This was my third time starting and finishing the Arrowhead 135 (2017, 2018). I had some lofty goals that needed to be changed based on the weather but I stuck it out and finished. Really, I’ve never seen the trail in such a perfect condition. It was smooth and hard packed the entire way except for a few snow drifts in the swamps at the end. The wind was at our backs most of the time so that’s good. My sled and gear only weighed 40 pounds this year at the start so that was much better than last year.
And yet, only 13/64 (20.3% finisher rate) foot division competitors finished this year. The reason of course was the weather. It was one of the coldest years and maybe the most consistently cold year. Air temps have been colder at the race before and it was more than -40 both the day before and after the race (we lucked out?). I think the main thing was that it just never warmed up. It was relentlessly cold and it got worse as the race went on. Colder and windier! Even half the bikers quit and you couldn’t have had better trail conditions for them, plus it didn’t get really cold until some of them were done already. No skiers and no kick sled guys finished. It was a tough year all around. I was more surprised how many people actually showed up to begin with. It was pretty clear a week before, that it would be especially cold this year.
My goal for this year was to go for speed. This did get changed once it got cold, but I still went ahead with that plan in the beginning to get as far as I could while the temperatures were still reasonable to limit the time I’d have to be out there in the severe cold. I built a new sled for this year but ended up using my old one after a training run on Sunday morning (-44F) showed the new one wasn’t better in the cold on a hard trail and since it weighed more, I used the old one. Neither sled gave much “run” due to the low temps. Things don’t slide on snow and ice well at all once it gets so cold. Also the surface snow consistency makes a big difference. It pretty much felt like pulling through dry flour but not quite as bad as sand. All I heard the entire first day was how hard the sleds were pulling so I wasn’t the only one. Hills that during my first year at Arrowhead (20F) I could slide down with ease, I couldn’t even move an inch this year.
I’ll now go back to more specifics and a timeline format. I drove up Saturday as usual and picked up my friend Ed at Fortune Bay where he left his car. He’d bring me back to my car at the end like last year. We went straight to gear check-in and got through quickly since we both have done this a few times and had everything laid out in a minute for exam. A graduate student was doing a nutrition study so I grabbed a questionnaire for that as well as my bib and goody bag. We then checked into our hotel, ate, etc. I also did some final packing of my gear bag, drop bag, filled out the nutrition survey, and checked the weather forecast a lot!
The next day I got the car started at -44F, barely, and went on a trial run with my 2 sleds as I stated earlier. I ran near the Gateway checkpoint so I got gas there and checked out the store layout since I couldn’t go in there last year. The lady explained where things would be tomorrow on race day which was helpful. I then went back and turned in my drop bags for Mel George’s and the finish line.
At 4pm was the mandatory meeting and supper. I met a couple more people I knew there. After supper I went back to the hotel room for serious packing, putting on my KT face tape, laid out my clothes after final weather forecast check, and Facetime with family.
The morning of the race I got up just before 5AM. Probably wouldn’t need to be up that soon but that’s when I woke up. I used the coffee maker in the room to heat up my 2L water. I weighed my sled, gear, water, food, etc and it was 39#.
It was supposed to be -20F at the start but it ended up being only -12F. I took off another jacket and got out colder gloves as well. I had already planned on being cold on purpose since I overheated last year. I wore cast stockings on my shoes but that was too much and took them off after 10 miles. Otherwise I had on medium weight Injinji socks, Altra Olympus shoes, 2 pair of pants, 2 shirts, my breathable hooded jacket, fleece hat, and warmer fleece gloves. I was only outside about 2 minutes before the bikers started. Before that I just stayed in my car and took a couple pictures.
I had my clothes pretty much dialed in other than I didn’t need the cast socks. I also quickly changed my fleece hat for a buff. The groomer had been out about half an hour before the race started so everything was packed down nice and smooth. I was kind of close to a few people for an hour and then it was more spread out where I’d only see them as we leapfrogged while stopped for water, food, or whatever.
It was much easier to run this year due to the sled being so much lighter. It still pulled harder than in training due to the cold and snow conditions but it didn’t grind me down to walking right after the turn onto the Arrowhead trail like last year. This year I ran on and off all the way to Gateway. Of course there are people that walk just as fast as my run/walk so it’s not like I was cruising along quickly either.
The trail was so hard and packed that it even has a camber on it similar to a road. I had to occasionally room on the other side of the trail to keep my accessory muscles happy. That’s the first time I’ve experienced that in a winter race!
One thing that was kind of weird this year was that it always seemed to be snowing. While it really only snowed for part of the first afternoon, there were always crystals the size of snowflakes falling down. It’s normal when it’s this cold to have frost particles in the air but this time they were just so much larger than I was used to. I’d have to brush layers of the stuff off my duffle bag every time I stopped. The warmest it got during the first day was just below zero. I was hoping to use my deep freezer thermometer but it kept giving me high readings. I checked it before I left and when I came back with a calibrated digital thermometer and it read accurate. My best guess was that since it was a spring coil type thermometer, that the constant twisting of it back and forth made enough heat to make it read wrong. The things was shaking everywhere while I was moving. When I’d stop for 10 minutes or more, it would show accurate to what volunteers had at check points but once I started off again it would read 5 degrees hotter.
I was eating fairly well the beginning of the race this year. Some things from last year tasted bad this year. Some new things were awesome this year. I knew it would be hard to eat later on in the cold so I tried to maintain some food intake as long as I could. Again the faster I could go now, the less miles to cover in the cold later.
Finally I got to Gateway at 3:45PM, ahead of last year since I could run so much more. Originally I had planned on only 20 minutes here but I took more time since it was already clear that the weather forecasts were getting worse not better for the next 2 days. Basically it meant changing socks and drying out my shoes some due to wearing the cast socks when I didn’t need to in the beginning in the race. I wanted a cheeseburger but they only had a hamburger that ended up being red in the middle. I heard there were chicken tenders at one point which would’ve been good too. Really there are tons of great options there but I’m partial to cheeseburgers. I reloaded on hot water and left at 4:15PM.
It started getting dark soon after Gateway. There was a biker still near me that I was leapfrogging with. It was kind of fun since his headlamp must’ve been at least 400 lumens and lit the trail up pretty good. This makes for awesome shadows. I pretended to be a giant monster roaming through the trees. My shadow was at least 50 feet long. I do this sometimes with the kids at home on the side of the house.
Speaking of lumens, I thought I’d tell what I use. I have a black diamond sprinter headlamp. It maxes out at 125 lumens I think. That’s enough to see down the hill when you’re sliding. Otherwise I turn it down to probably 40-50 lumens the rest of the race. It’s got a nice feature that you just touch the side and it goes to max power and then when you touch it again, it returns to where you had it. Very convenient for the hills. Last year with the full moon I didn’t even need that much light.
I put on my headphones now but had to keep the iPod in my glove so the battery wouldn’t die. I don’t understand how some rechargeable lithium batteries like my headlamp can last in -30F for 2 nights and yet an iPod dies in 15 minutes in -10F. It got to about -15F by 11PM and continued to slowly drop from there until 9AM the next day when it was about -26F. I put my second jacket on at some point after Gateway and a skull cap and fleece hat over that when I got the headlamp out.
The cold valley from last year wasn’t as bad since it was windy this year and the cold air didn’t settle in there very well. It was -31F with the windchill slightly coming from behind versus the -35F last year. I still should’ve put my googles and face cover on though. My hands, feet, and body felt warm and toasty but my nose was getting cold without me knowing it. I should’ve felt it with my fingers to confirm the temp instead of just thinking it felt warm. Anyway once I put on my face cover, my nose felt hot so I knew I was later than I should’ve been. Veteran making a rookie mistake! I have always done a mental check at least every hour to see how things are going. Most of the time it’s much more often, especially in a cold year like this. I’ll obviously be adding a physical touching of the nose to confirm temp from now on.
This is the point in the race that the mental challenge really begins. It’s cold, you’re tired, I hadn’t seen anyone for at least 6 hours. I had only seen snowmobiles once from the race up to this point. The race course itself doesn’t even get hard until after the half way point and since I’ve been on it twice before, I knew well what suckyness was coming. I was able to check my phone again and saw the forecast for Wednesday morning was even worse, now showing -38F at sunrise. Plus a windchill of “doesn’t matter at this point anymore, keep everything covered dumbass!” The high for Tuesday was supposed to be -18F (it never got that hot by the way) which wasn’t great either. I really had to wonder if I wanted to go all the way to Surly checkpoint at 111 miles just to have to quit because I didn’t think I could make the last 23 miles through the swamps in the cold. I thought about this for hours and never really came to any decision.
I really didn’t know if people were quitting the race or not. I never saw any snowmobiles filled with dropped competitors pass by me like I did last year. I had no clue how many people were in front of me either. The snow was so hard, it was difficult to make footprints or for the sleds to make tracks to count how many in front of you. I found out later, people were dropping quickly behind me and a couple in front.
Going across Elephant Lake for the mile going into the wind to Mel George’s sucked as always. The windchill was -39F at this point if you believe the official of 9mph wind. It certainly felt faster than that on the lake but at least it wasn’t that bad in the trees. I showed a biker where to go once I got to land. There weren’t as many markings at this turn as in previous years. In fact most years there was a volunteer there to point the way. With the temp this year, it was understandable for no one to be there. I checked in to the second checkpoint at Mel George’s at 3:15AM which was later than I had hoped. I just always seem to think this section will take less time than it does. I’m also convinced it’s 73 miles and not 72 miles to the checkpoint which accounts for some of that.
I had never used the check-in cabin before so I certainly wasted some time here that I could fix in later years. I ate about 1000 calories of food and tried to organize my clothes and such that I knew I’d change into after sleeping. I charged my watch and headlamp up to make sure they’d make it through the cold to come. I eventually made my way up to the loft to sleep. All the beds were taken. Somehow there were 8 competitors in the cabin but I only counted like 4 bikes. Anyway it was hot enough to not need a blanket or anything. I put in my earbuds and listened to white noise. I was tired enough to drown out the talking and snoring with the white noise and slept for a total of about 50 minutes. It wasn’t great sleep since I was constantly woken up but it’s all I was going to get and certainly better than trying to bivy up in the cold and wasting time with that.
I got up, checked the weather which was about the same and decided to keep going without really thinking about it very much. I had more layers than last year with me. It took me way too long to get out the door. I had my stuff spread out over too many areas. It was so hot in the cabin that I couldn’t really change into my clothes until I was in the breezeway. I went back and forth a bunch of times getting stuff ready and packed and loaded. I did finally leave at 5:45AM. 2.5 hours and not even an hour of sleep. What a waste. Plus my shoes were still by the door and I never got them in a place where they could dry out. I had on 3 pair of pants now, including my windpants. I had 3 shirts on and 2 or 3 jackets (I know by nightfall I had 3 on but I’m not sure when I put that one on). Face mask, goggles, skull hat and fleece hat. I now had on wool Injinji socks and also upgraded to mittens from gloves.
It was slowly still getting colder and windier. The big hills after Mel George’s kept me warm and were steep enough to slide down. I had poles with me this year for the first time. They were a big help on the hills. Not that I made it up them much faster, but I could keep my feet straight instead of pushing off the sides of my feet which prevented me from getting the hip pain I’ve gotten every other year. By sunrise it was -26F and a 13mph wind. That’s -50F windchill although I was protected from most of that wind by the trees and often going with the wind.
This was a pretty lonely section. No snowmobiles at all during the day except one at dusk. I heard one bird and saw a small dead mouse. Otherwise no wildlife at all. The sun stayed out longer than it was supposed to which was nice. It was rare that I wasn’t in a shadow though so it didn’t warm me up much. I never bothered with the iPod (too cold) although it would’ve been nice to listen to some podcasts or something. I pretty much just went into cruise mode and tried to eat and maintain speed. The sled pulled so hard that I couldn’t run the sections I ran last year even though my sled was lighter and I had some sleep. I had to breath in through my mouth and out my nose all the rest of the race to make sure I didn’t make my nose cold again. It was annoying but I eventually got used to it.
I didn’t see things in the trees like last year. I only thought there was something there twice and I knew right away I was wrong. I made a game of guessing what it was in reality before I got there. It guessed wrong both times. It was always a tree that was horizontal with snow on it. One time I thought I saw an orange streak go past. In fact I did, it was a photographer walking behind a sign that I saw after a small bend in the trail. I don’t know where that picture is.
Around mile 96 when I was taking a break, John Storkamp and Ray Sanchez caught up to me. I thought Ray had left before I went to sleep at Mel George since he was packing up stuff as I went up to the loft but he hadn’t. We were kind of together for 10 miles or so when I could no longer see John. I absolutely hate the section after 99 miles. Just non-stop STEEP climbs for 5 miles. Ray and I pretty much went in together to Surly. If not for my nose, I could’ve gone faster after those hills but there really wasn’t much point anymore. I had given up on time long ago due to the cold.
There is a nice downhill to the flats before Surly checkpoint after you turn South East. I couldn’t even tell there was an incline this year. I knew were I was but I kept thinking it couldn’t be right since it didn’t seem at all like I was going down. It’s even steep enough to slide down if it’s 20F. I was pretty bummed when I realized we were down to the bottom land and indeed the downhill was rendered ineffective due to the cold. The wind was behind me now for the rest of the race. In the picture above you can see the cloud around my face. It was hard to see since the headlamp would light it up no matter where you pointed it or how bright it was. You couldn’t hold your breath long enough for it to dissipate either. There was just a constant steam cloud in front of you. It also started to fog up my goggles and they were useless by Surly.
We got in to Surly at 7:10PM which was much later than I wanted but again, time wasn’t of concern anymore, safety was. I ended up staying an hour which didn’t seem that long. I ate some food since I hadn’t had anything for a long time. I dried my shoes over the stove in the teepee and changed socks one more time just in case. The trail at Surly was like a wind tunnel. Taking your glove off for a couple seconds made them cold. I brought in most of my clothes to the teepee to figure out what to put on and what to put in my most accessible areas of my pack (what I call the on deck area) for easy access. I knew there was essentially zero places out of the wind a few miles past Wakemup Hill so things had to be done now if possible. I also put on the cast socks again in case it got down to -40F. It wasn’t supposed to anymore but it’s just easier to put on now. In the end I wouldn’t have needed them on. I also put on the cold avenger mask I bought this year. I had never used it before and wasn’t real keen on not being able to eat and drink with it on but with the cold and wind, it was a better protector than the other face mask I was using. I put on a fourth jacket as well. I hoped I wouldn’t get too hot since this is the jacket that likes to freeze shut and can’t be taken off easy. I put thin running gloves on under my mittens so that I never had to have skin exposed to do more finer detail oriented things like drink or eat or pee.
They shot off some fireworks when people left which was kind of cool. Of course I forgot something so mine went off before I actually left for good. I felt great after the rest and ran pretty much the whole way to Wakemup Hill to get the blood flowing and since I felt good. I couldn’t wear the goggles anymore since they just fogged up like crazy with the cold avenger. My eyes were cold which made me somewhat cold but there wasn’t much to do about it until I figured something out later on. The other thing the cold avenger does is put all the moisture directly at your neck. All my zippers were frozen in ice in minutes. Good thing I wasn’t planning on taking them off until the end of the race.
I was tired but not as bad as last year. I was taking caffeine pills to help stay awake. Really I mostly was just bored. I knew it would be about 8 hours to finish this section and after the fun Wakemup Hill there is still 7 hours left of boredom going slowly uphill. I tried to sing songs that I made up but even after a 10 minute long made up rhyming song, you still had hours left. There were no people at any of the road crossings. The other years there was a car at almost every road crossing. Really the entire race there were very few road crossings with people.
I’d get too hot if I ran, but slightly cold just walking. I figured out it was because the back of my pants all breath and the strong wind behind me were going through them. Also I didn’t have a wind proof hood or goggles anymore so my head was slightly cold. I decided to take the time to put on my snowpants. These are super warm and I had them basically in case I had to just stand still or bivy. But they’re windproof as well. I put them on and my legs were immediately hot. My head was still cool so I took an empty zip lock bag and tore one edge to make it into a 3 sided hat. I put it under my hood and headlamp and it worked great. Within minutes I was overheated and had to slow way down. Like 30 minute mile slow which was just dumb. I decided to just take off the snowpants and deal with the wind. It took a while to cool down but eventually I could walk fast again and had more normal breathing.
Sometimes I’d even have to take the zip lock bag off as well to keep cooler. I’m thinking a thin wind pant and a poncho instead of the 4th jacket would’ve been better. Plus not having to need the cold avenger mask. With about 4 hours left to go I ended up taking the cold avenger mask somewhat off, just keeping it close enough to my face to help warm the air. The other downfall was all the snot I was consuming. The mask somehow made it all run or blow into my mouth. The last hour of the race it was a struggle not to barf from the taste of the snot and having a belly full of it.
I ate some food thinking it would help, I felt this bump on my tongue start forming right after I ate it. I think I froze part of my tongue with the -26F food. Won’t be doing that again.
Anyway it was still getting colder. The wind seemed to die down for a bit but then really took off again more from the West instead of the NW. The official wind speed at Tower was not close to what the trail condition was for wind in my opinion. I was keeping warm enough and could always put back on the snow pants and wrap myself in the sleeping pad on top if I needed to. Really I had to thermoregulate somewhat like last year by taking on and off my mittens (still had the thin gloves on) and hats.
I so wanted to be done. I would look back every once and a while looking for Ray since I knew he would be right behind me. Turns out he made a wrong turn somewhere and went 4 miles off course so he was no where near me. I was miles from anyone in either direction. I slowly started counting down the miles. It was hard to see the trail through the swamps with the snow drifts blowing over it and the giant fog cloud in front of me. I just looked down and followed the couple tire tracks I could see. For hours! I ran occasionally just to change things up. I got out my poles again just to have something for my arms to do.
I thought I saw a UFO. There was this light moving all around crazy in the sky. Turns out I just was moving my head around in the wind and from being tired the fog messed with my perception of what was stationary and what wasn’t.
Finally I got to the last road crossing. There was still more to go but at least my mind would be occupied with the multiple turns and twists to the finish line. Up to now it was just miles of straight lines with an occasional 10 foot jog in the trail. The hill to the finish line was easier with my poles. I was surprised that I didn’t have to go into the tent at the finish line to find someone. They somehow saw me coming or else they are really hardy to stand in a -54F wind chill waiting for hours at a time. I finished at 3:54AM for a time of 44:50 and 5th place. That was very similar to last year which wasn’t too bad. It was -33F air temp. We went in right away. I would’ve liked a photo at the finish line but I couldn’t get my phone up from my chest very easy with the cold avenger having frozen everything. They gave me the Minnesota nice gear check which was the first time I got that one.
I went up to the deserted hospitality lounge. Well, it was deserted other than the volunteers. Volunteers are awesome at this race! So few people were around since so many quit the day before and already went home. I got some food and talked about the sucky last section. I got to pick from a large selection of finisher trophies since not many bikers finished this year. This is where I learned about Ray getting lost and my friend Ed dropping. The next person to come in was almost 4 hours after me so I think they probably got a nap in after I left the room. I was able to check in to my hotel room which is so nice. I love the Fortune Bay Resort. I paid them back by eating every buffet they had until I left Thursday.
I showered, slept for an hour, got up and ate and slept again. The usual. I posted pictures of everything I was wearing when I finished the race. Here they are.
Here are the screen shots of the official NWS sites during the race along the trail. Trail conditions certainly vary from this some. I wish it would record the actual wind chills as well but you just have to calculate that yourself. Overall a very cold year! Maybe next year will be a huge snow year.
This race was certainly the hardest “50k” I’ve done but probably not why you think it’s hard. Sure, the distance was more than 50k since this race is sort of similar to the actual Barkley Marathons. It was 34.1 miles long. The elevation is also nothing to scoff at either with 11,220ft of gain with some portions being extremely steep. No, the real killer for me was the heat. It totally controlled my race and almost ended it.
I had been training for Spartathlon all year with the hopes of getting off the wait-list but I ended up being 11 spots too far down the list to get in. So in August I finally accepted my fate of not getting in. I had been training for heat and mostly roads so I had to quickly switch to getting lots of elevation. Of course 4 weeks isn’t enough hill training but I wasn’t worried too much, I’d be sore but I’d survive. I was doing great with heat training working every hot weekend doing landscaping and running on the hot weekdays similar to my training for Volstate. Then we got a cold spell in MN for 2 weeks the beginning of September and it all went away. The forecast for the race was hot and humid and they were correct!
I’ll step back a little just to mention that this is the first race I’ve ever flown to. It just made sense it being such a long drive and such a short race with no need for many supplies or anything. I flew into Louisville for super cheap and drove the 4 hours from there. The packet pick up was in Coalfield, TN and I’d get there at 5pm. I ended up driving through Rocky Top, TN to get there. The old song about it came flashing back to me even though I hadn’t heard it for over 30 years. If you don’t know it here it is.
That’s the version I always heard although there are others. Unfortunately since I didn’t use any music during the race, it’s also about the only song I had in my head the entire day during the race! If Rocky Top ever was a nice town, it certainly is past it’s prime now. Every store front I saw was closed and most homes were trailers or pre-fab homes similar to parts of northern MN.
Anyway, I finally got to the packet pick up and the man checking names off the list knew my name from following Volstate. That was surprising and kind of cool. The packet had the map which is printed on cloth so it’s waterproof (and washer safe by the way), a booklet about the things in nature that can hurt/kill you in the county, compass, whistle, shirt, bib, Dum Dum sucker, fake Yellow Jacket, maybe some other stuff I forgot. I didn’t stick around the school very long. There was a crowd around Laz and I just let him be since I’ve gotten a selfie with him in the past. I quick updated a few things on my phone since there was WiFi and then left for my hotel in Harriman.
I got something to eat and then got down to business studying the map.
It’s covered up since you’re not supposed to put up photos of the map. I’ll give you a hint though, some race reports are very detailed in the description of the course to the point that if you have a map in front of you, it is very obvious what the course was that year. The race course is changed every year if you didn’t know and you don’t get the map until the day before the race at packet pick up. Some I’m sure got there right at noon so they’d have the most time possible to look it over. I had already studied race reports to figure out what most of the trails would be as some just can’t be changed due to this race having aid stations. This year did surprise me with part of the course going on Fork Mt which I don’t think was ever done in previous years.
I spent probably 3 hours going over everything and looking at certain details on Google Earth. I already had a good description of the Cumberland trail since that is on the Cumberland trail website. Having been on the trails now though I can say that their description in one spot was not what I saw on the trail. I can’t stress enough how helpful Google Earth was. I suspect it will somehow be made illegal next year because of it. Now might be a good place to talk about all the rules there are that most races don’t have.
No GPS, either from a watch or a phone. You can carry a phone by the way but I didn’t since I didn’t want it getting wrecked. I still have an old plain watch with a timer on it so I wore that. I can’t believe how many people absolutely lose their sh*t on Facebook over someone using GPS and posting their track online in years past. 1. This isn’t the real Barkley, 2. All these trails are public other than the power line cuts and a short path from coffin springs to cold gap although I never saw a no trespassing sign on those either, 3. GPS was allowed for a large part of the history of the Barkley Marathons. I honestly don’t know why so many people get bent out of shape, but it’s a rule so I follow it.
No gels. You can put them in a flask though which is what I did.
You need to get your bib punched at several places along the course. The bib already had a few letters on it so I was able to figure out what it would say if you made the Laz cut-off or not. It probably didn’t hurt that I watched Wheel of Fortune with my in-laws the night before.
No poles until after the Laz cut-off. I’ve never used them so it didn’t affect me. I just used sticks the few times it was necessary (and there are times you will want them).
Stay under the power lines on the power line cuts. This one is always broken by people including some of the people in the top 10 unfortunately. It’s tempting to go in the trees as it’s much easier than going through thorns in the sun.
I think that’s all of the them. The other rules are pretty routine, move over for faster runners, no cutting switchbacks, carry a whistle, headlamp after the Laz cut-off, etc.
Don’t worry, I’ll get to the actual race soon. With all the resources available I made a turn/description sheet and laminated it with tape as it was supposed to rain in the afternoon. That took most of the 3 hours I spent looking at the course but because of it I only took my map out once just to confirm something. I figured out some estimates of when I’d get to the aid stations and a finish time of 11 hours.
I got things ready for the race, put Vaseline on my feet since it would be a wet race going through water, set the alarm for 5am and went to bed. I couldn’t sleep very well but got enough.
Race morning went fairly smoothly. I got to the start line parking lot around 6am so I had an hour to put my drop bag in the trailer, talk to some friends, and use the port a potties. They were in very tough shape and I assume Laz just asked for the worst ones possible. Mine didn’t lock and had what I hope was paint all over the walls and door.
35 people didn’t show up which I was surprised by since there is a wait-list to take your place if you can’t make it. 416 of us started off at 7am. It was still kind of dark but light enough to see somewhat. We went on a road for about a mile before hitting the trail and it was light enough by then. I went fairly fast so I wouldn’t be behind a bunch of people going up the hill. A few people passed me as is usual for me going up a hill but I passed some as well. It’s not super easy to pass on the single track trails but not as bad as other races I’ve been too. I planned on it taking a long time to climb the first hill so I was surprised when I got to the top way ahead of schedule. I proceeded to pass a bunch of people going downhill. The trails aren’t very technical really. There are occasionally rocks and boulders at the stream crossings but otherwise very few roots and rocks on the signed trails. Most trails have different colored blazes on the trees so you know which trail you’re on which is nice. Although the trees aren’t very old, they are old enough to be tall and have an open understory which made the scenery quite nice.
I made it to the first aid station in just over 2 hours which was over an hour ahead of what I thought it’d take. The distance for this section came out to the same amount as listed on the map when I measured it on the map later at home. That wouldn’t be the case for every other section after (hint: they were all longer than listed; surprise surprise). I was feeling pretty good and refilled my bladder. This was also the first bib punch.
The next section was 8 miles and the section that some people got lost. Really I didn’t even need my turn sheet since the trail was marked much more than I thought it would be. Even so, I saw someone miss a turn and had to yell at him. The first part of this section was pretty much a continuation of the last section. I tripped once on some unknown obstacle and cut my hand a little and ground my shoulder into the ground. Nothing hurt so on I went.
Eventually you got to a more open area out of the state park where you get your bib punched and then go to Fork Mt. Going down Fork Mt was fast but not as fast as I wanted it to be. It’s basically dirt roads with lots of rocks to pound your feet on. There were plenty of areas of road under water so that slowed things down as well. Finally I got down to a highway and to the church aid station (aid station #2) and another bib punch. I crossed the timing mat in 4:01 in 47th place. This was over an hour faster than what I thought I’d be doing so I was feeling good about that. It was definitely starting to get hot now 86 degrees and dew point of 70 with full sun. I reloaded with water and tried to drink what I though I needed but this is where I started to get behind on fluids. The next 5 mile section (to aid station #4, there was an aid station #3 on the way) was the hardest for me. 3250 feet of elevation gain and overheating.
Next up was the power line cut called Testicle Spectacle. It has a few false summits and goes down in a couple places which sucks as well.
The leaders had made a pretty good path through the thorns and plants. I wore my hat over my ears to help protect them from the thorns brushing by. I also put on my work gloves. Getting sliced on your legs and arm at the same time hurts but at the same time you get used to it. I think the steepness just makes you hate that part even more than the thorns so you ignore them. There is one spot of this hill that was the steepest part of the race. Basically it’s best described as this; Place the tips of your fingers on a wall and stand back as far as you can while still having your fingertips on the wall and your back straight. Maybe move back a couple more inches and that’s what it was like. Nothing like trying to climb dirt like it’s a ladder. Ok, I probably didn’t have my back perfectly straight when I took that measurement but still it was very steep. Luckily there were kind of toe holds carved into it, probably left overs from the mud at the Barkley Marathons this spring. I had a dream about this race the week before where I had to climb a similar slope when it was muddy. I still somehow made it up in my dream.
The only “nature” thing I was worried about for this race was snakes. The friendly guide book in the drop bag said to never put your hand were you couldn’t see it so that you didn’t accidentally get bit. There were certainly times I couldn’t see what I was grabbing going up those hills covered with vegetation.
Of course the only “nature” thing I needed to worry about was the weather. I was getting overheated now and had to take a few 10 second breaks here and there. Usually there was someone ahead of me taking a break as well so it’s not like I could’ve gone even if I wanted to. Finally I reached the top.
What goes up must come down so we kept on following the power line cut down Meth Lab Hill. This hill has a path down it so it was much easier. You could actually run down 90% of it. There are a few super steep spots where you had to slide down. Most people would go on their butt but I just put my hands down and slid on them and my feet. It took more effort but I didn’t have rocks in my crotch the rest of the day either.
At the bottom you have a short run on roads to get to the prison and aid station #3. I was still in 52nd place at this point so not many people passed me going up Testicle Spectacle. I reloaded on water but ended up not getting enough in the end. There was also talk of there being ice at this aid station but I didn’t see any and wasn’t offered any. The people I know that went through at the same time as me never knew about any either so I’m guessing it didn’t show up until later in the day. Ice would’ve completely changed my race! I lost an hour of time due to the heat the rest of the day and ice would’ve changed everything. In fact, I brought my insulated bladder specifically to keep water cold if there was ever ice around. You get what you get I guess.
After the aid station you run into the prison complex and into the prison yard. One of the cool things about this race is getting to go over the prison wall and through the tunnel under the prison.
On the other side of the wall was Jared Campbell punching our bibs. He’s finished the Barkley Marathons 3 times if you didn’t know who he is. It was a nice surprise to see him as I’ve never met him yet. To get to the tunnel you have to go through some shin deep water and then there is also water in the tunnel. Going from full sun to darkness really messed with my head. I basically was running blind. I could hear someone in front of me splashing but couldn’t see anything once we got in about 200 feet or so. I just hoped I wouldn’t trip on anything. It’s 840 feet long so it takes awhile to get through it. Finally it’s blindingly bright again and now the fun really begins.
Rat Jaw is the name of the next power line cut we went up. This hill has a much higher concentration of thorns than the others and it’s taller. There was a sign at the beginning saying it was only .89 miles long but I suspect it’s longer. It’s 1.19 miles long according to Google with 1825 feet of elevation gain. I suppose it’d be even longer if you figured in that you’re climbing a slope instead of a flat surface but it really doesn’t matter, it’s steep and sucky.
Here’s what the beginning looks like.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Widener
Photo Credit: Stephanie Widener
For this beginning part I found a couple sticks and just went up the dirt part until it leveled out a little again. I was hot! The heat index was in the upper 90’s with a temp of 91 and the dew point was still in the 70’s. The sun was also right on us now since it was just after noon. I kind of broke this hill down into 2 sections. The first is mostly straight with slight turns on it, basically just enough so that you can’t ever see the top to where it turns a hard left. The second part is from that hard turn to the top. The first part is .74 miles and 1300 feet of gain. The second is .45 miles and 525 feet of gain. There is great variation on how steep the hill is. A couple very short sections are actually flat or at least flatish, the rest is steep to crazy steep. A lot of it was hands and feet kind of climbing (scrambling). Partially from the slope and the rest due to overheating.
Almost immediately after the “fun” beginning to Rat Jaw my face was tingling and I could see stars every once and a while. I was breathing heavy constantly. There were some more steep parts we’d go up and just hope there was something to sit on or for the ground to flatten out a little so you could stop to rest. Stopping while on the steepest parts took almost as much energy as just continuing on. I basically had to pull myself up by grabbing thorn canes as they were the only plants that could support the weight of being pulled. I was very glad I had gloves on!
About 2/3rds of the way up the first part there is a old road cut and shade! I laid down for 15 minutes to cool down and drank everything I had. There were medics at that location and I must’ve not looked too bad off since they didn’t pull me off the mountain at least. All hopes of a good race time were gone. I knew I had plenty of time to make the cut-offs so I just stayed and tried to cool down.
Finally I could breath somewhat normal but my face tingling never did go away until after I reached the top. I had been eating pretty well and actually drinking a lot with adequate salt intake. I drank 30 ounces of fluids every hour this race and I was still sweating, but it still wasn’t enough. I’m guessing 40 people passed me going up Rat Jaw. My friend Ed caught up to me and didn’t sugar coat the suckiness that was still ahead after that road cut.
One foot at a time is all I could think about. I couldn’t even get that stupid Rocky Top song back into my head, even though it had been there all day. Anything to take my mind off the heat would’ve been great. Thorns did nothing to distract me from the sun beating down on me. Everyone was encouraging each other but it just seemed to register to me as the muffled sounds of Charlie Brown’s teacher. I was so hot and almost felt claustrophobic not being able to see anything due to the tall vegetation and steepness. My face was tingling. I was worried about passing out. In short I was feeling pretty crappy. There’s a reason you put a puppy halfway on a staircase to make it climb stairs; going down something that steep seems just as bad as continuing up.
So I continued up.
Going down and quitting would hurt just as much now and certainly much more later. It seemed crazy steep the entire way from the road cut until the hard turn left. I made the turn.
Then it seemed to get easier.
It is indeed less steep overall and it seemed a more consistent slope. Really though I think all the water I drank started to get absorbed and I was just feeling better. The only time I stopped on this section was because I got behind a group of about 10 people that would stop occasionally. There is also a rock cliff you have to go around into the trees a little to get to this crack through and up it.
As you can see from the photo, the vegetation was quite high. You pretty much can’t see where you’re going unless you’re really tall. Also this last section was almost entirely thorns. My shirt got torn enough that I threw it away once I got home. I almost tripped a few times too since they’d wrap around your leg somehow. My deepest cuts were from these on the back of my legs. I think I just kept saying “ow” a bunch of times. Not a very positive mantra I guess but it got me through it. And I was just feeling so much better. I know with cooler temps, I could’ve climbed much quicker. I think it took me around 90 minutes to climb it and it should’ve been just an hour.
Those photos are taken just as you take the last step onto the road that’s at the top of the hill (what kind of race director doesn’t use the road for the course instead?) There is an old fire tower that you need to climb up and get your bib punched again. The view was quite nice and you could actually feel a slight breeze. You had to follow the road down a short distance to the aid station where I got some water but I should’ve taken more. I thought my overheating issue was fixed since I was feeling better. Nope!
The next section was 4 miles all downhill! And it was a nice and easy downhill and easily my favorite part of the course.
I passed the majority of the people who passed me going up Rat Jaw which was nice. But as I got down lower and lower I could feel the temperature going up and up. Also it just seemed more humid, probably because it would rain in a couple hours. I got to aid station #5 which is the decision point and where Laz punches your bib. The drop bags are right before you get there so I re-lubed my feet and put on dry socks since they were still wet from the tunnel. I got some more food and drank a breakfast shake I put in there as well. I also got my headlamp which was required to continue. I was hoping all the calories and fluids would help on the last big hill and 9.5 miles. Finally I crossed the timing mat for my punch at 8 hours race time. The cut-off is 9.5 hours at this spot. If you are over that then you just run the road back to the finish line for a “marathon” finish instead of doing the last 9.5 miles and hills. I was now only 20 minutes ahead of where I thought I’d be. The downside is that there was a lot more hills than I thought left and the distance was further than I thought it would be. I was now in 66th place which actually surprises me, I suspect there were people taking longer with their drop bags than I did so they just hadn’t crossed the timing mat yet.
The rest of the race was just me going painfully slow up the trail that really wasn’t all that steep but I just couldn’t cool down. There were a couple areas where it went down and I wasn’t expecting multiple peaks (I didn’t study that section of the course enough I guess) so that was a spirit killer. There was one point that people from up above me warned of a yellow jacket nest just off the trail. Someone was passing me just as we got to it so we smartly went around and didn’t get stung. The people we warned later just tried to run past it – they got stung. The hill tops in this area were quite pretty. I could tell that time was just slipping away from me but there was really nothing I could do, I didn’t want to get to the point of having my face go numb again and I never seemed to get an energy boost from the food I ate. Finally there was a sharp turn where I knew it would be flat to downhill the rest of the way to the finish line.
The last aid station and bib punch was at the point where it would be all downhill. It had started to rain and thunder now as well. I welcomed the rain hoping it would cool me off, it didn’t. The air didn’t get any colder at all. It basically just made the rocks slippery and the trail slightly muddy. Finally I made it to the last flat part of the trail and then the road back to the finish line. I wish I could say I ran the entire road in but I didn’t. I finished in 11:17 for 78th place. Of the 416 that started, 84 didn’t finish, 127 had to settle for the marathon and 205 finished the 50k.
I just laid on the ground for 20 minutes drinking ICE COLD water and trying to cool down. Awesome! My quads hurt some since I didn’t get that much hill training in. It basically was like running a 50 miler instead of a 50k as far as how it felt and how long it took. There was food at the finish line so I got that and ran into some friends from Volstate that I talked to for awhile.
I had to get back to Louisville for my plane the next morning so I didn’t stick around too long and drove away. The hotel I stayed at was a complete dump but I didn’t care enough to get a different room. I basically just showered, packed, slept for 4 hours, and left.
The scratches on my legs and arms got more visible as time went on. They started itching a few days later as the scabs were ready to come off. I never got any poison ivy, or poison oak either. I don’t feel left out at all though not seeing a snake, getting stung, getting chiggers, or poison ivy. I much prefer avoiding all those things.
2 days later.
All in all I’m glad I ran this race. I may go back again to see what I can do in better weather and the course always changes anyway. There are lots of other great races that time of year as well though, so we’ll see.
“I’m never doing that unsupported again!” I said as I crossed the finish line just a few days ago. Do I still think that? Probably, but I’m still tired. Let’s go back a bit first. Here is last year’s race report for more details on the race itself, etc. Ken the race director came up with the new category of this race called unsupported last year. You have to do the race once before you’re allowed to try it unsupported and with good reason. While it doesn’t seem like it would add that much more difficulty to an already difficult race, it does. Since I finished last year, I wanted to try unsupported this year.
There aren’t really any unsupported rules written down in one place so I’ll summarize them as they currently are. Basically all the rules are the same as the supported race except you can’t get ANY support from the race, the race volunteers, businesses at the checkpoints, in addition to outsiders that no one in the race can get aid from. That means you don’t get to warm up at the 3 checkpoints, you don’t get any water or food at them either. You are allowed to use garbage cans to throw away trash. You can use a porta-potty if it’s outside. You can use a fire if you find one along the way or make your own with wood you collect yourself. You can receive aid from other racers as long as it doesn’t involve food or water. That last one I’m not sure I totally agree with. Any aid seems like it shouldn’t be allowed but that is also so against everything that ultrarunners believe in so I’m fine with it.
So what does all this mean for how I prepared for this year’s race? Well to start with I got a white gas stove since I’d have to melt snow at some point during the race and it would take forever with the Esbit tab stove I had. I heard from the unsupported runners last year that melting snow took forever for them. Also white gas works at extreme cold. On a side note (rant) I’m so sick of people claiming those butane/propane tank stoves work in the winter. You can’t change the laws of physics people. Just because you went winter camping once and your canister stove worked (because the tank was kept warm and it was 0 degrees out) doesn’t mean crap when it’s -35 and your tank got cold because your “foolproof” idea to keep it warm didn’t work. Having a canister stove will pass inspection for the race but if you plan on going unsupported get a white gas stove.
I grew out a 5 week beard which I’ve never done. Last year was only like 10 days and not enough. I also got a better bivy. I got a new -20 sleeping bag because the one I had was old and likely not as warm as it should be. Based on my testing, I was right, the old one didn’t keep me as warm as the new one. I wish I could afford a -40 bag, I’ll keep looking for a cheaper one. I got down booties to wear in the sleeping bag. I also got lightweight racing snowshoes that I saw someone with last year.
I changed my water carrying plan since my old method of a gallon jug in a cooler wouldn’t cut it this year. I purchased a bunch of different thermoses and tested them outside. I decided on a half gallon thermos from Walmart that worked better than most expensive ones. I already had a 54 oz thermos that tested great as well. I then took a 2L pop bottle and insulated it with bubble wrap. I planned on using that last one to get me to Gateway (the first checkpoint) and then toss it in the garbage. The other ones kept water warm for over a day in my tests. The reason for carrying so much water from the beginning was to limit the amount of snow I would have to melt. I expected I would make it close to Surly (3rd checkpoint) before I’d have to melt snow and I could use the fire there. Maybe I’d even make it further if I could cut the hot water with snow along the way.
All together this added 10 pounds of gear to my sled I didn’t have last year. 10 pounds! Ugh. My sled, gear, and required calories weighed 37# race morning. Plus 12# water and 5# food. That adds up to 54# I was dragging behind me at the start and it would slowly get less as I went on. I’ll add that my wife made the statement “It’s your own stupid fault for going unsupported.” I was hoping for more of a response like “wow, you’re so strong, you can do it!”
The other thing I expected going unsupported would do was improve my finish time. Yes improve. Since you can’t stop at a checkpoint, you can’t stay there nice and warm longer than you should either. I was hoping for 43 hours instead of 46 hours. That was of course assuming conditions were similar to last year.
I guess I’ll add one more thing about this race in general whether unsupported or not. The words Hope, Should, Usually, Worked Before are not helpful. Thinking with those words will end your race. Use words like Worst Case, Over-pack, and most importantly Contingency!
So if you’re not bored by now, I’ll get on with the race itself.
I stayed at the Voyager Motel this year right next to the start line. A friend left his car at the finish line and I drove him back to the start line. That way he’d drive me back after the race to get my car and the gear he left there. I ended up going to Canada this year since it’s so close and I wanted Poutine. There was a restaurant that served it there that google said was open. After paying the $7 to go across the bridge to Canada I found out it closed in December. So back I went to the USA.
The race starts at 7am Monday morning for the bikers, here’s how it started.
We started at 7:06 with “release the hounds!” I still love that.
It was -11 at the start and only forecast to get to about zero in the afternoon. I wore my wind shorts, tights, and wind pants. I had on my wool Injinji socks, Altra Olympus shoes and cast stockings on my feet. I wore 2 compression shirts, my hooded jacket and wind jacket. A fleece hat as well as fleece thinsulate gloves. The sled pulled OK but it was obviously heavier than last year. Also since it was colder the snow wasn’t as quick either. I still ran to the turn onto the Arrowhead trail and a little further but didn’t run all the way to Hwy 53 like last year.
I talked to Pam Reed for a bit in the beginning but then didn’t really talk to anyone for more than a minute or so the rest of the race. I just didn’t match up with anyone’s speed and since I was closer to the front of the pack this year it was just thinner in general anyway. John Storkamp passed me a little later in the race than last year, still walking way faster than I can.
It never really seemed to warm up at all. It was cloudy as well. The main issue I was having was that I wore too much in the beginning and didn’t take things off soon enough so I got my second shirt layer and jacket somewhat damp. I took off my hat and put on a buff. I took off both jackets to start to dry out my shirts. It was working and I was keeping warm for the most part. I was mostly walking already by this point but that was fine, I was still keeping overall pace well since I was walking faster than last year. I had trained a fair amount trying to get my walking speed up.
I got to Hwy 53 around the same time as last year. There is phone service here so I texted my wife this good looking photo to let her know what she was missing.At this point I was starting to get a little colder and the shirt was mostly dried out now. I put on my hooded jacket which was partly frozen from the sweat earlier. It thawed out quickly but didn’t make me much warmer. The whole reason I did all of this was to make sure it would be dry by the night. It was supposed to get to at least -15 at night. The problem was they kept changing the forecast to be colder and colder. The clouds started to leave about 3pm so I was expecting at least -20 below in spots. Therefore I knew I’d need all my jackets dry for this first night. I did have an extra dry shirt but I might need that too later on.
My hands started to get cold as a result of all of this unfortunately. At one point after the turn south after shelter #2 I got real cold. In fact my hands were colder than at any other point of the race. It took forever to get my bag opened to get another jacket and warmer, dry gloves on. I was so mad at myself for letting my hands get that cold. I seriously just about had to call it quits. It took me 2 minutes just to snap my running vest back on. So many people seemed to pass me through all this. This is all at about zero degrees remember and I had to go through much colder later. It seemed so stupid at the time to risk my whole race just to dry out some shirts and jackets. Of course later I would thank myself over and over again for doing just that.
A trail groomer went by I think around this time. He only went on one side of the trail but the path he took went back and forth so I kept having to move around to stay out of the soft snow he made. I was bummed to see one so soon as they make the trail much harder to traverse . This year was different though. Because it was so cold, the path he made starting firming up in just an hour. By 2 hours it was nice and hard and smooth. It ended up being better running on the path he made than anywhere else.
I still hadn’t bothered to try to play my iPod. The battery would die quickly in this kind of cold and honestly for the next 20 hours or so I had much on my mind. You’d think you’d get bored hiking through the woods for 2 days with nothing to listen to or people to talk to. I can tell you there was no chance for that this race. All I could think about was how to stay warm and survive the night to come. What could I do now so that I didn’t have to do it later when it was colder? Should I eat now or later? When will I sleep? And back to how will I keep warm? The only thing I didn’t have to worry about was water. My pop bottle was more than enough to get to Gateway and it stayed warmer than I though it would. The thermoses still had water over 160 degrees so I knew I wouldn’t have to melt snow until it warmed up the second day. The first place unsupported runner wouldn’t be so lucky and got frostbite on all his fingers melting snow when it was -30.
Now I make it seem like you could die out there and of course you could, but really we do have emergency gear to get into and keep warm while waiting for a rescue if it came to that. Most of us have been in this kind of cold before as well. There are also snowmobiles going by every once and a while to check on you. I would never count on them to be there when you need them though and planned accordingly.
I got to Gateway at 4 pm; the same as last year. I had to open the door to the store to yell in, “#83 unsupported”. Last year they were outside to get our numbers, but it was also in the 20’s last year. On the way out the moon started to rise as the sun was setting.
I threw away the 2L pop bottle and my cast stockings as they were getting full of snow. I had been almost over-hydrated to this point since I didn’t plan on wasting any of the water I had in that 2L bottle before it froze so I drank more than I needed to. Now I would go into my normal water use mode. Since it was cold I only filled my water bottle part way most of the time and just had to stop to fill it more often. In fact I stopped much more often this year than last due to all the water, food, and clothing stops.
The temperatures started dropping fast once the sun went down. I texted my wife and shut my phone off. I told her I’d try to message at MelGeorges but that never happened since it was so cold by the time I got there. I didn’t have a thermometer but it is somewhat easy to tell the temp based on past experiences. I was nice and warm at this point though. I had got another jacket on when I got my headlamp out and put a fleece hat on again instead of the buff.
The ice beard was back big time now. I was always breathing through my nose to conserve moisture and heat. At times I would have snotcicles almost 2 inches long. Gross and awesome at the same time. I’d run to get my hands nice and hot and then break/melt them off with my fingers so I could open my mouth fully and open my nostrils again. Then I’d warm my fingers back up in a minute or two. At one point in the cold night my tongue froze to a snotcicle! It melted off in a couple seconds but seriously it was stuck on it. This was probably around -20 at the time. I made sure to not let them get that big after that point.
I also put on my goggles as I was tired of my eyes freezing shut. They make such a big difference in keeping my face warm. I think I was the only person who wore goggles on foot and I’m not really sure why. As long as you don’t mouth breath all the time they won’t fog up if you wait until you’re cold to put them on. It’s weird how much heat you lose from your eyes and upper face.
I was expecting to get to MelGeorges around 3am if I didn’t stop before I got there. This section is still mostly flat with areas of small hills. I wasn’t as tired and run down as I was last year. The full moon was awesome. I never saw the northern lights and never heard any wolves either.
It was around -20 below by 9pm but at least there wasn’t any wind. That’s both a blessing and a curse really. Not having wind makes it not seem as bad as long as you can keep your gloves on and never touch anything. But still air like that also allows the coldest air to settle in spots making it much much colder than the official temps. I’ve tested things to -20 but it just doesn’t get much colder than that in southern MN so beyond that it was unknown other than what others have said.
I wasn’t tired at shelter #4 which was easier to see this year with the full moon. I was kind of tired at #5 but there were already people sleeping there and I was starting to think I should try to stay awake until it warmed up the next day so I could sleep better.
It was at least -25 by now and still getting colder. There is about a 2 mile section along lakes/swamps before the turnoff for MelGeorges that was absolutely brutal! It was at least -35 in that area (it was officially -27 in Tower)! I’ve never been in cold like that in my life. The closest we got growing up was I think -34 the year that Tower got to -60. I was at this time in the race playing leap frog with I think Ladislaus. I didn’t take the time to talk really. We would stop to put something warmer on and the other would pass. I now had 3 jackets on and put on a second and third hat. I had on my warmest gloves. All there was left to put on was another pair of pants that would require taking off my shoes and outer layer of pants to put on. That wasn’t going to happen in this cold. I also had another shirt to put on but again that would require taking things off first. I had more hats but really how many can you put on at once? I was keeping everything warm including feet, hands, nose but just barely. The next step for me would be to start stuffing everything else I had left in my bag into my jackets and pants to add insulation. I also knew I could’ve put a couple pairs of thin gloves on under the thick ones as well.
There were still 4 more hours that it could get colder before it got warmer. I really started to wonder if my race as unsupported would end at MelGeorges. I was confident I could make it there without freezing to death as it would warm up once I got out of the swamps, or at least it wouldn’t be colder up there. But I was worried what would happen if it got to -40 or -45 soon after I left MelGeorges. This is where being supported in this race makes it so much easier. I’d have a nice warm place to sleep while I waited out the cold weather or at the very least a safe space to remove my outer layers so I could add more inner layers. I decided I’d look for a place to bivy after the turnoff to MelGeorges. The plan was after I woke up, I’d have an hour or more to warm up before I got to the checkpoint. If I wasn’t warm yet, then I’d go supported and go inside. This would prevent me having to turn back if it got too cold after the checkpoint.
It did get warmer as we left the swamps and made the turn. In fact I was going to have to start taking things off. I don’t know if it really got that much warmer or if the climbing up just got the blood flowing better. Maybe there was a slight wind I didn’t appreciate until it went away with the turn, I don’t know. Regardless, I felt pretty good about bivying up now. It was about 1:30am. I packed some snow down in an area and even took my gloves off to finish putting it up with no issues (again if it was windy that wouldn’t have worked). I needed them off to put the poles on the bivy. Looking back I won’t use the poles again. Not worth the weight, effort, and risk with taking gloves off. I had everything (sleeping pad, sleeping bag, booties, bag for shoes) already in my bivy so all I had to do was roll it out and get in. While I was warm putting it up and getting in, the second I lay down I started shivering. The snow was cradling in against the bivy and essentially touching the sides of the sleeping bag. While snow may be an insulator when you’re not touching it, it conducts a ton of heat away from you when you touch it. I will never make the mistake of bivying in snow again.
I tried to sleep for about 20 minutes and maybe did for 5 between shivering spells. I said forget it and got up and immediately felt warmer. Warm enough to change my socks even. I put some zinc oxide powder on knowing that with the warmer temps and snow that would start within 12 hours I’d get trench foot if I didn’t do it now. I also usually put Vaseline on but that was much more challenging in the super cold. It was almost as hard as a rock and I don’t know if I ever did get it to melt enough to cover everything. I put a new pair of wool Injinji socks on again as it’d still be cold for some time. Then I packed everything back up. I spent about an hour of down time doing all this for maybe 5 minutes of sleep I think.
I got back to moving and it took no time at all to warm up. Just standing up made me warmer it seemed. It was about 4.5 miles to get to MelGeorges but it seemed to take even longer. There were some hills which I almost welcomed just to make more heat. I got there at 4:12am which was about on schedule due to the bivying time. I again had to yell in the door, “#83 unsupported”. I think everyone was a little groggy and it could be I wasn’t saying things right either but I had to say it like 3 times to get a response. Someone then did come outside just to confirm who I was.
The next section is the longest and most difficult section. The only good thing is I’d get to do a large part of it in daylight. I still had a few hours till sunrise though. The wind would be picking up as well soon from the South which was the direction I’d be heading. I got to do those big fun hills in the dark this year! I forgot to mention one sled change I did this year was to add runners to the bottom of my sled. They made a huge difference in control on the downhills. I think I might have gotten them just slightly off center as I always wanted to pull slightly left. Either way it was worth the extra weight to not go crashing into the banks or go backwards down the hill.
So throughout all this bitter cold the sled seemed to pull about the same as it had earlier in the day. It never acted like the Paris sled at Tuscobia 2 years ago where it pulled like it was in gravel when it got around -20. The UHMW-PE just works a lot better in the cold than the linear-PE of the Paris sled. Another reason to use it besides all the longevity and durability issues. Once it finally got up to above 10 degrees the second day, it really started to move well and I could get a long run at the bottom of hills for once. Then of course the new snow ruined all that but that’s getting ahead of myself.
The sun came up in glorious fashion (too cold to get my phone out to take a picture) as there were still no clouds and the wind came with it. Just 5mph at first, then 10, 15, and close to 20 by Tuesday evening. I kept the goggles on and put a fleece band over my nose when I needed it. I could run some on the flat sections and was making decent time. Food was starting to no longer taste good or interest me. I so wanted real food but all I had was junk and that’s all that won’t turn to a brick in this kind of cold. My mouth was getting damaged from eating all the frozen food and scratching the sides of it.
I tried to take off my outside puffy jacket that I just got this year and realized the zipper had froze from my breath. I took out a chemical hand warmer (the only one I used) and got it going inside my mitten. I then took it out and placed it on the zipper to melt a 2 inch section and zip it down. Then back in the mitten to warm up again, melt 2 more inches, rinse and repeat. Finally I had it down enough to get it the rest of the way.
This is also when I started listening to my iPod. I just kept it in my glove to keep it warm. It helped some with motivation.
I was constantly seeing things that weren’t there during the second day. Rocks that I was convinced was a shelter from a distance. I saw my dog once. I saw people walking through the trees. The snow and moving trees played tricks on me constantly. I didn’t see things at night which seemed weird since I usually see things like that at night. I know other people saw these things too so it couldn’t have just been the exhaustion.
One thing I know was real was the wolf poop. I saw some twice the second day but they were already frozen so not that fresh. I almost wanted to take some to examine later. My kids would love it more than be grossed out by it. Plus there was the extra excitement factor someone might have at gear check at the finish line. Would they think it was mine? Regardless I wasn’t going to dig through my gear to find an empty bag and haul around even a couple ounces more weight than I needed to.
I figured I would need more water and decided to melt snow before the 3rd checkpoint. I decided to go to shelter #8 which is around 98 miles into the race and a few hours away from where I was at the time. The snow then started around noon. It came hard and fast. With the wind it was hard to see at the tops of hills sometimes. I finally made the shelter and it was facing the wind. It still was nice though and the wind didn’t go through it. It had a bench in it as well. I got the stove going with a match since a lighter didn’t work in the cold. It took forever to collect the snow to make 2L of water. The 2 inches of new snow was fresh and pure but almost all air. I didn’t dare take any snow below it since this was a shelter and we all know what guys do around shelters.
Once I got my water melted and it was heating up, I changed my socks again. It was slightly easier to put the Vaseline on this time. I put thinner socks on this time as it was warmer now. I think it took around 45 minutes for all of this. The water was boiling pretty fast and I didn’t have to wait around for it since I had a list of things to do on this stop.
Right after this shelter is the dangerous hills I went down in the dark last year. I handled them much better this year. I started seeing bikers at this point. They must have slept at MelGeorges for a while and were out again. Snow really makes it hard for them so they weren’t much faster than me. The hills are steep and annoying for the next 8 miles or so. Never ending really. Plus with the new snow I couldn’t even go down all but the steepest hills with no run at the end. I had already thrown away all the extra food I wouldn’t eat at shelter #7 to help drop weight but it was still heavy.
A couple women on bikes went with me for most of this section. I must’ve looked pretty tired by this point. I think they felt bad for me. I had to decline all their offers of help of food since I was unsupported and really nothing sounded good other than hot pizza which was of course not going to happen.
Finally as it was just starting to get dark we got to the turn towards Surly. It’s all downhill or flat from there. The wind was really strong now when exposed. It actually felt good. It dried my feet out some and cooled me off. I finally got to Surly at 6:30pm slightly ahead of schedule actually since I had already got my water done. I walked past and called out, “#83 unsupported”. I soon heard a response from a woman, “we support you!” I laughed pretty hard at that one. For some reason they don’t have me leaving until 7:40 but I never even stopped.
I should have though. I was so tired. It would’ve been much better to just sleep on my sled for 30-60 minutes right away to rejuvenate. Instead I kept going. Up and down Wakemup hill which was fun going down but harder going up. In fact I ended up getting a huge cramp in my whole right hip/butt area after that climb. It lasted for 2 hours and I could barely walk. It hurt so bad! Stretching did nothing. Shoving my hand against it between my harness and butt seemed to help. Finally I could walk somewhat pain free but I couldn’t push it for speed or run because it would cramp right back up.
I had done this section in 7 hours last year but that clearly wouldn’t happen unless I could run to make up the lost time. About 5 hours into this section I started losing time. I was falling asleep standing up. I was confident I was still going in the right direction based on foot prints but no clue how fast or how far I’d gone. My watch had died and the spare battery pack was basically froze. My iPod had also died so I had nothing to help keep me awake. I started just repeating the mantra, “walk fast, walk fast”, so I’d remember what I was doing.
Again I seemed to lose time and suddenly the 2 women on bikes who had gone the last section with me were there. They had slept at Surly and were moving again. They said the closest person to me was a ways back which was nice to hear as I was moving so slow. I decided I had to try to sleep so I laid on my pack and set my phone alarm for 15 minutes. I woke up shivering in 10 minutes. I could actually run now! I did for probably a mile and then had to walk again but I was definitely more awake now.
I crossed a road so I finally knew where I was. I had 8.5 miles to go. More than I wanted but at least I knew now. I still had no clue how fast I was moving. I tried hard and I felt like I was going 16 minute miles. Turns out they were more like 20. The wind had died down and I was getting hot. I drank the last of my water but didn’t take anything off. I just would take my hat and gloves off for periods of time.
Finally the turn to the casino! I tried hard to run but I couldn’t. The constant uphill for the last 20 miles wore me out and now it was even steeper to the finish. I saw the snow fences and looked behind, still no one. I enjoyed the last quarter mile to the finish. I finished at 3:09am for a time of 44:03. I had hoped for 42:30 but it was still better than last year! I took pictures at the finish and then saw the next runner coming up the hill. I had barely got there before him.
I had a gear check since I had finished pretty high up. I didn’t know exactly where I finished. I think they told me 6th at the finish line. I was so stinking tired though so who knows. It was a quick check which I appreciated since I just wanted to sit down. I don’t mind the gear check, I just wish I could sit down somewhere. They brought me up to the hospitality room and I found out I was 2nd place unsupported! I was surprised. I knew a couple of the guys who did it last year were doing it again and they were ahead of me the whole time. I passed one somewhere around Surly or after. The guy right behind me was unsupported as well.
I got food and luckily they let me in my room early so I could shower, etc right away. This was the first time in my life I had ever stayed awake for 48 hours. I’ve done 38-40 hours many times but many of those weren’t while pulling a frickin’ sled in the woods. I guess it was good training for a possible future race.
I slept 3 hours and found out my friend had dropped the day before. So I was able to get my car that morning yet and my suitcase, etc. The rest of the day was spent swapping stories with everyone who finished or didn’t, eating, and limping slowly around. I was in love with elevators that day.
I left for home Thursday and was so happy to see my family again.
I’m glad I did this unsupported and finished it in decent health. It was easily the hardest non-stop challenge I’ve ever done. It’s hard to call it a multi-day since I never slept. Certainly Volstate is longer but this is so much more isolating. There is no where to hide from the weather when unsupported. Having a warm place to go to change clothes, get food, sleep, etc is such a luxury really.
Arrowhead is hard. Doing it unsupported is harder on so many levels. I suppose there is always the option of doing the double arrowhead if I really want to make things hard on myself.
38 runners finished out of 64 that started (59%) which is pretty good considering the conditions. Official results are here.
“Always remember our goal is Greece. Don’t mess up and I’ll try my best to get us there.” That was the final remark in the crew notes to my wife for this race.
So let’s get the main details out of the way. This is a 100 mile race in extreme southern Illinois (Land of Lincoln!) on an old railroad bed. It isn’t paved so it is still technically a trail but because it’s so flat and smooth, it is also a certified course for distance. The course is an out and back from a central location; You end up doing a Southern and Northern out and back twice for the 100 mile. It’s in November so the temperatures are near ideal and little chance for rain in November. Basically it was designed for fast times and breaking records. Despite being flat, it is quite pretty. There’s a 543 foot long tunnel you go through 4 times, and lots of trestles. Also, with 566 total starters there are plenty of chances to talk to other people. I’ll detail the race results later.
This race required a 10+ hour drive from MN to get there. That’s a long way for a race but the entire purpose was to get under 21 hours to qualify for a future race. I further wanted to get under 20 hours so that was my goal. It wasn’t just because under 20 hours seems cooler than under 21, but the race I was qualifying for has reduced their time cutoff in the past and I wanted to be under what I thought they might change it to. While this race would be easy to do without a crew since it’s an out and back past the same drop bags multiple times, I brought my awesome wife to crew once again. I had all of about 15 minutes of down time changing clothes, peeing, getting food and drink because of her. The majority of aid stations I wouldn’t even stop as she’d just hand me water and gels on the move. Not having her would’ve added 30 minutes to my time.
The drive was long and filled with “Land of Lincoln” signs all through Illinois which induced many inside jokes and voices. We got to the race bib pickup and supper before they closed. It is a good spaghetti supper with awesome desserts! They also had sweet tea so you now you were in way Southern Illinois. We stayed in a town to the North since Vienna doesn’t have much for hotel rooms. It seemed like we had to drive uphill for a long ways which made me wonder what the climb to tunnel hill would be like on the course.
I got up at 4am for a 7am start. The temperature was 28 degrees and zero wind so I had to start with a thermal long sleeve shirt, gloves and buff knowing I’d have to change after a couple hours when it warmed up. Shorts were still in order though. I saw runners wearing full jackets and long pants the entire race, I suspect they lived somewhere warmer.
There is a small warm building there at the start line you could go in and a good amount of porta-potties. Even though the course is certified for distance they had us do this loop around the parking lot at the start. I don’t know if this was required for the distance or just extra we ran. With there also being a 50 mile race, it seemed odd since we never ran this loop a second time for the 100 mile distance.
I started somewhat up front, trying to leave room for fast 50 milers. The race is chip timed but not from the starting line so your start time is gun time. I wasn’t going to start 5 minutes in the hole lining up in the back, plus I thought a sub 20 hour time should be somewhat in the front. Again, I really needed under 21 hours which is why I was so concerned with a few minutes here and a few seconds there, it really could make the difference.
I planned a slow degradation in my speed for the race with some adjustments for the incline and decline of tunnel hill. Basically I started at a 9:10 pace and would finish with a 13:20 going downhill to the finish line. I had been using Sword drink all year in preparation for this race since it would be served here and also I wanted to try something with fructose in it. I’ve liked it so far this year. BUT… I really don’t like the Orange flavor. So sure enough, that’s all they had at the race. Ugh! I could only stomach it for the first 30 miles or so and then I was going to drink my limited supply of berry flavor I brought. In the end though I only drank water the remainder of the race.
I’ll quickly state that while I’m confident the race course is indeed 100 miles (plus whatever fudge factor they always add for certified courses) I don’t agree with the distances between different aid stations. Not a huge deal if you have a GPS watch but if you’re going with just a watch, you’ll be wondering why some sections are going faster/slower than you thought. Also it’s hard to know what part of the aid station they are measuring from. Often the timing mat isn’t at all near the aid station tent and Karnak and Tunnel Hill are very long areas.
My wife made it to the first aid station Heron Pond and I just did a Sword swap. Next up was Karnak and here I changed into a T-shirt as it was above 40 now and still zero wind on the trail at least. I had been talking to people here and there up to this point. I had listened to a loud conversation about relationships by a group of women behind me for about 20 minutes. Finally I ran with a woman named Abby going for sub 20 as well. We stuck together for an hour or so but she ended up dropping to the 50 mile distance I found out later.
From Karnak to the Southern turn-around is almost 2.6 miles according to my watch and Google Earth and not the 2.4 miles listed. To compensate for this Karnak to Heron Pond and Heron Pond to Vienna are both shorter than listed but mostly the Karnak to Heron Pond is shorter. I’m going from tent to tent for measurements.
Abby and I got to the turnaround which has a timing mat but isn’t updated to the live results website as far as I can tell. I assume it is there to make sure you didn’t cheat. Soon after the turn I saw a friend of mine that I knew was also going for a qualifying time. I had previously told her I’d slap her butt if she wasn’t keeping up so I started motioning as to get her back side as she passed me. Of course I wasn’t really going to slap her, but in the process I scared the crap out of the woman running in front of her. I yelled “sorry” over my back and hope she heard me.
So 14 miles down and a bunch more to go. The trail is tree lined the entire way and very pretty, especially on the North section. I went into cruise mode. Eating gels and some ham and cheese sandwiches they had at aid stations, and Sword. Still doing under 10 minute miles and banking some time. I was up 10 minutes by the time I finished the first Southern loop and got to Vienna.
Somewhere around 20 miles I think.
The photos are from somewhere around mile 20 I think.
I got my music out now as people were just kind of following their own game plan. There is an aid station called Shelby Road just under 3 miles from Vienna going North. I just got some more gels and Sword from my wife. This is were I typically slow down in an ultra. My stomach gets acidy, it usually is hot (not this race though), and I’m just out of glycogen after 30 miles. I only drank water the rest of the race and didn’t eat much until I got back to Vienna at 50 miles.
I planned on 11 minute miles for this Northern loop but I was slower than that and I could feel it. I had even done some math 20 miles into the race on what it would take to do sub-19. Now I was hoping I could somehow hang onto sub-20. I of course knew there are ups and downs and yet I’m always seemingly surprised when the first down shows up. I had to start a running/walking pattern at Shelby Road that I maintained the remainder of the race. Run 5 / walk 1. The same I had done at my first 100 miler at Heartland 100. My muscles were just tired of the same flat surface and the walking made a huge difference on things getting loose and normal feeling again.
The trail on paper starts to climb right away from Vienna to Tunnel Hill but to me it seemed like it didn’t really start until after Shelby Rd. You go up almost 300 feet from Vienna to Tunnel Hill in 9 miles. That certainly isn’t much but like I said it seemed to be more concentrated towards Tunnel Hill. You can definitely see you’re going up during the daytime watching the trail cut into the bedrock in spots and seeing the people in front of you are uphill. It’s harder to notice going downhill. There is a long trestle before the tunnel that had gallon water jugs for an aid station. I think it is about 400 feet long and 90 feet high. You’re surrounded by hills though so there isn’t much of a view other than looking down.
The tunnel itself is 543 feet long and after about 100 feet it’s completely dark. You can see light at the end of the tunnel but that just makes it worse since the contrast is so high. I just had to trust there weren’t any holes for me to fall into or twist an ankle on. Even moving at a pretty good speed, it still takes a full minute to get through it.
I got to tunnel hill aid station which is a small town and a long parking lot along the trail. I had lost 4 minutes of time already. The Northern turn around is 2.1 miles away (not 2) and all downhill. It’s pretty and curves a lot so you really never know when you’re going to get there. Again you go over a timing mat and around a cone. Then the uphill back to tunnel hill. I saw Abby again about a half mile after the turn around so she was about 10 minutes back now and I knew behind her pace she wanted. I still didn’t try to count how many people were in front of me at this turnaround since there were still 50 mile runners and way too many people to count accurately. I didn’t see my friend Kimberly so I knew something must’ve happened to her. She did end up going over 50 miles so I should’ve past her somewhere but it was likely at an aid station. I saw some other VolState friends as well.
Back at tunnel hill it was all downhill to Vienna and I was looking forward to it. I was still only 5 minutes in front of my pace. I didn’t eat anything and only drank water. Antacids helped some. I saw people puking a lot. I heard many runners telling their crew they had puked or saw other people puking. I won’t go as far as to say it was like the Lardass scene from Stand By Me, but a case could be made that at least 10% of runners puked during the race. In fact, that’s what my friend ended up getting pulled from the race for. It wasn’t hot so that couldn’t be the reason. I suspect there are a LOT of runners trying for their first 100 mile distance at this race and inexperience was the cause for a lot of them. It’s also probably part of why so many drop to the 50 mile distance.
I got to Vienna just 2 minutes under my goal pace now. 9 hours into the race and 4pm on the clock. I was getting concerned but I was also happy that I stopped the bleeding now. I was feeling better. I had a breakfast shake, got my headlamp on and brushed aside the long sleeve t-shirt for now as it was still warm. My wife seemed kind of grumpy with my loosing time. I still technically had an hour buffer. She was still doing a great job keeping things running smoothly though.
I now had a 12 minute pace planned. I gained time again. It was dark now and I kept going back and forth with this group of 4 guys. Our run/walk patterns were different so I think we leap frogged a dozen times. I had to charge my watch from Heron Pond to Karnak so I didn’t really know how fast I was going but ended up staying pretty much where I wanted. My back started to hurt now and I could tell there was likely a blister on at least my left big toe but it only hurt if I purposely rubbed my toes in my shoes so I didn’t stop. This time from Vienna I started counting people in front of me. The leaders passed me still during the light. The first place woman was gaining on the male leader from the last 2 times I saw them. Then there was a long time before I started seeing more people in the dark. I just counted everyone, not knowing if they were just a pacer or not. I counted close to 50 by the time I got to the turn-around. I wasn’t concerned about place, just time but I felt happy with the number. In fact I was higher than 50th since there were a fair amount of pacers.
At Heron Pond the 4th time through, I stopped for the first time of the race and sat down. My lower back was all tight and I was hurting. I took an NSAID and had my wife massage me some. She got the knots out in like 4 minutes, awesome. I put on a light long sleeve shirt. With all this I also lost all my banked time. 29 miles left and no room for error.
I took some caffeine and got to Vienna. My wife had a double cheeseburger waiting for me. I knew the climb up tunnel hill would be slower so I planned on a 13:30 pace but even that was proving to be difficult. The winners had already finished so I didn’t bother to keep track of how many were in front of me. I started to get used to the idea of not getting under 20 hours as I just couldn’t get going. I finally got to the tunnel and it was much less creepy now that I had a light in the tunnel. I couldn’t believe there was no graffiti in it. I got to Tunnel Hill aid station 7 minutes behind my schedule. I drank some beet juice here and looked forward to the short downhill to the turn-around.
I cruised downhill but sucked going back up. I was 10 minutes behind schedule and basically had 2 hours to get back to the finish in under 20 hours. 9.7 miles in 2 hours. I had planned on a 13:20 pace back to the finish but would now essentially need under 12 to make up for stops and the lost time. I soon decided after leaving Tunnel Hill for the last time that I’d go for it. I took some more caffeine, ate a gel, and took off.
With the walking breaks I had to run under a 11 minute mile pace. With the slight downhill, it wasn’t all that difficult to keep the pace. I had to start mouth breathing again to get enough air and just concentrated on the 5 run / 1 walk timing and keeping the pace under 11 while running. It was clear after an hour that I was making up time very well. I would get to Shelby Rd back on pace meaning I had made up the 10 minutes already and just had under 3 more miles to go. I got to Shelby and told my wife I was going for it.
It was nice those last few miles. I knew I would make it but still kept up the pace. There were a few hundred mile people still coming from the other direction with encouraging words. I haven’t mentioned this before but there are mile markers along the tunnel hill trail and the finish line is just .15 miles after the nearest mile marker so I was constantly doing math on the way back in. I finished at 2:54am, 19:54:05 after I started! I think I made a whoo but there was basically no one there at the finish line to hear it. The crowd to watch Camille Herron break the women’s world record 100 miles on trail with a time of 12:42 were long gone. The aid station that had food before looked empty. Really the only people there were pacers waiting for their runners to do the Northern loop with them.
I finished in 28th place overall, 22nd male, and 10th in my age division.
I got a nice looking sub 24 hour buckle and running jacket. I thought there was supposed to be finish line food but I didn’t see it and maybe it didn’t start until later. Either way I wasn’t that hungry. For the first time I realized how horrible I smelled. There were supposed to be showers at the high school where we checked in the night before the race so we heading straight over there.
There were supposed to be signs where to go but we couldn’t find any. The doors to the school were open so we just searched around and found a gym and then looked downstairs for locker rooms. We could hear water running so we went in that direction. This is the point where I was glad I wasn’t alone. It’s 3am, we’re creeping around dimly lit halls in a school; Basically the beginning of every horror movie. I walk into a locker room that is fairly well lit but the lights are blinking in that annoying fluorescent strobe effect. No one answers my calls to “Hello”. I get back to the shower area and can see almost half of them are dripping water at a steady pace with only 1 incandescent bulb working in there. Luckily no one else was in there as I had no idea if this was a girls or boys locker room. There were still a couple small rooms going off this locker room that I didn’t investigate for a murderer but really I wasn’t going to be able to fight one off anyway. I had a hard enough time walking by this point.
I took off my shoes and socks and discovered a huge blister on my left big toe with the toe nail already lifted up. I also realized that while I had brought a towel and soap, I had forgot clothes to change into. So I went to the door naked trying to find my wife, and yelled at her outside. Luckily she heard me and got my clothes and a safety pin to pop the huge blister. We should’ve got a picture but whatever. The left side of the nail had moved a couple millimeters towards the end of my toe as well. I had always wondered why the left side of this nail wasn’t growing as fast as the right side of the nail from when I had lost it last year. I think the tip of the nail was getting caught under the skin towards the end of my toe and now that the blister had lifted the nail up, it just went up and over it like it should’ve been. That’s also the possible reason for the blister to begin with. That or these shoes were doing something I wasn’t aware of in training. Regardless, I’m starting over with this nail yet again. I had zero blisters at Superior 100 just 2 months ago and now I’ll likely loose 3 nails from this easy flat race.
The shower was nice and quick. It took some effort to get my compression tights on but I got them on with my wife’s help. She wasn’t super tired so we started the drive home right away. I tried to sleep in the passenger seat but it’s so hard to get comfortable with my feet and legs being so painful and not being able to put them up decently. I wasn’t that tired mentally either. I couldn’t keep my eyes open but I talked to my wife to keep her up and company until we stopped at a rest stop around 5am. She got the air mattress out for me and we both slept for about 80 minutes.
I then drove for a few hours until we were both kind of hungry a few hours later. There was a Jack in the Box and we always love those so she got gas while I went in to order. Afroman’s “Because I Got High” was playing loudly from the kitchen. I started laughing since most of the workers were in the single digits old when it came out. Also a totally inappropriate song to be playing since this was the unedited version. Anyway, I asked if they had burgers and the response was a glorious “we have a full menu all day”! I got the big double bacon burger combo and another sandwich for my wife. Only $5 for the same thing Hardee’s charges $8 for. Man I wish we had Jack in the Box in MN.
The rest of the trip was fairly benign. A good night’s sleep was had by all and we both had the day off work the next day as well.
The stats for this years race: 314 started the 100 mile race. 15 DNF’d, 119 dropped down to the 50 mile distance, which leaves only 180 to finish the 100 mile distance. That’s only a 57% completion rate. You’d think by the statistics that this is a super difficult race, it’s not. I really wouldn’t recommend this for someone’s first 100 mile race unless you are the type of person who would never quit or you really don’t care if you actually finish the 100miles. You need to know yourself that well, not just hope. Otherwise you’re very likely to quit by dropping down to the 50 mile distance since you still get a buckle and go right past the quitting point halfway through the race. 37% did just that this year with absolute perfect weather and conditions. They were no where near the time cutoff either.
I’d suggest a point to point race or long distance out and back where the only way back to the start line is to finish for your first. The only way you’ll see if you can do it is to force yourself by not giving yourself an out. You will hurt no matter how “easy” of a course a 100 mile race is on. I don’t recommend going for Superior as your first either as that one is quite difficult but there are lots of races in between the two.
The race itself is well run. I didn’t really make use of the aid stations since I had my wife to help. While there was plenty of food at the beginning of the race, it was basically all gone by dark. Even water was in short supply my wife said at times. I’m not sure if people ate way more than they expected or if crews were eating aid station food or what. Maybe a bunch more food showed up at 5am when I was already done, I guess just be prepared like you always should that there might not be food at an aid station. I would probably only run this again if I needed another fast time in November since it’s a pretty long drive for me. I don’t think you could find a better race as far as setting a personal best at the 100 mile distance.
I’ll just start by saying I’m pretty excited about my performance because it’s going to come through in my writing that way anyway. Not that I won by any means or even placed for my age, but I did really, really well for me and a great improvement from last year. I got 20th out of 237 starters, that’s huge for me in a summer race! My time was 27:26:24, almost 4 hours off last years time! It’s pretty safe to say I won’t have a performance like that again so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
So why did things go so well? The main thing was the temperature. The high was in the 60’s instead of high 70’s last year. The low got down to freezing in some locations which was awesome. Probably at least 90 minutes of the improvement was just because I didn’t get overheated for more than 30 minutes the entire race instead of the entire day last year. Some improvement was because I didn’t run Vol State this year. The rest…I’m not entirely sure. I certainly didn’t train better or harder. I planned things a little better with my crew maybe and changed some nutrition stuff. I think mostly though I just kept feeling pretty good and as long as I felt good, I pushed it.
Absolutely beautiful! No clouds pretty much the entire race. Northern lights the night before. The Superior Hiking Trail just gets better every time I run or hike on it. I’m so glad it’s still a pretty good secret. Here’s an example of the beauty you’ll see along the race route. This is just after the Split Rock aid station so very early in the race.
Anyway just go to the race website for tons of awesome and scary photos if you want.
The race itself in on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. We go from Gooseberry Falls to Lutsen Ski Resort almost completely along the superior hiking trail which is pretty technical single track. 21,000 elevation gain packaged in both large and many small doses. The course had an additional change this year since the bridge over Split Rock Creek was out so we had to ford the river 7 miles into the race. So guaranteed wet feet pretty early on.
I brought the whole family this year. My awesome wife/crew, my children, and my parents/children watchers. My parents have never gone to one of these events yet so I decided it was about time they came and saw what it was about. I don’t think it hurt that it was on the north shore either. We brought 2 vehicles so my wife could concentrate on crewing during the race and my parents could do whatever they wanted with the kids.
The night before the race is the pre-race meeting with spaghetti dinner. We all went and ate before the meeting. I talked to a couple people before the meeting started and got registered after I ate. My parents stayed to listen to the meeting as well since they didn’t know much about the race. It was shorter this year which I appreciated. I didn’t stick around to talk to people since I had the family with.
We stayed at a hotel near the start line again and got there about 20 minutes before it started. I saw a few people I knew would be there but didn’t have much time to talk. I was busy explaining things to my parents and wrangling children. I lined up at the starting line and made sure to be up further this year as I didn’t feel like being slowed down again once we got to the single track. I placed 37th last year so I lined up in about 30th place knowing I’d do better.
And we were off at 8am.
The first 4 miles are on a bike path similar to the last 3 years and in my opinion will always stay that way from now on. It’s the only way to spread the field out.
Next we turn onto the single track and start climbing up along the shore of the river. We crossed the river about 0.2 miles from the old bridge spot so the course was shorter than normal (and even shorter because of the bike path, basically 1 mile shorter total but still 102.3 miles long) Here’s a video of the crossing.
It wasn’t bad but the first 2 steps were impossible to not get wet. I wore my new Altra Timp for the first 20 miles of the race. I didn’t have any time to break them in but they drained water like a dream. I purchased them specifically because of this crossing and the next one coming up after Split Rock aid station. My Lone Peak and Olympus both hold a half inch of water so they are useless for water crossing on trails. I got into the Split Rock aid station at 9:28 am, 20 minutes faster than I expected for my 30 hour goal time. That’s almost 9 minute miles but I still felt great and it was sure nice not to have to go around anyone on the trail.
The mud the first 20 miles of this race wasn’t totally ridiculous but it was more than usual. It’s not near as slippery as it was at Bighorn since there must be a lot less clay in it in northern MN. Here’s a good photo of what the muddy portions are like.
Next up was Beaver Bay 10.4 miles away. I tried to pay more attention to the trail this year so I could remember it better. About half way to Beaver Bay is where the rocks begin. Oh sure there are plenty of rocks before but you will understand what I mean when you run the race. These rocks don’t stop basically until Tettegouche, and then they just go down to the normal amount of rocks. Oh and there was lots of mud as well. The entire trail was fairly wet the entire year according to the hiking trail website. Finally about 7 miles from Split Rock you get to the beaver dam crossing. I had read about it on the hiking trail website but I didn’t know how big it was going to be. It was pretty deep and smelly and you couldn’t see where you were stepping. Oh and the orange scum on top of the water was an extra special touch I thought. Here’s a video of most of the crossing.
I’ll just add it here that I wish there was a compilation video of all the major spills people took during this race. I saw/heard 2 of them just behind me during the Split Rock to Beaver Bay section. One guy totally fell in the mud after slipping and one guy made a huge sound when he slipped on a boardwalk and I think landed on his back. Both were fine. I only fell once but it was from a rock in the Beaver Bay to Silver Bay section. I just tripped and caught myself with my hands but I also hit my knees on the rocks while going down. Somehow I was OK.
Finally I got to Beaver Bay and the first place you can meet your crew. I got in at 11:38am which was only about 6 minutes ahead of my expected time. Dam beavers slowing my down, get it? My whole family was there. My crew was efficient. My children were not. They kept wanting me to come see these rocks, as if I hadn’t seen a million in the last 5 miles already. I took off my shoes and socks and applied my wet foot mixture. I would’ve kept the Timps on but they were giving me a hot spot in the heel since they were so new. I put on the Olympus knowing they should do OK since there was only mud from now on and they could handle that most likely, plus they were broken in. I told my wife I would try to slow down. Next stop was Silver Bay just 5 miles away.
I didn’t slow down at all. In fact I sped up. I felt great in my new dry shoes and the mud was gone. Still rocks, lots of rocks but a couple flat open runnable sections too. I got to Silver Bay at 12:40, 20 minutes ahead now.
The next section was a long one again at 10 miles so I loaded up on gels and ice water and Sword. It’s one of the tougher sections but I think easily the section with the best views.
The first video is bean/bear lake overlook and the second one is my favorite view point which is before Tettegouche and as far as I can tell unnamed.
As you get towards Tettegouche, you can see the lakes of the park with the cabins in between them. You can rent them even in the winter but we still haven’t done that. Finally you start going downhill, down the Drainpipe and to the Tettegouche aid station that your crew has to climb up a third of a mile trail to get to.
I was looking forward to an ice cold breakfast shake here and was going to grab my emergency flashlight in case things went real bad before County Road 6. I got in at 3pm which was 50 minutes ahead of schedule now. That’s what cool weather does, makes me go fast. I looked around and didn’t see my wife anywhere. I yelled out “bananapants!”, and got no response.
Well, on I go to County Road 6 for another 8.6 miles with no electrolytes or my yummy shake I had been looking forward to. I started to slow down since my nutrition plan was now shot and I needed to conserve a little bit. Plus it was actually kind of hot for me now. There are a fair amount of ups and downs this section and not much for views. People started passing me but at least I had someone to talk to. Up to this point I had actually saw very few people since Split Rock.
I wondered if my wife got a flat tire and I’d never see her the rest of the race. I could probably make it to Finland before dark and beg someone for a headlamp so I wouldn’t have to quit. Finally I got to County Road 6 at 5:23pm an hour ahead now. The first words out of my wife’s mouth were, “You were an hour early so it’s your fault!” Whatever, we had a lot of stuff to do. Got my headlamp, emergency flashlight, watch charger, finally my shake, etc.
There was a very real chance I’d get to Finland before dark. It was nice seeing everything in the next section. It looked different in the dark last year. This is really the easiest section of the course. There are a couple miles of real rocky trail and hills but the last 5 miles are either completely flat or slightly uphill. Oh and essentially NO rocks either on the last part. Much of it is on boardwalks (superior expressways) too. Not much else to report on this section other than I finally started to get a little energy back. The nutrition problems from Tettegouche had lost me some time but I knew the energy was coming soon.
I got to Finland at 7:30pm an hour ahead of schedule and more than 2 hours ahead of last year. The race splits has me coming in almost 20 minutes later but maybe that’s of me leaving. Anyway, my socks were kind of damp so I changed socks here. I also packed a long sleeve shirt, gloves, buff and put my headlamp on. I wouldn’t see my wife until Crosby which normally would take 3 hours but she knew better at this point not to follow the schedule anymore.
Sonju Lake aid station was next and 7.5 miles away. It seemed to take forever this year even though it wasn’t too bad. I had my gloves on to help keep my hands warm. It was getting colder now that the sun was gone and the moon was rising. It fooled me a couple times thinking the aid station was coming up. I started worrying about missing the spur trail turn since my watch showed I should’ve been there already. Finally I saw the lights strung up. It was a 60’s love themed aid station. The best part though was the cheeseburgers. I swear that’s my new favorite aid station food, move over bacon! I got there at 9:47pm. I didn’t stay long as I didn’t want to get cold.
4.2 miles to Crosby and I’d see my wife there. Finally a short section but a very technical one. Lots of roots and rocks in the dark. I got to Crosby at 11:02pm 80 minutes ahead. At this point my wife knew she wouldn’t be getting any sleep since I kept getting to the next aid station too soon for her to rest. I don’t even know what I did here really other than load up for the next long 9.4 mile section.
Crosby to Sugarloaf is never fun. This is the type of trail section that if you asked a friend to hike it with you, you would probably no longer have that friend. If I ever wanted a divorce, I’d take my wife on this section. It just seems pointless. Lots of steep climbs and descents filled with rocks and mud. I doubt it’s even pretty in the day. At least it was cool and it didn’t rain this year. I think I passed a few people and got passed by a few people. By this point I was listening to music. I had heard some coyotes early on in the night but by this time nature had pretty much let me down aurally. I also put my long sleeve shirt on during one of the non-climbing sections.
I got to Sugarloaf at 2:08am. I think I had some beet juice here and some chips. Night time was kind of a haze this year since I didn’t have lightning and rain to keep me focused like last year.
Sugarloaf to Cramer Road isn’t a long section at 5.6 miles but it has some fairly steep hills and overall is uphill to Cramer Road. My watch died along this section due to the cold. This section I also ended up putting on my buff for the first time. It was only for about 5 minutes and then I warmed up going up a hill again and took it off. I got into Cramer at 3:55am an hour and 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Last year it was already light out when I got there. Now I was starting to think I might see the sunrise at Carlton Peak but that was a pipe dream. I didn’t do anything special at Cramer as far as I can remember but probably had another breakfast shake.
Cramer to Temperance is 7.1 miles and the last long section in my mind. I took the normal amount of water since with the cold weather I was plenty hydrated. I always think this section should be fast. It’s overall downhill but the issue is the technicality of this section I think. Also, I always get fooled thinking the Cross River is the Temperance River. It messes with me mentally. It was almost as slow as my Manitou section. You can’t really fly down the hill on the Temperance River either. There are lots of rock and root sections that aren’t too hard on fresh legs like the marathon people have but hard on tired legs. Towards the end it seems like you start going away from the aid station you can hear as well since there are kind of long switchbacks. Plus this year my headlamp died. I had it on too bright a setting with the colder temps. So I had to get my flashlight which gives off plenty of light but then you can’t swing your arms very much. This drastically slowed down my power hiking capabilities. This section is pretty in the daylight though.
I got to the Temperance River aid station at 6:15am. It was just starting to get light so at least I could unload a bunch of stuff here. Gone were the headlamp, flashlight, battery charger, etc. I changed back into my t-shirt but kept my gloves. I changed socks for the last time here. They weren’t wet but moist enough to change one last time. I didn’t put anymore wet foot mix on though. They have pancakes here so I had a couple of those with bacon to help fuel me to the finish. I could see a lot of 100 mile people taking a long time here, it’s just a nice place with good food.
By the time I left I only had 10 minutes until sunrise so no way to make Carlton Peak for sunrise. The next section is one of the prettiest but also the section I least look forward too. You start off going further down river until you cross it and then start back up the other side. Thus begins the 800 foot climb up to Carlton Peak. It’s the longest climb on the entire superior hiking trail if I remember right. It’s at least the longest of the race. It starts out with pretty views of the river and it’s even runnable. Then it’s just up, up, up. Oh, you think that’s the top? I mean you can’t see any trees higher than you right? Nope just go around a little bit and then you see you can still go up more. Anyway, the last bit is boulder climbing and actually kind of fun while still sucky on tired legs. Your split for the entire section usually won’t be too horrible actually since the beginning isn’t too hard and once you get down the initial steep part off Carlton Peak, it’s smooth sailing on boardwalks for a bunch of it. This year there was a fair amount of mud on the non-boardwalk sections as well. I met a few people on this section. I think it was a pacer/runner combo. They caught up to me on the climb up and I passed them on the way down, the usual for me.
I arrived at Sawbill at 7:56am! The marathon hadn’t even started yet. I was being passed like crazy at this aid station last year. I was so pumped to not have to deal with any people flying past me until at least after Moose Mt if at all. This was pretty much an in and out stop for me. Less than a half marathon to go and almost 2 hours ahead of my goal pace for 30 hours. I decided I needed to try to get a little buffer to stay 2 hours ahead.
This is one of my favorite parts of the course. There are a couple steepish climbs but the rest is open maple forest and you can see so far compared to much of the course. It’s always muddy in spots on this section, even in drought years but they are still mostly runnable. The main thing really with this section and the next is that it isn’t technical at all for the most part. You can just run and not have to have your brain in what I call terminator mode all the time. You know in the movie when you’d see the POV of the terminator and all you saw was a bunch of code and things being highlighted in his path? That’s what it feels like in the technical sections, especially at night. All you can do is keep your head down and concentrate on every object on the ground in your headlamp’s field of view flying past you and making sure your feet land either on or between those objects depending on what they are. It’s kind of exhausting and I think the reason many people walk at night. They’re too tired mentally to handle it. I passed a few runners walking this section. I’m pretty sure they were hurting in some way or another. I heard one telling his pacer he just couldn’t figure out what happened to his quads.
I got into Oberg at 9:33am. Over 2 hours ahead so I had my buffer and could just relax and enjoy the finish. No second afternoon for this guy this year. The only real reason I tried to push this section was just to not get passed by anyone like last year. The climb up Moose Mt. sucked as always for me. There is a great overlook just off the trail at the top but I didn’t stop to look. I somehow caught up to a couple people at the top of the mountain so now I couldn’t let them catch back up. I flew down the mountain as best I could which wasn’t that graceful. The food from Temperance was starting to run out but I could smell the barn. I only power hiked the majority of Mystery Mt. this year as I didn’t have the energy to run it.
I started to get excited at doing so well this year. I had virtually no clue what place I was in but I know it was around 29th at Temperance. I hoped my family would be ready at the finish line as I knew I was going even faster than last year and would be under 2 hours for the section which I’ve never done before. I took off my headphones in preparation for the decent to the finish line. Finally after running what always seems like the entire surface of Mystery Mt, the trail starts to descend. It’s just the kind of steepness I love. Not so steep it’s impossible to run but steep enough to make it on the edge of being scary at full speed. I flew past 2 more runners who luckily heard me coming as one of them was just around a corner I flew around and couldn’t stop if I tried. I ran that mile in under 9 minutes which is an awesome feeling after 100 miles. Then the river crossing which is pretty but you can’t stop that close to the finish line. There’s a small little hill and then a more gentle decline to the road and then the finish line.
I finished at 11:26am and never did get passed by any marathon or 50 milers. That’s 27:26:24. Most of my family was there. My daughter felt it was more important to play on the playground and my mom was going to get her camera so she missed it too.
I got my medal, buckle, and star to add to my sweatshirt sleeve I got last year. I ate a couple bowls of chili and my crew helped me wash my shoes and take my gear. I slept for a little bit but I hurt too much and so I went swimming with the kids and tried to find out when my friends would be coming in. We ate supper and then I was just too tired to stay and watch people finish. I wanted to just kind of sleep and watch from my balcony but I couldn’t since there was all this smoke coming from the cook tent they had set up. One friend missed the last time cut off but everyone else finished which was great. Southern MN had a decent showing this year.
I only stubbed my toe about 5 times the entire race but they were doozies. No toenails were lost from this race either so that’s always good. No blisters at all but I changed socks more often than most races and that likely helped.
The finishing rate was 71.3% this year so above average which I’m sure was due to the nice temperature and no rain. Plus I think there were a fair amount of people avenging themselves for quitting in previous attempts that weren’t going to quit no matter what this time. I hope all my future races can go this well but of course that won’t happen.
We drove North to Naniboujou Lodge for their Sunday brunch the next morning since my parents have never been there and to challenge my daughter to a rematch waffle eating contest. She said she didn’t feel like having an eating contest. I think she just wanted to retain the title. For the record though, I would’ve won. I did just run 100 miles; you tend to be hungry for the next week.
I’m not sure how to start this one so I’ll start with the basics. The Bighorn 100 is a 100 mile trail race that takes place in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming the 3rd weekend in June which this year meant the race started Friday June 16th. It started at 10am this year which was an hour earlier than most years but still 2 hours later than I’d like it to. This was my first mountain ultramarathon and a qualifier for both Western States and Hardrock which was part of the attraction for me. Honestly I probably wouldn’t have even considered it if not for some friends that have attempted it in the past. Most of the information I got from them and previous race reports helped a lot, some of it was just plain wrong and so my original game plan had to be changed. The main game changer in this race though wasn’t the course, it was the weather…
Before this race the whole family went to Yellowstone. I figured it’d help out with the elevation adjustment and it’s only 3 hours from Yellowstone so you might as well go there too. The race peaks out at 9000 ft. I live at 1000 feet. I’ve never had an issue when I go hiking in the mountains, even to 14,000 feet but it never hurts to give yourself time to adjust. Other than breathing faster than normal, I never had any issues during the race.
On a side note, Yellowstone was awesome. I did a few training runs in the park (one on which I had to wait on 6 elk that wouldn’t get off the trail). We saw 6 geysers going off in one day. I saw bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn, a wolf, a brown bear, a black bear, 2 osprey nests, marmots, and all the smaller things you see in the woods. Do you want to know how many animals I saw the entire race? 5 small mice at night on the trail. That’s it! Lots of flowers though as you can see in the photo at the beginning. Tons of lupines which I love.
So based on the above elevation profile, race reports, etc I set a race goal of just over 27 hours. It was pretty aggressive for me but it seemed very doable. It would’ve been doable save 2 things: those apparent straight lines aren’t, and it rained, for a long time.
The pre-race meeting was at 8am in Dayton, WY which is where the finish line is. After the meeting they had buses to shuttle us to the start line. It was a pretty long wait for the race to start and it was clear there were a lot of people. Turns out 373 runners to be exact plus their crew. I brought a chair to relax in since I knew it would be awhile. Normally this race is really hot so I decided to use my 2L bladder and made an insulated pocket out of mylar bubble wrap to keep the ice in it cold. Also I had a bad reaction to having ice straight against my skin at vol state and this prevented that. Even though the temperatures weren’t very high, I still was sweating a lot during this race so I was happy with my decision to bring the bladder. I was able to skip most aid stations as well this way and save time. I also had taped my feet since the race was starting dry. I planned on changing over to my wet feet setup later.
Finally we got into line just before 10am. It was crowded! We started on a dirt road but there were so many people that you really couldn’t even pass anyone on it very easy. Plus everyone was going fast already. I started towards the back middle and should’ve started way further up or just sprinted the first mile. After the 1.3 miles of road, we started the conga line up the mountain.
3200 feet in about 6 miles with most of the elevation gain in the last 4 miles. The trail doesn’t open up again until almost 7 miles into the race so any passing done in the beginning is hard fought. I’d have to save energy and then run full speed uphill around the 8 or so people in front of me to get anywhere. Then I’d catch up to the next group of people after power hiking for 5 minutes. There was no way to get a rhythm at all since your speed was determined entirely by the person in front of you. I was assuming the trails in this race would be similar to trails I’ve hiked in the mountains where the grade is pretty consistent with switchbacks in the steepest areas. Not so with race. The trails pretty much go straight up and down similar to back home in MN. Not a big deal but it keeps you from being able to get a good rhythm going like I was counting on when I set my goal paces. Especially when in a conga line. At times there was completely still air. I imagine this section really sucks with a cloudless sky above you and warmer temps.
The nice thing was all the flowers and since we were going so slow up the mountain, talking to people was easy. Here are the pictures I took on the way up.
At last you get to some dirt roads and more open pasture areas where you can go your own speed. Then you go down a steep hill to upper sheep aid station. From here to dry fork aid station (mile 13.5) is almost entirely on good roads, meaning a hard packed road with some rocks and not just clay. You go uphill and then back downhill into the station. This is the first big aid station where your crew can meet you.
On the way there was a spot I had to duck under a tree. I thought the path was clear but then something threw my head back and I almost stopped cold. There was a branch that hit my head and slid down my face. It hurt and was burning since all the sweat was going into whatever wound I had. I took a picture of myself to see what it looked like and I couldn’t see anything. By the time I finished the race though, it became clear.
The family was there with the cowbell cheering me on when I got in at 1:16pm. I got more ice water and Sword in my bladder. There wasn’t much else to get here but I took some time to make sure I had everything I needed since I wouldn’t see them until the turn around at jaw’s trailhead (mile 48). The kids still seemed in good spirits. This was the first 100 mile race they were helping crew so it was going to be a good test of my wife’s nerves. I bought some toys they didn’t know about to have her hand out throughout the race to help out with boredom.
From dry fork to cow camp aid station is about 6 miles all on dirt roads. It was also downhill overall but still lots of ups and downs in between. I did this section fairly fast since I love downhills and had plenty of energy from going so slow in the beginning. I passed a few people on this section.
Cow camp to bear camp was back on trail with lots of ups and downs but overall the elevation doesn’t change from aid station to aid station. It’s 7 miles long. This is where I determined it would be difficult to keep my 27 hour pace up. I was keeping it up so far but it was clear these up and downs would slow my expected pace on the way back to the finish line. 28 hours still isn’t bad and I was still having fun. Now, with the elevation I was pretty much open mouth breathing all the time since I’m from the prairie. Soon after cow camp I breathed in a fly. It went full on into my trachea and I could feel it’s wings buzz a little. Luckily I had my lungs half filled with air before he went in so I had something to immediately cough him out. He buzzed around my mouth before I could finally spit him out. Then I proceeded to cough for 30 seconds straight. Good times!
There are 2 water pipes with drinkable water coming out of them along this section. The first is almost exactly a mile from cow camp. The other is about 3 miles further. I washed my face in one of them and it felt amazing. It was cooler at the higher elevation but still hot for me so I was still sweating a lot.
Bear camp is a limited aid station since they have to hike in the supplies. Basically water and some food choices. The next section to footbridge is a large downhill. Don’t worry, there’s still a couple hundred foot uphill you get to do as well. This section is known as the wall. It’s not really a wall, just very steep at about 750feet a mile drop. Steeper in sections and flatter in others. Awesome views of the valley you were going to drop down into though. I put in my headphones here for the rest of the race and started down. I wish I could say I flew down, but you can’t go fast when it’s that steep.
This section was pretty rocky which would help some in my determination of if I’d be able to get up it in the rain later on. I’ll add that while running from cow camp to bear camp there are basically views of the cliffs down to the river. You’re never close to them so you can’t see the river, but it hints at how steep of a drop the wall will be once you get there. It got warmer as I went downhill and my ears were constantly popping.
Footbridge (mile 30) is a major aid station with drop bags. Your crew can meet you there but you have to drive through a couple streams and it’s a long drive so I decided it wasn’t worth my family trying to get there. Plus they make you park a mile away and there’s no way she was going to carry stuff a mile to me and a mile back. I got in at 4:34pm which was still on pace for me. I got my cold weather gear out to put in my pack. Also my headlamp as it’d get dark before I got to jaws trailhead. I put on a long sleeve tech shirt since it suddenly got cold with the large clouds and wind moving in. I left my hat in the drop bag as well. It looked like there was a campground near this aid station so the road in must not be as bad as I thought.
The next 17 miles is all uphill with a mile of pretty much flat after that into jaws trailhead. But, as before, the uphill is not constant. There are lots of ups and downs, especially in the first section to cathedral rock. This section was right along the river and kind of loud because of it. It was all pretty much rocky with a sharp drop off into the river on your left side and a steep hill on your right. As usual I was hitting my first wall of the race which I usually hit around mile 29 but since that was downhill, it came now. I could see up the valley that it was raining there already. By the time I got to cathedral rock aid station it was raining. I got my cheap Walmart poncho out and put it on. I’d have it on for the next 12 hours.
The next section to spring marsh is 6.5 miles long. This is where you start to pull away from the river some and are more in pasture land again. It was already muddy and I hit my low point in the race. I still had 66.5 miles to go! The most logical place to quit in this race is at jaws trailhead since your crew can easily get you there. I started worrying about getting up the wall in the mud on the way back. I didn’t want to quit at footbridge and then have to wait forever to get a ride back to the finish line. Plus the kids would now have to wait almost all of the next day for me to finish as I’d be way behind schedule. Food tasted gross, gels would almost make me barf. Etc, etc. All negative all the time for the next 6.5 miles.
Finally spring marsh aid station. This is where I instantly felt better and knew I’d finish the race. I wasn’t sure how I’d make it without poles but my mind was made up I was going to finish. It was 3.5 miles to the next aid station. The mud just made it impossible to move fast. I had to shorten my stride way down and use all my accessory muscles to stay upright. There is a constant slight slope which normally you wouldn’t even notice but when the trail is thick clay mud, it slides you around. People started making new paths through the grassier areas which helped some. It ended up easier when the trail had standing water in it since the mud didn’t grip your shoes as much while running through that. My shoes shed the mud on the sole but it was deep enough that it started building up on the sides and tops of my shoes. I’d run straight through any creeks to wash them off. I took a picture during one of the slower rain periods before dark to remember the trail conditions. They got worse in the dark after this was taken.
At elk camp aid station, I got my headlamp on since It’d be dark before I got to jaws trailhead 4.5 miles away. This is the section I suspect the moose like. Even when it’s not raining, you will get soaked on this part. It’s pretty swampy and there were spots the muddy water would go half way up my shin. I never lost a shoe though. I was kind of glad it was dark. I didn’t really want to know how bad it looked. The rain seemed to be letting up some finally. This is where I routinely saw the leaders coming back at me. I had seen some since spring marsh. I lost count of how many were in front but it seemed like only 40. It obviously was more than that since I was supposedly in 115th place at jaws. The last mile or so was on fairly flat pasture and road into jaws aid station. The wind had picked up so it was the first time I actually felt good temperature wise. Of course everyone else looked freezing cold and were huddled around the heater in the tent when I arrived at 10:48pm.
Jessie was waiting outside the tent since crew were only allowed in with their runner. It was crowded but they found a chair for me. This was going to be a fairly long stop since I had a lot to do because of the rain. First was to get out of my wet clothes. My long sleeves and gloves were soaked since the poncho only goes to my elbows. I also left my phone since I didn’t want to land on it since the chance of me taking a spill was pretty good. I had to take my shoes and socks off to start applying my wet foot powder and Vaseline mixture. No blisters yet but my shoes were already pretty trashed. I started this race with just over 600 miles on my Altra Olympus 2.0 shoes.
I got more water although I didn’t need much anymore. I was peeing all the time now since it cooled off; at least I was well hydrated. I just used soft body water flasks instead of my bladder from here on. I changed into another dry long sleeve shirt. The only dry gloves Jessie had were my warmer fleece gloves so I took those too. I put on a buff too. The aid station people were great here. It took some time for them to get a few things but I was amazed how cheerful they still seemed as it was clear this was a hectic time for them as well. I think I tried to eat half a quesadilla but I still wasn’t that interested in food. I’d just have to go off fat power for awhile. I was chilled by the time I left since it had been 25 minutes. Way longer than I wanted but as fast as it could’ve gone without 2 more crew members doing my feet for me. I told Jessie not to bother to get to dry fork until at least 2 hours later than my original time as I knew it would take awhile to get down the long hill in the mud and then back up the wall.
Jessie had to have the car jump started since the battery died. They slept in the back of the car at the aid station for the night. The kids were already sleeping when I got there but that was for the best.
The rain had stopped for now and the fog rolled in as I left the aid station. It was hard to see anything due to the headlamp reflection coming back at you. I warmed up after a mile or so and stopped shivering. I still had my poncho on to help stay dry. I decided to use it instead of my rain jacket because I knew that would be too warm and the poncho covered my shorts as well which my jacket didn’t.
So now I saw the course in reverse. Back through the swamp to elk camp. Back down the now very slippery mud to spring marsh. Even the new trails people had made going up were slop now going down. I met about 40 more people still coming up to jaws and then no more people. Either people hit a time limit cutoff at that point or they just quit while they were at footbridge. Either way I started wondering when the time cutoffs were. I hadn’t even bothered looking at them since I wasn’t planning on being anywhere near them. Well, nothing else to do but keep going I guess.
After spring marsh was more mud. It started raining again. Now the trail sloped to the right so I got to use all new accessory muscles on the other side to not fall with every step. Every once and a while I’d spin out and go down a hill backwards. I never totally fell but I’d have to catch myself a few times. About 2.5 miles out of spring marsh there was a fairly side sloped section that I slid off trail about 4 feet. Once I stopped I realized my foot felt weird. Well that’s because it was now half way out of my shoe! The right side of my right shoe had tore open about 4 inches long along the sole. Now every step I took my foot would slide out of my shoe. This is while going down muddy slopes mind you. I mentally thought of everything in my pack and how it could help me. I wish I had an extra shoelace like I had at vol state. Finally after about a quarter mile I kind of figured out how to mostly keep my foot in while running.
After 2 miles I saw a fence line. I was going to use the barbed wire if I had to but luckily there was just regular wire rolled up hanging on a post as if left there just for me. I bent the wire back and forth a bunch of times to break a piece off, almost burning my fingers off even through the gloves. It was some seriously strong wire. It was hard to bend in the perfect shape since it was so thick but I got it good enough to keep my foot in and not completely dig into the top part of my foot. Then I started worrying about slicing my other leg open with the sharp edges of the wire. It’s not uncommon to hit your leg with your feet, especially in uneven muddy conditions so it wasn’t a totally unfounded fear. I could kind of turn the one edge back which I hoped would prevent that and just paid extra attention to my foot placement.
Finally I got to cathedral rock again. I still had 3.5 miles to go in my sweet McGyver shoes. On steep downhills the wire would move back a lug or 2 and dig into my feet so I’d have to slide it back in to place. Other than that it held up pretty well. This is the section with the steep drop off into the river. Basically if you slip you’ll either die from hitting rocks or drown in the swollen, fast moving river filled with boulders. But don’t worry mom, the trail was rockier here and not very muddy at all. Of course I wondered how often the cliff just gives way and falls in the river, especially when wet and after 400 people have been jumping on it. Well it didn’t give way and I made it to footbridge at 5am (66 miles). I was now 2.5 hours behind schedule but I wasn’t surprised. Despite it sucking, I had still managed to pass about 20 people on the way down from jaws. Many people just walked the whole way down.
I was glad I had a pair of shoes waiting for me in my footbridge drop bag. This is the first race I’ve ever left a pair of shoes in a drop bag thinking I might want dry shoes if it stopped raining before I got there. My race might have been over if I hadn’t done that as I don’t think I would’ve gone another 34 miles in them. I put more wet foot paste on and new dry socks and dry Altra Lone Peak 3.0. My feet felt like heaven for a moment. I put on a dry t-shirt and dry gloves. I still had to have my headlamp since it wasn’t quite light out enough yet without it although it would be in 20 minutes. I found out the race time limit was 34 hours so I had plenty of time even if it totally sucked. At least 4 runners quit just before I got there since there was a car of them leaving. I still wasn’t sure if I’d make it up the wall but I left with an egg mcmuffin in hand.
It quit raining, but it would sprinkle here and there from now until about 9am. I left my poncho off most of the time since it wasn’t worth putting it on and off a bunch of times. The hike up the wall wasn’t that slippery at all. Previous footprints had made sort of terraces in the trail and there were lots of rocks to step on to help get traction. It still sucked going up over 2000 feet in a couple miles but I made it to bear camp. I even passed a few people going up. The volunteers here said the guy who was leading by 30 minutes quit at dry fork but they didn’t know why.
Bear camp to cow camp in the reverse direction seemed much easier than I thought it’d be. It was muddy yes, but the side paths were still in pretty good shape. Every once and a while I’d pass another person so I felt pretty good about that. The longest I went without seeing anyone was during this section. A whopping 10 minutes where I didn’t see another runner. Again this race is crazy crowded even after half the people quit. I’m used to at least an hour being the longest time I don’t see someone. Towards the end of this section the 52 mile leaders started passing me. I was slowly eating food and gaining energy. I actually ran this section faster than I had planned on initially even with the mud.
Cow camp finally came and now it was the road section for the next 6 miles. At least there was bacon at this aid station so that was good. This section absolutely sucked. Thick mud with no rocks to gain traction on. The side trails were just as bad. The road was rutted so even running through the thickest mud in the tire track section didn’t help because the side walls were so sloped you’d constantly slide and get off balance. Walking and running both were nearly impossible in sections. I didn’t think the roads would be so bad. In fact they were the worst section of the whole race. The sun came out so now I was getting sunburned. The road was SLOWLY drying out which made it worse at this point since it just made the clay even more sticky and shoe sucking. 52 mile people were passing in big groups now. How could they run in this crap? And how was I still slowly passing 100 mile runners here and there? The last hill up to dry fork took forever since you can see the aid station miles before you get there. I just decided to look at my feet and not look up to make it not seem as bad.
I got into dry fork at 11:02am (82.5 miles). 2:40 behind schedule which I thought would’ve been 3 hours so I felt good about that. They had sunscreen for me there at least. I had left my hat at footbridge so I still would get sunburned on my face. Putting sunscreen on my face is pointless as it just gets in my eyes and I wipe it all off after 20 minutes. They also had double cheeseburgers! Yum. I knew 2 hours from now I’d have a bunch of energy and it tasted sooo good. The aid station worker kept asking me questions while I was talking to Jessie. I figured later she was probably checking my mental status or something. I didn’t bother changing my socks. My shoes wouldn’t get any wetter since the grass had finally dried off but I didn’t want to take the time and I didn’t have any hot spots yet. I told Jessie it’d be 5 hours until I finished so she should just go to the cabin and I’d call when I finished. She handed me my phone back. I dropped as much weight as I could with her and left. 17.5 miles left to go.
I found out later it was a pretty interesting drive for the cars to get to dry fork in the mud that morning. Jessie said she saw some tire tracks go off the road at a turn on what looked like a steep drop off. She made it down OK but the car looked like it had 3 inches of concrete on it at the finish line.
The roads from dry fork to upper sheep were in good shape. The sun was getting hot and I was back to sweating again. Constant runners from other races were passing me. The hill seemed to last forever. I saw the stupid tree that hit me yesterday and stayed away. Finally the run down into upper sheep. I filled up with water there and continued on.
It’s there that I could see the one last big hill to climb before all the downhill to the finish line. How did it grow so much? I don’t remember going down that big of a hill yesterday while running into upper sheep aid station. It’s steep and about 500 feet high. Finally I got to the top and started slowly running down. It felt pretty good. My shins had been hurting for hours due to all the walking in the mud. I hadn’t planned on walking so much so they were sore. But now things felt pretty good going down. I started going faster. My cheeseburger 2 hours ago was now hitting my system.
Down, down, as fast as I could with the steep terrain. I’d have to walk in sections since it was too steep with too many round rocks to slide on. I was going even faster than I had planned on initially. I soon realized that a sub 30 hour finish was still possible. I was expecting 31 hours. I just kept pushing it down the hill. Now I started seeing a bunch of 100 mile runners just walking down. I started passing them right and left. It felt awesome for so late in a race. I finally got to lower sheep aid station. I tried to get a rock out of my shoe but another one seemed to find it’s way in. Looking back I think it was all the mud from my gaitors falling off as they dried. There was 7.5 miles left to go!
It wasn’t great having a couple rocks in my shoe but I wasn’t going to stop when I was passing so many people. The next section down to the road was so much more fun than yesterday’s conga line march up it. It was hot but I just had to hold on a few more hours. A 29 hour finish briefly came into thought but the math just wouldn’t work for that. I probably passed 10 people from upper sheep creek to the road. I generally never pass people at the end of a race. Just another sign I started way too far behind in the beginning.
I made it down to the road. Just 5.2 miles more to the finish line. The river was right next to the road and loud. It was so tempting to just jump in it and float on down to the finish line. The road was dry now and even though we were following the river downstream it sure didn’t seem to go downhill. I ran as much as I could but would have to take walking breaks here and there. I got a popsicle from a kid handing them out which helped some with the heat. Oh that road seems to last forever. It has a bunch of small curves that never let you see how much further it is to go.
Finally I got to town where you have to run around the park to get into it and then run back around the park again to get to the finish line. There were bleachers along the path through the park with people cheering. I think the whole town was either there at the finish line or volunteering somewhere on the course. Pretty awesome! I even saw Jessie and the kids about 100 yards from the finish line. Turns out they never went to the cabin. Finally, I finished strong at 3:34pm for a total race time of 29:34. 2 hours 20 minutes slower than I wanted but I did that section from dry fork 16 minutes faster than I had even planned on. I suspect without the mud 28 hours would’ve been pretty doable.
They had food at the end which was great but the line took over 10 minutes to get the food. I had to have Jessie stand in line for me since my feet hurt so bad and I was getting nauseous standing. You get your buckle and swag at a different area of the park so I got that. I then looked at the results and found out I was 62nd overall. I thought for sure I would’ve been in the 40’s since I had passed over 40 people since jaws, but I was obviously way further behind at jaws than I thought. I’d later find out only 175 of the 373 starters would finish. That’s pretty bad and shows how difficult the course was even though it wasn’t as hot as it can get.
I’m sure in dry conditions I would have a much faster time but likely my placing wouldn’t be any better. Other people usually do better in heat than I do and less people would drop out. I’m happy with it since it’s better than my usual 20% placing. I was told that recovery from this race is pretty quick compared to midwest 100’s. I would totally agree. I suspect with all the walking you just don’t trash your legs as much. My quads didn’t hurt in the slightest during or after this race even with very little hill training. My butt and feet were sore but I could run 3 days later and I usually take a week off.
I should’ve taken a picture of my legs when I was done. There was a thick coating of mud everywhere. During the last 20 mile of the race it would occasionally feel like I was getting bitten by something only to find out a chunk of dry mud had broken loose and was only being held by a leg hair. I’d brush that chunk off and keep going. Even after all the stuff I brushed off there was still almost a half inch of mud covering my calves and even my shins were covered. My Olympus shoes are now in a landfill somewhere in WY. I wonder what future archeologists will think about the wire shoes they find someday? The newer design of Altra trail shoes all have reinforced sides to prevent this sort of failure. The problem is that they hold almost half an inch of water in them now. If water gets in, they basically never dry. The lone peaks were still wet at the finish line 6 hours after the last puddle and when I washed them, they held a half inch of water with the insole removed. Never drained even after a couple minutes. Ridiculous. Figure it out guys! Now I’ll have to drill holes in the sides to make drain holes.
By finishing this race, I completed 786 race miles in the 6 ultramarathons I ran as a 40 year old. I didn’t really intend for that to happen but it just worked out that way. Vol State last July started it off and Bighorn was just before I turned 41 (Facebook doesn’t have my real birthday by the way). I don’t know if I’ll ever do that many race miles in a year again or not. I don’t regret it at all but 786 is kind of a big number and probably hard to repeat unless I just do a bunch of short 50k’s as training runs.
Thanks again to my super awesome wife and crew! The kids didn’t drive her completely crazy!
This is a small local baby Barkley type race that took place April 29th at 7 mile creek park near St. Peter, MN. It’s around 30 miles long with an advertised elevation of 8000 ft of gain. There are 11 books we had to collect pages from on each of 3 laps. We were given a different page number to get each lap. The first lap was counter-clockwise, 2nd was clockwise, and 3rd alternating.
The race started at 7am but registration started at 5am so you’d have time to look over the map and written directions of the course. The course was about 2/3rds on trail, a short bit on a road, with the rest on deer trail or no trail. I’ve been to the park before so I knew about what to expect as I love to go off trail in this park. There are many unofficial trails that we routinely run on. This is about the only place in southern MN to get over 200 ft steep hills. Along the Mississippi river is steep too but that’s hours from where I live.
At 7am 20 of us started off with only 14 finishing. I wasn’t at the first running of this race 2 years ago but I was told it was easier and the race director was “disappointed” that everyone finished. This year he wasn’t disappointed. It was 38 degrees so I started with a long sleeve shirt knowing I’d be hot by the end of the lap.
I stayed back a little from the front group to let them figure out where to go off trail to find the books. Everything was well marked but that doesn’t mean you can’t run right past where you’re supposed to turn. Plus, since we were so close in the beginning you ended up waiting for the person in front of you to tear out the page in the book anyway. Why run fast just to wait at the next book. The first book I ended up tearing the page horribly, so I ended up with 3 pieces to get it out and make sure I had the page number on it, all the while people waiting behind me. I guess the lesson is to learn how to tear really brittle yellow paper out of books in the woods with gloves on.
The books aren’t really hidden which is good and bad. Good since it’s easy to find them, and bad because the park was pretty popular that day with mushroom hunters and other people doing some sort of naturalist type things (I never asked what they were doing) off trail where we were.
The first 2 books felt great climbing up the hills. Basically go up find a book and come back down, just to do it again. The only out and back uphill was book 3 which I think everyone dreaded by the 3rd lap. I’m not sure if it was just the steepness or the fact that it was an out and back, but no one liked it. It seemed like it took forever to go up and only 20 seconds to get down. That’s probably not reality though. The books all had great titles to them which I have mostly forgotten. But I remember book 3’s title: Dead End
So continued the seemingly endless task of climbing up a hill just to go back down again. Like you constantly keep forgetting something downstairs at home and have to keep going back down to get it, except the stairs are 200 ft hills. There are a couple longish flatter sections to break it up a little bit but for the most part you’re either ascending or descending in this race.
There is a aid station out of the park between book 5 and 6 that you have to climb up to get to. They had awesome candy bars, pop, water, etc there. The race director said there is a short loop to do at the aid station. Well yes it’s short, but also straight down and then straight back up just to go back down to get on the course again. The section back to the course did have my favorite tree on the entire course though.
Then on to book 6 where some barbed wire sticking out of the ground almost got me. Speaking of thorny things, I got somewhat scratched and cut up from this race. There are plenty of thorny bushes, berry patches, and shrubs to get you on this course. I wish I would’ve taken a picture of my legs. I had cuts everywhere but really only remember 2 of them happening.
There was a punch after this book to punch the pages you had so far. This was to determine which direction you had traveled the course. Next was a longer flat section before turning uphill to book 7. Then between 7 and 8 gets sucky again. Scott the RD was sitting along the course making sure we all made the turn straight down a steep rutted out path. I enjoyed it the first lap, not so much the 3rd. Basically you go down this hill just to come back up it in a different spot and end up about 20 feet from where you started down the hill. All of this to get book 8.
Book 9 was fairly straightforward.
Book 10 I almost ran past or was that 11. It’s already becoming a blur after only a week. After 11 you go back to the start at the RD house. This is the only other aid station. I changed into cooler clothes as it was warming up some. First lap time was 2:25.
The next section was clockwise. I had got to talking with Ed who I hadn’t met before but we both did Arrowhead this year. I always love meeting new people during the race. We were talking pretty much non-stop the second lap and before we knew it, we were at the aid station. Oops. We missed book 6. Back we went to get it and then finally noticed the 3 foot long pink ribbon showing the turn off for it. Guess we got talking too much. He had to do the aid station loop twice since he missed it the first time and so I didn’t see him until the end of the race.
I missed the turn to book 1 as well but I think a lot of people did. Finally I got back to the start. 5:14 total time so far so that lap was about 2:45 without the stop time. I was happy with this as I had to leave by 4pm to pick up the kids so I was on track to get done by then. I definitely wasn’t in condition for this much elevation so I was starting to feel it.
Since the leader picked clockwise (thanks TJ, NOT) and I was in 5th place, I had to go clockwise. Off I went. I had been eating the entire race and drinking what seemed like a lot but my stomach just didn’t feel quite right and I wasn’t really peeing any so I suspect I was somehow dehydrated. It slowed me down.
Right away I saw one of the leaders coming back up the hill to the start due to injury. Now I was 4th I guess, but still had to go clockwise. I didn’t miss the turn to book 6 this time since I was by myself. Ed had started the mid-way aid station loop just before I got there so I never ended up seeing him. I never saw the other counter-clockwise leader either and found out later he dropped at the aid station.
Finally it dawned on me to take some antacids as this wasn’t my first time down full stomach lane. In fact it happens almost every race, just not in the first 20 miles. They kicked in around book 4 (counting down book numbers now since clockwise lap). The last 3 books I felt great (still hated book 3 but felt better at least). Too bad I didn’t think of taking them sooner. I saw some people looking kind of sad while looking for mushrooms. I told them some people were already in that spot 3 hours ago with bags full of them. They seemed somewhat relieved.
I even made the turn for book 1 this time but when I got to where the book should’ve been, it wasn’t there. 3 people coming from the other direction on the start of their lap 3 also couldn’t find it. Remember all those people in the park? Turns out someone must’ve taken it as no one ever found it. I took a picture with them to prove we all looked together and hoped for the best.
I got to the finish line and rang the bell at 8:12 for 4th place. Ed had beaten me in which I wasn’t surprised by. So that lap took about 2:50 with the down time and looking for book 1 taken out. Scott allowed my finish without book 1 since it was gone and someone had texted him.
I had some time to eat the great finish line food they had for us before leaving to get the kids. They even offered the shower which was awesome. Thanks!
This race would be much harder/scarier/more fun if it was raining the whole time. There are some steep slopes on it. The conditions on race day were pretty good. The mud was firm enough to get a grip on and not slip. I usually use gps visualizer to make an elevation profile of races. I find it to be much more accurate than google earth. It came up with the race having more elevation than advertised. Almost 10,000. Who knows? I can assure you it wasn’t under 8000 total.
This is a great race! I hope Scott continues to put it on. I wish I could’ve stayed to watch everyone else come in. I’m sure there were great stories. We all got an email of the official results and there were some pretty good comments on why people dropped out. My favorite was someone wanted a burrito. I’m sure there’s more to that story. I wished I would’ve taken a picture of the bell we rang when we finished. Guess you’ll just have to run the race to see it.
So 5 years ago I started running for the first time in 15 years. I ran poorly in track in high school and only a little in college while on the crew team; so even when I ran it wasn’t with much purpose. 5 years ago I had a purpose to do a Tough Mudder with my brother and brother-in-law and I started running again. I was out of shape, had a dad gut, and had my second child due that year. Within 9 months, my purpose was trail ultrarunning. Soon after, a major goal was to finish Arrowhead 135. I think I first heard about it on the ultra-listserv 4 years ago and knew immediately that I had to run this race. I went the slow route and made sure to get a couple winter races in and enough 100’s to not be afraid of the distance. My application was accepted last fall and I left for International Falls Saturday morning.
I did my check-in Saturday afternoon to get it out of the way. It’s at the Backus Community Center which I assume was the old school building. Door #3 is the closest to where you need to go for check in by the way. I was told there that I’d need to have packaged food to prove the caloric content of the food for my emergency food requirement so I had to go to the store to buy a pound of butter since my home made brownies wouldn’t count. I even laminated the ingredients with all the calorie information and stuff but it still didn’t matter. Otherwise I passed on everything else. For those unfamiliar with this race, here is the required gear as taken from the website.
MANDATORY GEAR from race start to race finish.
Minus-20F degrees sleeping bag or colder rating. Colder than -20F almost all previous races. If you skimp here you are foolish. And we will not allow you to skimp. So do not skimp. Fool. 2011 it was -42F on trail. Be able to prove your bag is a -20 bag. Don’t cut off the tags to shave weight.
Insulated sleeping pad – minimum 20″ by 48″
Bivy sack or tent (space blankets/tarps do not count). We don’t like seeing new bivy sacks that have never been tried.
Firestarter (matches or lighter).
8 fl. oz. fuel at ALL times (either gas, alcohol or 2 canisters of propane/butane 100 g. each or 12 Big Esbit tablets). 1 lb propane tanks, white gas, and Heet are available in Int’l Falls – propane/butane and Esbits are available from RD with advance notice. Please plan accordingly.
Pot (min. volume is 1 pint)
2-qt (64 fl. oz.) or just under 2 litres, insulated water container. (Yes, Camelbacks count). Not freezing your drinks in a cold year is a real challenge.
Headlamp or flashlight. Suggest minimum ~100 lumen good for 12 hours/bike or 20 hours on ski/foot. Bring a spare, the cold eats batteries.
Flashing red LED lights (and spare batteries), both on front and back of sled or bike or racer – Don’t show up with single LED key chain lights…bring real safety lights or you will not pass gear check and they may not be available at local stores. Keep ON 24/7. HIGHLY IMPORTANT….THIS MAY WELL PREVENT YOU FROM BEING A HOOD ORNAMENT ON LARGE FAST-MOVING SNOWMACHINES.
Everyone must have at least 10 square inches of reflective material on front and 10 square inches on the back of the person for this race. If you don’t want to put holes in your $200 jacket bring a reflective vest.
Whistle on string around neck to call for help, because your mouth is too numb to yell.
1-day of readily edible food at ALL times (3000 calories)
You will be given 2 bibs. We must be able to see your bib number on the front of your body (outer layer) at all times!!! Post the 2nd bib where it is easily visible.
YOU CAN STILL BE STUPID WITH ALL THE GEAR, KNOW HOW TO USE IT.
The race itself is 135 miles from International Falls, MN to Tower, MN along the Blue Ox Grade and Arrowhead snowmobile trails. You can go on foot, bike, or ski. I of course went in the foot division. It’s basically flat for 30ish miles, then hilly for about another 40 miles, then really hilly for 40 miles, and then pretty much flat the rest of the way except for the biggest hill of them all at mile 113.5. The trail is wide and all the snowmobilers I saw were driving appropriately and safely. More details on the trail to follow but that’s the overview.
I went to the hotel after I ate and organized my gear and started making decisions on what to leave behind. The forecast was for snow but no one really knew how much it would be. It definitely wasn’t going to be a cold year. The temperature wasn’t even forecast to get below zero the entire race. That’s really warm for this race. I almost felt like it was cheating having it so warm. There are just so many things that you can get away with when it’s this warm. You can take your gloves off to open things is the biggest “cheat”. Seriously, if it’s -20 and you take your gloves off for even 20 seconds, it takes a long time for them to warm back up if at all. I didn’t even run with gloves on most of the first day. So you worry and plan for all these scenarios where you have to do things with big gloves on and now none of that mattered since it was so warm. Anyway on to the story.
I slept quite well for having a constant pipe banging sound in my room. Apparently it was the boiler and the sound was heard in every room so switching wouldn’t matter. I could see Canada out my window since it was just across the river. I brought my passport but didn’t need to go over to purchase any last minute items so I never went.
My plan for Sunday was to go and check out the trail and my fully loaded sled. Here is what the sled looks like. This was taken the first day out on the course.
Just a side note on my sled. I used a Paris sled at Tuscobia last year which had holes in it by the time I finished. So this year I made my own sled out of Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. It has a coefficient of friction near Teflon and is very durable and can handle extreme cold. It’s the only material to use for winter ultras really. Yes it’s easier to just put a rope on a ready made sled from the store but it won’t last, and if you make one yourself it’s cheaper. This sled cost me $40 of materials and I’ll never need to make a new one if I don’t want too. I think the Paris sled with poles was closer to $70. My main worry about it was I was only able to test it 3 times since we didn’t get much snow down in southern MN this year. I learned a few things during the race that would make a better sled. One is to put runners (just a couple thicker strips of UHMW-PE on the bottom) on to make it track better. It will add weight but I think it’s worth it. It would also pull easier if it was narrower. I’m not going to do that though since my gear fits just right with this width. But if I had to start with nothing, I’d go narrower and longer. That’s enough help on the sled, to me that’s part of the learning process and it’s more satisfying to do that on your own. There are a few people that make them but with shipping it’ll cost you around $250. Really depending on the snow conditions it would make sense to have a couple different sled styles to chose from. Mine would do well in deep powder, and the narrow ones with no sides to them would likely do poorly since they’d be swamped and cut in too much. But those were the best for the race this year.
So I stopped along the trail at road crossings a couple different places on Sunday morning. I ran a couple miles with my loaded up sled to make sure it held up. The trail was very hard due to the melting they had had the last week. Also nice and fast. The new snow coming would slow that down though once it got deeper.
I got back to International Falls and dropped my drop bags off at the Community Center. There was a mandatory meeting there at 4pm and then a meal after that. The meeting filled in a few questions I had as a rookie. The race is about 2/3 veteran and 1/3 novice.
After the meal I headed back to check on the weather and do my final packing. I took out a few things and decided to leave my snowshoes as well as it wasn’t going to get over 6 inches of snow and they weigh 3.5 pounds. I saw some people with much smaller and lighter snowshoes so I may need to look into those.
The race started on Monday Jan 30th at 7am for the bikers, 7:02 for skiers and 7:04 for us on foot. I got up around 5am. It was about 10 degrees when I woke up but kept getting warmer by the time the race started. There was a 10mph wind from the south that we’d be going into for the first 9 miles of the race. I wore tights, thermal shirt, wind jacket, gloves, and buff for a hat. 181 were accepted for this race but only 156 ended up starting. 59 runners started.
The bikers started off with fireworks going off. Then the skiers 2 minutes later, and then we started 2 minutes after that. I didn’t hear anyone say anything for the start but just saw people leaving so I followed. They say “release the hounds” to start us off but I must have been too far away to hear it.
I started running and eventually ran with Breanna from Arizona and talked for about an hour. Then John Storkamp caught up and I talked to him for awhile as well. He was just power walking and I had to run to keep up. He’s done this race a dozen times so he knows it very well. Of course every year is still different because of the weather and snow conditions.
The course follows the Blue Ox Grade snowmobile trail from Kerry Arena in the middle of International Falls until it meets up with the start of the Arrowhead snowmobile trail 9.5 miles later. There is a shelter there but no one stops that early I’m sure. There are 10 shelters along the course but I missed one or two of them during the night. We then headed East. This entire first section is flat. It started snowing soon after the start. It looked very pretty but my shoes were getting wet already. Once I turned I took off my buff and gloves since without the wind in my face I was getting warm. I talked to a few other people here and there until things started spreading out more.
The next landmark is crossing Hwy 53 at 18.75 miles. There are train tracks there and I could hear trains but luckily they were past by the time I got there. By this time there was probably a couple inches of snow that had fallen. It of course didn’t look that deep since it always settles. After Hwy 53 the sled started pulling harder so I started walking around mile 24 where shelter #2 is. The small hills start around 26 miles. I think this is around where I met a guy that was running this for the first time. He had done it with a bike I’m pretty sure but he hadn’t really run an ultra before. Meaning each step was a new personal best distance for him on foot. I don’t think he finished the race this year though.
There is another shelter around mile 30. Then the hills start to get a little bigger. Enough that you could ride down them but there was only 1 that I rode down just before the first check point which is Gateway Store. You have to do a short out and back to get to it. The store is 36.7 miles into the race. There is food, etc to buy there. They had I think 5 kinds of soup to buy as well. I changed my socks and noticed my feet were already getting wrinkly from being wet all the time. The usual stuff I do wasn’t keeping them dry. I suspect the warm temps and the constant snowing was the difference. I spent 25 minutes here, it just takes a while to get things done even with a efficient plan.
I left at 4:26 pm and it would be getting dark soon. There were 8 people in front of me when I left but I didn’t know that at the time. I knew of at least 4 due to tracks in the snow but there were people so far ahead that the new snow had totally covered up their tracks. And so began what felt like the longest night ever. The hills keep going and get bigger as time goes on. There are several roads you go across that people tend to drop at and I could see why. It just seems like it will never end. Plus, it does really just keep getting worse for the next 70 miles or so. There are brief easy sections and then more hills. I met a few people and talked to them for awhile. I was never this tired so early in an ultra before. I was only 14 hours into this thing and could’ve slept instantly just laying down. My next goal was the second checkpoint at MelGeorge at mile 72 of the race. I was hoping it would take 11 hours to get there from Gateway but ended up taking 12.
I know many who said they heard wolves along this part. I didn’t. The snow had finally stopped and around 9 or 10 I saw the clouds part for a short time and tons of stars. No northern lights this year. There also was a very slight crescent moon that gave a nice eerie touch once the clouds started coming back in and covered it up.
Since I hadn’t seen anyone in a long time, I put on some music to try to lift my spirits some. It didn’t help that much really. Even though I tend to slow down when talking to people, the time flies by so much faster I wished I would find someone. I know of 2 people that I caught up to that said me talking to them made a big difference in their spirits. That’s the solitude part of the race though. You could choose to stay with someone the entire time but it’s kind of against the point of the race. You should have thoughts of loneliness, boredom, etc that come into your head. That’s the test, to push them out and focus on the ultimate task of finishing. There are plenty of physical reasons to quit this race, all of them are reasons to not even start. But the mental reasons are what stop most people, even the ones who have finished before and know better.
Along the way are shelters 4 and 5. There were people sleeping at shelter 5. I had a room reserved at the MelGeorge resort which is legal for the race. I figured since this was my first year, it would be a good idea in case things went bad. I couldn’t get there soon enough. I was so tired and just tired of the hills. The trail changes directions so many times, I had no idea how much further the check point was. My GPS had to be recharged so when I turned it back on I could see my pace but really had no clue how long was left. The last shelter is 13 miles from the resort which is hours for this race.
Finally I got to the lake that you cross over on for 1 mile to get to the resort. We were supposed to check in first before going to our room so that added a quarter mile of back tracking from where the check in cabin was. I checked in at 4am and 9 people had checked in before me. It was worth it to have a room. I sent a Skype video message to my family since there was no phone service but did have WiFi. My feet were all trench foot. I slept for 2.5 hours with my feet uncovered to dry them out. My shoes dried some but not completely. The new forecast called for -4 degrees Wednesday morning. I finally left at 8:15am after getting ready and going back the quarter mile to the check in point. 16 people left before I did since I was there so long. I knew some would have to bivy again before the finish, but how many? So overall I spent 4 hours there which was longer than I’d like but I needed it due to my feet.
As usual, sleep had wondrous healing powers for me. My feet hurt but looked normal. I kind of had energy but the best thing was the sun was up! Day 2 would be MUCH better than Night 1. There were 2 people who started seconds before me. One was a skier Jerritt and the other was Jeff Firkus who I ran with some at Tuscobia last year. He knew this trail pretty well.
I wish I would’ve taken pictures during the second day but it was a big hassle getting it out of the pack where it was staying nice and warm in case of emergency.
There are the usual hills for the next 2 miles. At exactly 2 miles from the check-in cabin is the turn that can be difficult for some. It’s where you get back on to the main combined arrowhead trail. It was well marked.
2.7 miles from MelGeorge check-in cabin is where my day got amazing! That was the start of a huge downhill that I seriously thought about climbing back up to go down again it was so fun! It’s 150 feet high and I got going up to 13mph according to my watch but it felt like 30. Remember the first time you ever just bombed down a ski hill and felt the wind pushing hard against you and absolutely loving it? Yep, just like that. Felt like I was 13. Some of these downhills would have bumps in them from the snowmobiles so I’d get air on them. Awesome! Remember I had no way to keep this sled going straight other than my hands and feet. That just added to the excitement! There were kind of snowbanks all along the edge of the trail since it’s packed down but I didn’t want to test if they would keep me from flying in the trees. I told Jeff I wish I had a GoPro for that hill. He did have one but didn’t think of it at the time. For the next 32 miles minus about 5 miles of flat towards the beginning of that section, it was nothing but sleddable hills. I was having so much fun. Jeff would bomb down head first to steer with his feet behind him. He left me behind on the flat part section.
I changed socks again since I could feel them soaked again. They didn’t look as bad as yesterday and I was hoping to keep them that way.
That’s when Jerritt and I kept crossing paths. He’d have to take off and put on his skis constantly because of the hills. It didn’t look fun. I was still having fun. Just before 26 miles from the cabin is the start of 2 hills that looked like every other hill we had gone down. The difference was they go way steeper as you went down and had a fairly sharp turn part way down you couldn’t see from the top. I ended up testing those banks on the side of the trail and bounced back and forth spinning and going backwards down the hill. I thought for sure I’d hit a tree but never did. Then right after is another one where I had to really dig my shoes in to not hit a bridge post. I was yelling at Jerritt to get out of the way since I couldn’t stop and he was at the bottom. He told me he ended up in the trees on that first one but was OK.
It then got dark and it started to snow for the second day in a row. Then the hills were kind of scary because you couldn’t see anything with the falling snow reflecting in the headlamp. You never knew where the bottom of the hill was, how steep, nothing. So I ran down a lot more of them. I became bored of hills and was starting to count down the miles to Surly Tee Pee checkpoint at mile 111. The wind really picked up and you could feel the temperature dropping fast for the first time in the race. The forecast was -4 which isn’t bad at all. The wind was mostly at our backs the rest of the race so even the wind wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Finally I hit the turn to the Southeast towards the checkpoint. I started seeing smart ass signs reminding us we’d signed up for this, etc. The usual ultra humor. At least I knew I had to be getting closer.
I got to Surly Tee Pee checkpoint at 9:30pm Tuesday. 14 people checked in before me. I didn’t need to do much and had a plan in my head. I changed socks again (on my 5th pair now). Since it was now colder they would likely stay drier but I had to get the wet ones off. I put on another layer of pants. I got out my second jacket. Got a fleece hat instead of a buff. I put on warmer gloves and got out the next warmer pair and put it in my backpack as I knew the trail got more exposed later on and would need them. I put some more hot water in my cooler and was out the Tee Pee door. It only took my 22 minutes but it didn’t even feel that long. I had no wasted time in my mind. It just takes a long time to get new socks on it seems. They were steaming when I took my shoes off. I left some people behind at the checkpoint that were taking a break as only 10 left before me. I had started to take caffeine at this point but there was no chance I’d have to bivy. I ate the rest of the food I planned on eating so that I’d get an energy boost around 2 or 3 am.
There is one more big steep hill called Wakemup hill after the checkpoint that starts about 1.6 miles out. You go up about 100 feet but get to go down 150 feet. I didn’t know if you could sled down it safely so I dug my shoes in until about the half way point down. Turns out you could just fly down pretty easy as it’s a gentle turn and it slowly flattens out. You go a long way with this hill. From there on out it’s a very gradual uphill to the finish line about 21 miles away. There are some turns here and there but most of the time you can see over a mile in front and behind you at all times.
This next part I wasn’t sure I’d put in here but my wife said I should so I will. About 4 miles in I could see someone ahead of me and I caught up to him soon after sitting on a tree on the side of the trail blankly staring. All his lights were on as I passed him (important for later). One on the back of his sled and one I think on his chest. So he only had 2 but that was all that was required. I said “Hi” and he said nothing in return which was odd for this race or anytime really.
I looked back a minute later and I could see he was getting ready to start up again since lights were moving everywhere. About 10 minutes later he passes me with only his headlamp on super low. All his blinking lights required by the race were turned off. I also couldn’t see his bib number anywhere to know who he was. Obviously he was trying to not be seen by me after he passed me as there is no other plausible explanation. I’ve seen this many times before in summer races. The difference is that it is required during this race to have them on at all times, even in the day because we’re on a snowmobile trail. I was pissed so I sped up and followed him for probably 5 minutes until 2 snowmobiles that were associated with the race came by. I tried to stop them to tell them about his lights but they must have assumed I was saying I was OK and just kept going. They didn’t stop him which I was surprised by.
You see during check-in they were very anal about the blinky lights as really they probably should be. People had already contacted the DNR about being surprised by us being on the trail in years past. If anyone ever gets hit during the race I think we can safely assume the race is dead. At Tuscobia, it’s part of their permit from the DNR that you need at least 3 lights on at all times and at certain heights, etc. I had 3 lights on my head, and 3 more down my back and sled. I also had one in front. I asked several people during the race if they could see my lights and they said they were real good. Really everyone I saw had good lights, assuming they were ON!
I followed him closely as I could only see him by his reflector and had to be fairly close for that. I had planned on doing 20-22 minute miles until the end but was now doing 18 minute miles. It took about 20 minutes and then I caught up to him while he was stopped. As I was coming up to him, I asked him if all his blinkies’ batteries had died. I then got in front of him and could see a faint red light coming from under his duffle bag at the front of the sled. He had hid them in there. Remember I saw them on the back of his sled in the beginning where they should be. I said, “Oh, there they are, just as I thought” and left him. He didn’t say anything but sure enough they were on again later on when I looked back. He tried to keep up and it did take me about an hour before I couldn’t see him anymore but for all I know he had turned all his lights off and was still just behind me. I refilled my water bottle for the last time after I turned a corner as fast as possible. Basically I spilled water everywhere but got enough in my bottle. I never stopped again.
I was on a mission to not let a cheater beat me. 17 minute miles were common now. I kept thinking about the character Crusher on Blaze and the Monster Machines cartoon I watch with my kids. He always cheats to try to win the races but he never does. In fact, if he wouldn’t cheat he’d likely win some of the races because he’s so far ahead. Sound similar? My kids loved this story when I got home by the way.
I ended up seeing another light up ahead and caught up to him in about 30 minutes. It was Jeff and I had caught back up to him. I briefly told him about the guy behind me. I told Jeff I didn’t care if he (Jeff) kept up and beat me, just as long as I beat the cheater behind us. Jeff did keep up for a while but stopped somewhere and I never saw him again. The trail seemed to go along swamps a lot in this area so I ran anytime I was on icy looking stuff since the sled pulled so nice.
It was colder now and I put on my warmer gloves from my backpack while still moving. I knew we had to turn off the arrowhead trail somewhere and I thought it was soon after crossing CoRd 77. I crossed a road but it never seemed to me that we turned off anywhere. I could see tracks and footprints in the snow and the course was well marked so I knew I was still on the right course but really had no idea how much further it was. My watch had died from the cold. I didn’t want to stop to take my phone out which had a gpx file of the course on it. I’d get there when I got there I told myself. I could tell my speed was slowing now. I was getting tired and it seemed like all I was doing was making turns in the woods. East then South then East then South. Other race reports made it sound like you could see the casino long before you got there but I never did.
Finally I heard some noise. I got to the snow fence area which I thought meant I still had a couple miles left to go. Nope, it means you have like 0.1 miles. I asked a guy how much further to the finish line and he pointed to the top of the hill he was standing by and I could see the banner. To say I was happy is an understatement. Not even so much that I finished the race (I knew that would happen back at Surly), but that I didn’t have to go 2 more miles and I had beaten my new Nemesis. It was 4:56am Wednesday Feb 1st. I had finished in 45 hours and 52 minutes. I proclaimed I’d party till the sun came up which was only a couple hours away.
I told them Jeff should be coming shortly. They take you inside and I had to pick a number from 1 to 10. I don’t remember what number I picked but whatever it was meant I had to do a full gear check so we did that and I passed. I got brought up to the hospitality room in the Fortune Bay Casino and I got my trophy, some food, pop, and my clean clothes bag. The volunteers really are amazing at this race. Jeff came in I think 10 minutes later. My feet looked better than they did at Surly. The cold and wind had dried out my shoes and socks. I got my picture taken with the trophy.
I took a shower and changed. I tried to sleep some but mostly just talked to other racers. Some were just coming in, others had already slept and were getting up to see the new finishers.
I couldn’t wait to get home to my family so I slept some once I got back to my car in International Falls and then drove home.
The cheater was Italian I found out as he came in. That’s maybe why he didn’t say anything to me. But as my wife said, it’s no excuse for cheating and putting himself and the entire race in jeopardy. You need to know the rules no matter what, especially safety rules. There’s no way he accidentally took his lights off and hid them. Her argument made sense to me and that’s why I even put the story in here.
There are some who don’t agree with the sledding aspect of this race. From what I’ve been told it’s always been allowed and I love it. Even if you took every step down a hill you could easily lower your sled in front of you with a retractable dog leash and not have it pushing you down the hill negating the main argument most have against it. I think people should take advantage of it. I don’t think it makes you go much faster as most hills you could run down faster and it takes time to get on and off your sled. There’s only about 10 hills that you really cruise on. The main advantage is the fun factor and the fact you’re off your feet for 10 seconds. I was seriously thinking I would never do this race again until I got to the sledding portion of the trail. That first night for me just kinda sucked. Now I plan on doing it again if I gain entry again.
The headlamp suggestion for 100 lumens or more is a good one. You don’t need more than 50 on the flat parts but if you want to see the bottom of the hills and not overrun your light then you want well over 100. 200 would be good if you have the battery life to keep your headlamp on that high of a setting. I’d crank mine up on the downhills but it didn’t help much this year since it was snowing and all I saw were snowflakes flying at me.
Again the volunteers are great for this race as are the race directors although I never spoke to them directly. Well organized and I saw lots of race associated sleds in case anyone was in danger.
Speaking of snowmobiles, I saw very few non race related snowmobiles the entire race. Only a couple the first day. Probably 15 the second day. For some reason the second night I saw 40 between 10 and 11pm. After that I saw none again. They were all very well behaved riders and none of them seemed surprised by my presence, but then again there was always someone just a half mile ahead of me for most of the race.
There is a ton of walking in this race. I estimate I ran 30 miles, sledded 1.5 miles and walked the rest. The only thing that hurt after the race were my ankles. Those are back to normal and my calves are a little sore. Don’t let the distance scare you if you are thinking of this race. If you’ve done a 50 mile race you can easily finish this from a physical aspect. The cold and your mind are the things you need to train for. Walking just isn’t that hard, even if pulling a sled.
With all that said, I suspect this was an “easy” year both weather and condition wise. 38 of the 59 runners finished which is 64% and pretty high for this race. I remind myself though that even if it was an easier year than most, it’s still 135 miles.
So I finally ran the Superior 100 race last weekend (September 9-10)! I had previously done the marathon distance (my first trail race ever) and the 50 mile race. Now I can say I’ve done all three. If you’re not aware these are all run on the superior hiking trail which I love and they are all point to point races which I also love.
I’ve forgotten a lot of this race honestly, so I may have sections messed up in my head as far as what happened on which portion of the trail and such. I’ll try to get it right.
The main goal for this race was to finish. I know that’s what everyone always seems to say. That or I want to finish with a smile. I don’t know if they actually mean those statements or not. Most of the time I have a set goal, either a finishing time or place. To me a race is a race. I do have fun before the race and even during the race but for me I’m there to challenge myself somehow. My training runs and journey runs are the ones I do for fun and see the most interesting things in nature. Perhaps I’ll change my mind as I get older. But again I needed to do a 100 mile qualifier for Western States this year and this was the only one that would work so finishing was really my main goal.
Anyway I wasn’t expecting much since it hasn’t even been 2 months since Vol State and the longest run I did since then was 11 miles. The main training I did was running down Hermann Heights hill over and over again to get my quads somewhat in shape for the torture they would endure at Superior. The computer said I should finish around 30 hours. I think I could finish under 30 hours if I trained just for this race but that certainly wasn’t the case this year. So to be more realistic for this years race I put down 31:30 for my goal time on my aid station sheet for my awesome wife who crewed for me. I also made a sheet with 30 and 33 hour goal times in case things went well or bad. There is a lot of data available on split times for the previous races and racers in a spreadsheet format from the race website. I used it to find people that finished around when I expected and then looked to see how much time each section took for them. I did this because some sections are easier than others (maybe more accurate to say some sections suck worse than others since nothing is easy on this course) and I haven’t run the first half of the course to know what they would be like.
The pre-race meeting and bib pick up is the night before the race (Thursday night) and it was great to see the people I knew. It’s getting to be I know more and more people at every race which is nice. I tried to introduce Jessie to some of the other crews that I thought she might see so she wouldn’t be so shy at the aid stations. I got an autographed copy of Kevin Langton’s book. Ian Corless took everyone’s photo. Here’s mine.
The pre-meeting speech was a little over an hour long and since there weren’t many chairs most of us had to stand the entire time. Not a huge deal but if you want a chair, make sure you’re sitting down when they announce the meeting.
Our motel was a mile from the starting line at Gooseberry Falls State Park and since the current race route goes on the bike path for the first 4.5 miles it went right past the motel. Thursday night I taped my feet and repacked everything so Jessie and I both knew where everything was. Then it was bedtime around 10pm. With an 8am start and being so close to the starting line, it was the most relaxed morning before the race I’ve ever had. I could walk to the start line if need be. I didn’t even need to get up much earlier than I normally do.
In fact I’ve never been so calm before a race. I had zero nervousness about this race. I don’t know if it’s because I wasn’t pressuring myself for a certain time or just that I had confidence I would finish. The distance certainly doesn’t scare me anymore, and with a 38 hour time limit I wasn’t worried about running out of time. I’m not completely sure of the reason but it was a great feeling race morning just being calm and looking at all the other racers looking nervous.
One guy I kind of know looked pretty nervous to me and my wife. It was his first 100 mile race. I seriously wouldn’t recommend this as someone’s first 100 mile race. They don’t come much harder than this one. We didn’t say anything to him of course and perhaps we were wrong. He did end up dropping out towards the end of the race.
So what would I recommend for a first 100 mile race? Any sort of rail to trail course or other fairly flat course. I did the Heartland 100 (which I still need to do a race report for) for my first and with 6000 feet of elevation gain, it is an easy 100 mile race. That’s not to say it’s an EASY race, it’s still 100 miles but compared to Superior with 21,000 feet of elevation gain and an extra 3 miles of distance, it is easier. Kettle Moraine is probably the easiest more local one, lots of aid stations at that one as well which may be good or bad for a first timer.
So back to the race. Here’s the video of the start. I tried to place myself around 40-50th place since I figured that’s where I’d finish. The nice thing about the new beginning of this race is that it’s on a bike path for 4.5 miles which allows plenty of time for people to spread out a little before getting to the single track (similar to Kettle Moraine).
So the tagline for this race is Rugged, Relentless, Remote. My wife doesn’t like the remote part of that since it’s not all that remote to her. I can see her point since there are a lot of road, powerline, railroad crossings that you could find civilization on in an emergency, but there is no cell phone coverage pretty much anywhere on the course and you’ll never see a house. So while you’re not far from civilization you will certainly feel remote when you’re on a ridge and see nothing but trees and the lake. Regardless, I couldn’t think of 2 more appropriate words than rugged and relentless for the superior trail. This is a very technical trail. By the time you get to the Beaver Bay aid station around mile 20, you will already be hurting some. The trail is almost solid rocks and roots that first section. Not nice smooth rocks, jagged rocks that you have to land on while coming down a steep hill. Oh, and the slate rocks around split rock like to slide around some too. I don’t know how anyone does this race in minimal shoes. They must have to go slower downhills to make sure to miss everything. The roots will trip you up even in the day, even in the beginning of the race. Wait until nightfall! The next 3 photos of the race course give you an idea of what this trail is like. Of course it’s not all like this but these aren’t the exception either. A good chunk of this race is on similar terrain.
I was able to pass a few people on the downhills in the first section to Split Rock. Split Rock aid station is an out and back spur off the trail so I saw a few people I knew ahead of me and then behind me on the way out. I saw a pack of 30 runners all grouped up going into the station while I was leaving it. I kind of wanted to slow down because I was breathing through my mouth some and it was already hot but I for sure didn’t want that pack to catch up to me. I really hate running on single track in a big conga line. I go faster than the vast majority of people on the way down and go slower than they do on the way up. I love bombing the hills like I’m a 6 year old with no fear. In fact there were about 5 people in the middle of the race that kept saying “see you on the downhill” as they past me going uphill. That’s part of the reason I don’t think I’ll ever have a pacer, few people run like me it seems.
Kevin caught up to me outside of Split Rock so we ran and talked for a good while. He loves the downhills like me. We came into Beaver Bay together and met up on the trail again shortly after that aid station. We ran together pretty much the whole way into Silver Bay aid station at mile 25 or so.
Things had slowly started to go down hill for me starting at Beaver Bay (mile 20). It was noon then and hotter than I’d like. No one liked the heat really. I wasn’t nauseous necessarily but the thought of food disgusted me and only plain water tasted good. I had a hard time staying hydrated but I did. I had been eating my regular gels and tried honey this race as well. But really nothing at the aid stations looked or tasted good so I stopped eating for the next 20 miles to try to get things straightened out. I took antacids and gas-x as well just in case that was the cause. I was running slower than I had planned and the course was much harder in the beginning than I planned (most of the elevation of this race is the second half). The trail was so much more technical the first half of this race than the 50 mile race I did 2 years earlier on the second half of the 100 mile course. I was already 8 minutes behind my goal time and felt drained and done already. I’ve never wanted to quit a race before at 20 miles into it. Knowing I still had at least 27 more hours of this kind of weighed on me.
I’ve hiked the section from Silver Bay to Tettegouche before and loved it. It really is beautiful and I don’t remember it being hard at all so I kind of fudged the numbers on my pace sheet to make this section faster than what racers in the past had done. Nope, numbers don’t lie, it was hard. Doing this section after running a difficult and technical marathon makes it hard. I started the section with Kevin and soon told him I was going to have a pity party with myself for about 20 minutes. Not that I didn’t want to run with him but I wouldn’t be too talkative. See, even though at the beginning I didn’t care what time I finished, once I got in front of that big pack, I went into competitive mode. I had been doing math which we all do during a 100 mile race and I was likely not going to finish even in 33 hours. 34 was looking more realistic based on how I felt. I knew I’d feel better at night in the cool air but really 33 hours was the new reality and it took me a while to accept it and move on. It seems odd now, but I just didn’t want to be out there another 1.5 hours. I mean what’s another 1.5 hours when it’s going to take at least 31 hours. The great views of this section did a lot to help me get back to a normal mental state. It is the prettiest section of the trail I’ve ever been on and I’ve been on over half of it. I think this is the area I lost Kevin. He stopped to talk to someone he knew and I never saw him again. Turns out he was having stomach issues as well and ended up quitting as night fell.
I got to Tettegouche having successfully gotten down the drainpipe without injury or slowing me down much. I even passed 2 people going down it. I was 42 minutes past my goal time for that aid station. Yeah that’s a lot. I’m sure Jessie was worried a little. I knew since I fudged my pace sheet that I was more like only 20 minutes over time but I would have to do the next 2 sections faster than I thought in order to even it out.
Tettegouche to CR 6 I don’t think was really all that hard of a section. At least I don’t remember it being very difficult other than my stomach being the main issue for my slowness. I know others say it’s hard so who knows, my memory just isn’t the best this race. I think I could run this section faster if I felt good. I came into CR 6 43 minutes behind so I had stopped the bleeding at least. It was now 6:50pm so I got my headlamp on. I ate something here but I don’t remember what. Something finally tasted good. I still never drank anymore drink mix though the remainder of the race, just water. Jessie’s final words at CR 6 aid station were “hurry up and get to Finland so I can go eat!”
I was glad to get through the section 13 cliff section while it was still light. After that the trail started to get dark and it cooled off. The trail was runnable again and I took off. This section would likely be boring to hike but was awesome to run. Flat, went over a beaver pond I’m pretty sure, more flat and then Finland aid station. I yelled out “bananapants!” so Jessie would know it’s me in the dark. Some people were kind of thrown by that I think. Anyway I was feeling better and had made up a small amount of time. It looked like 33 hours would be possible. Cheese curds at the aid station looked awesome and they were. Finally I was eating again. I had seen rain in the distance that had rained on Finland but I hadn’t gotten wet yet. I wouldn’t see Jessie for 4 hours according to my pace sheet so she could finally go eat.
The rest of the course I had run at least once before so I knew what was ahead. Finland to Sonju Lake is a fairly easy section. You run on a road for a mile or so and then gradually go uphill for miles. It’s a runnable incline and not very technical (comparatively) so with my new found energy and food I made good time.
Sonju Lake to Crosby Manitou I can’t remember much really. I think it is fairly average. The last mile is a road into the state park and the aid station is the parking lot. At my 50 mile 2 years ago I came into the station to see a bunch of people dancing to “What Does the Fox Say”. It was much more subdued this time. I was now only 38 minutes behind my pace sheet. I think Jessie was slightly impressed. She had slept a little bit at least. The next section I remember sucked from my 50 mile race. It’s a very technical downhill which isn’t too bad on fresh legs in the daytime but I expected it to be horrible now. It was 1am and storms were coming. I had planned on 26 minute miles for this section since that’s what other racers did in the past. Yeah, that’s really slow but it’s that bad of a section and 9.4 miles long without any aid.
So off I went. Down, down along the river you could hear but not see very often. Down the giant rocks, down the 30 foot sheer wall of mud that I don’t know how anyone ever goes up. Cross the river. Then crack, boom. The storm was here. Good thing I made it down before it really got wet. I put on my poncho but it never really rained much, just sprinkled with lots of lightning and thunder in the canyon. I hadn’t seen anyone so far but expected I would see people passing me on the 5 mile long hill. Sure enough someone passed me. But I also passed someone who was having trouble with his sandal. Anyway I was power hiking up the incline like a boss. Lightning always makes me go faster as well.
I think it was this section that some sort of animal ran into my left ankle. I heard rustling in the leaves coming towards me from the left and saw a little movement as well. Then something hit my ankle and went away. It felt like what I imagine a chipmunk hitting me would feel like so I’m assuming it was a chipmunk. Although why would it be out at night. And maybe it was actually towards dusk which means much earlier in the race. Like I said, lots of this race is hard to remember.
I ended up getting to Sugarloaf aid station AHEAD of my pace sheet. I had just cut off 50 minutes of time. Somehow my goal time was back in play. The course was now wet and muddy. My feet would be wet the rest of the race for the most part so I went ahead and took off my tape and put on my foot paste. My toes had already started to get wrinkly so it was good timing. No blisters yet at that point. Over night I had passed 9 people, mostly at aid stations. I knew many would pass me again once it was daylight. I felt good having made a cushion though.
Sugarloaf to Cramer Rd it started to downpour. I put my poncho back on. It rained for a long time it seemed like. Then the wind came that would last the rest of the day. I got chilled from the wind and sweat soaked shirt so when I got to the aid station I put on my long sleeve shirt. It was light out now so I left my headlamp with Jessie and hoped to not see it again this race, the dreaded second night.
Cramer Rd to Temperance is a pretty fun section if you have new legs. Lots of fast gentle downhills. The marathon starts from Cramer Rd area at 8am so I wanted to get as much distance as I could before they caught up.
Temperance aid station I know had pancakes and bacon. Awesome! I found the best way to eat pancakes was just to roll them up with the syrup in the middle and eat with my hands. Plastic forks suck. I put on a new t-shirt since it was getting warm again.
The section to Sawbill was bad. Lots of uphill to Carlton Peak. I’ve done it before so I knew what was coming. It’s actually runnable in the beginning if you’re a 50mile or marathon runner but not for me this year. If you’ve never done this section be prepared for lots of false peaks. It went even slower than I thought it would so I lost some time. At this point I had been running for 25 hours and I was pretty tired. I started taking caffeine at 6pm the night before and it helped some but I never felt alert by any means. This was the slowest section of the race averaging 26 minute miles. And yet only 1 person passed me. Well 1 100 mile racer. Marathon runners started passing me. If I remember right the last part of this section is downhill with lots of boardwalks. I like to call them expressways. While they can be slippery, you don’t have to worry about tripping on rocks or roots and they are in flat or downhill sections as well. You can cruise along quit quickly on them.
I finally got to Sawbill and had more pancakes and bacon. I was behind pace again by 30 minutes. Only 3 big hills left though. Sawbill to Oberg is a fast section. It’s also the most muddy even without rain. If you are a marathon runner you should be almost sprinting this section. It seems all downhill to me really. It’s not of course since you climb up Leveaux Mt but still it seems fast every time I run it. In fact I did this section at 4 miles an hour.
This also is the section where a lot of marathon runners past me, or maybe the end of the previous section, hard to remember. They knew I was a 100 mile runner due to the pink ribbons we wore on our backs to let them know. They’d all wait to pass and yell out something like “great job hundred”. I’d move over a lot this section and wonder how much faster I’d be if not for all the moving over and stopping. The 3 main phrases I heard were: “you’re awesome”, “super job”, or my favorite “you’re amazing”. Most of them were women and many held my arm as they passed (I’m sure just to stabilize themselves) and a couple even looked me in the eyes. I told Jessie at the next aid station that she might want to start worrying about all these other women calling me awesome and amazing. Oh wait, they were probably just saying that because I was running 100 miles. Crisis averted. I passed another 100 runner who looked kind of hurt just before the Oberg aid station but had been passed by someone as well. I was also going to get passed by someone soon according to the marathon runners who passed me.
I was in and out of Oberg pretty quickly. I knew a lot of people would be coming after me. I told Jessie I’d probably lose close to 5 more places. I was only 4 minutes over my pace sheet now since I went so fast the last section. This next section is fairly hard with 2 big hills. I was able to hold off anyone passing me until the climb up Moose Mt. I then ran pretty quick over the mountain and down hill. I was hurting a lot by this point (I’ll talk more about pain later) but I just got into this mode where I was able to ignore all the pain in my legs and go. It still hurt like crazy when I stubbed my toes though. I got passed by 3 more people and I had had enough. Even though I wanted so bad to just walk up Mystery Mt I didn’t want anyone else passing me. There was still an hour of race left and I decided I’d see if I could run it all. Mystery Mt is pretty much the only place on the entire length of the superior hiking trail with switchbacks so it’s fairly gradual of an incline. I actually passed some marathon runners on the way up Mystery Mt. I don’t know where the energy came from. Maybe it’s always there and I’m just not pushing myself enough the entire race. Finally the crest and now the downhill. Man I was hoping I’d catch up to someone who passed me. I did see one of the runners on the straight downhill section but he looked back and saw me so he picked it up so I couldn’t pass him the last mile to the finish line.
I love the finish at this race. Over a mile of downhill all the way to the finish line. I crossed the line at 31:14:29 37th place overall and 7th in my new age division of Master. That’s one good thing about turning 40, I’m a Master now. The time was 3:15pm. You get an awesome buckle and finisher medal once you cross the line. Of the 217 that started this race, only 138 finished. 64% which is pretty typical of this race. Of the 6 other runners I knew well, 4 had quit. I haven’t run this 100 before so I don’t know how this year compared to other years but it seemed tough and the finishing times were definitely longer than last year. I got my one drop bag back and got my finisher jacket with my name and my first star for my sleeve.
I was hurting pretty bad but was able to get to the food area and had the chili and corn bread which was better than most years it seemed to me. I went to the hotel and showered in the stand up shower (not easy when you’re super sore). We went to bed around 4pm so I was up for 34 hours. I think Jessie only got about 3 hours of sleep during the race. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been up that long without at least some sleep. It would’ve been at camp as a teenager if I did, and I certainly wasn’t running the whole time. We got up around 8pm and ate an entire 16 inch pizza at Grand Marais. Then back to bed and home the next day.
Here are some more pictures along the course just to get an idea of the awesome views there are. Also some more photos of the varied terrain. Some are from the race Facebook page, others are credited on the photo itself.
So back to the pain thing. My feet were killing me pretty much from mile 20 on. I wore my Altra Olympus I wore at Vol State and they are about as padded as you can get. Those constant sharp rocks and roots really wear on your feet, even with thick soles. Around 8pm is when I was wishing I was doing Vol State again so I could put my feet up and sleep for a bit. But you can’t do that in this race, you just need to keep going. By the end my quads were pretty trashed as expected. Surprisingly my hips were fine, probably since I wasn’t sliding down every hill like at Zumbro. The new tread of the Olympus worked better than I expected. No slippage ever in the mud with these. The foot pain by the end was pretty intense. I was able to block it out the last 2 hours to pick up the pace but I was happy to finally get off them after 34 hours.
Toe pain was even worse. Not from my shoes, but from the constant stubbing of my big toes on what seemed like everything. Rocks were everywhere, even when you thought the path was clear, one would jump up and jam your toe. Then the roots. Oh Lordy, the roots. Relentless in their pursuit to trip you and stub your toes as well. I once had my right foot get caught while running and I had to hop on one foot until I came to a complete stop. I don’t know how I didn’t fall that time. It didn’t tear a hole in my shoe either which was surprising. I stubbed my right big toe at least 100 times during the first half of the race and then for some reason stubbed my left big toe close to 100 times the second half of the race. Weird. I ended up popping blisters under both of those the next day so I’m fairly certain I will lose them both but I’m holding out hope on the right one staying on since it was a very small blister that I had to fish for to find. I don’t know how people with sandals or Joe Fejes with his open toed shoes don’t break a toe on this course. Despite all the stubbing of my toes, I never fell down once! I’m still amazed at that, especially after looking at the photos of the course.
I spent 70 minutes total at aid stations this race. That is way more than I thought I did since there are only 13 stations and I had a crew. I need to shave some time off that next time. Despite being at stations longer than I wanted, I still passed most people at the aid stations. Meaning that I’d leave a station before someone that was already there would. For example, the last section I got passed by 4 people but still only lost 3 places since I passed someone at the station by leaving before them. Most of the race I’d get passed by the same people because I’d always pass them at the station and then they’d catch up again.
I think there weren’t many hornet stings this year either compared to some years. I never encountered any nor did anyone I talked to.
I was able to walk normal by Monday which I was surprised by since I could barely walk Saturday after the race. Amazing what sleep can do to restore you! I ran a couple miles on Friday last week which felt good but my quads were sore on Saturday (yesterday) so I must not be ready to run again yet. I’ll try again in a few days.
Here’s a great blog with commentary on the race winners and lots of photos:
Well that’s it. Short for once! If I didn’t credit you in a photo somewhere let me know.
I am tired, I am drained
But the fight in me remains
I am weary, I am worn
Like I’ve never been before
This is harder than I thought
Harder than I thought it’d be
Harder than I thought
Takin’ every part of me
Harder than I thought
So much harder than I thought it’d be
But empty’s never felt so…full
Toby McKeehan (TobyMac)
Those lyrics pretty much sum up the LAVS race. I’ll still add pages to this race report but I don’t know if I could say it much better than that. This race is HARD! It seems like it would be somewhat easy. Just an easy 50k a day and you beat the time cut off. I’ve run hundreds before, I’ve walked long distances, but everything takes longer than you expect it should in this race. I wanted to see if I could finish a race I knew I would hate. I hate roads, I hate heat, I hate irresponsible dog owners. This race supplied all of those in a great big heap.
This report is long! There is a video at the end. Probably not the best to read this on your phone. Also more details for runners at the end. My college roommate says he likes to get popcorn ready to read my reports so pop away. Enjoy!
I loved the people I met, both the competitors and the vast majority of the local population along the course. Everyone that finishes this race has a shared experience that can’t be matched by other races. While not at war or anything compared to that, we were up against the same horrible things: heat, cars, road camber, dogs, dehydration, hunger, pain, lightning, our minds, and finally time. I really enjoyed the conversations I had with everyone I met before, during and after the race (well not the police officer during the race). I hope to meet many of my new friends again in the future.
I will tell my Vol State story mostly in chronological order but with my usual tangents and physiology and science lessons. I’ll be specific as possible at times so that future competitors can hopefully learn a few things. I learned a lot from other race reports for this race. Read them ALL! It’s no joke running this race without a crew (screwed). You need to arm yourself with as much information as possible. If you have a crew, the only advice I have is to use it. This race would be sooo much easier if I had one. It’s my opinion that if someone doesn’t think a crew would help in this race, then they don’t know how to use one appropriately.
I suppose a little background on the race is in order. You can look at my pre-race report here. You can also read about my practice run for this event here. It’s called the Last Annual Vol State Race as a joke of all the races that were called 1st Annual in the 1980’s. The current course starts in Dorena Landing, MO with a ferry ride to Kentucky, then through Tennessee, part of Alabama, and finally finishing on private property in Georgia called Castle Rock. 314 miles, or 100π or even 500k (least accurate) is the distance of this race. Of course with having to go off course to stores, hotels, graveyards, going on the shoulder from the road a million times, etc it is further.
Since I was running in the screwed division that meant I would have to drive to the finish line in Georgia, a 14 hour drive, and leave my car there. We would take a bus on Wednesday from the finish to a town near the starting line following the course the whole way. After exchanging rental cars due to the first car having completely bald front tires, I left home in MN Monday night and slept in my car to save some money. I finished my drive Tuesday to the Super 8 in Kimball, TN where most of us would stay the night before the bus ride to the start line. I went to Walmart to kill some time and to buy some pop (soda) for the morning of the bus ride. 2L Sun Drop was on sale for $1 so that’s what I got. Little did I know how much Sun Drop I would drink the next week.
I went back to the hotel as it was 3PM and people should be checking in. I met Wayne McCombs who I had met on the bus at Tuscobia and learned a lot from. He would be driving the “meat wagon” this year which is the van that brings the quitters back to their cars at the finish line. He reminded me of a few pointers he had given before. Mainly to go slow in the beginning and to stretch. Those are VERY important things for this race if not all multi-days. I’ve only done one multi-day so I don’t have much experience but it certainly helped me in this race.
I also met John Price who has run this race more than anyone and wrote the guide book for the race. It was a helpful book. I brought the whole book with but if I were to do it again I wouldn’t take the whole thing. I would laminate the turn by turn written directions and have them in a very accessible place (some hung them from the front of their vest). The rest of the book I would just take pictures of the pages with my phone. I ended up taking pictures of the pages on the second day since it was much easier to get to my phone than take my pack off to get to the book. I also saved the .gpx file of the race route into my phone and could always tell if I was on the course with the GPS on my phone. I had added the changes to the book since the last printing and also added the road angel aid stations that people on Facebook said they would have in their yard, fire station, etc. I think a lot of people didn’t know that locals would put details on the race Facebook page of where they would set out water, etc.
I met a few other people at the hotel that I can’t remember now. The one person you’d have a hard time forgetting was JT Hardy. I’m an introvert for the most part but at an event like this where I have something in common with everyone it isn’t hard for me to talk to strangers. I think JT would never have a hard time talking to strangers. We discussed strategy a little, not even pretending that we really knew anything. His longest race was a 50 mile so I guess I had a little on him there but this race is way beyond even the 100 mile races I’ve done. I basically told him my plan on holding back the first day and what I had been doing to try to get heat acclimated.
So we all ate together at a Chinese buffet which we call the next to last supper. It was awesome as it had sushi and the shrimp I like. I sat next to JT and filled him in about the .gpx file and how to view it on his phone. I ordered my finisher jacket since that’s when you order them (if you don’t finish they’ll give you your money back). We got our race shirts as well. This is important as if you didn’t want to carry it during the race, you wanted to get it now and leave it with your suitcase in your car. Once you get on the bus ride the next day, you should only have what you want for the race or what you plan on throwing away. There are no drop bags with this race!
I got back to the hotel and taped my feet. I figured I’d have more time tonight to do it right than tomorrow night. I skyped with the kids. I checked over my pack list one more time, not like it mattered anymore. I did end up taking out my long sleeve shirt and a stretch band. What I wish I had brought was another tech t-shirt that I could keep dry, more on that later.
I drove to the finish line and parked my car in the field. I left my keys in the rental car as I didn’t want to lose them along the way. I got on the bus and sat next to JT. We started off and I met a bunch more awesome people. John Price was on our bus so he would tell us things about the course. It took nearly 8 hours to drive to the start with 2 bathrooms breaks and a lunch break. 8 hours to drive the course! I got a lot of Facebook friends so we could keep in touch during the race and after. The lunch was at the Glendale Market which is where the Bench of Despair is located.
I found out a few people on the bus didn’t know there was a google group for the race so they made sure to get on that. They kept asking how some of us know so much more about the race. Again knowledge is power if you run this screwed. Get on the Last Annual Vol State Race google group if you plan on running this. That’s where you can ask a lot of questions to people who’ve run it before. Really you want to meet someone who’s run it and talk to them for an hour to get a better idea of what it will be like.
We got to Union City which is where we stayed in a hotel with an assigned roommate and ate the Last Supper. This meal was at a buffet as well and the final directions of the race were given to us. We got our American flags that we had to have displayed at all times during the race. I found one on the road in McKenzie and wondered if that person got disqualified. I talked to Andrei Nana from Florida who has run the Spartathlon race in Greece. It’s a race I’m interested in running if I can get my speed up a little and if this race went well since it is also a road race. My wife is even more interested in this race. Not so much to crew me but because it’s in Greece! I also ate with a few other people that weren’t on my bus that I ended up seeing for much of the race, Jesse Koketek and Novle Rogers. My assigned roommate for the night was Paul Wilkerson from Illinois. He told me right away he snored. Great. Luckily I had planned for this by putting the white noise CD I made for my children on my ipod. I put in my earbuds and dozed off just fine.
The next morning we loaded on the buses to the ferry. Most of us were taking pictures of each other and talking to the famous people no one outside of ultrarunning have heard of. There were definitely 2 guys going for the course record. Greg Armstrong who did end up beating the record by about an hour and John Cash who ran this race for the first time. Greg won it the last 2 years. We paid the $2 for the round trip ferry ride and walked on board headed to Missouri.
I thought briefly about how far I had to go. I remember my first marathon 4 years ago which was from Two Harbors, MN to Duluth, MN. You could see the lift bridge of Duluth for much of the race and get an idea of how much you had left. I couldn’t see the finish line from here though. In fact I’d have to be 34,570 feet above the ground to see the finish line. You would have to be ever higher if it wasn’t for the fact that the finish line is 1200 feet higher than where we started on the bank of the river in MO.
82 of us started Thursday July 14th around 7:45AM with the lighting of the cigarette. The ferry was late so I’m not sure of the real time, it was supposed to start at 7:30. I finished (spoiler alert) just after the sun came up on Wednesday July 20th, for a total time of 5day, 22hours, 12minutes, 6seconds. 18th overall and 8th in the screwed division. I was also the first person from MN to ever run this race. I am super pumped that I got a 5 as the first number. Being so close to 6 days, I now have an idea of what I would get at a 6 day race. This time is actually in the range that the computer said I would finish in. I wanted to be done by 8 days so I’d have time to sleep and drive home for my son’s birthday party. I made it in plenty of time! I didn’t think I’d make under 6 days until about 2am that morning of the finish. I took caffeine pills for the first time during the race the night before I finished and it helped me to not have to sleep much at all that last 36 hours. Only 62 would finish.
You’ll see in the video how most runners just look like everyday people. There is no body type for ultrarunners. We come in all shapes and sizes. That old guy you see in church, could be a Vol State finisher. The truck driver you see on the interstate, same thing. The woman pouring your coffee at your local restaurant, same thing. I just want to drive home that anyone can do this if they really want to. Sure it takes training and determination, but you don’t need to be a super athlete.
The first part of the race is going mostly uphill through Hickman, KY. It was the slowest I’ve ever started a race. I planned on holding back the first 2 days. I had never done a multi-day race before and I was told by several veterans of the race not to overdue it in the beginning.
So the first 10 miles or so were pretty awesome. Cars were moving way over. It was cloudy and was obviously going to rain at some point in the near future. We even had a stray dog start following us. You can see a video of her in action at the end of the report. She would constantly run in your way and jump and try to bite your shorts. Kim Wheeler and Liz Norred named him Underfoot. Finally at the Tennessee border, Wayne McCombs was taking pictures of us so he took Underfoot to keep her from bugging us. I jokingly thought to myself Underfoot knew she couldn’t cross state lines without a health paper so she stopped. He ended up taking her to a vet to get her shots, dewormed, etc and became the owner of Maxine, his 6th dog. I saw a picture of her a week later and it looked like she had gained about 5 pounds already.
It was a few miles from Union City that it started raining. I don’t mind rain but I hate wet shoes, especially at the beginning of a multi-day. I finally got to Union City 16 miles into the race, ran with JT to downtown, and ate at a Wendy’s. They always have free wifi at Wendy’s and I waited out the rest of the storm there. I spent at least 30 minutes longer than I wanted to there but I wasn’t going out in the rain if it would quite soon. The sun came out and I was on my way. Now, I know the race director called that first day easy because it was cloudy and rained but it was full sun all afternoon where I was running. It got hot! My shoes kind of dried but I ended up changing my socks 6 miles out of town at Outdoor Outfitters. Check out the bathroom stall photo.
I already had a small blister from having wet feet the last 3 hours so I took care of that as well.
So before the Outdoor Outfitters store (at mile 22.2) is the 20 mile bridge check-in. There is a rendering plant near there. Most people complain a lot in their race reports about the smell, calling it stinky bridge and the worst mile in the race. The smell wasn’t bad at all! I was amazed how little it smelled since I’ve cut open lots of rotten dead animals in the summer for work and it wasn’t anything like that. Basically if you were to cut open a dead animal when it was below zero and nothing has really gotten rotten because of the cold, that’s what it smelled like. The D-lab at vet school smells way worse to my veterinarian friends reading this.
Anyway soon after this bridge I came upon JT who had left Union City before me. He was laying on the side of an intersection in pain. His calves were cramping up bad. I wish I would’ve taken a video of it, his calf muscles were all quivering and contorting like mad. Looked pretty cool but I’m sure it hurt like crazy (sorry JT, it really did look cool). So Liz and Kim caught up to me just then as well. We got him in the ditch on the other side of the road in the shade. There isn’t much you can do with a cramp other than wait for it to quit. Stretching just causes damage. I think he took some salt tabs but those haven’t been proven to work by any real research. All the well done unbiased research I’ve read shows salt does nothing. Muscle spindles misfiring is the most likely cause of muscle cramps based on the newest research I’ve read. These are the cells that tell your spinal cord how much stretch the muscle has and more importantly how fast it is being stretched. The body is basically over-reacting to the misfiring of the muscle spindles. Or I guess it’s more accurate to say, the body is appropriately responding to malfunctioning muscle spindles that are sending way too many action potentials to the spine. It thinks the muscle is being overstretched way too fast and causes the muscle to contract to prevent damage to the tendons and muscle itself. Many things can cause them to fire inappropriately but some proven things are caffeine and physical damage to them. If you’re prone to cramps, don’t take caffeine, it lowers the amount of input (stretch) needed to fire an action potential. Prevention research is still ongoing. Just make sure when you read something you look at who sponsored the research and who’s telling you about it, almost everyone is trying to sell you something if they talk about cramps. I hoped the placebo effect of salt tabs would work for him and left.
Sergio Bianchini came along then and I ran with him for a few miles. He is a character. He’s 75 years old and running this for the second time I think. His running style wasn’t what you would call great but he’s 75 freaking years old so he must be doing something right. I saw him at the end of the race and he was running the exact same as in the beginning. JT I’m sure has hundreds of Sergio stories as he ran with him for I think 3 full days. JT posted videos during the race and in one of them Sergio bought him lunch which consisted of a completely brown banana (it was cheaper than the yellow ones) and a can of Ravioli for a buck. He would later get his arm hit by a car mirror and sliced it open. He never stopped to have it looked at. Just wrapped something around it and kept going. I think he said “no problem”.
It was also with Sergio that I met my first road angel which is what we call the people that give us aid during the race, mostly just cold water. As a screwed runner we can only get help from strangers not affiliated with the race or from other screwed runners still competing in the race (I couldn’t help anyone once I finished the race). Crewed runners or their crews couldn’t help us at all. I got ice cold water from this road angel. It felt amazing. I could run again! At this point I had been reduced to basically just walking so that I didn’t overheat.
The heat was never ending and really got about the worst at 5pm after we had left Martin. The sun was full on our backs. Oh and there was NEVER any wind this entire race. I’m used to MN where there is almost always a little wind. Nope nothing in TN. If you weren’t making your own wind by running you didn’t get any. Semi trucks started to be something to look forward to instead of being afraid of because you would have 2 full seconds of air movement after it passed. Sometimes I’d almost get cold if there were 3 of them in a row.
To acclimatize before the race I had been getting my core body temp up over 101 by taking nice hot baths after a run for about an hour. I did this for 4 days plus just the regular working outside for my job that I’ve done all summer. I also made sure to always run on the hottest days and hottest time of day as possible for all runs this summer. I think what I did helped me some as the first 2 days weren’t super horrible, just horrible. By day 2 I was definitely showing the signs of acclimation. My sweat was very dilute which I had never experienced before. Usually there are salt deposits on my clothes, face, pack, etc. None of that this race though. When sweat fell in my mouth I could barely taste any salt. That’s a normal heat acclimation response. The others are increased plasma volume which I had no way to measure and that you sweat a larger volume, that was easy to tell! Sweat will drip off your shorts, gross.
The air temps the whole race ranged from 92-100 I think. It’s hard to really know, but that’s what the vehicle temps said according to drivers we talked to. The dew point was basically 70-74 the entire race with very little change. It was foggy at night and so you could never dry out. The humidity in MN is worse in July than TN. The dew point gets in the 80’s with some regularity in July here. The corn plants just pump moisture in the air like crazy on a sunny day, plus all the lakes and sloughs. I was kind of surprised that it wasn’t more humid during the race.
BUT! The sun is much hotter in TN. Even though the race ended a month after the summer solstice; at the finish line the sun was still 5.6 degrees higher in the sky the day I finished than it was at home on the summer solstice. 95 humid and shady = not too bad. 95 humid and sunny = slow zombie walk of death. The sun adds in my estimation 15 degrees to what it feels like. Add to that the fact that full sun makes the road 150 degrees. Your feet sweat a lot and I switched socks at least once a day to keep my feet dry. I’d hang the wet pair on my pack to dry in the sun as I ran.
It was clear to me though that I would want to run as much as possible at night. The heat just drained me that first day. It was hard not to get mad at myself. We had only made it 40 miles by the 7:30 pm check-in. It wasn’t so much that we were only at 40 miles since I was planning on going slow anyways. It was more-so that I felt so drained, like I had actually tried hard and still only made it 40 miles.
OK, back to the story.
Martin was the next town and I stopped at burger king at mile 27.7 to cool off and eat. 7.5 hours to get there, freaking ridiculous. Some people got hotel rooms to beat the heat. I didn’t want to get a room unless I could sleep so I kept going. Martin is a long big college town so it took awhile to get out of town.
The next section to Dresden is where I met up with JT Bolestridge, Novle Rogers, Patrick Sweatt, and Jesse Koketek. We were walking into the town of Dresden (which has some big Iris festival every year by the way) walking 5 wide down the road feeling kind of bad ass for some reason. We ignored the guy dressed as a pizza. We stopped at the aid station that the city had set up at a park pavilion. We all charged our phones, had some snacks and water and tried to sleep/relax after the 7:30 check-in. Oh we had to check-in at 7:30 AM and PM everyday so they knew if they needed to look for us if I hadn’t made that clear already.
I couldn’t sleep but it felt good to get off my feet. I think I called home then as well. Mostly I’d just leave Skype messages when I had decent WiFi and receive the videos the kids would send. By about day 4 though the kids didn’t care anymore. Plus the microphone in my phone was all messed up due to the sweat and humidity.
I moved on towards Gleason in the dark. I chose to not have my headlamp on unless a car was coming. I had yellow triangle reflectors on both sides of me. With the almost full moon it was easier to see in the trees without a headlamp. I carried my mace all the time at night and towards the end even carried it during the day since the last half of the race is much worse for dogs. It was kind of creepy going through the deserted old highway with trees lining both sides of the road but there was always another runner within ear shot even if you couldn’t see them. It went through what seemed like a wetland in the dark. Lots of weird frog sounds in addition to the Katydids. I’d see a shooting star now and then most nights including this night. Many nights you would see a faint flash in the sky now and then from lightning miles and miles away.
I met up with Novle and JT (Jason) again and I think we met up with Ed just outside of town. When we came into Gleason before midnight we saw a big group of kids. They were wondering if we were looking for Pokemon. We said no. We could hear them commenting to each other, “why wouldn’t they be out looking for Pokemon?” Gleason had an aid station at the fire station. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of which I had 2, water, other food, and showers! I took a shower and tried to sleep while charging my phone. Again no luck so I left around 12:30AM I think and headed to McKenzie
On the outskirts of McKenzie there are a bunch of semi trailers parked. I went over to them to see if there was anywhere to sleep under or in them. There were also some large dumpsters (the long kind you put construction garbage in usually). While snooping around I heard what sounded like 3 kids walking on the road and talking loudly. They were coming from the wrong direction to be a runner so I ducked down. I walked around the dumpster as they went past so that they could never see me. I later found out they were from the aid station looking to see if more runners were coming. I just figured the less interaction with people at 3AM the better. I kept on moving into town after that.
I made it to McKenzie by myself and they also had an aid station set up at some building. There was some food, drinks, and a bathroom. I had a PB&J sandwich again. The building had mats on the floor. They weren’t super comfortable but they were better than concrete or dirt under a trailer and looking back now, actually they were comfortable compared to other places I would sleep later in the race. At least I could lay on my side on them. I slept for almost 2 hours I think. I was thinking of staying in the hotel in town that night but I likely would’ve slept too long so it was a good choice to sleep in the building I think. Other people had caught up and were already leaving as the sun came up on day 2. I thought I better get going as well. Plus there was some morning workout group outside the door doing their cross-fit type looking thing. I suspect we had taken up residence in their normal work-out area.
There was a 24 hour gas station on the outside of town so I got some pop and chips. The run that morning was nice. I put my headphones on for the first time and enjoyed the foggy views of kudzu growing up trees.
I checked in at mile 64 just before Huntingdon. Nothing was really open in town and no gas stations were along the course. I got some water at the police station and aired out my feet.
Here is a video of what the typical town square looks like. We didn’t go through this town but they are all eerily similar. All have one way roads going around the courthouse in the center with parking around it. This one doesn’t have a movie theater but one building looks like it used to be. I didn’t make the video so don’t hate me for how long it is. Start at 0:45 into it.
My goal was to make it to Parkers’ Crossroads at mile 81 where there was food and hotels. I wanted to get there by 1PM to beat the heat and sleep. It took me until 2:30PM to get there and it was super freaking hot and sunny again. I went into Dairy Queen and started getting all dizzy and my ears were ringing. So I decided to sit for a little bit before I ordered. I was still hydrated since I was sweating like crazy but I obviously was overheated. It took me that long to get there because I had to walk the last 10 miles or so since it was so hot and I hadn’t rested much yet. I got my food which was awesome and stayed at the Knights Inn which was the most reasonably priced hotel the entire race. I showered and washed my clothes in the sink. I slept for about 3.5 hours.
It was also at this stop that I realized I was getting heat rash all around my ankle under my gaitor on my left leg. I had worn gaitors to keep the road dirt and sand out of my shoes. They did that job great but looking back they definitely were the cause of the heat rash I think. While I had heard of heat rash and correctly made that diagnosis, I didn’t really know what it was so I googled it. The Mayo Clinic website information on it made me laugh. So it’s plugged up sweat glands which made sense. The funny part is the treatment. Spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned buildings, don’t exercise, etc. None of those things were going to happen.
I got up and re-taped my feet as the tape was coming loose from being wet the first day and I wanted to get a good look at the blister. I put a blister band-aid on it under the taping. I tape with cover-roll stretch for those new to my blog. I also put new kinesio tape on my left leg as that gets old after a few days as well. I had wanted to sleep longer but I happened to wake up before my alarm and checked the weather. Rain was coming. I had hoped it would be over before I woke up. So I figured I’d get going and try to make it to Lexington 10 miles away and wait out the storm there in a restaurant.
I started out in the sucky suck heat that doesn’t stop until the sun goes down at 8pm. I got a few miles out of town to check in at 84 miles at the 36 hour check-in. Wow, I was behind where I’d hoped to be but not unexpected either. I had no real clue how to do a multi-day. I was about to learn a few lessons over the next 24 hours.
There were super dark clouds behind me and to the side of me. On radar both cells were moving towards me somehow. The food in Lexington wasn’t until mile 90.5 so I had just over 6 miles to get there. The road was wide so I listened to my ipod and started booking it. I really wanted to use the glycogen I had stored up during my slumber sparingly to last through the night. But lightning coming down tends to make you move faster than you might otherwise go. There was a gas station about 4 miles out of town but I didn’t want to sit on a curb and eat junk so I kept going. I looked down at my watch. 8 minute miles. I felt amazing! Running was so easy now that it had cooled some and I was being chased by a storm. I was even running up hills. Only a superstar trying to win the race or an idiot runs up hills in an ultramarathon this long. I ran the 6.5 miles in 1 hour when I finally got to the turn in Lexington that is supposed to have everything. I ran around the area and did not find a single sit down restaurant. Only gas stations and a couple pizza places with nowhere to sit as far as I could tell. I was kind of pissed as I was looking forward to some pasta or something like that since I knew I’d have at least a half hour to kill while the storm passed. Nope, you don’t get pasta (normally I hate pasta but I really wanted it now), you get more gas station food. So I went in to the Little General and got some chicken fingers and potato wedge things. I had a bunch of chocolate milk as well. I talked to the workers there who thought I was crazy. There was an outlet so at least I could charge stuff up while I sat. The rain didn’t start for 30 minutes. It seemed imminent just before I got there with the wind picking up for the first and last time the entire race. Oh well, it barely rained for 20 minutes but I was still glad not to be in it. Juli Aistars and Jan Silverman came in to the store and stayed about 1 minute and went out before the rain started. I posted to Facebook I was happy to be catching up to some of the people that had run the race before. They were all going into night mode like I was planning so that seemed to confirm that my plan was a smart one.
I started out again and now got to go mostly downhill out of town. I saw a live armadillo and got a video of him. I knew there was supposed to be some water left out at a fire station in Chesterfield since they posted to the race Facebook page. It was more than I had hoped for. They had some snacks too! Snickers if I remember correctly. I remember I was very happy and wished I had some paper to write a thank you note.
Soon after and without any fanfare at all I crossed the 100 mile mark. If anyone had ever marked it on the road, I never saw it. I took a video of myself making a new personal distance record. Every step after would further that record. I don’t remember much about Darden other than there was a closed gas station with a pop machine out front. I got a couple of them. If I remember correctly there was also a park or campground with a super kick ass playground with lots of soft areas to sleep, but I didn’t feel tired yet. This was 100.9 miles into the race.
Parsons was almost 6 miles away. It seemed to go pretty slow. I was feeling pretty drained at this point since I had wasted so much energy with my race into Lexington. What I did in an hour then, took almost 2 hours now. I didn’t know what I’d find in Parsons to sleep on. There was a hotel in town but I didn’t feel like spending money for a couple hours in a hotel plus I really didn’t feel like waking up the owner at 2:30 in the morning. So I found a tractor trailer that had large wood beams (looked like untreated railroad ties) stack on it. I climbed up there and got out my sleeping bad liner for the first time. It’s silk and weighs 4 oz. I treated it with permethrin to keep the chiggers, ticks, and mosquitos away from me. It worked well keeping insects away but it wasn’t as warm as I had hoped. If I would’ve been able to change into dry clothes or at least a dry shirt before I laid down to sleep, I don’t think I would’ve gotten cold. I was ALWAYS soaking wet anytime I was outside, day or night didn’t matter. Either I’d be sweating like crazy or it was too humid for anything to evaporate. I set my alarm for 4AM (not like I ever slept until my alarm went off when sleeping outdoors).
Around 3:30AM, 2 or 3 kids were out with their dog chatting up a storm and I assume looking for stupid Pokemon as it seems that’s all I saw people doing on sidewalks the entire race. This set off EVERY dog in Parsons. Dogs were barking everywhere and never stopped. So I got up super tired and cranky. Not good as I knew the next section was supposed to be one of the worst road stretches of the race. I started moving at 3:50AM. The gas station in town was open so I got some food. I saw a few places that would’ve been much better for sleeping which made me more grumpy.
It was Saturday so I thought at least I’m getting the worst part of the road done without traffic since it’s not a work day. People may want to call Southerners lazy but the roads are super busy at 5am on a workday so somebody’s working. Well, I didn’t get the memo that said you will surely die or have horrible things happen to you if you don’t get to the TN River with your boat by sunrise. It was a constant barrage of trucks hauling boat trailers. No one was even close to the speed limit and no one moved over. There is literally no shoulder for 4 miles out of Parsons. It’s also very hilly and the last foot of the road has a severe camber. I got a blister on my pinky toe due to my foot constantly having to fight the camber and from my foot slipping off the asphalt into the ditch a bunch of times. The road gets a little better after that to the TN river bridge but not by much. There is a hotel along the way and that’s about it as far as services go. There are a few closed down gas stations.
I met up with Bo Millwood and Karen Jackson just before the bridge. They were doing this for the second time together. I think Karen had done it a few times before. If I remember it right, Karen’s Christmas present to Bo was to pay the registration fee for the race. I saw a photo of them from last years race that still busts me up laughing. They used it as their Christmas card photo! There are super nice people. They must have something special to still like each other after running this two years together. Yes she runs this in thin sandals. They also took a dog home from the race. It ran along with them over 30 miles so how could they not keep it!
We crossed the TN river and they stopped at a gas station just on the other side of the bridge. I think this is around mile 112 of the race. I don’t think I saw them again until the finish line. I know they were always ahead of me at the check-ins anyway. Karen was first place screwed woman which I think was her goal. Awesome!
So it was 12 miles until the Commodore Hotel in Linden. I had heard the story of Bo and Karen last year trying to stay there and not getting in since they didn’t have a reservation. They had to grind it out in the hot afternoon to the next hotel 20 miles away. I heard this story at about 1 AM so I made a reservation at 2AM while I was getting ready to sleep on the wood pile in Parsons. It was just after 6AM now so I thought I’d get there around 9:15 and was a little worried the room wouldn’t be ready yet. Oh silly me, you didn’t know your race would come to a grinding halt before you got to Linden did you?
Looking at my GPS watch data it looks like I made it almost 4 miles at a decent pace. The last 8 miles took 3 hours which looking back at it now doesn’t seem that slow. But it felt horrible. Really the only reason it didn’t take 3.5 hours was that I ran downhill very painfully into Linden just so I could get there faster. So what happened? My ankles and feet were visibly swollen. My heat rash was even worse and now on both ankles. It was a solid red rash now instead of spots here and there. It hurt to move the skin in any direction so of course walking and running both hurt. By the time I got to the hotel at 10AM I had been on my feet for 6 hours without stopping. I later determined that was the key issue, not getting off my feet and raising them up.
I somehow caught up to Clark Annis, Jeff Deaton, and Brian Trinkle about 4 miles from Linden if memory serves me right. They all seemed to be fighting some sort of injury as well but seemed in much better spirits than me. Looking back I should’ve laid down somewhere and tried to cool off but I didn’t. A road angel came by with some water. I didn’t really need any at this point anymore. Parsons to Linden is indeed a long haul (about 18 miles) with no where to get water at night and barely anywhere during the day. So I left Parsons with 3.5L of water and drank a 20 oz before leaving town as well. I still had enough to get to Linden so I didn’t need water. I did have a string cheese though, which was AMAZING! I wish it was like WI where every gas station has bags of fresh cheese curds siting out.
If I remember correctly there were some super steep driveways leading off the road and going up the side hills in this section. Someone said they would buy a beer for whomever made it to the top first. No one tried. At that point I would’ve been happy to be able to somewhat run on a flat road, let alone sprint uphill!
I got to the Commodore Hotel and got to the front desk looking the most pathetic I would look the entire race. It seemed like I could barely talk. I took out my money wallet thingy and just handed her everything since I couldn’t get anything out. I asked if any restaurants were open yet and they said they could make me something. I don’t think they were open yet but I must’ve looked pathetic enough to make me something. They brought out a menu and I picked the spinach and artichoke dip appetizer and the special hamburger they made there. I just said charge it to the same card. I was hunched over hanging onto the desk this whole time mind you.
The room was in another building so we went there. She was clearly worried about me falling down in the street. We had to go up stairs and then downstairs to get to the room. Whatever. The bed looked super comfortable and I later found out it was. She showed me everything in the room, something about the air conditioner, she could bring me a black out curtain if I wanted, etc. She was going to bring me 2 bags of ice since there wasn’t an ice machine in that building I think. I was kind of out of it. So tired and painful. I just took off my pack and laid on the bed, I never even locked the door. I at least remembered to get stuff plugged in to charge. At this point I was getting concerned with continuing the race or at least with how long it would take. I wasn’t panicking or anything but it didn’t look good and there was a lot of race left, 190 miles to be exact. I took NSAIDs to help with the pain and swelling. I hoped to not take anything this race since there was always a risk of dehydration which is a bad combo with NSAIDs.
I watched Top Gear on BBC for the first time while waiting for the food. I always see ads for it when we watch Orphan Black but never saw it before. It was the #1 show in the world for a while I guess. Anyway, finally a knock on the door. “Come in” I say. I had to yell it like 3 times that the door was open. Perhaps I couldn’t really yell, I was so tired. She finally came in with the food and the ice. I put the ice on my ankles and the food on my lap. The artichoke dip was almost half cheese! So freaking good. The hamburger honestly kind of sucked but who cares I was starving. I put the tray out and locked the door this time. Got naked and put my feet on pillows and passed out for 5 hours straight.
When I got up it looked dark out. Turns out the window was just shaded from the sun now and it was raining. Hey at least I’m not in the rain. I could actually walk to the bathroom OK. I drank a bunch and went back in bed, this time with the ice under my ankles. I fell asleep for a little bit and then checked email and such. I thought about showering but figured it wasn’t worth it at this point anymore. I emailed the group to see if anyone wanted my room. JT and Sergio would end up taking it. I never asked if they cuddled in the king size bed or not.
On a tangent this is where I switched to my large pair of socks. I brought 4 pairs of socks. 2 Medium and 2 Large Injinji. I only wear Injinji socks as I get a lot less blisters with them. I switched to the large pairs as my feet had swelled enough by this point to make them the better choice. If you didn’t know already, you’re feet will swell during this race. Both from the heat and from being on them all the time. My pair of Altra Olympus 2.0 shoes I wore I got a half size bigger than my normal Olympus size. I may still keep this larger size on the next pair as well though and haven’t decided. I never had to cut my shoes open like some others did to relieve pressure and help with blister pain. In fact I never had blister pain. My early blisters healed by the time I finished the race. Make sure to take care of things early before they hurt. I don’t care if you’ve never gotten a blister before, you better know what to do because you will get them in this race. Go soak your feet and run 30 miles on the hottest day you can find to make yourself get blisters if you’ve never gotten them so that you learn before the race what to do. Seriously. I was surprised there were people who didn’t bring anything to take care of blisters in this race but there were and they paid for it dearly. The chances of you being by a store the moment you need something is very very small. Take your shoes off every time you stop to let things dry off.
You’ll notice a fair amount of the leaders in this race wear sandals. If you can handle running in them they are a great choice. Your feet won’t be as hot or wet and so you should have few to no blisters. Don’t wear vibrams though. You need more than an eighth of an inch of protection from the nails, glass, etc on the road. Also the road gets to 150 degrees in the afternoon and you need some insulation between the road and your feet. Only 1 guy ever ran this is vibrams and I’ve never read a race report that talked about his feet hurting so much more than that one.
Of all the items I brought, I didn’t use: my wet weather foot paste which I tossed on day 4 (4oz gone), my emergency light, a super small pocket knife, rain poncho, buff, and duct tape which I brought to fix things if need be. I would still take all of those things if I did this race again. Everything else I brought I used some of. I did not completely use up anything. Learn how to tape your feet by yourself if you’re used to someone else doing it. I don’t think there was any luck involved with me not having blister pain. I planned and tested things as much as possible for this race beforehand. I knew things would still go wrong but I tried to have versatile things along that I could McGyver something with.
OK so back to the race. I left my key at the front desk and asked for ice water. I saw the woman who checked me in and she didn’t recognize me at first since I could walk and was upright. The amazing powers of sleep and ice! I left at 6:30PM and went to the grocery store to buy some food and pop. I got a 8 pack of fun size snickers and ate them all. I met Juli and Jan again there. The next town was Hohenwald which was a long town. The food and motel part of town was 20 miles away. A few miles out of town is a gas station that was supposed to be open until 7:30PM or so. It was closed when I got there just before 7. Jesse was sitting outside the store feeling very sorry for himself. He had gotten there at 6 and it was closed then already. I had planned on getting water here like he did so that sucked. But then I found a spigot on the side of the building and filled up. Jesse said he was going to pout a little longer so I left him. This is an area that is easy to miss the turn. There is a Y and since you are going against traffic and you need to go right at the Y, it is easy to just keep on going straight and not cross the road. The gas station is right on top of the Y if you will.
I checked in at mile 128 for the 60hour check-in. Only 10 miles in the last 12 hours. People at home were worried I think. I mostly just told them I was tired so I slept a long time and didn’t tell about the zombie death march that morning.
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was starting what is known as 18 mile hill. I could tell the road was gradually going up since we were clearly in a small river valley. I never saw the river though. It was still daylight for a portion of this section. There is really no where to get water and not many houses along the road either. Since the road elevation gain was so gradual I settled into a 5 minute run 2 minute walk pattern. A few miles before you get to the outskirts of Hohenwald the climb gets much steeper as you leave the river valley. I had just passed Juli and Jan by this point. Finally getting to the top you realized you still had a ways to go to the town (like 6 miles I think the sign said). I found what looked like a church with a parking lot and handicap parking sign but I kind of think it was a residence now. There was stuff all around the outside. Most of it looked like the junk I saw on a lot of porches along the race. Stuff we’d put in the garage or basement here in MN they just put out on the porch in TN it seems. The parking lot looked kind of run down as well. I never saw a church sign but there could’ve been one somewhere else on the property.
There was a cat kennel outside that I put my feet up on and laid on the asphalt parking lot. There were lights on in the building so I was quiet. Jan and Juli came up and started knocking on the door to see if they could get water. It was 10PM. The lights in the building went out. Great, can’t wait to see the cops I thought. Luckily none came but I can’t imagine what the 2 people inside thought was going on outside. Do people live in churches in the south?
I laid there 30 minutes, not trying to sleep but just keeping my feet up since it had been 3.5 hours since I last had them up. I had decided at least every 4 hours I would have to stop for 30 minutes or more and put my feet up since that’s about when they started to hurt. I found out later this is something a fair amount of multi-day people do. So there you go, lesson learned after almost 3 days.
I got going and reached the outskirts of Hohenwald. I was hungry but there was nothing open on this end of town. I found a playground after the airport and laid down around 11:20PM I slept for almost an hour and a half but got cold again so I had to get going.
So now it’s almost 1AM and I’m starving and thirsty. I pass a bar and think if nothing else I’ll get bar food at the other end of town if nothing is open. I didn’t know the bars close at 1AM in TN. So when I finally got to the other end of town every fast food place seemed closed. The hotel had ice but the pop machine was broken. The next stop was a campground but all they were supposed to have was chips and water. I saw some workers outside McDonalds smoking. I had planned on dumpster diving there but couldn’t do that since they were outside by the dumpsters. I convinced them to give me water to go along with the ice from the hotel. I kept going and then saw Taco Bell down the road. It was 1:40 so I just about full on sprinted to get there before they closed at 2.
I had to knock on the window since only the drive thru was open. I scared the crap out of the dude but he broke the rules and allowed me to order. I got some triple decker box meal thing for $5. It was a ton of food for real cheap and tasted awesome as things tend to do when you are starving. He even refilled my pop which again they aren’t supposed to. I talked to him about the race through the window a little. The workers wanted to know where I went pee. I told them pooping was much more of a concern. Then a truck pulled up so I had to move out of the way to not get run over. The driver seemed to know about the race and asked what I got when I finished. I told him “a sticker”. He asked what the winner got and I told him “a sticker”. Laz later told me I should’ve told him the winner got the sticker first.
Now a quick tangent; this sticker I speak of is the 314 sticker. I’ve never put a mileage sticker on a vehicle before. Even a hundred mile sticker seems kind of braggy/needy to me. I don’t know why I feel that way but I just do, so I’ve never done it. But I tell you what. I’m putting that 314 sticker on my vehicle, no matter how braggy or douchie it is. Most people will think it was a bike race or be thrown off by such an odd number anyway (yes it’s an even number but you know what I mean). Pretty much only people who have done the race (and now you as well) will know what it means. I told Laz he should make 100π stickers to really throw people off. In fact if I were to ever get a tattoo it would be 100π.
So I ate the food on the employee picnic table out back and the guy came out since it was pretty much closing time and I think he was going to smoke. He had cigarettes but never lit one up. I told him I had just slept in a playground and he said he was homeless for 10 months in Chicago. He confirmed that the playground plastic tubes were the best for sleeping if you could find them. I had suspected that but never found any. Hohenwald meant high forest in German he told me which explained the 18 mile hill into it. He made it sound like Hohenwald wasn’t a very safe town. It seemed by far the nicest town I went through at night but others did confirm it is a big drug town so looks aren’t everything. He told me about the giant elephant sanctuary there. He made it sound like there was an old story about gold along the Natchez Trace that the early explorers lost. Who knows but good stories anyways.
I continued on the next 7 miles to the Natchez Trace Campground. It was mostly downhill on a 4 lane highway. I heard dogs everywhere and saw maybe 10 cars the whole time. Weird for such a big road. I got to the campground to find out the bathrooms were locked and so there was no running water. There were picnic tables under a pavilion we could use. I saw Jan and Juli there along with 3 other bodies. I got out my battery pack to charge up everything and my sleeping bad liner. It was 4AM. I wanted to sleep a couple hours but that wasn’t going to happen. I quickly realized that the body on the ground in the bivy sac was my roommate Paul by his snoring. Someone had an extremely loud space blanket. Juli was shaking with chattering teeth from being cold. I maybe slept 30 minutes total being woken up every 5 minutes. I’m sure I had woke them all up when I showed up and got situated as well. The joys of sleeping outside with strangers. This was about the only place on the whole course where the katydids noise wasn’t deafening. It was dead quiet there so they didn’t help to drown anything out. I should’ve slept on the bench on the porch under the lights and I didn’t remember my white noise on my ipod either. It finally started getting light and I just got up realizing sleep would never come. I was starting to get cold by then anyway. I got some chips and filled my water bottles from a water cooler they had for us. I should’ve looked how far it was to the next water stop but didn’t. Jan and Juli left shortly after I did.
The next section was pretty good. It was road construction but the road was pretty much done. I went on the part over the barricade from the traffic and finally got to listen to music again. Music really helps me move and I barely got to listen to it during this race due to the danger of not hearing things. I was moving pretty good. I went past the half-way point of 157 miles. At the 72 hour check-in I was at mile 159 which was 31 miles further than 12 hours ago so I felt pretty good about that. Much better than what I felt the day before anyway. The main issue now was the large open sore that seemed to develop overnight on my lower back where the bottom of the pack was. I think the wood chips made a cut there and that’s all it took to get infected and irritated by the pack. Butt Lube didn’t help so I took a alcohol wipe to clean it off so I could apply a panty liner (yes I brought those in case of something like this). The alcohol didn’t hurt as much as you’d think. The panty liner held on good enough (it tended to slide around a little and started taking on sweat) but it was clear I’d have to take a shower to get things real clean and apply a blister band-aid to get it to heal and not hurt like mad.
Just before I got to Hampshire the TobyMac song I mentioned at the beginning of this blog came on. The song is really about a father’s love for his children. How you give to the point of having nothing left but still give more because that’s what love is. I started crying. I missed my kids so much. It was weird how it just snuck up on me. That lasted for the whole song. I was told by many veterans that there would be high and low points and that you’d cry at some point. I consider myself lucky that I cried from this kind of sadness and not extreme pain and feeling of hopelessness.
I got to Hampshire at 8AM. There is basically nothing in this town if you could call it that. Maybe 5 houses total. There is a store but it doesn’t open until 1PM on Sunday which was today. There was no water hose outside the building but there was a pop machine. $1 per can. I got 2 Yoo-Hoo and 2 SunDrop. I was starting to not like SunDrop anymore but that’s what every pop machine had. I was so thirsty I downed all 4 in 5 minutes and continued on. I found a church just down the road that had a hose on the outside so I filled up my bottles there. Since it was daylight and Sunday I was confident I would see a road angel before I got to Columbia.
I hadn’t had my feet up for over 3 hours so I found a nice cemetery at mile 163 and rested for 30 minutes. I called my wife and made a reservation for the Richland Inn in Columbia. This was probably the most peaceful time the whole race. No cars. Still kind of cool and I was in the shade on soft DRY grass. I always wanted to sleep on grass but it was always soaking wet with dew at night and I didn’t have any waterproof tarp or anything to lay on. I would bring that if I did this again.
I did meet a road angel and got some water. I also saw Carl Laniak one of the race directors stop and pull over. At first I got excited since I thought it was another road angel. Once I realized it was him I yelled at him since he couldn’t give me anything since I was screwed. It was getting HOT again. Those few small clouds you see in the picture above somehow always went around me. Columbia is another one of those 6 mile long towns. I got a shake at the first gas station I saw. Another runner was sleeping against the building in full sunlight with people and cars all around him. No idea who he was or if he was actually sleeping but I saw him again that night sleeping on a gas station bench in Culleoka.
I got stopped by the guy who sits on his porch and takes down your information as he’s done for the last few years. Clark was there as well. I planned to eat at Hardees but only the drive thru was open so I couldn’t. I just kept going to the hotel and ordered a pizza. Took a shower and washed my clothes and put on my underwear I brought just for this occasion (to not answer the door naked ). I got my pizza and slept from about 2:30 to 7PM. This was the only time I got woken up by my alarm.
I ate the rest of my pizza and finally got out the door at 8. I can’t remember if I had to re-tape my feet or why it took so long to get going. Maybe I was just trying to memorize the guide book. My 84 hour check-in was 179 miles so another 20 miles in that 12 hour period. 51 in the last 24 hours so I felt pretty good with that. 5 miles to the bench of despair in Glendale. I got there at 9:25PM Sunday and signed the bench as is tradition.
I didn’t stick around long. Just took some water and left. Outside of Culleoka there was a nice surprise of an aid station in someone’s yard. It was before you get to Culleoka. There were quite a few people there. No other racers at the time. I sat down on an awesome lawn chair. They had everything you could think of. Tons of food, batteries, place to charge stuff. I really just wanted some grapes and a pop. I think I sang the Grape song by Andrew and Polly a little. I had just charged everything a few hours ago so I didn’t need to do that. I stayed there 20 minutes. Annette Dykes must have been one of them there but not sure if she lived there or was just visiting as I know not everyone lived there. Anyway she remembered I wanted to get done in time to get to my son’s birthday party and congratulated me on the Facebook photo of me finishing. Awesome how people keep tabs on us runners.
The road past Culleoka towards Lewisburg was creepy. This is where the trees were pretty much up to the road and sometimes met above the road to make it like a tunnel. The other parts were just as creepy as it was in another small river valley so it just seemed so closed in. There were essentially no yard lights anywhere. I was on full alert for dogs. I heard plenty but I don’t remember if any came out on the road here. I’m used to running in the dark but there was just something not right about this area to me. At mile 193 there is a gas station that had a covered area with a light and fan going. There was a nice wooden bench there and I laid on it for 20 minutes. A cat came by but never really looked at me. I’m pretty sure it was black. I didn’t want to sleep here so I kept going. At the aid station they had said I could sleep at the dentist office porch in Lewisburg. That was still a long ways off and I was tired now so I would need to find someplace to sleep before there.
I made it to to top of the hill before you go down into Lewisburg and saw a Waste Management building. The fence around it wasn’t completed yet and I saw a truck parked up there. I thought sleeping in the bed of the truck would be nice and hidden. I had to climb an embankment to get there. I didn’t even try to open the truck door to see if it was open. It had a bed liner so I thought it would be a little warmer that way. I got my battery pack out again to charge stuff and my sleeping bag liner. I set the alarm for 3:30AM, it was now 2AM. I knew garbage workers got to work early but figured 3:30 should be fine. I woke up at 2:45AM cold again. I tried to get back to sleep. Then I heard a vehicle drive up the road to the gate. Crap! I could hear the chain on the gate being undone and the gate being slid open. The vehicle drove up to I’m guessing 40 feet from me. Super Crap! All scenarios start popping in my head. What if he has a gun and I scare him so much he shoots me. What if he detains me and calls the cops. Nothing seemed like a good outcome. I heard what sounded like bags being unloaded and stacked. I was hoping this was some sort of delivery truck. The truck engine started back up and I thought he might be driving closer to me. The truck I was in was only 15 feet from the office door. But it wasn’t getting closer, I’m not sure what was happening. I didn’t dare lift my head up and be seen. The engine stopped and I heard footsteps again. I had been trying to get my stuff packed up but any movement was super loud due to the bed liner. I lay still and waited, trying to come up with something to say. Trying to figure out if it would be better to pretend to sleep as I was found. Finally I heard a garbage truck start up. I sprang into action and grabbed everything and ran down the embankment hoping not to twist my ankle on the large rocks I was running down. I got to the bottom just to see another truck pull onto the road. They didn’t see me or didn’t care. That was close! So now I know when waste management starts their day, it 2:45AM.
So I started down the hill into Lewisburg. There were a lot of strip malls it seems to me. A guy walking on the sidewalk actually looked afraid of me running towards him. First time that’s ever happened. I did end up seeing the dentist office porch which was concrete so probably not that comfortable. The 200 mile mark is just before you get to the courthouse in the town square.
About a mile later there are some gas stations that were open. So I go into one after having already purchased yet another SunDrop from a pop machine not knowing if anything would be open further ahead. They have food there and a bunch of things on menu boards up by the ceiling. I ask the lady if I can order anything or just get what’s already in the warming display case thing that all gas stations have with old pre-made food.
She said “I can make you anything you want hun!” Awesome!!!
“I’d like the chicken salad sub then.”
“I can’t make that.”
“OK” so much for anything I want “I’ll have the tuna salad sub then.”
“No I can’t make that either.”
Dejected, I say “Fine I’ll have the Salmon dinner.”
“I can’t make that either.”
This is where the other customers start chuckling. I finally give up and let people pay for their stuff since this is holding everyone up who is trying to get to work. I ended up just getting the pre-made crap that I didn’t want since I didn’t feel like spending 30 minutes going through every menu board item to find out what “ANYTHING YOU WANT HUN” means in TN. At least the packaged cake I got was good.
I started out of town towards Shelbyville just over 20 miles away. There would be a few small towns I’d go through before there though. I had been warned by previous race reports of the dogs on this 20 mile stretch. They weren’t wrong. The rest of the way to Shelbyville I not only had my mace in my hand but also my dowel rod in the other. Someone had emailed the list about 2 pit bulls near some county line outside Shelbyville but I had no idea where the county line was so I was prepared now. Leaving Lewisburg you go past a motel on the race route. It looked pretty sketchy to me. In fact the half mile to get to it from the gas station was awful sketchy as well. Clark told me later that while walking this part a guy was following him and would stop when he stopped and move when he moved. Clark finally turned around and started walking towards the guy and he turned and left him alone.
I met a few dogs in the dark but none came on the road and I was ready if they did. Stray dogs I actually didn’t mind on this trip. They ran away from you. It was the dogs guarding their territory that were aggressive. The sun came up and lots of cars were flying down the road with little shoulder to move over on. That was getting old. At 6AM I found a church off the road a bit with a wooden bench that looked nice to take a nap on. It was short but I’d have to make due since I was tired and I hadn’t seen anything better for miles (of course a little further was a horse barn with bags of sawdust stacked up that looked like heaven). A cop car was parked across the street but I didn’t care. I did actually sleep for close to an hour. My legs didn’t feel great due to being scrunched up and on a metal bar but I felt kind of awake at least. I continued on my way after getting some water from a park hydrant nearby. I never got a photo of this sleeping spot.
I went a couple miles when all of a sudden from the left come 2 pit bulls charging down a hill. I start using my deep commanding voice and look to the right to make sure I don’t get smucked by a car while I cross the road to get some distance. Luckily no cars so I run to the other side while still yelling at the dogs. The tan one was the worst and the larger female who has had at least 2 litters of puppies based on her mammary development stayed back with the yelling. I walked on the right shoulder while looking at the tan one and yelling at him to go home. He followed on the other side of the road for about 100 feet. Finally a group of about 6-7 cars came and I ran as they came along me so I could get some distance. The dog kept walking and then started to cross the road. Luckily another big group of cars came. The dog looked at them and then at me and finally turned around and ran off the road. I didn’t need to use my mace or anything but I warned everyone on email again with the exact mileage 209. I had just checked in for the 96 hour check-in so I knew where I was. I then came to the county line which was after the dogs. I later found out that one of them got hit by a truck. I don’t know all the details. I’ll let the runner who saw what happened tell his story if he wants too. I assume it was the tan one that got hit. While I’m glad the dog was no longer around to hurt someone else, it pisses me off that the owner was so irresponsible to let it run around on the road. The dog was doing it’s job and the owner wasn’t. There’s no way this was the first time those dogs were in the road and needed to be in a fenced in area.
A few miles I see Clark in a graveyard gazebo in Wheel that has narrow but long benches. I laid down and put my arm through the railing so I could fit on the bench. He had only been there a few minutes and didn’t have much of an issue with the dogs. I rested just a bit and continued on since there were supposed to be gas stations up ahead and they should be open now. I found out later lots of people slept in this gazebo. I was a pretty nice spot I must say.
I got to the Pit Stop Market I referenced above in a photo and asked what I could have as there was a kitchen there. She told me to tell her what I wanted and she’d tell me if she could make it. This was worded much better than “I can make anything you want, hun” so I said scrambled eggs and lots of hash browns. She said sure. I grabbed some chocholate milk and pop and sat down at a booth. Took the shoes off and charged everything up in the wall outlets conveniently located at every booth. Clark came in but didn’t order anything. I got my food but it wasn’t hash browns like I’m use to. It was sliced potatoes. Maybe she heard hash rounds? Whatever, they tasted good.
I left and in a couple miles there was another gas station I think in Bedford. I wanted to get more water from the bathroom but they had a sign it was for customers only. OK whatever, I bought the one and only Gatorade I had the entire race. Skip that I think I got one from a road angel too. Anyway, you also couldn’t use a credit card for anything less than $5 so I had to pay cash. I usually just left whatever change I got other than quarters in the take a penny leave a penny tray that every gas station in America but this one has. Want to know what they have instead at this not at all friendly establishment?
A tip jar!
Not a leave and penny take a penny tray. Not a donation box for a local kid with cancer treatment bills. Nope, a tip jar.
I should’ve taken money out of it. I carried that change for miles, they sure weren’t going to get it.
Next I got to see a old guy beating the crap out of this walking horse while he was training it to do the big lick. That pissed me off to no end. I’m as far as you can get from an animal rights activist but this wasn’t right. It wasn’t a corrective tap here or there, it was full on wind it up 5 times in a row beat down every time there was a misstep. And there were a lot of missteps. Tennessee Walking Horses do have a small natural lift to their front legs but making them do that big lick walk seems senseless to me. I’ve heard horse owners say the big lick is a natural gait. In my professional opinion the big lick is completely UN-natural. They’re finally cracking down on the soring that used to go on and this guy was using a different method than that to make the horse lift it’s feet at least. I really felt like going up to him with a whip and telling him that I’d smack him every time he didn’t skip. No walking or running, you can only skip. Oh, it’s uncomfortable and inefficient to skip you say? Too bad, since you can physically do it, it must be a natural human gait. Right? Just like a horse lifting it’s feet super high in the air for NO reason. I know that area is the big Tennessee Walking Horse area and I’m probably pissing off some of the nice local people who helped me during the race but I don’t like it. I’m sure not everyone beats their horse but this was right out by the hwy for everyone to see so obviously he thought there was nothing wrong with it.
Finally I got to Shelbyville. I got my first ice cream bar at the first gas station. It was just after noon and hot as always but I was getting used to it now. Really I couldn’t even tell you what day was officially the hottest. The first motel is the Magnolia Inn. It looked sketchy and there were 5 very loud men with cars in the parking lot. I’ll remind you it’s 12:15PM, check out is at 11AM and you can’t check in until 3, why are there so many people here. There is no office, you just go up to a window and some guy shows up. I ask how much for a room and he goes “ahhh $50”. If you’re going to try to scam me dude don’t start with an “ahhh” where it’s clear to me you’re just throwing a number out there you think I’ll pay. I left and he chases after me yelling smaller numbers. If he had got to 20 I would’ve stopped. This place looked like too much trouble for anything more.
Bo and Karen went there as well that day. This is the story they told me but I’m sure they will tell it better in their race report. Bo asked the guy if there were any other runners staying there. The guy didn’t know what he was talking about so Bo asked him if anyone wearing a backpack like him and Karen were there. The guy then told him “No. Your kind sleep under the bridge by the river”. Needless to say they didn’t stay there either.
The other hotel was a little off course but I went there. America’s Best Value. I think it was $50 as well but it was quiet. I took a shower and washed my clothes again. I slept until around 5PM. I re-taped my feet even though it wasn’t too bad. I knew this would probably be my last time staying in a hotel so I thought it best to redo it now when it’s easiest. I had a small heel blister that I took care of and then put Engo patches on the heels of my shoes to prevent any new ones. I’ve never gotten heel blisters before but I wasn’t surprised since I had my shoes tied so loose the heels would slip. If I tightened them any more though I would have much bigger issues with my tendons getting irritated like I’ve had in the past and the heel blister didn’t hurt so I’d take that trade any day.
I then saw a reddish looking bug on the edge of the pillow crawling up it. I squished it to kill it and bright red blood came out. The exoskeleton was clear so I’m guessing it was some sort of biting lice. I know they let dogs stay in the rooms here so I was hoping it was from a dog, but very likely the person who stayed there before me had head lice. Gross. I know it didn’t come from me, but now I was paranoid I’d bring something home with me. It wasn’t on the pillow I slept on but still it was in the room with me and I didn’t want to look to see if he had any friends. I washed everything on sanitize when I got home and had my wife check me over. No lice! Huzzah!
Starting out of Shelbyville sucked. My ankles were a little swollen still even after sleep and icing them. My heat rash was feeling better with hydrocortisone cream but still hurt some. The main issue was my calves were super tight from sleeping on that church bench that morning and I also had some tight tendon I could feel flick over something with every step behind my left knee. It didn’t hurt to walk but that tendon would flare up something fierce if I didn’t figure out which one it was or what was causing it. Here are the views I had leaving town. Let’s just say they weren’t helping to give me a positive attitude.
I saw Wayne just before check-in and told him it might be a very slow night if I couldn’t figure it out. He did a great job telling me I was doing a great job. Even if you feel bad, knowing someone thinks your doing just fine helps a lot with morale. After about 40 minutes of stopping, trying to feel which tendon was flicking around, stretching, etc I figured out it was my lateral hamstring tendon flicking but that one of the muscles right behind the knee was super tight as well. There are at least 2 small muscles just behind the knee that I have no idea how to stretch but I know if I crank down hard on them, they eventually loosen up. Very painful but the only way I knew to loosen them. I got my dowel rod out and worked on my hamstrings on both legs and also my calves for awhile. Finally the flicking sensation went away and I could run with a very short stride and probably 190 cadence. I’d stop every 5 minutes or so to stretch the calves and hamstrings some more. I checked in at 226 miles at the 4.5 day check-in. Only 17 miles the last 12 hours, not very good.
Wartrace was 6 miles away. I kept hearing gun shots in this section. I got to Wartrace and put my feet up at the gas station on a bench and talked to my wife a little bit. I had my mace and dowel rod out again. I told people I needed some well wishes this night since last night had been so “bad”. Hard to put it into words but the eerie road, dogs, Lewisburg, just added up to being a not at all fun, bad, depressing night. They had to be emails, not texts or phone calls. I planned on being in silent mode to keep dogs and people from knowing I was there. I left Wartrace at 10PM.
I was hyper vigilant this night. I started the small back road section from Wartrace to Manchester. This section is probably real nice in the day. The trees cover the road almost 80% of the time it seemed like. You could do this section easy with all the shade as long as you brought enough water. It was like a 15 mile never ending tunnel with the katydids making a deafening roar. I took control this night and charged ahead with no fear. No headlamp needed even with the shade as it was a full moon tonight. It basically felt like I was in The Walking Dead running down the middle of the road checking the tree lines constantly for walkers, I mean dogs. Instead of a katana or a crossbow, I had my trusty mace and a foot long dowel rod. Oh yeah, I was badass! I had everything on my pack tied down so nothing would make a sound. My collapsible water bottles had no air in them so there was no sloshing. I quickened my cadence to quiet my steps. I actually was past the first few dogs before they saw my reflector in the moonlight and barked. But after a few miles the dogs seemed to know I was coming a half mile before I got there. I thought that was weird. The pair of loud Pyrenees in the large fenced in pasture came charging down the hill to the fence line but I’ve read about them many times so I wasn’t worried. They followed me the whole way along the fence and barked for awhile after I was gone. But still all the dogs ahead were barking. Finally I found out why, Clark was just ahead of me the last few miles so they were reacting to him and then continued to react to me when I got there. So much for stealth mode. I walked with him for a bit and then ran again.
I found a church at mile 240 on the right with a 30 foot long picnic table and laid down on it. There were no water spigots that I could find but there was an outlet I didn’t use as it was far from the picnic table and I didn’t want to risk forgetting I had something plugged in. I used my battery pack instead. It was 12:15AM and had only been a couple hours since my last stop but I needed to get my feet up and work on my calves some more. Clark came and rested as well. I don’t think I ever fell asleep, I just worked on my muscles while laying down. I did feel quite rested though after 40 minutes and left.
Soon after I left Clark a car seemed to be following behind me. It would just stop for a while and then drive up to me and stop again. I finally figured out it was someone’s crew. I kept hearing this hollering and thought the crew was cheering on their runner every time he went past. It was late so I was wondering why they were doing this. Whispering Oaks Campground was only 3 miles away and I got there around 1:40AM.
I saw Andrei sleeping on a picnic table. There were real bathrooms here. Apparently there were showers as well somewhere but I didn’t see them. I found some cushions and put them on a picnic table thinking this would be the best outdoor sleep of the race. I set my alarm for 4AM. I woke up when Clark came and found a spot to sleep. I fell back asleep but kept having bad dreams. I can’t remember details but I know they were about someone not letting me get to where I wanted to go or not letting me leave. Stupid race was in my dreams already! I woke up just before the alarm. Everyone was gone. I left some money in the money slot since it was nice of them to let us stay there. Of course later runners said they had cots, food, drinks, air mattresses, and who knows what else set up for the runners. Lucky bastards. This is another place I slept that I don’t have a picture of.
Next stop was Manchester. There was a gas station open 2 miles from the campground. I got some food and pop there. Soon after I left I realized I left my dowel rod there so I went back to get it. That was the only extra distance for stupidity that I did this race. Really it was maybe a tenth of a mile both ways so not a big deal. It was daytime when I got to Manchester and I caught up to Clark. He was going to get some supplies for his feet and I suspected spend some time in a hotel recovering. I ate at Hardee’s and had lots of refills of pop, I was sweating like crazy already. This morning seemed the hottest to me but it was mostly because I was in the full sun with zero wind most of the day. I got out of town before the 5 day check-in, 253 miles.
Hillsboro was only 4 miles away but I stopped at a gas station to get some ice and refuel a little. I put my feet up as well since it had been 2.5 hours since Hardee’s. I put straight ice in my bladder and ice water in my bottles. I don’t think putting ice on my back was the best idea. My back skin felt all pins and needles under the pack the next 2 days after doing that. It kept me cool though. I left the rest of the bag of ice for the next runner.
Along the way I saw a buck laying in the shade with some cattle. It was that hot that he just plopped down with them. You can see it on the video at the end although I didn’t zoom in at all. I think it was also around here that screwed winner Andrew Snope stopped. He kind of hobbled out of the car and cheered me on. I agreed with his finishing quote that being crewed would be much easier. At least I’m pretty sure it was this day I saw him. I think he was driving home or something.
Pelham was around 9 miles away. I ran/walked most of this even though it was hot. I found a new convenience store in Pelham that was hiding behind a row of trees. I got a milkshake there and more ice water. I wasn’t very hungry for much else. I got back on the road to Monteagle. 4 large white dogs came out from a hole in a fence and followed me for a bit but they didn’t seem aggressive and always stayed in the ditch. There were some clouds in the sky now but the shadows never seemed to get to me. I could never catch up to one either. I could hear thunder in the distance so maybe it would rain.
At mile 270 starts the 3 mile 1000 foot climb to Monteagle. I just kept plugging away at it. Stopping didn’t help so I didn’t do that more than once. Plus when I did stop I sat on the guardrail. I wasn’t on it for even half a second and thought my shorts had melted to it. It was probably only 120 degrees but the metal conducted the heat extremely well. I didn’t get burned at least. I could see the road was wet in spots but I never got rained on and made it up to the top in an hour.
It was almost 3PM now. There was an Italian restaurant right there so I went in. I got Bang Bang Shrimp and Blackened Chicken Alfredo. They had awesome bread and butter there as well. I was going over my rule of 1100 calories solid food but I didn’t care. Plus I planned on sleeping somewhere. My feet were hurting pretty bad so I took NSAIDs again for the second time in the race. I charged stuff up while I waited and ate. I left there at 3:30PM since the food came out quickly and I wanted to sleep.
I had the choice of going off course a quarter mile to a hotel or going to a state park right on the road that was free. I didn’t want to spend more money and I wasn’t that tired yet so I decided to go the 3 miles to the park. Of course I was tired almost immediately after I left. It was super hot. No shoulder on the road and apparently everyone works shifts in Monteagle since the road was very busy at 3:30. I did finally make it to the park. The bathrooms were pretty nice but that’s about all. It seemed much nicer of a park on the bus ride a week ago. The picnic tables were too exposed and too many people around that area so I found some trees and laid on my sleeping bag liner with my feet uphill. I was there for 90 minutes but I’m not sure how much I slept. My feet were pounding. The person shooting hoops must have sucked since every shot seemed to make the loudest sound possible. It seemed like he threw the ball at the rim every shot. Mothers with their children kept their distance from me. I finally got up super groggy and changed socks one last time. I filled up my water and moved on out very slowly at first.
Tracy city was very close from the park. Coming into town there was a old school building that was now called the art building or something to that effect. Anyway it was up on a hill and it looked like every girl in the county from age 5-10 was there learning to cheer. My sister-in-law is from NC and was big into cheering so maybe it’s just a southern thing where every girl must learn to cheer. Regardless, they were all together shouting
“We got spirrit, S-P-I-RRRR-I-T, we got spirrit”
I wish you could hear it. I don’t know how to write out the sound. Just think of the most southern drawl you’ve ever heard with a lot of up and down changes of pitch and you’ll be close. I swear no one had that much of a drawl when I talked to them in stores and on the street but apparently when it comes to cheering, the more the better.
So while I’m listening to this cheering on the left side of the road, I look over to the right side of the road which is a graveyard. A quick glance shows no where to sleep and also with the cheering going on, I wouldn’t sleep anyway. On second glance I see 5 people in the graveyard crying with one of them carrying a shovel. Look left, cheering. Look right, sobbing. Something like that sticks in your head. The pile of dirt didn’t look very big so I don’t know if you could bury pets in this cemetery in addition to humans or if it was a child that died which would make this even more tragic to have children cheering on the other side of the road.
I moved along down the hill to the gas station. I knew it would be a long haul to Jasper. There was an aid station at mile 295 in Steve Smalling’s yard but that was 15 miles away so I filled up with water and had a slushy. I knew I’d have to sleep somewhere as I was still exhausted but nothing in town looked good or safe. A few stray dogs said hello and went on their way. I got out of town a few miles before check-in. 281 miles down, 33 to go. By not sleeping in the hotel I had certainly gained positions. I knew I would lose a couple since I needed to sleep for an hour soon.
I found a wooden pew in front of a church or at least what I thought was a church and laid down on it. There was another pew to hide me somewhat from the road and it was just starting to get dark. I didn’t get anything out of my pack. I was in save time mode now, as this was my final push to the rock. I slept soundly for an hour. I got up and started moving. I took half a caffeine pill during the long section to Jasper. There wasn’t much traffic anymore which was nice. I was running well again. I wasn’t too concerned about dogs anymore but still had my mace and dowel rod out.
Just before the 3 mile decent into Jasper I saw the same crew vehicle as the night before. I figured I’d get passed by the runner. Sure enough he passed me on the decent. Every minute or so he’d yell out super loud. So it wasn’t the crew cheering like I thought the night before, it was him. I can’t even scream as loud as he could yell. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be singing or what but it was short 2 second bursts so it didn’t seem like singing. This was just before midnight on a work night. Every dog would start barking every time he did this. I didn’t get to ask him what he was doing so I won’t say who it was as maybe there is some reasonable explanation. I think it was extremely rude to go yelling in the middle of the night in a residential area though. I ran the whole way down which cut close to 30 minutes off my time I was thinking it would take to get to Jasper.
When I got to the bottom of the hill, a cop stopped me to ask what I was doing. I’m pretty sure he thought I was the yelling guy. So I had to spend 5 minutes showing him the race route and telling him about the race. He acted like he had no clue. People had already been coming through town the last 3 days and I know for a fact a resident called the police to tell them about the race beforehand. It’s his fault he didn’t know what was going on, not mine. I felt like telling him to go bother all the Pokemon people roaming the streets the same as me in the middle of the night but I didn’t. I finally just started walking away and he left.
I got to Steve’s yard at mile 295 and found Andrei sleeping there. I drank some water and found 2 chairs to sleep on. I set my alarm for an hour and instantly fell asleep. A dog barked once that seemed really close and I heard Andrei jerk in his bivy sac. He didn’t recall that at all when I asked him at the finish line. He must’ve been really tired to not get woken up by that. I woke up just before the alarm and turned it off. I quietly got up and left just before 1AM. Again I hadn’t taken anything out other than the battery pack to charge stuff.
My feet were soaked at this point from all the sweating yesterday and overnight in the fog. If it was earlier in the race I would’ve changed socks and taken care of any blisters if there were new ones. It didn’t feel like there were any new ones yet but I knew running in wet feet the next 4-5 hours would make some. At this point I didn’t care. Even if they showed up they wouldn’t start hurting before I was done or at least not enough to slow me down. I’ve done this in other races as well towards the end. I also was worried if I changed socks I might mess up my taping job and then have to spend time redoing that over the few blisters I had from earlier in the race.
I took the other half of the caffeine pill then as I wasn’t planing on sleeping anymore. In about an hour I felt awake the rest of the race and beyond. While I was going through town there was a car with 2 guys in it yelling stuff out the window. I’m assuming they were drunk since I could hardly understand anything they were saying. Something about I can stop running now since no one is chasing me. I’ve only heard that joke from people in TN so it must be really funny to them. In fact, someone WAS chasing me dumb ass, it’s a race and I’m not last. Even if I was last there would still be Oprah chasing me! I ignored them and kept going. I saw them 3 more times as they circled around town. Good thing that cop was busy harassing us runners and not getting drunk drivers off the road, wouldn’t want him to have to get out of his car. Come to think of it, I never saw a cop pull a vehicle over the entire race. If he came around a 4th time I thought about macing them. He never came.
Next stop was Kimball a few miles away. The parking lot was full of trucks. I got there at 2:10AM. I reserved a room for that night since it was going to fill up again due to all the construction workers staying there. They gave me a bag to put all the stuff in I didn’t want to carry anymore. I pretty much just had my 2 small water bottles left and first aid kit when I was done taking stuff out. I left at 2:17AM and knew at that point I would finish before 6 days! I got some pop and food at the gas station next door as it didn’t look like anything else was open and certainly nothing would be open the next 14 miles.
The next 3 and a half hours were torture. Not because I was in pain, though I was. Not because the miles were hard, though climbing Sand Mountain wasn’t very fun. Not because of more dogs in the road, though New Hope had a bunch. It was torture because the first of those 3 hours seemed like forever! Once I knew finishing was inevitable, I got impatient. I never saw a soul the entire time. I texted when I got to the bridge that I was on my way. I expected a response that someone was right in front of me or some other psychological torture. I just got the reply “gotcha”. Does that mean someone really is close ahead or behind? I started caring now that someone would pass me right at the end.
Soon after starting the climb up sand mountain you enter Alabama. I had never been to Alabama before this race so that’s one more off my list. Only 6 states left and Guam if you want to count territories.
When I got to the CR 132 turnoff, it was getting light. I was flying high now. Just a few more miles to go! I ran. Even the hills. I even looked over my shoulder a few times I think. I got to the border of Georgia and the castle rock gate just on the other side.
I kept running. I got out my iPod one last time and cranked a few power songs. There was a sign telling you to turn although I had this part of the course memorized anyway. It said 1 mile to go. I turned on the field road and up the hill.
There was another sign to turn left which also said 1 mile to go, or at least I thought it did. Then into the trees for the trail lover in me. I think there were a few more signs, probably said 1 mile to go on them as well. Finally the open space with cars and people. They let me keep going straight to the rock since I wasn’t wobbly (probably shaved 2 seconds off my time, lol).
There was no scenic view from the rock at the time because of the fog so I’d have to see that later. I wanted to finish in the day so I could remember everything more and I did. Better yet I was still under the 6 day mark. I got to sit in the finisher chair. I knew they always put a quote of what you say at the finish in the email they send out so I had something kind of prepared when climbing up sand mountain. But I never said it and just started having a great conversation with everyone. Laz, Carl, Sandra, Bo and Karen were all there. Bo and Karen had finished a little over 20 minutes before me. They had sprinted to the end and Karen fell and had some road rash from it. Funny to think of sprinting at the end of 314 miles but I think almost everyone does it if they can. The next hour or so was awesome talking to everyone and watching Andrei come in and finish. There were some great stories and I got to hear about a lot of the runners I never saw on the course.
And of course I got my 314 sticker!
I took off my shoes and socks to put on some sandals. I found 2 new small blisters at the base of my toes (I found 3 more smaller ones after I slept at the hotel). They didn’t hurt yet but it shows how important it is to take care of your feet right away. In just the last 5 hours I had more than doubled the number of blisters by not changing into dry socks when I knew I should have. Like I said earlier I didn’t care about getting them at the end of the race. My largest blister the whole race was 9mm.
I went back to the hotel and they had a room ready for me when I got there at 10AM! Shower, wash clothes, charge phone, sleep. I got up at 3PM just so I wouldn’t end up waking up at 1AM or something dumb. I drove back to thank Steve and take some pictures of the course I had missed in my last day scramble. I saw 4 people coming down the hill into Jasper, and the few miles before the hill into Jasper a saw 3 more people. All of them people I had ran with during the race at some point. I cheered them on and told them about the aid station at Steve’s house.
I went back to the rock to see Paul, Jeff, and Brian finish. They spent about 30 seconds arguing over what order they should finish in since they got there at the same time. Note to future runners, have a plan in place for who goes first beforehand. There are no ties and only one can go to the rock at a time. That’s why you’ll always see finishing times at least 20 seconds or so apart.
So I figured I took somewhere around 870,000 steps between running and walking! I’d be curious to know if someone had a step counter that ran this race. Guess I’ll have to try for a million someday.
I got back to bed about 11pm. The next day I left but stopped to wish JT, JT (Jason), and Novle good luck on their way from Jasper to the finish first. I ended up sleeping in the same spot on the way home in the car again. I slept one more time too later on.
I had to drive past my wife’s work so I decided to get her some flowers. I brought those and an ice cold can of Cheerwine. I gave her a big inappropriate work kiss. She was more excited by the pop than the flowers. We only get Cheerwine once like every 5 years when we make a trip down south as they don’t sell it in MN. So it’s a big deal. THANK YOU honey for taking care of the kids for 11 days! Thanks mom for helping out with the kids and giving her a break. Thanks to everyone who kept tabs on me and gave me encouragement, it really helped.
When I got home I was a pound heavier. I wasn’t surprised since I should have a lot more plasma volume, I was eating a lot, and my muscles were swollen. By 8 days later despite eating a ton, I’m 3 pounds lighter than before the race and the lightest I’ve been in a decade. I lost about 14 pounds before the race since so many people had commented in their race reports they were mad they carried a bunch of fat around for 314 miles.
My legs felt hot for 5 days straight. Basically like they feel the night after a 30 mile long run. I was always sweating at night sleeping and since I sweat so much more now, I would be soaked. It finally stopped after the 5th night.
I had a 3 mile run 6 days after the race and it felt good. My bones and feet ached some that night though so I’m taking another 5 days off before I run again. I’ve got a hilly 100 mile in 5 weeks so I plan on mostly just doing hill repeats and nothing over 5 miles or so until then.
Here are my shoes after the race. Altra Olympus 2.0 for those who care. I put on about 100 miles on them before the race to break them in.
This is the link to the final results with links to other peoples race reports and lots of other stats. tinyurl.com/volstate2016 Here is the video I made. The sound is bad in spots because the sweat and humidity messed up my phone microphone towards the end of the race.
Stuff mostly for runners.
I had some foot pain issues before the race due to my training adventure run. I’m lucky we have an awesome physical therapy department in a nearby town. My physical therapist Shannon helped pinpoint a little better what muscles I needed to keep an eye on and gave some good suggestions on things to try to prevent the pain. I couldn’t ever find any commercial shoe inserts that had the right amount of cushion for the inside of my arch. I ended up making my own with panty liners that I cut to shape in a kind of wedge shape with multiple layers cut smaller and smaller. I stuck these under the insole that came with the shoe. This is all only in the right foot which had the issue. It helped to counteract the road camber. If I ever felt the slightest pain in the peroneal tendons, I’d work the knots out of those muscles and it would subside. What’s odd is now that the race is done the pain is back some again. I’ll have to look at my everyday work shoes I think. Or maybe it’s just residual pain from running 314 miles.
I wore the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure vest 3.0 with the soft collapsible 500ml water bottles and a Osprey Hydraulics LT 2.5L bladder. My awesome wife sewed the magnet that goes with this bladder bite valve to the vest so it wouldn’t flop around.
The vest, bladder, bottles weighed in at 1.5 pounds. Initially I had 4.5 pounds of gear but I took out almost half a pound before the race. I took out 4 oz of stuff during the race but purchased a sewing kit, hydrocortisone, and baby powder (which I never ended up using anyway) so pretty much my pack was always at least 5.5 pounds. I could carry 8 pounds of water but I never carried that much. I only used my bladder about 4 times and had it empty the rest of the race. You need it for those times though. If you’re walking you could just carry a gallon jug of water and some screwed people do that. They basically just have a fanny pack for a few small things and carry all the water by hand. I would never do it that way. I usually train with about 8-10 pounds on my long runs due to having to carry all the water I’ll need for 5-6 hours.
You can see my packing list at the beginning if you want to see what I packed. I never did take a picture of all my gear strewn out before I packed the vest. Oh well. I filled the pack about as full as it would go. At least the main compartments in back were full. I didn’t fill all the smaller pockets full. I planned on putting snacks in them but never did. It would’ve been emptier if I didn’t bring a large roll of toilet paper with. You need some toilet paper with for emergencies anyway but I just brought a whole roll of Charmin Ultra cause it’s the little luxuries in this race that count. And my butt hates rough toilet paper.
I used 2Tom’s Buttshield. I used to use BodyGlide and still do but won’t for long races anymore. I guess I noticed at 100 mile races that BodyGlide wouldn’t quite hold up and very slightly attracted dirt. Buttshield is basically only dimethicone which is the thing you want. It worked awesome. I pretty much used up a entire roll during the race. I used it on my butt but also crotch and upper legs. Initially I didn’t get enough of my legs and started to get a rash the second day. I started applying a bigger area and that helped it from getting worse. I did some sewing on my short liner to roll over a seam I thought was causing a problem but I think it was more I just hadn’t put any lube in that area of my leg since I didn’t sew it until day 3 or 4 and it was already getting better.
I’d probably bring more blister band-aids with if I did it again. There are lots of other uses for them other than blisters. Any skin area you want covered with a soft water/sweat resistant bandage that stays on for days, these are great for. The worked perfect for my back sore.
I’d not bring gaitors again. The heat rash sucked and it only happened on the area under the gaitors so I totally blame them.
I never carried food. I don’t know if this was good or bad, just a fact.
I wished I had some sort of small inflatable pillow to put me feet/legs on. It wouldn’t take long to blow up and deflate and would’ve helped me sleep better. It likely would’ve prevented the tight muscles behind my knee since I had them on a metal bar when I slept the morning they started to hurt.
This race will be more enjoyable with good running partners, whether planned ahead of time or just people you meet. I never found anyone with the same running pace as me. Most people seemed to just grind it out walking without stopping for more than a few minutes or sleeping much at all. I suspect their feet hurt a lot more than mine did since they were always on them. The guys who finish this race under 4 days probably don’t have much pain at all since they are only on their feet for 4 days. That’s an advantage of being fast.
You will spend more time taking care of your feet then you have ever done before during a race. Whether it’s blisters, taping, icing, or just putting them up above your heart, you will spend hours a day taking care of your feet. Yes hours! Granted you can nap while having your feet up but you need to put them up regardless of if you sleep or not.
Expect to have foot pain. Not just blister pain but deep aching pain almost like it’s in your bones. By the 3rd day, my feet would throb for 20 minutes while I put them up. Or maybe I’d only notice it for 20 minutes before I fell asleep, hard to know for sure. But when I’d wake up they weren’t throbbing.
I’ll repeat, your feet will hurt! Most race reports talk about their feet hurting so I knew they would but most reports don’t tell you constantly throughout the report that their feet hurt. Their feet did hurt the whole time, they just didn’t want to seem like a whiny pants. To get an idea of what it’s like, do this tomorrow. Wake up and think about your feet hurting. Hobble to the bathroom. Dread putting your shoes on. Then all day chant my feet hurt. All night chant my feet hurt. Constantly think about your feet hurting. Think about wanting to get something from down the hall and then decide it’s not worth the pain and extra distance to get it. Then do that for 4-8 more days. It wasn’t crippling pain for me but your feet will always let you know they aren’t happy. I think I got off pretty easy compared to what others went through. Especially the people who finished behind me.
Make sure you are careful running in the road. The actual lanes are much flatter than the shoulders so it is very tempting to run on them. Do NOT do this during rush hour or when you aren’t FULLY aware of your surrounding. The most likely way you’re going to get hit by a car is when one is passing another one coming from behind you (so cars are in both lanes coming at you from behind). You can’t see it coming and if there is a lot of traffic you won’t hear it coming either. Sure at 3AM on a two lane road you’ll see a car an hour and you can run right down the middle of the road. On the 4 lane roads the shoulders are 10 feet wide so you can even run on the right side of the road if you wanted to.
I just made my own sun hat with a Headsweats visor and attached a handkerchief with safety pins. If you plan on walking a lot an umbrella is a great idea to keep the sun off. Makes for a good thing to scare the crap out of dogs as well. Just open it up at them and they freak out. I don’t think I’d want to run holding one.
I brought another handkerchief to hold an ice bag on my head but never really planned on using it since in a trail run at home it seemed like a hassle and didn’t seem to help as much as I though it would.
Make sure you’re on the google group email list. Also a good idea to join the ultra listserv as well if you aren’t already. Lots of knowledge from the people who’ve done this for years.
Total spent during the race for food and supplies: $139.85 I never bought water or other “free” things. I also didn’t try to haggle with everyone to give me free stuff so that’s probably a wash. Grocery stores are cheaper but I was only by one once during the day when they’re open. Some people got close to $40 worth of free stuff from road angels so there is some advantage to running in the day. You will not see road angels at night. You might find a cooler with something to drink in it at night but don’t count on it. Even the places put on Facebook could run out of stuff overnight.
Total for hotels during the race: $313.27 That’s for 4 hotels. I made use of them for at least 5 hours each. So obviously you have to decide if hotels are worth the cost. If you are running with someone and can share the cost they are a no brainer. I was never offered any rooms from people ahead of me so I didn’t luck out there. That’s mostly because I’d first check in around noon – 2PM. I put this in here because no other race reports from years past but costs in. I think it’s important for people to have an idea so they can budget.
Stuff before and after the race depend on where you’re coming from. My rental was only $104 for 12 days due to a really good deal and them initially giving me a car with completely bald tires, so I got a discount for having to drive back to get a different one. The hotel the night before the bus in Kimball I used points to get for only $30.