The next morning was all business as my wife got her three kids (Josh, Letice, and me) motivated to be on time for once. She was a mom on a mission. After the morning showers, loading the truck, and grabbing breakfast at McDonalds, we were on the road to the coliseum for Amber’s big moment. We had informed everybody that we had to leave by 0900 (in the middle of the ceremony) so we could make it to Woodstock VA for the 5 PM mandatory race brief. Thankfully, Amber was towards the front third of the 100 plus graduates so we got to witness her walking across the stage with smiles, diploma, and cat calls from her cheering section. Although, I had doubts that we were going to see this with all the introductions and speeches from people who thought they were important enough to give these students the recipe for life to be successful. The worst came from a student whom thought he was a gift from someone great, and with a horrible fake British aristocrat accent, he talked of his infinite wisdom he had acquired for all to follow. If I had something to throw, I’m sure I had enough motivation to give a strong attempt of striking him, even from the noise bleed section. Anyway, we saw Amber’s 5 sec of fame on the stage, and out the door we dashed.
Traffic was mild, the weather was nice, and the road was long (sounds like a song). After several hours on the road, Laura and I started to review the miles to travel, and time remaining, and started to get concerned that it would be close for the brief. We re-strategize by minimizing the breaks to a one stop for all needs (gas, food, and bathroom) and average 79 mph for the next 5 hours. As the hours counted down, we were checking distance, fuel, and potty breaks carefully (don’t throw your coke bottles out kids). The traffic was flowing very well and we arrived in Woodstock with an hour to spare. Usually Laura is the one sensitive to the time, but this time it was me who was getting nervous about meeting the deadline in time. Maybe it was my way of keeping my mind off the race ahead, or inability to keep my mind off it. In either case, she was the calm, cool, and collected one and I was a mess. We checked into the Comfort Inn (which was surprisingly nice), and was pleased that it was just across the street from the race headquarters (Budget Inn). A lot of construction was in progress on the hotel and had to dodge all the debris to make it safely to the race brief. We had originally thought the brief would be conducted inside in the hotel conference room but was held outside in the grass, near a tree in front of the hotel, surrounded by flying bugs looking for a meal. I checked in with the race director and received my packet and race number. Laura and the kids hung out in the truck safe from the bugs while I mingled around talked with some of the runners and shared some past experiences as we consumed some protein (bugs). As I waited with bated breath for the big brief, time went on, and on, and on, and on, and on……. I went back to the truck to check on my crew and we looked at each other with “I’m sure glad we scrambled all day driving here only to wait for an additional casual hour to start the big brief.” As the race director stands in front of everybody, he goes around and mentions some of the more famous racers and guests like “The Beast from the East” and a few ex-special forces military members. He talks of the rules to abide by and mentions some good Italian restaurants to eat at. Following the brief, Laura and I decide to drive the race course to get a feel for what we will be up against tomorrow and where the aid stations will be so she can find me. I knew there was a good size mountain which I would be running over, which was very obvious from driving into the area up I-81 with this huge mountain range just to the East blocking everything in site. The first 7 miles went around the town of Woodstock to the base of the George Washington National Forest. From there it was low gear as the narrow dirt road went severely up for the next 2.5 miles in a series of switchbacks. Laura looked at me with this “You are nuts” to be doing this look. Once on top, the view was breathtaking as we looked over the Shenandoah area below and the town of Woodstock with the meandering river.
The other side going down was not as severe as we made our way to the main junction where the course splits on two out and back. After going out on the first out and back, Laura gave me another one of those looks and says “There is not a level spot on this course. You either go up or down.” She was absolutely right, and the ups and down where not mild either. The reality sank in as I started to wonder how I was going to complete this tomorrow with over 7,000 feet of ascension. With her perfect timing, she looked at me and verbalized my thoughts. I gave her one of those “No problem” answers as I quickly looked away not to reveal my concern. After driving the rest of the course (and it did not get any better), we decided to find our way around the mountain to Woodstock for some pasta at one of the mentioned Italian restaurants. To our surprise, the food was very good for a place with a very plain atmosphere. We went back to our room as I started to go through my, night before the race, ritual of laying everything out. As usual, I went to bed around 11 PM as I laid there waiting for the 4 AM alarm to go off. One thing I learned is always get a good night’s sleep 2 nights before the race because you won’t the night before.
After a shower to wake me up, coffee, bagel, and banana, I donned my running gear and applied my Bodyglide as I went over my list of things I needed. A short 5 minute walk in the dark over to the Budget Inn and I had 15 minutes to go before the start of the race as a bunch of highly energized runners bounced around waiting to get this day started. I hear the 5 minute warning, the one minute warning, and then 3, 2, 1, GO as 65+ runners start this journey into the dark, running by streetlights and starlight. It was easy to convince myself to start slow and save some for the end after reviewing the course yesterday. This is the #1 mistake most beginner ultra runners make which is to go out too fast (because they feel so good from the taper) and have nothing for the last 10-15 miles as they get passed by the runners which started out slow. Other than a few of the elite runners, most of us did start at a slow comfortable pace. I was about in the middle of the pack for the first few miles as I keep creeping up to a 17th spot overall (50 & 100 milers) by the time I got to the base of the mountain. I ran the first part with a guy from CA who was doing his first 100 after doing several 50s including the American River 50 in CA. I enjoyed getting to know him and it made the time and miles go by fast. He was a construction foreman and his company built homes. He said it was ironic the field of work he’s in with smokers and drinkers with physical fitness the last thing on their priority list. We ran a couple of miles with this nice girl who was running the Western States 100 in June. The three of us talked about the races we wanted to run in the future, for a couple of miles, before she had to make a pit stop with Mother Nature. We wished her luck with the poison Ivey and kept on going. The first aid station was at the base of the mountain. I stopped to refill my water bottle and grab a banana, and my CA bud continued on ahead of me. As I started up the mountain I ran into 2 more runners: One from Maryland and one from CO. The one from Maryland was an experienced runner and had completed several 100 mile runs while the guy from CO was doing his first 100. They both looked strong and prepared for the challenge ahead. The Maryland guy had done this race the past couple of years and knew the course well. Again, the time went by fast considering we were going up the most difficult part of the course. Maybe when you are with a bunch of other people and you are suffering together, it’s not as bad. Mistake #1, as we crested the mountain and started down the other side, this is where you can make up for the lost time from going up. The down hill should be done at a faster than normal pace while maintaining your heart rate within a normal running range. The sun was up and time to put some music and sunglasses on. I needed a walking pace to get my stuff out of my Camelback (which had everything in it including the kitchen sink and dryer). Then I had to untangle my ear bud cord which cost me some valuable downhill running time also. The 2 guys I went up the hill with were gone and out of sight. And as luck would have it, call of nature had arrived, and told myself might as well stop for one minute and water the forest. After what seemed like eternity, I got myself together, tightened the straps, and started to dive bomb down the mountain. In no time I came up on MD and CO and passed them with ease with my Mission Impossible theme song jamming in the buds. Next was aid station #2 at the main junction where I checked-in, refilled the water bottle, grabbed a PB&J sandwich, and down the dirt road with unrelenting rolling hills. Laura and I worked it out so I would see her and the kids on my way back to the junction aid station. This was my focus point to see them as the hills wore on my quads and calves. The 8 miles out and back took forever as I was thinking to myself; I will be doing this again on the way back. This is when I wished I had done more weight training on my legs (mistake #2). When I got back to the junction aid station, I saw Josh looking down the road for signs of dad. Then I saw the black Avalanche with Laura and Letice ready to help me with what ever it was I needed. Needless did they know they gave me everything I needed just by being there, and giving me support knowing they believed I could do this. I felt really good with about 20 miles into the run. It was at this point that all my doubts from yesterday were gone and a refreshing belief that I was going to do this. The camelback was a little bulky and glad at the last minute I put my smaller Nathans bag, with my other gear, in the truck. I swapped the critical item I needed, kissed my wife and thanked the kids for being there and helping dad.
Off I was to the turnaround spot at Peterson’s Farm 5 miles away on more hilly roads. I caught up with Jim from VA doing his first 50 also. He was about to miss his turn, up the step hill to the farm, when I suggested to turn right. I would have easily followed him in the wrong direction if Laura and I had not driven the course last night. He was very thankful and said “You saved my bacon”. He would have run another half to a mile before realizing he had missed the turn (orange survey markers every ½ mile). We talked some going up to the turnaround aid station as he told me about his battle with surviving cancer. He told me he wanted to run with me for awhile seeing we had the same pace.
After checking in with the aid station, I was 20 minutes ahead of my personal schedule which made me really happy considering the course. Laura had all my supplies ready and cooled me off with some ice water. She took my bandana and soaked it in the ice water and tied it around my neck. That really felt great. Unfortunately, the heat must have taken a toll on my system because I was not hungry, and the thought of food was hard to stomach. I knew this was not good for you need to eat food to keep your energy level up for the end of the race. Gels and water don’t give your body everything it needs for sustained hours of endurance runs. I took advantage of the extra time I put in the bank to cool down and spend it with the family. I saw somebody walking out of the woods, and just as I told Laura somebody had a nature break, the urge hit me. This was my big chance to dump some extra weight, and feel better. “Honey, got any paper.” Off to the wood I go trying to find just the right spot with no snakes or poison Ivey. After doing my business, I came out of the wood scratching my feet like a dog (The Dog Dance). They knew it was good. She had the wet wipes ready for hand cleaning, some fruit, top off the water bottle, ice in the hat, and off I was. My VA bud had left about 10 minutes before me after coming by and informed I was fertilizing the country side. It was about 11 AM with just a few miles to the next aid station and it was really feeling hot. My crew was waiting for me with all the usuals but still found it difficult to eat. I forced a half of a PB&J sandwich down, topped off the bottle, ice in hat, and off to the dreaded 8 mile out and back for the second time. This is when the quads started to cramp. This either means not enough salt or I overused my muscles (not enough hill training). I started to increase my S-Caps (salt & potassium) to one every 30 minutes instead the once every hour. This helped some, but had to be careful not to push too hard to avoid muscle lockup. I also grabbed a handful of beef jerky from when I saw Laura last and the thought sounded good. After stomaching a few pieces, I donated the rest to wildlife. It got hard to chew and felt like it was caking-up in my mouth. Sort of like trying to eat too many saltines without water. I hit the turnaround point and caught up to a taller runner which had a solid pace. My thought was to just stay a little behind him and maintain. After a couple of miles I noticed he was a little stronger going up the hills, but I was faster on the downhills. Then he started to slow on the up hills, so this gave me just enough momentum to pass him and gain some distance. This helped to keep my mind off the feeling of being physically and mentally fatigued which I was starting to feel. The main junction aid station was finally in sight and my crew was there to pump me up again for the run back over the mountain. Laura met another runner’s wife, Sue, who was there for her husband who was doing the 100. She was really nice also, and supportive by saying how good I looked. If she only knew how badly I felt. She is an ultra runner also so she most likely knew this anyway. Her husband is in the Special Forces and was doing this to raise money for families of fallen solders in Iraq. He went on to complete the 50 but stopped after that due to a broken toe from a training exercise. 50 miles with a broken toe, who am I to complain! This was 38 miles into the race and I was starting to really feel it physically and mentally. I remember reading in some articles to just run from aid station to aid station and not think about the distance. Laura said her and the kids will be waiting for me on the other side of the mountain at the last aid station. She handed me a Vault energy drink which was like rocket fuel. My body sucked all those carbs and sugar in like a sponge and I was ready to rock & roll.
Going up the mountain was not too bad on the quads, but I knew the step downhill on the other side would be painful. Two guys were about 200 yards behind me (I spent less time at the aid station than them and left before them) which was my focus to stay ahead of them. After a few turns up the mountain, I never saw them again. As I crested the top for the second time, I slowed down for a second just to take it all in and enjoy the moment. My first 50 mile run, and although I’m in pain, I feel great – If that makes any sense. I had no doubt I would finish this race. I used gravity to my advantage and bolted down the mountain. My quads hurt really bad at first, but then just got num as long as I kept moving at a good clip. Unfortunately, the balls of my foot started to feel like I was running on one big blister. I could feel the movement of the skin every time my foot would strike the ground. I told myself “Just suck it up and keep it going”. If ultras were easy, everybody would be doing it. At the bottom of the mountain was just a short distance to the aid station which all I could think about was how my crew was going to be there waiting for me. As I pulled in, the aid station support crew commented on how good I looked. I’m thinking this must be what you say regardless of how bad someone looks. Laura and the kids where there with more ice and Vault. We got our picture together and they pumped me up one more time before the last stretch through town. As I hi five the kids and kiss my bride, off I go with aching quads, worn calves, running on empty, and very hot. Running on the paved streets in town just magnified the level of pounding on the body. The dirt roads where nice, but the pavement is hard.
As I ran through town I look around and saw all the American Flags flying in the streets and remember back to when I was a child walking down Main Street in Northfield VT and seeing all the flags everywhere. Memorial Day, I said to myself, as my thoughts drift off to those who served our country and never made it back to enjoy the freedom they gave us. As a 24 year retired Navy Chief, I reflected on this moment which gave me a second wind to kick it up a gear. I pass by a town swimming pool, and it looked so so so inviting as the town kids jump in and splashed about. Now with just 2 miles to go, the urge to water the town’s plants becomes a priority as I dashed into a set of tall hedges on a main street in town. No cars coming and nobody mowing the lawn. Besides, who would mess with a crazy runner covered with salt stains and looking like he is training under the influence of alcohol! The hard part is getting back into some form of a running pace. I was really starting to feel totally exhausted as my body hurt like never before and my thoughts were saying to just walk it in. As my running pace resumed with pain, I had this strange feeling like my dad was with me saying you can do it son. My dad had passed away a couple years ago after battling cancer. I’m not sure why I thought of him at this moment, but there it was. I could see my VA bud just ahead of me as I closed in the distance to within a couple hundred yards. Good to see I’m not the only one struggling out here. About now the only thing on my mind is meeting the kids so they can run across the finish line with me. I turn the corner into the Budget Inn parking lot and see Josh and Letice there waiting for me. Laura is patiently waiting for us to run down the home stretch to take our picture as she tells me congratulations. She asks “How do you feel”, and I give her that I feel great response. The finish line was finally crossed with my kids and what an awesome feeling it was to have completed this run after driving the course yesterday. Letice placed my OD 50 mile medal around my neck with a time of 9:40 and 13th place. Not bad for a first timer. After a few more high fives and congratulations, Laura knew I was ready to get back to our room and cool-off. Laura’s new friend Sue is there and says lets get together in Maryland this November for the JFK 50. We said count us in – see you in November.
As I crawled into the passenger seat I look at the temperature gauge and it read 97 degrees. No wonder I could not eat anything out on the course and felt so beat-up. The truck’s temperature reading is usually close to actual temp (~3 deg). The radio announcer says it was the hottest day of the year. Just my luck! But I did it. After one of the best showers I’ve taken in awhile, I went to the pool and soaked my legs in the cold water as the kids splashed around and Laura made plans for dinner knowing I would be hungry after I cooled down. She was right. I ate a whole pizza and a basket of fried mushrooms and washed it down with a cold one. I took 2 Tylenol PM to help me get a good night's sleep and was out by 9 PM. The next morning I was on cloud nine as we started our trip back to Augusta GA with a short stop at the D-Day Memorial in VA. Later we looked at the results and half of the runners that started the 100 miler dropped due to the unusual conditions. It was a demanding day and I could not have done it if not for my excellent crew supporting me, believing in me, and keeping me going when things were tough. Completing this race with my wife and kids made for an excellent memory, which I will not forget. I was sure the next couple of days, but felt great otherwise. Already making plans for the next race and memory.