Kettle Moraine 100 Attempt and getting down with The Sickness.

Yep there I was at the start of The Kettle Moraine 100 mile run. I had been training for this run for quite a while and felt like I could knock out a good 100. As you might have already gathered that was not what was to happen. I had an interesting and painful time and somehow still pulled out a 100K finish. Read on for more details.

I arrived at Kettle the day before and did some scouting and checking out where the aid stations where going to be.  I also did a little jog out of some of them to get an idea of what the trails where going to be like. Most of my pictures where taken the day before the race when I was poking around.

One thing I liked about Kettle was that all the aid stations that the crew would need access to, would be right next to a road. They all seemed to be a very short 15 min drive from the start.  They had some large tents, port-a-johns in place and I was impressed at how prepared they seemed to be. I also took a quick tour of the nature center there. I learned about the name, how the Kettles where formed by the ice and the Moraines by the glacier deposits. I saw as much of the Ice Age Trail as I could get in. It was different, yet very beautiful.

Other than those new terrain features that I found the terrain seemed suspiciously flat. There was a lot of low land that they called prairie. I took it to be marshland. I assumed I would find out what it was like in the morning and tried not to overlook the deceptive flat ground as easy terrain.  

I lined up my drop bags and got them ready to go. I went and checked in at registration. Then I went back to my hotel and got a pizza and tried to get some sleep. This was going to be a new experience for me and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. In the past I have had some of my family crewing for me. This time I was relying on one of my friends and several athletes through his non-profit called Project Echelon.

I knew I was going to just have to roll with whatever the trail had for me that day, but I was still wishing for some plan or something’s to fall back on.  Early that morning I woke up a whole hour early. My first thought was fairly negative and from then on I had to work at staying open with a positive perspective. I just wanted a little more sleep….and so it began.

My friend showed up right at 03:30 that morning and we sent a little time catching up and going over race ideas. This was going to be from what I understood his first experience with ultra-running. Another first for him was going to be trying to crew for me having never experienced anything like this as a runner, crew or volunteer. Eric was excited and it help to create a better vibe for me as we grabbed coffee, I ate oatmeal and a yogurt then headed out to the start line.

I would have to say I was impressed at the amount of people that where there at the start line. I was not expecting so many people. As I got myself ready in the parking lot Eric started filming me to create a story for Project Echelon, which severs Veteran’s coming home by helping them to get active and find their path to healing. This started to create an interesting commotion as several runners wanted to know if I was famous?

(I also received a lot of comments about Jim Walmsley and I had no idea what people were talking about. It appears that many people like my shirt with ventilation holes cut in it. I can make you one just email me, 😶).

I would get asked if I was famous several times over the rest of the day. For many of you that know me I don’t really get out in the spotlight very much and stay fairly humble. This created an interesting twist. I had thoughts of telling people that I was the next WS winner or something crazy and see where it would go, but I didn’t.

I just smiled and talked about finding the trails as an adventure and hoped that others would be inspired to start their own journey. It was fun to tell Eric about why I did this or that, since it was fairly new for him. I hoped putting Trail Toes was going to help my feet and how 2Toms Sports Shield would stop any chafing issues I might have. They both worked well and my bottom half, to include feet ended up being wet all day. I think this was one of the most relaxed prerace starts I have had. Everything was laid out and I didn’t forget anything!

We lined up at the start and for this race I got close to the front again. I had already been down the start chute for over a mile. I knew that the trail stayed wider than a vehicle for the first 9 miles or so. I wasn’t worried about getting on the trail as I was in other races, but I wanted to run my race and not be dictated by others and so I chose to be up front.

We took off and I went off at my own pace. I was amazed at how fast people were going out here. I had to keep slowing down and eventually settled in at around a 12:30 to 13:30 minute mile pace. It was tough as so many people seemed to fast and without knowing it I would be up to a 9 or 10 MM pace. I had to keep close tabs on this for the first 20 miles.

While trying to keep tabs on my pacing I met another Veteran that was out running the 100K that day. I don’t know how that happens, but I seemed to be right where I need to be at those times. It was great to have another Veteran to talk to, someone that was trying to keep the same pace and that could hold a conversation. We talked a lot about our theories for Veteran’s returning home and how the trail could be of such great benefit for us.

The terrain was run on soft grass mowed wider than a vehicle, kris krossing a little dirt trail. It was flat except that the trail took us down into great depressions made by the ice and you would have a nice hill to climb up to get back on flat land. While I purposed to walk all those hills I didn’t think that they were all that difficult until much later that night.  This was the first 9 miles or so and took me into the 2nd aid station. Here I met Eric grabbed a fruit cup and took off again. I usually don’t eat fruit cups. There was so many people at these stations that getting to the food was a chore. While volunteers where great at filling my bottles getting anything else was getting crazy.

Moving out of the aid station the terrain changed to rolling hills that the Ice had pushed up years ago. This was a little more of my style of trail running and I forced myself to stay on pace and not take off to much. There were a few climbs in this area. Nothing that bad, but I started to sweat a bit from them. I had expected the weather to be hot and so far it was staying a bit cool and looked like rain would come soon.

Soon we were at the 3rd aid station at mile 15. I brought in a whole band of people to that station only to find it more crowded than the last one. I looked for Eric, but I couldn’t find him in the massive crowd. I got to my drop bags filled my pockets and headed out again. Here the terrain turned to what I called marshland. With all the rain the past several days it had left the trail a bit muddy. It wat that nice dark black mud that you get up north and I knew it was going to be fun coming back this way.

Through this area my new friend and I picked up the pace several times. We seemed to take turns as one person tiered the other would hold the pace and keep us going. This went on for the next 7 miles or so we went through the next few aid stations and these were not as bad with having too many people. It was about this time that the terrain started to change again to a pine forest and hills as we came into the next aid station.

I missed Eric here again. For me this started a long process of having issues with feeling all alone out there. A lot of emotion was right there as well. While I encounter this fairly often I did not expect the depth and amount of feeling that I had.  Usually when I get negative I need to eat. So I started getting some gels down. That helped for a minute until my stomach started to turn.

I wasn’t even to mile 25 and here we go… I thought. I took ginger. It would help for a bit and then I would have issues again. I started to slow down and felt sorry for myself. Soon I hit the next aid station and my friend had to continue without me. I was walking! The next 5 miles or so to the aid station at mile 31 seemed to take forever. I ran when I could, walked when I had to and generally felt like crap. I didn’t eat anything for that period hoping to feel better at 31. I pasted the time trying to cheer others up hoping that it would help me.

There seemed to be several people out there running who knew each other and they would be yelling at each other as they passed going down this out and back section. I found this to be really interesting and the sense of community they had seemed great. I somehow found myself walking a jeep road though pine trees heading into the station at 31.

Here I linked back up with Eric and it was great linking back up with him. I changed my socks here as my feet where soaked. Then I got a little to eat. While the sun had come out for a little bit it had mostly been overcast and rainy, this only increased the muddy conditions on the muddy course. So as I took care of my feet I got some food. It felt good to eat again and I thought that maybe I was passed the nausea part of the race.

I ran a bit and walked a bit. The food help a lot. However about four miles after that my stomach took turn for the worse and I didn’t eat after that. The next 30 miles back to the start line was a pure gut race. I used all the tricks I knew. I tried ginger, I tried Coke. I used Ginger ale. Nothing worked. I noticed that I had cell service out here and so I started phoning in friends. I called my coach, my wife, any one I could think of.

I don’t think I have felt that nauseas for that long without being able to puke or lose it some other way. So here I was just trying to survive. Someone sent me a text that said “Only those that risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go” and so I tried again.  Again and aging I tried, finally after getting shut down each time I started to just walk. I tried to walk the best I could and I stated passing people again.

Walking was really humbling. I was not in a good place and the race wasn’t going well for me. I tried to see the beauty in the nature around me. While it was not the mountains it was still beautiful. I met some great people out there that tried their best to keep me moving. I am so grateful to them. I’m really grateful to my coach for being available for me to call and help me problem solve. Soon it just came to the point where I was just hoping to be done and there was the finish. They gave me a Buckle for the 100K finish and said that I had better come off the course. So in the end I got pulled and yet still salvaged a finish in there.

While I was a little hard on myself, it was not a failure to me. I learned I can go 30 miles on almost nothing and still be ok. I can be fine with just a cut off t-shirt in the cold. I can be fine with pain. I can sign up for another race! There have been some other observations as well. My stomach was having issues since Wednesday before the race. I have been doing a lot of sugar free stuff and some of the products I am finding can make me sick. A few weeks later and my stomach is still having issues, but I am running again. Defiantly do not have Jelly Belly’s Sugar Free assorted flavors Jelly-Belly-Sugar-Free before or after the race. While the normal and the energized Jelly Belly’s work fine the sugar free have a warning that I did not see.

So yep it is a process and there is a learning curve. However I am set to attempted 3, 100 milers this year. I would not have evened dreamed that was a possibility last year. See you at the next race! Badger 100!

Dark Sky 50 2019

Communication gives us information. We can get information from just about anything if we are whiling to listen. Communication can provide connection or dis-connection. In the direction of dis-connection we also typical see some type of numbing behavior.  Either way we communicate part of our life’s story to whom ever maybe listening or gathering information. How we communicate and connect is different for many of us. I choose to do a lot of  communication through the trails and the connection that brings for me.

My latest time on the trail was this past weekend at Nashville Running Company’s Dark Sky 50. This is their 3rd year running this race and also my 3 time showing up to the start. I was greatly humbled this year as a few people I met on the trails have either read my blog or watched my YouTube video of this race from the first year.  I felt very moved to have people tell me that they were running this race because of me in some way. This information brought a great smile to my face and gave me a feeling a connection that stated with me throughout the race.

This year the theme of the race was around Star Wars (May the 4th be with you), and through the logo of the race. If you don’t know I am a big fan of Star Wars, because of the story of the Hero’s Journey that it betrays.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj3zszfMWww Simply put the idea is that a person who is a little insecure gets a call to adventure. This adventure is uncomfortable and outside of our normal realm of things we know how to do. However should one chose to accepte the call great opportunity awaits.

Star Wars TLR – The Hero’s Journey

http://www.youtube.com

I was very excited going into the race. It was a chance for me to get away and camp near the race start at Pickett State Park. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/pickett  I want to give the park ranger on Friday night a big thank you for helping me out with getting checked in as I had missed the office hours. I had a great camp sight even though it was on a hill and the forecast was for rain. So after check in the first thing was to get my tent water tight!

Pickett CCC Memorial State Park — Tennessee State Parks

tnstateparks.com

There was no rain that night, but still I didn’t sleep very well. I did use the time to have my pack ready and get every thing I need laid out. This provide a stress free period before my race were I just made some coffee and hung out for once.

Well the race started and the first couple miles are through the Park at Pickett. This loop was through mildly technical single track of any ecosystem that resembled a rain forest. While you can pass around people in this area, you will need to be skilled and dialed in to do so. While I had started in the middle of the pack I did not feel comfortable passing people just yet. I notice that something was just a bit off for me and contented my self with the process.

What I did notice was that there was several unexperienced runners around me that wanted to pass. They then would pass at in-opportune times and then at the next technical spot would stop everyone’s momentum. I sat inside my self and had a chuckle at the goings on.  I sure wanted to pass all these people, but I hadn’t fully connected with the trail or gotten to where I needed to be for my flow state to start, so I had to laugh at myself.

The laughing at myself continued for most of the race. I mean what could I say I had to wait what seemed the whole race to get my legs going, so I had to find a healthy way to deal with the process. Soon we were out of that section and on to hard ball for the next couple miles to the trail head for Hidden Passage Trail. This trail starts out in a Pine forest ecosystem and goes on to a more tropical one with a few water falls down below (Crystal Falls, if you’re not racing take the side trail to see them). It then  moves on to an exposed ridged line with a view and a drop.

After crossing the ridge we went down and under the power  lines heading for Rock Creek.  We were now following the Sheltowee Trace and the John Muir Trail towards the first two aid stations. The sun is starting to come out instead of the rain and I start to notice that it was very humid. I was soaking wet before I even made it four miles. I kept it at a very manageable pace due to not feeling like I could push just yet. I felt that something was just a bit off and I was suffering a small amount. Note to self, I need to stretch out the calves beforehand. My calves complaining for a long time, I don’t think they warmed up until mile 37 going up that hill!

Getting to the first aid station (just a water point)  I noticed I was going to be eating a drinking a bit more than I planed on. I had been training on less, but less wasn’t helping me today. I was taking in a lot more fluids and nutrition than I thought I would be. I refiled my bottles and took off again. Of note for anyone who has not run this race about mile 5.5 there is a stream crossing and a mile latter there is another one. My feet were wet for rest of the day.

After leaving the first aid station we ran along the creek for the next few miles while the sun was poking through the leaves. I was whishing that I could just be a kid and hang out down by the creek for a while, but soon we took a left turn and starting climbing back up. In the middle of the runnable climb we hit a Pine Forest and then  the next aid station.

The second aid station at mile 13.7 I briefly stopped to refill bottles and grabbed a HUMA gel XL. I routinely use HUMA though the XL size was new to me. It was great and felt like a small snack that I had over the next four miles or so. I like this brand because them seem to have more natural ingredients than many other gels and they sit better on my stomach. Check out their web page here https://humagel.com/. 

Huma Gel – All Natural Chia Energy Gel

humagel.com

Huma Gel is an all-natural, great-tasting energy gel based on chia seeds. It fuels your endurance adventures. Enjoy your gel!

Leaving this aid station we continue to climb on a long gradual assent somewhat covered in pine needles. I had brought my poles along as I do most of the time I am out in the Big South Fork Area  https://www.nps.gov/biso/index.htm , You never know what your going to get into out there and they come in handy. I had gotten the poles out in the climb.

I decided to walk using my poles and it was a good choice. I quickly caught up to and passed several people who had passed me trying to run the whole thing.  For me, I use my poles to walk the large hills or hike the mountains and it allows me to recover and I usually pass thouse people who are faster runners in these climbs. A small tip use poles when you can it helps. A person can always say you don’t need them, but you can also say a person doesn’t need gels either, lol.  What ever works for you poles or not being able to recover while climbing hills is something that every one should learn how to do. It pays off at the end of the race.

Soon there was a flat stretch that wound round the bluffs and soon put us in an exposed patch of trail going over the first the No Business over look and then the John Muir over look I believe. It is a great place to take some pictures. I didn’t get many pictures this year. With the humidity being as high as it was I was soaked  most of the time and my phones screen stayed wet most of the time and I just gave up and put the phone away in my pack, in hopes it would stay drier there. So next time getting a waterproof bag to keep the phone in would have helped.

From here we started going down the other side on switch backs. I still wasn’t feeling great, but I was able to pick up the pace quite a bit and zoomed down the trails. On the decent I passed a couple of people who had passed me “running” up on the climb. Now they were bonking hard. I don’t know why but I have a habit of asking them if their doing ok. Of course they muttered something unintelligible and said they were find and soon I was at the bottom at the aid station.

I must have brought the rain with me on that decent. It started to rain as soon as I got to the aid station. I also brought some high spirits.   I had a good laugh joking with the volunteers asking them why they needed rain jackets and then put mine on. It was good times just for a minute, then I was off. This time I just filled my bottles with just water as I still had a little over 2-litters of Tail Wind left in my Bladder. Just let me make a shout out to Tail Wind. This product has been a run changer for me. I t has really helped substitute my nutritional needs and electrolyte intake. For much of my training I can go father and longer using just TW than I could using some other products. Check them out https://www.tailwindnutrition.com I guess this report is turning into several plugs, maybe I’ll get to be an ambassador or something for one of these companies.  

Anyhow, leaving out from that aid station we crossed another creek and I ran into another runner who look like they were having a ruff time. Sometimes the trail seems to set you up for things or meetings that you just don’t understand, however if your open to those opportunities  there seems to be a lot of joy in the experience. So I had been having a little bit of a ruff time starting out and it was hard to get into a grove. I was very happy about running down those last switchbacks and having my attitude changed. This I think opened the opportunity for me to help someone along that was struggling.  

I have began to see trail running as a type of spiritual practice and I plan on writing more about this in the future. I was not expecting for this person to start talking about how they saw running that way as well.

For me to have someone talk about running that way just gave me goosebumps. So while the heaven had opened up and was poring down rain we walked and slid through the mud down the trail, just talking about running. One thing I shared with them and that I will share with you is that over the last several years I have taken to giving the trees high fives in passing when I am feeling bad. I found that if I can be silly when I am bonking or feeling bad then I can also be creative and find a fix to the problem I am having. Over time this game I played with the trees had some real sense to it. I mean that while I am struggling to breath and I either high five a tree or use it to help pull me up, the treat is literally helping me to breathe.

Tree or no tree it makes me smile to talk about them as living things and so it helps my run. I was shocked that it was also helping another person as well. So as we are running I learn that this 50 miler is the person’s first 50. I also found out that they don’t know much about electrolytes, nutrition in an ultra. This is something you need to learn about! Now I feel that this is why I was here in this race to explain the basics of running and too make sure that this person gets to the next aid station. This begins the part of the race of witch I become very aware that there is something going on and I felt very humbled.

I as I began to teach my companion all about everything I could think of in ultra-world, I noticed that a few other racers would tag along from time to time. As the race went on they began to ask me if I had a blog and some one asked if I had made a video of this race. A few of these people told me that they chose this race because of my blog or the video. I just wanted to give a big shout to you all out there. Thank you so much for letting me know that the blog meant enough to you to come out and run with us! So this began to turn my day around, even though it wasn’t very bad it just got better. It was interesting that this was the best time of the whole race while I was on, in my opinion the worse part of the trail. 

This part of the trail from the aid station at mile 21 through till about mile 27 and on to Charit Creek Lodge at 31 can be quite ruff. I have seen many good runners lose their focus going through the horse trails. This year in part to the rain that we went through they were muddier than ever. I guess for that left me no excuse but to go right down the middle of them, instead of trying to pick my way around.  Soon we got to the aid station at mile 27 or so and I had my friends eat something so they could carry on and I grabbed a gel and took off.  

The next 4 miles went by quickly. I took one look at my watch and realized I need to move. I had spent a lot of time talking I guess. There’s not much to say except I started passing people and rung through mud up to my knees. I did get some ‘dirty’ looks, haaaa! It might have been they were trying to get around puddles and I ran right through them. I made it to 31 and it looked like there was a party going on.  It turned out it was a DNF’ing party. These are dangerous if you stay to long, you start wanting to quit and then you do. I got the rocks out of my shoes and took off for the twin arches loop and then swung back around to the lodge at 35. If you get the chance to stay at Charit Creek Lodge http://www.ccl-bsf.com/ do so. It is quite different and rustic with no electric, but still worth it and they have a great staff.

I tried to top off here, but with so many people crowding around the aid station that were dropping out I was getting edgy. I grabbed a gel, a quesadilla and refilled my water and took off. I crammed it down and started working up the hill. I knew that this hill was ruff but having been up it a few times before I got in to a rhythm of 1, 2, 3, 4 pick it up and repeat. Soon I had passed up a few others. Then there were a few that had quit but hadn’t made it out yet. They didn’t look so good, but I tried to encourage them on as I walked on by. This is a tuff hill for many people and it can be very deceiving with false endings to the climb. Soon I was at the top and to the aid station at 39.

At 39 they were yelling for me to hurry up. Un known to me the cut off was only 3 minutes away. They hurried and helped me get some Coke in my bottle and find my headlamp just in case. They remembered me from last year and were just yelling that I was going to make it this year. That might have been the fastest time I have every spent in an aid station, but I got everything I needed while I was there. I wish they all could be like that. So next was a little Jeep road next to the main road that lasted about a mile. Then it was on to the forest service roads that are hard packed dirt and gravel. Now this was my time to move and I started to pick up the pace. It still didn’t feel like I was moving that well, but in looking back I had to have been.

I got into a grove and headed in to the aid station at mile 42 or so and there were several people there. I quickly got another refill on Coke in the bottle and grabbed some jelly beans and I was off. I think I passed 3 people just by leaving the aid station before them. Here the trail went back down to rock creek. I was starting to move a little bit better, my calves were still hurting and never felt right the whole time. They were good enough to rocket a mile or two down towards the creek though. I love the down hills and at times I can fly down them. Even thought there was a lot of mud I used my poles and just keep going as fast as I could. I came up on a couple of other runners and they nicely moved over and shouted encouraging words as I thanked them for letting me by and I was gone.

I reach the bottom and the water point we had come across this morning at mile 7. Here I met 2 more runners and they took off across the creek while I got some more water. I was really putting the water and Coke down at this point. I was really trying to move but I felt like I had to work hard to do so. Down here at the creek it had been slippery climbing over rocks that morning now with the rain and the mud it was much worse and so at a couple places I found it easier walking through the creek up stream to get around then on the bank of the creek. Maybe those 40 some creek crossing a couple of week ago were worth something. Soon I was climbing back up the trail to Hidden Passage where we came from earlier that morning.

I climbed using the poles once again and it was working I hadn’t seen any one for a while. I was just hoping I could keep this up when I got up to the top. At the top the trail takes you across some more jeep roads instead of going back down Hidden Passage. This gave me a chance to switch my pack around put some headphones in, turn up some music and move out. The road led to a family group cabin service aria. Then to the hard ball were we took a left went about a mile down it and the finish was on the right. Rolling into the finish I had no idea what my time was. I read my watch and thought it had stopped, even though it was digital, that should have been a clue that I was pushing but I didn’t catch it. I crossed the finish and there I was. I had met and surpassed my goal of 13 hours by 2 minutes. I was so surprised.

I think this just goes to show that if you’re whiling to accept the trail the trail will in turn help you. It may be some kind of a Ying or Yang thing, but it is very interesting. Over all I am please with the result of this race. Trying to run conservative is kind of a different way to run. For me it created enough space to be able to run the last half of the race faster than the first. I think it also allowed for more personal awareness to take care of my issues that arose.

Some things I would do different are: first I would take a lighter pack. I would also take a hand held bottle for the first couple miles and pick my pack up when I came back through the start. For this race I and all the mud they may not have stayed on, but I would take a pair of gattors to help keep some of the rocks out of my shoe. I really like to run with my phone and listen to music every at the start and at a various points along the way. With the humidity I think I would take a water resistant bag to put the phone and head phones in. While I have water proof case on the phone the moister that day was so extreme that the screen cover never dried out enough to change anything on the phone or to take pictures.     

I did ruin a good pair of shoes on this run. I have been running in ON’s Cloudventure Peak. https://www.on-running.com/en-us/explore/mens/shoes/trail I love this shoe and was planning to run Kettle Marrain 100 in it.  I have run several runs through a lot of mud this year without gators and it seems to have ruined the shoe.  

 

I think this sums up the race. The recovery is going great and I am getting antsy to go on a long run. However, I am experiencing some great  recovery run in the mornings! I know have a little more time to enjoy the small things like in this video during recovery runs. Till next time run Unbridled.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0OqE9YAEcXZVFSW8LgvpuL8OA

Pinhoti 100 a Redemption Run

Ten years ago at the inaugural running of the Pinhoti 100, I DNF’d (Did Not Finish – runner lingo) around mile 75. I spent the last 10 years wondering if I would, could or should ever attempt running it again.

-Picture from start of inaugural attempt.

Writing about this attempt at a hundred miles has taken me quite some time. It has been hard to write about, not from emotion, but from the lack of them. Each time I start to write about this run I find myself on quite reflection somehow knowing that this time, this event was life changing. Going into the run I went with the idea that the distance may not change me but the way I met myself at the start would. I think that has also transpired into my writing as well.

I thought that after this run writing about it would just flow. This time it has not just come out, it has taken work. If it was not for trying to write a part of my story at the same time I wonder if this would ever have ever been finished. I have changed my life’s story so much by accomplishing many things I had only dream of completing. This has created an interesting soul searching/reflection for me. Through this time I have begun to welcome myself to each search as I learned to at the start of each run.

I hope that you enjoy a little part of my journey that took the form of running ultras. I hope that whatever you see in the post, you see that each one of us can create their own story one word or step at a time. Here is me…

At one time I had run out of anger. This anger came from what I perceived as events happening to me. I ran determined to prove people wrong. Ten years ago In this race I found my self at mile 75 with no anger from witch to run from.

-Picture from inaugural attempt

I have heard that you can’t run from your problems. While I believe that to be true, in this situation I out ran the issue and found I had a much tougher struggle ahead. At mile 75 I simply sat down with no more reason to run. There was no anger to keep me going, there was nothing. There I sat defeated, getting a ride back to the start.

In the military and after my suicide attempts I used my anger to prove others wrong. I’m not too sure I did that very well. These days if I do anything I usually  do them to prove things to myself. However, then I ran from anger. After running from that place for a few years, it took me quite a while to find a new way to run.

In 2017 my running had picked up quite a bit. I had found myself and reconnected with a child hood I had buried. I was then running for the joy the trail brought me. I would often, and still do look down at myself as a young child running alongside with me. For some reason it made and makes the miles flow by.

After graduating with a master’s degree in 2017, the next day I set out to run a 50 miler. That and having gone to Geoff Roes’s camp in Alaska gave me the courage to sign up for another 100 miler that year. I timed out on that one and I was fairly hard on myself with this disappointing finish.  However instead of letting my dreams run away I signed up for Pinhoti with the hope that ten years would bring the change I needed to make it.

I had watched a Billy Yang film that year about a runner returning to Western States 100. They had been DQ’d as they stumbled across the line. They also almost gave up on running and yet somehow after 10 years they went back and finished. It gave me the idea that turned into the hope to run Pinhoti again in search of redemption.

Training for Pinhoti was not good. I had to work for each mile. In fact I had many injuries this past year. From back issues to IT band stuff. From pulled muscles in my calf, hip flexor and sciatic nerve pain I was hurt. Looking back at my mileage log I was about 500 miles short and a few months absent from where I wanted to be for running Pinhoti.

Not only did I have training and injury issues. I had issues with what life brought me this year. I have not been as stressed out in years as I have been stressed this year. Could it have gotten any worse?

This year one thing was different though. Where at one time I would have thought things were happening to me I now considered that they may be happening for me. As time got closer I relied heavily on the encouragement from my friend Rob.

I think here I have to take a moment to thank the people who have helped me to get to Pinhoti. I would like to thank Rob and CJ for your commitment to my race. CJ and Nisel for pacing me the last 55 miles. Liza Howard for helping to develop a plan. Joe Grant and Geoff Roes for the coaching and teaching me to make things intentional. The list could go on as many people have been an inspiration and or offered support or help. My biggest lesson was just running from a place where I embraced my self, injured and healthy.

So I found myself at the start line, right behind the guy who won Hard Rock 100. I was a mix of emotions and feelings, yet somehow I put it all on hold and as the wired siren sounded we were off. The route narrowed fast with only a quarter mile till we bunched. Going into the single track I was about number 24 I think.

I remember running the first few miles and only being passed by a few people. I slowly slowed down to more consistent pace and dropped back to about 70, but I was feeling good. Most things were uneventful for the first 13 miles or so. Soon I heard the aid station up ahead and here I  met my crew at Aid Station 2, mile 13.27. I was feeling great and moving well.

The focus was on nutrition for this race. I used Tailwind to make up about 120 calories and bar or gel for another 80 calories. I made it a point to get any fruit I could from each aid station to bump the calories up a bit more. I seemed that my crew was making me eat all they could when I would see them. It seemed to work as I didn’t have any issues till much later.

I was feeling great. I don’t know what pace I was holding as my watch was set to low GPS accuracy. So I just ran feeling it out. If it started to increase my heart rate to much then I would slow down. If it was a hill I walked and when I walked I walked fast. I had practiced walking and hiking a bit before the race and I felt really comfortable holding a 15.5 pace while hiking.

I saw my crew again at aid station 3 around mile 18.27. I believe I came into this station at 4:02 hrs. It was an impressive pace for not having much training. I certainly was impressing myself and my crew. Here I  filled up and topped off everything that was available. Seeing my crew wasn’t going to happen till mile 45 so I needed to be ready. So far the only problem was that my bladder in my hydration vest had gotten stuck. Now this did create an interesting issue. I think the bag almost busted from all of us pulling and tugging on it. Eventually the chafing jell came in handy on keeping the bag unstuck, Rob’s idea.

Leaving the aid station I was trying to remain focused on calories and taking it easy. My first issue was that somehow my Tailwind mix was a little light. Somehow I had told my crew to mix it a bit lighter then what I was used to. My fix was to pick up my eating and use some salt tablets. The only issue with this was that I used up almost all my calories I had.

This shortage made the stops at aid stations 5 and 6 longer than I cared for. At each station I stopped to cram as much food down as possible in just minutes. At station 6, I stopped a bit too long. I had a friend who had come in behind me and he was not doing well. I was in a very happy place and I remember wanting to cheer people up. My buddy encouraged me to hurry up and go to save my time for when I needed it. Since time was my issue today I took off, thanks Jack.

Leaving the aid station I started the climb up to bald rock. Cheaha mountain is said to be the tallest point in Alabama at around 2,500 ft. I was using my poles here and passed several people up the climb. I have heard talk about not needing poles at this race. I agree you don’t have to have poles, but if that saves your legs and allows you to recover while climbing why not use them.

I was in a very happy place when I reached the top and ran down the board walk to the large aid station. I remember getting and giving hugs coming into the aid station. It was one of those great moments in the race. I started eating some ramen noodles and a cheese quesadilla and packed a few more snacks to hold me over to mile 45.

For me the miles from 41 to maybe 51 are miles that I am the most knowledgeable about. Years ago I participated in Mt Cheaha 50k and this ten miles section I had run numerous times. After leaving the aid station I had about a mile jog to the decent of the mountain. The climb up that took about 3 miles now took 3/4 of a mile to go down on the opposite side of the mountain. It was jump from rock to rock, avoid a few roots grab a tree and slingshot yourself down the trail.

-Picture from a previous Cheehaw 50k.

I remember this section with a smile on my face, poles in one hand and bouncing off boulder size rocks down to the bottom. At the bottom I started moving around the lake and up the road. For next few miles I knew the trail followed the road and a Jeep trail. It was time to make up some time. I was speed walking, then running. As I ran down the Jeep trail the light was low and I ran right into my crew at mile 45!

I think I will add in here that this report has been significantly harder than I planned on for writing. This September has been difficult to say the least. I have been experiencing levels of depression and anxiety that I have not had to deal with for many years. While it still visits me time to time, it has not been this demanding for several years. I guess that is why finishing Pinhoti was so important to me, as well as finishing this post.

While I usually enjoy writing, this report about my most important race to date has been forced. Like stated at the beginning writing this piece has required a lot of thought and personal exploration. Going back to mile 45 some of my crew came down the road to meet me. It was so cool running into them. They were not expecting me just yet and then getting to run with them into the aid station was great.

Here I fueled up with soup and coke! I got some extra Tailwind put in my pack and set off with my pacer CJ. We headed out of the aid station now on single track trail that was moderately technical. After about a mile we passed several campers having a good time around a fire. The same thing has happened ten years ago and I was talking this as a good omen.

Time and the paced went quickly for me. CJ kept me focused and I remember having a great conversation for most of the next 30 miles. Many of these miles seemed to blur into each other. Aid stations came and went. I ate a lot of soup and drank a lot of coke. I remember it was just getting colder and colder. My crew asked if I wanted to sit by the fire and I was determined to not be anywhere close to even seeing a fire. I remembered that ten years ago getting warm by the fire was one thing that took me out of the race. I knew I could stay warm if I kept moving and if I got cold sitting down then I knew it was time to get moving.

Move we did I think was ahead of what my crew had thought I would be and I was hoping for maybe a 27 hour finish. Most everything went by just fine until about mile 70. For some reason Mile 70 just seems to creep up on me and in the past has taken me out. I thought it was going to again…

Somewhere around mile 70 I got so sleepy that I started to walk/stumble around with my eyes closed. I wanted to keep going so bad, but I could keep my eyes open. I remember placing my eyes on my poles and crying. In that moment I was so heartbroken because every time before this issue had taken me out of the race.

My pacer was so great, she stopped and said “Phil we knew that this was going to happen”. She explained it to me like this: “the governor comes to us all during these races to shut us down, to tell us it’s not possible”. “It just wants us to give in and relax”. “We knew he was going to show up so what do we do”? “Do you have anything that has caffeine in it”? I looked down and there staring back up at me was a caffeinated gel.

I have no idea how the gel got there. It was a Gu gel and not the type I usually use. I got it down and thought about my pacers explanation. I think I said out loud that I knew what she said was true, I just couldn’t think it at the time. I was just shocked that I couldn’t remember what to do. So I knew I needed to eat. I got a few things down me and then I got some caffeinated jelly beans down and here was the mountain that had defeated me 10 years ago.

I was now walking with my poles. My pace improved and I gradually got faster. We had a runner and her pacer who I labeled as socks (he had some interesting socks) passed us going up the mountain running. I was still having a few issues but I was warming up!

I remember that this time on the trail was hard for a few miles. I don’t remember it all but I do remember getting out my phone and listening to some motivational speakers, one of them being Less Brown. Soon with the caffeine and my phone blaring motivation my pace began to quicken.

I was back to walking at a pace that others were having to run with to keep up. My pacer did a wonderful thing and started talking about not being able to keep up with my walking. She said she was having to run just a bit while we were climbing the mountain. She mentioned something about getting dropped and something lit a fire inside me.

I took off walking up the mountain going faster and faster. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep it up, but I could hear the aid station up ahead and knew I had a couple miles of climbing and then I would be ready to start the real race. I noticed that we were now gaining on the female runner and her pacer with the socks. We kept on getting closer and finally we burst past them.

As we passed socks and his runner, my pacer later told me that I passed her so fast walking while she was trying to run that it completely blew her mind and she stared in disbelief. I know I passed several people while I was walking and they were running. Many of them made some comments about the pace and some even asked how I was able to walk so fast. I was in a grove and I wasn’t interested in much talking. My pacer however, stated many times that you just needed to spend 13 years in the military and then you would be able to walk this fast.

I don’t know that I said much. I just was so focused on moving forward that I really didn’t care for small talk. I was out for redemption and there was just a few miles and one last mountain in my way. After passing socks and his runner I found it a bit hard to keep the pace. I didn’t have any one to real in just yet but I sure wasn’t going to let them catch up. Again my pacer mentioned being dropped and it sure helped to stoke my fire.

I was nearing the top of the mountain and mile 75 when up from below a small group of runners were slowly catching up to me. I tried to keep moving unsure if I could keep the pace. We were now in the section with all the switchbacks. I could stride it out on the long stretch between the switchbacks but on each turn I saw that the runners were catching up to me.

Finally they were right behind me. One started to go around and I quickened my pace. They slowed and asked if I was listening to Les Brown. I said yes, they slowed agian and I took off running up the rest of the mountain. I’m not sure that was the greatest idea, because soon I was just off the trail enough for me to have to bust through a couple of bushes and stumble into the aid station.

It was at this aid station that I had dropped from the race ten years prior. For me I was quite proud of myself for I was feeling great and was quite sure at that point I was unstoppable. Here I refueled and stayed clear of the fire and it’s run ending warmth. I chose to sit far away and was focusing on what was next.

I still stayed at this station longer they I should have. On the way out I picked up my next pacer Nisel. They say that if you’re feeling good in an ultra, just wait because that feeling will pass soon. So, yep that unstoppable feeling came and went.

I don’t really remember much about this part of the race. I do remember zagging back and forth passing then getting passed, zoning in and out. This leg of the race seemed to take forever. Then we stumbled on to the aid station. The wind was blowing hard now. Much of the food was blown around and with just one person manning the station there wasn’t much help for me here. I left before eating much or even enough.

Here we got out on a service road. I took the time to recover and I started walking. It took me a while to get back to my brisk walk, but soon I was reeling people in. Off to my left the sun began to climb and as it woke up the world I began to improve on the pace down the road. It seemed that this road went on and on in the weird and beautiful delusional morning  but soon we took a right and were back on single track.

Getting back on the trail was just enough that it took a minute to get used to running and picking up the feet again. Here I remember the trail being fairly flat and some rollers. Most of the trouble here was the rocks and roots that had come back. It seemed that the trail would wind around and a much faster straight trail would have been more appropriate.

It took a bit to get running again on the single track and I am glad we got going again. I’m not sure how long it took me to move through miles 75 to 85, but I lost a good deal of time. Running down into the aid station at 85 my crew hurried me through and got me out on the service road. As we went up the road my crew started texting me to speed it up. I found out later that when I left 85 I had only 15 minutes to cut-off.

The last thing my crew told me was that the rest was downhill from here. I guess looking at the elevation profile it does appear to look like it’s downhill. It however was anything but down. It was just rolling service road hills until the last aid station. I remember moving well at this point and meeting Rob about 3/4 of a mile before the last aid station.

Rob and I ran into the aid station. We ran fast and I forgot until we got in about his sore ankle. Sorry Rob. I do remember Rob’s smile. In fact every time I saw Rob at an aid station he was smiling. Every time I came in he was encouraging me and commenting on how well I was doing at each point. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated Rob and CJ for giving up there weekend to help me run this comeback race.

I found out later that Rob was really concerned about me and he just kept going farther down the trail in the hopes he would find me. When he did and I guess I surprised him as I had picked up a good 45 minutes on the cut-off from my previous 15 minutes. Thanks Rob!

Here we picked up another Band of Runners mentor. It was another little boost and we took off on the last stretch. I think the next 4 or 5 miles were a combination of single track and old service/Jeep roads. It was mostly in the cover of pine trees or cushy grass. My only problem here was that the sun was out, it was warm and I was having issues with drinking enough liquids.

I used most Tailwind and that worked well. It in fact worked better for me than anything else I’ve tried in the past. I also had been using Nuun Tabs in a little water bottle. I liked the little carbonation that it gave. It however dried out my mouth so much it was hard getting anything but water and Tailwind down. This started having a toll right about the time we came out of the trail and had the last 3 miles through town.

The last few miles were really the worst. It was just a 5k through the backside of town and into the football stadium. It was in full sun now and completely on blacktop. Here I was running on the hardball or when a car came by in the ditch. I was so focused on the change in the running surface and the problems that were arising that I was quickly becoming irritable.

It was a tuff run through those last couple miles. About the time I noticed my mindset needed to change was about the moment I saw the stadium. I noticed how even in my depleted state seeing the stadium help to change my mindset from frustration to the curiosity of exploring. As the stadium came into view so did the question of how do I get there?

Having a question with no expectation connected to it also permitted me to pick up the pace. Then there was a gate in the fence surrounding the stadium. Thinking about running through that gate still brings strong feelings to mind as I retrace my steps for this post. I think that’s is where I had my breakthrough, at the fence instead of the finish line.

Crossing that field and then running over the bridge and taking the hard right hand turn onto the track seemed to float by. I remember there being a want to pick up and push the pace. I was moving quickly again and I was probably leaving stuff from the last ten years behind me on that track.

Looking at the pictures of my run on the track my face was focused and looks a bit twisted from my pain cave experience of those last few miles. I don’t remember concentrating that hard, but I do remember the determination to finish. Crossing the finish line was surreal. It was a finish and then that was that. Another chapter over, another to start.

It took a while to write about this journey. The time allowed me more refection. It also gave room to develop the story. Every one has a story to tell and we all get to be the hero of that story. In it, what has happened to us is not as important as what is now available for us. Our responsibility is not to be the victim of blame and shame. It is our responsibility to take responsibility and take steps towards a solution.

Many times the fault of who dun it gets in the way of taking responsibility. Taking responsibilities not for what happened, but for what will happen is of utmost importance. This alone gives us the space needed to find opportunities and options for change. In this space you take control back from the situation.

For most of humanity it is not the suffering that produces the feeling of helplessness/hopelessness. It is the lack of perceived control that triggers the thoughts then feelings of it. Humans can both learn helplessness and how to be their own hero they would write about. Running and writing are just two of the ways I use to write my story of heroism.

Happy Holidays, and may your story be long with everything the trails can bring. Maybe go off and forge your own trails. Run lightly, run free and run with your heart, run unbridled.

Rim to Rim to Rim

Well, thanks to some great friends and a Veteran organization I was afforded the opportunity to Arizona to run the Grand Canyon (GC), Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R). R2R2R has been on the bucket list of places to run for some time now and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to go.

Heading into the run I have been having some issues with injuries and some stressful issues have resurfaced. I wasn’t sure how this would affect the outcome, but I was excited and nervous at the same time. I decided that I would need to just take it easy, run my pace and just have fun to be successful.

Arriving at the canyon I went out for a shakeout run the day before running the canyon. It did not take long to feel the altitude change from 597′ around Nashville to about 6,804′ at the South Rim GC Villiage. Just a short run up a small incline at a 9 min. pace allowed me to feel that metallic taste, warning me that this climate will take a bit to adjust to.

While I was adjusting to the dry air and the altitude difference I was taken in by the views. I wasn’t sure what was taking my breath more: the views or the exertion. It was at that point I found part of my mantra for the rest of the trip, “If you want views that take your breath away, you need to do something that takes your breath away”.

I spent the day meeting other runners, going through gear, nutrition and planning routes, (one route). We spent some time reconning the starting and end points of the trailhead. Looking down at them I was a bit intimidated. This run was going to take quite a bit of work both physically and mentally. I quickly realized that I was going to need more nutrition than I had brought. The amount of water, gear and food that was needed was by far one of the largest amounts I have carried on any previous run.

The day started around 2am and by 3:15 we were heading out to the trailhead. We had decided to take the South Kaibab trail going down into the Canyon. we left our vehicles about a mile from the start. It was a great warm up. The descent started right away at the start. For some, the darkness made the descent a bit tougher as the exposed edge was just feet to inches away. I think it was nice having only my headlamp for light as we went down. With that, I was able to just focus on my feet and the next step without much thought to the edge.

Soon the sun slowly woke up and began to encase the tips of the canyon in it’s glow.  We spent the next 2.5 hours or so heading down to the Colorado River. In those first hours we dropped around 5,000′. Watching that sun creep around the corners of the canyon was awesome! I’m already considering doing it again.

Reaching the river we crossed the bridge and began the route to the Phantom Ranch (PhR). Arriving at the ranch the borders and campers were lining up for breakfast as we made our first water stop. Water was going to be a big issue in this run and I made sure to top everything I had off. After a brief stop, we started heading north up the Kaibab trail. That early morning run through the Canyon’s bottom was amazing.

Following this trail, we ran slow trying to conserve energy for the climbs that were ahead. As the day wore on the trail started to fill with hikers and a few other runners. Most were shocked at our idea of going R2R2R in just one day. I thought it was interesting that for many people they had never imagined this was an option.  After several hours I ran into a Ranger that wanted to make sure I had enough water. The water at Roaring Springs was shut off along with most of the water on the north side. There was plenty of water at the spring, it just needed to be filtered. I took a chance with the water I had and after a brief respite and a snack, I started the climb up.

I should add that the whole 14 miles up to the N. K. trailhead was uphill. It was a gradual ascent towards the top with the majority or the steepness of the climb starting at Roaring Springs. The Climb was no small feat. While climbing you still had to be wary of the exposure of the edge and the conditions of the trail. As the climb increased and the switchbacks began there was also a strange need for breaks. About 2 miles from the top I was running low on water. I knew I needed to keep my mouth wet and get some nutrition in. As the trail would have it and fortunately for me, the water was fixed at a spring at 1.7 miles from the top.

At Supai, 1.7 from the top I was blessed to drink and fill up on water. It was such a relief as I was starting to have some issues with the climb. The next 1.7 miles seemed to take almost 2 hours to climb out. While on the climb I was also blessed to hang out with a couple other runners that also had a military background. It was almost a natural thing to check on each other for the rest of the trip. With each of us going our own pace we found ourselves leapfrogging along, at times we found the one that felt stronger in the moment encouraging those of us going slower. This situation flip-flopped for almost the rest of the run.

I think the beauty in this matchup was that we all had strengths that the other runners did not.  Speaking for myself it created a situation that allowed for us to band together and find ways to overcome the issues that arose along the trail.  I believe this is one of the many things that makes Soldiers and Veterans so great, their ability to band together in abnormal situations. It can also be one of our greatest issues as well, as we are not trained to be an individual, rather a productive member of a cohesive team.

After what seemed like taking a break in what shade could be found, I made it to the top. The altitude change went from around 2,000′ to some reports of over 9,000′, I was having a hard time keeping my heart rate low enough and I was struggling. I was in rough shape, yet I knew that with water and some food I would be good to go.

With this trip, I met a group of runners called the Rock Hoppers. Some of their supporters were at the top making sandwiches and getting Cokes for them.  It was truly like coming into an Aid Station and I am very grateful to the lady that brought me a coke and made me a peanut butter and honey sandwich. After filling up with water I now had a group of three Veterans returning through the canyon.  After all, how else were we going to get back? Sometimes the best option is the toughest one!

Heading down into the canyon back the way we came for the next 14 miles was great. We stopped to check on hikers/runners that was coming up or that we pasted flying down. We encouraged everyone that the top was within grasp and pointed out where water was. Having filled up our packs we even gave some of our water and nutrition out to other hikers struggling to get to the top.

Soon we reached the canyon floor and then set off on the next eight miles towards Phantom Ranch. This stretch was fairly lonely as most people that I came across were camping for the night. It became a race against the sun. I watched the sun set casting weird shadows in the various canyons. I tried to get to Phantom Ranch before I lost the light, but soon I was moving in the darkness.

I had taken two headlamps with me and I’m glad I did. My Petzl’s battery didn’t last as advertised, so I resorted to my back up Black Diamond for the reminder of the night. Thanks Joe, it’s the light you gave me at camp. I power hiked into Phantom and waited for a a friend while I set about getting water, taking care of the feet and eating.

I had heard about the lemonade here at the ranch, but I smelled coffee. Later on we learned that the ranch was open and we could have gotten some refreshments, but with faulty information we thought it was only for those in the bunkhouse. I remember that I didn’t want to leave and I had sat long enough to where my legs didn’t want to go anymore.

Three of us took off from the ranch and I was in a fowl mood for the next few miles. My friends asked me if I wanted to pass and I said no I just need to get used to moving again and find a better mood. So with food and Tailwind I got into a grove for the hike back up to the rim.

We crossed the Colorado river on the Silver bridge in the darkness. I really couldn’t see much but the next few steps. Apparently he trip across can be a bit frightening for some. The whole trail had been dusty, it was the desert after all. However, on this side of the river the dust was horrible. I called it moon dust and it was everywhere. Your feet sunk an inch or two with each step.

I can’t really describe how much I disliked this part. I was breathing dust, dust was in my eyes and it filled up my shoes. I used a buff and covered my face the best I could and just went on, grumbling inside. When we started the climb on the other side and the terrain started to change I started to get in a better headspace.

The next 9 miles up the side of the canyon went by like a blur. Our group of 3 split up and then we would all catch back up over and over. I practiced not using a light at all for several parts of the trail and it worked well. I stayed focused on getting nutrition in, salt and worked on fixing my upset stomach with ginger. It all seemed to work as these hours are typically the hardest for me.

No hallucinations for me this night! I kept going up alone again, but very hopeful and pleased with how things were turning out. Soon I arrived at Indian Springs. My group linked up again and we tried encouraging another couple who were covering a couple benches trying to control their stomachs.

Filling up on water I listened to one of my friends tell his story about running across a couple of mountain lions a while back on the trails. Usually I’m the one that runs into the interesting wildlife. So far today I had only come across one snake and that was it. There wasn’t even the normal bugs that I’m used to battling at night.

We started back up the trail looking for the next water point. This part around the spring was full of creek crossings, trees and overgrowth. The trail soon left all that behind as we kept going up, now hitting switchback after switchback. It seemed every time the trail looked like it would open up or that we would summit a plateau it was just an elusive illusion.

Soon our lights were going out and I shut mine off completely just in case I would need it later. The moon was out now and it helped to see the trail. It was about here that to noticed two pairs of green eyes watching me from above. I was taking no chances after hearing my friends story about cats alongside the trail. I charged up that slope towards the eyes before they had a chance to decide what they were going to do. It ended up being two deer. It was a good laugh.

I’m not sure how much longer it took me. I arrived at the top with a little bit of a shock as I was still expecting another switchback. I think it was just after 2am, just about the time I had gotten up the day before for this trip. We ran into two ladies that where here that were wait for the Rockhoppers and they made us go sit in their cabin and eat for a while. They keep saying we must be cold, but after all that exposure I really didn’t realize the temperature at the top.

This adventure was probably one of the hardest I’ve been on. It was also one of the best I’ve been on. I have to thank my friends Rob and CJ for making it possible to go with. Also to Project Echelon for their help with the travel and for use of the GoPro. I would also like to thank the two Veterans that I ran with, you guys gave me a mission. I’m very grateful for them being there.

This was an adventure I needed for many reasons. I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I believe it’s all part of a commitment I made to share my story and openness to finally accept friends into my life again. Stay tuned for more pictures and possibly a short video documentary.

Thank you all for reading!

Dark Sky 50 Race Report

Dark Sky 50

Well let me start by saying that over all I am quite pleased with myself and frustrated at the same time. I am frustrated that I am still injured and that it seriously affected my running this past Saturday. I am quite pleased that despite it all I made it as far as I did in the conditions that I was in. This has been a hard report to write as the results of my race lie somewhere between a DNF, DLF, and timing out.

I spent the night camping out at the campground (Picket State Park, TN) right next to the start line. Prior packing allowed for me to pull up to a camp site at dusk and get set up in mostly the dark. I was able to sleep until about an hour and a half before the start. That was a great change from the normal get up several hours before to make it to the race. While I had most everything ready to go, I felt like I had not started a race for a long time. I completely forgot several things to include my drop bags. That however did not even come to my attention until mile two just before making a return loop past the parked cars.

The loop was about 2.5 scenic miles. I heard one runner describe it as land that time had forgot. I really enjoyed the picturesque views that I experienced. Soon we were on the hardball for just a short bit and took off into the woods down the hidden passage trail.  I was running/walking already at this point and it was nice that the loop had seriously thinned out the running crowd. Soon I was up among the bluffs and running alongside cliffs looking out over Big South Fork.

For the most part the terrain was rolling with mostly runnable hills. The trail weaved up and down and around the ridge line. It skirted many overlook and waterfalls. At one part of the trail it went right over the top of one of the falls overlooking a nice drop into the falls just some few feet to my left. Soon we went down into the valley bottom. There we followed the stream and completed a couple of crossings getting my feet wet, no worries there. After reaching the first water station and stopping to refill I knew I was going to have issues with water as the water station was almost out. It was over 90 degrees for most of the day. The water would become an issue latter in the day.

It was about this time that I started having issues with my leg. I have been having a problem with an injury in my back. This has presented in an IT band issue along with hamstring and hip mobility issues. The injury has been hard for me to except as I just want to run.

I felt done at mile 9 and somehow came into the first maned aid station at mile 13 with the thought in my head that if I was the last one I would just quit. Well I wasn’t the last one and I wasn’t passed the cut-off time either. I was very frustrated and took off again. Soon, however the sweeper caught up with me and brought with him the last runner. I stayed just a head of them for a while but by 16 they caught me.

I am forever grateful for those two. They keep me going for the next 30 plus miles even though I was already done. I just found myself in a bad head space soon after the start and running by myself I wasn’t able to change my thinking. With these two in tow we reached mile 21 or somewhere close. We crossed over a rock face and had great views, but we were more concerned with getting down the other side to the aid station.  We put in some faster work on the switch backs going down into the valley floor where we found the aid station on a jeep/fire break road.

Getting to the aid station was great, however it created a new challenge for us. The aid station was out of water and while it had a few things there was nothing I could eat or drink. I was doing fine on food and we all wanted water and or some tailwind. The station was covered with bees. I wasn’t there but a couple minutes and I had four or five bees crawling up my legs and the table had ten’s of bees all over. I was anxious to get moving again. Soon we were back down the trail. I knew that there would be some stream crossings up a head and hopefully we could find one that had decent water.

We found a stream that was flowing nice and clear and a perfect spot were the water was flowing though the moss and creating a fountain type dispenser to fill our bottles. Well that creek water tasted better than some of the water that they had gotten from the wells around there. Most of the next few miles were uneventful. I started to feel better and get back into the normal swing of things, but was still unable to run much. That wasn’t a huge  problem as I was able to walk as fast as my companions where running and I had the mental attitude at that point to match it.

As we started back up the climb over the next ridge I was in the lead, stepped around a tree in the way and there it was. I saw the tail no problem, just where was the head at, was my question? Well I didn’t have long to wait and as I took one step back the tail started rattling. Yes, it was a rattle snake. It was about 3.5 feet long and as thick as my water bottle. The snake coiled up rattling away while everyone else ran right into me.  One of the runners that was with us was from Michigan and had never seen a rattler before. She seemed to jump off me backwards about ten amazing feet into the sweeper who was trying to calm every one down. I had a good laugh and meanwhile the snake was getting pissed. Most of the time a snake will avoid humans and or hurry off if you give them room. This one wasn’t going anywhere, it had its patch of sun on the trail and it wasn’t moving. I had half a mind to move the snake but we decided to go up and around it.

Next we followed some more really neat rock formations and then dropped back down in the valley to follow the river along some horse trails. There was not too much to talk about here. Just fording steams and avoiding ankle deep mud we followed the river toward the next station. Soon we started picking up other runners who were ready to tap out. They all seemed to have great stories about how bad something was or being out of water. One person had fallen somehow and had messed his back up enough that he had to hobble using a makeshift pole. Anyways we moved on. Soon we had past the nest aid station and they had some water.

After leaving that aid station and getting to mile 30 something stung the top of my foot down in my shoe under the tongue. I couldn’t get my shoe off fast enough. I thought I had been stung, but as the days went on after the race I determined it was a spider bite. My ankle swoll up and at moments it was painful with my shoe hitting the bite every other step. I had to get meds and keep my foot soaking or elevated for several days.

We made it to mile 31 and were able to fill up with water and get a little food. We had to do a loop through the natural arch here and it was breath taking. There were a lot of great views! Coming back down to the aid station we grab what was left and were in a hurry to get up the next hill. They offered a shot of whisky at that station. I have yet to try alcohol during a race. I might have to try it sometime. Dave who was running with  said it made his legs “feel fresher”. I wished I would have tried some before this hill. It seemed to go on forever. It’s about a mile and a half up to the top, just to climb some more. I have seen several people quit on that hill and go back to the aid station at the bottom, only to find that they have to climb out.

After the climb we were able to catch a break as we were on jeep trails for the next little bit and then found the next aid station. They had cold water. The first cold water all day. They also had some cold sprite. The Sprite and water were so good. At this aid station we got our head lamps out as it was starting to get dusk. Soon we were out and on the way. This time we stayed mostly on the gravel jeep trails and were able to pick up some time. Some of the group even started running. I was still having issues and was only able to walk, but my walk was fast enough to keep me up with everyone. I guess I would have to contribute that to all the road marches we did in the military. They seem mild now in comparison to the trails rocky path and the length of time and distance I usually go.

We got to the last aid station. It was mostly dark by now. Here I ran into my good friend Brain, who is race director for No Business 100 and Yamacraw 50k. It was great meeting him at the station. If you ever get a chance those are two great challenging races that you should check out. Well here the sweeper said he was done, the lady I had been running with since mile 13 had her feet all cut up and was done. The GPS said that we were al 46 and some change in mile and had been started late while already moving done the course. And with at least another 9 miles to go I found myself, by myself again. I thought I about the river I would have to hike through and in my condition, having been way passed the cut off time already and that the volunteers were going to have to wait for me past the normal race time. I reluctantly chose the car ride back.

I don’t know if you call that quitting and a DNF, or was it just timing out. I am not sure. I did really impress myself that I went over 33 some miles after not being able to run and being ready to quit to where I was. I was impressed by how I just found something to just keep walking. I think the walking was great practice for using my new poles and experience in hiking for the next 100 miler. I had a great time on the trail. I saw a rattle snake, a coyote and so many other parts of nature and the trail because I walked. I made some new friend and learned a bunch of lessons from other runners. The sweeper was impressed with how I just kept going even though my hip would lock up every now and then. I impressed myself with not stopping at mile 13 even though I wanted to.  I think that is what is one of the things that is so interesting about ultra-running and part of what makes it tuff. You can quit at any time. You don’t have to push through and yet so many of us do, we continue past what we thought was possible and raise the bar not letting limitations limit us.

I will have to do a post on what gear I am currently using and what I am doing for nutrition. Look or that to come up soon.  Till then run wild, run free, run unbridled.

Band of Runners Podcast

www.podbean.com/media/share/dir-u8quh-4013078

This podcast is a brief description of a trail running camp for Veterans and Gold Star Family members. No matter a persons fitness level there are groups and classes geared for you. It’s not all just running it’s classes from pros, and being part of a community that can help you accomplish your goals. I also share a bit of my story on how I found running and my experience at the camp.

Do or Do Not, There is no Try… -Yoda

I am a fan of Star Wars mainly because of the messages behind and tucked into those movies. I also have a Si-Fi part of me tucked away as some of you know. I assume that many if not most people are aware of who Yoda is in the movies. If not, to sum it up, Yoda is a Jedi master. This might be similar to a Zen + Samurai elite. Above is one of his quotes which I think sums up this week’s training ideals.

When operate under a perspective of Black and White we are in a (either, or) perspective.  It is important to note that most of us see in some type of color spectrum and not Black and White. However, looking at things in Black and White can help us to determine what is and what is not from our perspective.

My point is that in training and life there are those who wait to feel good to act, (train). Then there are those who train or (act) to feel. Those who act don’t always feel good, at times they too, feel bad. However, they are aware of the fact that they must feel bad in order to feel good enough. This become a process in which they take feeling bad over waiting because they know that feeling good enough and possibly great is just around the corner or up ahead on the trail.

Either  way, both types of people take part in a behavior. The inclination for either behavior grows stronger the more a person does of either. The more often we get up to train and train. The more likely we are to do it again in spite of how we feel.

Thought to pounder for this week…am I an athlete who waits to feel good to run or am I one that believes that good feelings will come if I move. I believe myself to be the latter and through that I am taking an active purposeful roll in changing my environment. This might in Yogarien  ideology, be what Yoda was getting at with his statement of “do or do not, there is no try”.

Good training and happy trails…

The Unbridled Runner.