Soggy Bottom 100 Trail Race                            27-28 FEB 2016

As I crossed the start/finish line for the 5th 20 mile loop, my finishing time was 30:21:04.  Not the time goal of a sub 24 hour finish I had anticipated going into this race.  It’s true; I’m almost always disappointed in my running performance for a race.  Someday I’ll get where I want to be…today was about finishing.
Some background on this race; it was during February which should have been quite cold, and it was advertised as 1800-2000’ of climb per 20 mile loop.  But I had a couple of strikes against me as the temperature nearly touched 70 degrees during the day (I don’t care for warm/hot weather racing), and in reality the climb per loop was 4500ish’, over double the originally advertised climb.  I could have dropped from the race based on the correction to elevation published 1 week before the race, but I kept thinking it was an error and it was meant to read as “total elevation” meaning climb AND descent per loop.  I even emailed the RD, but it was confirmed as climb elevation.  Still I doubted those numbers, so I planned on attending.
Back up the time machine a few months.  Based on my last 100 mile race finish, the Mark Twain 100, I knew if I wanted to improve I needed help.  I kept having injury which always seemed to prevent me from attaining my race goal time.  I did some research, and decided TEAM PRS FIT offered a solid program that utilized heart rate training, and they had a specific coach for ultra-marathon training…Mr. David Murphy.  I got his phone number, we talked and I decided he’d be a great fit to my training.  So on the 18th of October 2015, I took my first heart rate training step.  Now you’d think the first step in training would start off easy, but nooooooo!  I had to do what is known as a lactate threshold (LT) test.  The purpose of the test is to determine your maximum sustainable heart rate then based on that number, assign 5 HR training zones.  In a nutshell, this test goes something like this; put on a compatible heart rate (HR) strap and synch it with your running watch.  Do a 15 minute slow, easy warmup run immediately followed by an all-out sustainable effort (sprint) for 20 minutes straight, then a 10 minute cool-down run.  This is not an easy task.  As it turns out, my max HR ended up being 182.  Based on that number, my primary training zone is zone 2 meaning I did the bulk of my training based on HR from 152-162.  For the entire 18 week training cycle this number was always work for me to reach; but I was running harder and faster than I had ever training previously.  I think most folks initially end up slowing down for HR based training, but because of the strong aerobic base I already possessed, it meant for me getting leg strength caught up to aerobic capacity.  I’m still not there yet.
In short, my average training mile time went from my old typical 8:40ish minute per mile to right around 8:00 flat.  I trained a total of 1086 miles for a total of 173 hours and 20 minutes of running time.  I had right at 81,700’ of climb during training and burned 131,753 calories…all while maintaining an average HR of 151.
The race started at 6:00 in the morning.  My crew/pacer Team of Ryan Ploeckelman, Travis Esterby and Patrick Greene accompanied me to the start line.  Only 9 of the 12 that signed up for the 100 mile race showed up with temperatures right at the freezing mark.  The first thing I thought while scoping out the other runners was “why are they wearing so many clothes”.  I knew within a half mile or less I’d be plenty warm.  We got the “On your mark, get set, go” from the race director just a few seconds after 6.  Within a quarter mile all 9 of us had taken a wrong turn up a steep hill.  What looked like adequate markings on my recon the day prior was not so good during the hours of darkness.  We all figured it out pretty quick, but what a way to start a race.  The loop is advertised at 20 miles, but in reality it was more like 18ish.  Save for about a 1.75 mile section, it was constant up and down, with the last 4-5 miles of the loop being hell containing extremely steep hills and nearly half of one loops worth of elevation.  I made it through the first loop in 3:58:50, slightly ahead of pace for a desired sub-24 hour finish.
Lap number 2 went fairly well, but I had already slowed due to terrain.  It was starting to warm up now, and by the 3rd loop it would be near 70 degrees…in February!  I think it was this loop or the next that my crew switched me over from a handheld water bottle to my vest which freed up my hands for using a set of trekking poles Travis let me use.  As it turns out, those poles are what allowed me to finish this race.  Without them, I seriously doubt I could have completed simply due to the steepness of the terrain, aka “vertical switchbacks” which seemingly never ended.  The steepness of the up and downhills got steeper!  I finished the second loop in5:02:27, about an hour slower than the first loop.  It was going to be a long day, and night and another day.  
I picked up my first pacer Ryan at the start/finish line to begin the 3rd loop.  He was in good spirits and ready to rock.  I on the other hand had begun to experience stomach issues.  It was kind of queasy feeling.  I’d been having a hard time with eating…as in I couldn’t really ever find anything to my liking at the aid stations…all they seemed to have was saltine crackers, animal crackers, potato chips, pretzels and M&Ms.  I was looking for real food like boiled potato, soup, grilled cheese, burrito, etc.  The food I was eating coupled with UCAN (a slow release and protein drink) was not setting well at all, and consequently I got behind on my nutrition and caloric intake required to maintain any kind of decent pace.  Ryan kept pushing me despite my whining.  At some point I could see Jeff Jones (the eventual winner for this event) and his pacer Derek Glos; they were about ½ mile away as the crow flies, but in reality about 4-5 miles ahead of me as the course goes.  I let out a big “Wooooooo”, and they responded back with another big “Woooooo”.  The miles and terrain were starting to hurt now as I pressed on.  We rolled in completing the 3rd loop in 5:56:47…about 2 hours longer than it had taken on my first loop.  It was also dark now.  Funny incident on this loop as Ryan was dive-bombed by a pissed off owl, and then coming across an opossum who didn’t quite know what to make of us.  It scurried up a tree and hissed at us as we passed by it.  Thank you Ryan for getting me through that loop; a pacer really wants to run and ‘pace’ you, but this was more of a power hiking event with a touch of running mixed in.
As Ryan and I rolled in at the start/finish area, Travis was up next for pacing duty.  I chugged down another bottle of UCAN, and my stomach was still not cooperating very well.  I whined about drinking it, but Travis shut me down pretty quick and said “if you’re keeping it down, keep drinking”.  Travis was just what I needed for this loop.  He is an active duty soldier, I am a retired soldier.  Based on his actions alone, I knew what to do…not much talking during the loop other than his occasional “keep pushing, good job, etc.”…these words kept me going.  He would take off running without saying a word, and I took off running as well.  He knew just how far to push me at this stage, and he kept me running for as much as he could.  But I was running out of gas even using the trekking poles he had lent to me.  We soon got passed by Rebecca Johannsen, the eventual 2nd place winner, and the only women to complete this 100 mile event.  I kept up for a short while, but her pace was too much for me to maintain.  It was painful to watch the distance between our headlamps increase, as I had not been passed all day long up until now.  Travis got me through the loop though…thank you.  This loop was even slower at 6:59:44, a full 3 hours slower than my first loop.  I see a trend here…
I should note that about the middle point of each loop (11ish miles around each time) I was met by my crew who weren’t pacing me at the time.  This point is where they always forced me to drink another 20oz of UCAN, replenish my Gels to eat, check on clothing I needed, etc.  Great job guys.
Next up for pacing duties was Patrick.  This would be the last loop to complete 100 miles.  He was ready to go as Travis and I arrived at the start/finish line area.  It was colder now, and just standing still for a couple minutes chilled me to the bone.  I drank yet another UCAN, whined some…and took off walking with Patrick.  I would venture to say 90% of this last loop was spent hiking.  I was not injured, but the amount of climb had taken its toll and I had just enough strength to walk up and down hills.  Breathing became extremely labored, I didn’t want to eat or drink…but Patrick kept me straight by feeding me small portions of whatever he had the entire 20 mile loop.  I knew I would finish, but just wanted this to be over.  I had a few miles of negative thoughts that I verbalized to Patrick, but he was not having any of it!  A good pacer may not be able to make you run any faster, or run at all, but the positive energy can be a lifesaver towards completing a race.  We saw the sun rise, and I went through that last horrible 5 mile section a final time.  As we got back up on top of the ridge near the start/finish line, we only had about 1.5 miles to go.  I was greeted by my Team of Travis and Ryan who along with Patrick ran that final mile with me to the finish line.  It was hard for me to run at that point, so I’d say something like “when we get to that dirt road coming up in 100’, make me run to x location”.  I did this several times and made that final turn towards the finish line.  It was over.  I crossed in 30:21:04, nowhere near my goal, but I finished proudly for a race that was well above my capabilities given the terrain and technicality.  Had I known more detail about the course condition and elevation in advance, I probably would not have even entered this race.  Or at a minimum, my training would have been much different to account for the type of race this was.  I got a 2nd place male finishers award, but no buckle…yet.  The Race Director explained there was a manufacturing error with the finisher’s buckles, and once that was corrected they would be mailed out.  Good enough.  Everyone was just staring at me at the finish line…I think the small crowd at the finish line was just amazed a guy 10 days from being 59 years old could finish this event.  The rumor from the local running store in Springfield was that no one could finish this race!   
My Coach David Murphy put together an awesome training plan based on time I had available to get ready, but neither he nor I had much insight over what the actual course and conditions would be like…it was the first year for this event.  My first real clue was when all the ‘local’ runners decided to run the 40 miler.  They knew the deal!  Of course the one local Idiot that ran it was Jeff Jones, but he’s just an idiot coming off a 100 miler only 3 weeks prior.  Thanks Coach for coming out and helping where and when you could.  
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some folks and running communities.  Thanks to The Runners Hub for getting me supplies when I needed them.  Thanks to my local running clubs/community/families Middle Tennessee Trail Runners (MTTR), Clarksville Running Club (CRC), Team Red White and Blue (RWB), Tennessee Endurance Athletes (TEA), Team Swagger, Team PRS FIT…the list goes on and on.  All the input I read about as well as interaction with these groups is what gets you to the finish line…not me.  You may cross that finish line by yourself, but I challenge anyone to say they did it on their own.
I got back to my hotel and showered the funk off, followed by a bath of Epsom salts.  As I sat in the tub a thought occurred to me, can I get up out of this tub?  I didn’t even care at that point.  Eventually I somehow managed to get out, went to McDonalds for something quick and warm, then promptly got in bed and slept for 14 hours.  I made the 6 hour drive back home on Monday the 29th of February, already thinking of what race I wanted to do next as once again I was not content with my performance.  Someday I’ll get it right.  

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