Everything went perfectly. That one simple sentence basically sums up the 2013 Pumpkin Holler 100 mile race for me. From the day I really committed to start some serious training (after a weak performance at Summer Psycho Psummer 50k) to the moment I crossed the Pumpkin Holler finish line, everything went perfectly.
I won’t go too in depth about the training that I did leading up to PH100, just that I had worked very hard. I was logging not only long slow runs, but running lots of intermediate-distance speed work. I also hit the stairs, ran hill repeats, and tortured myself with a 20# weighted vest. I ran in the heat. I power walked my little black pug Ermah. I knocked out 45 miles in the Patriots Run and finished 2nd overall. I raced the FlatRock 50K in the mud like a man on fire setting a PR on the course and getting 6th. I was well trained. After much discussion with my ultrarunning friends and mentors (specifically my long lost older brother from another mother and ultrarunning mentor Eric Steele), I decided I needed to do a fall 100 miler. Since I DNF’d Pumpkin Holler 100 last year around 55 miles, it only made sense that my goal would be redemption in my second attempt to “Smash the Pumpkin”.
By the start of the race everything had lined up perfectly. My amazing support crew was scheduled to show up later in the evening, I had my strategy lined out, and my drop boxes were packed. Arriving about an hour before the gun with a belly full of food and coffee and a decent amount of sleep, I made my final preparations. A nice thick coat of lube on all my “friction prone areas” was all I needed before taking off in pursuit of my goal; finishing 100 miles in less than 24 hours.
At 8 a.m., I set out with a couple hundred runners on the red-dirt Oklahoma country roads just north of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The leaves are starting to change colors and the air was a crisp 40 degrees, making for a beautiful sight – especially while running along the rock bluffs or the sparkling Illinois River. The first leg of the race for 100 miler racers is a little 4 mile out-and-back jog off the main loop which was basically up a long hill. This was a pretty good climb, so I had no problems sticking to my plan and starting slow to warm up. I really paid attention to how my new Hoka One One Stinson Evo Tarmacs felt, considering I purchased them the day before the race and had never run in them. Yes, I know terrible idea… but they felt SOOO GOOD… I had to give them a chance. My decision was that I would wear them out of the chute and if they hurt I could change into my Saucony when I came back thru the start line at the beginning of the first loop. Later in the race, I would say, “The only way these shoes are coming off is if they are taken off my cold dead body.” My Garmin measured this as about 8 miles and I was right on my goal pace, just under 12 minutes a mile.
Coming back through the start, I refilled my bottles, ate a few ham and cheese sandwich quarters, shed an outer layer of clothing, and took right off. I knew the sun was going to come up and would warm up soon enough, so I felt fine although I was a little chilly. Up to this point I had run with a couple different folks and even managed to log a few miles with Michelle McGrew, who I had spent hours with conquering the FlatRock 101K in April. We ran with a young guy named Nathan who was looking to avenge a Pumpkin Holler DNF himself. We had a few laughs and just enjoyed ourselves. At one point, about 15 miles in, Michelle slowed to a walk and I followed her lead. To this she said (in her VERY thick Oklahoma accent), “Don’t you slow down because of me, this is YOUR race, go RUN it!” I really took that to heart, and after wishing her luck, I ran. On this occasion, I had an iPod loaded with some face-melting classic rock to help pass some miles should I end up alone or start to struggle. Normally, I am a very social runner, but today I was in race mode. I didn’t really want to worry about conversing or matching pace. I really felt like just listening to some tunes and zoning out, so that’s what I did. I never run with music, so this was a real treat. With my ear buds in and the volume cranked up, I knocked off the rest of the first 50k loop and came back into the start (about 40 miles down) at about 3:38 pm. At this point I had no crew, but really didn’t need much. My truck was parked on the path back to the road, so I just stopped there to get my drop box. Shannon McFarland asked how he could help, so after filling my water bottle, he followed me to my truck and helped me restock my Nathan vest with Hammer Gels, protein bars, etc. He is an experienced racer, and talked me thru the things I would need until I picked up my own crew around 55 miles in. Shannon totally went above and beyond the call of duty for an aid station volunteer, and I totally appreciated it! I knew I was right on target for pace (1 minute under goal at this point) and the only cutoff I had to make was 4:30am to start the 3rd lap, which obviously wasn’t too much of a concern, considering how great I felt.
With my earbuds in, a long sleeve shirt on, and a jacket tied around my waist, I took off to do battle with the second 50K loop. I really don’t have a lot to say other than things went as perfect as they could. I kept eating and drinking. Occasionally, I would pass people – but I never got passed. Hell, I even Facebook’d some and made a couple calls to friends and family to update them on how things were going. I hit the 50 mile mark at almost exactly 10 hours – running what coming into this race I would have called a “suicidal” pace for a runner of my ability. After talking to my Crew Chief, Candi Paulin (the beautiful and talented ultrarunner and also my wonderful girlfriend), I knew there was a chance that they would make it in time to meet me at the next aid station. I booked it down the big hill and into Savannah Corner, run by Tony Clark, Steve Baker, and Dennis Haig feeling great and totally excited. Unfortunately my crew hadn’t arrived yet. A little let down, I started prepping for the next section of the race. Knowing I had 45 miles to go, and also knowing that it wasn’t going to get any easier, I stayed on task. As I was shaking hands with the guys, low and behold an SUV pulls up and out pops my crew! I was so excited! I group hugged my Epic Ultra Chicks – Candi, Melissa Bruce, and Joell Chockley. Candi ran the Heartland 100 (sub-22 hr) the weekend before while Melissa and Joell both crewed and paced all day and night. To say they were the perfect ultra-chicks for the job was an understatement! It was a HUGE mental boost, even though I was already on cloud nine and feeling amazing. Several people had told me I was looking good, but I should slow down or I was going to blow up. My response was simple, “I know, but I will deal with that when it happens. Until then, I am running hard.” Knowing I would see my girls again in about 9 miles – and pick up Joell as my first pacer – was enough to send my ass back out on the road with a purpose. As before, everything went perfectly. I passed some people. According to Randy Ellis, at the East of Eden aid station, I was in 5th place overall. I wasn’t worried about place, just getting that sub-24 hour finish. I passed another guy and his pacer before finally catching Arnold Begay. Arnold, despite finishing the Heartland 100 ONE WEEK BEFORE, was outrunning me ALL DAY. Arnold was having a great day, but just before the Hard Up Ahead aid station he injured his achilles and was limping – and would later drop. As hard as I was working and trying to catch Arnold, I hated to see that when I did, it was only because of injury. Get well soon Arnold – we can battle it out another day! Everything continued to go perfectly. Excited to see my girls again and pick up some company to share the infinite darkness with, I rolled into the Hard-Up Ahead aid station with a huge grin on my face. A few hugs and kisses, words of encouragement, a quick bottle refill, and a hand full of ham sandwiches, and I was off – this time with Mrs. Chockley by my side. Joell is one of the best people you can possibly have as a pacer, because she is always so damn happy! Even though my focus was on running and I wasn’t saying much, she kept the conversation flowing. Before I knew it, we had covered a hilly and pretty tough 9 miles in about 2 hours and were back at the start, 70 miles completed.
As expected my Epic Ultra Chicks were waiting on me at the starting area at almost exactly 11pm when Joell and I came in, right on schedule. Candi gave me a little sugar of the variety not found in a Hammer gel, and they all took great care of me. Still staring down another 50k, I was still feeling awesome. Melissa was all geared up and ready to take over pacing duties for the next 13-14 miles and eventually taking me into Savannah Corner for the final time. The first half of the 50K loop has several very tough hills, and at this point in the race they should have started to feel like mountains. I don’t know how, but I started to feel stronger. I was powering up hills to the point that Melissa needed to jog to match my power-hike pace. We cranked out these miles, and I never once felt anything less than stellar. We talked and ran, and we laid down some 11 minute miles. This was faster than Melissa (and myself) was expecting me to be at this point, and she was working hard to keep up with me, so I may or may not have mentioned coyotes and bobcats to freak her out a little. We came into the Out and Back aid station at the same time 2nd place (and eventual female winner) Rebecca Reynolds was coming back in, which put me exactly 3 miles behind her. About 40 minutes later, when I came back into O&B, Nathan was coming in, 3 miles behind – giving me a good idea where I was related to the rest of the top 4 runners. Cranking along in 3rd place overall, Mel and I came cruising into Savannah Corners. As expected the girls were there, and after a nap, Joell was once again ready to rock. I thanked them all repeatedly – especially Melissa who had worked her tail off to keep me moving fast.
Earlier in the day, my good friend, and Joell’s husband, Justin Chockley posted a great quote on my Facebook by ultrarunning pioneer and total legend David Horton, “Find the level of intolerance you can tolerate and stay there.” That was what this next section was all about. Shortly after leaving Savannah Corners for the 3rd and final time, I ate a protein bar, and then 30 minutes later I had an espresso flavored Hammer Gel. This proved to be a few too many calories and my stomach went sour. Normally I have an “iron gut”, so this really sucked for me. Joell just kept talking and smiling and telling me to keep pushing on, which I did. I kept telling myself I would feel better. About 30 minutes later, I did. Joell had her Garmin on and assured me that despite my gut issues we still made good time. This section has the longest stretch between aid stations. It was about 4.5 miles from Savannah to East of Eden and another 4.5 to get to Hard Up Ahead. We kept plugging along and got back to Hard Up Ahead where I found Candi bouncing off the walls ready to pace me to the finish. Joell had warned me that despite a knee issue after the Heartland 100, Candi was dead set on pacing me to the finish and would not be denied, so don’t even bother trying to talk her out of it. That’s my girl! As we left the aid station with only 9 miles separating me
from my first 100 mile finish, someone said, “2nd place is only 5-10 minutes ahead of you, and was struggling. Go get her!” I mentioned that all I didn’t care about what place I finished, I just wanted to finish and get my buckle and a sub 24 hour finish. The Hoka’s were really protecting my feet and I felt awesome going into the 3 mile paved section between Hard Up Ahead and Bathtub Rocks. Candi was pushing me hard, even making me run up a few hills by lying to me and telling me that it was flat, and before long we saw a headlamp – which I thought was a porch light. Candi reminded me that porches don’t move as we ran down the second place runner. Once we got about 20 yards behind Rebecca, something snapped inside of me and I just “downshifted” and took the hell off. Candi chuckled to herself loud enough I could hear it and sped up to match my pace. According to my internal speedometer, we ran a sub 10 minute mile and blew so far ahead of her that her light was invisible. When we came into Bathtub, 6 miles from the finish, I realized I had done it. I remember saying that I had 6 hours to go another 6 miles, or something ridiculous like that – again making Candi laugh. Food and drink was done for me, so we barely paused and headed on to the final aid station, appropriately named “Last Gasp”. Done with the hills and a good bit of distance between me and 3rd place, I was in coast mode – but just for a minute. After dropping to a walk, Candi kindly asked me what the $%&* I was doing walking, and informed me that I was GOING to finish in less than 22 hours. Scoffing, I told my overzealous pacer that there was no way I was able to run a 22 minute 5k right now. Once my math error was corrected, Candi blasted my declaration that I wasn’t sure I could even run a 42 minute 5k. She took off and I followed. This is where something strange happened… I really stopped feeling anything from the legs down. Not that I was paralyzed or anything, just that it didn’t matter. I ran. I ran harder. I ran faster. I remembered landmarks and signs that told me we were almost there. We turned and got on the bridge. We were there! I look at my watch and realized that at 5:45 am, I had nearly 15 minutes to run around the campground and cross the finish line to finish this thing off.
Candi told me she didn’t think she could keep up with my speed across the bridge (I found out her knee was killing her) but to keep on going. Of course, she did keep up with me and we
ran together to the finish. 21 hours, 50 minutes and 30 seconds. Second place overall in the 2013 Pumpkin Holler 100 Mile. I had done it. Just like I told Eric I would, I earned my seat at the “big boy table”. Thanks to great support from the Epic Ultra Chicks, my totally awesome ultrarunning friends, and the ultrarunning community at large, I did it. Everything went perfectly.
Until next time… BE EPIC