Friday, March 25, 2016

2016 Georgia Death Race 68 Mile Race Report

  • 4th Place - 13:09:44
  • Strava Data (Garmin Forerunner 310xt)
  • Photo's by WeRunHuntsville

  • Last year I ran the Georgia Death Race on a reversed course that made the race much easier.  This year the course was switched to its original direction, plus an extra 5 miles of harder, technical trail was added near the end.  In 2015 the young and quiet Andrew Miller slowly pulled away from me over the last 25 miles of the race; I still ran a solid race though in 10.5 hours.  With the harder course this year everyone's time was much slower, and it took me nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes longer!  The young kid though, still under 20 years old, didn't miss a beat and instead of letting me hang around for 40 miles, he blew the race right open 5 miles in.  I never saw him again and he repeated as champion earning a Golden Ticket along the way.

    The race now, meant going after that coveted second and last Golden Ticket, which in my estimate, at least over a dozen guys were vying for, me being one of them.  Second place stayed closer longer, but around 10 miles the less-than-one-year-old ultra runner, Caleb Denton, made the pack look slow on a steep North Georgia Mountain downhill.  After Caleb left us, the East-coast veteran and UROY Top 10er Brian Rusieki, Hokie Ultra Runner Darren Thomas, and myself ran 3-5 for a long time.  We chatted and had a good time catching up since we are all familiar with the east coast and Central Virginia ultra scene.  I ran about 60 miles with Brian at the 2014 Grindstone 100 before he pulled away and beat me by 25 minutes, so I knew he was a very strong contender here.       
    Still early, still with Brian and Darren.  Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Running down into the Skeenah Gap AS (mile 21.5), the only out and back segment of the point-to-point course, we were able to see how far Andrew and Caleb were ahead of us.  I estimated that we were 12 minutes from Andrew and 6 minutes from Caleb.  While it sounds like a lot, 12 minutes was hardly anything to get overly worried about on a course like this one-third of the way through.  I was still feeling super-chill and knew exactly what was in front of us.

    Last year the easy part of the course was at the beginning.  This consisted of about 30 miles of gravel/dirt fire roads of long ascents and long descents; I thrived on it, cranking sub-7 miles.  This year these sections were at the end of the race - my thought for race planning was to conserve energy and do some work on the fire roads in the last 30 miles of the course.  I knew if I still had some legs no one in the race could out run me.  As much as I pride myself on challenging, steep, technical mountain trails, the fact is that my raw speed is what I am best at in this point of my career.

    In the next section Darren stepped to the side of the trail to take a leak and I figured he would come back pretty soon but I never saw him again.  I later learned that he messed up his achilles shortly after and had to drop at mile 47.  Now it was just Brian and I for a long while.  When I saw my crew for the first time at the Point Bravo AS (mile 28) I was still feeling fresh in 3-4 place with Brian.  As we were leaving the aid station together we saw another runner come in who we had seen earlier on the out and back section.  He looked good and had made up a lot of ground in the last 7 miles.
    Still running uphills at this point, but soon to hit it.  Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Brian and I worked together in the next section but the new runner quickly caught up to us and passed.  Brian was in front and didn't seem to want to go with him and I was still feeling good so I went with him on the quick downhill.  I soon caught up and learned his name was Dominick Layfield from Park City, Utah.  We chatted a bit and it was apparent that we were feeling about the same, running pretty quickly on the downs and flats and power-hiking most steep uphills.  Progress reports were sparse on the top two runners so I was still happy with being in 3-4 place and still moving pretty steadily along the trail.  It wasn't until Dominick pulled away from me a couple miles before the Long Creek AS (mile 41) that I hit a abrupt low point.

    Low points always come.  Some more abrupt than others, some less low.  This one that hit was bad.  Like, things were going well and then I was going to drop out at the next aid station, if I ever reached it.  I sat down for about 30 seconds when I arrived to Long Creek AS.  I drank some ginger ale and mountain dew.  I still had 7 miles to Winding Stair where my crew would be.  The funny thing is that this is when the fire gravel/dirt roads started - the exact point of the race that I was looking forward to reaching so I could start to make up ground on the top 2!  I guess the age old realization that nothing ever goes to plan in an ultra is the truth.
    baby Fern checking on me.
    An avocado was about the only thing that sounded okay.
    I ran okay downhill but then had a 2.5 mile uphill into Winding Stair AS (mile 47) to see my crew.  I was in a horrible mood as I slowly walked up a runnable grade.  I was beating myself up about letting the thought of dropping out in my head.  When I finally reached the aid station Bobbi was there with baby Fern and my sister Becca.  I immediately sat down on the blanket - I just wanted to take my shoes off.  The aid station workers were great trying to get me fixed up but I couldn't even think about eating - eating was long in the past.  It was all ginger ale and mountain dew and the occasional potato chip at this point.  As I sat there on the blanket I told Bobbi that she needed to convince me not to drop out.  The conversation went something like this:
    Me: "You need to really talk me out of dropping out right now."
    Bobbi: "You can't drop out, you're doing great, you're in 4th place!"
    Me: "I don't feel like it..... I'm tired of running."
    Bobbi: "Tomorrow you will regret it if you drop out."
    Me: "It doesn't matter.  Why would it matter to me if I drop?... it's just a race."
    Bobbi: "Well you'll be a grump to be around and I don't want to drive all the way back to Ohio with you if you're going to be a grump."
    Me: "................."

    That was about the end of that conversation.  I guess she convinced me because I started putting a new pair of shoes on and finishing my third mug of ginger ale.  I stood up and meandered over to the aid station table.  The ladies there were great, but I still couldn't eat anything, just drink sugar.  All in all I took 11 minutes at Winding Stair before finally moving on.  I hugged Bobbi and Fern and started running.  No real chance to drop out now.

    After leaving Winding Stair AS there was a steep 3 mile down hill that I knew was coming - I decided to push hard on this section in attempts to wake my legs up and start rolling.  This amazingly produced 6:33, 6:22, and 6:59 miles from 48-50.  Unfortunately this didn't last forever but I was at least making relentless forward progress.  Out of Jake Bull AS (mile 53) I relished a couple miles of faster road miles before starting the long climb up Nimblewell Gap.  I remember this section from last year when it was still early in the race going the opposite direction downhill; I ran 4 consecutive 6:30's miles.  This year it literally took over twice the amount of time going uphill as I struggled to maintain 15 minute hiking pace.  I probably only managed to squeak out 3/4 a mile of running over the 4 mile hill.  It dragged on and on until I watched the sun start to fade.
    Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    One of the only good things about taking much longer than planned for this years GDR was seeing the sun set over the distant mountains - it was beautiful.  The rugged North Georgia Mountains are no-joke.  They test your will, your mental and physical abilities.  I always feel better for going through it.  Whether it takes 10.5 hours to traverse through the mountains, or 13 hours to cover the same ground, I always feel better.  Being up on the ridge as the sun set, I was content.  The race didn't end like I hoped, but I had 7 miles to finish and knew I was okay.  I was just in the mountains doing what I love to do - I set out on these journey's knowing exactly what could happen, and what likely would happen.  It feels really good to be able to do that, no matter what the outcome is.  I wasn't going to Western States, not this year, but it didn't really matter - I had a beautiful daughter and a wife that convinces me to do the right thing when things get rough waiting for me at the finish line.  And on that note the sun dipped below the horizon a final time, I turned to face downhill, flicked on my headlamp, and started to run.


    Always relaxing at the beginning to catch up but soon turned to all-business.  Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Trying to grind 60 miles in.  Photo by WeRunHuntsville.

    Monday, February 22, 2016

    U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials

    With the Olympic Marathon Trials happening a couple Saturdays ago I couldn't help but dream about what a 100 Mile Trail Race would look like as an Olympic sport, and subsequently having a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials event that selected the 3 males and females to represent America at the Olympics.  This idea will probably never happen in our lifetime, but it is fun to think about what a 100 mile event would look like at the Olympics.  I just don't think there is enough countries represented in ultra marathon and 100 mile distances to warrant it as an Olympic sport.  The sport is growing however, so who knows, maybe an ultra marathon at the Olympics will happen someday.  

    I also remember in 2011 when Geoff Roes started a discussion about "The Championship Race."  It is kind of funny going back and reading his post and the comments on it, as ultra running has grown so much and taken on new structures and ideals in the past 5 years.  But as Geoff called for in 2011, "a true championship race in American Ultrarunning," we have still not seen it.  Races such as the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) and Run Rabbit Run 100 have started since then offering higher prize money and attempting to attract "championship" caliber fields, and while organizations such as the US Skyrunner Series and USATF Championship Races create a "championship" feel at their races, there is still no "true championship" race in American Ultrarunning.  In my opinion, traditional ultramarathons like Western States 100, Lake Sonoma 50, and The North Face 50 Mile EC have all been the most competitive fields for American Ultrarunners.  This article and graph from UltraRunning even confirms what the most competitive races were in 2015.
    UltraRunnings findings for most competitive races in 2015.
    The fact is that there is no one race per year (or every four years like the Marathon Trials) where ALL of the top ultra runners in America show up to compete for something worthwhile.

    I am not saying we need to have this type of event.  The argument of whether an elite race like this is good or bad for our sport has long been overplayed in past discussions, but for the sake of imagining a bid for running in the Olympics in a 100 Mile Trail Race, we need to have such a race.

    Most individual sports (golf, tennis, running, etc.) have events where ALL of the top athletes in that sport are competing.  Golf and tennis have the four majors, running has the major marathons and Olympics every four years.  In ultra running, when was the last time all of the top 10 vote-getters for Ultra Runner of the Year raced in the same event?  I'd venture to say never!  It is probably rare to even have more than 3-4 of the top 10 vote-getters at the same race, except for maybe one or two of the races from the chart above.

    If the Olympics had a 100 Mile Trail Race event, then ALL of the top American Ultrarunners would toe the line in the same race at the same time every 4 years at the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials.

    This is exactly the case of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.  Throughout the 4 years between marathon trials events, each major marathon sees a dozen or more elite American men and women per race, but it isn't until the Olympic Marathon Trials that ALL of the top American men and women compete against each other.  If there was a 100 mile race with the same incentive of making the Olympic team, I would argue that we would see the same thing every 4 years in ultra running.  Could you imagine!?

    The Marathon Trials has a simple method of time standards for runners to achieve in order to qualify for the Olympic Trials.  100 Mile Ultra Trail Races cannot use this method because of the variability in terrain at different races.  So, there needs to be some sort of method to select the runners who would compete in the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials.  This method would need to be worked out, but it may be based on wins and placement in selected races, your ranking by one of the established ranking systems, or application/resume based.  I think placement at a selected list of races over the course of 2-3 years would fill the team well (like top 10 of certain races qualify, etc.).  

    Having one race on one day to select the top 3 males and females to represent America makes for such a compelling story.  Even ultrarunners were watching the marathon trials a couple weeks ago!  This makes for a dramatic way to select a team, but really, it is the fairest, least-ambiguous way to send a team to the Olympics.  The U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to have the same selection method in order to get ALL the top ultra runners in one race.  Sure, some runners would be injured and some would have a bad day, but that all adds to the drama of a "championship."

    Just like in the marathon, the 100 Mile Trials would need to take place every four years.  If the Olympics are in the summer of 2020 per-se, then the 100 Mile Trials would need to fall sometime before that date giving qualifiers plenty of time to recover and train for the Olympics.  The Marathon Trials are in January so I would guess 100 milers would need even more time to recover, plan, and train for the Olympics.  Maybe a date in September or October of the year before the Olympics is when this 100 Mile Trials should be.

    The location of the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to alternate every four years.  It could either be bid on from current events like how the Marathon Trials is or Local Organizing Committee's (LOC's) could form to create an entirely new race every four years.  This might be the best option since the 100 Mile Trials course would need to mimic the Olympics location.  For instance, the 2020 Summer Olympics are in Tokyo so the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to be similar to the 100 Mile Course in Japan, which would already be plotted out by the actual Olympic Organizing Committee.  The terrain, elevation, etc. would all need to as closely as possible match the Olympic site.  This is all assuming a typical trail 100 mile, with singletrack trail, runnable terrain, and variable elevation changes.  This 100 mile race would not be on a road or track.  

    Imagine an all-star line-up of reputable race directors getting together to plan and put a bid in for a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials hosting right.  There may for 2-4 LOC's from different regions of the country making a compelling case to hold the 100 Mile Trials at their location.  This competitive bidding process would bring out the best course, planning, and logistics and ultimately be the best operated 100 mile around.

    Ultra running is know for its community and ability to put the most elite men and women in the exact same race as those runners not competing for top places.  This is one aspect of the sport that needs to remain in tact even if a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials takes place.  To do this, it could be structured just as the Marathon Trials are, by having the elite race on one day and the "pedestrian" race on the day after.  This structure would encourage more spectators at the 100 Mile Trials and then allow those spectators to run the exact same course the next day.  I think this would really keep in line with the community and spirit of the sport.

    This is a fun dream, isn't it?  Who wouldn't want to see Rob Krar, Timothy Olsen, David Laney, Sage Canaday, Dakota Jones, Seth Swansen, Dylan Bowman, Jeff Browning, Ian Sharman, Jason Schlarb Hal Koerner, Mike Wolfe, Alex Varner, Zach Miller, Max King, Jorge Maravilla, Mike Wardian, Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Mike Foote, Nick Clark, Yassine Diboun and the 100 or more top American men as well as Madga Boulet, Stephanie Howe, Rory Bosio, Kaci Lickteig, Larissa Dannis, Krissy Moehl, Nikki Kimball, Michell Yates, Darcy Piceu, Aliza Lapierre, Cassie Scallon, Denise Bourassa,Sally Mcrae, Meghan Abogast, Pam Smith, Caroline Boller, Jodee Moore, Joelle Vaught, Amy Sproston, Pam Reed and the 100 or more top American women ALL compete in the same race!?

    Comment below and discuss!

    Happy Trails [and Trials]

    Friday, February 19, 2016

    2016 Black Canyon 100K Race Report

    Coming into the year I was really interested in a few of the early Western States Golden Ticket races.  I was originally registered for the Bandera 100K in January but I came down with a 3 day flu that put me out for a few days the week of the race; so I quickly changed plans and entered the Black Canyon 100K hosted by Aravaipa Running in Arizona.  This would be a great option to go for a "Golden Ticket" and an opportunity to race in a desert environment which I had never done.  Plus, Aravaipa Running and Jamil Coury put on quality events on great courses.  I was excited to race for the first time in 8 months as well!
    Leading up to the race there were some great names dotting the registration list.  A legend like Hal Koerner, former UROY Sage Canaday, fast road marathoners like Chris Mocko, and other recent top trail runners like Ryan Kaiser, Paul Giblin, and about a dozen other names I wasn't as familiar with.  It was shaping up to be a hot race, not just with fast runners, but literally hot temperatures in the Arizona winter.  I was keeping an eye on the weather forecasts and about two weeks before the race Phoenix only saw highs in the 50's for several days but as the race approached the forecasted temperature kept rising.  Race day temperatures called for high-80's - only about 80 degrees higher than the single-digit temperatures I came from in Ohio.

    The course is known for being a tale of two halves.  The race starts in Mayer, AZ at an elevation of 4000' but runs mostly downhill to around 2000' in the first 50K.  The second 50K then provides many little up and downs with a couple longer climbs.  This makes the first half of the race fast, and the second half much harder.  I had a pretty good grasp on last years winning splits and didn't want to go much faster, or faster at all, then their times as many of last years runners faded hard in the last half.  My goal was to hopefully conserve for a stronger second half and hope a fast pace gets the front runners like the previous year.
    The grind starts in the second 50K.
    With someone like Sage Canaday in the race I feel like everyone sort of lets him dictate the early pace.  Once we started though I could tell there were a few others who wanted to push the early miles.  I settled into a pace that was still faster than last years winners miles but still nowhere near the front pack.  As Hal Koerner posted on social media later that day, this was a road 100K pace!  The winner of last years race, Ford Smith, went through the first 50K in about 3:50:00 so I was a bit taken aback when I was at 3:45:00 through 50K and in about 9-10th place!  The front group of Sage and others ended up already being about 10 minutes ahead and we were all on an alarming course record pace.  Below is a comparison of my first 50K mile splits compared to last years winners first 50K mile splits.

    Ford Smiths first 50K (2015 winner) splits

    My first 50K splits.
    I continued running well until about mile 34.  Charlie Ware and we had been running much of the race together but he slowly pulled away from me on a rocky and technical downhill at around this point.  Running into the short out and back section to the Black City Canyon Aid Station (mile 38), I saw that Charlie had already gaped me by about 6-7 minutes!  By this time, the temperature was already reaching 80+ and people were starting to feel those early fast downhill miles.  I came into the aid station in around 8th place after learning a couple guy had dropped out and after passing a runner shortly out of the aid station, I settled into 7th place.

    I was feeling it by this point however.  But the interesting thing is, I think everyone else was feeling it just as much as I was.  The more I struggled for the next miles, the more I kept thinking someone, or many, were going to start passing me.  I was walking on the uphills, even walking easy flat trail.  I wish I could go back and get in the straight mindset during these miles but this is the challenge of ultras - some people have this innate or learned ability to be super present with themselves and be able to push through rough moments.  My best races I have been able to do this.  My legs were feeling pretty good, I was staying well hydrated, but the sun was frying my brain and making it hard to think clearly.  I just wanted to be done.  I knew I was not going to be done however for several more hours.  Eventually I got a hold of myself.
    Running in the desert the day before the race!
    THE LAST 12
    While the last 12 miles were anything but fast (just compare my splits to Sage's), I was at least feeling good and running most of the way.  Nothing special happened.  No one tried to pass me or I didn't see anyone in front of me.  I just got to mile 50 and started to sense the feeling of being finished.  I had been running since mile 38 without seeing another runner - still in 7th place.  I didn't know how close anyone was in front but was also pretty confident that if I just kept running, and since no one passed me during my slow 18 mile stretch, that I would make it to the finish no worse than 7th.

    That is what happened.  As I ran into the last 2.5 mile section (the only part of the course that I ran on the day prior) I was feeling good and even able to run a few sub-8 miles!  The Western States Golden Ticket was out of the picture, but I was finishing a grueling race in an unfamiliar environment.  I stayed in 7th place overall behind 6 super-tough guys, and finished in around 9:17:06.

    The desert was a tough place, and far from the single-digit temperatures that I was training in during Ohio's winter.  I hate to use the high temperatures as an excuse but I won't lie and say it didn't affect me.  All in all though, I think I handled the hydration part pretty well.  I wonder how some of the locals handled it.  The desert was also much different than most Eastern Ultras that are lush forests with shaded trails and green vegetation all over.  Besides the tall slender cactus and sparse juniper, there wasn't much growth above my head to provide shade.  These open and exposed vistas are certainly alluring in its own way however.  But there was a sense of loneliness in the desert during the final 26 miles when I didn't see any other runner.

    The early pace was fast!  I knew it would be this way - and there is probably no getting around having a much slower second 50K than first, but my splits were alarmingly opposite.  Charlie Ware, who didn't pass me until around mile 34 ended up getting second place - his strong second half of the race was still much slower than our first half, but he executed the smart race that I had hoped to and battled tough during those hot and hilly middle miles.  And Sage Canaday was just on a different playing field winning the race by almost 50 minutes and setting the Black Canyon 100K course record by over 40 minutes!  Huge congrats to those two as they now make their way to Western States 100!  Anyone who managed to stay strong and finish on this grueling day deserves mad props!
    Some sections of the Black Canyon Trail were rocky like this!
     I really appreciate all the support from back home and the friends and family that follow my ultra running adventures.  This was the longest I'd been away from home without baby Fern so it was tough not seeing her or Bobbi for 5 days.  They are constant sources of motivation in race.  I had a good time hanging out with Virginia/Ohio compadre Rudy Rutemiller and meeting his friend Dylan from Flagstaff.  We all stayed in a hotel together along with Ezra Becker from the Bay Area.  Rudy, Ezra, and I all finished the race which was a nice accomplishment and Dylan crewed and paced with Rudy the last 12 miles.  Their Bay Area running community vibe is infectious and something I look forward to seeing more of in SE Ohio!

    This was a super well organized and directed race by Aravaipa Running and Jamil Coury and his crew.  I've been wanting to run one of their races for a long time.  The trail running community really shows at the aid stations and post-race festivities.  Some of the best aid stations I've experienced!  With the hotter than expected temperatures they were on top of getting water and ice to runners, and did great getting my bandanna filled with ice at each station.  Amazing organization and I'd recommend their races to anyone.

    And thanks to my sponsors UGo Bars, Swiftwick Socks, SOS! Rehydrate, Julbo and Honey Stinger for supplying products and support that directly help me get through a race like this and the training leading up and recovery after.  Having these brands along make the preparation much easier and allows me to just focus on giving it my best during the race!

    I am currently registered for the Georgia Death Race 68 Mile on March 19, which is another Western States Golden Ticket race.  A big part of me wants to stop holding Western States up so high as a goal and just go off and run other races and wait for the lottery to get in, but the allure of participating in the most historic 100 miler has me pulled in.  So I will be toeing the line in Georgia looking for a top 2 finish - a race that I finished 2nd in last year when it was not a Golden Ticket race!  I will try to repeat and build on a strong race from last year.

    I was also selected in the Cascade Crest 100 Mile that will be August 27.  I really look forward to seeing this course and region.  The Cascade Crest course seems to be my type of course!

    Happy Trails

    A highlight video by Aravaipa Running:

    Monday, July 6, 2015

    2015 Mohican Trail 100 Mile Race Report

  • 1st Place - 17:59:15 (CR on current course)
  • Strava Data (Garmin Forerunner 310xt)

  • The Mohican 100 Mile Trail Run is an event I had been looking to run since I started running ultra marathons in 2010.  The long history of the race (26th year and "5th oldest ultra in the US"), being located just 3 hours from where I live, not to mention the superb forest the course runs through, made it a fine choice for a summer 100 mile this year.  With Mohican State Forest being a short drive, and in Loudonville, where many of my grandpa's side of the family still reside, I had a full force of family members that were able to support me and enjoy their first ultra experience.  My wife, baby daughter and I also had a bed to sleep in with great hospitality and meals from my Aunt Judy who lives literally just 2 miles from the race start.  This aspect of the weekend was awesome and made it a memorable one. 

    I was also looking forward to being a part of a race that was going on its 26th year (a long time for 100 milers).  A race with history always embodies the aspect of trail and ultra running that I enjoy.  There are stories, people, and moments through the years of these races that make it special.  Surely, more races will start building on their own history, but these "old" ones might last to be most historic.  The course was altered in 2010 from the original one, now including 95% trail -cutting out some road sections of past- on 4 repeating loops (two at 27 miles and two at 23 miles).  The old course is reportedly much faster with some road sections, so Courtney Campbell's CR at 15:11:00 seemed out of reach.  My plan was to work on how I felt, crunching numbers in my head, and try to stay consistent all day long and execute on not just pace but fueling and hydration.  
    Early start line of the 26th Mohican Trail 100.  I'm in there under the "L" and "T".  Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 1
    The race morning was a cool and wet one.  The original mid-90's forecast of a typical Ohio summer became more mild as the race approached, but it also brought in rain.  After a conservative start on 1 mile of pavement through the park campground we entered the smooth lush singletrack that we would be on for 95% of the race.  Nate Polaske started much faster than the rest of the race and he was out of site when we entered the trail.  I was running behind two more runners in 4th but within 3 miles I excused myself around them and was just behind Nate.  This early move foretold a tale of the next 18 hours of the day.

    While Mohican is one of the oldest 100 milers in the US, there are typically only a handful of runners that break 20 hours.  I knew this - I wanted to be one of those runners in this years race - but I always knew in the back of my mind that it could be any number of people running any time.  I settled into "my own race" at a pace that was comfortable for 100 miles.  The rain was coming down above, but the dense forest kept me dry.  It was wet, but not bad at this point, and I was enjoying the forest with firm trails.  A deer dashed across the trail ahead of me, birds sung their morning songs as the sun started streaking through the trees.  For several miles I felt as if I was on a typical Saturday morning run with the group in Athens - fresh and easy.  Coming into the Fire Tower AS at mile 9 I caught a glimpse of Nate and soon after I slipped by him to be in the lead.

    I didn't necessarily want to be leading a 100 mile race at mile 10 - I had envisioned running with a small group of guys with the pack dwindling, but now I was alone with 90 miles ahead of me.  I pressed on and opened up my stride when the course allowed, on what was still firm trails in the rain. I enjoyed the far side of the long loop when the trail went up a dense gorge at Lyons Falls.  This included a vertical wall scaled by climbing roots.  I noted however the trail beginning to get muddy when there were signs of horse tracks.  I wondered how this would be on the next loop after some 700 runners (also from 50 mile and 26 mile races) passed through.

    A few miles after the Covered Bridge AS (mile 14.8) I strangely entered a low funk, and I was aware enough to wonder why I felt so bad.  My stomach was upset, I needed to stop to alleviate that feeling, and I was just overall fatigued.  I thought for sure that Nate would be running up behind me but after the two longest sections between aid on the course (5.6 and 6.9 miles) I ran into the Mohican Campground AS (mile 27) feeling lousy in 4:05:00.
    Still, practicing patience.  Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 2
    My dad asked how I was feeling and I said I wasn't feeling as good as I had hoped to at this point in the race.  Being just a fourth of the way through 100 miles and feeling bad isn't necessarily a great sign.  But, I've been through this before so I just put my head down and headed out for the second loop, still in first place.  The aid station stop must have done the trick because once getting back on the trail I regained my energy and form.  Like the start of the race, the first 9 mile section really lifted my spirits.  It was only 9:30am so I enjoyed a forest waking up, now all to myself.  This first section of trail also has a nice flow that I am accustomed to training on in SE Ohio.

    As I made my way through the back section of the course at Lyons Falls the trails were much different than the first time around.  At this point it had been raining since the race started, very hard for a couple hours.  The trail was muddy and slick, and sure to only get worse on the 3rd and 4th loops.  I reevaluated my pace, and the safety of how I trampsed down the trail because I imagined this would certainly play a large part in finishing times for not just me but everyone who was racing.

    As I popped down over Pleasant Hill Dam (mile 41), I noticed a lot of people hanging around looking over the spill way.  There were a couple dozen search and rescue workers scouring the river in boats, along the shore, and on ATV's.  At the next aid station I learned 3 high school aged kids had jumped into the spillway the day before and two had died and one rescued.  They were searching for the body of one.  This shook me a bit, and I thought how selfish it was that there were 700 runners out doing something they enjoyed while we ran past family members watching to see if their sons body would be found.  I felt a bit guilty, and I definitely reminded myself to keep perspective and that what I was doing was voluntary and how I couldn't take it for granted.  This helped in the low moments.

    Once again, as I finished the loop, I was in a low funk.  I was still leading going into the Mohican Campground AS for a second time (mile 54) but as I switched out gear, Nate came strolling into the AS as well.  He wasted no time and was out before I was.  I had led from 10 to 54 miles, but it was apparent that my slow second loop (4:55:00) was not just from the mud.  Nate caught up a lot of ground on me in the second loop.  I headed out still feeling low, and unsure of whether or not I would see Nate again.
    Along with the rain and mud came the warmer part of the day.  The race was also starting to heat up!  Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 3
    Loop 3 was grind time.  Mentally, I was happy to be over half way through with the course and only have the 2 short loops remaining (46 miles).  I was also looking forward to connecting with my pacer at mile 62.  Nick Reed traveled all the way from Lynchburg, VA just to pace me.  I first met Nick when I was teaching at Ohio University and he was one of my students in a Trail Running class.  He is from Ohio but has since moved to Virginia for a job, and is a strong trail runner with a couple 50 milers under his belt.  It was amazing for him to be so supportive of my race and being fine with a long drive to Ohio for the weekend.

    I didn't feel as good on the first 9 mile section of the loop as I did on the first two loops.  I could tell I was losing ground on Nate.  Coming into the Fire Tower AS (mile 62) to meet my crew I learned I was about 5-8 minutes behind the leader.  In a way I was relieved to hear I was still within 10 minutes of Nate, and hoped that having Nick join me would boost my energy and focus.  It took a little time to regain strength but having Nick there to chat with and keep me honest started giving me more of a drive forward.  The mud was worsening on the course, and the pace was slowing, but I could tell that my legs still had a lot of energy left and I was ready to "be on the hunt."

    Running out of Covered Bridge AS (mile 65) I was ready to tackle the section of trail that had been hardest for me all day.  This is why I chose Nick to pace me during the last 15 miles of the loop, and was planning to use him again on the last 15 miles of loop 4.  I didn't see Nate until shortly before the Hickory Ridge AS at mile 71.  I knew I was running strong leading up to that point but I was actually surprised to see him so soon.  At this point, I was ready to strategize and make the right decisions.

    After talking it over with Nick I decided to hold back as much as I could and wait to make any drastic move on Nate and after initially spotting Nate and his pacer through the trees ahead, I held back to the point for them not to see me.  I am not sure how long I went without being detected by Nate and his pacer, but eventually as I purposefully walked into Hickory Ridge AS Nate was too close not to catch.  As he took his time in the AS, so did I, because I felt it was too early to make a push for first place.

    So after Nate left, I continued to make sure I was properly fueled and left some 30 seconds after.  At this point, I sensed I was feeling stronger, but I still felt it was too early to make a move for first.  I shadowed Nate the next section onto Mohican Campground AS.  He was always in view ahead, and occasionally I would  be right behind him, and sometimes I would drop a little ways back.  It was fun for me to be in this position to "race" 100 miles 3/4 of the way into the race, and I liked trying to determine what was in my competitors head and how he was feeling.

    Finally, as we came within 2 miles of the final loop, and popped out of the trail onto a gravel uphill, I pulled even with Nate as we power-hiked.  It must have been a great scene, with Nate and I grunting up the hill, and our pacers flanking us on our outside.  I actually felt good enough to be running up this hill but remained patient.  We remained side by side into the Mohican Campground AS (mile 78).
    Pacer Nick Reed and I coming into the Covered Bridge AS.   Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 4
    I am an emotional runner, especially in 100 milers.  This can either be a strength or weakness depending on where my mind is.  A lot of thoughts pass through my head in the darkest moments of 100 miles and it is how I manage them that dictates how well I move on.  It becomes less about the physical ability and more about your mental strength of being able to propel your body forward.

    So when I headed out for my final loop of 22 miles of Mohican, I reached in for strength, sometimes even speaking out loud to myself.  I thought about my dad who was there crewing with the rest of my family - he was 4 weeks into daily chemotherapy and radiation treatment for colon cancer that had been diagnosed in May.  The mental and physical struggle he had to be enduring was unfathomable, but still continuing to stay strong and continuing normal activities.  I thought about my 2.5 month old baby girl who was with Bobbi following along the course - I drew inspiration from seeing her beautiful little face at the crew points.

    I was in the lead now.  Nate was walking out of the aid station and I ran by him into the trail.  I decided to go without a pacer until the last 15 miles of the course so I was alone.  I also made a decision at this point to push hard and go for it.  Since my legs were still feeling fresh I told myself that the more places I ran, those were moments that I was either maintaining or gaining the lead I had.  So I ran.  This 9 mile section through the loops first two aid stations became the sweet spots on the day for me.  I ran every step from the Campground AS to the Fire Tower AS at mile 86.  This was actually more running in this section than I had done even on the first loop of the race.

    When I arrived at the Fire Tower I learned I had been 5 minutes ahead of Nate at the previous aid station so it was reassuring that I had gained 5 minutes in 4.5 miles.  I knew that lead had not been cut into on the next section to the Fire Tower AS because I had kept a similar pace.  Now I was able to pick up Nick again to run the final 15 miles with me and knew that if I just continued to do what I had been doing, I could close this race out.

    The final 15 miles was mainly uneventful.  It is not that it came easy - I was hurting for sure - but it was actually fun.  My mind was fresh, which was crucial, and that was enough to keep my body going forward heightened sense of awareness on all fronts.  Darkness came onto the course, and our headlamps were switched on, and I plodded forward.  I chatted with Nick, went through low moments where I was silent, thinking about all the things that help motivate and propel me forward in dark times.  The mud was even sloppier on the fourth loop, which eased my mind in thinking that it would make it harder for anyone to run me down.  There was just so much one could do in certain sections of the course that was muddy - so I made sure I was on the upper end of getting through those sections.

    I was never 100% sure I was going to hold the lead until about one mile before the finish when the course entered a back road and the final paved walking path.  I had Nick looking behind me for the last 5 miles "just to make sure."  The last thing I wanted was to be working so hard and to be caught off guard by someone grooving in the last section.  My watch had died a few miles before the finish line, so I didn't worry about my time or pace - I just had to run hard.  I ran hard onto the road and walking path, through the tiki torch lit finishing stretch, and finally, was confident in my day.  I crossed the line with many aunts and uncles, parents, grandpa, sister, my wife Bobbi and baby daughter in 17:59:15, a record on the current Mohican course!
    A blur through the night with less than 7 miles to go.   Photo by Butch Phillips
    Thank You!
    What a wonderful day full of much support.  My wife and sister continue to be the go to best crews for many of my ultras, as well as my mom and dad who were at every stop.  It was also extra special to have my grandpa and many aunts and uncles who are from the Mohican area to follow along and cheer from start to finish!  Really, winning and having a successful day was just a little of the icing on the cake.  Also a huge shout out to UGo Bars for their continued support and also to SOS Rehydrate.  After sort of botching my hydration plan at Quest for the Crest 50k a few weeks before, I had a continual flow of SOS all day at Mohican which left my legs feeling great all the way to the finish!  Thanks to Honeystinger energy gels for fueling all 100 miles - many gels and waffle crisps were consumed as my main food source during the race.  And my sponsors Julbo and Swifwick Socks (still the best ultra sock - no blister even in mud caked and soggy feet, amazing!).  I am also glad to represent the Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine athlete team, and am grateful for their support of local athletes.  I wouldn't have stayed as strong and mentally fresh as I did in the last 40 miles of the race with Nick there pacing me.  He ran 30 miles just to keep me on track!  It would have also been impossible without great aid stations (the 3 hot cheese quesadillas I had at Covered Bridge were awesome!) and all volunteers of the event.  It was a great race and I am glad I was a part of Mohican.
     A driving force to come home too!  Photo by Butch Phillips
     Photo by Butch Phillips
     Nate came in 40 minute behind me.  It was a true race most of the day.  Photo by Butch Phillips 
     Photo by Butch Phillips
     Photo by Butch Phillips

    (Great highlight video made by