Well, 2019 is quickly coming to a close now, and I need to take one last look over my shoulder before setting my sights on 2020.
Coming in to ’19, I was running but limping as well. After running the Derby 50K in Nov of ’18, I pulled my hamstring enough that I was waddling in to ’19. In my own usual stubborn way I pushed through it.
My first race of the year was the Charlotte Running Company 13 mile trail which was cold and super muddy, and it was awesome to go do. Takes me back to being a kid again. Adding to the awesomeness, I had some great back and forth battles with several runners.
The Charlotte 10 mile was “but” kicking experience. I felt like I was stuck in mud the entire race. Ironic one would think given I normally run on muddy trails this time of year.
The WWC Frigid 10K was another manner in indeed. The trail was dry enough for my racing flats but the temperature was pretty bone chilling. Chilling enough, I only wanted to watch the others jump in to the river and not doing it myself. However, having seen this now, I am pretty much a lock to try this myself this coming February.
March added a couple of good races to my calendar. First, I experienced the “Wolf Pack” Ultra running for the first time, and I learned what cool group this was. Of course, their “Wicked Root” 10 miler lived up to its name. No two steps could be taken without stepping on or over a root or rock. Then, there were the huge amount of twist and turns. Literally, the course was a maze, but to their credit, they had the course well marked. Otherwise, I might still be trying to find my way out.
The latter part of March, I ran my second New South Marathon. I wasn’t in the shape that I was the previous year. I slipped down to 4th place but still I had fun doing it.
After resting for a month, I headed for the Tuckfest event at the WWC. The WWC guys put on 5 races in 4 days totaling about 30 miles. My only other experience with running back to back races was the Disney Goofy Challenge. That was hard.
On Thursday, I ran the 5k, Friday at noon, I ran the ½ marathon, and a noon time ½ marathon in April is plenty warm. A spring storm rolled through in the afternoon which brought down numerous trees. This turned the night time 4 miler in to more of an obstacle course run than just a run.
Saturday morning, I was off on the quarter marathon. Actually, in this race, I felt probably the best. Sunday morning, I lined up to run the 5k race, and with the bulk of the miles, I went all out to score a top 3 finish. Afterwards, I needed 5 or 6 days to recover from this effort.
Starting with May my racing season really picked up. I love doing the Thursday night River Jam 10k series. May and September are pretty good races. June can be hit or miss depending on the temperature. July and August are, well, hot, and I do mean hot. Walking from the car to pick up my bib are a sweat inducing experience. Every year, I get to the Lake Loop where the 5 and 10 k races split. I admonish myself for not signing up for the 5k.
Midway through May, I headed down to Fort Mill for the Stumpy ½ marathon on the Ann Spring trails. Walking back to my car after the race, the score read Stumpy Trail “1”, Cool Down Runner “0”, and I was covered in mud as proof.
I finished the Memorial Day weekend at the WWC 8 miler. This was not my best race nor was it the worst. I always seem to land somewhere in the middle with this race but I keep coming back to do it.
May came to a close, and June was upon me at this time. This was the time that I made a decision which would change the course of my running for at the rest of the year.
After doing the WWC 50 miler in the fall ‘18, I could not shake the idea of doing a hundred miler. I cannot explain why this crazy idea just would not go away but it persisted. For several months, I had been exploring different races on Ultra Signup. There are plenty of good Ultras but I was looking for something that suited me. After much reading, I landed on the Tunnel Hill 100 miler in Vienna, IL.
I dropped my 200+ dollars for the entry fee by clicking “confirm”, and then I set there looking at my confirmation number and wondering what I had just done.
There was no turning back now.
If I was going to run a 100 miles, I needed to get my “but” in gear and more so my training. I signed up for the Vertical Mile in Hiddenite, NC. Vertical means steep so that has to be good. Right? Steep, the uphill was. The course was basically a 2 mile loop with a ½ mile climb followed by a zig zap technical decent. I saw people zig zagging on the climb which I didn’t quite follow. I pushed straight up through this section but the only the race leader did I see actually run up it. To me, the downhill was more the difficult part. They had EMTs all over the course. I saw numerous people on the ground from having fallen, and I saw one guy in a stretcher being carried out. This a challenging race, and it should not be attempted by the timid.
Of the 4th of July, I won the Big Butt 50k in Lancaster. There is nothing like running a 50k in July. It is hot, hot, and hot.
On three successive weekends, I ran the Stevest 42 miler, the Riverman Brewery 50k, and the Ridgeline Ruckus 25. The Stevest course slapped me down several times, but I always got back up. I finished in 8 hours. The Riverman Brewery 50k was a first time and last time race at the Belmont trail. They literally crammed 3+ miles of trail in to the area of a football field. There were so many twist and turns that I felt like a rat in a maze. The temperature made it the race even more difficult. I was downing 16 ounces of cold water with every lap, and it didn’t seem to be helping.
The Ridgeline Ruckus was on the trails at Crowders Mt. This course has lots of climbing. At some point, my lungs felt that it was too much.
With only a week in between races, I pulled off another Tread Nightly/Thread Brightly back to back ½ marathons. The WWC was hit with another summer storm so sleeping in my tent was a little damp that night. Not to mention, racing on the trails at night in the rain is pretty miserable. The trails are slick, and the rain created like a curtain in front of face. I spent most of the race looking at the 1 meter so right in front of my feet.
Labor Day weekend, I ran the WWC 15k on Sunday, and then on Monday, I ran 52 miles on trails at the WWC. I enjoy running, and I enjoy running on the trails. However, 12+ hours of solitude on the trails can be a little much.
This is the point where I crossed over. From then on, I used Ultra races for my long training runs.
I ran the Mountaineer Rumble at Kings Mt State Park. This was a 12 hours race from 8 PM to 8 AM. I put this race on my calendar for a couple of reasons. Like I said from above, I was running Ultras for training runs, but I choose this one because it was a night race. I fully expected to be running throughout the night during my first 100 miler so I wanted the experience of being on my feet all night. Honestly, I didn’t find the experience all that bad. I pretty much ran the first 30+ miles, and the run and walked some so I could eat over the last 20ish miles. Because this was a loop course by the time that I got tired, the course was pretty much locked in to my memory, and I could have run it on the auto pilot. The really cool part was the next morning. When the sun started to come up, I could finally see the area around the trail that I had been running all night.
The race director was cautioning us to be careful driving home. He had a lot of sleep deprived runners getting behind the wheel. I drove home, took shower, and got some food. I tried to close my eyes, but I guess that I was still pretty wired-up from the race. I did not sleep until the following night.
5 days later, I was up above Morganton for the Table Rock 50k. Talk about a “but” kicking course. There is lots of climbing and lots of descending. This is a race that I probably should not have been doing – at least not doing 5 days after running 50 miles. We left the camp grounds, and dawn was barely upon us. With no head lamp, I struggled through the early trail section. Then, there was a long grassy road, and there was a long gravel road. These were steep rolling hills. Then, we hit some stream crossings and trails, before running on my gravel road. About 18 miles or so, we make the climb to the top of mountain. Some people might say that I ran to the top, others might say that I power hiked or walked to the top, but essentially, I was taking my time and doing my utmost to not break my neck. I will say that the view from the top was spectacular.
I signed up for this race because I knew that it would challenge me but I also signed up because they were giving away a “hoodie”. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned this cool hoodie with “Table Rock 50K” in massive letters with the perspective of a mountain top over the letters. In my mind’s eye, this was to be the most awesome hoodie ever. Well, I crossed the finish line and went over to pick up my “hoodie”. They would only give me a “hoodie” if I finished their race. Walking up to the table, what I had envisioned and what was reality was starting to come in to focus. The woman handed me shirt. At first, I thought there must be some mistake. I unfolded the shirt to see that it was a “hooded” long sleeve shirt with the “Table Rock 50K” in small letters over the left breast. This was far from what I expected. At my car, I pulled up the race website, and reread the race info. Indeed, I had misread this particular detail about the race. I was still glad that I did this race. The race was every bit as challenging as I expected, and I did my best to hide my disappointment of not getting my dream “Table Rock” hoodie.
I would finish off September with the Wild Vine ½ marathon a week later at the WWC. Jamie, Paul, and I were running about 5, 6, and 7 most of the race. Jamie got a big lead which Paul and I cut in to over the last few miles of the race. I caught Paul on the 2nd to last climb of the race, and I was chasing Jamie up the last climb. He bested me by a few yards, and I had nothing left to make up the distance over the last 100 yards to the finish. This is the part about racing that I enjoy so much. The world drops away, and I can focus on a single solitary task.
October was upon me, and I had roughly 6 weeks until my 100 miler. I had spent the last few months absorbing everything that I could find about running 100 miles. I watched countless youtube videos. I could only hope that the many miles in my legs had harden them and the years of experience had callused my mind.
Two weeks later, I was in Fries, Va for the New Year 50k. Fries, Va looked pretty much the same as it did 10 years ago when I made my first visited this small town. I choose to run this race because the course was very similar to the course that I would be running for Tunnel Hill 100 miler. Two guys took off battling each other. I settled in to 3rd place, and pretty much ran solo for most of the race. Now, the best part of this race is the postrace meal. Homemade soup, bread, tea, chocolate chip cookies were provided for the runners. I wanted these people to adopt me. The food was awesome.
Another two weeks passed, and I was standing at the starting line of the WWC 50 mile at 5 AM. Unlike last year, when I was unsure of my abilities. This time, I was more confident of my abilities. I felt that I had figured out my pacing and nutrition.
The headlamps of the guys quickly disappeared in to the distance. I kept telling myself 50 miles is a long ways, I cannot win in the first 25 miles, but I sure can lose it. Darkness turned to daylight, and I was feeling better. Having held back during the early miles was allowing me to easily bounce up and down the hills.
I was catching people over the first couple of laps. I grabbed my Camel Bak and headed off on the 3rd laps. I was about a mile in to it when my left leg cramped on a short decent. I had maybe 15 to 16 miles left to run, and I was suddenly concerned that this last lap might turn in to a long last lap. I walked about 30 meters, and I felt it ease up. I slowly tried running again. It didn’t cramp. I kept moving over those last miles. Several times, I could feel it start to twinge, and I would slow to a walk for 20 to 30 meters. This always seemed to help. It never did totally cramp up, and I think it was because I stayed ahead of it. I allowed it to rest for short bouts which allowed me to go back to running again.
Even more surprising to me, I finished this race some 13 minutes faster than last year. I don’t know how this was possible but it happened.
Finishing the WWC 50 miles gave me a lot confidence, but it also raised my concerns. Two weeks later, I would be running 100 miles. Could I do both? Would my body be recovered enough to handle it? I had no way knowing. Never before had I attempted this type of long distance running.
The days flew by, and I was driving out to Vienna, IL. I stopped by and picked up my daughter who had agreed to crew for me. In hindsight, this was my best decision of the entire race. Looking forward to seeing her at the aid stations was a huge emotional boost, and above all, with her watching, there would be no way that I would quit. I would finish if I had crawl those final miles.
Just before 7 AM in Vienna I could feel every bit of the cold 23 degrees. I gave me daughter one last huge, and I told her that I was see her again at the aid station. We had driven over the course so she knew where to be. I had also setup my tracking info on her phone so she could follow me throughout the race.
I stood there crowded in with the other runners. All of us were about to embark on this same 100 mile journey. I knew absolutely no one in this race. I silently said a pray and hoped that today would be a good day for me.
The runners in front of me started moving, and after a few steps, I started running. I pushed the worries of negative thoughts aside. Now, was the time for action. I would not stop again until I finished the 100 miles.
Those early miles seemed so easy. Everyone was full of energy. Everyone was eager to chat someone else up.
I passed through the marathon point, and I just hoped that next 74 miles would be equally good
I crossed over the 50 mile point in just under 8 hours. When I saw the clock, I thought either I was either going to have a really good day or going to hit the wall hard.
One thing, I did know, is that I could do 50 miles in 22 hours so I was going to finish one way or another.
I made the 2nd to last turn to see an awesome sun set. The full moon came out and hoovered over the trail. The brightness made the trail glow enough that I turned off my head lamp and ran with only the ambient light to see.
My legs didn’t mind running but they did hate slowing to walk and then pushing back to a run. Leaving the last aid station, I had 10 miles left. I would not walk any of those last 10 miles. It hurt too much.
Because this was my first 100 miler and because I had no experience running a 100 miles, my brain was constantly nagging at me to hold back. I do not think that I full accepted the fact that I was going to finish until I was in the final 6 miles. These miles turned out to be some of my fastest miles of the entire race.
I have run many races of the course of my runner career, and I have seen numerous finish lines. However, no finish line ever looked sweeter than when I came around the final bend in the trail, and I could see the lights of the Vienna aid station. I heard them call me name as I was coming to the finish. I crossed the finish line, and I checked off another item on my bucket list. I was now a 100 mile ultra-runner.
I cherish 100 mile sub 20 hour belt buckle that I received. It has a prized place on my desk.
After spending months preparing for this race and knowing that it had consumed most of my waking thoughts, it felt good to turn it off for a while and enjoy my downtime.
The only thing that pulled me away from this downtime was getting in the WWC “We Believe”5K. I started the year running at the WWC, and I finished it running there.
2019 was an awesome year for me. I raced distances from 5k to 100 miles including 5 x ½ marathon, 1 x 25k, 1 full marathon, 4 x 50ks, 2 x 50 milers, and 1 x 100 miles. There could not have been a better finish to this decade than this for me. In a few days, a new year and a new decade will start. I look forward to seeing what adventures await.
Kickin’ up trail dust,
The Cool Down Runner