Posted by colonel on Jan 9, 2009 in Race reports
“Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” William Shakespeare
Or, in runners’ terms …
“Be not afraid of going for a PR; some runners are born to set PRs, some achieve PRs through hard work, and others have a PR thrust upon them.”
On New Year’s Day, for the second year in a row, I set a PR at the Resolution Run 10K! However, this year I didn’t mean to, want to, or even try to! It was “thrust upon” me.
My oldest daughter came home for two weeks during the Holidays and I had planned on running this year’s Resolution Run with her. I love running with my girls! However, when New Year’s Day rolled around, I could not get Allison to “rise and shine”! I got up, got dressed, and tried to wake her up. Fail. So I ate breakfast, and then tried to wake her up. Fail. I walked the dog, and then tried to wake her up. Fail. Finally, I gave up and went to the race, arriving just before it started.
As I was walking around, registering, etc., I ran into a few fellow GUTS members. After exchanging, “what did you do for New Year’s” stories, we talked about the times we were all shooting for. I had not done any speed work in many months, and lately even my weekly mileage had been pitiful, so I told everybody I just wanted to run the race as a relaxing fun run. When we went to line up for the race I stayed back in the middle of the pack to allow the faster folks a clear path to glory.
The Atlanta Track Club’s Resolution Run is a 5K loop course. The course is not really hilly, but it does have several long inclines which are harder than they look. Both the 5K runners and the 10K’ers start at the same time and have the same finish line. The 10K’ers, obviously, run two loops. This joint start can lead to trouble for a 10K’er because it is very easy to get suckered into going out too fast with the 5K runners. I know it’s easy, because it happens to me every year! Last year I trained for, and really tried to run a PR. I did! (41:51) … but it was a painful experience. I started too fast (dang those 5K’ers!) and suffered throughout the last couple of miles as I tried to keep up the pace. This year, even though I wanted to start slow, run slow, and end slow, I was sucked along with the 5K’ers once again.
I ran the first mile in 6:32. That pace was at least a minute faster than I had intended and in my head all I could hear was, “Dang those 5K’ers! I let them push me out too fast again!” But then I figured … what the heck! The damage was done! I might as well see how long I can hang on! I was surprised at how relaxed I felt. The long inclines slowed me a little, and I settled into a 6:45 or so pace. I finished the first loop in 20:55, briefly thought about being on PR pace and/or finishing in under 42 (the time needed to be “sub-seeded” at the Peachtree Road Race), but fully expected I would slow down on the second loop.
It never happened! In fact, I ran a negative split! And I’m not even sure how! With about a mile to go it dawned on me that I was pretty sure I would finish in under 42 and, unless the wheels came off, I had a pretty dang good shot at a PR. I tried to pick up the pace but I didn’t feel like I was all that successful. I wanted to have a big finishing kick, but when the time came I just didn’t have the energy. I even got passed in the last tenth of mile, something which normally would cause me to dig down for that last ounce of energy to fight off the attack, but on this day I just didn’t have it. The weird thing is, somehow I crossed the finish line all used up, nothing left for a kick, and at the same time, felt like I had, in fact, run the “relaxing fun run” I had intended from the start. Could it be I finally ran, what for me and my limited ability, was the perfect race?
Final tally: 41:38, a PR, 9th out of 58 in my age group (45-49), 51st out of 329 Men, and 56th out of 509 Total Runners.
Kudos to Joe Gibson of Big Peach Running Company for coming in 2nd overall with a time of 34:56!
Posted by colonel on Dec 12, 2008 in Race reports
“Going for a run always clears my head, but running 100 miles distills my soul.”
In January, of 2008 I was fortunate enough to run the Mountain Mist 50K in Huntsville, AL. Fortunate for two reasons. First, it is a great race and is now my favorite 50K. Second, I was fortunate because at the pre-race supper, Todd Henderson announced he was organizing a 100 mile endurance run along the Pinhoti Trail in central Alabama. I had never considered running a hundred mile race before. To me, those were races held way out West, or up in Virginia somewhere, too far away and too costly for a guy in my, hopefully temporary, financial position. In addition to that, a hundred miles is a freakin’ long way!! I knew people who ran hundreds, but I always felt like they were a different breed of runner than I was. They were true runners. I was just an old coot who loved running. But then Todd comes along, like an evangelist preaching Salvation at a tent revival on a hot summer night, spreading the Good Word and planting the seed of a soul distilling hundred-mile run through the Talladega National Forest into my running addicted brain. How could I not do it?! I live in Marietta, GA, less than two hours from the starting line, and I grew up in Alabama. How could I not run the inaugural hundred miler in my home state?! Todd referred to it as the first inaugural hundred. That sounded way more important even than just a plain ol’ inaugural! So I went home, emptied my penny jar, skipped lunch for a few weeks, cancelled my LA Fitness membership to save more money, wrote a check and mailed it in. I was the second person to register.
A little about the race: As I said, this was the first time a 100 mile race had been held in Alabama. The “point-to-point” course was 81 miles of single-track, mostly gnarly trails, 14 miles of dirt Jeep roads, and five miles of paved roads. It wound through the Talladega National Forest along a trail called the Pinhoti Trail. The Pinhoti actually begins in Georgia, where it connects to the Appalachian Trail, and runs all the way to Sylacauga, AL. According to the race website, the course had 16,180 feet of total ascent and 16,580 feet of descent. (The chart above is a little off. The Mt. Cheaha peak should be at Mile 41, not at Mile 36 as shown.) The purpose of the race was to raise awareness of the trail among runners, to showcase the beauty of the mountains in Alabama, and to raise money for the Pinhoti Trail Alliance. The race attracted 99 entrants, but only 88 runners toed the line on race day.
At the time, I felt good about my ability to run the race. When I sent my application in, I was in my best running shape ever. I had run five 50K’s and two marathons in the previous five months. However, from the moment I registered, my training went to heck in a hand basket! First, I got an infection in my right calf muscle and had to cut back my miles for a few weeks while it healed. Then a combination of my daughters’ high school and college graduations, one moving to California, one going off to the University of Alabama, other family priorities, work related problems, and just plain ol’ weariness, caused me to start missing long runs. It seemed like every time I had a 20-50 miler scheduled, something would come up to cause me to cancel the run. The original schedule I laid out included four 50 mile runs. Of those four, I ended up doing one 50 and one 43 mile run. The former was an overnight run on August 24th, doing a seven-plus miles loop on the streets around my neighborhood. The latter was a pretty good training day, October 12th, as I was on my feet for 12 hours on the trails on Kennesaw Mountain.
I say all of that to say; by the time the race came I was starting to doubt whether my training was enough. Of course, whenever I would share my doubts with the experts I know, they would tell me that my worst enemy during the run would be doubt. If I didn’t believe I could finish, I wouldn’t finish. It’s a little hard to explain, but my doubts were whether my body would hold up, not whether I would finish. There are so many stories out there of people dropping out due to dehydration, kidney failure, severe cramps, etc. My fear was that my training had not been enough to prepare my body to avoid the cramps, or run the course in the allotted time, or whatever else could go wrong. Mentally however, I knew that I would keep going until I ran out of time, or they carried me off the course on a stretcher.
The Friday of race weekend I met Jon Obst and Javi De Jesus in the parking lot of the Big Peach Running Co. and we carpooled to Sylacauga for the packet pickup and pre-race meal. Javi was kind enough to drive/crew/pace for me, and Jon was running the race. Due to heavy traffic in Atlanta, and Javi forgetting to turn off the motion sensor on his burglar alarm … having to go back home to reset the alarm (cats and motion sensors apparently don’t mix! LOL!) … we arrived at the pre-race meal just as it ended. This was probably a blessing in disguise. You never know what will happen when you eat tons of spaghetti prepared in somebody else’s kitchen! We did arrive in time for us to deposit my drop bags in the proper place and to pick up our race packets, so actually our timing wasn’t too bad. After going to Subway for our pre-race meal, we retired to the host hotel.
After only about four hours of fairly restful sleep Javi drove us over to catch the bus. Since the Pinhoti 100 is a point-to-point race, Todd had arranged for two buses to carry the runners from Sylacauga to the starting line in Heflin. The bus left on schedule at 4:00 AM and arrived in Heflin a few minutes before the scheduled race start at 6:00 AM. I wish I had been able to sleep on the bus, but it just wasn’t happening.
“You never know how a horse will pull until you hook him up to a heavy load.”
~ Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant
It was cold at the start. I don’t know what the temperature was, but I was very glad I had worn two shirts, a wind breaker, gloves and a knit cap. Still, I was shivering waiting for the start. I killed a few minutes, and took my mind off of the cold, by chatting with a few folks who I have seen at many local ultras. Local ultra legends, Susan Donnelly and Rob Apple were there. I believe Rob told me that this was his 541st ultra. Amazing! I also chatted with Tony Gonzalez. Tony was going to crew for me as well, and was going to pace for me later in the race. He was at the start because he volunteered to help Todd by sweeping the first 13 miles. And then …Finally! … After months and months of training, the race got underway, a few minutes after 6:00, just as the sun was beginning to rise! Time to find out how this “horse will pull”.
My strategy was to follow the counseling I had been given by GUTS members who had run 100’s before, “Go slow”, “If you think you are going too slow – slow down!”, “Make sure you take time to eat.”, etc. I think the best advice I had been given was to “Run relaxed.” I planned on doing just that. So, since I was going to take my time, I started very close to the back of the pack. Also, as part of my strategy, I had arranged for two great pacers. Javi was going to meet me at mile 85 and run with me to the finish, and Tony was going to run with me from 75 to 85. Side note about gear strategy: I started the race with a long sleeved shirt under a short sleeved one, running shorts over Underarmor compression shorts, windbreaker, running cap and gloves, Injinji socks, waist belt, and two handheld water bottles. In the waist belt I had a few GU’s, a baggie with S-Caps and toilet paper in it, and a couple of Moon Pies. I put a dry shirt in each of my drop bags, two shirts, and long pants, in the bags I expected to reach late in the day. I also put a few extra GU’s, a bottle of Ensure, and a couple of Advil, in each bag.
The first few miles of the race were pretty uneventful. With only about a hundred yards of dirt parking lot before we started up the first climb on the single track, the group did not have time to spread out. That meant that it took several miles before everyone was able to settle into their own pace. Those first few miles were slower than I had even planned on, but I kept reminding myself that we had a long way to go, and “too slow” was what I was shooting for! At this point I forced myself to stay in the back. My legs kept telling me to pass people, but my brain resisted the temptation. Finally, after about an hour, I saw a chance to break away from the group I was with and run a pace I was more comfortable with. Of course, it didn’t take me long to catch up to another bottleneck of folks. That’s when the “run relaxed” idea took on new meaning for me and probably saved my race. I decided not to worry about what pace I was running, as long as I was moving forward. “Go with the flow” sounded good to me.
We had been running for a couple of hours, and had reached the top of a big hill, when I saw a sight that caused me to briefly say, “What the heck did I get myself into?!!”. As we rounded a bend in the trail, we were presented with a magnificent view of the Talladega National Forest in all of its Autumn glory! From our vantage point we could see for miles over the top of the forest and to the mountains in the distance. Since the forest is a National Park, with no houses, very few, if any, roads, and is basically unspoiled wilderness, the changing colors of the trees formed a solid multicolored carpet blanketing the earth. Absolutely beautiful! But, that’s when it dawned on me just how far 100 miles really is. Way off in the distance … and I mean waaaaaaay off in the distance … you could make out the outline of Mt. Cheaha. You could only see the “outline” because it was so far away that, even on this crystal clear day, the mountain was a grayish color, compared to the beautiful hues of the mountains closer to our position. And why did this cause me a “what the heck” moment you ask? Because the peak of Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama, was at mile 40!! Not even halfway to the finish line! For the first time, of many, many times, during the day and night, I reminded myself not to think about how far I had to go. This was the point when “go with the flow” slowly started to become, “run from aid station to aid station”.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
~Henry David Thoreau
Somewhere along in here I became separated from the group of about ten folks I had been running with. I’m not even sure how. Did I get in and out of an aid station before they did? Or was I the last one out? Beats me. Sarah Tynes met me at one of the stations and gave me a laminated card she had made for me with all of the aid station splits for a 24 hour finish and for the 30 hour limit. This card proved invaluable during the run. Sarah even put the card on a string so I could hang it around my neck for ease of use! I must have referred to it fifty times! Thanks Sarah! Maybe I fell behind while I was getting the card from Sarah? Like I said, beats me. All I know, I was running alone … and loving it! The woods were quiet, peaceful and colorful. The forest at times seemed primeval. Totally undisturbed. Ferns and other plants covered the ground, and the trees, at times, blocked out the sun. Occasionally I would pass a stream, or even a waterfall, and the sound of the water could be heard echoing off of the hills. It was one of those times when you feel so relaxed in your run that you just get lost in your thoughts, the beauty of your surroundings, and the run seems effortless. The trail itself was moderately rugged, always headed up or down, with not a flat stretch to be found, but it did have stretches where the pine needles were so thick on the trail that it was like running on pillows. Unfortunately, many of those “other plants” covering the ground were thorn bushes! So the trail was, at the same time, heaven on the legs and hell on the legs. About the time I would start thinking this was the softest trail I had ever run on, a briar would reach over and rip the flesh from my bones. A very interesting dynamic.
The first aid station manned by my fellow GUTS members was at about mile 22 and it sure was good to see some friendly faces! I was starting to feel a little tired and seeing them was a big boost! Javi met me at the bottom of the hill leading up to the station and checked on my status while giving me a little pep talk. Tony checked my bottles when I got in the station and chastised me for having two fairly full bottles. Until he brought it to my attention, I had not realized my fluid intake had really dropped off in the last hour or so. Thanks Tony! I ate part of a peanut butter sandwich and grabbed a couple of Moon Pies to put in my pocket for later. Janice Anderson (GUTS Prez) and Sally Brooking (GUTS VP) were among those manning the station. Janice had recently had a pin put in her wrist due to a fall on a bike, and Sally was seated behind the table with a cast on her foot, due to a mishap while hiking after a trail race. I knew that they would have given anything to be out there on the trails. Both of these amazing runners have been a big inspiration to me and they had mentored me with some great training advice in the months leading up to Pinhoti. Seeing them was a reminder of all the times they told me I could do this and I knew I couldn’t let them down. Time to HTFU and keep moving. Janice told me I was only five minutes or so behind Jon Obst and Lane Vogel. My thought was that if I was that close to those guys, I must be going too fast, so I told myself once again to slow down and run relaxed. Refueled and feeling like I was getting a second wind, I headed out of the aid station with a renewed spirit.
Somewhere between this station and the next, I ran into Andrew Powell, one of the Big Peach guys, on the trail. I was crossing a creek and looked up to see Andrew coming at me. My first thought was that somehow I was lost. I mean, heck, I get lost in almost every ultra, so why should this one be any different? But it turns out that Andrew had made a wrong turn after crossing the creek and was headed back to the correct trail. We ran together for a very short time but were soon separated. (Unfortunately, Andrew continued to make some wrong turns during the day and, discouraged, ended up dropping out at about mile 65.) When I reached the next aid station I saw Jon and Lane standing around eating! “What the heck are y’all still doing here?!” Lane explained that this was a 100 mile run, not a 50K, and that it was OK to spend some time in the aid station to eat. I’m too slow to waste time in the aid stations. I had planned on eating on the run! So after eating a couple of potato wedges and drinking an Ensure, I filled an extra baggie with some more food and continued on. Unfortunately, my eyes were bigger than my stomach at this point, and I put way too much stuff in the bag. Plus, I didn’t have anywhere to carry it. It was too big for my waist pack and too heavy to carry – I already had a bottle in each hand! I ended up throwing most of this stuff on the ground.
Another reason I threw out most of that food was that my stomach started feeling queasy after that aid station (#5). I spent the next hour dry heaving every ten minutes of so. This concerned me in large part because I felt like if I was eating and drinking enough, something would be coming out instead of just having the dry heaves. For the first time I was worried I was going to screw up the race through poor nutrition. Finally, at about mile 38 or 39, on the way up Mt. Cheaha, I was finally able to throw up. I doubled over on the side of the trail, adding my Technicolor yawn to the beautiful Fall colors covering the ground. It seemed like half of the field passed me at that point. I know I was only there for a couple of minutes, but it sure seemed like a whole lot of folks passed by. Luckily I wasn’t far from the top of the mountain and was able to stagger into the aid station at the summit. God bless those saints manning that station! They had the customary peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, etc … but, bless their hearts, they also had McDonald’s cheeseburgers! I changed into a dry shirt, grabbed a burger and ate it as I walked out of the station. Holy moly! That burger went into my system like heroin into a strung out junkie. I got immediate relief! Before I even finished the sandwich I was feeling a thousand times better! It was like somebody flipped a switch. I was now primed and ready for the next section.
“What goes up, must come down.”
~ Blood, Sweat & Tears
The climb up Mt. Cheaha had been a long, five mile grind. The trip down Cheaha was a half mile free fall! This section of the trail is called Blue Hell. During the Mt. Cheaha 50K, you climb UP this rocky cliff, 1,100 feet of climb in about a mile, with most of the climb coming in the last half mile. Last Spring I was CUSSING like a sailor as I painfully climbed up and over these rocks. For the trip DOWN this section during Pinhoti, I was PRAYING like there was no tomorrow! It seemed each step was a three foot drop from one rock down to the next and then a right-hand turn to the next rock. If you go straight, you go off a cliff onto a pile of boulders. Thus the reason for all the prayers of thanks! “Thank you Lord for putting that sapling right in the exact spot I needed it so that I didn’t tumble down the mountain!” and “Thank you Lord that my knees didn’t give out as I jumped from that pile of rocks to this pile of rocks, so that I didn’t tumble down the mountain” … I prayed a constant stream of “thank you’s” all the way down Mt. Cheaha!
Once at the bottom I had another stroke of luck that proved to be a tremendous blessing! I caught up to Lane! Fortunately for me, unfortunately for him, he had some stomach issues which had slowed him down and allowed me to catch up. Lane and I ran the next 40 miles together and I credit him for keeping me going, and on the right trail, for the rest of the race. Having someone to talk to at this point, and to help with navigation, was invaluable. As previously stated, I have a tendency to get lost. Having Lane there during the night kept me from getting lost and discouraged.
Now that we were over the top of Mt. Cheaha the trail changed to a very rugged, gnarly, ankle twisting, rocky, rooty, section of pure bliss! We picked up the pace a little in order to cram in as many miles as we could before dark. Along the way we met another runner, Billy Miller from Virginia, and the three of us stuck together all night. At the 55 mile mark we caught up to Jon Obst at an aid station. We left the station before he did, fully expecting him to pass us soon after, but we never saw him again. At the time we didn’t realize that Jon had taken a bad fall and was in some pain. (He still finished!) We did get passed by other folks though. Several people picked up pacers at this point and those pacers were helping them pick up the pace! Rob Apple passed us around this time and he was really moving. He was making a strong effort to catch Susan Donnelly. Susan had passed me hours earlier while I was barfing all over the side of Mt. Cheaha. (Rob did catch Susan, and they crossed the finish line together, as they have done so many times before.)
Just before dark we saw both some beautiful and strange sights. At one point we crossed a wooden walkway, wrapped around the side of the mountain, which gave us an amazing view of the river tumbling over a series of waterfalls as it cut between two steep mountains. And then, there, in the middle of the forest, surrounded by trees, was an old delivery van. Or was it some kind of truck? Maybe it was a Chevy? I don’t even know how it got there. There was no trace of a road. We were in the middle of the Talladega National Forest! I’m assuming this rusted shell had been there for at least 50 or 60 years, maybe longer. The inside was stripped bare, and it looked like someone had built a campfire in it somewhere along the line. It was very surreal.
As darkness fell, so did my chance of finishing anywhere close to the mystical 24 hour mark. Our pace slowed to a crawl. The trail was rough and our legs were tired. And did I mention it was dark! The woods were so thick that any moonlight that may or may not have been available, was totally blocked out. Our world became a small circle of light generated by our headlamps. We could still walk the hills at a fair pace, but we could no longer run the downhills. After tripping a dozen times and contemplating the fact that stubbing your toe on a big rock and taking a spill, would result in landing face first on another big rock, we decided we would walk. We ended up walking most of the night. Mainly what I remember of the night was following behind Lane, staring at the back of his legs to see where he was stepping. Lane’s legs … and the cold. That’s what I remember. Holy mackerel! Did it get cold! When we would reach an aid station, we would see runners huddled around a fire. This was another factor in our slowing pace! It became too easy to stop and eat something while standing next to the fire! But, inevitably, the fire made each start back into the woods that much harder, and colder. Also, since I was so dang tired, I guess I was shuffling my feet, which resulted in numerous rocks and sticks being deposited into my shoes. I think I sat down at every aid station during the night to empty the rocks out of my shoes. All night long I thought I had a stick in my left sock, or maybe it was in the shoe? Every time I would empty my shoes I would look for it but I wouldn’t find anything. Then, as soon as I would start running/walking again, there it was, scratching, digging, poking, and cutting into my heel. After a few hours the heel didn’t really hurt, it just became part of the “background noise” of pain that was numbing my body. Hips, knees, head, stomach, shoulders, and left heel. When everything hurts, nothing hurts. The pain became the norm and my body got used to the feeling. After the race, when I was able to examine my foot in the daylight, I discovered my problem was not a stick in my shoe! The problem was the skin on the bottom of my foot, under my heel, had cracked from one side of my foot to the other.
The six mile section from the Porter’s Gap aid station (mile 69) to the second GUTS aid station at The Pinnacle (mile 75) was a low point for me. Most of that section was uphill, and I was physically tired, sleepy, and struggling to keep up with Lane and Billy. The night consisted of many highs and lows for me. There were times when I felt like I should be moving a lot faster than our merry band of three was going, but there were other times when I was doing all I could to keep up. This section was one of those times. I was hurting. After the stop at the last aid station (ironically, the same group of folks who manned aid station #5 earlier in the day) I was starting to get the queasy stomach again and starting the dry heave thing again. Add to that the fact that I had needed to … uh … how should I put this? … uh … well, let’s just say that since a couple of hours after the race started I had been pondering the age old question, “Does an ultrarunner poop in the woods?” Finally, I could take it no more, and at about mile seventy-four I discovered that the answer is; “If he has to go bad enough!” Like I said, I had been struggling to keep up for the last few miles, so I was pretty sure I was now on my own again. I figured I would never catch up after this delay. However, again Lane’s misfortune was my good fortune. Shortly after I trotted off into the woods seeking an answer to that age old question, Lane and Billy took a wrong turn, and the couple of minutes they spent going the wrong way was all I needed to reunite with the group!
The Pinnacle aid station! Never before have I seen a more beautiful sight! GUTS people! Friends! An eager Tony, ready to pace us! And best of all …. Fried egg sandwiches!! Oh my gosh! Other than the aforementioned McDonald’s hamburger, I had been eating PB&J sandwiches all day (if I ever see another PB&J sandwich, it will be too soon!). At Mile 75, the GUTS folks were cooking egg sandwiches! Made to order! The aid station also had a big fire going, and there were several runners sitting around it. I grabbed a sandwich and started for the fire. As I took my first bite … the stomach heaves hit me again, big time, and I quickly stumbled into the nearby bushes and blew chunks for a couple of minutes. Once that business was done I finished the egg sandwich and went back to the chef and ordered another one! Boy did they taste good! We hung around the fire way too long at this station. I’m not sure how long we were there, but it seemed like a long time. I recognized Blake Thompson, wrapped in several blankets, just his eyes showing. Bundled head to toe, he was trying to regroup and get warm. I chatted for a few minutes with Dink Taylor, who was pacing Blake. Dink is the owner of Fleet Feet in Huntsville, AL and winner of many an ultra event. Dink sat at the fire, he too wrapped in a blanket, patiently waiting for his runner to recover enough to venture back out. Lane’s wife, Jen, was also there. She had been crewing for Lane throughout the race and she had been waiting for him at most of the aid stations. Unbeknownst to me, as we were preparing to get back on the road, Jen pulled a very tired Lane aside. Lane and Jen had done the Florida Ironman Triathlon just the weekend before the Pinhoti 100. Jen is a tough competitor and knew Lane was exhausted. She laid down the gauntlet to her husband with the words, “Don’t let me down.” With Billy and me refueled, and Lane in fear of disappointing his beautiful wife, we lumbered back into the darkness.
“If brains was lard, Jethro couldn’t grease a pan.”
When we headed out of the Pinnacle we discovered two things. First, “The Pinnacle” was not at the top of the mountain. After a short downhill, we had another big climb ahead of us! Second, we had stayed so long in the aid station that we had lost all of our body heat. I began shaking uncontrollably. At this point we still weren’t running, so it took me a good mile to warm up enough to stop having the shakes. Poor Tony, he signed on as a pacer, but spent the next few hours having to be a cowboy trying to herd three drunken cows! I couldn’t really walk in a straight line anymore. The other guys weren’t doing much better. And then to complicate things, Lane and I started falling asleep on our feet! I would take a few steps forward, and then the next thing I would know I’m waking up stumbling sideways! It’s a wonder I never fell. Tony was running and walking all around us yelling at us, singing loudly, and generally doing his best to keep us awake and moving. “Wake up!!!” “No sleeping!!!” That’s about all I remember of those miles just before sunrise. I probably walked twice as far in those miles as the actual distance, because I was weaving as much side to side as the progress I was making going forward! Shortly before sunrise I looked at my handy pace chart again, for the umpteenth time, and realized we were in trouble. Before dark we had been an hour ahead of the pace for a 24 hour finish. Now, if my calculations were right, if we maintained the pace we had been doing over the last ten miles, we might not even make the 30 hour cutoff! “Gentlemen, I ain’t hurtin’ this bad, for this long, to not get me one of them damn belt buckles! We gotta pick up the pace!” Ok, my grammar was not that great after running all night and I don’t think my ability to cipher was much better than Jethro Bodine’s either, but the fear of missing the cutoff got me moving at a much better pace!
I had been told by many ultrarunners that when the sun comes up it brings renewed strength with it. They were right. Thirty minutes before the sun came up I couldn’t walk a straight line or stay awake long enough to complete a sentence. When those first rays of sunshine hit me I became wide awake and feeling like a million bucks! Of course, one thing that helped wake me up was the tall “grass” we had to run through to get to the aid station at 85! The trail through the “grass” was so narrow you could hardly see it even looking straight down on it. This meant that the “grass” was racking across your legs with every step. Well, at least it looked like grass as we approached the field. Turns out it was something of a briar patch! Nothing like running your legs through a shredder to get the ol’ juices flowing in the early A.M.! (The leg on the right is not my leg. I saw it posted on the Pinhoti 100 site and decided to include it in this report since this person did a better job of taking a picture of their leg than I did. It’s a typical Pinhoti leg!)
At mile 85 Tony turned us over to Javi, but not before reminding me again not to stop drinking, and he stuck a Honey Bun in my pocket, “just in case you need it”. The sun was up, and I was feeling good! (well, relatively speaking anyway) I was ready to run! So Javi and I started running out of the aid station. Lane and Billy were lagging behind. But it only took a few hundred yards for Lane to start thinking about Jen’s words … “Don’t let me down.” Lane seemed to perk up and slowly caught up to us, and then continued on at a pace I couldn’t match! But, I was feeling great! I was running again! It had been a long, cold night of walking. My whole world had been a ten foot circle of light for the last ten hours, but now the sun was up! I could see again! I felt like I was back to running effortlessly! I was even running the hills! As the saying goes, “we were passing trees as if they were standing still!” We caught Lane at the last aid station, but I think that just inspired him to turn on the afterburners. He was gone and I didn’t see him again until the finish line.
That last aid station was only five miles from the finish. Nothing could go wrong now! Or so I thought! As I was running with Javi my right shoe started making this slapping noise. It sounded like, and felt like, the sole of the shoe had separated from the upper. I think, great! Now I have to finish with one shoe! I stop to check the shoe. There is nothing wrong with it. I start running again and the weird feeling and sound return, but now it is coming from both feet! What the heck? I stop again. Nothing. As I start running again it dawns on me what is happening. My feet are so tired and my running form has deteriorated so much that I am striking the ground with my heel and then, instead of the foot rolling forward, it is just slapping the ground with every step. Ouch. Oh well, we’re almost there, and I was still hoping to catch Lane. But that pipe dream went out the window when Javi and I had a moment of indecision that cost us about eight minutes. On the last dirt road out of the National Forest we came to a Y in the road. There were no markings. The fork to the right seemed to be the right one. It was in a fairly straight line to the road we were on. But, the road to the left seemed to be more well travelled, which led us to wonder if that was the main road. I sure was glad Javi was there. He ran back down the road to pick up the last marker we had passed, then ran up the fork to the left to make sure there weren’t any markers up that way, and then came back and we continued on the fork to the right. It was a little delay, but it gave us some peace of mind to know we were headed right. At about this point I felt my energy heading south again and remembered Tony’s Honey Bun. What a great breakfast pick-me-up! It never ceases to amaze me how a few bites of food can give a starving man so much energy! We were back on track, and I was feeling good again!
Then, just for fun, the course hit us with one last body blow. When we reached the end of the dirt road, the course continued on a paved two lane highway. No shoulder. And this little road was straight as a string. You could see for what seemed like miles off into the distance. I felt like I was running a pretty good pace, but it didn’t seem like we were getting anywhere. Of course, that could be because we weren’t moving as fast as I thought we were! To me, it felt like we were running about a nine minute pace. I knew this couldn’t be true, and that it was probably about ten minutes. I asked Javi how fast he thought we were going. His response, “twelve, or maybe thirteen minutes per mile.” Crap. This stretch was torture. My slapping feet took a beating on the hard surface and the front half of each foot, especially my big toes, really started to feel like they were undergoing a caning in some prison in Singapore. And I kept seeing branches about to hit me in the face! All night long I had been getting poked in the face by tree branches. Looking down, to keep from tripping on a root, is not best way to watch out for eye-stabbing-barbs-of-death threatening to poke your eyes out! Luckily, every time I was hit directly in the eye, my eyelids would blink closed at the crucial moment. But, here, on an open highway, with no trees anywhere near me, I had several instances where I would see those branches swinging right at my eyes again! I would duck real fast and then look around, only to see that nothing was there. Pretty strange.
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
~ 2 Timothy 4:7
Finally, off in the distance, we could see the light towers of the football stadium at Sylacauga High School! The finish line was near!! When we ran into the stadium Javi wanted me to do the half lap around the track by myself. I gave him the coat I had tied around my waist and took off at what felt like a sprint. I’m sure it wasn’t even a 9:00 pace, but it felt good! Even exhilarating! When I crossed the finish line Todd Henderson was there to shake my hand and give me the most beautiful, magnificent, gorgeously perfect belt buckle that man has ever created! I can’t really describe what I was feeling. Happy, relieved, elated, tired, all rolled into one! Javi, Tony, Lane, Jen and a few of Todd’s volunteers were at the finish line and I tried to talk to them … but from the looks on their faces, I’m pretty sure what was coming out of my mouth was incoherent babble. I finished in 26 hours 47 minutes, 24th place. Out of the 88 starters, 66 finished.
As I write this, I’m trying to decide if the experience “distilled my soul”. I don’t feel any different. Maybe to give your soul the proper distillation you have to run alot faster than I did. I don’t know. What I do know, is that this race filled me with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I put my shoulder to the yoke and pulled 100 miles of heavy load. But I couldn’t have done it without good friends and helpful strangers. Special thanks to Tony and Javi for all the support they gave me during the event; to the GUTS folks for their help and inspiration, both during the race and in the months leading up to it; to Lane, for letting me tag along with him all night and keeping me headed in the right direction; to Todd Henderson for putting together a world class event; to all the volunteers who gave up their weekend and stood in the cold all day and night making sure I had enough to eat and drink; and to the folks on Dean Karnazes’ blog who kept me motivated during my training with their tales of adventure and words of encouragement.
“If you believe in yourself, have dedication and pride and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards”.
~ Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant