Here is the story of a journey all 102.8 miles with only one goal in site. Finishing 2010 on a solid note with the completion of another 100 mile race.
Start to Gravel Pit: 0 to 5.4 miles
Toeing the line in the darkness I was filled with excitement. The kind like a child on Christmas morning seeing the presents and about to open them all. Fitting in towards the front pack I waited for Ian, the race director, to give the signal. With the sound of horn the race was off. Sporting an Ipod for the first time in an ultra I started with Lenny Kravitz "Are you going my way." Nice tempo to get the body moving. The six am start was dark and the multitude of headlamps provided enough light. The first part of the course was a paved walk path .8 mile long that lead to the trail. Once arriving at the trail section the lead pack pulled away on the uphill as I stuck to my planned splits. About a mile and half in I met Jack. He is a runner from VHTRC, Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, which a few virtual friends I know are members. The section had moderate climbing and the forest was not as dense so the sun broke through rather quickly after 30+ minutes. Moving through the remaining portion of this leg I hit the aid station after 1 hour 5 minutes. Right on schedule with a 12 minute pace for the first leg and feeling very fresh. I announced my bib to the volunteers, grabbed some pretzel rods and out of the station within 20 seconds.
Gravel Pit to Lift House 5 5.4 to 10.8 miles
This section felt like a scene from the "Wizard of Oz" where the flying monkeys attack them. I moved through the first portion of it still singing along to the Ipod and just taking in the views of this trail portion. Around mile 7 I had met two female runners and the three of us worked together spotting the trail markers making this section flow easy. A few times we did stop and take a moment to try and find the next tricky marker, but overall this course was marked better than any ultra I have ever ran. Shortly I came out of the woods on the road and headed down the road to the next aid station. Rolling into the lift house aid station my crew was ready. This is the first time I had a crew for any race! My father and 10 year old daughter Mia had a fresh bottle of cytomax and a ziplock bag of food (cookies& a twinkie) which I took in exchange as I tossed them my headlamp and two empty bottles. They had fresh socks and shoe inserts because the rumor was my feet would be soaked from the morning dew by now. This year was a dry year so no change was needed. Once again I called out my bib to the volunteer and straight through the aid station with no stoppage time.
Lift House 5 to Lift House 5 10.8 to 14.7 miles
Straight out of the aid station it was a long climb up the ski hill. Nearing the top of the first slope I had eaten the all the cookies and was finishing off the twinkie. I chuckled a bit thinking about here I am eating a twinkie walking up a ski hill sort of funny. Making way along the top to the next ski hill climb I looked out and saw one of the most incredible views of fall. The rolling hills I could see for miles with the wonderful mixture of fall colors. It resonated in me this is why I run and today was the day. Clearing the last of the climbs I started down the mountain to the aid station. The first portion proved runnable the last section again became steep so my quads were in danger if I ran too fast of burning out. I held a comfortable pace and came into the station right on schedule and feeling good. Announcing my bib and scanning the station I quickly realized my crew was gone~! A volunteer asked, "you ok?" I replied, "I was until my crew screwed up a good plan and disappeared on me. When you see them slap them, ok ha ha." I grabbed an apple, refilled my bottle and headed out. Total time again less than a minute spent.
Lift House 5 to Rockpile 14.7 to 20.7 miles
Again another long climb in the first portion of this section. So I used the time to eat the apple while hiking up the hill. Nearing the top the apple was done and I was ready to go. Through the rest of this leg I moved quickly with the runnable downhills and flatter portions that existed. The weather was warming up and so was I at this point. Everything was going good with no worries in sight. Made my way to the final climb before reaching the rockpile aid station. Standing on the road was my crew. I asked why did you leave the lift house without me. My dad said they had missed that the lift house was a loop then heads out to rockpile so a small mistake on their part. I said thats ok and rolled it off just being grateful that someone would actually spend an entire day following me through the woods. So in my book the more I saw them the better it would be for me. Well since they were at the road they had to follow me up the quarter mile climb to the aid station to provide support. Rockpile already had the Christmas lights strung out leading into the station. I reached the aid station just a bit ahead of them. Quickly taking of my shirt, the now dead Ipod and dropping the empty bottle. My dad caught up tossed me two fresh bottles of cytomax & a ziplock bag of snacks. I announced my bid number, grabbed a handful of diced pineapple and then I was gone. Maybe a full minute spent there.
Rockpile to Daisy Hollow 20.7 to 25.7 miles
Coming out of rockpile was a nice downhill section helping me make some time from the previous climbs. As soon as that hill ended a steep up faced me again. Man I just can't get a break I thought as I made my up the hill. I noticed several ropes on the trail that were tied to trees a few ahead. The ropes were placed there to help people make the ascend. I didn't use them and muscled my way the hill. Now clearing this hill I was in the flatter section that would take me the rest of the way to Daisy Hollow. I kept wondering when the lead runners would be coming back at me. Proving not to shabby the front runners started coming back towards me about one and a half miles out. So overall I was about three miles behind. This was far better than I had expected to be at this point. Feeling good I cruised along the trail and into the aid station. Announced my bib, grabbed some food and back to rockpile I was heading. Another aid station in under 30 seconds.
Daisy Hollow to Rockpile 25.7 to 30.7miles
Cruising again through this portion of the trail I was watching my footing and making solid progress. I stopped at a stream and dunked my bandanna in the water then tied it around my neck to cool my body down. So refreshing and yet I was amazed at how hot I was getting. The word was the temp was low 60's and it felt to me like high 80's. Continuing on I was back in motion making good time. I looked up and there was a fellow runner with his camera. He looked at me and said, "smile." I held the grin that was already there and held an arm up showing confidence in the day. I wished him the best as I passed by him. Now I approaching the steep hill in reverse. Skipping over the ropes I hustled my best to hold a good pace and cross over the road and make the climb back up to the rockpile aid station. Just kept positive thoughts following through my head as I was taking in the beauty around me. Next thing I know the hill is behind me and Christmas lights are welcoming back in to the aid station with me crew. The "good plan" is still working they have a fresh bottle of cytomax and some snacks for me to go. I pass through the aid station in a matter of seconds. But enough time to grab some more luscious pineapple!
Rockpile to Lifthouse 5 30.7 to 36.7 miles
At this point the next section just flashed by me. It was a blur of up a hill down a hill then down a bigger hill up a bigger hill then down a really big hill. The hour and twenty five minutes through this portion of the trail tough. I was still feeling excited and knowing I was over about 75% through the front half of the race was a good feeling. Coming into the aid station the crew was ready. Quickly they handed me the trekking poles, a fresh bottle again and a new head bandanna. I yelled out be back soon. Another good aid station visit with less than 30 seconds spent.
Lifthouse 5 to Lifthouse 5 36.7 to 40.6 miles
The trek up the slope quickly brought back memories of Hope Pass in Leadville. I was not about to let this mountain take me down. Each step up was one less I needed to finish this off. I mentally broke it into a few shorter sections by slopes. Section by section I made my way until I was back down the ski hill and into the aid station. Working at the aid station was Stephanie & Ning. They planned to work the aid station until 5pm then come back to pace me to the finish. I was happy two random strangers willing to help through the night and complete this race at the same time. I was chatting with Ning when I noticed my dad next to me. I asked him to quickly pop the blister on my heal. Sitting in the chair I quickly removed my shoe & sock. He lanced the blister and quickly dressed it with good ole fashion duct tape. The downhills were causing me to brake alot with my right foot and starting some hot spots on my me. My daughter tossed me two new bottles of cytomax. I mentioned dilute the mixture down the taste is getting to strong. My dad responded with dilute them down to a scoop and a half. I thought that was odd then. Grabbed some candy and fruit I headed out to the next stop.
Lifthouse 5 to Gravel Pit 40.6 to 46.0 miles
Coming out the aid station it is a long paved road climb back to the trail. I kept a steady walking pace and got myself back into the woods. Once there I was making ground again relatively quick. I truly enjoyed this section more than most because of the all the runnable areas and the technical portions. There were a lot of deep ditches to traverse also. It was more of an adventure then a run here. Moments later I could feel the aid station around the the next turn. I came shooting out of the woods and into the station. The crew was ready for me. My dad had assessed the weather and knew I needed to get a shirt on soon to hold my body heat because the temp was dropping. He also switched out my Garmin with a fully charged one. In a race like this it is great to have people around you to the thinking so that you can focus on the other things, such as: one foot in front of the next and repeating. Standing at the aid station eating potatoes and chatting for a moment with my daughter Mia it was announced that I had worked my way up to fifth place overall. I looked down at here and said, "well this day is turning out good, let's see how far I can take this." Then back on to the trail and towards the halfway point I was heading.
Gravel Pit to Hope Lake 46.0 to 51.4 miles
With the nice downhill I was picking up speed and singing in my head. Miles were moving by steady on the trail for me. I came to the short road section and picked up the pace a bit. I saw a horse that was feeding next to the road that was tied up. As I was passing by he lifted his front left leg and made several motions as if he was running too. I smiled at him and yelled out, "wanna race, you can't hang with me." Back to another portion of the trail I again started to wonder when I would see the lead runners coming back out. This time about two and half miles the front runner came running at me. Then a mile later another two and then the fourth one in hot pursuit. Wow not bad I thought. I quickly put it back in perspective that I was here to run my race and that was all that mattered to me, but a bit inside of me wanted to move up in the standings. Coming out of the wooded section and back on the .8 mile paved section around the lake I could see the turn around point. Running it in I saw my crew there waiting to greet me. What a great feeling knowing I was now halfway through this race and feeling rather good for the underestimated amount of hills I had just gone through to get here. Total ascend to this point was 10,000' with some very hard rocky & rooty sections in 11 hours 27 minutes and now it was time to repeat that for a finish.
Hope Lake to Gravel Pit 51.4 to 56.8 miles
Heading back to the next aid station was sort of becoming a blur. The first half I would see an occasional runner and there would be an exchange of congratulations. Nearing the end of the section I began to see runners a bit more often. In addition, my quads were starting to feel a bit taxed at this point as my pace started to slow. Coming back into the aid station I was pleased to know this would be my last section solo then I would be picking up pacers for the night. My dad once again had assessed for me and had the headlamp ready and a lightweight GoLite jacket for me. Mia handed me a fresh bottle and then I grabbed some snacks again. At this point my time in the aid stations was being to build around a two-three minutes.
Gravel Pit to Lifthouse 5 56.8 to 62.2 miles
Shortly into the woods the density of the forest covered up the remaining light. On went the headlamp and forward I pushed. Within a few moments I began to hear a strange sort of music. It was creepy and unidentifiable to me. It was sort of distorted and was on my right side then it started to get a bit louder. I thought this is getting odd. Then it quieted and moved to my left side and continued to get louder again. My heart rate quicken as I thought what is going on here. I saw another running coming towards me and the music ceased then as the runner had disappeared the music was back and getting louder again shifting occasionally to different sides. This now had me worried and I sped up trying to escape the sound that was haunting me. All of a sudden I tripped and hit the ground hard. The headlamp bounced ahead of me and dirt was embedded into my hands as I try to stop my fall. I grabbed the headlamp and quickly got moving again. The music stayed steady with me as I maneuvered through the woods. Reaching the downhill paved road I turned the headlamp off and hustled down the long road. Again the music stayed almost perfectly even with me the entire length of the run down the road. Arriving at the corner I turned on the headlamp and made the turn towards the aid station, now the music stopped and as I took a sigh it restarted now on my left. Thoughts of serial killers dashed through my head as I turned on the speed as I headed to the light of the aid station. Coming into the aid station I told them there is some crazy person that has been following me for a full four miles in the woods with a very frantic look on my face. They said, "don't worry that music is coming from the restaurant over there." In my head there was no way that was true. My crew was instantly next to me I asked where are the pacers. My dad replied, "they left but said they would be back before you got her though." "Well then I need you to help me make this loop on the ski slope and I am still think someone is after me", I stated. He handed me the trekking and poles and up the mountain we headed.
Lifthouse 5 to Lifthouse 5 62.2 to 66.1 miles
The climb up the slope was exhausting. It took a lot of energy to make the long climb and still once I hit the downhill portions the steepness was just not runnable at this point. My dad kept inquiring how far to the top and all I could think was just a bit farther. Now when your pace is slower everything takes longer, so just a bit farther should have been it will be awhile. At the top I turned my original garmin back on fully charged and ready for to provide me the information to the end. Making it back into the aid station my daughter handed me some heavy cotton sweatpants and two fresh bottles. Now I was switching over to Camlebak Elixir for my electrolyte intake. My stomach a bit a nausea feeling so I figured switching my drink might help. In addition, I started drinking soup at every aid station for the remaining portion of the race. Handing off my poles to my father I noticed there was still no pacers for me. Well what can you say? Having a pacer for the last 40 miles would have been nice, but in the end it comes down to me putting each foot in front of the other to get to the finish. I turned to my dad and said, "go to sleep it is going to be trek through the night for me and I will be ok." Then off I headed into the darkness and cold.
Lifthouse 5 to Rockpile 66.1 to 72.1 miles
This section was the beginning of my slow down. My emotions were dropping just like the temp in the air. Climbing the long hills to rockpile were taking a toll on me in many ways. Periodically, I would dig within myself and push the pace until my legs would say enough. Knowing I needed to save some for the finishing section I would slow back down. Finally making to the aid station I asked them if I could take a quick 20 minute nap and then they wake me up. They said no worries and asked me something. All I remember was I said this spot on the ground looks good and laid flat on my back and was out within seconds. As quick as I fell asleep they were waking me back up. They helped me back to my feet, took my bottles to fill them with the elixir while I sat by the fire talking to some volunteers. Finishing off the soup I grabbed some chocolate covered espresso beans and my bottles then I was off and heading to Daisy Hollow.
Rockpile to Daisy Hollow 72.1 to 77.1 miles
Again another slow section for me to cover. I was getting slower and really wished that nap would have been longer. That was the first time I had ever taken a nap or felt a need for one. Looking back the cold temps that were rolling in were sapping the energy straight out of my body. So my focus stayed strong to push through the night and eventually the sun would be back with warmer temps. After a few miles of battling hills I stopped and sat on a fallen tree, turned off my headlamp and rested my head towards my lap. Taking in the darkness brought on a lot of loneliness. Seeing a headlamp in the distance nearing me I turned mine back on and to my surprise it was Jack. I sided up to him and we chatted our way to the aid station. His company is just what I needed to get myself back in the race. A few miles out of the aid station we had now seen the five runners ahead of us and three seemed reachable at this point. At the aid station Jack sat down by the fire. I grabbed some food and turned and headed back out onto the trail.
Daisy Hollow to Rockpile 77.1 to 82.1 miles
Moving through the first section of this trail was going good for me. Spirits were renewed and I was heading back to the start. This race had an end in sight now. Back to the hilly section I stopped at the same fallen tree and sat down to rest. Moments passed and here comes Jack again. Wow!! How times flys when you stop to rest in the woods. Turning my headlamp back on I greeted him and let him pass through I stayed on the fallen tree. My body just did not want to continue on at this time. I peeled myself off the tree and made my movements to the aid station. Occasionally, I would catch the glowing eyes from my peripheral vision and start to worry. I knew that this part of the woods had brown bears, bobcats & coyotes which as far as I know are any friends of mine. Sometimes the shadows that my headlamp would cast would give the impression that something/someone was circling me. Oh how I started to dread the hallucinations that were becoming very rapid. Once again the lights of Christmas welcomed me back into Rockpile. Hooray!! I refilled my bottle, grabbed some more espresso beans and off I headed.
Rockpile to Lifthouse 5 82.1 to 88.1 miles
Down the hill I was moving at a slow pace just wanting to reach the finish. Each mile my stomach began to resent until finally it forced me to halt. I let out a few dry heaves then suddenly something resembling a yellowish troll came spewing out of my mouth and ran down the trail. I stood there wondering what in the hell is happening to me! Now I began to wonder if I had enough time to make it before the cut-off. I could not think at all. Here it was 4:45am and I had about 15 miles left to cover in 13 hours. I began to worry if I would not make it now. Arriving at the dirt road between the portions of the trail I looked like a drunk trying to run down the road. The cold air had taken everything out of me that could possibly muster up any sort of energy. I stumbled over to the side of the road and stood in the ditch. Sitting down on the side of the road I laid flat on my back and turned off my headlamp. I just could not go any further without rest. Like a defibrillator to the chest I shot up to my feet, checking my Garmin I realized I had slept about 40 minutes! I was freezing cold and knew the aid station could not be too far longer. I hustled through the woods and made some time back up in the long downhill leading me to the aid station. As I got within the visible distance my dad got out of the car and headed over to the aid station to greet me. He was worried that the temps had gotten so cold that I ran this risk off getting hypothermia. I was probably on the brink of it and happy I was able to avoid it. Then I asked the everyone what place I was in, worried that my sleeping had cost. They said, "you are seventh place and there are two guys just ahead of you right now on the ski loop section." Traded my headlamp for the trekking poles and a fresh bottle. Now with the sun up it was time to cover this ski section loop one last time.
Lifthouse 5 to Lifthouse 5 88.1 to 92.0 miles
Back up the long slope I headed with fresh soup in the body I was feeling a bit stronger. This time I did not require any rest breaks on the section. Once clearing the second slope I was able to obtain that wonderful view of the country again. I filled with a warmth knowing I was closing in on finishing my run and in so many ways an incredible experience I was able to enjoy. Coming in to the aid station two new blisters were ready to be lanced. Finding a chair my dad came over to attend to the blisters, lance them then duct tape them. My daughter got me fresh socks and informed me that the scheduled pacers never showed up. I said, "hey it doesn't matter, it comes down to me in the end finishing this thing." Jeff, one of the volunteers that I got to met over the race, mentioned, "the other two aren't far ahead and you got it in your legs to catch them." Feet fixed up, fresh soup in the tank and a bagel for the road I was heading out again. Now I no longer wanted to "just finish or settle" I wanted to give it everything I had and started my move.
Lifhouse 5 to Gravel Pit 92.0 to 97.4 miles
Chewing on the bagel I power hiked my way up the long road to the trail. Once on the trail my feet were in motion and going. I ran alot of this section when the flats & downhills presented themselves. On the uphills I would use them to conserve my energy and keep my eyes ahead for the trail markers. Moments passed quickly and then there was coming back out of the woods and into the final aid station. My crew standing there looking a bit surprised to see me. I grabbed a seat like a boxer in the corner. Mia grabbed my Nike Vomeros, took my sweatpants, jacket and hat. The volunteered handed me fresh soup while my dad provided me the info on the two runners I was trying to close in on at this point. Jumping up out of the chair with one fresh bottle was all I needed. I looked over at Mia and said, "let's catch them boys!"
Gravel Pit to Hope Lake 97.4 to 102.8 miles
I let out a battle cry as I descended out of the aid station. The word was there was a runner six minutes ahead of me and Jack was over 15 minutes ahead of that. Quick on me feet I chewed up the downhills and within one and half miles I had caught the first guy. My pace was picking up each time I glanced at the Garmin. In some of the downhills I was powering through at a near nine minute mile. After covering 99 miles I was very pleased with this. After every turn that would open up I kept looking for Jack. Here I was picking it up and he was nowhere in site! Thoughts of friends surged through my head and the pride of competing this started to carry me faster in search of Jack & the finish line. Hitting the last .8mile paved path I knew he had finished. Figuring I would hear the cheering as he approached was my signal that he had already arrived. I worked my way along the path towards the finish. Out of the blue comes the guy who taken my picture way back at mile 28. Once again the smile was there for the picture. We slapped a high five and I pushed on to the end. Cresting the last hill I saw my daughter about 100m from the end waiting to pace me into the finish with a smile. I greeted her and on we sprinted toward the finish line. Crossing the line in 29 hours 11 minutes was a journey that will reside in me forever!! I walked over congratulated Jack on his finish then laid down on the ground near him and rested.
This race is an ultra everyone should do at least once:
The aid stations were top notch & perfectly spaced apart
Well marked course
A challenging course that will test you
and one belt buckle worth it all!!