Thursday, May 22, 2014
THUNDER ROCK 100
Thunder rock 100 Mile Trail Race. May 16th 20014 Ocoee River, Tn Benj Lance
Motivation... Ever since I ran my first marathon and 50k back in Dec 2010, I have always had the goal of completing the 100 mile distance. It intrigued me so much, and I admired both the local legends like Rob Youngren and Dewayne Satterfield, and world legends like Karl Meltzer, Julien Chorrier, Ryan Sandes, and Hal Koerner. These guys finished numerous of the toughest hundred milers in the world. It took me a long time to get the courage up to go for it, but after a few years, many tough races, and a good showing at a 100k, I finally got the guts to sign up. The Thunder Rock 100, I mean just the name itself sounds really freaking cool. I knew rock/creek knows how to put on a race, and I knew the area surrounding the Ocoee River is stunningly beautiful, my real worry was heat (a race in May in TN). Luckily the weather gods gave us a gift and heat was not an issue. Despite a bit of anxiety I was ready to release the thunder.
Training. I ran about 60-65 miles a week, mostly on trails with a pretty significant amount of climb each week, and at least one tempo or fartlek style workout just to keep a little speed in my legs. I threw in one 77 mile week, that included running the last 50 Miles of the Thunder Rock course over 2 days. My most important workouts were back to back long runs. I did a 33miler Saturday / a 17 miler the next day. A 31/13 a 26/14 and a 29 miler with 8100 feet of climb. My legs and lungs felt very strong, and I had several course PRS leading up to the race.
Logistics... I was lucky enough to have my dad, Bob, and my girlfriend, Morgan, crew for me. We had a mini van full of sugar, carbs, and running gear. My dad made a binder full of maps and directions, and we were ready to roll. I had my good friend Megan lined up to pace me from mile 50 until 83 (through the night). Then another good friend Doug would take me from mile 83 to the finish. Both are incredible runners and people, and I knew I was in good hands.
Race day and miles 0-5
There was so much energy on the start line you could feel it in the air. We all stood there contemplating what the next day had in store for us. After a speech, and lots of whooping and hollering, ACDC'S Thunderstruck came over the speakers and we were off. We crossed the bridge with the 1996 olympic banner on top and hit the trails immediately. I was super slow and relaxed and right away started hiking uphill. My plan was to start ridiculously slow, almost in last and do the first 50 miles in 13ish hours. I lost sight of my two fellow huntsvillians pretty quick and settled into a hike up hill, jog downhill pattern. This section of trail was beautiful, with views of the Ocoee river and surrounding mountains we would be traversing. I rolled into the first aid station and it began to rain, and then hail. I remember thinking how strange it was for a hail storm to hit TN in May, and how beautiful it looked. I kissed Morgan and said hi to my dad and took off. Race director Randy Whorton was directing traffic as we crossed the road and I could see the happiness in his eyes as us runners entered the Benton Mckaye to began the challenge he had laid out for us.
Climbing and climbing, the good old Benton Mckaye. Up and up until we hit what should of been Big Frog, but thanks to some rule preventing us from using Big Frogs trails we were forced to bush whack. The bushwhacked was gnarly, and slick. People were falling left and right and I was just trying to get down this hill without eating mud. Next up was double track trail, and running with north Georgia native Wayne aka Weezy. I enjoyed talking and running until suddenly the sky became angry and showed us some real thunder. Next thing I know it is hailing like crazy and the wind is tearing at us. I am freezing cold and starting the think I may be the only idiot ever to get hypothermia in May in TN. My hands got so cold I couldn't unhook my pack, but after 90 mins of suffering a bit the sun came out and I began to dry off and warm up. My mind was way more negative then it should have been, but I was able to shut it off and just keep it going. Hike up hill, flow downhill like water...repeat. The terrain was stunning and I took a minute or two to take in a view. I felt truly lucky to be here, and to be alive. I hit the mile 15 aid station feeling better then I had the first 15 miles. After passing the aid station, a kid threw a mud ball directly at my face, and barely missed. That would have been a weird one to explain. Darn kids....
I began enjoying the descent immensely, and knowing my crew would be at mile 25 made me pretty excited. Most of this section was on a nice flat, muddy trail, running parallel to a beautiful river, and the sound of white water was singing in my hears. I finally was covering ground at a descent clip and began to feel like I was actually a runner after what seemed like hiking for hours in the beginning. This section went by very fast and I came into mile 25 feeling like a million bucks. The sun was shinning my legs felt warmed up and everything seemed to be waking up and ready to go. I got another kiss from Morgan, some green tea from my dad and took off.
After a short road section, it was back on the trail running next to the river. Muddy and technical, but runnable enough to click off some miles. I had my iPod in at this point and was really enjoying the music. I felt super positive about how everything was going. During this section we ran on a paved road for a bit, and I will not lie....it hurt. It reminded me how thankful I am to be a trail runner. When I came into the aid station I was craving salt so, I literally ate 13 mini pickles. They tasted really good, and I got moving again with a mind full of excitement for the next section.
This whole section was the hardest, but most beautiful part of the whole course. It was steep up and downs, nonstop, and technical. It reminded me a lot of the Upchuck 50k, but harder. The sun was starting to go down, and the views were breath taking. I felt as if I was on the Western States course, and with Tupac blaring in my ears I was savoring every moment, and soaking up the last rays of the sun before the dark and lonely night took over. I ran behind 2 other runners and we played headlamp chicken, until finally someone gave in and turned theirs on. I arrived at the aid station went straight for the pickles again and two cups of ramen. I sat down on my dads cooler for 2 mins to eat, and when I sat I took note of how good my legs felt after that hard section. After refueling I began to hike the hill and was lucky enough to get to hold Morgans hand most of the hill hike. A little human contact felt nice as I knew the demons of the night were out there waiting for me.
It was pitch black and humans no longer existed, just balls of light, moving up and down the hills through the night. I hiked the uphills hard and ran the flats and downhills pretty fast, and made a friend who's conversation made the miles fly by. I still felt fresh somehow and was enjoying every mile as we went deeper into the night. We hit the aid station together and they had bacon which was awesome. I knew we were getting close to where my pacer was, and although I refused to allow my mind to even consider how much farther the race was, I was excited to get these 4.2 miles done and pick up my pacer for some bonding and adventures on Starr mountain.
This section went by very fast, I remember running by little houses with dogs barking, and wondering what these country bumpkins must think of us out here. I remember coming to a highway and how alien it all looked after being in the woods for 11 hours. I remember a big dog standing in the road looking at me like he wanted to either eat me or lick me??? I felt good and ran strong. I hit the last climb into Servilla and knew that the fun. was just about to begin. I was 100% ready for the second 50 miles, and all the challenges and pain it may bring.
After a change of shoes (1 pair of Skechers GORUN Ultra for another) and a kiss from Morgan, My pacer, Megan, and I took off into the night. We ran until the climb then hiked very quickly. I swore to her if that climb ever ended we would run hard, and boy did we. I was feeling hyper, happy and good despite it being 1 in the morning and we ran hard. The section flew by and we were beginning to pass people on uphills and downs. Before I could think, where are we, we hit Iron Gap.
"Man that aid station sucked, they had no good food, and they acted like we didn't exist". After I said it, I began thinking, o no am I getting negative? O well let's just run. And run we did. We were moving very well and ran almost everything clicking off 930-10 minute miles and faster on the down hills. Passing people who looked like zombies, the two of us chatting and laughing and having as much fun as two college kids on a bar run. The miles went by really fast and Megan was keeping me positive and distracted. We were at Bullet Creek and the Christmas lights had me in awe. The notion that out here in the middle of nowhere, people took the time to decorate and hang lights, and cook us hot food, really touched me. I am so lucky to be a part of this amazing sport.
Kiss from Morgan, food, mountain dew, a hello from Weezy who was at the aid station,and we were off again. Hike uphill, run 930 pace down, eat, drink, pee, tell jokes, repeat. We had it dialed in, we were a team, like brother and sister out there. I was having fun and was hyper from all the , Mountain Dew. We crushed the section again speeding up and passing runners. On a climb we saw two people ahead, and as we approached, it was my close friend and mentor, Cary Long. It hurt me a little to see him struggling in a sleepy daze. I reached out for a quick hand hold, Megan prancercised for him, and I asked him to sing me his favorite church song, but I could tell it was time to move on and let him fight the demons . I fully expected to see him again, and I couldn't wait to spend some time running together later in the race. We entered the aid station, the early morning hours were here, and it was time to be tested by the sleep monster, and the trial of miles.
Kiss from Morgan, mountain dew, ramen, whatever I could shove in my mouth and we were off. Hike the uphills, run the flats and downs. At one point we both heard a noise off to the left and we both looked. We both spotlighted some poor soul bending over pooping. After a quick apology we moved. Hike run, hike run, we did the ultra dance of the hundred milers. " I just saw my Grandpa Lance's face in the fog Megan" Halucinations were starting. " I just saw my dad sitting on that log over there Megan" 100 miles and night running is all the drug I need. I was still feeling super positive and hyper, but I was craving the sunrise, and craving freedom from the headlamp beam. When we hit the ridge trail I had my longest period of walking. I wanted to run very badly, but my headlamps were fading the the terrain was just technical enough that I did not feel confident running. As soon as we got off the ridge, I was back to running and we made great time back to Iron Gap, mile 74.
" o look back at this crappy aid station were no1 speaks to you" I just could not let it go. We did not waste any time at Iron Gap and hit the trail. The sun was coming up and it was glorious. The sunrise jolted my with excitement and energy. I began to run the descent to the river hard and passed many runners on this section who I knew were WAY faster then me in other races. I could tell something was happening this race and I was overachieving. I was so excited for that river we hammered the descent almost recklessly until my knees could not take it any more and i was forced to walk downhill for the first time in the race. When the trail ended and I heard the river, it was like arriving at paradise. We hit the aid station and I shoveled down a grilled cheese. We descended the very slick muddy bank, took hold of the rope and began crossing the frigid Hiwassee River. The water felt amazing on my legs, but not so amazing on my man parts. I definitely peed while crossing that river, and i felt bad for it because the water gave me so much life during the crossing. On the other side we had a smaller crossing, followed by an awful slick muddy bank that had to be climbed with a rope. My dad and Morgan were waiting for me with the van and the 2200 foot climb up Oswald Dome was looming. Megan said goodbye and I thanked her and hugged her, feeling like a part of me was leaving after the 33 miles we spent together through the night. I changed into hokas, and my good friend Doug joined me. It was time to cliiiiiiiiiimb .
Up...up..up..switchback...up...up..up.switchback. Heart beating, legs hurting, lungs burning. Hello Oswald Dome, how are you this morning. We power hiked, hard. Hands on knees sweating, grunting pushing. Doug encouraged me, he even called me Benj Roes (Geoff Roes is a really good 100 mile runner) we passed some people on the freaking climb, I was feeling strong and climbing hard. Climbing it what I live for. I once did 15 death Trail repeats for 19 miles 9400 feet of climb to train for this race and it was showing up in a big way. Mush legs mush.. I was pulling on all the mental strength I had..up...up...up,switch back, and then the view. What a view, I earned this view, life is beautiful, I love you Doug, I wonder what my niece, Lindy is doing right now, am I going crazy. My mind was getting loopy. The climb was over, Oswald Dome was very kind to me. Now for some sweet downhill...or so I thought. Run run run ouch my knee, run run run ouch my knee. I could only run a little before the knee pain forced me to walk. Suddenly I see a human sized mouse and rabbit. "Doug are you seeing this too?" two people dressed as mascots. I fought off the urge to hug them, ate some pickles and some oranges, and moved on quickly. I was ready to be done....
Run run ouch my knee, hike uphill..... And then....my first real low point. Everything hurts, my left leg and knee are locking up, my feet are raw and I am dying... All the pain surfaces. I am barely running and walking gingerly downhill. I tell myself to suck it up, and Doug's words are helping, I shuffle...walk...shuffle...walk, we will get there someday.....I am tired... I miss Morgan .. I miss Lindy. I can hear Grandpa Lance saying TOUGHEN UP. Shuffle..walk... I can see Morgan..what a long six miles...Mckarmey Lake (mile 93), you are beautiful.
For the first time in 93 miles I take my pack off and get the handheld. I change into my favorite singlet. It is time to send this freaking thing. My low point is past and Doug informs me I can break 25 hours if we just keep moving. Kiss Morgan and release the thunder. We take off running hard. I pass three people immediately, and I expect to run a nice easy few miles down the cushy Cremmer trail to the finish in sub 25. Nope.....no...no.. The course is different then I though. There is no soft, pine needle, down hill to the finish. Just gnarly steep up and downs. It is raining, I have road hokas on. I miss my Skechers so bad. The terrain is unrunable, everything hurts, and I keep thinking we are lost. Doug saved me here... I was on the verge of a breakdown, he kept my crap together. I asked him what time it was every 2 minutes. I really wanted sub 25 for some reason. Up down....up down..rocks...mud..roots...slick...my feet raw as a steak at the butchers.. I suffered bad here....worst moment of the race. 2 miles to go, may as well be 22 with this terrain. Walking down hill..slogging up. 1 mile to go, "Doug what time is it" I ask him for the millionth time. I'm not going to make it. And then .... I hear my dad...and I see the finish..and I run as if I am fresh again. I cross the finish. 24 hours 46 mins. I stand there with people taking photos left and right. My body is overwhelmed with emotion, I have to stop myself from bursting into tears as I take a seat next to the fire. The second I sit down, I am euphoric, nothing hurts, I feel calm and happiness all over my body. I know I have accomplished something that will last my soul until I am an old man In my recliner. What a journey.. I am not the same person I was when I started the race.... To truly understand what this means, you must experience the journey yourself. Nothing hurts....everything hurts.
Skechers gorun ultra for 83 miles
Hoka one one bondi bs 17 miles
Target brand athletic underware
North face shirt
Nike project Oregon singlet
Ultimate direction Ak Vest
Aphiphod handheld bottle
NO WATCH at all
Drymax socks from the speedgoat himself.
Huma and honey stinger gels
LOTS of MountAin dew
lots of pickles and ramen
EmergenC 1000 Mgs of vitamin C every time I saw my crew
Cliff shot blocks
Elf bread from Will Barnwell
Few boiled potatoes.
Peanut butter bread
Advise for running 100 miles.
Start ridiculusly slow, I mean in the back of the pack.
EAT EAT EAT
Drink something with caffeine at night
The 1,000 MG of Vitamin C really helped me feel good
MOST IMPORATANTLY create mini rewards for yourself along the way. Ex I get to see my crew in three miles, I get to change shoes in 7 miles, I get to listen to music in 10 miles ect ect. This mentally was the number one thing that kept me positive.
Big thanks to my dad, my girlfriend, my pacers Doug and Megan. Jerry and Martin and Scott. Randy Whorton and Rock Creek. Kris Whorton. Michael Scott, and all the runners I ran with. Cary, Shar, Dewayne, Will, Luke, and All the aid station workers and volunteers.