If you read the introduction post you know that this was my first '100'. Although I'm improving as a runner, I wouldn't say I 'know what I'm doing', and I certainly didn't know what to expect. My goals for this race were to finish, and maybe break 24 hours. Although this race isn't a typical 'mountain' ultra, it consists of many 500' climbs over technical terrain, and in the heat of the midwest summer. Total climbing is over 15000' which compares to the total climb at the famous Western States 100.
Race day! I was having a crazy dream that I was missing the start of this thing, and that woke me up at 3:50, right before my alarm went off. Time to get up! I’m always nervous about getting places on time, so that was the only real worry as we drove the ½ hour to the start in a warm humid drizzle. I still couldn’t believe this thing was real! Before I knew it I was lined up near the front of 400 runners (250 running 50 miles, 150 going real long). And we’re off! Chilling in a line of folks slowly jogging along root covered single track as dawn slowly brought light to our surroundings. The head lamps came off, and muggy warmth enveloped the hilly forest. The Mohican was using a new course that eliminated road portions previously used. It consisted of two 27 mile loops and two similar 23 mile loops. Aid stations were located ever 4-7 miles, or roughly an hour to an hour and a half. The first dozen miles were easy running, and idle chatting with a number of runners. I was impressed with the number of people who had run really big name races including Western States 100, Canadian Death Race, Badwater, and Hard Rock 100. Several super runners came flying by me… they were never to be seen again, and all ended up dropping at some point.
I lost a few places when I took a ½ mile wrong turn before figuring out that the correct course took us down a steep set of sandstone stairs and underneath a 50 foot waterfall… pretty amazing thing to see out in this dense forest! A mile or so of slogging along a riverbed, and then a steep (almost vertical), 50 foot climb up an amazing root wall. Back on good trail I made up a few of the places lost during the wrong turn, and cruised up to the ‘Covered Bridge’ aid station. All the aids were all great, but this one stood out each time! I left Covered Bridge quickly and found myself with a couple of guys running a similar pace. Usually I don’t remember names very well, but these guys were Paul, and Jason, from Seattle, but doing his residency at a hospital in Anne Arbor. Very cool people! We worked well together since they had more 100 mile experience than me, but I maintained a focus on steady progress and quick aid station transitions.
We ended the first loop together, and there was my brother/best friend asking how it was going. I was feeling fine and cheerfully let him know that. What a boost! Jason, Paul and I left together for the second loop and immediately took a wrong turn up a huge hill. After a mile or so of off course shenanigans we got back on track and cursed our poor navigation skills. Who wants to just run 100 miles when it could be 103?! Somewhere further along this second loop the pain started to set in. The hills started feeling steeper, and the downs were beginning to take a toll on my feet. Worse, my knees felt strangely tight. It was warm and humid, and I was just as wet as if I had jumped in a lake! I knew that now was the time to start a game of mental focus that would bring me to the finish. I concentrated on never thinking about how far I had to go, but on maintaining a quick but steady pace that felt sustainable (approximately 5 miles per hour on this rough terrain), getting to the next aid station, and then getting through that station as quickly as possible. In short, it turned into a slog. Covered Bridge again, and suddenly Paul declared that he needed to take some time to rehydrate before he got in trouble. We never saw Paul again. Jason and I finished out the second loop together, but I kept pulling ahead of him on climbs. I would wait, but the writing was on the wall for team Jason.
The second loop ended and Tim asked me how I was feeling. ‘Suffering…’ was my answer! 54 miles (plus about 2 off course) down! Jason and I moved out as quickly as possible with his pacer, Jason. Three runners named Jason all in the same place! That didn’t last, as even in my low state I was easily faster than them, and I allowed myself to pull ahead. The next 10 miles went by in a blur, but at mile 65 Tim met me, and we got to run together for three nice miles. The route took us down a riverbed. The trail crossed the stream over a series of little wooden bridges. I had been informed that I was in fourth place, and it was here that we passed a guy cooling his head in the stream near one of these bridges. His misfortune put me in third place, and this really boosted my spirits.
The wild card was the super talented Connie Gardner. I had passed her several miles earlier, and she looked very strong. Not fast, but smooth and controlled. It would be a battle to stay ahead of her as I began to fade. Connie has won many races, has competed in the toughest, and has even been named the female Ultra Runner of the year several years ago!
Covered Bridge again, and Tim left me to finish this loop alone. I would pick him up as a pacer for the last 23 mile loop. I dropped back into the darkening forest alone.
The knee pain was growing on the right side, and it seemed to involve the lower portion of my hamstring. I became concerned that this could ruin my race! Nothing to do but continue, and try to limit further damage by adapting my stride. Then I heard it: A female voice in the woods several switchbacks behind me! Had to be Connie! I was off as fast as I could, with the mindset that I didn’t mind losing my third place if I was legitimately passed, but I wasn’t going to give it away while I wallowed in self pity! The voices faded behind me in the growing gloom. My headlamp came on for the final section of this loop. Out of the woods and there was Tim! He was surprised at how quickly I had managed the last 10 miles (since he left me at Covered Bridge), and I told him about Connie right behind me. We pushed into the last loop, and I couldn’t have been happier for his company.
The pain behind my right knee was intense, and it seemed to include my hamstring and upper calf muscle. Running, even very slowly was nearly impossible. Downhill was more painful than anything, but the climbs exploited an incredible fatigue throughout my body. Thank God for Tim! Other than that, the night loop was very surreal, and I could almost break it down into very small but distinct experiences: The aid station volunteer who tried to fill my water bottle without taking the lid off the jug.. he did the same thing all four times I passed through that station! The massive white moth caught in the beam of my headlamp. Lapping runners in the dark and realizing how disheartening this must be for them. Passing a man sitting behind a tree muttering something about just getting hydrated. Tripping over every root in the trail. Tim reminding me that even a slow run was faster than hiking. Being told we were in second place. Being passed by a guy who said he was on his third lap (turned out he was on his last and he had just put us back in third place).
And always Connie. Her voice in the dark behind us. At least we thought it was her voice. Tough to tell as there were several groups of runners who we had lapped, and it was difficult to be sure. As we began the last tough climb of the run Tim looked back and said that Connie was 100 yards back. This was a steep hike up a loose muddy double-track trail, and we climbed it like nothing else mattered. This last surge seemed to put Connie and her pacer far enough behind us, and we relaxed the last mile.
The feelings that washed over me at the finish are hard to describe. Triumph, relief, love for my brother, exhaustion, pride. I sat in a lawn chair after 23 hours and 9 minutes of travelling by foot and waited for Connie to cross. She never came, Connie, I was told, dropped out of the race over 12 hours ago. I know Connie Gardner is a smart enough runner that she knew when to drop out and save it for another day. A quick Google search showed me that Connie missed setting the American female record for most miles run in 24 hours by less than a tenth of a mile just last year. She has won first woman at many ultras, and come close to first overall every time she has finished. One month after this race she would win first female at the Burning River 100. What she doesn’t know is that in my first 100, a race where 142 tough runners that started and only 58 finished, she was pivotal in my third place finish. Thank you Connie!
You don’t want to know how pathetic I looked by the time we got back to the hotel. It wasn’t a pretty sight! The agony was so bad that I couldn’t even sleep. Enough said! We got up at 10, grabbed some coffee and headed back to the race headquarters for the awards ceremony at 12. Amazingly, in the heat of the second day (and it was HOT), runners were still crossing the finish! Seeing the slow (but very tough) runners finish their incredible journeys brought tears to my eyes.
And then there was free beer! It didn’t take much; one small glass, and my aches were majorly diminished. What an emotional high to be part of something so amazing! The $100 I won for my third-place finish ($1 per mile) was icing on the cake! To share this all with my brother is something I will never forget. Thank you Tim!
There will be more of these crazy 100’s. I’ve been told that it doesn’t matter how many of them you do, it always feels the same, and I can’t wait!
Thanks to my wonderul wife Mishelle for supporting my running habit. I couldn’t train like I do without her! Thanks to my wonderful boys for believing that I am the fastest man in the world! One day they will prove that theory wrong… but I’m going to fight it every step of the way… and beam with pride when they finally do!