Once again, if you haven’t read the first 3 parts of this race report, you can go to the Home page and scroll down to the prior parts to get caught up.
Pinchot Cabin to Houston Brothers: This next section is a huge part of why I signed up for this race. In Part 1, I mentioned how my first attempt at running a 100 mile race wasn’t successful. I had entered the Javelina Jundred 100 mile race in 2011 and dropped after 5 loops (77 miles in 18 hours) due to pain in my left knee. It was a pain I had never had before and it concerned me enough to drop to prevent any serious damage. Ever since that night when I dropped from that race, I had an itch that kept eating at me telling me to keep on running. I wanted to complete a 100 mile race. I knew I could do it. Strength, stamina, determination and dedication was all it would take. And I felt that I had the right amount of each to get me through to the finish line. I want that buckle.
Leaving the Pinchot Cabin aid station the second time, I was a little over 72 miles into the race. I knew I had only 5 miles to go to reach the longest distance I’ve ever run at one time. From there, I had to play it smart and push myself through to the finish line. Tired and sore, I pushed on. The next aid station is just over 7 miles away and I was determined to get there. And once I got there, I wanted to keep going. We were back on the Cabin Loop which I knew quite well, even in my exhausted state of mind. I had run this trail a couple of times during training runs and knew this was a runnable section. This time was a little different though. This time I had over 72 miles on my legs and had been going for over 20 hours now. I was moving but moving slower than I was 20 miles ago and much slower than 50 miles ago.
It didn’t feel like I was as tired as I really ended up being. Knowing that we were heading through the woods back to the Houston Brothers aid station had me excited but not too long into this section of the trail is where the true signs of fatigue settled in. This is where the hallucinations began. As John and I were running along through the trees, I looked off to my right and I saw what appeared to be a silver pickup truck maybe 30 to 50 yards away. I shout out to John, “There’s the aid station just ahead.” John looks and replies, “What are you talking about?” As I lose sight of the truck, I go a bit further and point off in the distance and say, “Right there. Don’t you see the truck? It’s right over…” And I pause for a moment trying to catch a glimpse of the truck once more as it obviously disappeared behind some trees. John tells me that we haven’t gone far enough to get to the next aid station. As I get just a bit further along, I realize I hadn’t seen a truck at all. Instead, there was only a log that my mind now brought into focus and I realized at this point that I better just let John lead the way.
We pushed on and time seemed to pass by slow and then fast and then slow again. Under the canopy, things just seemed to turn into a bit of a blur. Even though this section wasn’t that long, I couldn’t quite get a grasp on the pace we were moving at and I just kept pushing myself forward. I listened to John talk as he told me stories to keep my mind occupied. John did a great job of this throughout the entire time he ran with me. Stories about his family, baseball games, books his children read and the whole time I could hear a sense of pride he has in his family and that really helped keep me moving. We talked about running adventures and his race plan for this year’s Javelina Jundred among other things. In between all of this, I also hallucinated one more time. It was the same thing…a truck, and this time accompanied by cars, at the aid station which wasn’t really there. Eventually, we made it to the Houston Brothers aid station and I was elated to reach this point. It’s official. I’ve now run more than 77 miles in one stretch. Another goal was complete.
Houston Brothers to Washington Park: Once again, we fall upon familiar faces at the Houston Brothers aid station. Grandpa Jim and his wife were there with big smiles to greet us as we entered the aid station. I was happy to see them. John had already grabbed my water bottle and pack and started to top of my fluids when Jim asked me what food I might like to eat. They had all the regular foods that we’d seen throughout the race at different aid stations but they also had something worth it’s weight in gold. Breakfast burritos. As soon as those words were spoken, I quickly accepted the offer and no sooner had I agreed, half of a warm burrito was being placed in my hand. I took a bite and savored the flavor of this simple meal. Only, to me, this meal was more than just a simple breakfast burrito. It was something completely different and it seemed like I hadn’t experienced this taste in years. To this day, I am so thankful for that burrito and what it did to lift me up. John also had a burrito. He was pretty happy to have one as well.
We didn’t stay long at this aid station. John was doing his best to keep me well ahead of the cutoffs so I had enough time to finish the race. After leaving the Houston Brothers aid station, we quickly ended up back on Rim Road 300 for about 4.5 miles to the drop into Washington Park again. This would be our last stop at Washington Park. After that, only 3 sections of the race were left to run. I was still feeling pretty tired and once we got onto the forest road, I remember my eyelids seemingly getting heavier by the minute. John was doing everything he could to keep my mind focused on moving forward. I think this is where a majority of his stories came into play. He was definitely doing most of the talking here. I recall the only thing I kept muttering was how tired I was and how I felt like I could fall asleep while moving forward. He kept pushing me to run. I did the best I could. Run to that bush up ahead. Then walk. Then we’d run to the stick at the side of the road. Then we’d walk.
The views from along Rim Road 300 are spectacular but it took all that I had just to keep moving forward here. John did all that he could to keep me awake. One thing that I hadn’t tried yet was to try taking some caffeine. John carries 200mg caffeine pills with him on long distance runs and he offered one to me. I didn’t want to take a whole one because I had never taken a caffeine pill while running. I decided to take one and bite it in half. This would be the equivalent of one large, strong cup of coffee. Just moments after taking it, a car was coming up the road. It slowed down as it approached us and we quickly realized it was Jeremy Dougherty, the race director. He started to talk to us and after a good look at me, he asked, “Are you okay?” I replied and let him know I was just tired but I was feeling fine other than that.
At this point, while John and Jeremy talked, I decided I would keep moving forward just to keep myself awake as I knew John could easily catch up to me. Only moments later, the caffeine kicked in and I was actually running at a pretty decent pace now. I looked back and I didn’t see John or Jeremy at all. I had to urinate so I decided to hop up the embankment at the side of the road and relieve myself. John had started running to catch up to me at this point and started to worry as he didn’t see me at first. He got around a bend and still didn’t see me and hoped that I hadn’t taken a turn off the road into the woods. Next thing he knows I’m hopping back out onto the road right in front of him and I’m ready to run. I’m pretty sure John was relieved that we were moving at a decent pace now. He was about to take a rest once we got to Washington Park. A friend and local runner, Michael Farris, was going to take over at mile 86 and would pace me to the next aid station at mile 94 where I’d meet up with John again and we’d finish the race together. That was the plan at this point.
In case you are wondering about Danny and Paul, we were not really running together at this point. We were close to each other here but we had separated somewhere in the last 10 or 15 miles. I don’t quite recall exactly where this happened but we weren’t that far off from one another. John and I make our way all the way down the road to the turn off to head down that dreadful hill once again to enter Washington Park for the 3rd and final time. My feet were pretty banged up at this point but this is where I decided I needed to “turn off” the pain receptors and just keep on moving. We scramble down the hill as fast as was possible at this point and I was so glad to get to the bottom of the rocky terrain and back to the trail that leads right into the aid station. A smile came to my face as we approached the aid station while the remaining volunteers and spectators all cheered. I scanned the area to find my next pacer Michael Farris there and ready to go. I walked over to the table to get food while aid station volunteers helped top off my hydration. John went over and immediately gave Michael a full briefing on how I was feeling, the pace we needed to keep and any other important data that he needed to get me through this next section. Thank you, John.
Washington Park to Geronimo: While preparing to head back out to the Highline with my new pacer, Michael, I saw Noel Kingston sitting in a chair with his wife standing beside him. He had just taken off his running shoes and was putting on sandals. A few of us tried to entice him to keep going but he had enough and didn’t want to go on. I had also learned here that my friend Casey had also dropped earlier in the race. I was sad to hear this news. I quickly discovered that Danny and Paul were also at the aid station though. They had gotten there just ahead of me and John. Danny mentioned to me that he was starting to feel really tired. I told him that John had the caffeine pills and he immediately lit up. John came over and gave Danny one and he took it before he and Paul headed back out on the trail. Michael was now by my side and ready to go. He and John both encouraged me to make this stop quick and we were right back out on the trail behind Danny and Paul. I was still a little over an hour ahead of the cutoff and new that I just had to keep up the pace I had been going and I would make it across the finish line.
Michael led the way and we were quickly back on the Highline Trail. We had about 9 miles to go in this section to get over to the Geronimo aid station. This was an exciting part of the race for a few reasons. For one, I knew I only had this section and the next to get through to get to the finish. A second is the fact that Michael is somewhat new to ultras and he was thoroughly enjoying every minute of his pacing duties. (And I must say, he was an excellent pacer.) The sun was beating down on us as we made our way across the trail. It was definitely warmer going across the Highline compared to being on this same trail on day 1 when there was ample cloud cover to keep us cool. Michael made sure I was staying hydrated and was reminding me to take in calories on a regular basis. This was quite helpful here because I know my mind wasn’t functioning to it’s fullest potential now. I kept thinking that we may catch up to Danny and Paul as we were moving at a pretty decent pace here. Despite the fact that my feet were a mess at this point, my legs were moving me right along.
There were 2 times where we almost lost the trail. The first time was just a simple oversight. We were moving with ease, talking and taking in the scenery and we missed a sweep on the trail. Going back about 10 yards and looking closer at the trail, it was obvious which way to go and off we went. A little further up ahead and we came to some tall grass near a little stream that we had to cross. You could see the obvious spot to cross but it seemed that the trail just disappeared on the other side. I knew we had to just cross and we’d find our way. My hunch was right, as soon as you crossed the stream, the trail took an immediate left and away we went. We pushed on as Michael and I talked about anything and everything. This definitely helped keep my mind active. As we entered a more wooded section, I knew we were close to the Geronimo aid station. Just a few more miles and we made it to the clearing where the aid station was set along a forest road.
Geronimo to Pine (Start Line): As we entered the Geronimo aid station, almost 95 miles into the race now, I took a moment to sit and talked with the volunteers. It was at this point that I found out that I was one of the final runners on the course as everyone else had dropped. The word was that Alex Kaine was still on the course and just ahead of the cutoff. While I rested for a moment, Michael updated John on my condition and they calculated the pace I needed in order to make the cutoff for the finish. John was taking over and pacing me again to get me to the finish line. We didn’t want to waste much time here so after a few minutes of chatter, a photo op and some words of encouragement, John and I headed back out on the trail. We were right back in the forest on our way to the last climb of the race. There was a mixture of excitement and fear rolling through my veins now. We were told that the last climb would be tough and I was already tired of climbing. But nothing was going to stop me now. I had plenty of time to finish as long as I kept on moving at a decent pace.
I was keeping an eye on my watch through this section. We were making our way through the forest looking for the start of the West Webber trail. There were some spectacular views before getting there and I was trying to run but I was only able to run in short spurts. At one point, I shouted in pain as one of the blisters on my feet opened. John stopped for a second to make sure I was okay and I told him what happened and just to keep going. John encouraged me to keep on picking up the pace only as long as I felt I could. Time matters more now than it had throughout the entire race so far. We didn’t know exactly what to expect going up West Webber and then back down the Donahue Trail and we knew we’d be doing it in the dark. I told John that it would be tough especially if it was anything like the Turkey Springs descent.
We made it to the turn to start the climb up West Webber just before dark. The climb was steep and we were soon on our way up very steep switchbacks all the way to the top. As dark settled in fast, we had no idea just how far we had to go to reach the top. It was hard to pace ourselves here and we just kept moving as fast as I could at this point. I was tired and my legs didn’t have much climb left in them. We stopped so I could sit a few times to rest. I remember muttering a few choice words during this climb. John had me laughing as several times he said, “This climb is just unnecessary.” I laughed in agreement. This climb was extremely difficult for me at this point. I struggled the whole way up. We made our way to the top and it was just a short way over to the road where we would follow this directly to the Donahue trail to make our way back down to where the race started the day before at the Pine Trailhead.
As we descended back down the rim, we soon realized that the Donahue trail wasn’t runnable at night. The trail was steep switchbacks littered with loose rocks, sticks, roots and other debris. Struggling to make it down the hill, I kept moving while sliding on rocks, tripping and losing balance the whole way down. This was in fact the only place in the entire race where I actually fell. I was about 2/3 of the way down the hill and my feet slipped out from under me on some loose rocks. Landing on my back, feet strait up in the air and letting out a little grunt, John turned to make sure I was okay again. I was fine and even let out a little laugh. It was about here that we could hear what sounded like people talking on the trail just a short distance behind us. I was glad it wasn’t just me hearing things. John heard the voices as well. But we couldn’t quite figure out who would be out on this trail in the dark. We thought maybe it was Alex but we knew Alex didn’t have a pacer. We moved on.
As we got to the bottom of the rim, we followed what seemed to be the natural direction of the trail. The trail went left and we were jogging a little. I was keeping an eye on my watch and knew I could make it to the Pine Trailhead by 9pm which was 1 hour before the cutoff. From there it was just another couple of miles into the town of Pine where the finish line was setup. Not far into this section, I felt something was wrong. There was a pond to our right and we were on what seemed to be a kind of dirt access road. I asked John if he had seen a course marker recently and he said he hadn’t but thought we were still okay. Only a few moments after this, John stopped and said he wanted to check something. He asked me to wait where I was and he ran back down where we just came from. After searching closely, he found a marker and came running back to get me. He shouted out for me to head back as we were indeed going the wrong way. The Pine Trailhead was the other direction.
I was now worried that we may not make it before the cutoff. How far off were we? How much time did we waste? My emotions were high and I started to panic. I made my way back to John and we headed to the bottom of the Donahue trail again. We looked for the course marker he had just found but it was very dark and for a few moments it was lost again. After a minute or two, John found the marker though and we made our way on the last section of trail heading to the Pine Trailhead. We were heading in the right direction but time was ticking. I was looking at the time and trying to do the math and didn’t know if I was doing the math right in my head. It was 9:15pm and we still hadn’t made it to where I wanted to be at 9pm. We had to move and had to move fast. This was the point where I learned just what my body could handle.
I knew I had to run. A fast hike is not going to get me to that finish line in time to make the cutoff. I started to run and John heard me pick up the pace and without even looking back, he also started to run. At this point, I ignored all pain I was feeling in my feet and legs and just pushed. The trail was relatively flat and smooth here. Soon, we could see the lights at the trailhead and I was so happy. Looking back down at my watch, time still seemed to be working against me. We made it to the trailhead where there were a few cars and a table setup with water to top off your hydration should you need it for the last 2 mile stretch. We didn’t have time to stop and we kept on running down the pavement and made our way to the tunnel that went under the road ahead. We made our way through the tunnel and I looked at my watch again. I knew we were close but I couldn’t judge distance or pace at this point. I was just running as fast as my body would allow me to now.
As we came out on the other side of the tunnel, we headed into the last small section of trail which led us to the road through town. We now saw signs that pointed us in the direction towards the finish line. We were close and my emotions were high. I started saying out loud, “I need this. I need this buckle.” That’s all I could focus on now. I need to finish this race. I want that 100 mile finisher buckle. I picked up the pace and John ran by my side keeping the same pace as me. After about a mile, my legs felt very heavy and even though we were closing in on the final 20 minutes of the race, I had to walk a short distance to rest my legs. I didn’t want them to give up on me. This didn’t last long as we saw another sign that brought us around a corner to the final stretch of the race.
We were now back on the main road through town and on the final stretch of the race. I still couldn’t tell exactly how far we had to go. I knew where the finish line was but the town looked much different to me now in the dark after running 104+ miles. I think I asked John several times if he could see the finish when all of a sudden a car was driving towards us and we heard a voice shouting out the window as the car slowed down when it approached. It was my friend Casey. He had been waiting at the finish line and the spectators were getting nervous for me. Time was ticking and the cutoff was closing in fast. Casey quickly turned around and he cheered me on shouting, “You’re almost there man!” as he was now heading back to the finish line to let them know we were coming up the road. My pace instantly quickened as I watched the tail lights on my car drive away. I wanted to know just how far to the finish line. Not far up the road, he took a left into a parking lot and I knew I was in the home stretch. Once again, my pace quickened. I was now running as fast as I could and I kept speeding up all the way to the finish.
Moving at about an 8 minute mile pace, I could now see the spectators as they cheered me on. John dropped off to my left into the crowd as I made my way down along the white fence that lined the parking lot at the front of the building where the finish line was. I quickly passed the fence and took an immediate left into a driveway which wrapped around the building. All the spectators ran to the back of the building and I could hear them all cheering. I kept on sprinting with a smile on my face all the way through to the finish line. I had done it. I finished the race. I came across the finish line with just 11 minutes to spare. I was the last finisher. Jeremy came over and shook my hand and congratulated me on my finish. Just after, a few others congratulated me on my finish and Casey came over and gave me a hug. I was caught up in the moment and even forgot about what I had been thinking about for the last few miles. The buckle. Jeremy came over as I was taking in the moment and said, “Hey man, I think you’re forgetting one thing…” and hands me the finishers buckle. I was completely elated at this point and I wanted to cry. I felt all emotions rush through my body. I was so incredibly happy and I just thanked him for creating such an amazing experience.
37 runners toed the line. 9 runners finished. I am number 9.
I made my way over to the picnic tables at the finish line with buckle in hand and sat down to soak it all in. My feet and legs were incredibly sore and I was just glad to be done running. I just made it through 36 hours of running and the journey was complete. I rested on the picnic table sharing stories with a few of the runners that were still around. I learned that Alex Kaine had finished just 10 minutes before me and he was the person that was behind me and John on the Donahue Trail coming down off the rim. Apparently he was talking to himself down the descent as he was in pain and was fighting his way down to the bottom of the rim. I also found out that Danny had finished about an hour ahead of me. He really kicked it into high gear at the finish. Those of us who were there shared some stories as they packed up the supplies that they had setup during the day while waiting for runners to cross the finish line. I kept warm while I ate a some food and had a soda. Coca Cola was one of the first things I wanted since I was on the Highline Trail with Michael. He mentioned it while we were running and it stuck in my head for the last 15 miles. It was a great feeling just sitting there at the finish line knowing what I had accomplished. I had finally done it…my first 100 mile race finish was one of the toughest 100 mile races out there today. I challenge you to face this Monster of a race. You won’t regret it.
A few last words as I’d like to thank my pacers John Vaupel who ran 45+ miles with me and Michael Farris who ran about 9 miles with me as well. Without the 2 of you, this race wouldn’t have been possible for me to finish. Your support and guidance through this race was invaluable. Your stories kept my mind occupied at times when I most needed it and you helped me keep on moving forward while reminding me to keep my nutrition in check as well. I’d also like to thank Jeremy Dougherty, race director and friend, for putting on such an incredible event. All of the time you spent and the dedication that you poured into this race made it something special for all that were involved. Without you, none of this would have been possible. Thank you. I’d also like to thank Casey O’Connor for his support and strength. You are a true friend and your support also helped carry me through this race. Special thanks also go out to all the volunteers that worked the aid stations and did things behind the scenes that made this all possible. Lastly, I thank all of my family and friends that supported me and encouraged me for months of training leading up to this race.
This was truly a life changing event that I will never forget. I’ll be back next year to work as a volunteer helping support the next group of runners facing this challenge. And in case you’re wondering if I will run this race again in the future…I’ve yet to make up my mind.
<<Part 3 :: << Part 1 >>