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!