Why run 100 miles? Well, it’s really hard to explain. The reasons are buried deep inside me and seem clear, but those same reasons are very hard to put into actual words especially into coherent thought out sentences that would seem sensible to most people. When most people hear that you are planning to or that you did run 100 miles they get this look on their face that indicates they think you might be a little nuts. They generally are kind about it but express that they can’t understand why you would do that. It is even hard for other runners who share the same love and joy of running that you do to understand. How do you explain why you would do something that is so foreign to what seems to be the natural state of human existence? Why would you put yourself through that?
For me I think a big part of it stems from how I got started in running. I started running primarily as a way to get into shape after really getting out of shape, particularly after starting a very sedentary desk job. My goal was to run a 5k. Once I found I was able to run a 5k I began to wonder what else I could do. I found that there were 10k races and I trained for and ran a couple of those. Then I set my sights on running a half marathon. I found with more training and more running I was able to complete a half marathon. I don’t know if I would say I was enjoying running at this point but it gave me goals to aim for and strive for as a way to get healthier and fitter. What could I accomplish as a fitness goal?
I wasn’t happy with my finish at my first half marathon because I managed to injure myself doing something stupid (trying to itch my calf at the same time as I continued to run) and that lead me to limping across the finish line in some degree of pain. So I pretty quickly decided that I was going to run that race again. At the beginning of the next year I joined our local running club and began to go to group runs. As I met more and more of my fellow runners I began to enjoy running more and more. The more people I became friends with and the more I talked to them about running and the things they were doing in running the more it stoked my fire for running. FYI I you befriend an ultra runner there is a 90% chance you will eventually run an ultra.
I became increasingly interested in trail running and met trail runners. I became more and more inspired and excited by the wide variety of things you can do in running, especially in trail running. In trail running every race is different, every run can be different. Plus trail running married running with my love of nature. It was the perfect fit for me. In trail running there are a wide variety of races and each race is on a course that will be nothing like any other course you run on. Every race is a completely new experience and I found this even more inspired. It is something I love about trail running. I love new experiences. I generally don’t run the same race very many times, because I just like to do different things. Even if I love a race I may not run it all the time because I just want to do something new.
This growing desire to push myself physically to see what I can do and the inspiration of doing something new helped to grow my spirit in ways that I never knew possible. When I started running I didn’t even know an ultra marathon was a thing. All of a sudden shortly after meeting this group of amazing and adventurous people I was running one.
When you talk to people about the adventures they have had doing something you love and how they have challenged themselves and then you set it in a framework of something you already love like being outdoors it really just stokes this fire inside you and grows your passion and excitement for just doing things. Exciting things. Hard Things. Fun things.
Maybe this is the kind of fun that only runners understand but testing your body is fun. It is fun in a way that is not really easy to explain. Either you are someone who likes to test their body physically or you are not. Either you are someone who likes to challenge themselves or you are not. I would argue many of us if not most of us actually do like to challenge ourselves but we just don’t think of it that way. I never did before I started running. Think about all of the hard things you have done in your life, especially those things that you chose. You didn’t do them just to torture yourself. You did them for some higher reason. Some reason that seems unquantifiable. That is the same reason I do hard things in running.
As I got baptized in the fire of ultra running I became aware of the fact that I was able to do more than I ever thought I could do. When I ran my first half marathon I said I would never run a marathon, NEVER. To be fair I have never run a road marathon, but I have now run 6 marathon or longer races in 2 years. I have learned as I have become more experienced in running that the more I do the more I can do. You kind of have a mental shift from I could never do that to wow I actually just did that, what else could I do. That can be completing our first 5k or completing your first half marathon, or for me the biggest shift came after completing my first 50k. I think that is when my mind really began to think about what am I actually physically capable of doing.
Once my body confirmed to my mind that I could be on my feet for more than 8 hours in a very challenging race it opened up a new realm for me mentally. If you let your mind go there you will become fascinated by it and then it will take hold of you. I think people think about all the things they can do but they do not let their minds fully occupy that space, they don’t give their minds permission to truly think about what they could do if they put their effort into doing it. Running more than a 50k would not be easy but could I actually do it if I put my mind and energy into preparing for it? I began to feel like the answer was yes.
As I talked more and more with my fellow runners about running and became aware of the amazing events that happen all across the United States and the world for that matter and I became aware of the incredible elite athletes who win these events it was hard not to become inspired. But you know what is even more inspiring than that? More inspiring than the elite athletes are the regular every day people that compete right alongside the elites at these events. Sure they don’t run the crazy fast times that the elite athletes run but they finish the same races. They complete the same course cross the same terrain as the elite athletes. They finish the race. Knowing that so many other people actually do this thing called ultra running and that so many people run 100 mile races was incredible. How could I not put myself to the test when so many other people were doing it?
It really became less about could I do it as how could I do it and when would I do it.
You run 100 miles because you get this feeling inside that you are capable of more and you have a desire to find out exactly what you are capable of. You want to unlock that human potential. That is what drives it.
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Every time I take on new adventures I learn things. The bigger and more challenging the adventure the more you learn. The first time I took on an ultra distance run, I was alone on the Finger Lakes Trail, I learned a lot. Now taking on a much different more complex challenge I stood poised to learn even more.
When you set off to go on any type of adventure ideally you have a plan. You make the best plan you can to try to have the best outcome you can. You also try to think about what you will do if things don’t go according to plan. Think about back up plans and contingencies. I don’t think you want to dwell to much on that because you want to focus on being successful not dwell on possible failure or challenges. But at the same time you want to try to be prepared. It is a bit of a balancing act.
I think we all know that plans are great but they are only goo until you reach that first difficulty or obstacle that requires a change. Then a lot of the plan can get thrown out the window. You can try to stick to the basic concepts of the plan but specific details like pace and times can quickly become meaningless. It wasn’t long into my 100 miles that my planned for pace goal was pretty much out the window.
One aspect of my 100 mile journey that I found to be more of a challenge than I planned for was fuel consumption. For all of my runs and races that will take me longer to complete than a road half marathon I really prefer to try to eat actual solid food as opposed to gels and things like that. More specifically I like to try to eat whole foods. That is my preference. That is what works well in my body and how I feel myself on a daily basis as much as I can. I like the taste of the whole foods I have been using and they feel better in my body. They don’t cause me any issues.
What I learned is that as hard as running 100 miles is, it might actually be harder to eat 100 miles of running energy’s worth of solid foods. I thought I had a good mix of foods to use that would allow me a variety of tastes and nutrient combinations so that I would not get sick of my fuel and would have plenty of options. That was not really an issue. What it really came down to is that eventually you just don’t feel like eating or think about eating, because you feel like you were just eating. It really is something you have to mentally prepare for and maybe force yourself to do. I was not as focused on that during my race. It was easy to not think about eating because I never really felt hungry. I would just eat whenever it felt right while I was running and then grab an extra piece of food or more at an aid station. As it turns out that casual approach wasn’t quite sufficient for my body. It seemed that my two big crashes at aid stations were primarily due to not having enough calories/sugar in my system.
My take away from this valuable lesson is for next time, because lets face it as my friend said you know there will be a next time, even if I don’t know when it will be is that I will need to plan to use a combination of solid food so I don’t feel hungry like I need to eat and something more easily consumed without making me feel full or too full like gels or liquid fuel. This is something I have Ben thinking about although I don’t know when I will begin to experiment with it to se what works best for me.
I expected the night portion of the race to be a challenge, but I had no idea how hard it would actually be for me. Being in the dark for that long wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. What was hard is that during that period of the race that is when exhaustion really set in for me. I could walk but my eyes and my brain were ready to go to sleep. I could keep my legs going but often found myself staggering around not making much progress. It was a struggle just to keep my eyes open. Things may have been different for me if I hadn’t suffered through a really hard crash right before that point in the race where I could literally barely move, but it’s hard to say. I will need to think about strategies to help myself stay alert and awake. Taking more caffeine or something else to force myself awake will need to be tested.
I learned a lot about what the human body is able to overcome physically. If someone told me how I would feel at mile 65 or so I would have been pretty sure I would not finish. If you told me that 16 miles later I would have a very similar experience I would never expect to be able to finish the race. I would have thought it was impossible. I would not have thought that the human body could come back from being inoperable and in a state of being where I couldn’t even take a drink of water on my own and I would recover and run 35 more miles. I would have thought that if I reached that state I would have to drop out of the race. My crew taught me that you can get back into the race after such a low. My crew taught me something I could not have learned on my own.
On top of the physical recovery if you had told me prior to the race that I would experience that kind of situation I would not have been surprised if I would have quite. I would have expected to hit a very hard mental low, wondering how I would ever finish the race, even if I recovered physically I would have so many doubts about being able to finish once I was able to continue. But that never happened to me. My mind stayed strong. My mind and my will were able to remain focused onm the goal and determined to finish. Before you do something it is easy to say the words that you are not going to quite and tell yourself and others that you will finish no matter what, but you never truly know how you will respond to a given situation until ou are in it. So now I can tell myself I know how I will respond to that kind of pressure. I will stick with it and I will persevere.
You learn so much about yourself on this journey. You learn about your physical body and what it is capable of and what it is not. You learn what things cause you pain and what things are not as bad as you thought. You learn what you can endure. You learn about yourself mentally too. You learn where your fears and doubts lie. You learn where they start to creep in and how you can overcome them. You learn that you can push through more than you ever thought. You learn that even in the toughest time you can keep your mind in a good place.
You learn more about the value of friends too. I knew I had a solid support system and crew. I knew they would be there to cheer me on. I did not know they would volunteer to jump in and run extra miles with me and take care of other runners as well. Pushing themselves farther than planned even as I was pushing myself. I knew my crew would always be there with words of encouragement and support. I did not know that I would find them literally physically supporting me as my body shut down and I was on the verge of collapse. I didn’t know they would be called on to revive me physically and bring me back from the verge of having to drop out. I didn’t know they would be there to safe guard me. I didn’t know they would be there to push me and get everything possible out of me when I didn’t think I could give any more to this race. I knew I had a great group of people surrounding me for this 100 mile attempt but I didn’t know all that they would put themselves through to make sure I was able to accomplish my goal. I am eternally grateful to them. I literally could not have done it without them. They mean the world to me. There really aren’t words to express how much all the people who were with me at Pine Creek 100 mean to me.
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I have now run 7 half marathons but this last one I ran might just be the one that means the most to me. I ran my first 5k around 6 years ago and my foray into running dates to before that time. I never really thought I would have a chance to experience what I did in this last race and it was truly special to me.
When I started running my wife had no interest. As I began to run more and more she supported me but didn’t understand why I did what I did especially as I began to actually enjoy running and testing myself. Then a couple years ago my wife decided she wanted to run a 5k and then an 8k and she did both of those things. She never expressed any interest in running any event farther than that distance. She would scoff at the idea of running a half marathon. She loved watching me run and push myself at races but she said it was not for her.
Then at the 2018 Wineglass Half Marathon a friend of hers had decided she was going to run it. We were there to cheer on the runners as we had the past year. My wife was able to cheer on her friend and see her as she closed in on accomplishing her goal. My wife was so inspired by her friend that shortly after that day she decided she also wanted to run the Wineglass Half Marathon and that she would run it in 2019.
Once she had gotten the idea firmly in her mind that she wanted to do it she committed and registered for the race early on. The first step was done.
My wife would be the one to tell you she is not really a runner. She doesn’t really run and go on and on and equivocate about not being a real runner because she run walks and mostly walks and isn’t very fast. I have always tried to instill in her that if you do any amount of running at any pace and go any distance, YOU ARE A RUNNER.
I think that the “I am not a real runner” mindset is hard to break. I also think that this mindset makes other things even more challenging than they have to be.
When you first get the notion of running a race into your head, the idea of running the race seems fun and that is what you focus on. The hard part is committing to the training. This is especially hard early on in the process. It is even more challenging when you set an ambitious goal, but that goal is far way on the calendar. I think this is where my wife struggled. She wanted to do more running than she had at her previous races and fully recognized that she would need to train more in order to do that and to do it at a much longer distance than she had experienced, but there was just so much time between the present and that future race day that it was always easy to delay starting the training process.
Then when we finally did get the training process started there were all too frequent setbacks due to various injuries that would cause training to cease and then it was really a struggle to get back into training each time. So the process of training was really challenging.
As race day drew near we were able to finally find some consistency in my wife’s training. She was able to log miles using her run/walk strategy. We took a vacation and logged miles hiking and exploring, but then there was another injury. It was getting very frustrating for her with all the setbacks especially when she was finally finding her groove in training.
Then I was in the process of getting the in the final push for training for my 100 miler and trying to figure out how best to help her train. We decided on a strategy of focusing on her getting used to as much distance as she could. That meant mostly walking, but miles are miles. I would go out for my long runs on my training and my wife would go with me. I would run a mile then circle back to her and check in with her and we would go until I got as many miles as I needed and she would rack up miles all the while checking in with each other after each mile. This strategy worked out even better than I had hoped and it was so nice to be out there working towards our goals together.
In the last several weeks leading up to the race we tried to focus on race strategy and pace for her to execute at the race. My wife really wanted to be done in 3.5 hours. She felt that it was an attainable goal given how her training had went. So we had to devise a plan to get her there. We set out on various training runs trying out different walk run strategies and seeing how they felt. And then came more leg pains and setbacks to training. So much frustration in the training.
Finally we were able to settle on a plan of run for 30 seconds and walk for 1 minute that she tried out and felt pretty good. It allowed her to move at a pretty decent pace and run normally during the 30 seconds and then have time to recover before another burst of running and didn’t cause too much fatigue. It seemed like a plan that could be executed over 13.1 miles. Critically it also should get her in under her goal according to our estimates.
Then a week before the race I got sick, but I recovered in a few days. Then my wife got sick. Never a good sign. Colds have a tendency to kick her but. In a few days she was down and out. Leaving work early one day and then calling in sick the next. Not something my wife takes lightly she is kind of a workaholic in that way. So two days before her first half marathon my wife was so sick she missed work. Not ideal, obviously. We were both nervous. How would this impact her ability to run the race? Would she even be able to run the race? If she could go to the race would she be able to run at all or would it just be a long walk. Luckily by race day my wife was feeling much better and we took cold medicine to the race for her to use.
Emotionally at least, the days leading up to the race went smoothly and my wife, at least outwardly, seemed relatively relaxed despite what was approaching for her. She said she was nervous but really handled it well.
On race day we boarded the bus and got to the start line uneventfully, exactly what you want on race day, especially for ones first half marathon. We were there plenty early to stretch and get prepared. We talked about how to start the race. It would be very exciting and it would be fun to just run as much as possible at the beginning. But we discussed the importance of sticking to our plan. It will be hard to let people go by us as we execute our run/walk plan but it will benefit us in the end. We made a plan and now we need to execute it.
The race started and we crossed the start line. My wife was now running her first half marathon. Something I never thought would happen and something I bet she really never thought would happen. We executed our plan. We ran and we walked. Occasionally running or walking more or less as seemed appropriate. It was amazing. My wife was doing so well. Despite all the setbacks. The injuries, the nagging leg pains. The cold the week of the race. She was conquering it all. She was doing this. Not only was she doing it she was doing it well. She was executing the race plan exactly the way we had discussed. I checked in with her frequently to see how she felt and she felt good almost the entire race. No pain. Not much effects from the cold. We had packed my race vest full of tissues just in case, but we only ended up using a small handful of tissues over the course of the race.
I could not have been more happy for my wife at how this race was going for her. I knew she was nervous about it especially after getting sick. I know she had doubts about whether or not she could do it and do it the way she wanted to with a run/walk strategy. I always tried to reassure her. But I would be lying if I said I expected it to go as well for her as it did.
We went along at our intended pace and before you knew it 5k done. I told my wife think about this. You had so many setbacks this year, but you just ran a 5k and you feel fine. You feel better than you had on any of your other 5k races. You felt better than you did on your training runs. I tried to build her confidence by pointing out how well she was doing. It was just so great to see her out here feeling so well.
Then the next milestone hit before you knew it. We were approaching the 8k distance. I think that made us both a little nervous because we both knew what that meant. We were about you cross not uncharted territory. My wife had been able to walk longer distances, but she had never gone farther than an 8k at the pace we were going using this run/walk strategy. Still she felt strong. She was happy and in good spirits. We entered uncharted territory and continued to sail through it without so much of a hiccup.
It is kind of amazing to me to see someone running their first half marathon who is in as good of spirits as my wife was. She was happy and friendly. We talked a lot. She talked to everyone on the course she could. She thanked every single volunteer we crossed paths with.
Through mile ten she had barely a complaint. She felt fine. She was in good spirits. Our strategy was working. She was overcoming all the obstacles thst had been put in her path. After mile ten my wife started to waver. Her energy was starting to ebb. It was noticeable that she was slowing down. Then at just the right moment one of our friends who was volunteering at a water station. After we ran by, he road out onto the course to provide some levity and entertainment to lift us up and it really helped get us smiling though a tough stretch.
As we neared the end of the race my wife seemed to be in awe of what was happening. She was actually accomplishing this huge goal she never even thought she’d ever take on. In the last few miles she said multiple times “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I told her “It is amazing when you start to find out just what you are capable of.” My wife was getting tired but she still felt pretty good despite everything. She could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As we got close to the end it really began to hit my wife. She was going to finish this race. She said, “I can’t believe I am actually going to finish.” She began t get emotional and tears began to well up in her eyes. She began to cry. I don’t know if she ever really truly believed that she would be able to do this. She wanted to and dreamed about it and hoped to be able to do it, but I don’t know if she ever believed she could. Now she was proving to herself that she could do it and she was doing it and she was going to finish. Seeing my wife so happy and so close to accomplishing her goal and her tears of joy and emotions overflowing almost ha me crying. I had to keep my emotions in check so she could focus on what she needed to do, but I was just so overwhelmingly happy for her.
We turned onto Market Street. We continued to execute our plan. We ran the section of Market Street that we had planned to run through to the finish line and we ran through the cheering crowd and crossed that finish line together. It was an amazing feeling. I hugged my wife. Meb would have to wait.
This was the most amazing experience for me. As much as it was for my wife. This is the kind of experience I have dreamed about having. I think anyone who runs has had these thoughts. Thoughts of how great it would be to be able to go out and run with your spouse or significant other. To be able to share in this thing you love. To go out and move your bodies and enjoy what running has to offer together. For a long time I never thought this would be something I would experience. As I dove deeper into running my wife seemed to become more resolute that she was not going to be a runner. Then she began to get interested in running. We have now run around six events together including this half marathon. Being able to share this with my wife is so special to me.
Experiencing this race with her. Seeing her run her first half marathon up close and personal. See her enjoy running. Watching her smile and and talk to people and thank every volunteer. To see her joy in running this race. It makes me so happy. It is a memory I will never forget.
My wife will probably continue to say she is not a runner despite my admonishments. We don’t run the same pace. But we can still get out and have fun running together. We make time to do some running with each other and it makes all the difference in the world to me. I think she thinks it is a sacrifice or me to slow down and run with her, but for me it is the biggest joy I can get. I get to be out here doing something I love with the woman I love. There could not be a bigger gift that she could give to me. She will tell you she is slow and that she doesn’t really run, but I can see a day in the future when I am asking her to slow down and run a race with me.
My wife talked about how much fun she had running the Wineglass Half Marathon and how it was better than she expected. She is already talking about running it again next year. If she could do it this year despite all the setbacks, how much better could she do next year if things went smoother for her?
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This year has been the most challenging year of running for me yet. Not because I set big goals for myself, I mean yes because I set big goals for myself, but also because of other struggles. Going into this year, after running only two 50k’s I decided it was time to push myself farther and longer. First I decided that I would take on a 50 mil race. Later I decided that this would also be the year I took on a 100 mile race. This all before I even ran my 3rd official 50k. I didn’t even wait to see how a 50 mile race would feel before diving in head first into the 100 mile pool. I put it all on the table early on in the year.
It seemed so….. Simple? I would train like my previous year for my 50k in May. That 50k would be my longest training run for my 50 mile race about a month after. The 50 mile race would be my longest training run leading into my 100 mile race two months later. The 50 mile race would also give me some experience at a new distance so I would have an idea of what to expect through the half-way point of my 100 mile race and that seemed like important knowledge to have.
Then life happened and all the plans and “simplicity” melted away. Like many runners I got injured with what turned out to apparently be hip bursitis. I ended up injured before I even got to the point in my year where I would run my 50k. So I tried to rest and recover as best I could and went into my 50k feeling under trained and nervous if I would even be able to finish. Worlds End 50k was the most painful and grueling race I have suffered through to date. I was in so much pain I walked the last 10 miles and almost every step of those ten miles caused pain in my hip. But I finished. I learned that if I had to I could tough it out and endure the pain as long as needed to cross the finish line. Not what I wanted from that race but a valuable lesson that would pay dividends later.
I had a month to try to get right physically for my 50 mile race. I got as much treatment and rest as I could and maintain my fitness for my 50 mile race. Finger Lakes 50’s 50 miler did not go as well as Worlds End. I was not in as much pain from my hip but it was hampering me, slowing me down and probably causing me to expend unnecessary energy. In the end being out in the heat and humidity of a July summer day did me in. I couldn’t keep up with the time I needed to move on to the third and final loop of the 50 mile race. But I did finish a 50k. The heat punished me. I was dizzy and wobbly on my feet at times. Heat exhaustion was hitting me hard. Then the rains came and I bounced back allowing me to finish in a decent time and feeling ok instead of suffering through to the end. Even though I wasn’t able to finish the 50 miles and gain the experience of feeling what 50 miles felt like I learned that I could bounce back from a physical low and keep moving on.
Training between the 50 mile attempt and my 100 mile race was not ideal but it was better than I had gotten any time since April. I decided that in order to reduce the impact on my hip I would focus on making sure I got in my long runs and decrease all other mileage. I ran regular 3 mile runs during the week and then a long run on the weekends. I was able to get in more long ruins during this time frame than any time since April and it included two 20 mile runs in the same week which I feel like were crucial to my physical preparedness and my mental preparedness. I knew my hip was getting better. I thought it would probably be an issue but not cost me the race. I was actually becoming more concerned about my long standing right ankle pain that tends to flare up with long runs, which seemed to be getting worse.
As the week of the race approached I was getting more and more nervous about it. Would I really be able to do this thing? Anxiety and fear were closing in on me. Was my training good enough? Would I be prepared? Was a physically strong enough? Was I mentally strong enough? I took the whole week leading up to the race off from running. I focused entirely on recovery and being as healthy as I possibly could be going into the race. I included a massage from Soul Ease Massage to help ensure that my hips and legs were in as good shape as possible. I am not sure you can ever feel relaxed when you have a 100 mile race looming.
If there was one secret weapon I knew I had to get me through this race, it was my crew. I was going to have a great crew, of my wife and my friends, out there taking care of me at the race. They would not let me fail.
The night before the Pine Creek Challenge my wife and I met up with two of our friends to camp for the night at the race location. We hung out. We chatted. I tried to relax. One thing we talked about is what to do if things don’t go according to plan. I had planned for this race more than I had ever planned or prepared for any other race or maybe even event in my life. I was organized. I had everything labeled. I had times for when I hoped to be in and out of aid stations. I planned for the best case scenario, even though I knew that the race was unlikely to play out that way. I knew what I wanted to happen and what I had in mid as more reasonable though still quite lofty goal for a first 100 mile race. I wanted to finish in under 24 hours. I thought that I had a good chance at making that happen as long as the first half of the race went reasonably well. I knew that a sub 24 hour goal was very likely not going to happen but it was the goal and it was really hard to think about anything outside of that goal. But we talked about just thinking about what is going ot happen if plan A doesn’t work out and plan B doesn’t work out and so on and so on. What do you do? How do you proceed? I think it was good to go through that mental exercise to just think that there are so many different ways that this event could unfold, none of which could be anticipated maybe. This perhaps is where experience would be valuable. If you have done this before I think it is easier to have contingency plans or at east to know what to do to get you back on track.
I sometimes have trouble sleeping before a race, but not usually too bad. I am also not much of a dreamer while I sleep. Well the night before my first 100 mile race was going to be different. I slept OK until about 4 AM when I was awakened by a nightmare. In this nightmare I had a full blown panic attack and completely shut down and was curled up in the fetal position in the tent and could not even manage to put on my clothes for the race. So, that resulted in me staring at the ceiling of the tent for an hour before my alarm went off at 5 AM and I got up and started to get ready for the race. I was not as anxious getting up and getting ready for the day as I thought I would be. There were the normal pre-race jitters but not anything major. I managed to not forget anything significant before starting. It was surprising to me that for the 6 AM start I still was going to end up needing my headlamp as I set out. I was not expecting that. We got to the start line. I kissed my wife and hugged my friends and then I set off on an adventure.
The start was hard. Not physically hard but mentally hard. My strategy was to go out at a 12 minute per mile pace, running a mile then walking 1 minute, much slower than I would go at any other type of flat run. The first bunch of people pulled away from me. Then another group of people pulled away. Then more people caught up to me and passed me. I kept trying to go slow. Eventually I seemed to essentially be alone on the trail. As I was alone on the trail I struggled a bit to stay out of my head. I began to think about all the things that could go wrong during this journey. I had to tell myself out loud multiple times to get out of your head. As the sun rose I stopped to take some photos along the way and used my GoPro while running some. I saw an eagle fly low along a swampy area and land in a tree, so that was a nice way to start off the race. It was 5.6 miles to the first aid station and I tried to go as slow as I could, but when I arrived my crew reported to me that I was still 5 minutes ahead of my planned pace. It was nice to get that first section over and see my crew though. The course is a multi out and back course to complete the full 100 miles and I was already at the terminus of one end so it was time to turn around and run back the other way for along time.
My crew got me out of the aid station without wasted time and I headed back the way I came. I needed to go slower. I took the time to use my GoPro more and take other photos. Run slower, walk longer to slow my pace. I got back to the swampy area and saw a great blue heron and snapped a few photos. I saw a few people with their dog and a woman with her camera and she said this is one of her favorite places to come for photography, so I made a mental note of that. She wasn’t kidding though because that bald eagle was still up in its perch on the large tree in the swamp. I tried to capture a few more photos of it. I might be the only one able to tell there is an eagle in the photos though because it is so far away. Eventually, I started to see runners from the other races of different distances happening on the same trail coming towards me on the trail. That made things a little more interesting on this return trip. I eventually got back to the start line where the next aid station was. I got some fuel and some hydration. Then waited forever some non-runner who decided to occupy the portapotty at the aid station, despite all the others available for spectator use, so that I could finally pee. That was probably the biggest frustration of that sort for me the entire race though, so I will call that a win.
Next was a 3.4 mile jaunt to the next aid station. I arrived at the aid station felling pretty good. Still going at what felt like the right pace. On plan. My hip wasn’t giving me any serious problems. It felt tight and maybe a little uncomfortable but not painful. My ankle was a little sore but nothing major. My crew made sure I had what I needed and got me going through the aid station without wasting too much time which is the goal. The next section would start the portion of the trail that really went through the valley.
The next aid station was nearly 8 miles away but I wouldn’t see my crew again for 16 miles. This 16 miles between seeing my crew again is one of the places I struggled most mentally. I had done marathon to 50k distances 8 times over the last three years. I thought I knew what to expect from it. I thought that on a flat course going the relatively slow pace for me that I had planned to go and was sustaining that the first 30 miles would feel relatively easy or at least not too hard. Maybe that was just being naive especially considering how my training had went. But during this 16 miles to the next time I would see my crew I really felt like I was struggling mentally. I felt like I was going slower than I wanted to when I was running and that I was walking longer than I wanted to to rest after each mile of running. My legs felt tired and sluggish and sore already. I really began to think that maybe I had gotten in over my head. If I was already feeling like this and it hadn’t even been 30 miles yet, what on earth was the rest of the race going to feel like?
One things that was a cool uplift for me during this 16 miles alone was seeing something I had never seen before. As I ran down the trail eventually I came to this spot where I saw someone had scratched out in large letters in the gravel the world snake with an arrow pointing to the left. I was instantly curious. Was someone just fucking with runners or was there really a snake over there in the rocks along the side o the trail? I had never seen a rattle snake in the wild but I was well aware of all the reports of snakes along this trail and the potential to see one. So I walked over to the side of the trail cautiously and looked at the rocks. Sure enough there was a rather large snake with a baby toy attached to its tail slithering underneath some rocks. I called back to a runner I had recently passed and let him know that there was a snake over here so that he could be aware and take caution. I did not get close to the snake or even try to get a photo of the snake. Those who know me are probably surprised by this. It was cool to be out doing something entirely new to me and see something entirely new to me as well.
After being a bit down physically and mentally it was a great relief to finally see my crew waiting for me a the Blackwell aid station. The aid station is half a mile before the turn around so I ran out to the turn around first as I dropped off my pack for my crew to refill. My first pacer of the day accompanied out to the turn around and we talked about how the race was going. Then I came back to the aid station and ate some food and got some extra hydration. I also took some Tylenol for my hip and ankle and had some bio freeze applied to my ankle. The first 30 miles had been harder than I thought they would be. That much was clear.
My pacer would accompany me the next 26 miles. We headed out to start the next phase of this journey. At least for this trip through the valley I would have someone along for the ride. WE talked quite a bit through the first 8 miles or so. We talked a lot about nature. I think I complained about all my grievances. I am kinda surprised my pacer didn’t just run off ahead of me or at least stay far enough ahead or behind that they couldn’t hear me anymore. This section started off strong. We ran 3+ miles without stopping for a walk break. Which was OK at the time because I was feeling strong. I didn’t actually feel like I needed a break after every mile which is how I had been feeling during the previous 16 miles. This run of 26 miles with my first pacer went OK. Not as well as I had hopped, but not as bad as it could have after how I felt during the end of the first 30 miles. I could feel myself slowing down some eventually. At times running much slower than I would have liked and at times taking much longer walking breaks than I would have liked. I stopped at the aid stations for extra food and hydration along the way. I had more bio freeze applied to the painful areas which seemed to be getting a little worse with more time on my feet.
At one point early on during this 26 miles with my first pacer we saw a group of people gathered up blocking almost the entire trail and many of them were over along the edge of the trail near the rocks. As we approached I knew they were looking at or for a snake. They were so close. I told my friend to get his camera out because there was about to be a Kodak moment. I don’t wish people harm, but these people were being dumb and unsafe. They were way too close they were essentially standing in the rock pile and had their phones out trying to get photos. They very easily could have gotten bitten and who gets blamed for that, the snake. Those kind of things really get me riled up. As we passed by I could see that there was a more light colored rattle snake among the rocks. Then shortly thereafter I saw a large almost completely black rattle snake out in the open along the rocks. It was the first time I was able to see the entire body of a rattle snake. It was quite large. They are amazing creatures and I am thrilled to be able to share a trail with them and pay them the appropriate respect they deserve by keeping my distance. I may be one of the few people happy to see a rattle snake on the trail, but I was secretly hoping to see one during the race.
Eventually my pacer were arriving at the 50 mile turn around aid station. The people running this aid stations had it going right. There were lights along the trail lighting the way. There was a fire. The crowd there was cheering so loudly. It was really making me emotional. I was getting choked up at all the people there cheering and supporting the runners out here like me. It is truly a blessing to be part of a larger community of runners like this.
When we arrived I took more Tylenol at the mile 50 turn around aid station and got more bio freeze. I don’t really remember much about this aid station, because I was too overcome with emotion from all the support from my crew, which kept expanding as more and more of my friends showed up over the course of the day, and the people at running the aid station itself cheering and high fiving. I changed my shoes here because I thought half way through a 100 mile race would be a good time to put on shoes with more cushion. My crew got me in and out of this aid station in good time. At this aid station I was picking up a new pacer, my best friend was going to run the next 9 miles with me.
It was really nice to be able to run part of this race with my best friend. We haven’t been able to run together much since early in the year. She may be my friend but she had no sympathy for my foolishness of getting myself into this race. She was going to make sure I stuck to my plan of running and then walking. She was not going to let me take it easy. She pushed me to run as much as I could and then told me when it was time to rest. I think I almost begged for a little longer time to rest at one point. I think she allowed me 30 more seconds to walk. Talking and sharing miles despite the slave driving was nice. I think the sharing of miles with friends is something you can only understand if you are a runner. During our 5+ miles together my friend informed me that our other friend who had been injured for the last month or more and not running was feeling better and may be running with me from the next aid station.
I arrived at the next aid station and fueled up. Got what I needed and was ready to head out. Sure enough my friend was ready to run with me. We headed out for the next 3+ miles to the next aid station. This might be one of the few ways that deviating from your plan can be a good thing. It was so nice to be able to share miles with my two running friends whom I have shared more miles with than anyone. Picking up a new pacer, an unexpectedly new pacer can only be good when it is your friend who you know would have wanted to be your pacer anyway, but due to injury wasn’t able to plan for it. She had been cleared to run just the other day and wanted to share some miles with me on this journey and it doesn’t get much better than that. She was not quite as much a hard ass on this section. I ran as much as I could but I needed longer rests, or at least I took advantage of my friend to get longer rests.
I arrived at the mile 65 aid station feeling pretty good all things considered. I enjoyed running with my friend that I didn’t expect to be able to share any miles with. I was in good spirits. I was tired but doing OK. The plan was to resupply water and food in my pack, add a warmer layer of clothes as it was now getting dark and pick up my new pacer. Then it happened. It felt like someone just pulled the plug on me and the power went out. I went from feeling fine and ready to go to crashing hard. I started to feel light headed and then nauseous. I thought I might throw up. My crew tried to keep me standing and get me some food. Then I started to experience things I had never experienced. My arms started to go numb and get tingly. My mouth started to get tingly. I was losing control of my body. It was shutting down. I was losing it. My mouth got number and number. I couldn’t feel or move my mouth or tongue. My left hand curled up into a claw. My hand was clenched and I couldn’t move it. My crew mates were literally holding me up. They got me seated and just started to literally pour sugar into me. Cups of Coke went in. My crew literally holding cups to my inoperative mouth and pouring little bits in so I could swallow. It was like being a helpless child being fed by your family. I couldn’t even drink from the cup if they held it to my mouth they had to literally manage to pour it in my mouth so I could swallow. I don’t know if I literally thought about quitting, but if I was going to it would have been here in this moment. There is no way I could have made it through this without them. My chosen family, My wife and my friends. This is why they mean the world to me. They would not let me fail.
My wife told me later that she had to walk away because it was too hard for her to see me like that and she didn’t want me to see her upset. At one point I looked at my inoperative curled up left hand and said “It’s the claw” making a Friends joke that probably only my wife would get, but she said when she heard that she knew I was still in there and that I was going to be OK. I think that is also when I knew I was going to be OK too. I was able to keep my mind right even in this lowest moment of what felt like at the time there would be no coming back from. My crew kept working on me. Getting more calories in me, more Coke to drink. Then I could slowly feel it. My body started to respond. I started to get the feeling back in my arms and my hand. I could actually use my hand. At one point I was able to hold a cup and I thought drink on my own, but apparently my face was still numb and I just poured Coke down my face. But it was OK. I am pretty sure I laughed at that. Eventually as my body recovered my crew got me some warm clothes. I put on a light long sleeve shirt and a light jacket. I put on a pair of wind pants. I put on a dry hat and a buff to keep my ears warm. I eventually regrouped and headed out with a new pacer.
Just reflecting on this moment in time makes me emotional. This was one of the toughest moments I have ever endured and I owe it all to my crew for getting me thorough. Literally propped up on the shoulders of my friends. Fed and clothed by my friends. Taken care of by my family. I owe the next 35 miles to them. If I did not have them there my day would have ended at that aid station and I would never know anything else.
After arriving at the mile 65 aide station in such good shape, leaving that aid station was not the same. I felt like I was barely moving. I could move but just had no energy. The next 16 miles till I saw my crew was going to be a very slow walk in the dark. Thank god for pacers. I don’t know how people ran in the dark, alone and tired. Thankfully my pacers worked to keep me engaged. We talked about Star Wars. There was line dancing. I think the best I felt was when we actually listened to Christmas music, Straight No Chaser, I actually had the energy to sing along with the music. It really helped lift my spirits at a time where I was moving way slower than I had hoped to. I eventually just got exhausted during this 16 mile section. I don’t know if was the normal kind of exhaustion that one would expect or if I was suffering more because of my crash at mile 65. But, I was struggling to not just fall asleep while standing up. My eyes kept closing. I was essentially just staggering down the path. Often not in a straight line. I am pretty sure that if I were alone I would have fallen off the trail, into the ditch or into the water. Thank god for amazing friends willing to walk miles in the dark with you and play ping pong with your body bouncing you from one edge of the path to the other to keep you safe. I felt like I needed to be on a leash. I eventually hallucinated that there was a huge wagon wheel in the middle of the path. Then I saw or at least am pretty sure I actually saw my first every flying squirrel in the wild. I saw something fly across the trail from the trees on the right and land in a tree on the left then climb up the tree. Not a good look due to it being dark, but I could only imagine it was a flying squirrel or another hallucination. Another tough part about this 16 miles was that my feet began to hurt. I could tell I was getting blisters on my feet and that was not going to be good. I thought that the shoes I changed into had caused the problem. I decided that I was going to change back into the shoes that I started with at the mile 81 aid station when I saw my crew again. We also decided while walking that I was going to try and take a brief five to ten minute nap at the aid station because I was just staggering around so much that I was wasting too much time and energy and not making enough forward progress and I thought that if I could just close my eyes for a few minutes I would recover enough energy to make much more substantial progress in the next phase.
I got to the mile 81 aid station and began to do all the normal things. Refresh food and water. Change shoes. Reapply anti chafe. Then it hit me again. My body started to revolt for a second time. As I sat in a chair I got light headed and nauseous. I started to lose feeling again. Me team sprung into action immediately getting me what I needed. They started to load me up with Coke again. They responded to my needs immediately despite what had been a long and strenuous day for them as well. They were right there to take care of me and get me out of this funk. They pulled me out of it faster than last time and with less severe symptoms. Then while wrapped in a space blanket I tried to fall asleep. Somehow the exhaustion that was overcoming me on the trail would not grant me sleep that I felt I needed. I had expected that I would close my eyes and instantly pass out, but it didn’t happen. I don’t know if it was the shock of the crash and then recovery but now my eyes wouldn’t stay closed and I couldn’t slep. Finally, filled with frustration I stood up ready to set out on another 16 mile trek through the valley in the dark. I knew I would have a pacer for this section but I learned to my surprise that my best friend would accompany for this 16 mile section. She knew I was moving slow and had gone fewer miles than anyone else that could pace me at that point so she joined me.
I think it was reassuring, when I was so low, to have someone on the trail with me that I had shared a lot of miles with. Someone who knew me well and could keep me going. We started out on a slow pace. Shortly after we left we saw the only other runner that remained behind me. He needed to push to make the cut off time at the mile 81 aid station and we encouraged him as he went by. Not too long after we saw him this same runner who was struggling caught me from behind and passed me with a huge surge, he had gotten another wind and was moving well. I was now DFL. I could accept being DFL as long as I finished. For a while as we moved down the path I actually almost reveled in the idea of being DFL. Early on during this stretch I was moving slowly but I at least felt more awake than I had previously even though I didn’t sleep. I don’t remember much about those first half dozen miles. I know that we were a little concerned about making the cut off time at the mile 89 aid station so we tried to speed up and when we finally arrived there id din’t even stop. I just essentially walked on through.
At some point during this 16 mile stretch my pacer could tell I was feeling better and she started to encourage me to pick up the pace some. We eventually could see the person who had passed me to leave me in last place. My pacer was like, oooh we can catch him. She encouraged me to move faster. We added some more very slow running into the mix. Honestly I am not sure I even wanted to pass them. Something in my mind wanted to just stay in last. There seemed to be more honor in being DFL than to be second to last. Or maybe I was just afraid that I would over take him only to be passed again. Eventually the mix of running and walking allowed me to pass him. But then we ran out of water and despite being well hydrated I was too afraid to push it with still a while to go until the next aid station. There was at least 3 miles and I was afraid of another crash which I could not afford this late into the race. So we dropped back to a walk and stayed ahead of him although he gained on us. It always seemed like we were farther away from that last aid station than seemed possible. Seeing a sign post for 1.7 miles until the aid station area was almost soul crushing. My pacer was critical to getting me through this tough section She kept me entertained with singing and dancing to music she played from her phone. It was slow going and would have been easy to get demoralized but she kept me uplifted. We decided that at the last aid station I would drop off my pack and pick up a hand held for the last 3.4 miles. Dropping of my heavy pack at the last aid station was something that never occurred to me. This is one of the many reasons yo have pacers. They will think of things you will not.
We FINALLY arrived at the aid station. I dropped my pack and grabbed a hand held and a gel. FYI, I didn’t even have a hand held at the race, it was one of my previous pacers hand helds. Have I mentioned how awesome my crew was for me. As I stopped at the last aid station briefly and ate some food I was once again overtaken by the person we had passed earlier. I was back in last. But I headed out on that last 3.4 miles anyway.
My pacer insisted I was going to run this last 3.4 miles. I was not so sure. But she pushed me anyway. She somehow knew what I had left to give to this race. I don’t know how she knew, but she knew. I sure as hell didn’t know. So, guess what? I ran. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty but I averaged around a 13 minutes/mile over the last 4 miles. I hadn’t run a 13 minute mile since mile 35. I am not sure how this was possible. I ran and took walk breaks. Somehow feeling pretty good. Walking just enough to give me strength for another push. My pacer took charge. She told me when to run and she told me when I could walk. It was starting to get sunny and hot as the morning sun continued to rise in the sky so we tried to run through the shady areas and walk in the sunny places. I didn’t try to over think it. I just listened to my pacer and tried to do what she was encouraging me to do. She believed that I could do this and somehow I was doing it. My legs carried my better and felt stronger than they ha at any point over the last 30+ miles. I don’t know how it is possible. When I left the last aid station I was last. I quickly passed the guy who had passed me again to put me in last. Then as we ran down the trail we began to see other runners up ahead. My pacer told me we could catch them. I had my doubts. She encouraged me to keep moving. Run to that tree and then we will walk, she told me. Then run to that post and we can walk. This strategy was working. We caught and passed multiple runners. I passed 6 runners in the last 3.4 miles. I can’t even imagine that being possible at the end of a 100 mile journey especially considering how dead I felt just a shot time ago. The only person we saw that I did not catch was the person who turned out to be a pacer. But that guy looked like he was a runner. He kept looking back at us and then speeding up like he was trying to keep me from catching up to him, so my pacer was like lets catch him. So I chased someone down the trail who wasn’t even technically in the race. But I guess whatever keeps you motivated right. I got to the final turn off the trail and up the gravel road to the finish line and could not believe how good I felt. I heard my crew start cheering for me. My family was waiting for me. I started to run faster and a little faster. My wife was there waiting for me. I was so happy to see her. She started running with me. I ran as hard as I could. I basically sprinted through the finish line with my wife by my side. It was amazing to feel that alive and have that much juice left in my legs after such a long journey. The energy that my family was giving me was amazing. Having them there for me right up until the end was amazing. I crossed the finish line and hugged my wife so hard. I cried. I was just completely overcome with emotion. My whole crew came and congratulated me on finishing this journey. Hugs and handshakes all around. I am so thankful for the person who took the picture of me with my finisher awards and my crew by my side. That is a memory I will never forget.
Thank you to the Tyoga Running club and my supporters on Patreon for helping me to make this happen.
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1 weekend, 2 races, a group of friends, and infinite mud equals one hell of a good time.
We all know weekends are great. We all too often are living just to get to the weekend. Add in the ability to run in two different races on the same weekend and you can only increase the amount of enjoyment your weekend will brings. Getting to spend the weekend running a couple of races with your group of best friends and your cup surely runneth over. Add to that the fun and challenges that are present only in slip sliding muddy messes that are spring trail races after a rainy early season and it becomes one unique and fun experience.
I came into this weekend not sure what to expect. I have been battling some nagging minor tweaks and strains that haven’t stopped me from running but have slowed me down a little. I ended up running 9 miles at Sehgahunda which wasn’t what I had hoped for when I was planning for this race earlier this year, but it was more than I feared I would be able to do a week ago, so I was very hapy with that. After a 9 mile run that ended up being as challenging as the Sehganhunda run proved to be I probably would have taken a rest day on a normal week all things considered, but next up was Chief Wetona 14 miler the next day. The weather forecast was for a rather warm day. Between the weather, trail conditions, and my soreness I was fully expecting to spend a long, long time out on the trails at Chief Wetona. Thankfully everything went better than I expected.
This weekend wasn’t really about the running though. This weekend was about spending time with people that matter to me. Sehgahunda was about running trails with my friends and our running community. I was on a relay team with my best friends. My wife was able to come and watch with one of our dogs. And we had a whole group of other runners in our community participating in this event. We had a large portion of our running family down at this event all cheering each other on. We had several different relay teams from our area participating in this event comprised of our youth runners as well as adults. We also had several runners participating in the full marathon. It is always great to attend an event with your closest friends and be surrounded by your larger running community all cheering in supporting each other in a common purpose.
The next day was Chief Wetona Trail Challenge. My relay teammate and I were all participating in this event together as well. I had never participated in this event and I had such a good time. The run went better than expected. Even better was being able to hang out with my friends before and after the race, including friends that I did not even know would be there. The after party after Chief Wetona is exceptional. Piles of food and cupcakes galore and my friends and I just sat, ate, and hung out together and enjoyed one another’s company. This is what running is all about. I had a really enjoyable weekend being part of my running community.
It wasn’t too long after my induction into the trail running world and meeting a few experience folks in the trail scene that I began to hear about this mythical race called Hyner. The more people involved in the trail scene I met the more I seemed to hear about Hyner. Last year, 2018, most of the people I am friends with that run trails planned to run Hyner. I was not planning to run the race that year but I was interested in learning about it so I joined my friends on a “training run” to run essentially the entire course. Man that was a tough, cold, rainy day. But that day did spark a fire in me to take on a new challenge.
Prior to the 2019 Hyner event I had run 3 other 25K races. One event I have run twice had a similar overall elevation gain, but I don’t think any event had the same kind of climb then immediately decent that is essentially the format of the Hyner course but repeated 3 times over the 25k distance. I was very interested in how this course would challenge me in different ways. I do not love climbing. I am getting better at climbing, but I do not like doing it. What I like about climbing on a trail is reaching the top of a climb and having a nice long runnable descent. Hyner does not have that, at least not for someone at my skill level. There are just too many switchbacks on the first decent for me to navigate and too many rocks on the others. I am a Clydesdale runner and getting my momentum going and then having to hit a switchback turnaround on a decent is not what my body is made for. I have found that I like the Huff Run section of trails much more than other descents.
Leading up to the race the weather had been rainy and was predicted to be rainy on race day as well. The forecast had us all trying to figure out our best rain gear options and if and when they would be necessary. Would it be warm enough to run without rain gear at all? Possibly, the forecast was for a high in the mid 60’s leading into the race. Would you be able to start the race with a light shell on then shed it part way through? Sure, that could work. The rainy weather and continued rainy forecast also made yet another feature of the course more salient. Water Crossings. The Hyner View course features numerous water crossings. (Has anyone actually counted how many there are?) So, with all the rain, what exactly would these water crossings look like?
But guess what, mother nature threw us all a big ol curve ball. Race day arrived. No rain. No rain at the start. No rain in the forecast. Instead by the start of the 25K, the race I was running, the temperature was already in the mid 60’s. Um, can’t we have just a little rain? Please. I do not do well in the heat. I pretty much literally melt. Think of the sweatiest guy you know and then multiply it x2. I sweat a lot. I was not really thrilled with this turn of events. I personally would have been better off with 60’s and some light rain. Most people probably disagree with my preference on this. I was already sweating before the race even started. I was not excited about this turn of events.
I have literately never been part of a trail race that is this big of an event. There were nearly 800 finishers of the 25K race and 260 finishers of the 50K race. Over 1000 people will be charging down these trails in short order. The sheer number of participants in this event creates its own challenges unique to this event. Taking off from the start line with around 800 people running about a mile down a road and then reaching a trail that is essentially single track almost all at once is something to consider and strategize around. I am not a runner who is going to win a race by any stretch of the imagination but I still want to perform my best and finish with the best time possible. That means figuring out how to manage the obvious bottle neck that will occur when a street full of 800 people hit a single track trail. I planned to go out relatively fast for me and try to get as close to the front of the line as possible, but I also didn’t want to start off too fast and burn myself out before I get to what could be easily considered that most challenging part of the race and awaits less than 2 miles into the race. At that point you have to surmount Humble Hill.
I did OK getting off to a relatively fast start. Once the crowd dispersed some I was able to run the first mile around an 8 min/mile pace. Then you get to the single track and it is basically a complete log jam. The issues were made worse than I imagine it had been in the past due to the weather creating a little bit of havoc on this section of trails with some mud slides. This part of the race for me and I suspect others was a bit frustrating, but there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about it. This first section of single track is one of the nicest and most runnable parts of the entire course, I am glad I got to run it on practice runs. But on race day there is not much running, there is a lot of walking and even some standing completely still which is not really what you want if you are a runner running a race. But it is what it is and you make the best of it. I actually credit this forced delay at the beginning of the course with my better than expected performance on Humble Hill.
Next up, climb, climb, climb up Humble Hill. Humble Hill is called this for good reason. It is one long tough climb. I did not try to push hard on this climb. I just tried to maintain a steady pace and keep moving. This was a challenge at times because due to the weather and the fact that the 50K runners had already gong this way the trail was pretty chewed up and often difficult to find purchase on. Slipping, sliding, and the fear of knocking down a row of your fellow runners navigating up the hill behind you were ever present. I tried to stay as cool as possible during this initial climb. Surviving this climb in good shape held the keys to having any chance to complete the rest of the race with a strong effort. I spent most of the climb with the hat I was wearing to begin the race in my hand to let as much heat escape as possible. The more I climbed the hotter I got. I consumed fluids multiple times as I climbed the hill. I tried not to look up. I did not need to know how close or for that matter how far I was from the top. I would just trudge onward until I reached the rock wall that was situated at the summit. Finally I got to the top and was able to see my wife and friends cheering me on with a whole host of people. I would not see them again until the finish.
The decent off Humble Hill did not feel great. My quads were already beginning to feel the burn from that first climb. The zig zagging switchbacks in the beginning and then followed by some tough steep segments were not feeling good on my legs. I do best with docents where u can just let my legs go. If I have to keep the brakes on so that I can navigate that is not my strength.
Eventually you reach the swimming portion of Hyner. At least it felt that way with how high the streams were. Thanks to the trail crew for adding some log bridges to spare us a little. The biggest challenge of these stream crossings is the sheer number of them and the fact that the water is still quite cold from the winter. If not immediately then surely by the last crossing your feet will feel like ungainly blocks of ice dangling from your legs. They are not good for much other than barely plodding along. During this section I made a miscalculation that could have made for a more miserable day for me. The streams were high enough that you couldn’t really see your footing. If you wanted to cross quickly you had to plunge in with blind faith and trust your feet. At one particularly high stream that seemed to be about mid thigh high I decided to try to pass some fellow runners by scrambling up an embankment and then plugging back into the stream ahead of them. This resulted in me going essentially face first into the stream and being almost completely submerged. Good news is I was hot and it actually felt good to get thoroughly cooled of by the water. Bad news is in my rush I tweaked my ankle. Luckily it did not end up being anything major and significantly impact my race although I felt it the entire rest of the race.
By miles 7 and 8 I could feel my energy ebbing. I was clearly slowing down. Runners I had passed earlier began to pass back by me. One woman who I had passed earlier caught up to me and asked if I was OK because I had looked so strong earlier. I told her I was OK, just feeling whipped out. She noted that when she feels that way she usually takes a GU. I shared that was exactly what I had done. She wished me luck and continued on her way off into the distance. During the second climb I was so beat and beat up that I was just becoming agitated. Just the fact that people were carrying on a conversation behind me as I struggled to climb was grating on my nerves. I have never felt quite that way during a race before. Not one of my proudest moments. I finally reached the top of that climb and the second aide station and took on some fuel, hydration, and took a salt tab for the first time ever. I could just tell I was going to need more salt in my system.
After leaving that aide station I did begin to feel progressively better. That is until I got to the third and final climb. Granted by the third climb I am essentially hiking/walking up it just trying to survive but I think that comparatively the third climb at least until the last section at SOB is the least challenging. It doesn’t feel as steep as Humble Hill and it has switchbacks and it’s not as technical as the second climb where you are essentially ascending an extremely rocky stream bed as water flows down against you.
Climbing up the third ascent is basically a survival task. Put in exactly as much effort as it takes to get to the top but not a drop more. It was slow going but by the time I got to SOB, probably the steepest climbing section of the entire race I was ready. I had enough energy to take it on and even pass a person or two. Passing people on climbs is not usually something I have to worry about but today was better than most for me. Thankfully immediately after cresting SOB there is an aide station, refuel and re-hydrate. There is also a spectacular view. These views are essentially the reason for doing this course so if you are out there take some time to soak it in.
After surmounting SOB the race is still far from over but you are, thankfully, essentially done climbing. From here on out the rest of the course is relatively flat to downhill. That is the good news. The bad news is there are still a bunch of technical trails left to cover. There are some sections of relatively smooth jeep path type sections but there are also a lot of very rocky single track sections that lay ahead. Part of what makes Hyner such a challenging race is that even the flats and descents are difficult to navigate. There are so many rocks. And it is not rocks like one might think of like loose gravely stones it is like rows and rows of narrow blades of stone sticking up vertically out of the ground in a way that you really cannot step on them and a mix of stones emerging from the ground the size of softballs and basketballs. I usually love to descend down hills but Hyner makes it difficult between how tired my legs are and the challenging terrain it is never easy. There isn’t much room for taking a mental break either as you have to constantly be aware of the rocky terrain so you don’t take a spill.
Eventually, I reached the Huff Run section of trail, which in the past has been my favorite part during two practice runs. I was beat. There was not much I could do with this section of trail. I tried to move along at the best pace I could but I had no strength or energy left. I was really not able to enjoy this section of trail like I had in the past. I don’t know if it was a combination of the weather and trying to put forth a higher intensity effort or what, but I was just beat. I had no gas left in the tank. It was a little disappointing to not feel better on this section of trail that I liked so much. Eventually I arrived at the bridge that crosses the stream so I knew I was nearing the end of the trail. I stopped and took a few photos to soak in some of the last of the gorgeous scenery before I would be finishing this race. Then it was on down the path and eventually up the last rise of the trail section and down to the road section where it all started. I was a little nervous that getting back out on this exposed pavement in the warmer weather would sap me of what little strength I had left but fortunately it was relatively breezy especially as I crossed the bridge over the river. That breeze was a life saver. It was also uplifting to have a fellow runner heading back towards me at the bridge Hi-fiving runners as we neared the finish.
Then as you near the finish line there is this one last cruel joke. Yet another climb. It was not a climb like anything else on the course in comparison but at that point in the race any climb is an unwelcome one in my book. I surmounted that last climb crossed the finish line and hugged my wife who was there waiting and cheering for me.
I have been fortunate to be at a few races where the race day might not have been ideal for racing but the conditions made for an epic experience that will not soon be forgotten and this is certainly one of them. With all the pre-race rain the trails in many or most areas were waterlogged, but somehow not really muddy. It was like running on hard packed earth with a layer of water on top. Many of these areas were also rocky and some of them the water was actually moving down the trail in opposition to you. Then there are the stream crossings that might have been more akin to river crossings in some parts. And you combine that with the fact that it was not actually raining during the race but instead it was a bit on the warm side particularly for that time of year (during the after party the temperature reached 79 degrees while the 50k runners were still on course) it was a little mind bending. I mean if everything around you is drenched you expect to be getting wet and you do not expect to be so warm.
Hyner as an event is like nothing I have every experienced as a trail runner. It is exactly that, an event, not just a race. There are people wherever people can get to to cheer you on. There are over 1000 participants in the race. There is a huge party and crowd at the finish line. Very different than most of the trail races I have been to previously. I have never been to a trail race with so many people running it or so many spectators. One of the best features is that it allowed for me to easily hang out with my wife and our friends after the race and just be around the rest of the trail community. It was just nice to see so much support for our like-minded community that cares about trails and being outside in nature. That is what really made an impact for me. I don’t know if I will be back to Hyner as a runner next year. It is such a popular event and fills up as soon as registration opens and registration opens nearly a year in advance of the race. I just really haven’t figured out what I am doing next year yet. It is definitely the kind of trail event that everyone should experience at least once and I am glad I got to be a part of it.