Make a plan, and be prepared to change it!

Make a plan, and be prepared to change it!

2015 Mark Twain 100 Trail Race Report

By:  Jeff Stafford

Idiot #1902


This was my second attempt at a 100 mile trail race…the last one (Indiana Trail 100) ended with a DNF at mile 68 due to IT band issues.  That particular race was this past April 2015, and I knew I had to get back on the horse to git r dun.  

I got on within a week of the Indiana race, and found a nearby trail race that intrigued me, the Mark Twain 100.  Also joining IRC (Idiots Running Club) I had read some of the past race reports for this event which helped me make a decision to enter.  I also had an opportunity about 3 weeks prior to the event to make a trip out and run the Berryman trail which is the host trail for the Mark Twain 100.  I learned quite a bit from that one 25ish mile long training run; I expected the rolling hills, the single track trails, a few larger hills and also got a feel for stream crossings and such…what I was not expecting was the amount of ROCKS!  Very little running on dirt trails, the majority of the trail seemed to be of mostly crushed rock which was gravel-like with mixed in doses of softball sized rock and roots from trees.  This in itself slowed me down as negotiating up or downhill was at times “traction challenged”…particularly at night with muscles that barely could respond late into the race.  I’m glad I could preview the course!

I loaded up my camper behind the truck and headed out for a 6 hour drive to Berryman campground to set up shop on Thursday the 17th of September as I was unsure if campsites would be available arriving on Friday afternoon (there are only 8 ‘designated’ travel trailer campsites…no hookups).  I arrived and found only 1 other travel trailer in the campground, so I set up everything and fired up the generator and just took it easy.  It should be noted that cell phone reception is predominantly nonexistent, so plan on a run into either Potosi or Steelville if you want to check anything.  I got up Friday morning and made myself 4 scrambled eggs with some bacon (OK…6 slices!) with coffee and orange juice and a banana…gotta have fuel!  I then took off on the Berryman in a clockwise direction for about 1 mile, and then turned around to come back in.  I wanted to know where that “Flat stone” was I kept reading about in quite a few race reports.  Turns out it is 0.4 miles from the finish line, but a good indicator of a 25 mile loop is about to be completed during the race.  I should note that this race is four 25ish mile loops around the Berryman trail.  My Daughter Andrea drove out to the campground on Friday and we departed soon after she arrived to go to the pre-race pasta dinner and race in-brief.  We chowed down on spaghetti, green beans and garlic bread with a brownie for desert.  Travis Liles started the race brief about 7:00 p.m. and went over any last minute changes.

Andrea and I arrived back at the campground and chatted for a while about what I needed her to do for me; she has NEVER crewed any racing events, nor is she a runner…she did it because her Dad needed help.  I was going into this race without a pacer, and without any crew…she saved my bacon later on in the race a couple of times.  I drifted off to sleep war-gaming all kinds of contingencies, and what I would do if I encountered any problems.  

We both awoke to a noisy cell phone alarm at 4:30 a.m.  I jumped up and ate about an 800 calorie breakfast; it was a Pro bar, Honey Stinger, and mixture of UCAN and Succeed Clip 2 drink.  I also drank about 8oz of water along with a cup of coffee.  Nature took its course, and then I got dressed for the day.  Andrea and I carried my drop boxes over to the start/finish area and placed them in their designated spots; these drop boxes had all the “Oh $hit” items to cover most anything that could go wrong.  In a perfect supported trail race, you’ll never need to open them.  I mingled around with the other runners and at 6:00 a.m. sharp, the race started with “GO”!

I left about mid-pack, and it was painfully slow for about the first 2 miles in the dark.  As a group the  conga line was averaging about 18 minute miles, so I broke free right after the 2 mile point and started getting a steady run going.  After about 30 or 40 minutes the sky started to lighten up, and I took off the headlamp.  The first aid station is advertised at the 5.25 mile mark, but I knew from my training run it was closer to 5.8 miles.  Reloaded my 20oz water bottle with Skratch (electrolyte mix), and ate some of the aid station food.  I wanted to minimize time lost at the aid stations by grabbing some food and eating on the way out walking.  The next aid station was around mile 9.8, and I here I met Andrea for the 1st time during the race; this is the only spot other than the start/finish area crew are allowed.  She asked me all the questions I had jotted down for her to ask me, reloaded me with GU and Honey Stingers along with Succeed S caps (salt pills) and got me in and out quickly without fanfare.  The big uphill climb waited leaving the aid station along with the only water crossing of the race course (Brazil Creek).  I managed to rock hop and stay dry, and then ate my food during the 250’ climb up the biggest hill on the course.  All was going well, and soon I was at the next couple of aid stations repeating the process.  I had predicted my first lap to be in 5:20 minutes, and I came in at 5:19…close enough.  The plan was to run the first 2 loops at 5:20 each time.

I took off on the second loop running great, everything was going to plan.  Then just like somebody flipped on a light switch at mile 31…my left IT band where it attached near my knee began to pain me.  This is what knocked me out of my previous 100 mile attempt, except all previous IT band issues have always been on the right side.  It was very minimal pain, so I continued to run.  It slowly got worse, and by mile 40 I was having a pity party for myself and contemplated dropping to the 50 mile event.  I thought long and hard about this as I made the decision at mile 68 during the Indiana Trail 100 to drop…I have regretted it ever since.  This was my first low point during the race.  I also developed what I thought was a hot spot on my left heel which was concerning.  I was doing about a 50/50 ratio of walk/run at this point.  The second loop took me about 6:40 to complete…it looked bad at this point.  I was 12 hours into the event, and halfway through the 100 mile course.

I pulled into the start/finish area hobbling a bit.  Travis Liles asked how I was doing and I told him the issues.  For those of you that know Travis, he is a very positive and energetic person.  He asked me my intent, and I had made the decision to continue…he gave me a great pep talk as my Daughter began treating and dressing a blister the size of a ping pong ball on my left heel.  He saw it and stated “gnarly blister dude”, but continued to boost my morale.  I put on a fresh shirt and clean socks after surgery was complete, and took some Motrin to ease the IT band pain along with an IT band strap.  Andrea did a great job slowing me down to properly take care of my feet while I fussed about time wasted in the aid station area, but this was a necessary evil in order to continue with any chance of finishing. I’m sure glad I had gone over dressing a blister with her a couple of nights prior.  I left on loop #3 walking, but very motivated.  The hills were beginning to take their toll.

I decided to power walk about 2 miles to give the Motrin a chance to work its magic, and also to give my IT band a break before attempting to run again.  A quick note about using NSAIDs…generally speaking the use is not recommended for these types of events, use them at your own risk.  I was well hydrated and felt the risk was worth a shot to finish.  When I got to the flat ridgeline about 2.5 miles into the loop, I took off running.  It was not a fast run, but it was indeed running so I was pleased with it.  By the time I reached the first aid station in the loop, it was dark.  Time to don the headlamp and prepare for a long night.  The further I got into this loop, the more I found myself power walking due to blister and IT band pain.  

I had only run 1 training run during the night with any kind of distance, a 28 miler out at Land between the Lakes (LBL) with Ryan Ploeckelman, another local trail runner from my area.  That run was valuable as I had a headlamp failure, and ran behind him for about 4 hours that night.  I learned I needed to always have a spare battery for my headlamp, and also a spare small flashlight.  No problem, I was prepared this time around.  Sometime around 2:30 in the morning my headlamp (Petzl NAO) blinked 3 times, indicating it was getting low on battery.  No problem, I’ll just stop here on the trail and change it out with the spare I was carrying.  I got out the small handheld flashlight from my backpack and turned it on to do the headlamp battery change…nothing, it was dead.  Great.  I had also thought to carry spare batteries for it as well…no problem right?  I changed those flashlight batteries using the dying headlamp quickly and put the flashlight back together.  I clicked it on and…nothing.  Awesome, I guess I would be changing the headlamp battery by feel in pitch black but wait; I remembered I had one other .99 cent Wal Mart keychain light attached to my pack.  It saved the day while I finally got my Petzl battery changed out.  All this took about 10 minutes or more sitting in the middle of the trail listening to coyotes yip nearby, and what I believe was a bobcat fight, or bobcat attacking another animal.  I took off running once again listening to the hoot owls for a long time, and then decided I needed another walk break.  While I walked, insects would begin to appear in my headlamp beam when all of a sudden I see something whoosh through the beam…what the French toast was that?  As it turns out, I had quite a show watching bats swoop after the insects!  Less running and more power walking ensued for the 3rd loop.  I knew the last loop would be painfully long.

I rolled in to the start/finish area and did another sock change along with using the “Trail Toes” product liberally on my feet.  This is a great product, but cannot prevent blisters on ill-fitting shoes, or technical terrain as you cannot prevent your shoes from moving around on your feet.  This was yet another lengthy stop that I complained about to my Daughter, but she was having none of it…she made sure I was ready to go for my final loop.  As it turns out, I walked the majority of this loop, and I reached another low point as I realized when my watch showed 99.97 miles that I was still over 5 miles from the finish line.  I kind of laughed and imagined Murphy walking close behind me with a stick popping me in the head every time I slowed down.  That was the longest 5 miles ever, and took 1 hours and 40 minutes to complete.  I crossed the big smooth rock about 0.4 miles out and could hear the generator running, and people talking.  I made one last run attempt and saw Travis at the finish line holding my 100 mile finishers belt buckle.  I finished in 27:51:02 (6th overall), and my Garmin Fenix II GPS watch showed 105.52 miles…your results may vary.  The course was advertised at 10,000 feet of climb, but I had 11,368’.  Most folks were showing between 102 – 104 miles for this event.  I burned about 11,000 calories according to my watch, I am glad I kept up with nutrition, hydration and electrolytes during this event.  I figure I drank over 400oz of Skratch and water and had 7 servings of UCAN (another 60oz) along with several glasses of water, coke, etc. at the aid stations.  That’s about 3.7ish gallons of fluid!  I never felt “The bonk” during this race, so nutrition was spot on.  I ate at least 150c per aid station along with supplemental food I carried and ate between aid station.  All and all I managed about 275c per hour…that’s approximately 7700 calories I consumed.  So glad I have a cast iron stomach and had no tummy issues to deal with.

Some lessons learned:

1. Have 3 light sources with you during darkness.

2. You can make it through an ultra without crew or pacer…it will just take longer.

3. Slow down and make the time to fix things right the first time.

4. Bathrooms with handicap rails in the stalls are a blessing.

5. Don’t fear the nighttime run…embrace the show!

6. IRC rule #6.    

A special thanks to my Daughter Andrea for stepping up and taking on the task of crewing for an Ultra race.  Thanks to the IRC folks who answered my questions about the course, and David Murphy for reviewing my training and race plan I put together.  Thanks to The Runners Hub (Travis and Sara Esterby) for all their support and Ultra-expertise.  Thank you Ryan Ploeckelman for the night runs, and general running knowledge. Thanks go out also to Team Red, White and Blue (Team RWB) and my local trail running bunch, Middle Tennessee Trail Runners (MTTR) and road running crew Clarksville Running Club (CRC).  All these organizations and folks had input at some point to my training.  It was good to finally meet Travis Liles and Tommy Doias the race directors for the Mark Twain 100…great guys.  The aid stations and workers did a stellar job! This is not what I would consider an easy 100 due to the terrain and technical nature, but it is one I would certainly recommend.  100 miles is 100 miles regardless of terrain and technical sections, so no such thing as an easy 100 I guess.

If I am going to do another one of these ultra-races I need to find a good coach, and figure out how to fix my IT band issues once and for all.  See you on the trails…                

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