Third Time’s a Charm

Time to play!

Mile 18: I pass the leaders of the 27 miler as I come into the Start/Finish Aid Station which elated me as I saw on my friends in the lead pack on his first time crossing the marathon distance. Although, it didn’t take much to elate me as I was currently in my first of many pain caves for the day as my knee had been throbbing for the past 6+ miles or so. But never in that hour or running in pain did I think this would take me out of the race. I just saw it as a problem that needed to be fixed and that’s what I attempted to do while in aid. It’s not a good feeling when an old injury from 6 months that you haven’t felt in any of the 60+ mileage weeks resurface when you’re only 1/10 of the way through your goal race. But, if ultra-running has taught me anything, don’t plan on anything going the way that you want it to.

As I was leaving the aid station I had flash backs to conversations with my friends and to myself on the many training runs. These were the conversations that got me to the race. This race was all about redemption. This was my 2nd time attempting the 100 mile distance at Lake Martin and was to be my 3rd 100 mile finish. I really needed to prove to myself that this race was not harder than me and that I really become a regular 100 mile runner. This day was more than just running a race for some finisher medal or buckle, it was bigger than that. Having that reminder early on in the race did more than I thought it would.

Me with a sign my students made me, just gotta laugh!

Mile 50: As I came into the Start/Finish aid station, it was so good to see everyone one more time before the sun set. One of my closest friends, Adam, who I work with decided to spend the weekend hanging out and helping. He’s the one that brlught the dog sign from my students. My good friend and pacer Jonathan asked if I was ready for a pacer, and I turned him down feeling in good spirits and knew there were some dark times ahead as the sun was just going down. So after some fluids and food from Sachiko, I was back on the trails. Then a mile or so after that I remember my left foot striking the ground painfully and I was thinking to myself that really hurt and should not feel that way. It almost felt like a really bad foot cramp. Right afterwards I linked up with a guy from Atlanta who was feeling much stronger than me and we ran together for about the next 10 miles and would have been shorter if I wasn’t going in and out of aid stations so quickly. Everytime I hit an aid station, I’d hand my bottle off, chug a few cups of coke, eat a handful of candy, and grab a sandwich. Then, I’d be off into the darkness of lonely single-track again. Since I run 99.9% of my runs by myself, I feel very comfortable by myself and with my thoughts. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect all the time because around mile 65 was when it started getting dark mentally as I was getting winded much easier and my ankle was hurting more and my knee was still throbbing from earlier in the day. Also this was in the range of 17+ hours on my feet.

#catbros

Mile 68: “Let’s Get Weird” is the caption on Jonathan’s Cruel Jewel shirt that he wore during the night hours and that’s our saying for every over night run we go on. This time we had coordinated weird cat shirts to get through the night and being with him really boosted me. This was my first time having a pacer and it was perfect, just what I needed. The first 7 miles were tough, but those are hard miles anytime of the day, even more so at night. But once went through the Start/Finish aid station, I knew I only had one 25 mile loop left. So every time we went through something that wasn’t fun, we marked it off the list. It was a great feeling not having to go over some of those climbs, walk through the mud, or stumble through the uneven rooted and rocky trails again.

It was around mile 88 when the sun came up and it was a great feeling knowing that when I ran my last trail 100, I only made it to mile 81-82 when the sun came out. With 12 miles to go, I was ready to finish this beast. My stride had greatly suffered by then, and when I decided to run it could barely be called a trot. This “trot” though kept going up until the mile 90-91 point. After that was a tough 7 mile section which in my condition would be deemed unrunnable.

But finally after more lows than my first 100, we emerged on the smooth dirt road leading to the finish line. I saw my wife and 2 kids, waved them down as I started my strongest run I could muster and crossed the finish in 27:40 taking almost an hour off my Pinhoti time (almost beating my SCAR time). After some pictures and congratulations from everyone I sat in a chair in the warm sun drinking a really good beer and nothing could be better. I had my friends on one side of me, my wife and kids on the other, and we cheered on the next finishers.

When I train for ultras spending the 8 – 11 hours away from home each week, I often wonder why I’m out there doing it. There is a big feeling of accomplishment when you finish, but it’s more than that to me. It’s more than a finish line, it’s how you get to the finish line. Now after traversing multiple overnight runs I’ve drawn many parallels between racing and life. I’d like to say running ultras has made me a better person, but I have no perspective on that. All I know for sure is that running and finishing this race definitely made me a happier person and almost 2 weeks since the race, I’m still elated I made the time to train and run this race.
So what’s next? Not sure, but Blood Rock is defintely on my list. That’d be my 3rd Tosch’s 100 if I do go for it which would be awesome. So who knows? Time to heal and recover properly to do it all over again. Happy trails.

 

The trifecta is complete!

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Summer of Fun

Alright, so this is going to be broken into a few segments this time. First off, I didn’t realize I had lost touch with this blog since February, wow!

Where Have I Been???

Since making a winter attempt of the Art Loeb Trail, I ran about 43 miles of the Lake Martin 50/100 course in March. It was a race destined for failure from the beginning. I still hadn’t recovered from a stomach virus and it came back that day and just wrecked me. Then the following 2 months were plagued with on and off weeks battling stress and injuries. I had gone off course in a big way and it some time to really figure out what I wanted. Then after straightening out my head and a new pair of Salomons, I was ready to take on the summer. The goal this summer was a Pitchell attempt. 

After a weekend at the beach I started to hit it hard and ended up some hard weeks with a self-supported 50k at Oak Mountain State Park. Then I had to work few weeks and do some home repairs. So, now you’re up to date. Good. Great. Grand.

Pitchell Fun Run

So most people, trail runners included, have never heard of the Pitchell Challenge. It is around 67 miles in the Pisgah National Forest of NC connecting the summits of Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Mitchell. It’s not a race, but a challenge. Now the word challenge is very important. Challenge means to push yourself to your limits and finishing it may not necessarily be the goal.

We (my boy Jonathan, myself, and our crew: Sachiko and Jessica) got to Asheville in the late afternoon, after a good pre-run meal at All Souls Pizza, we decided to scout out water stops. Now the trail runs parallel mostly with the Blue Ridge Parkway shish makes it easy for a crew and planning.

After changing clothes, filling our packs, and climbing the trail to the summit of Mt. Pisgah, we were ready to tackle this monster at 7:00 PM. Yeah that’s right, this challenge requires you to start at night. The official run starts at midnight when ran in October, but we needed to get back home the next day, so we started early. 

The first 17-20 mile section is the Shut-In Trail which was alot of fun since I had ran part of it before and we got some awesome views of the sun setting. Around 11 or so, our crew met us with cokes and pizza! Then we were off again to not see them again until mile 40-45ish. The mile markers are pretty vague since everyone’s write up of the run has different numbers and my GPS watch measures short when it’s in the long-run setting (around 85% short). We got to the half-way point of the run around 3:45 AM feeling great. This was the Folk Art Center which is around the 50K mark. After a delicious clif bar and red bull, we were back at it just having fun until the sun came up.

Now usually, the sun coming up means the real fun is about to begin. But we had such a good night run, actually my best to date. We were averaging 13-14 minute miles, saw an awesome sunset, ran through tunnels and a cow pasture, and ran most of the time. When the sun came up, the mountains came out to play. I remember climbing a really technical section and then descending it around mile 38ish and then shortly after that I ran out of water, but still had Tailwind. And we climbed, and climbed, and climbed some more. We hit multiple false summits before finally hitting the summit at Pinnacle, which was breathtaking, although the look on my face says different. By now I was crashing, had no fluids to drink and knew we still had to descend the mountain. An hour later we dropped out of the woods expecting to see our crew, so we fired off some text messages and laid out next to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It had been 5 hours since we had a chance to get any water, food, or caffeine. We both were almost asleep when they pulled up and I was finished. I had no desire to go back out. We were I  the 45-50 mile range so far and my knee was killing me and I had zero energy. 

Well after lots of fluids, red bull, coke, and a sandwich, I was ready to give it one more go. We climbed past Craggy Gardens and then hit a super technical and wet descent that finally finished me off. Reduced to a limping gait, I was done. When we stopped, my watch read 50 miles, but other reports have stated it was mile 55. Who knows? We gave it hell and my body couldn’t keep up with the 1000+ ft climbs of the Pisgah.

After a baby-wipe cleaning we set of for some post-run food and beers in Asheville and we hit the road back home, gone less than 36 hours and we ran 17 of those hours. This run was much harder than expected but still I had fun and I’m glad I pushed as hard as I could and I’m still glad I quit when I did. I’ll definitely be back and can’t wait.

Recovery and What’s Next

I started running 2 days later and felt fine, fastest recovery after an ultra ever. Then a week later I was in NC again for a family vacation and couldn’t help but find the steepest hill and run up and down it! So it looks like I didn’t cause any serious harm to my knee but I’ll definitely be getting some more support for it in the future.

Best summer ever? Yeah its looking like that. Not becaise of running alone, just all around good time. Life is good in the James house. Right now, I’m planning on another solo ultra run somewhere out of town and then hoping to make another solid 100 mile attempt in the fall. Until then, happy trails…

The Day I Met Art Loeb

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Difficult may be an understatement

Not long after seeing a perfect sunset in the mountains, my wife and I rolled into Brevard, NC for a weekend of adventure we both desperately needed. After checking in at the Sunset Motel (which is a super rad place to stay) and grabbing dinner we ended up at the Brevard Brewery before calling it a night.

5:30 – the alarm goes off and time to start coffee and gear up for the day that was looming before us. We got our gps going and we were off into the winding roads of the Pisgah National Forest looking for my trailhead.

Probably around 7:30 I got started from the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp on my first climb of the day. This is the north terminus of the Art Loeb Trail and it was a very abrupt introduction to the trail. Alot of technical climbing didn’t leave much room for running. Also this section is in the Shining Rock Wilderness which leaves some of the trail connections a mystery to a first-timer to the area. After a few guesses I made it to the top at Deep Gap where you have the option to summit Cold Mountain or go south on the Art Loeb, again with no trail markings. That’s why you carry a map with you.

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I made it to the top, or so I thought. Frozen beard and all I made the correct turn onto Art Loeb and not towards the summit of Cold Mountain.

Not before long, the trail got up above 4,000 feet and that’s when things got interesting. From that point, for the next 10 miles everything was covered in snow and ice. Most of it was manageable but some parts were shin-deep in snow or so icy it forced me to stop and slide across like an old man.

I don’t exactly remember how far I was…maybe 7-8 miles in and I saw my first sign for Art Loeb, and I was so excited that I made it without getting lost!

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One of my first views of the mountains. This was taken after a bit of mountaineering, but I had views like this for the entire day.

Soon after this moment I climbed over a good sized hill that opened into this bald that has no name but really should. When I saw what was before me I almost dropped to my knees in tears at the beauty. At that moment, all the stress and negative energy I’d been harnessing over the past few weeks melted away. This moment, this beauty, this solitude was why I came up here.

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Pictures will never do this place justice. Breathtaking.

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From here the trail keeps climbing till you summit Tennant Mountain, which is now my favorite mountain. At this point in the day, I fell in love with Mr. Art Loeb. I have never been on that gorgeous of a summit before. I wished I had time to really soak it up, but it was so cold. It was 17 degrees when I started that morning close to 3,000 ft and now I was on top of a 6,000 ft mountain. Just to take a glove off to take a picture caused immense pain radiate through my hand due to the cold and plus all of my water was frozen at this point in the run.

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Tennent Mountain

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Trying to keep my cool as I’m blown away by the beauty of 6,000 feet above sea level.

From here the trail winds and climbs through the mountain range and goes over Black Balsam Knob and at point I lost the trail because the trail crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway but I couldn’t find it. I ran about 1/2 mile up the parkway to pick up the trail again. Then I started a good descent back to trail that finally wasn’t covered in snow.

Even though I was really tired and probably dehydrated I was feeling good. I stopped at a shelter before making the climb up and over Pilot Mountain to get some calories in me and noticed I was bleeding. On the back of my left ankle, I had rubbed my leg raw where my shoe meets my Achilles tendon, which has never happened. All I could think to cause it was all the snow and ice caused more friction than normal. I knew it would be dumb to go on. I had around 3 miles to the next road crossing and had to climb a mountain in that process, so I decided to call it a day once I reached Gloucester Gap. I went ahead and called my wife and took my time as I climbed Pilot Mtn and savored it as this was my last mountain for the day.

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Top of Pilot Mountain, 5,000 feet

Climbing Pilot Mtn wasn’t too bad and I had a great 360 view including Shining Rock, but coming down was brutal on me at that point. I reached Gloucester Gap early and sat down to eat and think about the day. Part of me was wanting to keep going to finish up the 30+ mile plans I had for the day, but my bloody sock and sore IT bands were letting me know I made the the right decision. According to GPS, I had made it 20 miles (probably from getting a little lost) and had 12,000 feet of elevation change. I put on an extra layer and propped my head with my running vest and enjoyed some much deserved rest in the sun as I waited for my wife to pick me up.

After sleeping in and grabbing some breakfast, my wife and I decided on a Valentine’s hike before we left the magical town of Brevard. We decided on a 5 mile hike up to John’s Rock. This trail would probably be my go to route if I lived in Brevard. Super runnable trail the entire way up and then it opens up to some amazing views of Looking Glass and Pilot Mountain.

After hobbling around the past few days due to the hole in the back of my ankle from my shoe rubbing me the wrong way, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. I find myself flipping through pictures of the mountains like me looking at pictures of a long, lost relative that I miss dearly. It hasn’t been a full week yet and I’m longing to go back. This wasn’t trail running, this was mountain running. This gave me a new view of running and I think I have to return to the mountains routinely now to satisfy my hunger for this feeling. Who knows, maybe I’ll be up for it again and when it’s warmer I’ll be able to tackle the entire thing.

Until next time, happy trails.

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Chillin on a iced-over John’s Rock

The Cheapest Ultra I Ever Ran…and Won

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“The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas. Tolerant like the sky, all-pervading like sunlight, firm like a mountain, supple like a tree in the wind, he has no destination in view and makes use of anything life happens to bring his way.” – Lao Tzu

I don’t know when my idea of a fun run changed, but its radically different than what it used to be as I just got back from a 37-38 mile solo fun run in the woods. Where should I start?

It kind of started when my wife encouraged me to sign up for a 50 mile race not too far from where I live and I got nervous and excited all at once.  I was too late to sign up for this race, but alas I don’t need a race director to run an ultra. After looking at local areas and the calendar, I found my perfect opportunity. I had one day before I went to work that my kids went back to school and my wife went back to work and I also had just found out about a new tentative race course at Oak Mountain, the Blood Rock 50 mile. So, with the day to myself and nothing but open trails…how could I resist the opportunity to go out see what I could do?

The day started off much differently than expected and I was planning to hit the ground running by 6:30, but by 8:00 I was on the trails hitting it hard. The first 9 – 10 miles of the race uses trails that either I’m not familiar with or don’t really exist yet, so I decided to make up my own course for those 9 – 10 miles visiting some of my favorite summits at Oak Mountain, Shackleford Point and King’s Chair. By the time I got back to my car I had 10 miles exactly on my watch with 1900 feet of gain, not a bad start to the day.

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After refueling, I set out on the next section of trail…which I planned to be roughly 23 miles and had no clue on how much climbing was there. This is when self-supported running gets interesting. Not being familiar with how long the trails were, I didn’t think to put a drop bag anywhere. Now in hind sight, I know a perfect place for a drop bag and it would have only taken about 15 minutes to put it there. Some ginger ale or coke would have been great at this point. So no drop bags, no aid stations, no crew, no pacers…once you leave your car you start to think if you have everything you need and if you have the drive and mental strength to make it back to your car as planned.

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I’m not going to talk much about the course, I posted a link below to my strava gps. But it is a really cool course.  It uses a lot of mountain bike trails that go around a lake, also going by the beach and then the bike trails going up the mountains are really cool because every time you turn to look you get an awesome view of the landscape below you. There is a good 5-7 mile section in the middle that is super flat to give you a break from the climbing and the opportunity to stretch out the legs by banging out some quick miles. I don’t know if I’ll actually run the 50 mile race, but it’s going to be a really good race and I’m excited for everyone that does it.

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Now what’s the point, why do it? In the past year I’ve started to do self-supported ultras and I look forward to those almost more than I do to a race.  But, they’re hard. They require planning, buying supplies and having the right gear, and they’re by yourself.  I like to run these because they really require a whole lot more out of me, I have to work harder for it. During races, when I know there is an aid station 5-10 miles away, I think I can make it there…whats another hour or two? When I know I have a friend or crew waiting on me, I’m thinking I better get moving so I can see them, I can’t wait to see them. Just writing all this out is getting me excited about my next self-supported ultra coming up next month. So with that here are some tips to get you through your next self-supported run:

  1. Be safe: Tell someone where you’re going, take some form of ID (I use a Road ID bracelet), and plan for the worst (take rain jacket, gloves, head lamp, batteries, extra food, extra clothes)
  2. Get some gear: I use a good hydration pack that has a 70 oz bladder and room for a 20 oz bottle plus ample pockets for food, phone, and maps. Do your research on which hydration pack works best for what kind of adventures you want to do.
  3. Plan it out: Invest in maps and plan everything out. Plan where you’ll have a dropbag or when you’ll come back to your car. Buy the right food/drinks that work for you. For this past one I just did, I bought doritos, sour patch kids, a bottle of coke, and a bottle of ginger ale. Pedialyte (you can find it on the baby aisle) is also one of my go to drinks. I also brought along some clif bloks and used Tailwind as my main fuel. Once I finished I had a PB&J and a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale waiting on me.

 

I hope this encourages you to get out there and find your own adventure.

Happy Trails

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Recovery, my nemesis

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Pinhoti 100: Picture by Zack Sylvan

The month of November hasn’t been my best month. I’ve been a grumpy old man and I’ve been trying to do everything to get out of the funk. But I’m on a recovery cycle and that makes me a pretty miserable person to be around. I publicly apologize to all my family and friends.

Recovery is never really a thought on my mind after races. Most marathons and 50K races, I’m usually back on the trails the next day or day after. For my 50 milers, I’m back within a week. 100 mile races, holy crap. That’s a different story.

After most of my muscle swelling was gone after the Pinhoti 100, I still had tightness behind one of my knees that kept me from being active. I’m pretty sure I tore a muscle or tendon that spans the back on my knee. So what can you do when that happens?

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Well cycling is a great substitute.  Luckily where my house is situated, there are no flat roads, so I can get in some good hill workouts. So time to break out the 2 wheels and find some good views.

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Once my knee started to cooperate, I was able to start hiking again. My family takes a weekly hike on Sundays and I was missing that so much while my knee was taking its sweet time to get better. Recently I got a carrier backpack for my 1-yr old. I’m loving it right now, although the look on my son’s face may say otherwise. He’s thinking “Why are we out here? Where’s my blanket?”

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I think I took close to a month off of running after my race.  Now that I’m back on the trails I’m taking it easy. So here is my experience with recovering from an ultra, or any race really:

  1. If it hurts, don’t use it. If a muscle or tendon hurts, don’t do anything stupid and put more tension on it.
  2. Find other activities to do. Be creative, there’s bound to be some kind of exercise your can do.  You may not be able to get out on the trails, but it’ll be better than sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself. Believe me…the sitting around part is not fun.
  3. Go outside! Get outside as much as possible. It’ll change your attitude and inspire you to get back into a routine once you’re healed up.
  4. Eat. Don’t be afraid to eat. I gained 10 pounds after my Pinhoti race. 10 pounds from not exercising for a a few weeks is nothing! I kept eating like an ultra runner because my body still needed calories to heal my muscles.

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Let’s face it, recovery is not fun. But it’s a part of running. You have to let your body heal so you can tackle bigger adventures. For me recovery is a time to recenter myself and take inventory. While training for my last race I had to make a lot of sacrifices and it gave me time to think about what I sacrificed and what I had accomplished. It reminded me to be grateful for everything I have in my life. I don’t want to boast or brag, but I have an awesome life and a lot to be thankful for. Enjoy everything you have while you have it. Happy trails.

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Do Something Epic

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Pinhoti 100: a 100.59 mile ultramarathon with over 32,000 feet of elevation change in Alabama. I first heard of the Pinhoti 100 in 2012 and thought how awesome would it be if I could do it one day, but never thought it’d be a possibility. Well this weekend changed that. Around 11:30 Sunday morning, I crossed the finish line of the Pinhoti 100 and could not believe it.

The best part of the whole experience was sharing it with my wife, Erin. I had no pacers and she was my crew. It filled me with such excitement seeing her at the crewed aid stations and made the whole adventure much more special.

The Reflection:

As I sit here thinking about how Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is setting in, my temporary tattoo from Elevation Tat is fading, and the race blues are sinking in; I can’t contain the excitement of last weekend. It’s taken me several days just to figure out how I put my experience into words. I know running a 100 mile race doesn’t prove anything or make me a better person, but knowing deep down that I can stick it out and finish fills my heart with fire. This is why I run ultras…and now this is why I consider myself an ultrarunner…I’m always seeking the next thrill, the next challenge that will teach me something new. People keep asking me, “Was it worth it?”, “Are you going to do it again?” and the answer is howling “YES!”. I would do it all over again. If you are gifted with the physical endurance and the desire to run 100 miles, then you definitely need to do it, and I will continue to do so until I feel I no longer can finish one. No onto the details of the race…

The Race:

Elevation Tat: elevation profile of Pinhoti 100 on my arm

Elevation Tat: elevation profile of Pinhoti 100 on my arm

I guess the best way to start would be when I woke up at 3:00 AM not in excitement for the race, but feeling sick. After taking some tylonol and drinking pedialyte, I went back to sleep got some more rest before my alarm went off. While getting ready for the race, I was a bit anxious hoping that my late night sickness wouldn’t affect me during the day. As we got closer to the start area for the race, it began to rain. I knew it was going to rain today but didn’t realize how much it was going to rain. I think that led to more people dropping this year than normal.

AS 3, 18 miles in

AS 3, 18 miles in

At Aid Station 3, mile 18.3, I got to see my wife and at first I was worried since I was running faster than predicted I was going to miss her. It’s not a big deal to miss your crew at an ultra if you’re prepared, but this would be my last chance to get my headlamp before hitting Bald Rock at mile 41. There was no way I was taking a risk of climbing up Mt. Cheaha in the dark, although I later found out that several people took that chance. After a little refilling my bottles, Erin loaded me up with some Doritos and Sour Patch Kids and sent me on my way. I didn’t realize it then, but that food would help me out so much. Due to the rain, Aid Stations 4 and 6 were water only this year. That meant only getting food/calories one time before Aid Station 7 which was 23 miles away…and after climbing to the highest point in Alabama.

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When you look at the elevation chart, the climb up Mt. Cheaha looks very intimidating but it was actually not bad and the scenery was amazing! It was so spooky climbing up the mountain through the clouds. After getting some food, swapping bottles for a vest, and getting my rain jacket, I was back on the trails. After a little bit of road running, me and a good group of others somehow managed our way down Blue Hell in the rainy night without falling to the bottom. By the time we reached the trail at the bottom I was a little spent so it took me some time to get in the rhythm of running again.

But somewhere around mile 43, I started to kick it up a notch. Now in my only two 50 mile races this is where I usually start my death march to the finish line, but I felt like kickin some ass at this point. The sun had set for at least an hour at this point, it was raining, and I was nearing the 12 hour mark, but I just got it done and ran everything that was runnable.  This lasted for a good bit too. I think I went strong until around mile 60-ish.  Around then is when I started to notice that my knees were failing me on all the downhills. So from that point on in the race, I decided to just bang out the uphills and take it easy on the downs. All my climbing muscles were intact and strong still (and stayed that way for the rest of race), but my IT bands and knees were just fading strong on the downhills.

Then at mile 68, the trail opened up to the Porter’s Gap AS, which was super chill and was the last time I’d see my wife before the morning. After getting some new batteries, food, and a nip of bourbon, I was headed back out, ready to take on the climb up Pinnacle. Now, I had heard a lot about this climb and how awful it is. But I actually enjoyed it and kept on catching people on the climb which just fueled me to keep on going strong. It did help that while I was climbing I was listening to a documentary about the Barkley Marathons. What I was doing was nothing in comparison to the Barkley.

Around 3:00 AM Sunday morning I reached mile 75, Pinnacle AS. I loved this aid station as I knew just about every volunteer. But I was smart and got a grilled cheese and got back on the trail as fast as I could. No time to chit chat when you’re running a 100 miler. It’s a good thing I was in a mood to move and bang this thing out, because I froze for the next 10 miles.

Banging out a climb to Pinnacle to see the crazy BUTS.

Banging out a climb to Pinnacle to see the crazy BUTS.

I think the hardest part of the night was between miles 80 and 85.  For most of this part, the run is still on the ridge and it was so cold, windy, and rainy, that it was not ideal conditions with shorts and a rain jacket with no gloves. The visibility was horrible too. Most of this section was on a jeep road and I think I was just zig-zagging back and forth between the sides of the road because I kept on hitting my head on branches. But once the sun came up, I felt great about what had happened so far. I managed to get in 42-43 miles overnight and never had a point in the run so far that I thought about quitting.

From mile 85 on it’s pretty much a jeep road or regular road back to Syllacauga.  There is a little bit of trail, but it’s all super easy terrain. The bad part is that I started to develop shin splints really bad. By mile 92, they were hurting so bad, that it hurt to stand, much less try running on them.  But I was so far ahead of cut offs, that I figured I could manage an 8 mile hike and take it in. And I think this is the first point in the race I wanted to stop. Somewhere in the upper 90s mile mark I was sick and tired of walking on the roads in Syllacauga and just ready to get this over with.  It would have been completely different if I could have ran that section. But after 28 hours and 30 minutes, I crossed the finish line, to get a big hug from my wife and a buckle and handshake from RD Todd Henderson. What a great first 100!

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Pinhoti Adventure Running

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Looking out west from the top of Horn Mountain

Anything that can, could have, or will go wrong, is going wrong, all at once. If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it. (Murphy’s Law)

For weeks now I’ve been wanting to write about training (and my lack of training) and how I manage to make it through races only managing less than 30 miles per week on average training for them.  Don’t worry, I’m doing much more now.

But this weekend opened up the perfect moment for a great story about training. So here we go.

Saturday 4:10 PM With the car loaded, I hugged my wife and kids and pulled out of the driveway with my destination to be Porter’s Gap trailhead in the Talladega National Forest. Little did I know that at this time, this would be last moment that my plan went as scheduled.

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7:32 PM After wrapping up a 7 mile hike/jog through the Pinhoti trails and jeep roads since I lost the trail after a couple miles and just enjoyed some jeep roads instead, I get back to my car at the trailhead and realize the worst just happened…I lost the key to the car on the trail. I have never screamed such profanity in the middle of the woods before. So now I knew the true adventure was beginning, with no shirt, no water, and no food I had to get help.  I was 10 miles from the nearest “city” and had to get a message out.  So I hiked back out to the ridge to get cell service and look for a key. After a frustrating amount of time I discovered that AAA could not get a locksmith out there and my wife had to bring me a key. Mentally and emotionally I was finished. After logging close to 13 miles and being in the cold for 4+ hours while sitting in the dark by the highway, I was ready to go home. When Erin got there, with the kids too, at 10:30, I was so relieved and filled with guilt of what I made them do for me. But after a good pep talk and kind words from my wife, I climbed in the back of my car, ate a cold grilled cheese sandwich and called it a night.  I needed to get some rest for the next day’s run.

The picture that may have led to the lost key.

The picture that may have led to the lost key.

5:51 AM Waking up in a slumber with my body still snug in the sleeping bag curled around my cooler, I decided it’s time to get going. After opening my clif bar I decide I need some coffee. Then I realize I have everything I need…except a lighter to light the stove. No coffee…not a good sign.

6:22 AM After heading west across Highway 77, I was on my way to summiting Horn Mountain. I go to drink some from my pack and the valve breaks off…and it’s leaking all over me. I know I have 4+ hours until I’ll be back to my car so I have to fix it.  I tie a few knots in the tubing of my pack and stop it from leaking. For the remainder of the day I would drink from my bottle I brought with me and then refill it with the leaking pack by untying the knot in the tubing.

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Sunrise on the ascent of Horn Mountain

The climb up Horn Mountain was great. Climbing up I knew I was going to love the way back hitting all the switchbacks going full speed. Then maybe 2 miles past the top you get to the outlook and it was such a surprise to me and just made the day.  There had been multiple things go bad for me this weekend and this just helped give me some perspective. When your plan goes to shit, stop using it and just let go.

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Horn Mountain overlook

Following this I wanted to make it to Wormy’s Pulpit but never made it.  I had to run through a good bit of thorn bushes just to find the trail terminated around 10 miles from my car with no trail markers or any sign of a trail. I know I was only a half mile or so from Wormy’s, so I sat down and ate some candy before heading back.

9:50 AM “I should be getting close to the lake now, but I’m doing a lot of uphill. Hmm…weird”. Then I hear voices and think, “Hey more people!” I had only seen 4 people all day and was ready to talk some more. But as I approached these hikers I realized they were the same hikers I passed on my descent…I had somehow turned around. I was going the wrong way. Time to turn around.  I figured out how I made this bad turn when I went down.  The correct trail turns left and cuts part of the trail I was on off, so if you miss that turn you see it connect again on your left and when I saw the second connection I turned left and did a loop that started me uphill again. Oh well, free miles right?

11:40 AM The jury was still out on what my mileage was going to be. The original plan was to run 38 miles, on fresh legs.  Since I did a total of 17+ miles the day before, I was feeling the effects of too many miles in 2 days. At the beginning of the day I set a goal of 31 miles. At this point, I was exhausted from the hike up the last hill and then running down the backside of that hill. Maybe mountain would be a better term and not hill. It was only 600-700 feet of descent, but it felt like 6000 feet. After hiking for a bit I made the decision to turn around and hike back up…feeling like crap.  I knew this feeling all too well.  It rarely happens on a 50K…but has happened on every 50 mile and when I ran the SCAR this summer. When the pain and tiredness from the day sneaks up on you and that’s all you can think about, all you want to do is stop. But what was different today was I knew what lie ahead of me and I told myself, “Hike to the top of the ridge, it’s all runnable after that and you can run back to the car.” So I hiked my butt up to top and loved getting another view from that ridge and then set my feet in gear. After banging out a 10 minute first mile and an 10:30 second mile, I was elated. I went from wanting dry clothes and a hot meal to hell yeah let’s see how far we can go! 
I got back to car running roughly 29 miles with 4300 feet of gain…almost equivalent to the first 29 of Mt. Cheaha 50K. I was still up on cloud 9 and feeling great. I throw my pack to the ground, get my chair out, and start the recovery process right there by the trail head. I was thinking about the day and the previous night. I usually plan everything out so that if something goes wrong, I’ll be ready. This weekend I had a good bit of things go wrong that I wasn’t prepared for, but I learned how to ask for help (which is really hard for me, I am way to prideful sometimes) and how to come up with a solution on the fly. I think these lessons helped me more than just getting in some good single-track mileage. Again, the trail always helps me out. Until next time, happy trails.

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Post-run recovery at its finest