported runner shouldn’t take unsupported squats. The lesson was painful, but it was not forgotten the rest of the way.

So the back of the knee issue along with the bruised and blistered feet made the miles longer and kept Hohenwald a good distance away. I wanted to get to mile 144 in Hohenwald where the hotel was located. The miles were becoming very slow and painful. I was averaging 23 minute miles from mile 135-140.  The last two miles I was walking 40 feet then sitting in the middle of the road for 10 seconds before getting back up to walk 40 more feet….sit down, repeat.

I learned from last year that it’s often better to head to the ‘house’ and get rest than put down horrible, slow, painful miles. Go rest, recharge, and come back and do the miles faster and with less pain.  I didn’t make it to mile 144 like I wanted to. I told Naresh it was time to call it for then and go get some rest. So I went to the hotel in Hohenwald with 140 miles done. It was about 6:30am. I had the lead in the race, and I knew when I returned to the road I wouldn’t have it. I was exhausted, spent, and didn’t really see how I could get back up off the mattress and finish this race. I knew I would….I just knew it would be at a horrible pace and be very painful.

Day 3: Hohenwald, TN to Columbia, TN – Miles 140-175

I tried to sleep in Hohenwald. I was extremely exhausted and spent yet the sleep wouldn’t come. I was shivering from the muscle rub (Ben Gay) as the AC hit it and the shooting pains in my legs were a constant buzz that made it clear that sleep wouldn’t likely happen.

But it was time off my feet and often that is all mutants need.  Vol State started this year with 24 of us from all across the globe. All the starters drain everything from their bodies until they curl up on the road in a ball of exhaustion, then they get up off the asphalt after regenerating and continue their kamikaze march towards Castle Rock.  The strongest of the mutants make it to The Rock. Those that don’t make it to The Rock aren’t failed by their bodies, but their minds.

So I started back upon leaving the hotel only to be lambasted by a big rain storm. Mikki found me so I could sit in the car and hopefully wait for it to pass. It continued for 30 minutes until I decided I’d rather be back at the hotel to use the restroom and lay across the bed to wait it out.  I ran into Laz and Carl back at the hotel. They were checking in and they looked exhausted. It’s not easy to be in charge of an event of this magnitude. Laz and Carl do an amazing job of checking in on the runners over the course of 314 miles.  It was good to spend some time talking with them. They informed me that I was now in 5th place.

Finally, the rain eased up and I started back once again. Naresh and Mikki did a good job of making sure I was ready to hit the road for Columbia. The delay had cost me some valuable ‘awake’ time and energy, but it was smart to avoid the beat-down and misery of moving in that monsoon.

I put down maybe 5 miles, enough to get clear of the Hohenwald city limits, when the skies opened up once again. I was out in the open, exposed, no where to hide, but thankfully it was campaign season. I steped over into the ditch under the tree, grabbed a congressional campaign sign and held it over my head.  I thought for sure my crew would find me and give me an umbrella or something, but not this time.  So I just stood there in the ditch with my sign.

My crew finally returned with an umbrella. One that likely came with a Barbie Doll. It was better than nothing so I marched forward with my mini-brella.  I had a couple of good college friends, Kirk Catron and Scott Flowers, coming to help crew and relieve Mikki who was exhausted. She had been working her butt off and had needed sleep.

It was a beautiful sunset as the rain lifted. I was looking forward to seeing Kirk and Scott and appreciated them coming down to help (even though Kirk wouldn’t touch my feet). 😉  I’d meet them every 3-4 miles when I’d change socks and doctor my feet. It was a good mental break to talk to them about things not related to running. Naresh eventually caught up and joined them.  The miles from Hohenwald towards Columbia wer not easy. I just kept pushing forward and tried to minimize the time with my crew to keep a good pace.

My feet were aching and I was tired around mile 163 so I told Naresh I was going to sit in his car for a bit. I had hoped to fall asleep but I didn’t.  I’ve never slept in a car during Vol State. Uncrewed runners think there is some advantage for crewed runners sleeping in their crew car but I’ve yet to.  After about 20 minutes I returned to the road and towards Columbia.

The miles into Columbia were slow and painful. After the race, Kirk told me that he thought I was done and didn’t see how I’d be able to finish the race. I just needed a hotel and finally after almost 14 hours after leaving Hohenwald I reached Columbia at mile 175. It was roughly about 7am and at the day 3 call-in I had 175 miles and was in 4th place behind Dan (179), Paul (179), and Juli (177).

The ritual at the hotel is not a quick one. It’s an ice bath, followed by a shower, then a foot soak in Epsom Salt, followed by blister/foot care. It takes time and delays sleep or the possibility of it, but it seems to work for me (or either I’m just superstitious).

Day 4: Columbia, TN to Shelbyville, TN – Miles 175-221

I always joke that I have about 20 cheeseburgers a year and that 15 of those are during Vol State.  So after a couple hours of sleep and being off my feet a bit longer I started back on the road in west Columbia with a Cheeseburger and vanilla shake from Hardees (way better than McDonalds).  While running across all these small towns in Tennessee you usually have two choices for food: Hardees or Subway.  I had a couple of subs early on in the race but then went to cheeseburgers for the majority of it.

It was very hot starting back so I started walking to get loose and conserve resources in the heat.  It takes about 5 miles to get through Columbia. At about mile 180 Carl and Laz pulled in front of me, stopped, and got out to speak to me for a bit. I believe someone else might have been with them but it slips my mind now.  

I continued to walk until the turn at mile 184. At this point you are finally off 412 and on a country road that rolls up and down the countryside in between green yards with houses that were built some time ago. The fear on this road is running up on an old lady checking her mail or a wild dog running up on your leg.

The sun continued to beat down, and I returned to the walk from mile 184 – 189. This is some of the most beautiful part of the course during these miles. I just tried to play it smart and conserve until I saw the sun start to retreat just a bit. I was then able to run and walk in towards Lewisburg after crossing under I-65 (another semi-landmark – mental high-five).

I was feeling good coming into Lewisburg. I was going to go down for a nap at the hotel there regardless but upon nearly the square around mile 200 my crew told me that Juli was just a few hundred yards ahead. It energized me, not necessarily in a competitive way but in a way that there was race companionship ahead. So after 27 miles in 9 hours I headed to the hotel and went through the ritual and slept maybe 1-2 hours.

I started back at the square in Lewisburg and quickly made it through the town as I downed a couple of Hardees cheeseburgers.

The stretch from Lewisburg to Shelbyville is dark, lonely, and full of horse farms.  I ran well during this stretch and covered the distance through the night and early hours of the morning rather easily.  I could have kept on past Shelbyville to Wartrace but decided to hit the hotel in Shelbyville.  I had realized I was really strong for 26-28 mile stretches and with a couple hours of sleep I was able to do that distance again without pain while feeling good. It was right around the day 4 check in when I called in my distance at 221 miles which was good for third place behind Dan and Paul. Juli was fresh though and would pass me while I tried to sleep.

Day 5: Shelbyville, TN to Monteagle, TN – Miles 221-271

So when I hit the road again around noon (if memory serves) I was in 4th place behind Dan, Paul, and Juli. The sun was blazing as I left Shelbyville.  There are several rolling hills over the half marathon from Shelbyville to Wartrace.  I walked those hills and tried to hide under my ice-hat from the sun.  Fred Davis stopped his mini-van and got out to offer me some encouragement along the way. I was surprised to see him and learned he had dropped from the race. However, Fred didn’t offer me any directions or a map of any stores! 😉

I was slow entering and leaving Wartrace. I was trying to be patient with the sun, but I was ready to run.  Around mile 135 as I was changing socks a ladybug landed on my Zensah. I took it as a good luck sign to turn it on and motor towards Manchester so I did that.

Chris Estes, one of my great running friends, met my crew around mile 140 with a restock of Gu Roctane and hung around for a few miles to talk when I’d meet my crew.  Around this time I saw Juli about 1/2 a mile in front of me. It really helps out in this race when you have a target you can run towards. Someone or something that gives you that extra gear. Juli provided that and one of my more enjoyable parts of the entire race was catching up with her and talking with her for a couple of miles as we moved forward. Juli is a legend of the sport and won Vol State year before last. She was doing it this year uncrewed and she was in straight beat mode dominating the race.

I passed Juli as the sky started to darken from not just the sun going down but from a big rain cloud that had developed overhead. I was running well though so I ran it fast from around mile 142 to mile 150. It was raining hard at this point and my crew had already secured a room and ice. I could have kept going but decided to stick to my plan and dodge the rain. I had been really good for that 29 mile stretch. I planned to sleep for a couple of hours then advance towards Monteagle before attacking it.

Around midnight I took back to the road and made great time towards Monteagle. It was dark and I owned the road.  I knew Dan was far ahead and couldn’t be caught so I set my focus to finishing the race in second place.

I believe Manchester (mile 250) is where you can finally start to think about the finish line and strategize towards it. My goal was to finish in second.  When I started back at midnight I didn’t know where Juli or Paul were in the race. I knew we were all close to each other.

It didn’t matter though. I was going to push as hard and as fast as I could from Manchester to the finish. But first one has to get to Monteagle. My goal was to get there before the 7:30am Day 5 call-in. So I ran throughout the night with some walking mixed in naturally and at 7:30am I was at mile 271 which was a couple hundred yards up Monteagle (see pic below – mile 271).

At the Day 5 checkin the standings were Dan (303), Joshua (271), Juli (259), and Paul (250).

The Last 17 Hours: Monteagle, TN to Castle Rock, GA (The Rock) -Miles 271-314

Monteagle is a beast of a mountain to climb up in a car much less 271 miles until a 500K, but I always seem to do pretty well getting up it. I just put my head down and dig. The last two years I’ve had an umbrella with me to occupy myself and hands.  I was about half way up Monteagle when Mikki drove by blasting ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and telling me that I was in second place. It really energized me and gave me an extra boost….almost too much.

I say too much because instead of stopping in Monteagle I kept marching on past it and decided (with my crew) that I’d try to go all the way to the finish some 39 more miles away.  This came to a screeching halt when the sun came up and I had a McDonald’s burger and shake…..not Hardees. I immediately felt like crap and although my pace didn’t really slow, my spirit to continue at that point did as my stomach headed south of the Mason-Dixon line.  I needed a nap and to get off my feet before attacking. I wanted to be fresh to finish so I went to the hotel and went through the ritual. I think I might have even slept for about 90 minutes.

I had no clue where Juli and Paul were when I started back. I tried to text and make some calls to find out, but no one seemed to know. I figured Juli was close.

When I did start back it was about 98 degrees. One thermometer read 105. So I wore my ice-hat and walked these miles. The finish that once seemed nearby now seemed a 50K away…at a very slow pace.  I decided to walk in the intense sun and be patient. I’d be coming off the mountain, which is steep and intense, at about mile 295.  At that point the sun would be setting, the ground would be level, and I could run like I wanted to.  It all worked perfectly and I flew through Kimball and Jasper City to mile 300 and beyond.

Everything was going great. I was even ahead of my projected finishing time I had set two dozen miles ago when the nastiest storm I’ve ever witnessed came reigning down around mile 307. I had been flying and had 7 miles remaining in the race. I was so close and ready to finish when the rain got so bad I couldn’t see and debris from the trees (nuts, acorns, leaves, small branches) started hitting me in the head.  So I did the smart thing and got in the crew car.  The storm was nasty with the most intense lightning and rain I’ve witnessed. I kept thinking it had to be over soon but it was relentless.  The clock kept ticking as my body kept stiffening up.  My wife texted me to tell me that she had read on Facebook that Paul was about 10 miles behind and pressing on through the rain. Knowing that Paul was moving while I was sitting made it extremely tough to sit. I really wanted second place.

However, I continued to sit and play it smart. Even at this point I realized it was just a race and that I cared more about my wife and children than finishing in 2nd place.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock!

After a long hour of sitting in the car the storm dissipated a bit.  It was still a good rain coming down but the lightning was more distant now. I decided I was going to go for it. I wasn’t happy for wasting 65 minutes in the car. I could have been finished by now. My body also wasn’t pleased as it was extremely stiff. I felt like the Tin Man in the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ I needed some oil.

I walked and started to jog from that point until I got to the turn at mile 308 that starts up Sand Mountain.  It’s a real mountain and very steep at some points. I had wanted to finish in 5 days 16 hours and change. I knew this wasn’t going to happen after losing 65 minutes, but I said screw it…

I started to run up Sand Mountain and run as hard and as focused as I ever have. I sprinted up the mountain as fast as I could. Faster than I could have even if I hadn’t already had put 308 miles on my legs in the prior five days. My crew met me about every 1/2 a mile with a bottle of water and I’d drink it and pour the rest on my head as the rain continued to come down.  I watched my pace get closer to what I needed to break into 5 days 16 hours. With each step I turned it up even more.

I could tell as it was unfolding that I was doing something epic. Something a bit Hollywood in the most un-Hollywood setting one could imagine.

I could feel Naresh and Mikki were well aware of how focused and driven I was running up that mountain. They were afraid to speak yet willing to do whatever it took to help push a body that was already beyond limits it could have ever imagined in the past.

The ground finally leveled out and I pounded 2 miles of rolling hills as I desperately attempted to reach the cornfields and eventually The Rock.  I made the left hand turn into the cornfields to find the ruts were slippery, muddy, and filled with water from the rain. I turned it up even more and ran through the puddles as I knew I was getting even closer to the finish. I checked my pace and it was exactly what I calculated I needed to reach my egotistical time goal.

Then I realized that the course was a big longer than expected. That my measurements since leaving Monteagle were probably off a bit with some zig-zagging and crew stops. There was no disappointment though. I just continued to run as hard as I could for the remaining distance left in the race.

When you come around that last bend of trees and hear the roar of Laz, Carl, your crew (Mikki and Naresh), and others you feel something so rare that you realize you will only ever feel it at Vol State upon finishing one of the most epic races in the world.

Laz said that my 55 minute 10K to finish up Sand Mountain might have been the fastest to date. I finished strong up it last year as well. There is something about being able to taste the finish that really enables me to dig deep and find an extra gear that wasn’t there before.

[2012 Vol State Podium: (l-r) 2-Joshua Holmes, 1-Daniel Fox, 3-Paul Lefelhocz]

My finishing time was 5 days 17 hours 4 minutes and 49 seconds.

I finished in 2nd place out of the 24 starters. 15 finished the race.

My crazy goal before the race started was to finish in 6 days. I beat that goal by 7 hours thanks to good fortune, an amazing crew, never wasting a single second, and being relentless. The time was 55 hours faster than my finishing time last year of 8 days and 4 minutes.

The Last Annual Vol State 500K is a race that can be an intense competition, but it’s a race of you against yourself. The ultimate detox from a fast moving world and life.

The best part is that everyone that does Vol State becomes part of a super closely knit family…the ultimate fraternity – for everyone knows what you have battled and overcome to finish it, no matter if you are the ‘King of the Road’ or Don Quixote (Marv Skagerberg) and his trusty sidekick/crew Sancho Panza (Stu Gleman) who finish the race against nearly insurmountable odds.

Big thank you to Laz and Carl for putting on an amazing race!

“Oh, the race started?”

Tidbits from my 2012 Vol State 500K:

  • “In comic books published by Marvel Comics, a mutant is an organism (usually otherwise human) who possesses a genetic trait called an X-gene that allows the mutant to naturally develop superhuman powers and abilities. Human mutants are considered to be of the subspecies Homo sapiens superior, an evolutionary progeny of Homo sapiens, and are considered the next stage in human evolution, though whether this is true or not is a subject of much debate.Unlike Marvel’s mutates which are characters who develop their powers only after exposure to outside stimuli or energies (such as Hulk, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and Absorbing Man), mutants are born with the genetic potential to possess their powers, although the powers typically manifest at puberty.” – Wikipedia (Mutant – Marvel Comics)Vol State is the greatest collection of mutants known to the world.
  • My diet during the race consisted purely of Gu Roctane, tangerines, Vespa, Nuun, Hardees cheesburgers, milkshakes, a couple of smoothies, chocolate milk, Endurox, two Subway sandwiches/cookies, Gatorade, and fruit rope.
  • The injury to the back of my knee near Hohenwald remained throughout the end of the race. I just ran through it and ignored it the best as I could. I’d put muscle rub on it when I’d go to hotel.
  • I started the race in last place. When the race started and everyone left the ferry I was still in the portapotty.  It gave me a chance to talk with every runner as I passed them and spend time with them.
  • My last 4 miles of the race were my fastest of the race – 9:27, 8:29, 8:16, 7:30
  • I slept a total of 13 hours in 6 days.
  • A dog followed me for about 9 miles in Wartrace. He would hide behind me when the bigger dogs would come after me.
  • I was the only runner during the race to record more miles during the night than the day which resulted in the nickname ‘Creature of the Night’ (a KISS song reference) from RIF #5 Lisa Gonzales.
  • Charlie Taylor claimed the night before the race at The Last Supper that he could take a dump while walking. Luckily I never witnessed this act.
  • The most severe injury happened to my crew when Mikki thought she was stuck in a ditch. She got out to check and fell in a hole, spraining her ankle in the process.
  • Jonathan Harrison is the only person to help crew me both years.
  • The notes and well wishes that dozens of friends and Run It Fast members sent to Mikki to put up where I could see during the race/during crew stops meant so much and were so encouraging.
  • All five people that helped crew me during this year’s race are in Run It Fast – The Club.
  • I used my pepper spray probably three times on dogs.
  • The race fee to run Vol State is $0.00
  • No bling, medal, buckle, or souvenir mug is awarded for finishing the race.
  • ‘Falling Forward’ is a phrase that was coined by the great Dallas Smith. Read his books if you ever get a chance.
  • As Laz says, ‘You finish Vol State just far enough into Georgia so that you can piss on Alabama.’ (see photo below in gallery for demonstration)
  • Anyone who finishes Vol State is worthy of the utmost respect. This year I’m extremely happy for two Vol State finishers: Shannon Burke and Marv Skagerberg along with all the first time finishers including Run It Fast members Sulaiman Seriki and Shannon.
  • This one was for the late, great Angela Ivory.

If you were bored by this race report then you will really be bored by last year’s Vol State 500K race report.  You can read it by clicking HERE.

– joshua holmes (@bayou)

2012 Last Annual Vol State 500K Results

Posted in Race Reports, Running, Ultra Marathon, Vol StateComments (3)

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