The day was pretty uneventful leading up to the race. We ate breakfast, laid in bed and relaxed until the last possible minute before check-out and then ran an errand in town before heading over to race headquarters. Once arriving at the Boy Scout Camp that would serve as race headquarters for the weekend we went to get checked and weighed in. We also ate some lunch which they had ready once we arrived. The evening start time for the race gave me a unique opportunity to consume the most calories in the couple of hours leading into the race then I ever have before. My pre-ultra calories usually consist of just a bagel during the car ride to the race. At this lunch, however, I had potato salad, fruit salad, a pulled pork sandwich and a little tuna salad sandwich. This was far more calories than I ever get in, so was quite excited by that. Even an hour later I got hungry again and ate my Grindstone sugar cookie that came with my pre-race goodies.
Ash & I then went back to the car with the sole purpose of just laying in the back, relaxing and killing time until Dad & Patrick arrived. Once Dad & Pat arrived we still had a couple of hours until the start of the race. We all sat in the car and talked until it was finally time to start getting ready for the race. Around 4:30 I drank a pre-race Ensure for some more bonus calories and then started getting all my clothes and gear together. We headed over to race headquarters to check in around 5:20 and wait for the race to start. Soon enough we were heading to the start line for the last of our pre-race instructions!
The starting line.
I had anxiously been awaiting the start of the race because I knew starting would finally calm my nerves. The last couple of days leading up to the race I was nervous, anxious, excited, just a little bit of everything. My goals for this race were to (obviously) finish, qualify for the Hardrock lottery (so again, just FINISH!) and to put the disappointment of my DNF at Eastern States behind me.....(so finish!) So, I hugged Dad & Pat, told them I loved them and thanked them for being there and headed to stand at the start line with Ashley for the last minute or so we had. I gave Ash a good luck kiss and hug, told her I loved her and then we were off!!
Early in the race. Photo Credit: Katherine Varn Hawkins
The first couple of miles were very uneventful as we just ran a little loop around the Boy Scout Camp before hitting a little single track and heading out into the unknown. It had been raining on and off, heavy and light for the couple of hours leading into the race. Once we got a mile or two into the race it seemed like the sky really opened up. The rain was coming down hard and with it being overcast it seemed that darkness was approaching quickly. I actually started out the race not making any conversation and actually trying to avoid it and just stick to my own thoughts. After a couple miles I was passed by a guy I later found out was named Brennan. We seemed to be running a similar pace but I actually slowed down to let him get further ahead as we ran down a grassy mountain road. In a minute or two, I sped up a bit to run beside him and chat. We were cruising down the road at an easy pace when I was looking around and not seeing any markings. I instantly was having flashbacks to Manitou's Revenge and worried we were off course. We ended up turning around and heading back to find out we had gone off course, for a mile or so total I would guess (not as bad as Manitou's at least!). Once we figured out our mistake and got back on course we were behind a lot of people that weren't moving as fast as we would've liked at the time. We made our way down the descent, across the railroad tracks and into the first aid station at 5.1 miles trying to pass as many people as we could along the way.
Coming into the aid it was raining really hard, but I wanted to stop and eat some solid food. They didn't really have much set out, more than likely because of the rain and the fact it was so early in the race. So I just filled up my bottle quickly and was on my way. By this time I had already flipped my headlamp on and was still just trying to pass as many people as possible while heading out this nice wide dirt road. Once we hit our first big climb of the day heading up Elliott Knob, my legs felt an incredible lack of energy and my stomach started to rebel. I was getting passed by damn near everyone heading up this steep stone road and my stomach was gurgling. As much as I didn't want to, I knew I had to make an emergency pit stop into the bushes alongside the road. Finally, moving along after that my legs felt like they were completely zapped of any energy they had previously and this climb seemed like it would never end. We had to make a short out and back to the top of the mountain to find a punch to mark our bib before retracing our steps back down to more single track that would eventually take us into the 2nd aid station. Heading up this climb, all I could think is I can't finish this race like this. How could I possibly feel so bad, so early? My legs had no energy and I knew the course had tons of climbing. Once I reached the top and punched my bib, my only focus was to take advantage of the downhill, survive until the next aid station and eat some food! Once I started downhill then hit some single track around the side of the mountain my legs felt worlds better. It seemed like forever until we hit the next aid, probably because I was so excited about getting some food. Once I got there, it was absolute chaos. There were at least 15 runners trying to fill their bottles and get food, I was probably there for 3-4 minutes before I could even grab anything. I got my bottles topped off, ate a cup of soup, drank 2 cups of coke and grabbed 2 mini bags of Skittles for the road!
Leaving that station we headed up a winding grass double-track road while I was splitting my time running and walking while I was eating my skittles. This turned out to be the 2nd real climb of the race. The climbs never seemed to end and the darkness didn't help. This mountain had a series of short, steep climbs then would flatten out just to go up steep again. The darkness played games on you because every time I hit a flat runnable section I thought I was to the top, but then, cruely enough, it went up again and again! My legs didn't feel as bad as earlier but this steep sections were certainly not my idea of fun. Once I would hit the flat sections I felt like I was running really well and felt comfortable, but climbing was just a whole different story. Once I hit the top and started down the other side I found myself all by myself and was really enjoying it. The descent down was very gradual, rocky at times, but most importantly was incredibly foggy. I could barely see 5 feet in front of me at times which kept me going at a relaxed, easy pace. Once I would hit a spot without any fog it felt like daylight outside and I could really run a lot better. When I hit the flat at the bottom I figured the next aid had to be close and I was really, really looking forward to seeing everyone for the first time! I was running well on the flats, but it turned out I had another mile plus to the aid still. Luckily, I felt good and just kept passing people on my way. I probably passed 7-8 people that last mile or so into the aid.
I don't really remember much from this station other than I was quite thrilled to be seeing my crew for the first time and get some more food in me. Patrick told me he checked the weather and it looked like the rain should be pretty much over with, so that also put a smile on my face. It wasn't long and I was leaving and thinking only 15 miles until I see everyone again! I knew the next section was 8 miles long so anticipated it taking me awhile (especially since I wasn't too familiar with the course, so assumed I would be hitting another big climb). However, the trail leaving the aid was a very gradual uphill and quite runnable. With that being said however, I walked quite a bit. The fog was at its worst so far up to this point and at times it was difficult to see the ground upon which I was about to step. It was pretty ridiculous how bad it was at times. No one was catching me from behind though, so I was okay with how I was moving. Once I hit the top and started down the backside, the fog was intermittant and the terrain was very runnable. I felt like I was moving really good and eventually hit a dirt road that we would run for 2 miles or so into the aid. I ran this section well, passing a couple of people in the process. Once I hit the aid, I sat down, drank a couple cups of coke, had 2 cups of soup, boiled potatoes with salt and then I was off again! I was at the station for maybe 2-3 minutes and I was happy with how many calories I got in during that time. I ran that section in 1:47 which motivated me, because I figured it would take over 2 hours based on some of the terrain I had encountered earlier in the race, so I deemed this an "easy" section of the race.
When leaving the aid I knew this section was going to be about 6 miles and I was told we had an uphill starting out and then a down into 36 miles (where I would see my crew again). I was feeling really good and it barely seemed like there was any uphill whatsoever. This section had a lot of flat and downs in which I was able to run very comfortably. Next thing I knew I was hopping out onto the pavement to run down into the next aid. I caught several people during this section and passed them pretty quickly which helped me keep feeling really good! The section took me 1:15 and was also another "easy" section. Once arriving at the aid I found my crew and instantly sat down in one of our camp chairs. Everyone was asking me what I needed and couldn't have helped me out more. Dad was getting all the trash out of my vest and filling my bottles, while Pat was getting me out more gels and Ash was digging through the cooler to get me a soda and some pickles! I ate 2 pickles, drank half a can soda and then made my way over the aid to see what they had to eat. We had to weigh-in at this station both on the way out and way back. My weight was down 5 lbs. but I wasn't concerned because when I weighed in I was wearing baggy shorts and heavy shoes, so don't really feel like I lost near that much weight. I grabbed 3 pierogies for the road (well trail) thanked everyone for taking care of me and headed up the trail.
I walked out of the aid while eating my pierogies and then started uphill. I knew this next section was over 7 miles, but didn't really know what all it had in store for me. This climb was pretty rough. Well, more like, really rough. It was tough, definitely, but my stomach wasn't feeling so good. I don't know if I ate too much at the last aid, or maybe ate the wrong thing? I didn't eat THAT much I didn't think so was chalking it up to maybe the pickles aren't sitting well? I wasn't sure, but those pickles were delicious, so if it was their fault...no hard feelings! After 45 minutes I felt pretty bad and didn't want to take a gel, so I pushed it off. After 1:15 I really knew I should get some calories in, but still didn't feel like it. Alas, I got out a gel and knew I had to try to take something. It didn't work out for me very well. I took half the gel and felt like I was going to vomit. This, of course, would be nothing too terribly new to me at a 100, but knew I couldn't....I just had to keep all my calories in! I stopped walking and started taking deep breathes trying to fend it off. After a minute or so I knew I got the upper hand and continued hiking up the hill. Okay, taking that gel didn't quite work out like I had hoped, but I kept everything down and knew that would greatly benefit me in the long run! This climb never ended. Seriously, I kept thinking I was there, but again, the darkness was playing tricks on me! We kept hitting flatter sections along the way and I was running well on them, as for the climbs, I was moving and that was good enough for now. At some point during this climb the leader passed me heading back down the mountain. I saw him bombing back down and quickly jumped off the trail so I wouldn't slow him down any. It turned out to be Jeff Browning, (4th at this years Hardrock 100) he was nice enough to thank me and tell me I was doing good! I don't know how "good" I was actually doing, but really appreciated hearing it from him. So finally, I reached what I was pretty sure was the top of the mountain. We hit some grassy/dirt roads and the wind was whipping like crazy up here! The wind had been blowing all night, but it was pretty brutal up here in places. There started to be a more steady line of runners passing me heading back now and then it happened....the aid station! I was pretty excited to have this section over with. It took me 3 hours....3 hours to do just under 8 miles. Not ideal! I sat down at the aid, drank several cups of broth, ate a couple potatoes, topped off my bottles and was on my way again!
This next section was pretty much all dirt road and I was intermittantly running. I'd run the flats and pretty much walk all the uphills, I wasn't too terribly motivated by my current state. Once I hit the next aid station I was told I only had 2 miles until the turn around point. So I knew it would be less than 2 miles until I saw my crew again! Also, at this point it was starting to get a little light outside and I was more than ready to be done with my headlamp for awhile. We ran down a paved road to the turn around and I ran down it well and ran the up or 2 we had en-route to the turn also. Heading down the road I saw my friend, Danny Mowers and he told me that Dad wasn't too far down the road waiting for me! Seeing a friend and receiving that news was quite uplifting and damn, I was excited! I started running faster down the road (now with my headlamp off) and then heard Dad cheering for me. I started running down the road with him and before long saw Ashley & Pat too! Ash asked if I wanted to stop now or if I was going to the turn around first then coming back to get my stuff. I told her I would go to the turn around first. It wasn't long and I made it to the turn and then back down to my crew. I was pretty motivated by the on-coming daylight and also getting a pacer! I sat down and changed out of my wet shoes (hoping to keep my feet in good shape for the remainder of the race) while everyone took care of refilling my bottles and re-stocking me with gels. It wasn't long and Dad and I were off, heading back up the mountain!
We walked most of the way, just running a few sections, while Dad was catching me up on everyone else's night/day so far! It wasn't long and we hit the aid at the top of the mountain again, I stopped briefly for some broth and then we were on our way! This section of dirt road went by quick, my legs felt good and it was a lot of slight downhill. Having Dad to talk to was great and took my mind off of pretty much anything that wasn't a positive thought. We must have ran every step for the next 3 miles which was a big boost when thinking back to how much I walked heading the opposite direction! We made the next aid (approx. 57 miles) and grabbed some food quick and reapplied some vaseline. I ran that section 40 minutes faster than I did on the way out, granted it was easier heading back but I was still quite pleased by that! This next section was the "Section from Hell" as I was reffering to it when explaining it to Dad. It took me 3 hours on the way out, but I was hoping to shorten that quite a bit on the way back considering how much easier it would be.
It was full on daylight now and my stomach and legs were feeling good, so I was ready to run! Dad & I probably passed 6+ runners throughout this section and that was even with me babying my shins on the steeper sections. I was running really well, but could feel my shins starting to take a good amount of abuse so took it easier on the steep stuff in an attempt to save them from copious amounts of future pain. Running with Dad was great, having someone to talk to was fantastic and it's pretty f*****g awesome that my 61 year old Dad can run for 3.5 hours with me up and down mountains! I mean, seriously! I've met so many people in my life that say "I'm too old for that" or "I can't do that, I'm (insert age here)". I personally think using your age as an excuse is pathetic, because really you just don't want to do it, so that's just a convenient excuse. My Dad is 61 (62 next month) and I never even remember how old he is. He acts decades younger than he actually is and can do anything (if not more) than 99% of the people my age. Okay, that's my rant! I love my Dad and now back to the race! I knew we were getting close to the aid because we finally quit descending and were running some flats which I remembered from earlier. We came into the aid and I jumped on the scale. My weight was still exactly the same as earlier which wasn't much of a surprise because I had been doing really good eating up to that point. The aid station was unfortunately out of the pierogies that they had earlier, so I grabbed some ravioli type things they had and went to sit down. I ate my raviolis and washed them down with some Ensure. I've forgotten to mention up to this point but at every aid station that I've seen my crew, I drink an Ensure. Over this past year I've found that Ensure really helps keep my stomach in one piece and it enables me to really be able to eat regularly without any digestive issues. After eating I was up and off with my new pacer, Ashley!
Coming into mile 65, with Dad pacing!
We ran up the little section of pavement before hopping onto single track right behind another runner. It wasn't long until Ash & I scooted around on his left and didn't see him again for the entire section. I ran this section earlier in 1:15, but it's slightly more difficult in this direction, (plus I have another 30 miles on my legs) so I was hoping to run it in the neighborhood of 1:30ish. I feel like I moved good through this section and it was nice to finally be running with Ash. I was able to get caught up on her night/day to date plus any other exciting happenings! We made it to the next aid station around 1:40ish, so I was fairly pleased with how it went. I sat down quickly, had 2 cups of chicken and rice soup, 2 cups of coke and then was off to the races(very slow races by this point).
This next section was 8 miles and I had run it before in 1:47. As far as I could remember it should be pretty similar running in both directions so I was hoping to run it not too far over 2 hours. Leaving the aid we ran on a dirt road for around 2 miles and I was running all the flats and downs and walking the steeper ups. At this point my back was starting to tighten up pretty good, so every so often I was stopping to bend over. While being short lived, bending over really did make my back feel worlds better. I told Ash once we started down the backside of this little climb it was very runnable and gradual down so we should be able to run it pretty well. It seemed like it took forever to get to that point. Even once we made it to the top and started down the backside, I didn't remember how many little steep climbs (now descents in this direction) there were before we hit the section I was anxiously anticipating. Finally, I mean, finally(!) we made it to the nice runnable single track that by this time Ash was probably thinking didn't really exist. From this point, I'm not really sure how far it was to the aid, but Ash & I ran every step of it. Not super fast, but we were moving at a good consistent pace and at this point of the race I couldn't have been happier. I could really feel my thighs getting beat up pretty good heading down here and I wasn't even pounding it hard. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to sit down briefly at the next aid, rest my legs and eat. We finally made it to the next aid and we ran the section in 1:56, (only 9 min slower than outbound) so I was shocked by that and obviously really pleased!
Once in the aid I sat down, Pat handed me an Ensure and Dad grabbed me 2 little cups of soup from the aid station. Sitting down felt phenomenal, I was so happy to be sitting. However, I could feel (and see) my legs starting to revolt. I should preface this entire situation thats about to unfold by saying Ash did suggest that I didn't sit down at this aid because my legs might lock up. The muscles in my legs were starting to twitch a little while I ate my soup. I didn't want to get up and I certainly didn't want to cover another 22 miles still to get to the finish. I was thinking about how much easier it would be to just drop and be done than to keep going. It was at this point when Ash was telling me "You just gotta get moving, you'll loosen up" and Pat said "Just get going and we'll see you at the next aid station". Its at times like these a great crew is invaluable! I never would have kept going from this point if it wasn't for them. When the going gets tough, it would be a lot easier to quit, but they knew no matter how bad I looked or felt I wanted nothing more than to finish this race! Everyone helped pick me up out of my chair and I started shuffling down past the aid tent. I was moving incredibly slow and it didn't feel good, I still wanted to quit.
Coming into 80 miles with Ash.
My chair that I really didm't want to leave at 80 miles.
Finally Ash and I were off, heading down the trail. My legs weren't working very well and I was still just wanting to be done. Ash asked if I wanted some advil and I hesitated slightly, so that was enough of an answer for her and she ran back and got me 2. When she got back I took the 2 advil and we kept walking down the trail. I eventually would run little bits and pieces, then walk, then run some more. I heard some talking coming from behind us and soon after had 2 guys pass us, they were running and I was still mostly walking. It was at this point I realized, I needed to quit feeling sorry for myself and start running. I could run just as fast as these guys! For the next couple minutes I stayed just behind these guys, using them as a pacer and motivator for the time being. Eventually I asked if we could pass on the right and we put them behind us very quickly. I started running really well and felt incredibly motivated. The pain in my legs subsided (or I just forgot about it) and I was running hills that I probably would have been hiking 40-50 miles earlier. I felt energized and excited to be running! This climb was pretty gradual but seemed like it lasted for miles. Once we hit the top I started describing the descent that would follow to Ash. I remember on the way out how it kept tricking me into thinking I was at the top when I wasn't. We started down off the mountain hitting some very steep descents followed by some nice flat sections and descents again. This went way quicker than I thought it would and then out of nowhere I heard "Wooooooooo!" and I thought "Holy hell, it's Pat!". We must be close to the aid and damn that was an exciting thought! We came around the next turn in the trail and there was Dad & Pat waiting for us! We all ran into the aid together and they started taking care of my pack and bottles for me. I was hoping the aid had some broth or soup for me, but all they had warm was tomato soup. I'm not a big fan, but figured what the hell! I had 3 little cups of soup and then went over to my crew. They had been taking care of my pack and also put some fresh batteries in my headlamp because I knew we wouldn't make the next aid before dark. When I walked over Dad gave me a big hug and said "I'm happy to see you feeling better". It really means a lot to me that my family pretty much never misses a race and its even more true at times like this and that hug meant a lot to me.
Coming into 87 miles, feeling a lot better!
Downing some tomato soup.
Ash & I then left the aid and my goal was to hit the gravel road descent off Elliott Knob before dark. I knew we had a lot of climbing out of the aid station and I wouldn't be running a lot, but we had what I figured to be 1.5 hr before dark. I was moving a lot better now and hoped that would be enough time. This climb was going to be long and gradual, we hit it hiking at a good pace and just chatting. We talked about our potential race schedules for next year, the crazy wind that seemed to never let up and countless other topics! We neared the top and the trail flattened out and meandered around the side of the mountain. I didn't remember how long this section was before the road and kept thinking we were almost there. We weren't though and it seemed like we would never get there! We passed another runner and finally got to the road! Once we hit the road, Ash finally saw what I meant when I told her this road was steep! Hell, I even think it was steeper than I thought the first time I was on it! I tried to walk down this road as quickly as possible, but wasn't running because I didn't know if my legs could handle it. I didn't want to tear my legs to shreds with still having another 9 or 10 miles to go (which still seemed like an eternity).
We finally got off the road and hit more single track. It still wasn't dark, but it was close enough I flicked on my headlamp just to be safe at this point. The inner part of my thighs were feeling pretty rough by now. I couldn't really describe it well for Ash, but every step felt like there were shards of glass cutting my legs. We walked quite a bit, I would run little sections and then walk some more. Every so often I would stop and bend over to touch my toes and try to loosen up my back. I guess everything was starting to bother me at this point and I was ready to be done! We continued to walk and run (mostly walk) and I finally had to put on a long sleeve shirt. I had gone all race (25 hours or so) so far in just shorts and a t-shirt, but with my slow pace and the wind whipping I was starting to get a chill. I also took 2 more advil and was just hoping to finally, finally get to this damn aid station! This would be the last time I saw Dad & Pat until the finish and I couldn't wait for that finish line. All I wanted to do was cross that line and then jump in the vehicle and go to the hotel. I was ready for some sleep and I know everyone else was too! Then Ash said, "There it is!" Holy cow, we made it to the aid station! I drank an Ensure, ate some soup and all we had to do was another 5.1 miles!
My legs were feeling quite horrible again and we left the aid moving slow. I was actually rooting for the uphill that I knew was coming shortly. At this point, my legs would take less abuse going up and I think I was moving faster going uphill too! We kept hiking at a pretty slow pace, but forward motion was good enough at this point! I just wanted to go sleep! Once Ash & I hit the top we got on a grass road. Yes, the same grass road that I had missed a turn on earlier in the race. I started running more, then would walk a bit and then run some more. I finally felt like the advil was starting to kick in and I could run more and I was feeling much less pain! Now I don't know if it was indeed the advil or just knowing I was nearing the finish eased all my pains. Either way, I was happy and we started moving at a much faster pace. Before we knew it, we hit signs saying that we were entering Boy Scout Camp property. That meant we were getting closer to the finish! At one point Ash said if you can keep up this pace you might be able to get in under 28 hours. Once we hit the dirt road we had ran on earlier in the race I started to pick up my pace. I kept checking my watch and was really hoping to sneak in under 28 hours. I had 18 minutes left, then 16, then 14. I kept running faster and faster with Ash by my side and it felt great! I felt no pain and knew we had to be getting close to the finish! I kept waiting to see Hope Lake and it just wasn't coming. I knew once I hit the lake I had less than a half mile to go. Ash & I kept speeding up as my time was dwindling. I was under 10 minutes left now and felt like we were flying! I wasn't wearing a GPS but I would have swore Ash and I were running around 7 minute miles. I checked my watch again and saw I had 4 minutes. Hope Lake needed to get here quick! Finally, we hit it and started around the edge of the lake. At this time I had less than 3 minutes and I really picked up the pace. Once we hit the road at the other side of the lake I was running as fast as I could. I feel like we had to of been running low 6's, but I really had no clue. Then we had less than a minute left and I could just about see the finish! I finally made the last turn and was headed through the yard and toward the finish. I wasn't quite close enough to read the clock, so was running as hard as I could. Once I could actually read the clock I saw it said 27:59:38. Wow, I really brought this down to the wire! I kept running as hard as I could and crossed the line at 27:59:55! I was done! I got my finishers shirt, buckle and a handshake from the RD. Dad & Pat were there to greet me, as well as my friend Danny Mowers (who had finished 1.5hrs earlier) and his girlfriend. We stood around and talked for maybe 10 minutes about the race, the crazy wind and anything else that came up. It was so great to be done and it was finally time to head to the vehicle I had been dreaming about for hours and that magical ride to the hotel!