Special Thanks: To Western Reserve Running and the volunteers who made it happen. The aid stations were paradises and the aid workers were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
I was uncrewed and unsupported, but had some major help from several people and talked with a lot of people along the way that helped lift my spirits. Thanks everyone listed here; you made what could have been a very bad situation an awesome experience. They were, in no particular order:
The red haired runner from Chicago. I forgot your name sorry =/
EXXXXXTRA Special thanks: To everyone I’ve talked to over the years that helped me finally get my first hundred miler completed. Too many people to name but some include: Grant Fashbaugh,Harvey Lewis,The Connolly’s, Susan Anger,Eric Friedman, Richard Handley,and many others. And Vicki. Definitely Vicki.
Ivan Scale: 6 (last half), 7 (muddy night mountain section)
Elevation change: Site says 6k, other data indicates possibly 10k
Music: Five Finger Death Punch
Distance: 100 Miles, but may have been a few miles long.
Course: Some beautiful country roads, quaint towns, amazing trails and scenery.
“I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” — from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen
I knew I would be uncrewed, so the drop bags, and what was in them was very important. I used aprons to organize footcare kits in easy bake oven style to help me when I was tired. I had drop bags scheduled for ~25, ~45 (before the Bog of Despair) ~72 and ~92. Last bag was really just to let me drop off stuff that was no longer needed. Besides footcare stuff they also had food and mints and ginger, batteries and other typical bs.
I would not be running with a Heart Rate Monitor or using GPS, but run on feeling at first, and reserve the use the GPS at night or when I knew I was moving slow.
I ran on bridges to train for the hills, raced at night on trails (Moon over Croom) since I almost never run them, and did altitude and sauna training to improve my performance.
Everyone has talked about how mental the late stages of a hundred miler are; I focused on the tried and true method of CTFO’ing and then working the problem (aka do what is necessary). Since I’d be alone I knew I’d need to be able to troubleshoot issues on the fly; I memorized most of Fellrnr’s troubleshooting guide. I ran through scenarios during training runs.
The race really started for me the night before, when I was laying out my gear (who can sleep the night before?) and I realized I didn’t bring my water bottle. Hours of careful planning of what to carry, what to put in my drop bags, and I forgot the most basic piece of equipment. I’d been practicing to be focused and roll with things when they went bad, now was the first test.
A short while later I had a Smart Water bottle from 7/11 that would fit in my waist belt. No worries.
In the morning in the parking garage I starting talking to Petey, a runner who had driven from Arkansas for the race. I joked about my improvised water bottle and he offered let me use an extra handheld he had. Score! What a way to start a race. Ultra marathoners never cease to amaze me with their generosity.
The race officially started running from Squires Castle through a field and quickly onto the road. We ran along the road for a ways before diverting into a park. Cruised through hills and through very cool countryside. Chatted with a few people, two of which I found out were Midwest Grand Slammers. I knew then to slow down because I must have been going out way too fast.
We transitioned to some trails after reaching the first aid station around 8 miles. The weather was cool, and the trails were nice. We crossed a few streams, and I screwed up a step and ended up getting both of my feet wet. I wasn’t that worried at first because I use double socks and a layer of Aquafor or Vaseline. I was in my Nike free’s, which have a cloth front. Usually they dry really quickly, but we were running through the dewy grass, and they kept picking up water from the grass. I started to get worried as I felt hotspots start to form on my feet. We hit some more roads, but then switched back to trail after the second aid station. My feet continued to pick up water from the grass.
Finally reached my bag around mile 22, drank a small cup of coke and found a place to dry off my feet. I had a partial foot kit, but most importantly no dry toe socks. This was mistake #2. I let them dry while I ate two snack sized butterfingers. I was nervous that the shoes were too wet, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I CTFO’d, and focused on solving the problem. Only solve I could think of was preventing more water from getting on them and getting to my next drop bag, which had my other shoes.
I sat with my headlamp from the morning in my hand,trying to decide if I should keep it. My other bag was at 72 miles. No way I wouldn’t be there in time given my current pace. I should just leave it. I took it with me, probably the smartest thing I did the whole day.
Ran more trails, hit another aid station and had another cup of coke. Talked with a runner from Chicago who, after a confusing conversation, basically said I needed to be eating more calories and should consider a second bottle for the long legs.
Crap. How far are we, how much have I eaten? Let’s do the math:
2 packs of super starch (400 calories), 2 snack size butterfingers (200 calories), and three small cups of coke ( ~90 calories). So maybe about 700 calories. Probably 31 miles and six hours into a race. Mistake #3. I ate a ginger chew from my pouch (40 calories!) and vowed to keep on top of nutrition better.
Reached the next aid station and I saw people with drop bags. Wth? this was an aid station earlier than I’d expected it…While I chugged some Mt. Dew (lots of caffeine to speed the absorption of the carbs) and a partial cup of M&M’s an aid station worker explained that this was a loop, and that it was a short four mile loop. Did I want my drop bag now, or later?
Four miles? I wasn’t sure if I wanted to change into my Altra’s now, or stay in my free’s through this section. The Bog of Despair was coming up…so I left. Without changing my socks or shoes. The loop was ~6 miles. Mistake #4.
After slipping several times on fairly steep hills I knew my Free’s weren’t cut out of for this terrain but I was committed to this part of the loop. I just had to hope my feet could handle the water and hills. I was cursing myself for a bit but CTFO’d and focused on solving the problem.
Finally got back to the AS, asked for my bag and the AS people brought me all sorts of food while my feet dried I stuffed my face and reapllied all the sunscreen etc. Got out of the aid station prepared for the Bog of Despair.
I thought it would be worse. It was apparently dry this year, and my Altra Lone Peaks carried me through without issue. I joked afterwards that it was like the “Bog of Meh’. I would pay later for this joke.
I was still mostly upbeat, but starting to get more and more negative thoughts and feeling a little blue. So, from this aid station on the “Fuck it Bucket’ was in full effect. The Fuck it Bucket is:
A bucket usually filled with sweet substances for consumption when life gets you down.
A term coined by David Sedaris while talking about his brother in his short story “You can’t kill the rooster.”
“Sometimes, you just need to say ‘fuck it.’ and eat some motherfucking candy.” *said while reaching into the fuck it bucket*
From here on out, I grabbed a little candy at each aid station for my pockets. If I started feeling down, I’d reach in the fuck it bucket and eat some candy. Your body makes you sad because it thinks you’re dying. It’s right, but it’s a sucker for candy. This method was highly effective.
Ran some more, and a local told me about the places we were running by, which was really, really cool. It was like my own private tour! By now the hills were pretty intense. Lots and Lots and Lots and Lots of stairs, or downhills. My quads were feeling it pretty badly. I’d been toe hooking roots all day and I wasn’t comfortable that I could execute “the lean forward and bomb down the hill” technique without eventually ending at least the race. So I had to go down as quickly as they’d let me, but they were getting chewed up. Then I got a cramp in my abductor and had to painfully climb a very short hill for 10 minutes or so. Why am I getting cramps? Work the problem. Salt, massage, stretching for cramping. Chewed an Endurolyte and massaged my quads and abductors, followed by mule kicks and high knees. I could only guess that my abductor was taking up the slack for the quads or I was using crappy form going down hill.
I get to the next aid station after some pretty serious hills. I have a drop bag here. Yay!..until the can’t find it. I’d somehow thought I had one at 55ish miles, but it’s not until another 20 miles. Ok, maybe more food is necessary. My legs are starting to get weak. I get some peanut butter on a spoon for the fat and dip it in a cup of M&M’s while chugging coke. It’s a lot at once, but I’m getting really tired, and someone is talking about a lot of hills coming up.
It’s around mile 50. My quads suck, and there are more hills coming? I had no idea what was to come.
Run along a path under some cool bridges chatting with some guys and then we start up the mountains. Other people might call them hills, they certainly weren’t the rockies, but at this stage they sucked bad. The people I was running with were going down them very slowly and I couldn’t handle the pain in my quads. I was about to cry. Work the problem. I backed off a bit and let them go down first and went down quickly after them. For the most part it worked.
At this point a little voice said “Hey, when was the last time you peed?”. I’m at IPA level now and my mouth is dry. Crap, I’ve let my hydration get totally away from me. Mistake #5. Even though Chicago guy told me to carry another bottle earlier; I just tossed a 20 ounce mountain dew bottle back in my last drop bag.
I get to an aid station not much further along and drink until I’m not thirtsy, then a little more as they say it’ll be quite a bit before we get to the next AS. We went through some pretty brutal mountains and hills at this stage. i don’t know if it was how far we’d gone, or the hills themselves. I did the Killian Journet thing, using my hands on my quads and knees to help me get up them. Came out on a road near a sheep farm and amused myself while baaaaing to tthe sheep and moving down the road. The road continued for a very long time, and the sun fell just as I was getting into the woods. Completely out of water, I bummed some off a couple supporting another runner in a parking lot as we came out of the woods. Ran into a group of other runners moving fairly slowly, but they seemed to know the way through some very cool but difficult to navigate rocks. Finally we came out to an aid station in a field and I was pretty happy. Ate two PB&J’s slammed some Mt. Dew, and refilled the bucket quickly, spending less than 2 minutes there before heading out on a loop.
I had to take a lot of these hills sideways, my quads were burnt up and I hadn’t been taking enough caffeine to deal with the DOMS weakness. I vowed to up my caffeine intake otherwise I wouldn’t make cutoff with some of these painfully slow miles. After a very long time in the dark a light came on right in front of my in the trail and a pacer and runner were sitting down. The runner was having stomach problems and I offered ginger and mints to try to help. I wished them good luck and moved on. Eventually, I left the valley and came back to the aid station. Food, caffeine and out to the next aid station, where I’d get my last “real” drop bag.
I did ok through the next few miles and came up with some runners who remembered me as “that florida guy” from earlier in the day. After leaving them I realized I was having mild hallucinations of the grass moving. I’d seen this before where, after moving constantly forward for a very long time your brain makes things seem like they’re moving forward even though they aren’t. Got lost here for a bit near a duckpoond and took a while to figure out where I’d lost the thread. Backtracking sucks and I’d gone maybe a quarter of a mile off the path before realizing it. The course was well marked, I just zoned out.
Reached the aid station after a brutal couple of hills and was glad to be able to sit down for a few and change my socks. Petey was at the AS with bad blisters and would drop here =/ A change of socks, more lube to stop the chafing, noodles, coffee, and lots of candy candy candy and I was out for the loop.
The descents here were worse than anywhere else, and if I remember correctly they were covered in mud. I was alone, in the dark, with drop offs to one side and a slipperly trail to try to descend with shot quads. It sucked pretty bad and I just focused on breathing and the occasional massage of the quads.
Ate at the AS, refilled with some caffeine and left again. I remember corn fields around here and not much else, until we came to a covered bridge which was an aid station.
The carnage seemed pretty bad. Lots of runners in chairs. Some sleeping or laying down. I grabbed some food and sat down to eat and almost immediately got up. I didn’t want to sprout velcro and needed to keep moving. Left for a final loop and entered some pretty steep hills. I could see the lights of runners up the mountain, and eventally see the ones behind me as well. On the side of that hill I had a moment and wanted to stop. I was looking back down the mountain just breathing and I wanted to just lay down and walk out in the morning. In my haste to leave I’d forgotten to refill the bucket. I made a deal with myself to take ten breaths and then reassess. I kept walking after those ten breaths.
Got to the AS, took some noodles for that quick carb hit, refilled the bucket, slammed a LOT of DEW (and ate ginger as it was bothering my stomach at this point). Eighty miles down. I was ahead by two and a half hours of cutoff.
Around this time came up on a runner and his pacer. I’d stick with them the rest of the race; trying to mentally hook onto them when they’d catch up and pass me after an aid station. the pacer, Joel, offered me some Combos, and I think I said something like “hellllllll no”. He commented that we’d almost finished, just a little. My math said the same, all I had to do at this stage was not fuck it up. If my leg locked up, or something else put me down at 1mph I didn’t have enough buffer to buckly. My time was already crap, so I played everything safe from here on out. A 29:59:59 hour finish was good for the same WS lottery ticket and buckle as a 29 hour finish.
The sun came up and we ran through forest and up more damn hills, before hitting the next aid station. After this aid station he asked again if I’d like some Jelly Bellys. Wait, what? I could have been eating Jelly Belly’s this whole time? Yea, yea, I’d like some of those =) From this point on the bucket never ran empty. Thanks again Joel.
Finally reached mile 90, the last drop bag. I ditched all non essentials to cut weight. I considered dropping my disposable poncho but decided there was still ~3.5 hours left given my pace and I could in fact die from hypothermia in that time if it got bad. I was about half a mile down the road when it started to rain and I about cut my head off smiling while I put it on. It rained off and on, hard and sometimes drizzly the rest of the 3 hours. I loved the quiet of the rain, and we moved quickly here, about 16 mpm pace. I slipped on the wooden bridges as my trail shoes couldn’t grip on them and had to hand over hand as my feet slipped and slided out from under me. Someone pacing some other runners shouted that there was one more section with lots of elevation before the end and passed by.
Got to the final aid station, chugged my water and asked them to fill it all the way up with coke while I chewed two salt caps. I wanted to surprise cramping and no weakness from DOMS. Joel gave me the bag of remaining Jelly Bellys and I crossed a bridge and up slippery brick road. We crossed into the last section of woods and hit bridge and sets of stairs that I never thought would end. I had to walk very slowly because in the rain I had zero traction on them.
Finally near the river again and I can see a bridge with runners crossing, up to another large hill. Some people said we have 1.9 miles to cover in an hour and a half and I just kept going. I was done but refused to lay down and just death marched on. Over the hill, through the city we went, until finally I could see the end. I burst into a sprint. Wait, that didn’t happen. I took off the poncho, giving it to a spectator, and kept plodding along all the way to the final street before the finish.
I was fine until about two steps before the finish and it all hit me, the immense solitude punctated by the islands of humanity, that I was done, that I’d finished and not quit.
That was by and far the hardest thing I’d ever done. To everyone involved in helping me get there, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I will get better. I know where I made mistakes and what I can do to get faster. For now time to get back to that recovery work….