Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Double Top 100, 2017


There was some understanding of what I was getting into when I signed up. But perceptions change over time, and as the race approached it was becoming clearer that this race was going to be difficult. 

  • It came come from FB posts "good luck to all the virgins!" 
  • And seeing regular postings with the word "suffering" in it.
  • Maybe from looking at ultrasignup.com and noticing most runners are returning for a second or third attempt. 
  • Also realizing they had stopped posting the number of DNF's a few years ago...
  • Or maybe it was from comments when I arrived at the event "I think there was one first timer last year that might have made it." 
  • But definitely hearing someone describe that I'll be using my arms to climb up the Power Line Section had my undivided attention. 

All of this made for a very restless sleep the night before the 3am start.

But the intimidation was a good thing; it gave me a healthy dose of fear. I became resolved to finish it and yelled this to the forest during the race "I did not come here to give up! I did not come here to fail!"

Realizing what I was in for and facing the challenge head on was a reason for finishing this difficult 100.


Vertical Profile for a 22-mile loop

Fort Mountain State Park - Go to the bottom, climb back up, repeat

Pre-race Smile


It was 3AM when the 9 of us started. The night temperatures were in lower 60's but the humidity was at a chafe-tastic 90%. I was bouncing over the technical terrain and needlessly wasting precious energy. It was pitch black and I couldn't see more than a few feet in front of my headlamp. Running this first loop in the dark was a positive and helped especially during the Power Line climb. The course was well marked and could be run with my brain on autopilot. 

View of nearby Chatsworth from the Inner Loop


The temperature changed throughout the day and reached the lower 80's with the humidity burning off to 60%. I stopped to treat my feet every 20 miles and that was worth the time spent as I had one minor blister at the end of the 100. One blister. 1 blister. One.

The 2nd loop began with sunrise and then daylight. This meant I could see the vertical changes which upped the mental challenge. The Race Director had defined a new term for me PEC: Pointless Elevation Change.

Example of PEC 

It was a gorgeous course but it helped not to think about how many more times I had to cover this same terrain. I did take some comfort knowing this was the second and last out and back connection to the Pinhoti connector. 

For Loops 1 and 2, racers run extra mileage to tag the Pinhoti twice. At the Park Entrance Aid Station, we leave on a downhill and then back uphill to a turnaround point. Here we collect a card and then go back to the aid station to drop it off. This is only done twice and it meant the overall loop mileage for Loops 3 through 5 would be less.

Collect a card and then return to the Park Entrance Aid Station

For anyone really curious about the big deal made about the Power Line section, here are a bunch of photos that communicate nothing of the actual experience.

Photo 1: Race Director Perry's photo of the Power Line Section from afar
Photo 2
Photo 3
Photo 4
Photo 5

Photo 6
(Please be advised there were 145 photos taken to capture the entire Power Line section.
Photos 7 through 145 will not be included in this blog post)

Upon returning to Cool Springs at Mile 43, someone's crew member shared some good news with me concerning the weather is"not going to be as bad as they said it would be." 

I didn't have to worry about those severe thunderstorms anymore!!! 


Before I started Loop 3, some friendly volunteers helped me remove a tick. These were my favorite race volunteers of all time as they took care of closing up my drop bag and putting it away so I could get out of the Aid Station faster. Plus they made the most delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and Ramens broth that brought my spirits up. The Inner Loop has more of a cross breeze than the outer and I was thankful it was cooler up here. It even felt like a separate part of the course to run.

At Mile 48, it was twilight and I took my headlamp as I headed out. The mental wear of knowing this was only about midway through the race kind of hurt. Plus the quads were feeling beat up from braking on the downhills. The chafing added to it and was more intense than usual with the high humidity.

On the 3rd climb up the Power Line it looked a bit like rain on the horizon but based on the previous weather intel I assumed it would be a passing shower. However out of the corner of my eye I thought I had noticed a flash of lighting behind me. Whenever I turned around to check there was nothing in the distance. 

That third climb up the Power Line was admittedly harder than I wanted it to be. It was dark by the time I made the Lake Aid Station.  Suddenly it became cold and I changed gear.

I left the aid station as the wind was cutting hard across the lake. It started to drizzle, then rain. Earlier in the day when I heard the weather was "not going to be as bad as they said it would be". I inserted this into my head as scattered rain showers rather than the severe thunderstorm warnings they had been giving. When I saw that solid wall of rain pass from left to right over the trail I was mentally unprepared. I was dumbfounded. Lighting and thunder followed and I started running faster.

The ground couldn't absorb that much rain and 2-3" of water rushed down the trails soaking my socks and shoes. It was uphill to the next Aid Station and I ran hard. The lightning was above and around me and the wind shot across the trail sideways. It was 2-miles to the next shelter and I was running as fast as I could move. Where could I take cover in a forest covered in water during a lighting storm? I had no idea. 

Note: Actual lighting not shown as I was running my ass off towards safety.
I arrived at the aid station tent and sat in a chair with a blanket around me waiting for the lightning to move away. I nodded off and hoped the storm would subside.

Two runners approached and that got me up. I trailed Wayne and his pacer Phil out into a downpour. We slogged our way over to Deep North; talking and shuffling. The climb up the Switchbacks from Hell took it out of me.


It was around midnight when this loop started. It was too wet to listen to music and the rocks and logs were slick. I finished the Inner Loop and left for the Outer around 2AM. I thought this was going to be a long and miserable number of hours running in the rain at night. It didn't disappoint.


Around 7am the sun was trying to lighten the sky through the rain. At Cool Springs, I heard better news the rain could trail off at 7 but then again it could also come back. I almost abandoned all rain gear to change into dry clothes and lighten the weight. But in hindsight that would have been a race ending move as it turned out to be cold, hard rain for the rest of the day.

I tried to not think of the Outer Loop until the Inner was completed. I kept reminding myself this was the last time I ever had to set foot here again. I was confident I going to make the 100 but had to keep moving forward.

That 5th climb up Power Line was awful. My quads were so torn up that I was almost walking the small downhills that followed the summit. I arrived at the Lake Aid Station and ate a cold, spicy pizza for breakfast. That was awesome and exactly what I needed! I put the music back on and started running again! 

For the rest of the loop I had to keep moving to stay warm. I had ditched the waterproof pants and gloves earlier expecting some more heat as the day wore on but the temperature had dropped instead. To keep warm I was now exhaling the air back into my jacket as a sort of heat source under my raincoat. It was that cold even when running!

I was so thankful to see the final water station at the bottom of the Switchbacks from Hell. It was almost over. I climbed slowly and steadily towards the top. I crested the mountain and shuffled over to the finish line to meet Perry almost 36 hours after starting. 

This was the first race I ran at night without becoming Zombie Mark and stumbling through the woods in the dark falling asleep standing up. And this race had almost 2 nights of running. That was definitely an improvement and I have a few theories on why it happened: caffeine, a nap at the right time & staying ahead of the calories. 

This was a difficult race but I appreciated it and would recommend it to others. You'll do fine but be sure to yell out to the forest that you were not here to fail!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Infinitus 48-Hour, 2016

Taken back in May 2014: G.I. Jane helps me reach a 20th mountain summit to finish my race.
She was my pacer and pushed her maximum ultra distance from 30 to 70 miles to make this happen.

May 2016 and it's my turn to help my friend.

Jane and I are about to head out for her first 100 mile finish.

This is the Infinitus 48-hour and it starts Friday at 8:08am and ends Sunday at 8:08am. We'll have that time to complete as many loops as possible but a complete Infinitus loop is 27 miles so we'll need four (4). Here is this year's route:

The first half of a loop is 7 miles including one mountain summit followed by the second half of the loop that is 20 miles with a second mountain summit. 

The 100 miler really is 108 miles because after the 100, the runner still has to make it back to the start. There are 8 mountain summits as part of the distance, and the total elevation change adds up to roughly 35,000 feet.

Then there's the usual technical terrain of rocks, roots, mud and a few stream crossings. 

Finally, the weekend will include extreme heat and humidity, resulting in many ending the race early.

Here is how the adventure unfolded:

Loop 1 - First Half

I'm nervous. I shouldn't be but I'm getting those pre-race jitters. I'm making dumb jokes and I can't stop.

Checking my gear and I can't remember which bag pockets I put stuff into. I go from shoes to top of the head to figure out what else I need to do.

Headquarters (HQ)

Ok it's almost go time and I meet up with Jane and Mike P. (Mike P. thanks again for the ride to the start that was a huge help!)

Andy, one of the RD's, is talking about the course. There is one main aid station at headquarters (HQ) where we can make PB&J sandwiches. He's pointing out the mountains we will climb. The first part of the loop is a 7 mile run up and then down the mountain. Ok sure.

7 mile loop on Romance Mountain

And then there's the 20 miler. Wow.  Run to the mountain, climb it, descend and run back. That is FAR AWAY. And the 20 miler has only two water stations that will be unsupported for the first 24 hours. No doubt that half is going to be brutal. Runners were advised to plan well before heading out there.

The second mountain is Mt. Moosalamoo and can be seen on the horizon

Andy continues. "There's also a hawk... that will swoop down on you. It likes to attack. It won't, it can't kill you. But it swoops at your head."

BOOOOOM! They fire off that cannon (that was facing us). The adrenaline arrives and we are running up that first hill.

The climb up the mountain on the 7 mile is slow going. The bugs are out and annoying but apparently better than the previous year.

We are halfway up the hill and find a Harry Potter doll hanging upside down from a tree. Ok the race last year had some freaky decor and it looks like it is starting.

Jane's happy to see this clown she brought home from last year's race but WTF is that face thing with it! That is going to totally bug me out at night.

We've reached the summit and are now back down towards the start. The 7 mile isn't going to be too bad.

Oh wait. We've found the faces.

And the doll that moves around during the race. Freaky!

Loop 1 - Second Half 

Ok we're getting geared up for the long half of the Infinitus loop. It is getting ridiculously HOT out here. I ate a bunch of food at the aid station but I'm packing one more PB&J, a Luna bar, Snickers, chips and a full backpack with Tailwind. (And FYI that wasn't quite enough)

Jane and Mike are ready to start the 20 miles and just as we are heading out I see a familiar car pulling in. MY FAMILY CAME TO VISIT! This is a first during an ultra and I'm psyched to see them. What are the chances of them arriving while I'm passing through headquarters? I could have missed them by a minute and been gone for the next 8 hours. Hi!

The kids are thrilled.

A couple of photos, hugs, kisses and I'm running out onto the 20 mile to catch up with Jane and Mike.

Running on well marked trails
And steady bridges

I spot Jane and Mike on the other side of a stream crossing. How is everyone doing? Not good. The morning humidity is a killer. We keep shuffling. Mike says to me on the side that he's reading Jane and her heart isn't into a 100. I think it's too early to decide it's over but man that eats at me for the next few hours. I have to get her to 100. Stay positive and get to 50. Then we can reassess.

The humid morning is burning off but with it the heat comes and that's also slowing us down.

Llama Llama, Mt. Moosalamoo.
Time to climb you. Up. FU.

That was a brutally long climb and descent. At the bottom is an eerily beautiful dam and lake!


Our first 27 miles are done but it took us a solid 10.5 hours to do that first loop. But all is not lost and the night will be cooler. Jane is stronger at night and we'll be able to move faster without the heat. After we run that second loop we'll know the pace and can figure out a plan. Maybe rest tomorrow afternoon and run through the night.

We're at HQ and gearing up. Jane comes right out and says it: she's done. Her heart isn't into it and she doesn't want to run in the heat tomorrow since it promises to be just as miserable. I'm pretty sad but my gut knew it was coming. I so wanted to fight that hard battle and move forward to get her to that first 100. She asks me, what am I going to do now? Stay or go see my family. I'm here so I guess I'll just keep going. Jane offers to reverse roles and crew for me. I'm happy for that and will go run this off.

Loop 2 - 1st Half

I'm heading back out on the 7 mile. And flying up the hill. You've got nothing on me 7 mile loop. Later.

Loop 2 - 2nd Half 

Jane! I'm baaaaaack. Honestly I'm more than a little uncomfortable to hit that 20 mile in the dark going solo. I can't see anybody else's light out there on the course. I'll bring my phone in case something happens with say, one of the bears.

I'm happy as I start listening to this sci-fi audiobook called Annihilation that my friend CJ recommended. It's 6 hours long and a perfect length. I'll finish it just before sunrise and the loop ends.

HOLY SHIT this is a freaky book to be listening to out in the woods. It's got my heart rate up for sure. Plus it's pitch black here and I'm all alone. And these decorations aren't helping. I'm climbing Mount Moosalamoo alone right now and I'm totally BUGGING OUT!

Riiiiiiiiiip I didn't get down far enough onto my hands and knees to get under the downed tree and part of my back is taken off but a knot sticking out from the tree. I'm muddy and bloody.

Finally I'm back at the bottom of the mountain. Here's that dam again. And it's nice and breezy here. I'm going to turn off my headlamp and look at the stars for a few minutes. NEVERMIND! SOMETHING IS GOING TO COME AND EAT ME!!! RUN AWAY!

It's around 3AM and I'm so, so, so tired. I keep falling asleep while I'm running. Then I wake up on my feet just standing still in the middle of the trail. That feeling when I wake up is jarring and it totally sucks. I don't think I can hold on until headquarters but I can't stop here.

I arrive back at HQ. It's 4am and I feel terrible. If the weather says it's going to be just as hot this afternoon as it was today then that is it, I'm done. I'll look up the weather when I wake up.

Loop 3 - 1st half

I slept an hour but I'm wide awake. The sun is coming up. I am feeling overtired but it's cooler right now. The weather says it's going to be just as hot today but cloudy. I do feel refreshed and I came here to race so I'm going back out.

Jane is ready and crewing! I'm feeling good as I'm starting the 7 miler. I should be back in about 1.5 hours.

Flyyyyying uphill! Then downhill but I break the laces on my trail shoes. I channel MacGyver and rig the laces.

Loop 3 - 2nd Half 

My feet are clean and lubed. The pack is filled to capacity but before I go I'm desperately craving real breakfast food. What do they have at the table? A PB&J sandwich! I head out before the heat ramps up.

Holy Hellfire it is burning hot out here! The weather forecast was hot but cloudy. These are blue skies!!!

Out on the trail I meet Kara (1st place finisher for the women). We pair up and move through the course at a good, even pace. It is almost 90 degrees now and sunny. But we're both really lucky because I have tons of random running stories that help pass the time.

Loop 4 - 1st Half 

We made it back at headquarters. Andy and I are talking and he reminds me that at mile 100 they will be there to give us buckles. Then we have to find our way back and that means running another 8 miles. Or I can run just skip the 7 miler, run the 20 now and make it an even 100 but be counted out from the competition. Not compete? No way. Andy, I have 27 more miles in me. I'm heading out on Loop 4.

I move well through the 7 mile in the dusk. But the downhills on the legs and feet feel exactly like I have run 88 miles on them.

Loop 4 - 2nd Half

The day is ending and I'm moving faster right now. This is the last time I have to run this freaking thing. The last! What a nightmare.

Ok climbing Moosalamoo again. It takes an eternity to get to the top and forever to get to the bottom.

I'm at the 100 mile mark and where is anybody? Where's Andy or Jack? The buckle isn't waiting at mile 100! ANDY!!!

I'm running pretty well towards headquarters. But the past 38 hours have been difficult to say the least. I start wondering how many people will make the 108. Probably not many. Which means, of those that make the 108, how many will want to start out on a Loop 5? I bet one or two yahoos will go for it. When I get back to HQ I'll check if anyone went out on Loop 5. If there's 2 people already out there racing for 1st place then I'll stop. If it's only 1 person, then I'll start looping the 7 mile.

Loop 5

I'm at headquarters. Everyone is hanging out in the lodge (some with ice cold drinks) and it would be so nice to finally sit down and put my feet up. Andy is working the sign-in board and has the buckles with him.

Wait! Andy don't write DONE next to my name. I'm not done just yet. I want to see how many people started Loop 5. He says I'm all good and I'm in 2nd place for the 108 mile. Yeah, but no one went out on Loop 5. Which means... if I run another loop then I take the lead right? Yes.

I'm gone and out onto Loop 5 for 7 more miles and to move into first.

This is so hard to do right now but if I can get back to headquarters before another runner passes me on this loop then I'll time-stamp my position in first place. That person will then have to run another 7 miles to take first place away from me.

I'm climbing the first 3.5 miles. There is a white van parked right on the course and my headlamp lights it up inside and out. Oh hey there giant husky doggy that comes out of the back. Please don't eat me, I'm just running by.

This climb is getting brutal. I find trapped pockets of humidity and chafing is getting out of control. I notice the blisters on my feet and hands. Climb, climb, climb. Repeat. Climb, climb, climb. This mountain feels like a beast right now.

Ok I'm over the summit but it's slow going on the way down. What's that!! I'm hearing voices behind me but there are no lights. That is some freaky shit.

What keeps me moving is thinking about how this could positively influence my kids. One day they might see this as difficult and that under some pretty rough conditions, I fought hard for a win.

Loop 5

I'm finally back at headquarters and it's after 2AM. Jack, Andy's co-Race Director (and mastermind behind the trail decorations) is here now. He says there are 3 more runners on course and any one could return to HQ and start racing another loop. There are still 6 hours to go. Every other runner came back to HQ and confirmed they are done. He comments I will probably be the winner. What will I do now? I have a 7 mile lead and I could go rest. Nope. I'll wait here in the lodge. If someone comes in and wants to head back out then I'll chase them and try to hang onto my lead.

Did that guy just seriously sprint in and out of here? That took maybe 2 seconds. Is he in the same race? I check the board. Yup. Holy shit it's on. I've got to get my pack ready and get back on the mountain.

I'm climbing up, up, up and I can't even see the guy's headlamp. Maybe he didn't actually go on a loop? I'm feeling so tired. THIS IS THE LAST THING I WANT TO BE DOING AFTER RUNNING FOR 42 HOURS.

I start in with some delirious math. Even if I'm much slower then this guy then I'll still finish the loop and time stamp the 122 miles before he can. But with 6 hours left... Shit. that means I'll need to head back out at least one more time if he goes again. I so badly want this win. I want to win for my kids. I have so little left but I push forward harder.

There he is. He's pretty far up the first part of the mountain but I think I'm catching up. Yup, I get closer and he notices me coming. Whoops he's waiting. Hey there, nice to meet you. We're having good conversation but I have to confess: I'm 7 miles in the lead and I'm circling only to hold onto it. You can race if you want to but you'll have to somehow lap me.

We're still climbing the mountain together. I can't show him just how tired I am. I am using my 115 mile legs and he's using 108 mile legs. I'm trying not to think about that but at this distance there's much more of a difference. Control my breathing. Control my speech. Keep his pace climbing the mountain for 3.5 miles.

In the end, that turned into a great loop and we stuck together the whole way. It's 4:30am and he says he's good with second place and done. But that maybe he'll sneak back onto the mountain to do another loop.

122 miles. 10 mountain summits. 40,000 feet total elevation change. 1 hour of sleep. 44 hours of running.

And a first, 1st place.

A slice of tree as an award with this awesome carving.

Finally got the buckle from Andy.

45 hours on the course but now it's too bright to sleep

Congrats Erik Skocaj on completing the 888k! 

Honorable mention to Hannibal Jeff Seymour for pacing another runner going for 500 miles+

Home movie for the 48-hour

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