As disappointing as it was to Juba, I was completely coherent for this entire race. This race report? Maybe not so much. A lot of things can happen over the course of 100 miles in the woods.
Loop 1 – The Start of a Long Day(s)
One of my favorite parts of an ultra-marathon is the non-dramatic start. Everyone stands around chatting and then you hear the familiar “3……2……1…….” And that’s it. You just start moving. So at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning that is what we did. I positioned myself near the rear again and just started walking. Compared to last year’s monsoon start, things were perfect this time. It was still dark out, so headlamps were mandatory. And it was congested!
One thing I noticed quickly was that it seemed the roots had grown over the past year. Probably not, but it felt that way. Especially the one that sent me crashing to the ground 2 miles into the race. 2 miles into a 100 mile race and I am flat on my face! Actually, I was very fortunate. Being early in the race I easily absorbed the fall and it was a great warning sign that the roots were not there to play nice.
For the whole first loop, except for the kilt wearing man, things were pretty uneventful. And that is a good thing. I was moving well. The course was in great shape. The volunteers were awesome. And I rolled into Dogwood after my first 20 miles with a time of 3:55. Ahead of schedule, but not too fast. And then the pit crew took over…….
The Crew – A NASCAR Pit Crew and the Island of Misfit Kids
The first loop “transition” set the stage and format for the next 3. I was led to a chair and made to sit down. Juba & Christine handled my shoe/sock change, Susan was taking care of nutrition, and Chris restocked my supplies and operated the fork lift. Pretty straight forward huh? Actually…..it was.
The only problem I had, besides the difficulty of getting my toes into the toe socks, was my growing concern for the 4th loop. Namely I was concerned about being out in the woods alone with Juba. Things started innocently enough with his taking care of my left foot. He applied the Sportslick lubricant to my foot and it worked well in preventing any blisters. But then he started offering to apply lubricant to other body parts.
When you hear the comment “knuckle deep”, a sense of calm does NOT wash over you. But I have to say the icing on the cake was when he started muttering to himself “It puts the lotion on the skin.” That’s it. That was my tipping point! I secretly had Christine slip a rape whistle into my vest before the 4th loop. You can never be too safe out there!
Loop 2 – It’s Getting Hot in Here So……
Before the race, we were all concerned with the temperatures warming up. It was not going to be hot by Louisiana summer standards, but it would be by winter endurance running criteria. My main goal was to stay hydrated. I made it through the first two 3 mile sections with no problems and drank most of my water. Before I headed out on the 6 mile loop, I drank a few cups at the aid station for a little extra hydration. It didn’t work.
At about halfway through the 6 mile loop, I stopped to pee and it wasn’t much. I was a little concerned but my mood was quickly lifted. As I turned around from my chosen restroom spot, there was a family standing there awaiting their runner. They all yelled “Way to go!”, and I smiled and waved. I wasn’t sure if they were impressed with my running ability or my urination capabilities. Oh well.
I was getting warm very quickly and with over a mile to go before I reached the aid station, I was out of water. Not a good thing. I stayed calm and slowed down a bit and just made it back to the Damnation aid station. I filled up my bottle again and drank about 4-5 cups of water and Gatorade. Then I headed out on the 3.8 mile section. And ran out of water again before the aid station. It was getting hot.
When I rolled into Park Road, I drank as much as I could and headed towards Dogwood. I stopped a little down the trail to try to pee and it was little darker than I wanted. And that is when the first hamstring cramps started. Seriously? I have not even reached the 40 mile mark yet!
Before the race, my friend Burke was telling me about the two distinct points in his race last year. The first is when he had a serious “I am not going to make it” moment and the second was the “I am definitely going to finish”. I was having my not going to make it moment.
I have run many races where I developed cramps. I hobbled over 6 miles at the end of a marathon before. I hobbled for close to 13 miles at my first Ironman. But hobbling for 65 miles with time cutoffs was weighing a little heavy on my head. I sent a text to the crew and told them to get my second bottle ready to go. From there back to Dogwood I just “managed” the twinges the best I could.
I finished the second loop with a time of 4:17, so my pace was still there. I just needed to get things back on track with hydration. And fast.
Loop 3 – It’s All Downhill From Here!
As I headed out with my two bottles, this loop was going to be all about hydration. Drink! Drank! Drunk! Wait……wrong story. Anyway, I had one bottle with water and one bottle with diluted Gatorade. And I drank as much as I could tolerate! The cramps were still hovering and waiting to pounce, so I developed a run strategy to hold them off. I would run for so many steps and then walk to give them a rest. This worked well and before I knew it, I was peeing up a storm! Literally! I think in the last 50 miles or so I stopped to pee 40 to 50 times!
I was still battling the cramps that had moved towards my calves early in the loop. But they were tolerable. And then I headed out on the Dam Road Loop for the 3rd time! I knew it would be getting dark soon, so I took my headlamp with me just in case. I also started with my first caffeine shot blocks to head off any mental fatigue. But then I saw something and thought I was hallucinating.
That is definitely a “What the Hell?” look on my face! My crew had made the trek around the lake to surprise me on the course. And surprise me they did. I was getting pretty lonely out there!
As much as I wanted to stay, I had more miles to go before I slept. Actually, that was almost exactly the half way point at 50 miles!
I continued down the trail and something weird happened. I caught my second wind! I don’t know if it was the caffeine, the hydration or seeing my friends and family, but I started running. The cramps had backed off so I made up some time! And about that time the song Gangnam Style came on my Ipod. I crossed one wrist over the other and ran down the trail a ways laughing and riding the horse. I did stop myself from doing the side kick hip thing he does. Hell…. I had over 50 miles on these legs. I couldn’t afford to throw out my hip!
Darkness fell somewhere after I left Damnation headed to Park Road and the rest of the loop was a blur. But in that giddiness of my second wind, something else had happened. I had my “This Bitch is mine” moment and I knew nothing was going to stop me from finishing. Even with the early cramps and the darkness I managed a 5:03 loop. Next!
Loop 4 – Seriously? An Attempt to Confuse an Engineer with NUMBERS!
After rolling in from loop 3, my first surprise was seeing my sister Cindy and my niece Lauren. Lauren had a choir audition an the University of North Texas that morning and they were on their way home (with a little detour to spend the night in the woods!) The second surprise was when the pit crew jumped into action. Dancing action that is. They performed a dance to the Claim Your Journey song, “I Run Louisiana.” It was a welcome diversion from the grinding I had been doing! But alas, I was soon back to business.
When I left on the 4th loop, Jennifer headed out with me as my first pacer. The pacers are more for safety and motivation than to keep me on a certain running pace (no one told Juba that). So as we left out, I told Jennifer I was probably walking this section. The roots were really bad in the 3 miles into and out of the Dogwood and my agility was limited. She was fine with that so we just started chatting.
Things were going well until I had to pee….again. I told Jennifer to just keep going and I would catch up. Little did I know that she took it as go as fast as you can and make Tim run his ass off to catch up. Because that is what I had to do! The next time I stopped I gave more thorough instructions! That 3 mile section went by very quickly and then it was Juba’s turn.
And the first thing he did was take off running. My response…….see ya! He waited for me and we headed down the trail. I explained my current level of running and walking and my strategy of running 50 steps then power walking a ways to recover. My legs were beginning to ache and the overall fatigue was building.
During the first couple of runs, Juba was counting and would randomly holler out “30!” and then after a while we would stop. After a few times, I decided that I would count just to see how I was doing. When I got to 50, I stopped and Juba yelled at me “You’re counting!” Of course, I am counting! I am a damn engineer. That’s what I do. And a little part of Juba died right there for two reasons: first his little ploy to trick me had failed and secondly he realized I was completely lucid so no extravagant hallucinations would be occurring. Sorry Juba.
He kept me running a good bit and I think we were making good time. My power walking was still strong, so I knew my pace hadn’t dropped too much. As we rolled into Park Road, I had another shock. Paul & Blake were there to meet me! Paul and Marci had a wedding celebration service at their church that day, so he was not supposed to be there. The service was in the afternoon, so he jumped in the truck after it was over and hauled ass to Huntsville just to see me finish!
After leaving Park Road, we ran/walked about another 1.5 miles until we got to the root section going back to Dogwood. That would mark the end of my running until very late in the race. So we power walked that section and arrived back in to Dogwood feeling strong with a loop time of 5:39. One loop to go!
Loop 5 – Mule Mode Activated – The Target……Finish Line
Loop 5…….wow. I wondered if I would ever get to that point. Especially still in good shape! Boggs led me out for this loop and we immediately started a forced march. Chris had been in the military and knew how to hike and hold a pace. So we powered on.
Soon after starting we had an interesting discussion comparing where I was to the end of the Ironman Florida Triathlon. Ironman Florida is a two loop run course with 13.1 miles for each loop. And that is after the 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride. There is a big mental paradox when heading out on your last loop. You are heading out for your last loop, but you still have the whole loop to do. Positive and negative. But where I was, I decided it felt like heading out for the first loop of IMFL. There was too much left to get elated about being almost done. I figured when I left Damnation and headed back, that would be the second loop feeling.
As we were almost to the Nature Center aid station, we came across a runner sleeping on a park bench. Chris tried to wake him, but out of the darkness his pacer said he was alright. I guess he just needed some sleep. I never would have gotten back up! We rolled into Nature Center and Susan took over the pacing duties.
I quickly explained that running was not an option. My quads, hamstrings and lower legs were all screaming bloody murder. It had come to the point where the race director, Joe Prusaitis, says you just need to tell your body to shut the F$^& up! So I continued my blazing power walking pace and pressed on!
Did you know that evidently peeing is like yawning……it’s contagious? I was still peeing every 5 minutes and soon Susan got lulled into that trap! Of course, as the temperature began to drop my urination rate increased. By the time we got back off the Damnation loop, it was downright chilly! We rummaged through my drop bag and put on some additional clothes. I drank some hot chicken broth to help as well and we headed towards Park Road. One more aid station to go!
During our trip back it was tough seeing all the people still heading out. At least the sun would be coming up soon to lift their spirits. It was right when we were crossing paths with some runners when I looked up to say good luck. Do you know what happens when you look up while traversing root covered terrain? Yep. You trip. I launched forward directly at Susan who heard me coming and caught me. It would have been tough getting back up after 93 miles.
We finally made it to the long gravel road that leads to the Park Road aid station. I noticed Susan jogging and asked her if she was cold. She said no that she was just trying to keep up with my walking. My response…..I have somewhere I want to be. I was in full on mule mode, head down, powering on, get out of my way because I am not going to stop. And I kept that up until we hit Park Road.
It was all downhill from there! Christine took over and we started the 4.5 mile trek to the FINISH LINE. Of course, we had to tackled the early hills and the last 3 miles of roots but we were ready. As we reached the root section by the lake, the sun started to rise and soon we could go without headlamps.
It was a very emotional section. At one point we were talking about me finally accomplishing this goal, and I began to tear up. But I stopped talking and put the brakes on it. I didn’t want to cross the finish line blubbering like an idiot. So I shifted back to machine mode and kept going.
With less than a mile to go, Christine suggested we do a test run to see how my legs felt. I was running across that finish line one way or another, so she figured I better try it out. We did a little 50 step run and things were tolerable. Now the key was timing the distance from the finish line. Start too soon and you don’t make it. Start too late and you look stupid.
We crossed the final road and entered the long chute. Run? Not yet. Run? Not yet. Run? Not yet. Okay, we will go at that flag. Before we reached the flag I heard Chris start singing. Crap. Let’s go! And we ran. In my mind I was rivaling the speed of Usain Bolt at the last Olympics. Looking at the video, it was closer to the speed of slug. But I was running and giving everything I had.
As soon as I crossed the timing pads, my right calf went ballistic and said I’m done. I didn’t care because I was done.
I was done. 100 miles. 25 hours and 21 minutes of non stop movement. 2 years of training, sacrifice, agony and bliss. And I was done.
I hobbled over to meet Joe who handed me my belt buckle. Hugs for all my family and friends. And then it was time to bid farewell to Huntsville and the Rocky Racoon Saga.
Where do I begin to thank people for helping me before, during and after the race?
Thanks to Joe and all the race volunteers who gave up much more than their weekend to keep 700+ crazy runners going for up to 30 hours!
Thank you to my 2012 & 2013 crew & pacers who also sacrificed just to come make sure I achieved this insane goal. Susan, Paul, Marci, Chris, Juba, Jennifer, Kristin, Kristen & Blake. No words can explain what it meant to me for your dedication and for you to belive that I could do this.
Thank you Cindy & Lauren for showing up and surprising me in the middle of the night. When I needed the lift, you were there.
Thank you to my mom & dad for making me the way I am. Smart enough to know what needs to be done and hard-headed enough to do it.
Thank you to Lara & Mason for putting up with grumpy dad for 2 years. And for always believing I could do it.
And a special thanks to my beautiful wife Christine. I will spend the next 2 years showing you how much I appreciate everything you sacrificed for me to tackle this insane event.
The Rest of the Story
Soon after the race, we headed back to the shelter so I could change shoes and sit for a bit.
Then we headed back to the hotel so I could shower and put on some fresh clothes. I passed the shower test except for some slight undercarriage issues (Juba?). Then we got on the road headed back home.
When we reached the Louisiana state line, we stopped to use the restroom. I very gently stepped out of the truck and stood for a moment to catch my balance. While standing there, another vehicle pulled up and parked in the handicapped spot. Out steps a man with a walker. He looked at me. I looked at him. And then hearing that imaginary starter’s gun we bolted towards the bathroom! As I reached the bathroom door, with Christine assisting me, he was already on his way out of the bathroom and on his way to his car. Ouch! Sometimes your on the mountaintop. Sometimes in the valley.