I’ve decided to break up the race report into two parts – this one, where I’ll talk about the race itself, and then later I’ll write another post where I’ll discuss what went wrong. This post is long, so if you only really care about what I did wrong, just wait until my next post. Also, in case you missed the earlier post, I dropped out of the race at about mile 63.
I got down to Huntsville State Park after the optional pre-race briefing on Friday night, but still early enough to leave a drop bag for the Damnation aid station. That aid station is the most remote, and they drive the drop bags out the night before the race. Since I’d pass through Damnation two times during each 20 mile loop, I wanted to make sure I had a bag there to get food and different clothes (if needed). After eating a glamorous Taco Bell dinner, I settled into my tent for the night (I camped at the park, about 1/3 mile from the start/finish line).
Race morning, I made it to the starting line with maybe 5 minutes to spare. And that was fine, since I didn’t have any reason to get there early anyway. I dropped my big bin of food/clothing/random shit in the drop bag area at the starting line, and joined the crowd for the start.
Loop 1 (miles 1-20):
It was still dark at the start (6am), so we were all running by headlamp for the first few miles. I managed to find my groove surprisingly early, particularly for a trail race with a field so large (there are often bad bottlenecks near the start of trail races, as everyone funnels down onto singletrack). Within the first few miles, a runner (Wael) came up from behind me and noticed the shirt I was wearing (from a Kansas City trail race). While I didn’t recognize him, we had run some of the same races when I lived in KC, and we ended up sticking together for the vast majority of the first loop. We were going at a remarkably similar pace, although he was running more of the hills than I was, but I could walk faster than him so we always seemed to join back up at the top of the hills. Right near the end of loop 1, I decided to surge ahead a little, and so we parted ways.
Coming into the start/finish area after the first loop, I was caught off guard by two people coming towards me saying “Are you Jesse? What do you need? What can we help you with?” These two, Larry and Sherrie, were also from KC, and my friend Indi had let them know that my crew/pacer fell through and that I was running solo. As it turns out, Larry was Wael’s pacer for the last 40 (and Sherrie would be pacing someone that I didn’t meet). They were super awesome, and I would end up seeing them at most of the aid stations from this point on.
Overall, the first 20 went quite well. It was getting to be surprisingly warm by the end of the loop, but I had been able to eat at every aid station and was hydrating well. The first 20 took me 3:37:55, or roughly 10:30/mile. I was pleased with that time, particularly since I had already been incorporating a hefty number of walk breaks into the first loop, trying to save my legs for the many miles to come.
Loop 2 (miles 21-40):
Early on this loop, I took my first fall. I had tripped on roots a couple of times during the first loop, but had managed to catch myself each time. I was glad to have a fellow runner witness this fall though, as I somehow managed to successfully navigate a parkour-esque roll and kept myself from getting hurt. I didn’t pop back up onto my feet, but at least I didn’t do a face-plant.
Most of this loop went quite well, although my legs were really starting to hurt relatively early on – the pain was a lot more intense earlier in the race compared with my previous 100-miler. But, I tried not to worry about it too much since my hydration and nutrition was going so much smoother than my first 100. I was keeping to regular walk breaks (mostly up the hills), and did my best to ignore the growing pain in my quads. I was still feeling confident of my ability to finish.
Near the end of the second loop, the pain in my quads became significantly worse. Walking wasn’t too painful, but running definitely was. I did the math, and realized that if I power-walked the rest of the time, I’d still have a shot at a sub-24 hour finish. I completed loop 2 in 3:55:32 (~11:45/mile).
Loop 3 (miles 41-60):
At mile 42, I had the distinct pleasure of being lapped by the current course record holder, Ian Sharman. So, he had managed to run 62 miles in the time it took me to run 42, although in the end he came out in second place.
I started to have a couple of blisters on my feet, so at the aid station around mile 43, Sherrie and Larry stepped in to tape them up for me. I kind of thought that they would just hand me tape to take care of it myself, but they really stepped right in. Sherrie didn’t shy away from touching my disgusting feet, and taped them right up for me. It took no time, and I was on my way.
By about mile 46, I was really in a lot of pain. My quads were not doing well at all. I ended up doing a lot more walking (good thing I’m a fast walker, and can hold a 12:xx/mile walking pace on flat terrain). I was still eating and drinking well, and my blisters weren’t overly painful, but my quads – sh*t did they hurt. As the miles progressed, I was able to short stints of running on flat trails without any roots, but picking up my legs over the incessant roots proved to be a challenge. My hopes of a sub-24 hour finish drifted away, and my hope to simply finish kicked in. I have a video that I took around mile 53, and in it I’m trying really hard to not start crying as I’m talking about how I’m feeling.
Late in this loop, Wael caught back up to me. He told me that we could stick together, and that we’d pick up Larry as our pacer at the end of this loop (pacers can start anytime after mile 60). We were on a section of course that was jeep trails, and so with minimal roots I was able to keep up with him for a bit. But I knew as soon as the trail turned back into root-covered singletrack, I wouldn’t be able to keep pace. I told him to go on and run his race, and wished him well (he went on to a strong sub-24 hour finish!)
I came into the aid station at the end of the loop in immense pain and feeling defeated. I took the time to change my socks, and had some wonderful help re-taping my feet from some random people who were waiting for their runner to come in. I rolled my quads for a few minutes, using a rolling pin that Wael had let me borrow.
I finished the third loop in 4:50:10 (14:30/mile).
Loop 4 (miles 61-63ish):
As I left the aid station for the start of the fourth loop, I pulled out my phone and called my wife. I tearfully told her that I didn’t think I was going to finish the race. I knew that the aid station at the start/finish area would be the easiest (translation = worst) place for me to make that decision though, so I told her I was going to keep going at least until the next aid station. I don’t think I was able to run a single step during that section, and my walking slowed way down. By the time I reached the next aid station, ~3 miles into the loop, I knew my race was over. I stepped to the side of the aid station, and called Natasha to tell her I was dropping. I’m sure if was hard for her to understand me through my crying (and the poor cell signal!). She did her best to talk me out of it, and after realizing that my mind was made up, she did her best to console me. I already knew where I had went wrong, and at the time I felt good about my decision to DNF. I didn’t like it, and definitely wasn’t proud of it, but I was ok with it.
I told the aid station leader I was dropping, and some members of a runners’ crew offered to give me a ride back to the start area as soon as their runner passed through. So I laid down on a log (not real comfortable), and did my best not to become even more of a crying mess in front of everyone. Shortly thereafter, I turned in my timing chip at the main aid station and walked (slowly and painfully) back to my tent.
Here’s a mental note for future reference: getting in and out of a tent when you’re legs are completely trashed is a very, very difficult thing to do. It probably took me at least 15 minutes to unzip the rain fly, crawl into my tent, and zip it back up. I laid there for a while before getting the strength up to go take a shower. Getting back into the tent afterwards wasn’t any easier. I’ll be honest, when I felt the call of nature after I had laid back down, the thought of getting back up for something so trivial as peeing was more than I could take. So I moved myself over to the door, and did my business without ever leaving the tent. I was thankful for being a guy.
I woke up at 1am, and was really hungry. Hungry enough to make me go through the painful ordeal of getting out my bed and into the car (which took another 15 minutes to move literally 10 feet). Thank goodness for fourth-meal at Taco Bell. I don’t think I’ve ever devoured that much Taco Bell in such a short period of time.
I had to stick around the next morning until 11am to have my drop bag from Damnation returned. It was extremely difficult for me to wait around at the race site, listening to the cheers for runners still finishing up. I could have waited in the heated area that they had at the start/finish area, but chose to isolate myself in my car instead. I was able to keep most of my tears from flowing until Sarah McLaughlin’s ‘Angel’ song came on the radio (seriously, has there ever been a more depressing song? Or maybe it’s only depressing because of all of the SPCA commercials. Regardless, not a song I want to hear when I’m trying to hold back tears).
Anyways, I grabbed my drop bag as soon as it was delivered, and got myself out of there as quick as I could.
Next up, I’ll talk about what went wrong. And I’ll be sure to keep Sarah McLaughlin off my iTunes rotation while I’m writing that post.