As we pulled up to Maumelle Park we caught a glimpse of Pinnacle Mountain. I immediately began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I knew that in less than 24 hours I would have to not only climb over this mountain, but I would have to run 50 miles in addition to the climb. I told myself I was strong, put the mountain out of my mind, and looked forward to the check in. My buddy, James Cheney, had brought his video camera along to document the whole event. So with the camera rolling we walked over to the pavilion to get checked in. I told the guy at the table my name, and he handed me my goody bag. I was pretty disappointed when I reached into the bag and found a purple race shirt! Purple isn’t exactly my favorite color, and I had been looking forward to having a “50 Miler” shirt to wear around. “Oh well, I will hang it on my trophy wall at home,” I thought to myself. We had passed a nice looking Italian restaurant on the way in, and decided that we would go back and have dinner there. Mike and Justin from Crossfit Bartlett arrived at the registration about the same time we did, so they joined us for dinner.
Down in my room I prepared two shaker bottles to put in my drop bags, and prepared a little “pick me up” shake for in the morning when I got up. At this point my drop bags were completely full. They had first aid items, extra socks, food, GU, shaker bottles, baby wipes, duct tape, and small towels. I was ready for pretty much anything. My belt that I run with was well stocked with Endurolytes and S!Caps, my running clothes were laid out, and I was ready for bed. I took all of my gear and supplies to the car, and went to bed. I didn’t sleep very well, and had a horrible dream that James and I missed the start of the race and I couldn’t run. I woke up from that dream around 3:45am, and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was time to prepare:
I made a very small pot of coffee with the very small coffee maker in the hotel room, and got dressed. At his request the night before, I sent James a text message and told him it was time to go. We met at the car, and headed to the start of the race. It was still dark when we arrived to volunteers waving flashlights and telling us where to park. I got out of the car, grabbed all of my gear and headed over to the pavilion. I had two drop bags, one labelled “Northshore,” and one labelled “Highway 10.” I found out where to put them, and dropped them off. I walked around for just a little bit, and spoke to a couple of people that I had recognized from other races. It wasn’t long before the bullhorn sounded, and we were given final instructions and told to move to the starting line.
The sun was just starting to come up as the race started and we made our way to the base of Pinnacle Mountain. It was probably a 2-3 mile run on pavement before we got to the trail that led us up to the mountain. I did pretty good on the climb up. I felt good enough to get my video camera out and take a little video of the climb:
As I neared the top, I saw James sitting on a rock filming everyone. He had come up the back side of the mountain that I was about to go down. When I got to the top, I posed for a picture for the race photographer and began my descent. The way down was a little easier, but as I hopped from rock to rock I started to notice an interesting little twitch in my calf muscles. Whenever my feet would land on a rock my calf muscles would almost freeze up. It scared me pretty bad. Once I got off the mountain and started running this little twitch would come back every 5 or 6 strides. Eventually it went away, but it made for a very scary mile or so where I imagined myself falling down and not being able to continue. I pressed on.
Now that I had successfully negotiated the biggest obstacle in the race, I could concentrate on running. I knew that I had to be at the 16 mile checkpoint by 10:15 A.M, and I was pretty confident I would make that one. I came to the 16 mile checkpoint around 10A.M. I saw James there, and filled up my shaker bottle. During a long run, a protein shake tastes even better than it does during/after a WOD. I was feeling great, and hadn’t felt any of those muscle spasms in my calves at all for several miles. I grabbed my bag of PBJ, Jelly Beans and Brownies and took off for the next cutoff, 26.2. I had to be there by 12:50, and this would be the turnaround. This stretch of the race was pretty crazy. There were so many creek crossings and turns to pay attention to. It became pointless to even try to keep my feet dry. One creek was pretty big and swift with a cable tied across it so that you could hold on and not fall in. I was alone for this entire stretch of the race, and there were several times that I thought I might be lost. It’s an awful feeling when you know you have to run 50 miles, but you think you might have missed a turn. It wasn’t long before I hit an aid station that was about 2 miles from the turnaround. I grabbed some fig newtons and pretzels and continued on my way.
I approached the turnaround at 26.3 miles, and saw James there. I was feeling great. I remember thinking that I had just ran a Marathon, and feel really good. I hit the bathroom there, talked to James a little bit, filled my bottles, stretched a little, and began my trek to the final cutoff at 36.6 miles. This was the last cutoff. It was about 12:20, and I had to be at the last cutoff by 3:30. For about 7 miles I made my way back through the lonely woods and creek crossings. I took this video so I could show everyone how impossible it was to not get wet frequently:
It was around 2:30 when I hit an unmanned water drop. It was just a little stop with milk jugs full of water that you could fill your bottles up with. No food. There was another runner there filling up, and I noticed a sign nailed to the tree. It said 3.2 miles to the final cutoff (36.6 miles). As I filled my bottles up, I said to the runner next to me, “This is going to be easy. We only have to make about 5K in an hour.” She looked at me, and said “No, you’re wrong, we have to be there by 3:00 we aren’t going to make it.” “The hell I’m not,” I said and started running. I had this horrible vision in my head of having to get into a van and be driven to the finish line because I was too slow, and James would have it all on video. I just couldn’t let that happen. I kept going over and over this in my head. The sheet that I had written my cutoff times on was in my pocket, and it said 3:30. I was sure it had to be right, but I still couldn’t chance it. I was running as hard as I could, and eventually caught up with another runner. I asked her if she knew if the cutoff was 3:00 or 3:30, and she said she wasn’t sure. I passed her and kept running as hard as I could. I heard the runner that I had just passed yelling at me a minute or so later. I stopped, and she told me I was going the wrong way. I was just running as hard as I could, not paying attention, and had missed a turn. I was so lucky that she stopped me. I thanked her, and continued on running. Exactly 30 minutes later, I came upon the cutoff. I was exhausted!
The volunteers at the aid station were cheering and clapping. James was there with his camera rolling. “Did I make it?” One volunteer said, “Of course you made it. You’ve got thirty minutes to spare!” I explained that another runner had told me I wasn’t going to make it, and that I had been running as hard as I could to get there at 3pm. At this point, I needed a break so I sat down on a cooler to change my socks. I talked to James and the volunteers for a little bit, and one of the volunteers made me a bag of food to take with me because the one I had was all mashed up and messy. It was just a little bit after 3pm, I had made the final cutoff and it was time to conquer the final 14 miles. I left the aid station with a plan to run for 30 minutes then eat some of the food that was in the bag that the volunteer gave me.
Around 3:30 I came upon an unmanned aid station with two coolers and a little bit of food. I was feeling pretty tired. I set my bag of food on top of a water cooler and topped my bottles off. I decided to see what was in the coolers on the ground. The first one I opened was full of cold beer. I was very tempted. I’ve heard of people having beer on a long run like this, but haven’t ever tried it. I wondered if it would be the “liquid courage” I needed to get through the last 12 miles. I decided against it and checked the other cooler. Red Bull! I grabbed one and took off running. There were only about 12 miles left in this race. I knew I could make it if I just kept running and didn’t get lost.
A few miles later I came upon another manned aid station. I didn’t need any food, I had eaten too much already today and was just tired of eating. I filled my bottles up, and asked how far away the finish line was. 8 Miles left, I can handle this. The next four miles were pretty tough. I just kept telling myself to keep going, and started singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” My left knee and foot were aching pretty bad, and I had to try to ignore that and keep going. Around 5:30 I came upon the final aid station. Only 4 miles left in this race. I was tired, and knew that these last four miles were going to be tough physically and mentally. I asked one of the volunteers what the terrain was like over that last four miles. He said it was relatively flat, and I told him I would really like to finish the last four miles in one hour. He said that was certainly possible, and I ran off.
Running these last four miles was the hardest thing I think I have ever done. With about 3 miles left, I entered part of Pinnacle park and there was a couple holding hands walking on the trail. I passed them, and came to the bottom of a pretty big hill. I stopped, and just looked up at the hill. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, out loud to nobody. I didn’t think I would make it up the hill, but somehow I found the strength to start running again. Once I got near the top of the hill, I saw James. Yes! If he is up there I must be close to the finish line. I got to the top of the hill, and James said, “You’ve got about 400 meters and then it’s all pavement from there.” I wasn’t sure if pavement would be an improvement or not, but I knew the finish line was close. Once I hit the street, I couldn’t think of anything else but the finish line. I wanted to be there so bad, and a very light jog was about all I could muster. Every corner I turned I hoped I would see the finish line. My mind wondered, and I started feeling a bit overwhelmed. “You just ran 50 Miles,” I said to myself over and over. It felt absolutely amazing and horrible all at the same time. Soon I heard cheers, and I knew that meant the finish line was close. A little adrenaline boost allowed me to pick up my pace a little bit.
I turned the last corner, and saw the finish line. I can’t describe the feeling I had. I’m use to pushing myself pretty far in the gym, but this was a different feeling. It was a huge feeling of accomplishment, disbelief, and amazement. To know that when you have absolutely nothing left, you can reach down within yourself and pull out a few extra miles is absolutely incredible. “You’re the 7 Mile guy,” I heard a voice ask behind me. I turned around, and it was the race director, Chrissy. I said, “Yeah, that’s me.” Apparently James had been explaining to her that I had only ran 7 miles between the 50K in February and this race. “What did you think about the race? Did you find the last ten miles was very difficult, and was it the hardest thing you have ever done,” she asked. I said yes and agreed that the end of the race had challenged me in a way that I had never been challenged in my life. “You need to do the 100 Miler in October, you’d be good at it, but you need to up your mileage. Seven miles just isn’t enough,” she said. I laughed and told her I wasn’t sure I would do that this year, and that I may make the 100 miler a goal for next year. She gave me my hand made finisher medal, and I went to the car to get ready to head home.
It was a great trip, and a great weekend. This finisher medal, t-shirt, and bib number will be treasured forever. I would have never in a million years thought that I could run a 50 mile race. It’s absolutely amazing. I owe it all to my excellent coaches and friends at Faction Strength and Conditioning. Mike Bledsoe, Rob Conner, Doug Larson, and Ashley Bledsoe have transformed me from a fat, lazy guy into an Endurance Athlete. I can’t thank them enough. Also, my friends at the gym push me on a daily basis. They provide me with competition, companionship, and even blunt criticism when I need it! I am extremely lucky to be on a team with some of the best athletes and coaches around. We all do some pretty awesome stuff, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Stay tuned! I’m gonna go have a cold beer.