I consider myself an intermediate runner, and I primarily run for the challenge of testing my personal limits. I decided to run this particular ultramarathon because my friend Joel ran the Leadville 100 several times, starting in the early 1990s. At that time, I ran perhaps a marathon per year. By his description of the event, I was certain he was nuts! With the advent of the Internet, I was able to view photos and race stories. At some point I became fascinated the the concept of long ultras.
My friend and co-worker, Kevin, entered and won the FANS 12 hour race in 2003. It was a busy Saturday at the lab where we both work so, I dropped in on the race course several times over the course of the day. I found myself secretly wishing that I too, was running the event. Having DNFed a 50 mile trail race later that year, I entered the 12 hour 2004 FANS event to see if I could run 50 miles on an easy course. Finishing with 56+ miles and getting drenched during the (literally) eleventh hour thunderstorm, I was elated. It took a month to come down from that runner's high. Couldn't stop smiling.
I've run several 50k trail races over the last five years, but I'm not very fast. Alas, I'm 0 for three in 50 mile trail races, which I've always considered to be the logical step towards attempting a 100 mile race. The concept of running a 100 mile race was always in the back of my mind.
2007 was an up and down year for me prior to the Lean Horse 100 in late August. I was in poor shape (quite overweight) for the Trail Mix 50k in April and thus did poorly. In better shape, but still overweight, I set my PR of 81 miles at the FANS 24 hour race in June. It was after that race when I seriously started to entertain thoughts of the Lean Horse 100.
I figured that I would base my decision on whether or not I could successfully complete the Minnesota Voyageur 50 mile trail race, about one month before Lean Horse. Much of the Voyageur course involves climbing, something that I'm just not very good at. The day was hot, I went out too slow and failed to make the first enforced cut-off at the 25 mile turn-around.
Thus the end of dreaming about running a one hundred mile race. For about two days. Back at work the following Monday, the wisdom of Kevin prevailed, as he pointed out that the Lean Horse course is flatter with generous cut-offs.
So defying common sense, I signed up for my first One Hundred Mile race about a week later.
The 2007 Lean Horse Hundred was what I expected. It was still dark and quite foggy as I walked across the highway from my motel room to the convention center which served as race headquarters as well as the start and finish line. Runners descended from all directions. I was feeling very inadequate. What right do I have, this plump 49 year old, to pin on a race number and line up with all of these legitimate runners? These thoughts passed quickly, though as I checked-in and all too soon it really was time to toe the line.
I fell in with the rear of the pack and soon we were off. We moved slowly for the first congested mile, constrained by the sidewalk along the creek though downtown Hot Springs. It wasn't too long before we spilled out onto a gravel road and started running on the rolling hills which characterized the first portion of the race. By the time I reached the first aid station at mile 4, blue sky could be seen. Shortly after that we turned onto Argyle Road which took us to the Mickelson Trail at mile 16.6. Personally, I found this section of the race to be difficult and tedious. I'm a poor climber and walked all but the most gentle uphill sections even at this early stage of the race. There are numerous cattle guards to cross (carefully!) and the coarse gravel would prove to be a problem (much) later on. On the other hand, the pastoral setting of fields and farmhouses was a pleasant distraction.
Mercifully, the road section ended at the junction with the Mickelson Trail and an aid station with drop bags. The morning was comfortable and I felt good at this point, so I didn't feel like wasting time retrieving anything from my first drop bag.
Incidentally, this is an excellent event for the unsupported runner. With numerous aid stations and 7 (I think) drop bag accesses on the out and back course, I was able to run confidently that I was never far some my supplies.
Setting foot on the trail energized me. I ran well from this point until about mile 30. On the relatively flat and smooth trail, I was able to get into a rhythm for the first time in the race. Suddenly I felt confident. It was gorgeous! There were farms scattered among pine trees. We passed gravel pits and ran over foot bridges. As the morning warmed up, there were even isolated bits of shade. It seemed like no time before I saw the grain elevators of the small town of Pringle and the aid station of mile 24 just ahead. The turnaround for the 50 mile runners was just ahead. It got a lot quieter on the trail after passing that point. I went through the marathon split in about 5:30. For me in a race like this, that's good number!
The next section was my favorite section of the race. It was mostly flat and I was inspired by the beauty. Odd outcroppings of limestone stood in the pastures along the creek. However, for the first time in the race I felt like I was straining a bit.
Somewhere after mile 30, things started to come apart. The day had become quite warm and the sky was almost cloudless. Worse yet, the trail began to climb somewhat steadily. A notoriously poor climber, I was forced to walk long stretches as a stream of other runners passed me by. In spite of conscientiously taking my electrolyte capsules hourly, I started to develop leg cramps. Soon after, my stomach became upset. Hot spots were developing on my right foot. The fun and adventure had drained away quickly. It was taking forever to reach the Harbach Park aid station at mile 35 in Custer.
As I finally reached the aid station and slumped into a chair, I seriously considered dropping. Meanwhile, helpful volunteers filled my water bottle and brought me food. I re-greased my feet and added an extra sock to my right foot. The Heed seemed to be upsetting my stomach so I switched to ice water from that point on. Also, I aggressively upped my electrolyte capsule intake over the next few hours until I managed to knock the leg cramps down.
The first mile or so out of the aid station through town was fairly flat, but the trail soon started to climb after that. The high point on the course occurs somewhere around mile 41, just past the entrance to Crazy Horse Monument. Although there were more shady patches along this section, I was moving discouragingly slow. It was becoming late in the afternoon when I arrived at the mile 40.5 aid station. I was tired. I wasn't thinking much about the race at this point, simply moving mechanically along.
It was a very good thing that the 9.5 miles to the turnaround were mostly flat or downhill. I gradually felt better and better until I actually started to run again! Not fast, I never run fast, but a reasonably efficient trot. It seemed like time passed quickly and it wasn't terribly long until I came to the aid station which was about 3/4 mile before the actual turnaround. It did seem like a long time to cover that last bit of distance. There it was, in the middle of the trail - an orange cone and a substantial quantity of flagging in the trees. The long sought-for turn-around! I glanced at my watch. It read 12:22. As I trained over the summer, I visualized making the turnaround between 12 and 12.5 hours. I couldn't believe that I'd accomplished my intermediate goal. Not after feeling so bad and moving so slowly.
I allowed myself a longer stop at the aid station. I changed to a dry shirt and picked up my headlamp. The first few miles are fairly flat and I made steady time through the aid station at mile 54.8. I played leapfrog with other runners as we passed over a series of small hills before the long climb to Crazy Horse. I'd pass others on the down hills, only to be re-passed on the uphills. The climb to Crazy Horse became a long but pleasant walk for me as darkness descended. The full moon first appeared briefly over low spots in the hills. Eventually the trail ducked under the overpass to the monument and leveled out. The moon was so bright at that point that I didn't bother with the headlamp. A mile or so from the aid station at mile 59.5, I started to jog easily. There were lights and voices coming towards me. "Its number 17", someone called out. RD Jerry Dunn had mentioned in the pre-race briefing, that the coming aid station was manned by a HS cross country team (sorry, I've forgotten which one). I had forgotten that until now. A young guy and gal appeared out of the darkness. He went on to find another runner, while she prepared to personally escort me into the aid station. She was friendly and supportive. I felt an absurd need to be both "macho" and a role-model by running it in....This probably speaks to my tired state of mind at this point. Nevertheless, I was completely energized by the time I reached the aid station. My personal angel filled my bottles and got me my fill of soup. Then I took off. Running. All alone into the night. I felt great!
Soon, I passed the group of runners I'd played leapfrog with earlier. It was a beautiful, mild night with a full moon. My best running of the race occurred between miles 60 to 80. I ran with only short walking breaks for the next several hours. There was a short delay at the Harbach Park aid station (mile 64.5) to retrieve the vest from my drop bag and later at Pringle (mile 76) to ingest some soup, but mostly I just pushed through this section. Completely alone. It was awesome and beautiful and only slightly creepy. Many thanks to the safety patrol volunteer, whom I met at regular intervals coming into the aid stations. Somewhere after Pringle, I started to become sleepy. I must have slowed down, because 4 or so runners caught up with me and we ran as a loose group for several miles. Now I was confident that I would finish, as long as I kept moving.
There was a nice fire and enticing food at the Lime Kiln Road aid station (mile 80). I pulled up a chair and sat for a bit. It felt so good to sit and rest. A few runners passed through as I sat. Eventually I left the comfort of warmth and light. The short 4.5 miles until the turnoff from the trail to Argyle Road passed quickly. Heading east, the second dawn was coming.
The first several hills on the road are pretty long and steep. Thus ended most of my running. Another runner, Don from Quebec, caught up with me. We ran together for the next dozen miles or so. As the sun rose, one could tell that the it was going to be a hot day. My toes didn't respond well to the coarse gravel of the road, so after a few miles I stopped running even the downhills. This section was tough. I was convinced that I was able to finish, but progress was agonizingly slow.
The final aid station was at the 96 mile mark. I was moving very slowly and starting to suffer quite a bit from the heat. In general I felt pretty cruddy. Even when I finally made it back into town, I felt no joy. Just the determination to get "this thing" over with. As I walked through town along the sidewalk by the creek, sweaty, filthy, with my race number pinned to my shorts, I felt somewhat foolish. There were people, nicely dressed, out for a Sunday stroll.
As the path crossed the final street before run up to the finish line, there was a fellow standing on the road cheering. He asked me if this was my first hundred mile finish. When I said "yes", I received hearty congratulations and a pat on the back. That broke my funk. I ran to the finish line as best as I could. Through teary eyes I saw the banner hoisted for me. I ran One Hundred miles.
As I write this it's several months after the race. I'm still on the crest of the most intense and long lasting runner's high of my life. Thanks to RD Jerry Dunn and all of his fabulous volunteers for making this event possible.