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Cloudsplitter 100 - Run


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Elkhorn City, Kentucky
United States
55F / 13C
Precipitation
Total Time = 24h 21m 28s
Overall Rank = 1/52
Age Group =
Age Group Rank = 1/
Pre-race routine:

I started writing this as a "normal" race report, but found myself somewhat reliving some of the moments of this race and ended up with a bit more of a lengthy chronology of my experiences. I think that there is useful information in there for anyone who decides they want to do something like this, since I did make my fair share of mistakes!! But for those who cherish brevity, here is a quick summary: I ran my first 100 mile race on a tough course in tough conditions and somehow managed to win.

I wanted a challenge. I'd researched and found the Grindstone 100. 23, 200 ft of gain, and an equal amount of elevation loss with a wicked looking elevation profile, which bills itself as "the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian."

The potential storm track of Hurricaine Joaquin had resulted in the USFS pulling the permits for the Grindstone 100. I was in the process of packing my bags to head out the next day when I got the news. After a bit of an outburst and tantrum, followed by a bit of moping, I decided to weigh my options.

It didn't take long to find the Cloudsplitter 100. 25,893 ft of gain AND loss. According to "run100s" It had the 5th most elevation gain/loss of 100 milers in the US. After an email and , thankfully, a very quick response from the RD, I was informed that I could register in person at the race. So I was psyched, and it was game on!!

Race start was 8am Saturday morning. I arrived in Elkhorn City, KY late Friday afternoon after a 10 and 1/2 hour drive from NJ.

I attended the pre-race meeting held at a church in the small town of Elknorn City. An officer from the local authorities gave a "safety lecture," which warned us of the high population of black bears, possible low temperatures along the ridge at night, and based on his assessment of the first 6 miles of the course, it would be tough going, and there would be lots of MUD!

I ate a bit of the pre-race food at the meeting (I couldn't be rude!), some pasta, a piece of sausage, and some salad, but I had my staple night before race food back at my motel room so I didn't eat too much, and left right after I ate.

I came to the race solo. I don't really know anyone who would come out with me for something like this, and I wasn't going to drag my wife and kids out with them having a day of school still and potentially some bad weather coming in. So, I'd have no crew, and no pacer. Luckily my wife did make me my favorite pre-race foods!!

I had a quiet night in my motel room. There were a few crickets in my room to keep me company, and a few spiders that made their home in the bath tub.I had a hot pot in which I heated my home made chicken noodle soup (it is actually a pretty hearty meal). While I prepared my food, I also made a few last minute arrangements to my drop bags.

I had two drop bags. They would be accessible at two spots on the course at mile 15 and 84 for drop bag one, and miles 32, 51, and 70 for drop bag two. I had an extra pair of shoes in each bag, a few pairs of socks, some heavier clothes for the overnight in drop bag two, some extra food and gels, tums, extra batteries for my headlamp, body glide, and some tape for blisters (Leukotape, which I now swear by)..

I packed my hydration pack up. I stuffed the pockets full of gels. I packed my headlamp (I didn't want to risk misjudging and not having it when I needed), batteries, a bit of tape for blisters, and a bit of lubricant.. I also had a small safety pack, a mylar blanket, a small knife, and a few matches. I half filled my bladder (about 25 ounces), and had heed in a 17 ounce squeeze bottle in the front pouch. I tried to limit my weight as much as I felt comfortable with. In retrospect I'm sure I could have gone much lighter, but I just didn't want to be without something when I needed it.

After I packed up my gear, I enjoyed my food, and watched a bit of a baseball game. I was pretty drowsy and fell asleep around 10pm.

I woke up at 5:30. It was completely dark outside. I moved some of my gear out to my car in a foreboding steady cold rain. I ate my staple pre-race breakfast, some rice porridge with egg and meat at about 6am. I left my room at about 6:30am. After a short drive along a winding mountain road, I found myself in Elkhorn City. The race start and finish was at the ballpark. The rain had let up, but the morning was grey. The ballpark was in the shadow of an old graveyard up on a hill,and the town itself was nestled between the surrounding mountains and a river that cut through. A few runners milled about. I went to my car which was parked very close (I'd wished it was closer at the end of the race!!), and listened to some music until it was time to line up.

The race start was preceded by a short prayer from and older local man, and with the crack of an old black powder rifle, myself and the other runners head out towards the mountains.
Event warmup:

I sat in my car listening to music. I laughed to myself a bit as I thought of a situation where I came all the way out here and they just said: haha, you are too silly, people don't run 100 miles day and night through the mountains, its all just a joke. Foolish man, go home!!
Run
  • 24h 21m 28s
  • 100 miles
  • 14m 37s  min/mile
Comments:

After the gun sounded, I along with the other runners trotted off towards the mountain. I wanted to obviously conserve my energy but I didn't want to make the mistake of letting the front runners get out too far ahead (I'd made that mistake in my last race and couldn't close the gap). I did hang back a bit though. There were 25k, 50k, and 100k runners who were going to go out faster anyhow and I couldn't tell who was who.

Elkhorn City is in the middle of coal country. Since the coal industry has died down the residents have been left looking for other sources of income. They have been working on bringing adventure sports to the area, such as this race. They also have a section of Class V rapids where they hold kayak sporting events. It seemed to be a tight community, one of those places where everyone knew everyone, and there definitely was a vibe that religion was a strong part of that community. All of the locals that I encountered were extremely pleasant.

It was quiet on the streets in the morning in the small Kentucky mountain town, and I don't recall seeing much of the population out and about. The streets passed by fast, and before long we were trekking up the mountain. A older local man with a big beard on an ATV led us up a rocky trail along wide switchbacks. Before long we were nearing the top of the ridge and he pulled off to the side. From there we ran off into the woods along more narrow trails.

The next section was FUN. There were sections along the top of the ridge that were solid rock, with a cliff to the side, and an steeply angled slope off to the other. In between these rock sections were winding single track where you would grind up a steep slope, and FLY down the back side.

The views off the cliff were limited with the rain and fog. The area was referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the South," and I'm sure it would have been spectacular. There were some downpours as we ran along these sections. I remember running under a set of high tension wires, and the loud hum and crackle had my hair standing on end. Another runner had commented that they get that way in high humidity, but whatever it was, it was loud, and pretty freaky.

I'd been somewhat surprised that with all the rain that the trails weren't in even worse condition. Up until this point they were actually much better than expected. We were probably 10 to 12 miles in when we started hitting some mud. I remember sliding down a hill and wondering how I'd get back up in 70 miles or so.

At mile 15 I got to my first drop bag at Birch Knob. I grabbed a couple of Gu packets to resupply and was off pretty quickly. I really focused on quick aid station stops, and as far as I was aware, I didn't see anyone else running through the aid stations as quickly as I did. This was my third ultra. I'd done two 50 milers previously, and I try to keep my aid stations stops similar to a triathlon transition. I like to know exactly what I'll be doing when I get in, get it done, and get out as quickly as possible. I'm sure this strategy has helped me gain quite a bit of time on my competitors.

The next drop bag location was at Pound Gap at 33 miles. There were two aid stations in between, and it was along this section that I put in my first "bonus miles." At one point there were two arrows, one labeled "aid station," and another labeled "Pound Gap," I knew we were headed to Pound Gap, but after discussing with the runner who was leading the 100k race at the time, we decided to follow the arrow to the aid station, just to make sure we were not cutting the course and could check in and out and have our time recorded there. I didn't remember an out and back along this section on the map, but I figured that maybe I missed it since I really only looked over the course the night before. We ended up running for about 10 minutes and then found some runners we had passed earlier running right towards us. Apparently we had looped around and were heading backwards on the course (thankfully it looped!!). We realized we had gotten back to the point where we turned off and had run in a circle, we made a U-Turn and got back going in the right direction. After speaking with the RD after the race, she had said that they were having some issues with that aid station due to the remoteness and poor trail condition. It should have been just off the main trail. I blame myself for not knowing the course well enough, but in the end it didn't hurt me too much, besides running an extra mile or so.

At mile 30 or so, the trail opened onto a wide dirt road. It had been raining pretty much the whole race so far, sometimes heavy. And it was here that I hit my first patch of real fog. It was a nice section of running with a steady downhill grade, and the road surface was great compared to the trails. I really started to zone out here, and it was all very dreamy and ethereal. The running was easy, and because of the lack of visibility I found that my senses just turned inwards. I was scared out of my reverie when a small group that was hiking up the road started cheering. I really didn't see them until I was right on top of them and they started making noise. It was a minute after that the road turned to blacktop and went down a steep hill to cross a highway. Across the highway in a parking lot to the rear of a gas station was the Pound Gap aid station.

The aid station was very well stocked and there were many volunteers. I was also the turnaround for the 100k race. It was here where I first caught a whiff of the potato soup. I told myself that it would be a reward when it got dark. This aid station was the location of our second drop bag, and we would pass through it three times.

The next section was done twice and there were two aid stations along the way. The first aid station "Red Fox" was just over a mile out. They really didn't need an actual aid station here, it was more of a check in, just to make sure runners hit this section on the course. This section was short, but pretty wet. It didn't matter much, since my feet had been wet since pretty much the start of the race. The next section for me was the toughest of the race. It was the longest between aid stations at 9 miles to "Adena Springs," and there was a ton of elevation change. I recall two "gaps." The tough part of it was knowing that in the gap I was at a low point (elevation wise) on the course and would have some tough uphill running ahead, so there was that, and the fact that I was already pretty exhausted coming down some tough downhill sections..

The aid station at Adena Springs was really great considering it was run by one guy. I spoke to his wife after the race and she said he had to hike in with all the stuff. I remember commenting to him how tough the last section was, and he said that it was his favorite part of the course. I remember some huge boulders and rock formations, but I was pretty tired here so I didn't take in much of the surroundings. It was pretty much my singular focus to get up and over the next climb.

I think I was in third place at this point. I know when I left Pound Gap I was 13 minutes behind. I actually had the first place guy pass me after he was on his return trip on the Adena Springs out and back saying there was no aid station. He said he found some wood piles, and shouted and then headed back since his GPS file said that that is where the aid station should have been. He actually turned around about 100 yards short of where the aid station was. They guy at the aid station said it really was a shame he cut the course, but I didn't want anyone to be DQ'd in this type of race, so I figured he could just make up the distance on his second loop, and I think the race organizers were probably going to be good with that.

I was offered more potato soup at this aid station, but again, with much regret had to turn it down, as it was going to be a reward for when it got dark.

The return trip after Adena Springs was much faster than the way out, there was a great deal of elevation change in between, but more climbing going out. Running downhill was taking its toll on my quads, but it was faster either way. The day was winding down, and the shadows were long at this point, and there were many points where the sun was behind a rise, so it was getting dark fast. I got back to Pound Gap right around sunset about 51 miles into the race. I grabbed my second headlamp from my drop bag and put it around my waist, and took my good one out (Petzl Tikka XP) and put it on my head. I figured it was dark enough, and had my first of many cups of homemade potato soup. They even threw in some extra salt.

In writing this report, I had to stop, and give this soup its own paragraph. It was that good. I'm not sure if it was just what my body was craving at that time, or the fact that I had been wet all day, but I could go on in several more paragraphs, maybe one paragraph on the creaminess of the broth, and maybe another on the divine texture of the potatoes, and I could go on about the heavenly warmth it filled my body with. It was so good. So good.

I actually felt pretty good here, physically and mentally. I wanted to run the first 50 miles and feel "not trashed." And I had succeeded,. I did have a long night ahead of me, but it was what I signed up for and was ready for it. I tried to delay turning on my headlamp, but pretty much as soon as I was back in the woods I had to turn it on. I splashed through the wet section down to the Red Fox aid station, and back up and out along the long stretch to Adena Springs.

It was mentally easier going around the second time, not physically, but mentally. It was a bit more difficult running in the dark. I had done one training run along some mountain trails where I started at 3am, but I hadn't ever pulled an all-nighter. The blazes on the trees were pretty close together, and they were reflective!! They also worked hard on marking the trail well here knowing that pretty much all of the runners would be in this section during the overnight. So navigating here was actually not bad at all.

I was about 2.5 miles out from the Adena Springs aid station and I saw the first place runner heading back towards me. I thought there was no possible way he got 5 miles ahead of me, he had been 1 mile ahead at best for the last few hours. I was a bit confused, but I just kept going, and when I got to the aid station I found he had not checked in. There was still another runner ahead of me though. I had more of the awesome potato soup out here, and was a bit surprised that he had some, but I was happy!!! I also changed up from using HEED to Endurolyte Fizz for my electrolytes and that was a welcome change to my tastebuds.

I was still tolerating Gu packs this far in, but I was eating other stuff too, I had some PBJ here and there, and I had some peanut butter protein bars that I brought from home. I have always been too lazy to keep track of calories. I've seen some people be very specific. I generally just graze, I try to eat well when I am hungry, and beyond that, just shove something down if I feel its been awhile since I ate last. Surprisingly this works for me. I eat more some hours than others, and my energy has its highs and lows, but I don't really "bottom out" or "bonk."

After the turnaround at the aid station at Adena springs (62 mi) I ran into the guy who was leading the race coming back out again, he may have been dropping but changed his mind. I was still in second place at this point, and pretty much went into a a daze running in the dark. I remember being told that the 60s gets rough in a 100 mile race since you still had so far to go, and I actually took solace in that. I felt good that I had gotten to "the hard part." In retrospect, I can laugh a bit at that.

I got to Pound Gap for my last stop at that aid station at about mile 70. I had more potato soup!! I didn't sit down. I resupplied quickly from my drop bag and went right out. At this point I had taken the lead and was heading out at about midnight into 30 miles of unfamiliar mountain wilderness.

My lead didn't last long. I got unsure running up that dirt road with all the fog that I had come down to the small cheering section about 40 miles ago. And actually the fog here was worse this time around. The headlamp around my waist helped illuminate the ground, but the one on my head actually wasn't too much use much of the time. Looking ahead it was pretty much a solid haze of white. Since sunset I had been running up and down along the mountain ridge through bands of varying thickness of fog at different elevations. It got pretty bad here. I just focused on the ground a few feet in front of me.

At one point the fog let up a bit and I saw some wires running parallel to the road overhead and could have sworn I never had seen them on the way down. And at that point I sort of forgot that I ran through this section in a complete daze the first time through. So after a few more minutes of becoming more and more paranoid that I was going the wrong way, I turned around. This is where I gained my second allotment of "bonus miles!"

I probably only wasted 10 minutes or so here. I was getting genuinely worried that I'd have to run all the way back to the aid station. I'm not sure if I was hallucinating, but I kept seeing lights that I thought was another headlamp coming up, but then it would disappear. I thought maybe it was some weird trick or reflection from my headlamp. I even thought maybe someone was coming up in the dark and only occasionally turning on their lamp. (Which was sort of a freaky thought that I just kind of pushed out of my head) It wasn't long though before the next runner came up, and even though I had lost time, I was thrilled that I wasn't off course. This section wasn't really marked, but it was very straightforward. It would have been no issue if I hadn't already been running for 16+ hours. But again, I blame myself for not being better at navigating.

I bounced back between first and second place over the next 15 miles or so. I realized that I could easily see the footprints of the outbound runners, and some of the inbound 100k runners, so I was more confident about finding my way, and also at this point there was more or less just a single trail. However the trail it self was TREACHEROUS. If I were being conservative, I would say I fell over 50 times. Many times I caught myself on my hands, but there were many times I was left sprawled out on the trail. With the few days of rain, and the trail being used by the runners, it was an absolute muddy mess. Many of the steep downhills were simply too slippery to run on. You would just sort of plant your feet, slide down, and hop around trying to stay upright for as long as possible.

There were also deep muddy watery ruts which I occasionally found myself in (and not always on my feet). I remember hitting an aid station out here somewhere, just one guy. I think I woke him up. He was telling my how hard it was staying awake. He may have started singing?? It was pretty otherworldly. The fog still hadn't let up, and was very thick at times. I remember him saying to keep left when I ran off. He just kind of kept repeating it and I heard him saying it again and again as he faded into the distance. I'm not sure what was on the right, but I heeded the sleepy singing fog man's advice, I stayed to the left, and went back to slipping and sliding and sloshing through the foggy night.

My Garmin also ran out of batteries somewhere along this section. I did bring my bike computer as a back up GPS. I probably should have configured it better, and turned it on sooner since it took awhile to for me to get it going. I still had it set to MPH, and I had a general idea of pace off of that. But in sections where I was running slower than 4mph (15 min miles), I didn't have the mental capacity to do the math, and I guess it didn't matter much really since the course was dictating how fast I could go.

At about mile 85 or so the mud got more reasonable and the sky and fog had cleared and I actually saw the moon!! There were some pretty steep climbs, but I was handling them well and managed to move into first place for good around here. I ran my fastest miles in awhile since I actually had a bit of solid ground under my feet. I still had a few more challenges to overcome though.

So I had never tested my headlamps through the night, and approximately an hour or so before official sunrise my headlamp blinked. Now I thought that it would just start getting dimmer and I would just deal with it. But a short while later it just went out. I tried to dig through my pack to find the extra battery pack, but it wasn't where I thought it was. I still had the headlamp on my waist, but that was going as well (this one just kept getting dimmer). I took that one off and tried to just use it like a flash light, and after 5 minutes of stumbling, I knew that wasn't going to work.

I wasn't sure how far ahead I was, and didn't want to give up my hard earned lead, but I had to be able to see. So I had to stop, and unpack all my stuff. I actually found it exactly where I thought it was. I didn't waste more than two or three minutes, and wow, it was nice being able to see with a nice bright light.

From here things went pretty smoothly except for one section at mile 92 or 93 or so that was so steep and muddy that I literally had to crawl up it while digging my hands in the mud for some purchase.

I was getting close to finishing so I finally started letting thoughts of being done into my mind, and let that fuel me over these last obstacles. At the same time, I tried to keep out the thoughts that even 8 miles at 15 minutes/mile is still two hours!!

I kept grinding along until it was time to come down the mountain. So approximately some 2000 feet or so below was the finish line somewhere. All I had to do was get down, somehow. The sun had come up and those wide switchbacks that I came up the previous morning were looming ahead of me.

I told myself that I asked for a challenge, and it was time to get it done. I lined up at the top of the first sustained descent and with my busted up quads and feet and bounded down to the next turn. I had to stop for a few seconds, catch my breath, and eye the next turn. This was my strategy the whole way down. Just tell myself to run hard to the turn and I'd get a few seconds of recovery. Run downhill. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Stop. Breathe. Repeat. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Repeat. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Pretty much like that.

I finally got down to the blacktop. Very few people were out on the streets. I did get a wave from some people in a pick-up truck. I was at about mile 99 and I was able to see the lights over the ball field at the finish. I took a few looks over my shoulder and I was certain that I would be able to run well to the end.

Within the last 12 months, I've crossed the finish line for the first time at the NYC marathon having seen the race run on TV since I was a kid. I crossed the finish line to the cheering crowds on Boylston St. in Boston, which is a dream for just about every runner. And this race out in remote Central Appalachia, finishing along the quiet streets of a small mountain town, with a handful of people clapping at the finish line was every bit as special.

What would you do differently?:

I would probably go lighter. I think I carried too much stuff. I would also change shoes and socks during the race, at least one this wet and muddy. I would also wear gaiters to keep mud and pebbles out. I just need to do better foot care in general. I wore wet shoes and socks the whole race. I had one blister under a callous that was a bit painful, but not too bad. I will lose 7 of 10 of my toenails though. Sliding down those muddy hills was brutal. I actually had to do a bit of home surgery to entirely remove my big toenail off of my left foot since it was already completely separated from the nail bed, and it was looking and feeling like it was getting infected.

Also I really should have arranged my drop bags better. I just kind of stuffed everything in. Next time I'd probably go with some sort of clear bag inside stuffed inside of another recognizable bag. My bags were recognizable, but I had some difficulty digging things out. A clear bag would make it easier to find things.

I taped a small section on my back that often has chafing issues, but I did not cover the whole area that I needed to. I left a raw and irritated section on my back that surrounded a nice clear rectangle where the tape was.

I would not try to drive home after the race. I drove straight and got home at about 11 pm. I didn't want to have to sleep out on the road, I made it, but it took a supreme effort of willpower to get it done. I was so tired. Luckily I was pretty much starving the whole way home and the constant eating kept me awake. It was tough though. I'll plan better next time.

Oh, and the next day of work on my feet was rather unpleasant as well, so I will probably try to schedule the day after the race off.
Post race
Warm down:

I sat in a chair and didn't get up much for about 3 hours. I washed myself off in a warm bucket of water and ate a bit as I watched some of the other runners come in. I asked questions of some of the more experienced ultra runners and inquired about other races. I was beat up pretty good, but I knew this was something I would have to keep doing.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

The weather and the mud.

Event comments:

The RD did a great job putting on this race. There were some issues with some of the aid stations, but the conditions were just rough in spots. I've been traveling more for races recently and Iove it when you can get a cultural feel of a place you go to. They had some live Bluegrass at the finish and some good homemade local food. I wasn't very mobile at the finish, and everyone was extremely accommodating. I even had help with my stuff to my car.




Last updated: 2015-10-05 12:00 AM
Running
24:21:28 | 100 miles | 14m 37s  min/mile
Age Group: 1/
Overall: 1/52
Performance: Good
Course: The race started in Elkhorn City and proceeded through a few local streets for about a mile and a half to the base of the mountain. This was followed by a long steady climb along a wide rocky trail up to the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, which we would follow for the majority of the race. The race was run along a ridge line between Virginia and Kentucky along a geological fault line. Initially the trail was rocky, and there were large sections of exposed rock at times. That was followed by miles, and miles (and miles) of relentless undulating terrain, often rocky, often muddy, but always going up or down. There wasn't really any flat section on this course. Besides the initial climb and decent, the entire course was short sections of up and down, and oftentimes steep. The elevation profile reminded me of an EKG showing ventricular tachycardia. So in case I've not been clear, this was not a flat course. It was an out and back,. After the second drop bag site there was and out and back section that was done twice (with a short out and back along that section).
Keeping cool Good Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Good
Mental exertion [1-5] 4
Physical exertion [1-5] 5
Good race? Yes
Evaluation
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

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2015-10-12 12:04 AM


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