Where to start, it’s tough as I am still three days later trying to put it all together, I just ran 103.7 miles, damn. I myself still cannot believe that in just over three years I went from a 2 pack a day smoker, fat ass lazy couch potato, to someone who just ran a 100 mile race. There is a long back story to this report and if you buy me a drink or have a few hours I would be glad to talk to anyone about it, because I am not unique or something special. I’m just a somewhat normal person that was able to turn his life around by walking through the doors of RARE CrossFit. Might sound like a paid advertisement, but it’s not, RARE and its coaches saved me and brought me to where I am today. On to the gory details!
502 Bad Gateway
On December 1st 2012 I made a huge gamble, I entered the Massanutten Mountain Trails (MMT) 100 Lottery. This might have been the one lottery that if I “lost”, I might have really won, makes no sense, I know. On December 10th just 9 days later, I “won”, damn now what?
Well, now what means get your ass in the gym, start training, ask the experts (Adam, Phil, Ryan). Begin to freak out! Well maybe not freak out, but I did have 6 months to think about and train for my first 100 miler, hell I have been training for this thing for over two years and did not even know it….
How did I focus my training to run 100 miles… Weekly track workouts, weighted sled pulls, regular RARE CrossFit workouts 3-4 times a week, something called the CrossFit Open, and running races (training runs). This would consume me for 6 months, and it is here that I have to thank my wife for supporting me the entire way. When I won the lottery I told her that I was going to be gone a fair amount…. Just about every Saturday, sometimes Friday and the occasional Sunday. I was either in the gym or in the mountains. Thanks Mel, you helped me cross that finish line more than you know.
Some data for you numbers people and for those that want to know how much I ran to prepare, this is straight from my Garmin that I wore on every single run. Remember I still do not consider myself a runner as I actually do not like “running”, but I love the mountains, the Ultra community, and the challenging aspect of running far.
• 1 December 2012 – May 17 2013 Total Mileage: 497.34
• Number of Activities: 47
• Average Distance: 10.58
• Median Distance: 6.58
• Max Distance: 37.99
• Avg Time: 2:34:03
• Median Time: 1:27:11
• Max Time: 9:54:28
• Avg Elevation Gain: 1,882 ft
• Median Elevation Gain: 584 ft
• Max Elevation Gain: 9,039 ft
Included in all of this data are three 50k races that are part of the Lynchburg Ultra Series (LUS), one 50k Fat Ass run, five training runs on the actual course (Thank You VHTRC Volunteers), and sweeping the RARE 10K. The majority of miles were completed in a large group setting; my longest run at home by myself was 16 miles. I think my point is that while I did put some miles and time on my feet, it is very minimal in comparison to the majority of people (no facts other than I said so) who run these races. Heck my longest run was just under 40 miles, and my longest back to back run was in January and was under 60 miles total. I attribute my success 100% to the strength and endurance we all work towards in the gym, the shit just works.
Race Day Eve
With about two tons of gear our friend, fellow bad ass human being, and my personal secret weapon, Phil Rice and I departed for the mountains. During the ride we discussed many things, but mostly about the weekend that was about to begin. Anxiety was at the top of the list, there were moments in the week where I nearly started to cry due to amped up energy and anxiety. I was emotionally fucked up, I just cannot put it into cleaner terms. Physically I was ready, I knew that, but mentally I was on Mars. Why was I going all Snowden on myself? Self inflicted pressure, the fear of failure, wasting my time… That all went away with one Facebook post by my daughter. I swear, I am a proud man and pride myself on being “manly” but I have cried more in the last 5 days than in my entire life, damn you Kennedy! That Facebook post turned my game around, a few short words of encouragement and I was saved, thanks Taylor!
Once we arrived at camp we did the normal check in, get your bib, and yap with familiar faces. We set up our bunks, had some dinner, Phil drank ALL the beer, had some smores (Thanks AJ and Kari, great meeting the two of you), and before you know it, we were in bed (separate beds…) praying for sleep. Sleep would not come, but not from anxiety, it was the other 8 assholes snoring. 6 hours of tossing and turning, that’s what I got the night before I was set to be running for 30+ hours…. My only distraction was glancing at my phone hoping for a signal so I could say good night to my wife, never happened, but I had a good conversation with her, by myself.
Getting out of bed in the early hours does not bother me as I get up around 4:00 AM for work so when everyone started to get moving around 3:00 AM I was up and ready. Have something to eat, get prepped, dressed, and out the door. A short drive to the start, I check in and search for black gold, coffee. Ecstatic upon seeing the coffee pots I made my move through the crowd only to find them empty, shit. No coffee makes Mike an unhappy camper, oh well. Still feeling relaxed, I talk to a few people, we have pics taken, and wander to the start. At this point Phil is still with me, but as the clock nears 4:00 AM (start time), he shakes my hand wishes me luck and is gone, into the darkness. Suddenly I feel like a toddler lost in the grocery store looking for his dad. WTF am I doing here. Then just like in CrossFit, 3, 2, 1, GO!
Start to Edinburg Gap (Miles 0-12.1 (first major aid station))
The start of the race is very, well boring. You run across a grassy field, and then hit a paved road that gradually goes uphill for 4 or so miles. Around mile 4 there was a water stop, more or less a few awesome volunteers with water and Gatorade. Since I was hauling my water (over 1 liter) I needed nothing, think I covered these first 4 miles in around 35 minutes. Too fast, too early, on an uphill road, but my legs felt wonderful so I went with it. It’s hard to know how to run 100 miles when you have never done it but I have secret weapons at RARE, it’s called experience, Adam, Phil, and Ryan have been there done that. So I followed their advice and just went with how I felt.
After leaving the road the line of runners hit the trail for the first time. Our first climb goes UP Short Mountain. Not a terrible climb by any means, at least on fresh legs, I power hike my way to the spine of the mountain. Never got stuck in traffic and never felt as if anyone behind me was wishing I would move over, just a nice and relaxing 2 mile climb. Once we hit the top I was able to resume running/boulder hoping. Boulders and rocks would be the king of the day as most of the trail is simply not a trail but rocks. Rocks are everywhere on the course, you simply have to experience it to understand how terrible/awesome it really is.
After maybe 5 or 6 miles of rock running the sun appeared to our right shoulders, lighting up the mountains revealing some absolutely stunning views. To the right was Ft Valley and the Eastern Ridge, to our left, the South Fork (maybe) Shenandoah River and West Virginia border, amazing. Then a 3 mile decent into the first aid, and my first visit with Phil. Arriving in the aid station about 11 minutes ahead of my goal schedule, I was feeling very good, granted I am only 12 miles in, but nonetheless I’m feeling perfect. A quick exchange of packs with Phil and I am out, maybe 40 seconds at this aid station. I would not see crew for another 21 miles.
Edinburg Gap to Elizabeth’s Furnace (Miles 12.1-33.3)
Uneventful is how I what I would describe the next 21 or so miles. I was running well, when physically able, power hiking the climbs, and feeling good. Never found myself pushing the limits, but I was not slacking. At each of the two aid stations I went through without crew I was slowly gaining time on my goal splits and more importantly the intermediate race cutoff points. This was key for me having a good run, putting time in the bank so I could just run and not worry about the clock. By the time I rolled into Elizabeth’s furnace I was a good 34 minutes ahead of my goal schedule and had 2.5 hours in the bank.
Even better was running across the road and seeing our favorite coach (Adam). He high fived me and ran into the aid station. Here I would get an even better energy boost as Maggie and my awesome wife were there to greet me. Hugs and a few sweaty kisses were on order and served! The excitement of seeing them did not last as I maybe spent 60 seconds here before Adam kicked my ass out. WTF, I have been running for just under 8 hours, can’t a brother take a break…. Of course these words were said in my head, and I do/did appreciate him getting me out. While I would have loved to sit down and spend 10 minutes recapping the last 20 hours that would have been an enormous waste of time. So off I go, up another climb….
Elizabeth’s Furnace to Shawl Gap (Miles 33.3-38)
Almost 4 miles to the next aid station, not too bad, on a bad day I can run 4 miles in 30 minutes, easy. Took just over an hour to cover the distance, granted there was a big ass mountain ascent up front, but it went good, time wise. Body wise I started to feel sick. My nutrition plan was to suck down a 360 calorie drink called Boost at every aid station, that lasted one time. The boost made me feel sick and very shitty, from here on out I could not stomach the thought of any food other than my little green Cliff Shot Blocks and chicken noodle soup, and maybe a pound or so of bacon, BACON! Rolling into Shawl, I was feeling better, my crew snapped some pics, refilled the pack, and we said our quick good bye’s as our next meeting was not for another long 16 miles. I am 44 minutes ahead of schedule, oh hell yeah!
Shawl Gap to Habron Gap (Miles 38-54)
Leaving Shawl Gap sucks, it’s on a paved road that turns to gravel and is mostly uphill… I walked a good portion of this, but had some nice company along the way. Maybe 4 of us walked and ran when the incline was not too bad, and we eventually made our way into the next aid, Veach Gap. By the time I arrived it was extremely humid out, not hot, just real thick. Thankfully this aid had ice water and towels, life saving shit. Dunk towel in ice water and put on bald head, good medicine. I did my best to eat some solids as an ass kicker of a climb was about to begin and I am off.
There are two climbs on this course that suck more than others, to me Veach Gap is one, the other is Habron (almost there). Leaving the aid station you go up a grassy Jeep road, and then start ascending a very steep and rocky trail. At one point you can see so far up that it looks like the trail ends, but it does not. With every step the distance keeps growing. For the first time all day I found myself having to stop for a second or two to catch my breath, what a bitch. The bonus is there are some AMAZING views to the east, still sucks ass though. At the top I was rewarded with some nice ridge running, maybe the best ridge running section on the course. After 4+ miles of this the trail turns left and goes down, straight down. Very steep for a mile or so, I am just too crappy of a runner to do more than side step my way down. This descent was where I first noticed my toes starting to hurt and the beginning of my feet aching. Oh my feet, they still hurt as I type.
Some 9 miles later after leaving the last aid station, and one awesome fall, I arrive in paradise. More ice water and sponges this time. My body was on fire and the sponges cooled me down quick. I was also able to eat some soup and a few pieces of fruit, good shit that chicken noodle soup is. Maybe spent 5 minutes here and I was off. Another 4 miles of road, but this time I was feeling good. Ran most of it and made good time into the halfway point, mile 54 Habron Gap.
54 miles, hell yeah, over halfway done! Still though the thought of running another 50 miles was a bit intimidating… Habron Gap is a cool aid station, it sits right on the river, and there are a ton of people here, big ass party. On my crew notes I clearly wrote that I would stop here, probably change socks, rest up and get going, maybe 20 minutes. This of course did not happen. I did get to say hey to everyone and I ate some pizza, thanks Mel! Once again, the aid station enforcer kicked my ass out very fast. It was just past 5:00, I am almost an hour ahead of schedule, but night time was approaching soon, so I grabbed my headlamp, said goodbye, and began the longest climb of the race.
Habron Gap to Camp Roosevelt (Miles 54-63.9)
Damn, this climb is tough, in reality it’s a 4 mile climb, not very steep, but it has its moments. The good news is I was still feeling very very good, by the time I reached the end of the climb I had run almost 60 miles (Distance PR), had been on my feet for 14 hours (time PR), and was running, when able, very good. All day, I have been going and going, never really having any down moments. I could taste the finish.
After the Habron climb the trail runs along the rocky ridge for a few miles and then turns right onto a down hill rock pile (you should be sensing a pattern by now). At this point my toes hurt so bad they start to go numb, thankfully, and I am able to run some of the technical downhill. As I look to the sky I can see the sun getting lower and lower. My mission in life now became get to the next aid before dark. What’s funny is that Phil and I talked about this, if I could get to Camp Roosevelt before dark, there was an outside shot of finishing in less than 30 hours, I was almost there.
Run, walk, run, walk, déjà vu, the trail leading to Roosevelt never ends, and it’s covered in horse shit (really horse shit), not a fan. Good news is that is does eventually end, and I made it without turning on my light, holy shit. 64 miles in the bank! Still feel good, except for my feet, but I don’t care, I just ran 64 miles! Even better news is that my whole crew was at Roosevelt and I was able to pick up a pacer, my pacer for the next 14 miles, none other than Adam Eidson, perfect. I am now 54 minutes ahead of schedule and feeling fresh!
Camp Roosevelt to Gap Creek I (Miles 63.9-68.6)
I cannot express into words how much it meant for Adam to be out in the mountains with me. I almost did not want him there as I know how busy the man is, but it did not matter, he wanted to be there, and I am grateful for what he has done and did for me over the weekend. So we leave Roosevelt and we talk about the day, how things have been. Mostly good stuff as nothing other than my feet has been bothering me. We run and we walk, but more running than I thought was good, but damn we were cruising. The section we were on should have taken 2.5 hours, we did it in around 1.5! Think we surprised Maggie, Phil, and Mel when we rolled in. 69 miles in and I am feeling fantastic, too bad it did not last.
Lug Nuts Loosening Gap Creek I to Visitor Center (68.6-78.1)
The title is a forewarning to the saying, the wheels fell off or Mike has left the reservation… Leaving Gap Creek I knew what lay ahead, 7 miles of bullshit. One big steep climb, then almost 5 miles of the worst terrain on course, we walked EVERY INCH. The lug nuts started to come off in this section. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe the distance, maybe it was everything, but on this section I started to loose it for the first time. Adam was still with me, and was nothing but awesome. He kept saying we were moving well, I am looking good, blah blah, whatever. As much as I wanted to believe him, my watch does not lie, 26 minute miles blow. After what seemed an eternity, we finished the bad part and were rewarded with a nice descent onto a gravel road, thank you Jesus. With the worst part of the course behind me, the lugs tightened up just a bit. We made good time into the next aid station, but good time, and good times were over, Snowden get my room ready.
Visitor Center to Picnic Area (Miles 78.1-87.9)
It was here where I sensed the first real emotions of the day start to overwhelm me. I had a difficult time talking to my wife, because all I wanted was to lay down with her and go to sleep. Exhaustion was in full effect, and my body was starting to shut down. Eating nothing but Cliff Blocks was keeping me going but I was feeling sick, my eyes were blurry, and my damn feet were on fire. Some good news, I was picking up a new pacer, not that I wanted Adam to go away, but I was looking forward to running with Phil.
The climb out of the Visitors center is not long, maybe 1 mile, but it’s tough on legs with nearly 80 miles on them. Very steep and lots of boulder hoping = suck fest. I ran this climb last year with Phil and its funny how the roles were now reversed. I remember Phil moving so tenderly over the boulders, not understanding what he was dealing with. I now understand, but I had more going on than physical pain, that I could push through. My downfall and my only regret is what my brain did to me and how I simply could not control it no matter what Phil said or how hard I tried to snap out of it. Never in my life have I felt more helpless and out of control with my emotions. You notice I use the word emotion a few times, this whole experience is just that, one big damn emotion rolled up in 100 miles… Anyway, I could not stop thinking about what was in front of me. No longer were the thoughts of just getting to the next aid station in my head. I was done.
Then, we arrived at the Bird Knob Aid Station. At first glance I thought there was a gigantic fire, but it was Christmas lights hung along the trail in the middle of the woods, so damn cool, but a bit freaky. The people at this aid station were great, hell all of the volunteers were absolutely amazing, what a great community. Leaving Bird Knob I was back in the game, but only for a few minutes. A short jog down a road led to another climb and another tough descent that my toes and feet just could not handle.
The section leading to the Picnic area is called Browns Hollow, beautiful trail in the day, and is a great place to run. Sure it’s rocky and technical, but this should be a great place to make up time. Between my feet and my mental state it was the worst. Phil was amazing, he kept encouraging me, doing everything he could, but nothing was working, the wheels were off.
When we did make it to the picnic area I was a wreck. Everyone knew it, I could see the look on the faces of my crew and the volunteers that this dude was in la la land. I told Mel I was done, not sure how I could finish. I only had 16 miles to go and the thought of being on my feet for another, what I calculated at the time, 6 hours was beyond comprehension. So I sat, face in hands, probably crying, trying to pull myself together. Then I saw Maggie, am sure I made fun of something, picked my ass off the picnic table, hugged Mel and told Phil we needed to go. I am close to 2 hours ahead of schedule, but this would dwindle quickly.
Picnic Area to Gap Creek II (Miles 87.9-96.8)
Back on the trail and I was doing my best to focus and move as quickly as possible. Granted that movement was very slow, we were moving. Conversation was centered on simply finishing, sub-30 was worthless to me, hell everything was worthless, I just wanted to finish.
After a decent 2 miles, we reached the Route 211 parking area, not an aid station, but it’s a place where crew can meet their runners. I was surprised to see Adam, Maggie, Mel, and Phil. We stopped to take a picture, I manage a smile, but it does not last. Before we head out Mel tries to encourage me but all I can do is stand slumped with my hands in my face trying not to loose it in front of everyone. We say our goodbyes and Phil drags me across the road to start the longest 6 miles of my life.
Crossing Route 211, we climb, and climb, and guess what, climb. At this point I am barely moving, lots of people pass us, I could care less, in fact I was hoping somebody would push me off the mountain. Depression and darkness, I was in a bad spot. Not sure I can explain the feeling, might be one of those you have to experience it to know where that place is, but I don’t need any sympathy or expect any, this is a self inflicted wound. Honestly recapping this section is tough to do, I can only hope the next 100 does not bring me to this place and if it does at least I will be ready.
After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at the final Aid Station of the race. I have run almost 97 miles, only 6ish to go. Still those 6 miles will not be easy, I am of course tired, sore, and have I said my feet hurt? Remember those almost two hours I was ahead of schedule, that was down to less than an hour, the last section was extremely slow.
Gap Creek II to the FINISH (96.8-103.7)
While the thought of running 6 more miles made me want to crawl into a ball and cry, there was one thing that I had been looking forward to for 27 hours, my wife was taking me in to the finish. Honestly I could not wait to get out and run with her, and I know she was ready to go, hell she was dressed in her gear 3 hours ago! Mel and I run together almost every Sunday morning, and I relish the time we get to spend in the woods, it’s very therapeutic and a nice way to start off a typical “rest” day.
As we walked out of the aid station, Mel asked how I was; it took every ounce of courage to not break down. Not saying I was cool calm and collected, but I did my best to hold it together. So we started the last climb of the day, and you know what, the wheels, they came back. My depression vanished, darkness gone, INSTANTLY. My feet were killing me, but everything else was clear, unbelievable, I was a different person. The only change was talking to my wife and finally getting to spend some time with her.
Up the mountain we went, Mel in the lead, she pulled me up and over the saddle. We trotted over the boulder pile, and I consulted my watch. My shitty math indicated there was still a shot at a sub-30 finish, only thing that was in my way was I needed to take a bathroom break. Son-of-A-Bitch. Over 27 hours and not a hint of needing to go, and now, when I am 4 miles to the finish I have to stop…. Without going into details, everything worked out great, haha, and we were on out way.
The last 3.5 miles of the run are almost all downhill on a nice gravel road, the same road we ran up some 28 hours ago. Baring a major setback, sub-30 was in the bank, and I was feeling good. We ran, and we ran well, some miles were around a 11:30 pace, not fast by any means, but for me, after 100 miles, this is blazing. And then I saw the turn, the sign, MMT 100 FINISH! Holy shit, we did it.
Rounding the turn, we are greeted to a slap in the face climb up a Jeep road, not long, but it was not funny. Finally reaching the top we turn right, and gradually descend down a nice DIRT path, no rocks, so cool. At the bottom of the trail there is a creek and a bridge, that and about 300 yards of grass are all that separated me from being DONE. Of course there must be drama, as Mel and I are crossing the bridge I look over my shoulder and see 3 or 4 people running hard, no way am I being passed.
Not sure where it came from but I was able to put behind all the pain, all the emotion, and simply run. I ran though a boulder filled creek, hit the grass, and just ran. I’m sure it was slow, but my legs felt light, I felt alive, I felt better now than I had in 29 hours. I remember asking Mel how far back the chasers were, she said maybe 50 yards and saw her peal off so I could cross the finish line. When I heard the cheers, when I heard Phil Maggie and Adam, I finally gave in to that emotion I was hiding all weekend. 29 hours 39 Minutes and 23 seconds, just under an hour ahead of my 30 hours and 30 minute goal time…
Recovery and Thoughts
Amazingly after the race I felt very good. I was not sleepy tired, and not in any pain, other than my feet. I slept a bit on the ride home thanks to Phil and the nice bed he made for me in the back of his 4Runner. Once home I started to get warm, this is SOP for me and many others after running a long time. The core temperature just rises; fortunately I passed out and woke up feeling great. It’s now Wednesday, three full days after the race and I feel great. Feet are still sore, but my legs feel about 75% and am craving a workout and run. Unfortunately that is going to wait as I cannot walk the steps in my house without my heart rate rising rapidly.
Not much else to say but again thank everyone for the love and support on Facebook, I was floored when I got around to checking my notifications and hearing directly from you at the box, how you were following online. Like I said I am not special but everyone made me feel like I was and that is really awesome and one of the reasons why I love going to RARE. Also another thanks to Adam, Phil, Maggie, and my wife, this does not happen without you.
I think the most asked question I get about running long distances, other than how I trained, is why. The answer to why is tough to put into words, in fact for me it has no words. I do not run because of the competition (except with myself, too slow), there is just a simple beauty to running in the mountains that keeps me coming back for more. When I am running there are moments where I would possibly be considered in a coma, sometimes I just get a warm feeling that is unexplainable, maybe it’s “runners high”, who knows. What I do know is that feeling is unlike any other and I will continue to run until it’s gone, hope to hell it never decides to leave.
Next up, Grindstone 100, 4-6 October 2013!