Sunday, December 19, 2010

1033 Minutes at the 2010 Hellgate 100K

Saturday 11 December 2010

1033 Minutes at the Hellgate 100K Race

Event website:

            This is one average runner's tale at Dr. David Horton's epic trail race through a significant section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Jefferson National Forest in western Virginia. This event started at1201AM in the dark woodline at Hellgate Creek in Natural Bridge Station, and traveled all of 66.6 miles to the finish line at Camp Bethel in Bethel. Every racer had an 18 hour time limit equating to a 6PM deadline. It took me 17 hours, 13 minutes, and 14 seconds to reach that end-zone.

           It’s difficult to use the term “epic” in relation to any ultra-marathon under one hundred miles. The sport is growing so rapidly that there are over eighty 100-mile trail races held annually in the United States. However, the online World English Dictionary defines epic thus: “an episode in the lives of men (and women in this instance) in which heroic deeds are performed or attempted; a long narrative or larger-than-life saga.” The Hellgate 100K certainly rises to that definition in every aspect of the event, starting with legendary Race Director Dr. David Horton, the point-to-point trail course that includes 13,500 feet of climb and descent back and forth over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and group of some of the best long-distance runners in the country who came to challenge themselves against this venue. Karl Meltzer was on hand, as was David Goggins, Andrew Thompson, Rebekah Trittipoe, Keith Knipling, Kerry Owens, and Aaron Schwartzbard, to name just a few.

TOP THREE MALES                         TOP THREE FEMALES

Name                          Age- Time       Name                              Age-Time

JEREMY RAMSEY  34-11:24:20     HELEN LAVIN              33- 4:05:24 
                                                               (22nd overall)

CHRIS REED            38- 11:48:50    SHERYL WHEELER     47-15:18:15
                                                               (41ST overall)

PATRICK GARCIA  25- 12:02:18    ZSUZANNA CARLSON 37-15:27:41
                                                               (47th overall)


66.6 or 62.5    mileage published as overall distance of event; the
                         bumper sticker claims 66.6
126     Runners started the race at 12:01 AM
111     Official number of finishers; largest amount and
           percentage (88%) in 8 year history of event
96       Male finishers- 86%;   15 Female finishers-13.5%
24       Approximate temperature at start of race at midnight
28       Approximate temperature at 1200PM
13,500       Total elevation in feet climbed and descended
                  according to event website 
9         Total number of aid stations
10       Largest mileage total between aid stations
4         Smallest distance in miles between aid stations
7         About the average mileage between aid stations
64       Age of Bob Anderson, oldest finisher, in 16:56:46
53       Age Rebekah Trittipoe, oldest female finisher, in 15:40:31
21       Age of Robert Rives, youngest male finisher, in 16:06:25
33       Age of Helen Lavin, youngest female finisher, and overall
           female winner, in 14:05:24
34       Number of male finishers between 40-49, the largest group
31       Number of male finishers between 30-39
18       Number of male finishers between 20-29
9         Number of male finishers from 50-59
3         Number of finishers from 60-69(64)
7         Number of female finishers from 30-39
7         Number of female finishers from 40-49
1         Number of female finishers 50 and older
0         Number of female finishers under 30, an odd statistic
19       Number of States represented 2 Countries represented;
           USA and Canada
2,636    longest miles by Google distance traveled by any runner;
               Dave Goggins, San Diego, CA
6          Number of runners who have completed all 8 runnings
             of the Hellgate 100K: Darin Dunham, Jeffrey Garstecki,
             Ryan Henry, Dan Lehmann, Aaron Schartzbard, Jerry Turk


14       Hellgate was my 14th marathon or ultra-marathon event in 2010
32       Total number of marathon or ultra-marathon events completed
1194   Number of consecutive streak days run since 12 DEC 2007
           through 11 DEC 2010
21       Number of days from last major event (JFK 50; 20 NOV)
7         Major Event since Labor day
17:13:14     Hellgate finish time (1033:14)
2         2nd attempt at Hellgate (2007) 1st finish
91       My overall finish place of the 111 finishers
81       My overall finish place among all males
11       Females finished ahead of me
36       My finishing place of males 40-64;
           5 of 9 males from 50-59 finished ahead of me;
           all three 60-64 aged males finished ahead of me
43       My finishing place among all runners 40 and older
3         Where I finished among the 3 active duty military participants:
           Dave Goggins- US Navy, 14:48:33; Mosi Smith-USMC, 15:50:43;
           me-Army, 17:13:14
4         Blisters
2         Toenails lost
0         I ran “solo” without any crew
47.79    The mileage on my Forerunner 305 when it died shortly
             after Bearwallow Gap
15:32    My average overall pace per mile for the duration of the event


           The following graphics are available on the event website under the multimedia story link and were published in a Roanoke newspaper story in 2007. I think these also give the best overall perspective of the course and event of any that I have seen online:
            The route of the course including the start, the nine aid stations, and the finish at Camp Bethel. Hellgate starts in Rockbridge County and finishes in Botetourt County, and crosses over the Blue Ridge range four times.

            This graphic gives the best idea of the challenging vertical aspects of the course of any depiction I’ve seen of the course. It’s fair to say that Hellgate racers are almost always moving either uphill or downhill for the duration of the race. This scale also lends credence to Dr. Horton’s point during his pre-race brief that any runner that gets through the first third of this race and clears Aid Station 4 at Headforemost Mountain, has the hardest third of the course behind them.


              Team Horton Logistics runs a smoothly calibrated event at Hellgate. Camp Bethel doubles as the staging area and the finish line. Runners and their crew can sleep for free in the bunkhouse as early as the Thursday night prior to the event and into the morning on post-race Sunday in an open bay format replete with bunk beds. Even though I finished work early Friday afternoon, I burned between 75-90 minutes just escaping the gravitational pull of the beltway in Arlington, VA. This lengthy departure resulted in a loss of any planned, pre-race knap time as I walked into the bulk house right about the point where Dr. Horton started holding forth with his pre-race brief. We discussed everything from the race route, the weather, finisher prizes, crew directions, and matched every runner needing a ride to the starting line with an identified vehicle and crew member. Dr. Horton also gave every race director the opportunity to mention his or her race, and asked Karl Meltzer to describe how he was literally chased by a moose at the Bighorn 100 into the aid state at the 50-mile turn-around point a year ago in June 2009. I did not take that opportunity to mention that I ran almost directly into a black bear that must have weighed between 150-180s pounds, last June up road at the Old Dominion 100. Dr. Horton identified Andrew Thompson, the current record holder for the fastest recorded through-hike on the Appalachian Trail. He also identified Dave Goggins and mentioned how successfully he’s pursued ultra-running and Mr. Goggins’ immediate response was “everyone” could reach most of the goals he has. I met several people who subscribe to the Ultra-List including Julian Jameson, down from Massachusetts, and Mosi Smith from Annapolis, both of whom I have traded email with periodically over the past 12 to 24 months but had never met in person prior to Friday evening.

            The remaining three hours prior to the start of the race were filled with preparations and travel to Hellgate Creek. Racers were allowed one drop bag that would be at Aid Station 4 when they arrived and the bag would then be jumped forward to Aid Station 7. The weather was as good as it possibly could have been for an event that started at midnight on the second Saturday of December in the Blue Ridge Mountains. That did not alleviate racers, especially solo races as I always am, from hoping for the best and planning for the worst in terms of stuffing everything you might possibly need into your little drop bag. I had extra Injinji socks, a back-up pair of running shoes in case mine got socked. An extra headlamp and batteries, extra Clif-shot blocks and trail mix, heavier gloves than the lightweights I wore, an extra polypro cap and neck-up. I made sure I took a long, hard look at the Finish Line chute leading right up to the Camp Bethel bunk house before we all departed for the starting line.

             It was 24 degrees at the start of the event but it was a very clear night. I made the final decision to run in shorts and inserted my sweat pants into my drop bag as well. I ran in a lightweight, lined nylon jacket and my short-sleeve Arrowhead t-shirt I’ve worn in penance at almost every event this year. I wore shorts, shoe-top length Injini socks, and my Asolo trail shoes that have at least 1000 miles on them at this point. I had my Nathan Hydration pack with 70 ounces of water, my Sony Walkman, a standard Petzl headlamp, 3 extra AAA batteries, my cell phone, my Olympus camera, and twelve S-Caps and Ibuprofen each, two packs of Clif-shot blocks in a zip-lock and some home-made trail mix. I also had a miniature zip-lock bag full of coffee beans to munch on when the going was sure to get rough at 0400.

             Dr. Horton took attendance one more time; we turned our drop bags over to Charlie and his logistics team van and moved into the woods to the trail head. We had a benediction, sang the National Anthem and then started off at 12:01AM into the long dark trip over Headforemost Mountain. We were 7 hours from daylight. My plan was pretty simple in that I had mentally broken the event into the three major sections; Start to Aid Station 4 at Headforemost Mountain; Headforemost to Aid Station 7 at Bear Wallow Gap, and then from Bear Wallow into the Finish line.
            Dr. Horton and the group singing the National Anthem at the Start


            Section I. Start to Aid Station 4 at Headforemost Mountain. I was very confident that I was going to successful complete Hellgate coming into the event based on all the racing and training that I’ve done over the course of 2010, thirteen other races with the latest a personal best 50-miler at the JFK 50 three weeks prior. Regardless of these facts, the first third of the Hellgate course filled me with a lot of trepidation as I had failed to make it through Headforemost Aid Station three years earlier in my only other attempt at this event. That was the first time I had ever failed in any endurance event in any format, and I had set my sites on redeeming myself at Hellgate from that point forward. So, there was some basic apprehension as I started the race at the very back of the pack at 1201, but there was mostly a sense of relief that I’d finally gotten back to Hellgate and I was much more ready for the event this time than I was three years ago.

          Running in winter conditions is a little more challenging than any other time of year for the obvious reasons. You never want to be over-dressed as you’re guaranteed to start sweating and over-heating shortly after warming up. It is hard to find the right balance, and the right balance always leads to being really cold at the starting line as I was. Once the race was underway, I warmed up quickly and felt very confident that even though I was traveling “light” in terms of uniform, I had the right gear on. The first four miles were mostly all wide or narrow single-track trail with a little up and down grade. The runners all settled in at their own pace and the headlamps all started to space out.

          Trail running at night is always a singularly interesting experience and Hellgate was no exception. Even running with an evenly spaced group of 125 other participants, my perceptions were packed in by the limits of my headlamp. The woods just closed in as I was tightly focused on the trail in front of me rather than on the runners just ahead. Somewhere just over the two-and-a-half mile point we could see the occasional suburb light through the woods off to the east; I could continually and progressively hear at least one dog barking, also to the east even after clearing the 1st aid station at 4 miles. You’d cover a half mile of trail; one dog’s barking would fade out back to the east behind you to be replaced by another off ahead of you to the southeast. We eventually flowed downhill through some switchbacks to the first creek-crossing right at 3.5 miles. That crossing was a non-event that almost turned into a big event as my last big leap nearly resulted into a slip into a deeper pool; risk was rewarded as I adjusted in mid-slip and landed awkwardly on the trail on the far side. I was still smugly relieved with myself for making it across without wet feet as I cruised through Aid Station 1.

           The race really started climbing shortly out of Aid Station 1 and followed firebreak road right through and eventually beyond Petites Gap at around the 10 mile point in the route. It was nice traveling on the dirt road and the runners started separating themselves even more as the ongoing incline steepened, leveled off and steeped again for the first couple miles of the section. After a while, I spent time moving with my headlamp off. The dirt road surface was in excellent shape and it was a clear night. Running without the headlamp actually lent a wider perspective to the event; the sky was completely clear overhead and it was interesting to watch the runner’s headlamps 100 yards ahead shape the road to those lamps’ minimum distance as the road disappeared in front of those beams as well. With my light off it was also easy to see runners’ headlamps way up ahead of us climbing the firebreak as it swooped its way along the shoulder of the ridgeline; headlamps always climbing upwards in little single-file groups of two, three, or four.
           On the climb to AS 2 at Petite's Gap

           Somewhere just past mile 6 or 7, the road really started climbing in earnest to the point where running became more limited for me than power-hiking as hard as I could up the road. The road had doubled back in a tight U-turn and then in a hard climb up to the left. Now, I could see headlamps well above and well below me as well. This made me think of the scene from Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid where they’re being pursued through the wilderness at night by a posse with a lantern and Butch keeps asking “Who are those guys?” The headlamps cresting the ridge well ahead made me wonder how anyone could move that far that fast over that kind of dark terrain; the lights coming up behind kept seemed like they were gaining (and they were in a lot of cases) and I wondered who belonged to those lights. I do know Kerry Owens cruised past me at some point on the way to Station 2. She has the same type of running motion that I observed for a while running in a group with Monica Scholz at an event early last summer; very economical and fluid. She seemed like she was hardly exerting effort or even really moving but I couldn’t keep up with her or catch up to her again.

           The Petites Gap aid station was situated on the uphill slope on a turn and I could hear it before I even started seeing the lights. AS 2 was manned by several stalwart Liberty University students as all the aid stations were. My Forerunner 305 told me I had covered over 10 miles although most published course depictions say AS 2 is between 9 and 9.5 miles into the race. I was happy with the realization that my Garmin was telling me I was already making up some of the difference in the Horton miles on the course. It was around 0140 in the morning. After burning my tongue on some excellent chicken soup, I grabbed a slice of peanut butter and jelly and headed out. I was pretty cold leaving AS 2 as I crossed over the Blue Ridge Parkway and entered a significant section of single track trail. The steep, 1200 foot climb into Petite had forced me to walk large sections of the route, exposed to some chilly breeze. While I was the right uniform to run in 25 degree temperatures, I was in the wrong clothes to hike on an open dirt road, albeit hiking as fast as I could. I would continue to fight with this winter reality for the duration of the race.

          I started warming up again at an easy lope on the single track. The trail was tricky; there was an inch or two of snow on top of a thick bed of leaves covering up all the little trail hazards. I moved carefully through this section but as fast as I could. The trail flowed into a wider, more open, grassy trail that was almost a road after some switchbacks and descents. I lost track of time and space for a while as I forced myself to quit looking at my Garmin and thinking so hard about the distances between aid stations. It was dark. Eventually the grassy road spilled back out onto a hardened dirt rood and I followed that uphill for a little over 2.5 miles, maybe closer to 3, into AS 3 at Camping Gap. I knew that I was moving slowly; it was already after 0320 when I hit the aid station. I don’t do my best trail work from 0300-0600 either, but I was feeling pretty good as I drank a couple cups of coke, ate some peanut butter and jelly and reflected on the odd fact that the only time I ever eat PB&J is during ultras. I headed out for AS 4, the longest section of the course between stations.

           I struggled through a large segment of the route on the way to Headforemost. The lack of sleep really started catching up to me around 0400AM; several runners passed me as I traversed a lot of almost-treacherous up and then downhill single track loaded with switchbacks. I picked up my pace to stay close to the last group of three that came past me, stepped on a log buried in the snow with my uphill foot, went down in the snow and immediately woke up for a while. There was a lot of very runnable downhill grassy road in this section as well between the 18 to 20 mile point according Garmin. That could not have come at a better point for me as I was pretty tired when I got to it. A curious thing happened just about 0500. I started “waking up” just about at the same time I do every day. Granted, it was without the benefit of a decent night’s sleep and I’d been moving all night, but my biological clock just started to slowly activate. I decided that was as good a time as any to fire up my Walkman, and it became a whole new race for the next twenty miles.

            We re-entered a short section of single trail and followed a bunch of switchbacks downhill again. This trail spilled out into a dirt road on the shoulder of a U-turn that headed uphill to the south. This was the point where Team Horton usually set up Headforemost AS 4 because I remembered calling Hellgate an event at that exact point 3 years ago. I made the turn and kept climbing among the group of three or four other runners I’d been running adjacent to for the last couple of miles. It was just after 0540 when I trotted into AS 4; my Forerunner told me I’d covered over 24 miles thus far in the race. I pulled another block of Clif-Shots out of my drop bag, but made no other adjustments other than to fill my water blivet and determined that I needed to be drinking a lot more water between stations. This was my longest aid station stop of the entire day, about 5 minutes, except for another solid 5 minutes at AS 7 later on. I had some more soup that Scott and a couple of the other Liberty students were advertising along with some more coke. I extracted some route info from one of my current racing peers; I never caught his name (as awful as that sounds) but would continue to see him throughout the rest of the day’s race. I was pleased to hear that the AS 4 to 5 section was mostly downhill, and headed on my way.

           Section II. Headforemost Mountain to Bear Wallow Gap. This 21 mile third of the race was my favorite part of the course. Things went very well on the downhill towards Aid Station 5. The route entered a longer section of single track immediately out of Aid Station 4, and it was mostly downhill interspersed with some short up-hills here and there, but nothing dramatically long. A great thing happened while I was on this section; the sun started coming up. Slowly, gradually, the level of ambient light slowly increased and darkness transitioned to that early morning, gray daybreak. The trail was pretty technical with heavy leaves and some snow hiding a lot of rocks, but I turned my headlamp off for good around 0630 with some interesting results. There were a couple of lights following me down through the myriad of switchbacks about a ¼ mile back and a couple ahead of me. All I could see of those entities at those distances were the lamp. I picked up the pace, because, I was feeling a pretty solid surge in energy. As it turns out, I’m pretty sure I’m solar powered. About two minutes after picking up the pace I was moving pretty rapidly downhill when I caught a branch pretty solidly with my back foot and went down pretty hard into a forward face-plant. I suffered no ill effects in what was my last and worse fall of the entire race, and laughed at myself a little, but still didn’t pull my light back out. I was moving downhill pretty well, notwithstanding the tumble, and ended up passing a couple guys before the single track flowing into a wide, double-track grassy road for the final switches and last 2 miles or so into Aid Station 5 at Jennings Creek. As I remember it, it seems like there were more females than males when I rolled into AS 5. The sun was fully aloft now and I felt great considering my Forerunner reported that I’d already moved 30 miles, but my overall pace had been pretty slow so I felt like I had a lot of energy left as I started the climb out of Jennings Creek to AS 6 on Little Cove Mountain.
             On the Climb to Aid Station 6

            I caught up with Carrie Gallagher from Middletown, CT, on the climb and we chatted for a while before I resumed trotting uphill. As it turned out, a lot of the participants I met at Hellgate were from the Northeast. I had met Julian Jamison, caught a ride to the start with Ryan O’Dell, and his crew chief, Jill, from Liverpool New York. Now I had met Carrie, who lives 20 minutes from my parents. The race results show a lot of other New Englanders as well. Carrie would eventually pass me again somewhere around AS 6 and finish under 16 hours. The seven miles to Little Cove stretched through two long climbs up a long firebreak dirt road that seemed to keep winding up and to the left while it provided dramatic panoramas of the Blue Ridge behind us to the east. Several vehicles passed me coming downhill after their occupants had provided some crew support, I assumed, at AS 6. After cresting the ridge and loping slowly through some downhill, I continued to follow the road uphill for a seemingly long way before I finally rounded several more turns and loped into Little Cove aid station. Garmin said 37 miles. A couple of young ladies passed out snacks and drinks, and warned us to stock up because the next 8 miles into Bear Wallow were really long and hard. I took their advice and ate some more soup and sandwich stuff as I was already working through a stick point; several runners passed me going into or leaving Little Cove.
            Northeast from below Little Cove

           I took the opportunity while I was still spanning along the shoulder at the top of the ridgeline to call Lisa at home and report my progress and let her know I was fine. That was the length of my cell phone use during the race, and it’s hard to justify carrying it in that regard, but you just never know when you need commo. The girls in AS 7 were good to their word as was Dr. Horton’s race brief. It was a long eight miles from Little Cove to Bear Wallow. I eventually got to Aid Station 7 at Bear Wallow Gap in a pretty worn out state at approximately 1130 AM with a lot of good running behind me. There was nothing about the eight mile traverse between Cove and Bear Wallow that was particularly difficult in a singular regard; there was a lot of gradual uphill firebreak, followed by a long, long section of steep downhill switchbacks with a lot of hidden rocks and thick leaves that terminated in a creek crossing and another long climb out of that valley that eventually surrendered to the aid station entry. Really, this would have been very runnable terrain if I had driven up to Little Cove Mountain and taken my dogs for a run.

              On some nice single-track trail to Bear Wallow Gap 

          Bear Wallow was open, breezy and cold; I ate more soap and surrendered to the urge to pull my sweatpants out of my drop back and wear them for the duration of the race. I also pulled my neck-up out and my heavier polypro cap. My Garmin reported that I had already covered 45.5 miles of the event as opposed to the 42 advertised for the race. My optimistic thought was that I had already covered most of the embedded Horton miles and certainly had no more than twenty-one miles to the finish with six and a half hours to complete the event.
            Another Vista from the Trail to Bear Wallow
            Section III. Bear Wallow Gap to the Camp Bethel Finish Line. This was the toughest section for me, although I think it was tougher from a mental than purely physical perspective. I was definitely physically worn out, and the trail out of Bear Wallow went steadily uphill until, eventually, that beautiful single track trail followed the crest of the Blue Ridge for a few kilometers .

            The battery in my Garmin finally quit after 47.75 miles and over 12 hours of continuous operation. I am conflicted to have to report that losing the locational information provided by my Garmin left me almost, but not quite, as emotional distraught as Tom Hanks in “Castaway” when he lost Wilson at sea. I forged bravely ahead through my self-pity, following the two guys up ahead of me as we traversed along the high shoulder of the Blue Ridge on a wide, wide trail. I ran the down hills, and most of the flat, and walked all the uphills as hard as I could. We followed the long, sweeping contours of the ridgeline for miles as we kept moving slowly towards Bobblets Gap AS 8. I had to adjust tactics and gauge my progress against time versus satellite GPS information and that was a dramatic change. I had hoped and pushed to make AS 8 by 1330 hours but finally rolled in around 1345 after following long switchbacks down of the ridgeline, across a creek bed and then climbing for another mile. Aid Station 8 was anchored right against the Blue Ridge parkway and manned by the intrepid Liberty University students. Information signs and the guys in the station told me I had 13 miles to the finish and seven to the final aid station.
            More Single-Track; Headed for Bobblet's Gap

           The first two and a half to three miles out of AS 8 were good as the volunteers’ words; a long downhill traverse that followed the shoulder of the ridgeline and continually winded downhill. I ran down as much of the gravel road as I could in the largest sections I was able until more sore feet would force me to walk for a few feet. Runners were moving slowly ahead of me and I passed a couple of folks that were walking. Kimani Long and I continued to switch positions as we had been prior to Bear Wallow Gap, and would do so for the remainder of the race. I meant to ask him if he thought his poles were making a difference. They must have been or I assume he would have turned them over to his wife who was crewing him. I found out later that Kiwami was in the final stages of completing the Horton Beast series when he crossed the finish line, and that’s one impressive accomplishment as the hardest three of the events are the final three, Grindstone 100, Mountain Masochist 50 and Hellgate.
            Back-View of the Firebreak Towards Bobblet's Gap an Hour Back

            The route left the gravel road for more of that splendid single track after I ran downhill for about thirty-five minutes. I spent most of the next eighty to ninety minutes pushing along a series of short up and downhill switchbacks, constantly in trepidation that the course would shoot straight up over the ridgeline crest several hundred feet above us. That didn’t prove to be the case and around 340 PM I was trotting down a spur away from the ridge when the trail emptied onto a wide grassy trail. It flattened out and I kept moving at a trot around a couple of turns when a good-looking young kid popped around the turn running towards me; he reported I was less than half a mile from the aid station.

            I was drinking Sprite and eyeballing the final ridge directly up and to the west of the Day Creek Aid Station, when Christine Bone asked me if I was excited to have just one more climb left. She and Bruce Tweedie were just about to push out of the station. The young Liberty worker had just pointed out the gap atop the ridge and said three miles to there, and three miles down and you’re done. I admitted that I was going to be a lot more excited in about 45:00 when I finally crested the ridgeline; Christine laughed and she and Bruce got moving. I was relieved though. The traverse from station eight to nine had been long and I was afraid that I was fighting time and might not have enough of that asset left to make the 1800 time line. That was no longer the case. I had a 10K left, albeit it 3 miles of really heavy climbing. I grabbed some twizzlers and followed Christine and Bruce out of the station grimly determined to see if I could beat a 17 hour finish.

              Christine and Bruce moved away up towards Blackhorse Gap, and I steadily lost ground to them as the dirt road continued to climb and zig zag back in forth in long, curving swaths up the ridgeline. The road kept climbing and I kept going. I was moving slowly, and while I had regretted donning my sweat pants six minutes out of Bear Wallow as I sweated my way through section seven to eight and then to nine, the climb to Blackhorse Gap was long and slow and things were cooling off. By the time I crested the Blue Ridge and crossed over parkway for the final time, I had my neck-up on, my cap on tightly and my hands were in my pockets. It was 1645, and starting to turn dark.

              There was a guy sitting in a sedan when I crossed the asphalt and started towards the final downhill. I asked maybe the dumbest question I asked all day: “Do you need my number?” He replied “No, you seem to have it put right where I can see it” as he checked me off on his list. I kept moving while I laughed at myself. I plugged my “yurbuds” ear phones back in as I had stopped listening to my Walkman about three hours prior. It was time to start my final kick, if there is such a thing for a back-of-the-packer trying to beat a 17 hour finish at Hellgate. I pulled up my favorite running rip Robert J. Martinez had put together for me eighteen months prior and fired up some classic rock started running downhill.

             The final stretch from AS 9 to Camp Bethel was definitely all of 6.3 miles. My feet hurt with every stride as I had blisters on both heels from all the up and down hill of the previous seventeen hours. I kept rolling because the downhill gears were still all working. I passed three or four people as I moved at about my standard, calibrated 8:30 pace. The firebreak turned abruptly downhill and to the right on three occasions and then would follow a long gentle traverse along the ridgeline back to the west and towards Camp Bethel. After about a solid two to two and a quarter miles the firebreak spilled onto a gravel road, and then in another half mile onto the asphalt road leading downhill to the left turn into Camp Bethel. It was almost dark as I turned up the driveway and ran the quarter mile to the finish line, amazed that the last 3 miles only took me twenty-five minutes when the previous twenty miles seemed to go on forever. Dr. Horton greeted me at the Finish Line as he does with every finisher, with some very positive words I was grateful to hear. Every finisher received a really nice long sleeve shirt identifying him or her as a 2010 Hellgate 100K. I think I wore mine for a week straight except while asleep on Wednesday.
           Best View on the Course: Finish Line


             Hellgate is very challenging and identified several gaps in my training. As I sat in a semi-daze chatting with several finishers and their crew-mates, no less than three runners reported that they had completed the Grindstone 100 in October and thought Hellgate was harder. I don’t have a viable comparison for that until at least next October and my thought on that is 100 miles is 100 miles versus 66. But the vying point from all three was that there was a much more intense concentration of climbing and descending versus the extra 34 miles of the course at Grindstone. And that’s a viable point. There is just a lot of climbing in Hellgate right off the bat and it forces you to start thinking in terms of surviving and reaching the finish line as opposed to trying to produce a very strong personal performance that puts you at risk of completing the event. I felt that I expended at least twice the effort that I had to reasonably complete a 50 mile event three weeks prior. Maybe more than twice the effort.

             My lessons learned were the same ones I’ve learned the hard way at several events this year. I’m not doing enough intense hill workouts in my weekly training and I have to drink a lot more water on the course. Large sections of Hellgate are run-able, as a lot of the steeper sections are on firebreak roads. Trail running at night must be part of the training program too, with as much reverse cycle training as a runner’s schedule allows if he or she wants to run strongly in this event. I promised myself I would do a better job of running without GPS information but I also already went out and picked up a really small plug-in USB charger I’ll have in my next long event. I also figured out that if I’m going to get better at this sport, it’s time for me to start crewing better runners than me at the earliest opportunity as well as spending time volunteering in aid stations. This will give me the chance to support an event as I should be doing anyway, and give me the opportunity to check out what the elite runners do and how they function as they progress through a race. Lastly, I have doing a lot of all-around TRX as part of my PT program and that made a large, positive difference in the entire event; that needs to increase.

Tim Hardy
Arlington, VA
19 DEC 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

227 Minutes (Exactly) At the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon


227 Minutes (exactly) at the Marine Corps Marathon

     This is one average runner’s experience at the 35th running of the United States Marine Corps Marathon. Bottom Line Up Front, the USMC 26.2 is a “must-do” event for American marathoners for many different reasons. This incredibly well-organized event is the 4th largest in the USA in terms of overall numbers of runners and the 8th worldwide. When you couple those numbers with a route that flows through our Nation’s Capitol packed with thousands of cheering people lining the streets, supporting that endless stream of thousands of runners, this race is a tremendous spectacle that’s just a complete pleasure and honor to participate in.

     This was the second time I had the opportunity and good fortune to run 26.2+ miles through the Nation’s Capitol under the organizational auspices USMC. My brother, Greg, invited me to run this signature event with him in 1999. He was adamant that we should run that year’s marathon together because that was going to be the only time he ran a 26.2, and so far, Greg’s been good to his word on that.

     Frankly, I don’t remember a lot from the 1999 event. I recall that Greg just dropped me like a bad habit around the Nation’s Capital building somewhere on the Mall between 16 to 18 miles. That 1999 USMC marathon was my slowest marathon showing for a lot of reasons, headlined mostly a non-existent training plan. I was pretty much vanquished by the course by the time I hit the RTE 1/395 bridge over the Potomac headed back into Virginia around mile 21.

     I approached this 2010 version with the intent to see just how fast I could reach the finish line for a couple of reasons. My standing Personal Record for a marathon coming into Sunday has long stood at an under-whelming 3:48:30 since the Frankfurt-ETA Marathon in October 1998. At least under-whelming in terms of qualifying for Boston. I wanted to improve on that, with the intent to finally see if running a sub 3:30 would be viable this year in order to finally qualify for the Boston Marathon at some point in the next 6 to 8 months. That was my mindset after finally procuring a bib and getting into the event, and, there was bad news and good news. I was still smoked crossing the RTE 1 Bridge at 21 miles and traversing the long off-ramp into the course labyrinth through Crystal City; but I got there a lot sooner this year.

TOP THREE MALES                         TOP THREE FEMALES

Name Age Time                                   Name Age Time

JACOB BRADOSKY 23 2:23:30         JANET CHEROBAN 32 2:39:19

RONALD KURUT 28 2:23:41             GINA SLABY 29 2:46:58

SEAN BARRETT 25 2:24:08               TEZATA DESALGN 29 2:48:35

      The male division was incredibly close. Eleven seconds separated first from second place; the difference between first and third was thirty-eight seconds. Fourth and fifth places finished forty-six seconds and 3:34 behind young Mr. Bradosky respectively.


30,000   Registered runners

48   Approximate temperature at start of race at 0800.

55   Approximate temperature at 1200.

21,972   Runners finished the event; 13,257 males, 8715 females.

39.6%   Of all finishers were female.

81   Age of Bob Dolphin, Reston, WA; 21,972nd finisher in 8:05:02.

13   Age of Lucas Salisbury, Easton, MD; youngest overall male finisher in 6:12:16.

14   Age of Julia Mayer, Fairbanks, AK, 4:28:29; 1 of 2 14-year-old female finishers.

14   Age of Alejandra Benavides, Springfield, VA, 5:22:51; 1 of 2 14-year-old female finishers.

7   Number of female finishers aged 70-74; all finished the marathon between 6:11 to 6:50.

73   Age of Diana Wallach, West Hills, CA; oldest female finisher in 6:32:29.

15   Number of male finishers between the ages of 75-84; from 4:12:11 (Jim Keck, 75, Burlington, NC) to 8:05:02.

4:12:11   I’ve never met Jim Keck, but that has to be one of the most remarkable stories in this event if he ran 26.2 in 4:12 at the age of 75.

84   Age of Domenick Irrera, Jacksonville, NC; oldest male finisher in 6:54:10.

152   Total number of male finishers between the ages of 14-19; 2:35:02 to 6:44:39.

80   Total number of female finishers between the ages of 14-19; 3:16:27 to 6:50:08.

4   “Groundpounders;” 4 males that have completed all 35 Marine Corps Marathons.

140   Total number of Marine Marathons run by the 4 “Groundpounders.”

50   Number of States with runner representation.

40   Number of Countries with runner representation.

4:44:49   Average finish time for all 21,973 runners.

4:36:22   Average finish time for all 13,257 males.

4:57:29   Average finish time for all 8715 females.


12   The Marine Corps Marathon was my 12th marathon or ultra-marathon event in 2010 since FEB.

30   Total number of marathon or ultra-marathon events completed by author.

1153   Number of consecutive streak days run since 12 DEC 2007 through 31 OCT 2010.

3   Marathon or ultra events in OCT 2010; 5th since Labor day.

3:47   Marine Corps Marathon time (to the exact second).

2   This marathon is only the 2nd of 30 events I’ve run where I finished to the exact minute; ironically, the previous was the Marine Marathon at Camp Lejeune 2000: 4:00 hours exactly.

2776   My overall finish place of the 21,972 finishers (12.6%).

2257   My overall place among all males

519   Females finished ahead of me.

259   My finishing place of 1646 total males in 45-49 age group;

39   Number of age-group females that finished ahead of me

299   My finish by age group

0   Blisters

1  Toenails lost

3  Total number of Port-o-Let pit-stops during the race at a cost of almost 5 minutes.

3  On foot mileage from my apartment through the logistics pit and to the start

26.79   The mileage on my Forerunner 305 when I crossed the finish line.

Overall Logistics.      The logistics for this for this race were terrific from an individual and an event perspective. Living during the work week about 2 miles west on the Pentagon enabled me (for the first time in 30 events) to get up at a normal time, get ready at home without any sacrifice of sleep the night prior or that morning for travel. This alone made for an exceptional event without even including the viable considerations in hygiene, latrine, eating and pre-race preparation normally conducted on site.

      Daybreak on foot; headed down to the race from Henderson Hall

     It was just getting light as I trotted the 3 miles to the MM start line from home. The shot above is from Henderson Hall just above the Navy Annex rolling downhill towards the Pentagon. The weather was very encouraging race morning; chilly temperatures and a clear sky. The best aspect to this route was that it was mostly downhill to the starting line. My gear was light; shorts, short-sleeve shirt, New Balance 993s and Injinji socks (NFI), my walkman, sunglasses, my Garmin 305, 4 S-caps, 4 Ibuprofen and 6 Cliff shots tucked into the hip pocket of my Ouachita 50(K) I was wearing. My intent was to travel as lightly and quickly as possible and survive aid station to aid station as necessary. I had a long sleeved shirt, my cell phone, camera and a couple of finisher cigars in my empty NH 2.0 backpack that I dropped in my assigned UPS truck to pick up at the finish line.

      The Logistics Pit in the Pentagon North Parking Lot

     The Logistics Pit in the north Pentagon parking lot at about 25:00 prior to the start of the race, with the starting line half a mile to the north. It’s hard to see in this picture but about 20,000 runners are in the parking lot along with the 30 UPS vans laid on to transport bags to the finish festival. There were also what had to by 100 port-o-lets with significant lines at each. The course held seven water points but you ran past #7 entering and leaving Crystal City at miles 22 and 24. There were also 2 “food-only” points located on the course. Every aid station was literally packed with race supporters, civilians and replete with Marines in digital desert camouflage uniforms. Every aid station was set up in the same format. The Marines had tall “Water Station” signs in large red block lettering you could see from a significant distance as you approached. Almost every aid station was approximately 100 yards long with tables lining both sides of the road; Gatorade tables always took up the front half of the station with water on the back half; Gatorade was served in block cups with water in white. It only took me about 3 aid stations to figure that out; “run all the way past the Gatorade, get your water.” Runners never had to reach, strain, or wait for a drink; you could almost catch your fluid of choice. There were eight individual first aid stations on the course too, according to the map. I didn’t really notice these.

The Race Itself.      The race went very well for me all in all. Early on in September and even into October, I was waffling between running this event and a 1st time running of a single-track trail 50K in western Maryland. Ultimately, I obviously opted for the USMC 26.2, in large part because I wanted to experience the entire spectacle of a large marathon the winds through some of the more hallowed and modern symbols of man-made architecture in western civilization. It had been 10 years since I ran in a large race and the 2010 MM 26.2 didn’t disappoint in that regard. We heard the speaker announcement around 0730 that everyone needed to start moving towards the starting line, and 25,000 to 30,000 people started moving from the north parking lot up the road to their respective time corrals. I was midway to the starting point when the National Anthem kicked in.

     I usually start every race completely to the rear of the formation but I squeezed my way forward until I was located in the 3:40-4:00 pace group. It was chilly enough to see your breath. A young lady and I discussed the upcoming JFK 50 as we passed the waning ten minutes prior to the start. All of us consistently crept forward and packed the massive group of runners in closer to the starting line arches, perhaps motivated by the Race Announcer’s booming epithets over the loudspeaker: “15:00 until you start the Marine Corps Marathon and change your life forever.” “Every runner here embodies the Spirit and Honor of the United States Marine Corps.” I thought a couple of the pronouncements were a little melodramatic, but the Announcer was caught up in the event; we all were. Fortunately, I checked my Forerunner 305 and saw that it was still on from when I left my apartment and was at exactly 3:00 miles since setting out. I would have been pretty disappointed had I not re-set that prior to race launch.

     The starting howitzer fired and we all moved forward at a lurch. It took over two minutes to cross the starting line and that was about the point where I was able to ease into a slow trot. It reminded me of how cars all compress and slow down to a crawl on the highway until they pass the State Trooper issuing the ticket. I felt pretty good right from the start; light on my feet, rested, and confident I could run the distance without stop. But how fast? We’d see… I just tried to flow along with the thick crowd ambling north through Arlington-Rosselyn. The route actually passes below the Iwo Jima Memorial in the first mile; I eyeballed that, looking forward to the finish line I hoped to cross within 3:45 to 4:00. I was also apparently well hydrated as I had to step over the guardrail and visit the deeper piece of the wood-line before we entered the downtown section. As it turns out, there were plenty of port-o-lets along the route, but I didn’t know that at that early point. Neither did the guy who just stepped over the railing and urinated into the bushes with about 17,000 runners passing along behind him as close as six feet away.

     Spectators lined the route the entire way starting right in Rosselyn and that was encouraging as the route mostly climbs, albeit it gently, for the first three miles or so. This was the most crowded piece of the route, as the first few miles are in any long distance event I’ve run in. There was almost always room to slide around runners headed up the first long hill going west through Rosselyn. I maintained about a 9:00 pace, just warming up through the first three miles until the course turned east and started heading downhill towards the Key Bridge Potomac crossing. The early hills had thinned the crowd out a little and I just let my pace go at that point with the intent to run every downhill as fast as I could, without breaking or slowing, but still running steadily without gasping for breath. There was a long, long stretch of significant downhill that flowed right to the Key Bridge, up and over, and then downhill again all the way to mile 7.5 or so.

     That’s pretty much how the first sixteen to twenty miles went for me; I ran hard downhill, somewhere between a 6:45 to7:00 pace, leveled off around 7:30 to 7:45 on the flats, and worked hard to stay sub 8:30 when we hit hills. I knew I was running hard as opposed to a more comfortable stride when I developed a deep side stitch around mile 6. I ran through that in northern Georgetown for a couple of miles including the up the second and, last, really significant hill on the course at mile 7.5. That’s one of the reasons a large percentage of Boston Qualifiers come out of the Marine Marathon; the hills are gone early. I just sucked it up and ran through the stitch. When I finally fired up my Walkman at around Mile 5, it was a whole new race for a while, as it is every time I start my Walkman at some point into an event.

      The route runs north on RTE 29 once over and away to the north from the Key Bridge. The outbound piece of the course splits to the left at the 5 mile point and stays on the Potomac and loops back around the reservoir, runs up hill to the northeast, and then flows down MacArthur Boulevard back into Georgetown leaving most of the uphill behind you on the course. MacArthur flows back into RTE 29 where you originally split off at Mile 5 after adding another 3 miles. I was just hitting the 5 mile split to the left when the two race leaders came flowing down MacArthur and merged now running south on RTE 29 at a dead run; they were running hip to hip with thousands of runners cheering them as we headed out around the reservoir. The 3rd place runner was striding smoothly about 75 yards behind 1 & 2. It was really something to witness.

When I finally re-entered RTE 29 at Mile 8 with the still-outbound runners, I really got a sense of the amount runners in the race as thousands were still flowing towards the reservoir loop. There were still hundreds of runners coming across the Key Bridge when I passed that headed south about a half mile later.

To Infinity and Beyond.      As discussed, Washington D.C. is certainly an entertaining venue to run through, as was the cast of characters in the race. With a race date of 31 October, we were assured of sharing the course with a full spectrum of costumed runners. I passed SuperGirl somewhere around mile 4. She was young, maybe nineteen, and had a great stride and I think stayed somewhere close behind me throughout the course. I say this because her SuperMom kept landing ahead of me at strategic points on the course to view her daughter. My final sighting of SuperMom was crossing the RTE 1 bridge back into Crystal City.

     I passed Buzz Lightyear around mile 4. At about 5’10”, he was taller than I imagined. Woody was nowhere in sight. As every distance event inevitably stretches out by race pace, you tend to consistently notice the same runners maintaining the same pace you are. I kept passing a guy that I think was dressed as William Wallace; He was about 5”8”, ripped and very wide. I say this because he was wearing only a plaid green and black kilt, dark running shoes and what I think was a dark red and brown shoulder-length wig. He had a dark complexion and was a little shorter than me but looked twice as wide. We kept trading positions but I don’t remember seeing him once I turned toward the National Mall. I think I saw Elvis viewing the race at three different locations on the course, but one of those was in Chrystal City, so they may have been the original one from Memphis at that point.

     There was another dude, about 5’6”, with a bright yellow shirt, a ball cap, blue shorts, and yellow running shoes cruising on a giant set of legs. Lisa says I have big legs but this dude’s were bigger than mine and imminently noticeable because they were incredibly ripped, shaved clean and quite a shade of bright white. I also kept roughly the same pace at least through 18 miles with a younger African-American woman who maintained an elegant, graceful stride that looked singularly effortless. She just kept eating up pavement while she seemed to run with a fluidity I was envious of. It seemed like every time I came through after a water station after mile 14 or 15, she was up ahead of me.

     My Forerunner 305 gained about ¼ of mile ahead of the mile markers at one point early in the first third of the course and another ¼ somewhere around the halfway point, but maintained that through the finish line. Garmin told me I ran 26.79 miles when I reached the Iwo Jima Memorial. However, I really wasn’t checking my distance on the course to any immediate extent, and was avoiding that to the best of my ability. If I found myself thinking about a finish time or checking my GPS, I immediately shifted out of that mode by consciously picking up my pace and tightening and cleaning up my stride at the same time. It think it was due to those efforts that I experienced that rare but very satisfactory racing experience where I was reaching mile markers sooner than I thought I was. For example, I was thinking that I was closing in on 13.1 miles when I hit 14. The mile markers just kept coming up a little ahead of schedule all the way to mile 20, and didn’t even seem too far apart when I struggled through Crystal City later on.

 The Washington Monument from somewhere adjacent to the starting line

     I honestly don’t think you can consider yourself an American patriot and not experience a little shiver or some goose-bumps the first time you lay eyes on either the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial. The MM 26.2 route runs past most of the major sites in Washington DC as it wends its way around the National Mall. The supporting crowd was enormous all over the course; I gave every kid that stuck his or her hand out a low five at every opportunity like some famous runner. I must have received about 100 across the entire course. The kids really seemed to get a charge out of it, or maybe they were bored. I got a kick out of it.

     The crowds and accompanying street musicians were so loud in Georgetown, at mile 19 on the Mall and again in Chrystal City, that they literally drowned out my walkman. In all three instances it seemed like I entered an overwhelming wall of sound that just took up all the space around us and then after running for 100 yards, the sound would start to fade and I’d hear my walkman again. That was no mean feat either, as I had my YurBuds in. Yurbuds ( are tight little rubber extensions you attach to your headphones. They were ridiculously overpriced for two little pieces of rubber, or seemed to be at the Expo on Friday, but these things almost completely lock your earphones into place and the music seems almost wired to your brain. Mine didn’t shift once for the entire 20 miles of the race after I fired up my Walkman around mile 5. Yurbuds are now my favorite piece of non-critical but essential gear.

     It’s always quite an experience running the National Mall. You’ve got the Washington Monument in the strategic center, with the White House to the north, Congress to the east, the Lincoln Memorial to the west, and the Jefferson Memorial to the south. After the course hugs the Potomac running all the way to the southern point of Potomac Park, we ran back through miles 14, 15, and 16, and looped around the Lincoln Memorial for a clockwise lap around the Mall. I completely enjoyed that lap last Sunday. I also marveled that I had no recollection of almost any of this from the 1999 race, except for the point where my brother Greg faded into the distance ahead of me. I wondered if that was a normal while enjoying the sites. I hit Mile 19 after clearing Congress and entering the south side of the Mall; that was at the 2:50 minute point and I recall that I passed a guy running completely barefoot as I crossed over mile 19. Barefoot, all asphalt. Pretty tough.

     The demon of despair lurked ahead in Crystal City. My legs were feeling pretty heavy by mile 20 as we exited the Mall; I’d only hit one water station to that point and could tell that I was going to be regretting that course of action shortly as I could feel an odd, tightening twinge in my left hamstring. I started hitting water stations. I’d run further with little to no water before but not at an 8:00-8:30 pace. I was happy to see the Jefferson Memorial on the right, but had a sense of dread approaching that damned RTE 1 bridge. I’d run over that several times this fall and actually remembered it from 1999. There was little difference this time; I trudged up over the bridge at about a 9:45-10:00 pace and had to walk for a several yards above the off-ramp into Chrystal City as my left hamstring cramped and involuntarily vibrated.

     Chrystal City encompasses very little of the Marathon course in retrospect; miles 21.5 to 24 but seemed a little more significant than that on Halloween. Runners hit a water station entering and exiting this little maze. I almost always hit “the wall” at any event around Mile 22 and today was no exception. Both left and right quads and hamstrings were cramped and flexing as they saw fit while I followed a serious of left turns to the 23 mile point where the course looped clockwise around the square and headed for the Pentagon and home. I kept working and pushing through that hamstring that seemed cased in lead Chrystal; it really felt like it was improving as I came around the square but that was short lived. I don’t actually think you could see my swollen left hamstring on satellite imagery as I spilled off the square towards the left curb, but I really think the helicopters overhead could see it. I had to stop and stretch for about 30 seconds while it seemed that about 10,000 runners blew by me. I walked a ways and then trotted into the water station down the road at mile 24. I think I accepted a cup of water from all 26 Marines passing out white cups as I drank my way through the water point.

     I kept trotting at a 10:00 pace out around the Pentagon parking lot and tried to loosen up a bit as we ran slightly downward on the western side of that big star. I finally started to feel recovered as we looped around down into the Pentagon parking lot, hit mile 25, routed under the overpass, and headed for the finish line. I actually cruised to an 8:00 minute pace for most of the last mile and was pleased with that little fact. 
     The crowds started to telescope the long stream of runners into a single or double file. Looking at runners seeming to disappear ahead of me into the crowds of milling spectators lining both sides of the road and out onto the course, I had an embarrassingly fleeting, foolish hope that maybe the finish line was no longer at the on the hilltop with the Iwo Jima Memorial but now down on the road…..and then we hung the left through crowds of people and headed up the short steep hill, turned right, ran past the giant statue, and crossed the finish line 125 yards further up past the right side of the Memorial. I picked up the pace and threaded my way through some runners and felt like I was really flying, but watching finish-line film on the website later didn’t really show me flying so much as still trotting. Perception… My Garmin and my watch said 3:49:25ish

     Several race photographers were available to shoot your picture with your medal in front of the 32-foot Iwo Jima Memorial. A Marine handed me a food packet with a bagel, fruit, lots of stuff; I carried that and my space blanket through the throngs down the hill towards Rosselyn center. Slowly.

     Everything was still highly organized; there were lots of vendor tents. I was able to hit a results booth where a nice young lady looked up my results online, ten minutes after the fact. She informed me that my actual time on the course was 3:47 exactly. I had forgotten about the chip, the start line the 2+ minutes to get to the start; I was generally worn out and I felt great at the same time. Purged. I had a new PR but couldn’t officially tie my name to it. Progress comes in ironically strange spurts sometimes.

     I found all the UPS trucks were lined up in order. I was in luck; my bag was in truck 5 and that was the closer end of the line of trucks. As I limped toward the Michelob corral where I hoped to link up with two members of my section that also ran the event and were, as yet, unseen, I was able to hit a video booth and record a :30 tape for my family. I thought that was just another neat feature of the hundreds of neat features tied to this race. I never did link up with LTC Kelley (he had crossed the finish line 5 minutes ahead of me after apparently passing me in Chrystal City), or Major Kent who finished just about exactly when I did.

  The view from the Michelob Corral; the Finish line is 1/2 a mile up that hill
     I donned my Marine Marathon shirt from my pre-positioned bag, and enjoyed the sites from the beer corral for about an hour. That included what turned out to be the best costume of the day, an incredibly real-looking version of the St. Pauli Girl serving Michelob Ultra, all the while chatting with a dentist from Syracuse, New York. I cooled off and tightened up at the same time and reflected on how lucky I was to be able to enjoy a race like the Marine Corps Marathon again. Just a great event. I dog-trotted the 3 miles home from there.

 The Marine Marathon is exceptional to include their Finisher Medals and Shirts
10 NOV 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

412 Minutes at the Strolling Jim 40 Mile Run

6:52:10 at the Strolling Jim 40 Mile Run
1 May 2010 Wartrace, TN

This is one average runner’s experience at the 32d annual Strolling Jim 40 mile race. I highly recommend Strolling Jim for anyone who is even remotely thinking about running in this event at their earliest opportunity for a lot of different reasons. I found out in early January this year that I had to attend an Army course on Fort Gordon, GA from March to June. Based on research and race reports from the previous two years, I knew that if I only ran in one event, I wanted to run the Strolling Jim, and the event was better than I hoped it would be and hopefully that’s conveyed in this report.

I have had a significant amount of time to race since my arrival to the northeast Georgia in mid-March, mostly due to the fact that I’m here and my family is home in New York while I attend school. Strolling Jim is the third ultra-marathon I’ve run since 4 April and the fourth overall since February, counting coming up short at the Arrowhead 135.

After a pretty busy running calendar in April to include the Ouachita 50K on the 17th, I assessed some lessons learned and started war-gaming my plan of action for the Strolling Jim course. I usually don’t over-think a course or a race. My standard plan, or non-plan, is to hit the course, set a solid pace, or at least a solid pace for the mid-to-back-of-the-pack runner that I am, and hold that for as long as I can. But, I also knew from reading about Strolling Jim the previous two years that “The Jim” had finisher categories that most other races do not have, including specific t-shirts for runners finishing in less than 5, 6 and 7-hour timelines. Realistically, given most of my finish times in every other event I’ve run, I had no reason to be optimistic about finishing under 7 hours, but I felt that I made some good progress at SweetH20 and at Ouachita, so I set a personal, albeit it humble goal, to give myself a chance to break the 7 hour standard. Several of the key factors at Strolling Jim worked in my favor and I made it in over the line in 6:52:10.

One of the key factors for me for a faster time at Strolling Jim is that the entire race is run on asphalt country roads. This was only the 3rd event of the last 15 I’ve run in that’s been completely on asphalt. That really made for a big difference in my time. I completed the 2 trail 50ks in April at an average time 423 minutes for 31 miles. While I really enjoy running trails, I’m obviously a lot slower on trails. I plan on looking for road events in the future.

Strolling Jim is one of the oldest and most well-established ultra marathons in the country, and so extremely well-organized that it is hard to believe that this was the first year Mike Melton directed the race. Runners received a detailed information packet, a t-shirt and a finisher’s medal. Racers received 5 or 6 email-based updates prior to the race; it was almost like being an new observer at a Homecoming of sorts as everyone seemed to know each other. This was all validated by the fact that there were runners in the race for the 20th to 24th or 25th time, as well as a lot of long standing members of the ultra community. Very humbling and motivating as well.

                                               RD Mike Melton Briefs the Strolling Jim racers
Wartrace, and the Bedford county area of Tennessee is just a beautiful setting for a race; rolling hill after rolling hill. So, while you have to climb some pretty large hills, there are also a lot of smooth down-hill and down grade sections of the course runners can really make some time on. I arrived to Wartrace late in the afternoon Friday with enough time to pull out the course map and thoroughly recon the whole course. That made a huge difference for me on Saturday as I knew where I was on the course the entire time and had a good idea of what was immediately in front of me. I also knew that the last 5 to 6 miles were mostly flat. This was the only time I’ve ever been able to recon a course prior to running it, and that really paid off. The road format also lends itself to completely accessible crew-support for any racers employing a crew. I ran constantly among a set of 3 or 4 crews that continued to bound forward in support of their runners. I have never had a crew in any event and Strolling Jim had about 4 aid stations and probably 10 individual water stops. I do not know the exact amount, but there were so many water points with 15-20 gallons of water in place, I assumed risk a couple of times completely confident that I could run through the current water drop and reach the next.

Race Results: These are not officially posted to the SJ website as of yet but has made the Ultralist.
Men top three: Valmir Nunes, age 46 of Santos, Brazil finished first in 4:44. (That’s a 7:00 per mile pace). Owen Bradley, 30, of Birmingham, AL, finished 2nd in 5:08:57 and Dwayne Satterfield, 45, of Huntsville, AL, finished 3rd in 5:22:01. Dink Taylor, 46, Hampton Cove, AL, finished first in the Masters Male category in 6:09:35.

Women top three: Kathy Youngren, 35, Huntsville, AL, finished 1st in 6:09:34. Carissa Skrivanek, 26, Augusta, GA, 2nd at 6:40:49 and Cyndi Graves, 46, Plano, TX, finished 3rd female overall, and first Masters Female in 6:42;23.

109 Starters; 100 finishers; 77 males; 23 females; I ended up 35th overall, and 21st overall over the age of 40th.

The course read out at 40.5 total miles on my Garmin 305 Forerunner.

16 different states were represented including California, New Mexico, Colorado and New York. Ontario and Brazil comprised the international runners.

I knew that to break 7:00 hours on the course, I had to average a 10:00-minute mile pace or better. I had yet to do that in any ultra event but started the race with that overall intent. Basically, I wanted to reach the 20 mile mark in 3:00 and the half-way point in 3:10 in order to at least allow myself a shot a sub-7 finish. I knew from my RECON that Mr. Cantrell had the course well marked at every 5 mile stage, the half and full marathon points and had helpful, motivational messages all over the course as well.

We started promptly at 0700 and the course flowed southeast out of Wartrace over a long, unending series of mostly run-able rolling hills to mile 8.75 at a little hamlet named Normandy. The course turned abruptly west and encountered the first very steep hill I was forced to walk on that finally ended around 9.75 miles. The reward for Hill #1, that topped out around 1100 feet, was a terrific mostly downhill stretch that flowed all the way to the half-marathon point, and brought runners and crews across Highway 41 and into the section of the course that became both the “out” and “back” section of the course

I met Gary Cantrell, (and a lot of other ultra runners for the first time at this event), and Mr. Cantrell told me that he lives in the Bedford County area because it’s a beautiful place to run. The entire course validated that; terrific, quiet countryside; for every hill we lost time climbing, the reward was heading down the backside of the hill. I was very pleased when I reached the 20 mile mark, almost exactly at the top of the hill of Bottle Hollow road. That turned out to be the second point I had to walk on the S.J. course, but certainly not the last. I was very pleased to reach 20 miles in 3:03 and the 21.5 mile point at 3:12. I knew at that point with 20 miles left and 3:45 minutes to clear 7:00s, I had a real chance at a red shirt and pushed accordingly.

Up "Hill #2;" 20 miles at the top
(This hill runs steeper than it looks)

Looking back down one of many climbs

Miles 22 to 32 were the most challenging of the course for me. I subsisted over the entire course almost solely on water from my Nathan 2.0 backpack, S-Caps and 8 or 9 GU Vanilla Bean Gel packs. I will admit that was poor planning. Hilltop Road clears the highest point of the course at mile 23.75 at just under 1200 feet above sea level. By the time I hit the 26.2 marathon mark in 4:06, I was starving. When I came through the second to last aid station just past the little village Raus, (somewhere between the marathon point and hitting “the Walls” section of the course around 30 miles), one very nice lady saved my life with two handful of pretzels and Fig Newtons.

The “Walls” section of the course could possibly be perceived as pessimistically choreographed at that particular point in the race to test any runner. At least I felt a little pessimistic working through that series of abrupt and seemingly unending, steep little hills coupled with switch-backs heading back out to Highway 41. I had worked through a pretty major cramp in my left hamstring that kept attempting to fold my left leg in half from about mile 28 to the point where I reached the first hill in “the Walls.” While “the Walls” were not high, I think you could tie your shoes without bending over at several points.

Once runners cleared the Walls and took the right turn back out onto Whiteside Hill road, all the significant hills in the course were behind. I had a sense of renewed optimism approaching and crossing Highway 41 as there was some good downhill all the way to the 35 mile point, finally east of Route 41 again, and to the final left turn north onto Three Forks Bridge Road and cardinal direction at Wartrace. As I passed through the last aid station I didn’t stop as I had plenty of water left for the final stretch. There were several people moving through the aid station and a young guy called over that we only had 6 miles to go. That was at the 5:45 point of the race for me. I mentally broke the last 6 miles of the course into two 3-mile sections and pushed forward to reach the 37 mile point that I knew was clearly marked at Cannon Road. I was able to run up “Wimps Hill,” which was clearly marked “Wimps Run up this Hill” by the race administration, but that was the last hill I ran up. Somewhere around mile 36 I was moving forward with my head down when I spotted 2 gummi bears on the road. I had a fleeting thought of picking them up and eating them, but they were yellow. If the gummies were red, who knows?

I hit the Mile 37 point at 6:19, and read the painted advice on the road to “Kick Now” but did not have a lot of kick left. I pushed through the flat and downhill sections at a 9-10:00 trotting pace and had to march the hills at that point. Cannon Road spilled out onto the final right turn onto Route 64 with 2 miles remaining to the finish line. Fortunately, at least half of the last 2 miles was downgrade, and I could clearly see the Walking Horse Hotel from about ½ mile out; I found some kick at that point.

Here's what the finsh looked like once complete

The Walking Horse Hotel

The weather conditions were heavily overcast all morning with a light rain from 10-11 AM, but the conditions were not bad until about an hour after I finished running. Big thunder storms rolled in with heavy, heavy rain from about 1530 on, so I was feeling pretty fortunate to have already showered at the Wartrace volunteer Fire Department and to be sitting under the big tent finishing up my chicken and potato salad when the heavy weather kicked in.

I met a lot of great people, more from the Ultralist than in any other event I’ve been in, and too many to mention at the risk of omitting anyone. I will say that I did stay at the Red Rooster Bed and Breakfast in Beechgrove, TN, 10 minutes for Wartrace. I met Christian Griffith and Sean O in person for the first time as they were already at the Rooster when I arrived. Joanne and Bill Hollingsworth were great hosts while we stayed at the terrific Inn:

The Red Rooster B&B; Beechgrove, TN

I am looking forward to another chance to run the Strolling Jim 40 and highly recommend this event to any runner who has yet to experience everything this great race and beautiful area has to offer.

Tim Hardy
3 May 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

407 Minutes at the Ouachita 50KM

The Ouachita Trail 50KM
( Wikipedia-pronounced: WOSH-i-taw or WAW-shi-taw)

This is one average runner’s experience at the Ouachita 50KM on Saturday, 17 April. The race is an Out-and Back format that started and finished at Maumelle Park, just outside and southwest of Little Rock, Arkansas. I finished the 50K course in 6:47:19, equal to 407 minutes and 19 seconds. I thoroughly enjoyed this event and highly recommend Ouachita for several reasons.

The course is a very challenging route, as most trail ultra events seem to be. This route, though, runs up and over Pinnacle Mountain, and then down the backside of that terrain feature. Runners meet Pinnacle at about the 4.75 mile point of the course and are basically climbing almost hand over hand up the boulder-strewn trail until they reach the top at about 1100 feet. The inherent uniqueness in this part of the overall event, and the 360-degree view from atop Pinnacle makes the Ouachita 50 worth running. That said, I’d also say that the Pinnacle mountain portion of the event will almost ensure that Ouachita does not lend itself as a source for Personal Bests as far as 50K or 50 mile events; Pinnacle is steep and challenging and time intensive in terms of overall distance covered.
                                                                Pinnacle at a distance

     This was the Ouachita Trail 50’s 20th straight year, so this is a proven, time-tested event executed over a demanding and challenging course. 2010 marked the 10th year under the Race Director team of Chrissy and Stan Ferguson and all that experience really resulted in a cohesive, extremely well-run event. There is a well-developed core group of runners and volunteers that seemed to lend an annual, reunion type of camaraderie across the course and to the events at the start-finish line. Every aid station was thoroughly stocked with anything runners could have wanted to drink or eat, and every aid station had signs with exact information; where you were on the course in terms of mileage, distance to the next aid station and exact distance to the finish line on the return portion of the route. The aid station volunteers also voiced these critical statistics while you were in the aid station.
     Race finishers all receive a very unique ceramic finisher’s medal. RD Chrissy Ferguson makes these medals herself; they are white, with the Ouachita Trail 50 emblem from the website emboldened on the front and are very cool. I also picked up a terrific Ouachita Trail 50 wind-shirt that has a shoulder and waist pocket. These were available at the finish line. Black Dog photography was also on-hand providing low cost, printed pictures of each runner reaching the Pinnacle Mountain zenith much earlier in the race.
     The Ouachita Ultra has both a 50 kilometer and 50 mile option. Runners who register for the 50 mile option can re-evaluate and opt for the 50KM route during the course of the event, as late as the moment of truth where the two courses deviate.
Race Results: As of 25 April:
50 Mile:
1 Tom Brennan   M    38   Poteau  OK  7:56:41! (New 50M course record)
2 Stan Ferguson  M  46   Conway AR   8:40:35
3 David Murphy  M  37   Wasola  MO  8:47:07

1 Natalie Sims     F    36    Signal Mountain TN  9:57:52(9th overall)
2 Karen Martin   F    38     Jonesboro         AR  10:37:31(13th overall)
3 Jenny Weatter  F    29     Maumelle          AR 11:24:38(20th overall)

50 KM:
1 Matt Sims          M   38     Signal Mountain TN  4:41:02
2 PoDog Vogler    M  43     Russellville         AR   4:58:51
3 Jake Anderson   M  28     Jonesboro          AR   5:45:00

1 Shirley Hyman  F     42      Fort Smith  AR       6:38:18(16th overall)
2 Carrie Tracy     F     36      Richardson TX       6:38:39(17th overall)
3 Hillary Looney  F     36      Little Rock  AR       6:40:45(22nd overall)

179 total runners started the combined 50M-50KM event
166 total combined finishers for both events
111 finishers in the 50K; 75 Males, 36 Females
55 finishers in the 50M; 43 Males, 12 Females
7:56:41: The new 50 mile course record by Tom Brennan Saturday!
29.6: Exact mileage showing on my Forerunner 305 at end of the 50K
68: Age of oldest 50 mile finisher
23: Age of youngest 50 mile finisher: Rich Easter, Memphis, TN
79: Age of oldest 50K finisher
19: Age of youngest 50K finisher: Caleb Manis, Cabot, AR; 5:56; 5th overall
15 different states with runner representation including California, Colorado, New York and New Mexico
5.1 miles: Runners are only 5.1 miles in the course atop Pinnacle and 5.3 at the bottom.
12 Aid stations on the 50K course counting the Start-Finish Line Pavilion
10 Aid stations on the 50M course counting the Start-Finish Line Pavilion
16.75 miles; runners hit the North-shore aid station turnaround point and start back
Personal 50K Statistics:
407 minutes on the course
26th overall place
21 Males finished ahead of me
5 Females finished ahead of me
14: number of 40 and older finishers ahead of me

     It was still dark when RD Chrissy Ferguson gave a pointedly thorough and interesting pre-race briefing at 0545 before the start of the race. The conditions really could not have been better; it was about 60 degrees, not too humid, and a little overcast. I wore my Nathan Hydration 2.0 system with 1.5 liters of water for a second straight ultra, had my walkman on and my Garmin Forerunner 305. I started with 10 S-caps, some Ibuprofen and 4 vanilla GU gel packs and my small digital camera balanced across the two front shoulder pockets. I decided to assume risk by bringing the Olympus Camera because it’s small, and ultimately, I wanted to record some digital memories of the event.

View from Pinnacle to North-Northwest

      The Ouachita 50 proved to be the 22nd race I’ve completed of either marathon or ultra marathon distance, with a breakdown of 9 marathons and 13 ultras at this point in my cumulative distance portfolio. It’s pretty easy to say that I’ve developed some good lessons learned in every event to date, but Ouachita really felt like a true progression point for me in terms of applying some previous and critical lessons learned against some decent training base. I ran in the Sweet H20 50K on 4 April, so Ouachita was my 2nd major event in 2 weeks, and third ultra in 2010 going back to 1 February. The main point I re-learned, and feel like I finally applied at Ouachita for the first time I think, is that a runner has to be prepared to take what the trail gives them when the trail dictates. Every trail event is obviously different, even in terms of running an out and back on the same trail. Runners, especially non-elite runners, are only going to be able to move fast and capitalize on certain areas of every trail and are going to have to slow down on the trickier, more challenging technical areas no matter where these areas manifest themselves.
      Plainly speaking, the front half of the 50K portion was much more difficult than the back half at Ouachita. At least it seemed that way to me. The race started promptly on the Lake Maumelle access road in front of Pavilion 8 at 0600. I started exactly in the very back of the entire group of runners as I do in every event; for some murky un-defined personal reason, I just like to start every race at the very rear of the formation and then try to work my way forward as the event unfolds. The day started breaking as we covered the first 2.75 miles of access roads into the park, to the point where it was full daylight when I personally hit the Ouachita Trail at the 2.75-mile point of the event. This is one of the main reasons I really enjoy using my Forerunner 305. I understand all the counter-points a lot of runners seems to make about exact GPS accuracy; GPS are not exact. But, for my purposes, my Forerunner is plenty close enough for what I want out of it, and in this example, I knew when I eventually came back off the trail, I would have 2.75 miless of smooth, mostly down-hill asphalt between me and the finish line.

      Ouachita Trail reminded me off a couple other ultra events in New York, the Wakely Dam and the Escarpment Trail Run (ETR). Granted, ETR is not an ultra, as it is “only” 30 kilometers, but more to follow on that. Ouachita reminded me of Wakely specifically because Wakely runs almost exclusively on the Norville-Placid Trail (NPT) in the Adirondacks. While the 32-mile Wakely stretch of the NPT does not have any of the giant up and down that Pinnacle Mountain provided, NPT is just really hard to run on because it is so full of rocks, roots, and generally is up and down. Ouachita was like that all the way out to the North-Shore Aid Station turnaround point. As soon as you enter at the Trail access point, the first 10 to 12 miles out towards North-Shore, except for the stretch right along the edge of Lake Maumelle, require you to run up and down small ridge lines made up mostly by rocks that you want to run through, but you have to be more than just a little cautious in.
      Pinnacle Mountain really reminded me of Escarpment Trail. That’s a point to point 30K where you cross 6 peaks in the Catskills above 3000 feet. Runners are forced to start climbing Pinnacle Mountain at around 4.75 miles and in less than a quarter of a mile, you hit the boulder field and are pretty much reduced to pulling yourself hand to foot to the top of Pinnacle. That was very reminiscent of Blackhead and Stoppel Mountains in the ETR. While Pinnacle was not as high, the trail piece was very steep, even coming down the backside. All in all, it probably took me longer to come down than ascend. The view from atop Pinnacle was outstanding in every direction; coupled with a nice cool breeze up there, it was pretty refreshing. It was also a little mentally and physically sobering to have expended what felt like so much effort once I reached the trailhead parking lot again at only 5.5 miles into the race.

Starting the Pinnacle Ascent

Downward view of Pinnacle Boulder-Field

Heading down the bckside of Pinnacle; slow going

      Once off of Pinnacle, we re-entered the Trail for a short section before we came out of the wood-line, crossed Route 113 and ran on that for just about a mile or so before re-acquiring the trail again on the west side of the highway. There was a very flat, run-able, single-track 1.5 to 2 mile stretch of trail right along the near edge of Lake Maumelle, until we edged into the woods away from the lake. The Trail was mostly technical though, from the point where we crossed the highway and re-entered the trail, until at least the aid station at the 15 mile point. Most of the time, runners were either moving uphill or downhill, up one small ridgeline, down the backside and through the bottom of the draw and then back up another gradual or steep ridge. And, on the “out” portion of the run, I swear it felt to me like when we were moving uphill, the trail was nice and smooth, albeit uphill, and on the downside once I would crest a ridge and headed downhill, rocks, rocks and more rocks. I never fell, but really almost rolled both ankles a couple times and started to really work at maintaining a slow steady pace. My reasoning was that since the down-hills all just looked like rocks to me I was more tired than I thought I was coming off of Pinnacle that early in the event.
       I hit the aid station somewhere one mile shy of the separation point of the 50K and 50M courses and the whole event started to take a strangely foreign, albeit good turn for me. I had already decided that I was not running the 50 miler, so I moved through that aid station, read the information sign and knew I was less than 2 miles to North Station and turning around for the Finish line. The trail really flattened and smoothed out leaving that aid station and continued in that manner at the 50K-50M fork and through the winding turns that lead into the North Shore aid station. There were some hills and there were some rocks but all in all a very run-able section of the course. I hit North-Shore, right at 17 miles into the course at a pretty slow point in time, maybe right at 4 hours into the event. That seemed a little discouraging upon first, but after some reflection over a cup of coke, I developed some positive thoughts. I did not have to go back over Pinnacle, and therefore, North-Shore was well over the half-way point. While I was slow getting to that main turnaround, I felt pretty good, especially from the point of clearing the previous aid station forward. I decided that I would push as hard as I possibly could at every point, rocks or no rocks, in an attempt to reach the finish line under 7 hours.
      Things really picked up and went smoothly from North-Shore, and really, the aid station before North Shore for me throughout the back half of the course. That’s the “strange” or “foreign” point of this whole event for me. I always try to get to every finish line as hard or fast as I possibly can, and I did that in this event from the start as well. Usually, I finish every event struggling from point to point over the final 10 miles; I’ll run as far as I can, and be reduced to walking, pick up the running, then walk some more until I can run again. I’ve even “built” in “run 5 minutes, walk 1 minute” game plans and other course of actions to get through the last 25% of most events. I’ve improved in every event, but that’s generally the way things tend to work. That’s exactly how SweetH20 had gone two weeks prior to Ouachita; I ran a much stronger first half than second. Gravity just seemed a lot stronger from Mile 20 forward.
        I literally was able to run the entire second half of the Ouachita course from the point where I cleared the aid station around Mile 15, except for the hills that were just too steep for me to run. It was awesome.
My best description, again, this is a strange and unknown area for me, is that the whole second half just went great. For whatever reason, the Trail’s technical construction was just a lot easier to run moving towards the finish line; the really rocky portions headed back were almost all on the uphill sides of ridgelines, or at least it seemed that way to me. I was really able to get some real downhill running into the course on the way back without tripping and falling all over myself, as it seemed headed out. Every aid station was manned by wonderful people, fully stocked, and exactly where the team in the last station said they were. I did not linger in any station; I’d drink a cup of coke, make sure my Nathan had at least 1 liter of water, thank the team and move out with a peanut butter & jelly triangle.
       I made what felt like a conscious effort to push the trail the whole way as opposed to previous events where the trail pretty much dictated terms. I would push through the tough uphill sections until gravity started working for me and then just consciously pick up the pace again. This worked pretty well and I caught a bunch of racers, or it seemed like I did. I did have a couple of challenging points. I hit a tough point somewhere around Mile 25. I had been moving pretty well along the near trail edge to Lake Maumelle and had crossed back over Route 113 for that 1 mile stretch. I was really sucking wind once I picked the Trail back up into the wood-line and started heading up the steep ridgeline between 113 and Pinnacle Mountain. One young lady, #90-Melanie Baden I believe, went past me going up that hill like I was standing still, like she had only just started running and I had been running for 6 hours. Come to think of it, I might have been standing still….I forced myself to drink a lot of water, consumed my last gel pack and an S-cap or two and pushed forward until I recovered shortly.
      I was moving pretty well again, when I made a boneheaded navigational error, or more specifically a non-error that cost me about 10 minutes worth of time in my estimation. I broke over the ridge and cleared the woods around the side of Pinnacle, and skirted the Pinnacle access parking lot, and one of two last sections of woods prior to the 2.75 miles of asphalt access road. I knew there was about three quarters of a mile of woods, followed by a hardball road the trail would cross, followed by a last steep ridge trail that spilled onto the access road. I worked through the single trail piece, and hit the firebreak trail and literally ran a beautiful stretch of wide smooth 1/2 to 3/4-mile firebreak trail as hard as I could run it downhill all the way to the asphalt road, which was great. Except when I discovered I had missed the right turn in the woods.
While running down the firebreak, I missed the point of the trail where I was supposed to turn off the firebreak, turn up hill, and follow the steep single trail where it crossed the asphalt road and ran up through the woods to Access road. When I mistakenly hit the asphalt road, I didn’t even know if I was uphill or downhill in terms of directions from the trail; I just knew I missed the turn, so I turned around, ran back the way I’d just come, uphill this time, nice, and found the little tiny turn-off I slept through five minutes earlier.
      I hit the access road about 8 minutes after correcting my navigation error, and it was just as I remembered; 2.7 miles of smooth, mostly downhill asphalt. I was able to maintain somewhere around an 8 to 8:30 pace over that last stretch and caught up to some folks that had passed me when I missed the turn and had to re-acquire the trail in the woods. The access road seemed longer, of course, than it had 7 hours earlier but there were several runners on the road ahead of me; trying to catch them made the last couple miles go by faster.
      Ouachita was a great, fun event, filled with local runners that all have a history together around this event. A big group of them all set up camp chairs right at the finish line, opened a beverage or two and greeted every runner as they came into the Pavilion 8 finish line. There was a lot of great food, family members and children, and even a llama (or maybe a large alpaca) in a paddock across the road watching the event. I heartily recommend Ouachita Trail 50 as a “must do” event to anyone that can build this race into their schedule. As mentioned, I re-learned a lot about tactical patience and execution attending this race, and spent some significant travel effort getting there from Augusta, Georgia and it was well worth the effort.
Ouachita Trail 50 Finish Line

Tim Hardy
25 April 2010

Neighboring Spectators

Made Pinnacle!
View West from MT Pinnacle