Where does one begin talking about running 100 miles, let alone 100 miles in a single day?
It was Thanksgiving morning. I sat anxiously at my computer counting down the minutes until the registration link on Ultra Signup was activated. Brian, Elisa, and I decided months earlier this journey was going to be a group effort. I personally chose this race due to its proximity to home, a chance to ride a unicorn (it’s a Yeti thing), and to search for the Yeti, of course!
I have learned in my short ultra-running time that having a pacer can either make or break a successful journey. Elisa picked Andrea to crew/pace her which was a benefit for me, too, during the first 50 miles. About a month out, I felt safe doing this 100 by myself. What could go wrong on the Creeper Trail? 33 miles downhill then turn around, 33 miles back up, and then 33 miles back down. Easy peasy! Well, I had an aha moment (three weeks before race day) and asked Ruthie (Rated R) to accompany me on the final 33 miles.
White Top to Abingdon, 0 – 33.4 miles, 6 hours 17 minutes
As the sun began to fill the morning darkness and the clock neared 7:00 am, Jason Green (RD) gave us a quick pep talk. It was our time to shine! A few moments later, Brian and I set off down the hill. My plan was to stick with Brian for the first two laps; he has a couple 100 milers under his belt and would keep me reined in. The idea was to run for about 20 minutes to create some separation among the field of runners then settle into a run/walk rhythm of 6/2. It always feels weird to run several minutes then start walking, and this could potentially become a hazard too, as others may not follow the same run/walk pattern.
We quickly linked up with a couple of other runners and leap frogged with many others over the course of the morning. The first aid station on our down was at Taylor Valley (~10 mi) where I refilled my single water bottle and grabbed a quick bite. You know aid stations are going to be fun when little bottles of Fireball are scattered around the table!
The sights along the Creeper Trail were breath-taking. The leaves had begun to change and fall, and just about every step we took towards Abingdon kept us within sight of a creek or river.
The air remained cool and the breezes subtle as I continued my descent to Damascus (main aid station/ ~17.9 mi). Andrea was awaiting our arrival and had our drop bags ready. As I entered, she handed me my first grab-and-go bag and refilled my bottles (fortunately, I packed a second bottle). Not wasting anytime, Brian and I were bound for Abingdon within a couple of minutes.
The Damascus aid station was party central! The music was loud and everyone was having a great time cheering on the runners. There might have been some early alcohol consumption, too.
As Brian and I made our way to Alvarado (~25 mi) the temps continued to climb. It felt so long ago since our bodies had been running through the crisp mountain air. Now, the humid air had grown thicker as the temps soared into the 80s. As we entered the third aid station, Andrea was standing there checking on us to ensure we were taking in fluids and consuming food. Again, we refiled our water bottles and grabbed a quick bite. As we crossed over the marathon distance, I felt great with the current run/walk rhythm.
Just a couple miles out from Abingdon, I started to feel the heat getting to me. I felt like my brain was cooking under the clear, sunny skies. This also contributed to my elevated heartrate. The pace slowed a bit and the walk breaks just didn’t seem as long. Nonetheless, we made our way to Abingdon where Andrea was again waiting our arrival. Now my stomach was churning. These were all major factors that prevented me from consuming necessary calories to maintain forward progress. As Andrea helped me through the aid station, and asked me a couple of times if I was doing okay, I think she could see what I couldn’t – pain was written all over my face.
Abingdon to White Top, 33.4 – 66.8 miles, 8 hours 11 minutes
Like it or not, it was time to turn and make my way back up the mountain (~1,700’ elevation gain), I had over 66 miles to go. As I was leaving the aid station Jason yelled, “At your current pace you will pick up two buckles!” I had no idea what he was talking about, I only knew of the one buckle – finisher’s buckle. His words combined with the heat made me wonder the rest of the race what he was talking about.
At this point, I lost Brian. He sees aid stations as speed bumps in his quest for the finish line, so he was in-and-out of the aid station before I could catch my breath. Now it was time to resort to Plan B… enjoy the run until I saw Ruthie.
This plan only lasted about a mile…then all hell broke loose. As I was running, I felt a sharp searing pain in my right calf. The jolt was so powerful that I almost tumbled to the ground in pain. Here we go again… cramps! As I tried to walk off the cramps, my left calf apparently felt left out, so it decided to cramp up too. Luckily, I was near a bench! I used it to keep me from falling to the ground. As I looked at my calves, I thought I was being possessed by demons – both were fully flexed and firing at random, creating a rippling effect. This was not part of Plan B! My race goal had gone from finishing with a sub-24 to hoping to finish under the 30-hour cutoff. After several minutes of cussing to myself and smiling at everyone who passed by asking about my well-being, I tried to see if I could just walk… I would take anything at this point.
The tide started to turn as I was able to walk, and I did so for a couple of miles. I was moving which meant I could finish! I had to finish, Ruthie was driving six hours to pace me – not take an evening stroll through the woods. After a quick phone call to my wife, I felt energized enough to start running again. At first I didn’t get far before I had to walk, but it didn’t matter as I was making forward progress again and that was a great feeling. Plus, I didn’t get this far just to throw my hands up and quit!
First stop on the way back was Alvarado (~42 mi). Before refilling my bottles, I splashed my face with cool water from a nearby fountain. As I was topping off my bottles, I noticed the aid station had cold cans of Ginger Ale, so I took one. Surely, this would calm my stomach and allow me to start replenishing my growing calorie deficit. I stayed under the tent longer than I planned, but then again, I was on new plan… survival.
With my bottles topped off and my stomach settling, I headed off towards Damascus. I had seven miles to get myself in order before the big climb to the top. It took me almost two hours to make the trip back to Damascus (~49 mi). Upon my arrival, I retrieved my drop bag and grabbed my jacket, gloves, headlamp, and a couple snacks. Afterwards, I made a beeline towards the food cabin where I spent several minutes drinking Ginger Ale and grazing on all the food. Too bad my stomach didn’t feel this good earlier- there was enough food to feed a small army!
I had about 10 miles to go before I met Ruthie, and I was energized to keep moving. I wanted to make the turnaround at White Top with enough time to spare for my finishing lap. I was certain I would be walking the last portion in so I had to keep moving.
As I was leaving Damascus, I heard a car pull up next to me and honk (this portion of the trail runs parallel with the road). I looked over and noticed it was RUTHIE! She decided to meet here and run with me the rest of the way. Wow, what a game changer! I continued my forward progress while she parked.
After meeting up, we chatted about my crazy day, and what was required to finish the journey. I had recovered a bit at this point and was able to run/walk a 4/2 rhythm without too much pain and still keep a decent pace on both. It was not long after she joined me that we had to break out our headlamps.
On the ascent to White Top we began passing other runners, something I had not accomplished for over eight hours. We had a good time chatting with each other as we made our way up. We knew we were close to the aid station as more and more headlamps were bobbing up and down the trail towards us. Oddly enough, I was able to pick out Brian from one of the headlamps and give him a high-five and wish him well on his finish.
Upon our arrival to the aid station, I had the feeling we were part of Star Wars movie – the volunteers were dressed as Chewbacca and the theme music was playing in the background.
White Top to Abingdon, 66.8 – 100.2 miles, 7 hours 52 minutes
It’s hard to believe, but it had been 14:38 hours since I started this journey – now the temps were cool enough for my breath to be clearly visible in my headlamp’s beam. After consuming more than my fair share of Ginger Ale and grazing on some of the available snacks, it was time to find that finish line.
The cooler temps, running downhill, and Ruthie’s upbeat attitude rejuvenated my spirit to finish with my original goal – sub-24. Back to Plan A!
The return trip to Abingdon was more or less uneventful except for Ruthie’s shadow puppet show. You would have thought she was the one that ran 100 miles – oh the laughs and goofiness! I credit Ruthie for keeping me on track and focused, and she told me not to worry (about 1,000 times) – we were going to arrive with a sub-24 finish. I am not sure I would have been as successful if I had decided to tackle this adventure alone.
I remember spending more time walking than running from Damascus to Alvarado, and several times when I attempted to run Ruthie was walking faster than I was running. This was a clear sign that I should walk too. With five miles left, I started getting antsy or rather nervous…trying to calculate a finish time was near impossible…do I run or walk? If absolutely necessary, I could have walked in a sub-24, but that’s not my style. I decided to do what I could until the final mile. Then it didn’t matter how much pain resonated through my body, I was going to run with everything I had left!
With the finish banner barely visible by some side lighting, I started to tear up…I’ve done it! I just ran 100 miles in less than a day. I was able to adapt and overcome the roadblocks I faced along the way with success. I crossed the finish line with an ear-to ear grin, hugged Ruthie, and high-fived Jason.
This race would not have been possible without the support of my wife, and my “running wife” (Ruthie). Thank you both for allowing me to be successful!
- Nathan Hydration Pack /
- 2 x UD Bottle /
- Fenix3 w/HRM
- Pearl Izumi M2 Road Shoes
- Jacket/Gloves (req’d if finish time >18 hrs)
- Outdoor Reasearch Gaitors