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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
3 May 2010