Friday was a crappy day.  I had planned on taking off of work, but ended up working all day because of a server crash.  I finally got out of work around 3:30 p.m.  I had my wife pick me up since she and my 5 year old son were going with me.  Since I had to work that day, my wife ended up packing all of my gear for me.  She did a great job.  I think the only thing I was missing was a watch, and I had my phone with me so that wasn’t a big deal.  I left the problems and stress at work, jumped in the car with my wife and son and we headed out from Memphis to Little Rock.

Once we got in the area, things started looking familiar from last year.  Since it was getting late, we decided to go straight to packet pickup before the hotel.  The packet pickup was a lot less eventful than last year.  It was raining and a little chilly so people probably didn’t want to hang out and talk.  Also, I didn’t have a guy with a camera following me around this time!  I got my goody bag and t-shirt *short sleeve this year, but still purple.  There must be some significance to the color purple and this race* and quickly jumped back in the car.

We decided to go check into the hotel and then find something to eat.  My wife found a hotel with an indoor pool so that our son could have something fun to do while I was out trying to not get lost in the woods.  It was the Ramada Limited Inn and Suites.  WAY better than the hotel we found for last year.  I actually had a bed with sheets on it, and it was a pretty nice room.  We stayed Friday and Saturday night.  We saw a Macaroni grill right next door when we were pulling in so once we got all checked in at the hotel, we headed over there.  It was crowded so the three of us sat at a table at the bar.  I guess it’s now a pre-race tradition/superstition to have pizza and beer for dinner.  It doesn’t seem to bother me, and I usually eat early enough in the evening that it has no effect on the digestive system during the race.  We enjoyed our meals, and then headed back to the hotel room.  My wife and son went down to the pool to swim while I stayed behind to pack up my drop bags and get prepared for the race.

Given the stressful day that I had and the last minute packing I had to ask my wife to do, I just knew I was going to be missing some crucial piece of gear that was going to hurt me.  Turns out that wasn’t the case.  She did a great job getting everything together.  I got all my GU out and started making my GU Grenade Belts.  I made sure I had plenty of everything, GU, S!Caps, Hammer Endurolytes, Vaseline, extra clothes, shoes, socks, etc.  It wasn’t long before I was prepared and ready for bed.  We probably stayed up until about 10:30.  I got the coffee pot prepared, cut out the lights and we all went to sleep.

4:30 came quick.  Unlike last year, I slept great.  No bad dreams about missing the start of the race.  I got up, turned on the coffee maker, checked my phone and sent out my first tweet of the day, “Up and getting ready!”

On the ride up I was thinking about finishing times and what I’d be happy with.  I came up with a couple of different goals that I would be happy with:  1. Better than last year/Finishing  2. Sub 12 hours and 3.  10:50.  If I finished in 10:50 that would be insane, so I made that my “crazy goal.”  There are 3 cutoff points in this tough race, and if you don’t make each one of them by a certain time, they make you stop and take you back to the starting line.  I figured out what time I needed to make these cutoffs in order to be on a 10:50 finishing pace and I wrote those times down on my arm.  I thought instead of just trying to make the regular cutoff times, I would try to make each cutoff time at a pace that could get me to the finish line in 10 hours 50 minutes.  Crazy goal I know, but you gotta push yourself, right?

So, we got our sleeping son in the car and headed out to drop me off at the starting line.  They wished me luck and went back to the hotel to go back to sleep like normal people. I took my drop bags to where they were supposed to be and got in line to get my bib.  In line I saw my friend Daniel Shaffer, chatted with him for a little bit, and he introduced me to a couple of other runners.  He was running the 50K.  I got my bib and pinned it on my shorts, and noticed David Murphy standing around on the other side of the pavilion.  I went over and said hi and we talked for a minute, but it wasn’t long before it was time for the race update from the director and time to move to the starting line.  I got distracted and neglected to tweet at the start of the race.  Oh well…

The race director, Chrissy Ferguson, told us to kick some ass and sent us on our way.  We started down the road making our way to the base of Pinnacle Mountain.  Pinnacle Mountain looks like this:

You climb up to the top, look around, act goofy for your picture, climb down the other side and then run 46 more miles.  It’s fun.  Seriously.  The mountain climb makes this race unique, and also makes it pretty hard.  I got over the mountain pretty quick, but I didn’t waste a ton of energy.  I knew I wanted to get to the first cutoff by 9:28 so the plan was to get over the mountain and run hard to get to the cutoff by 9:28 am.  There were a couple of aid stations between the base of the mountain and mile 16, but other than eating my edurolytes, S!Caps and GU there wasn’t really much happening except putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as possible.

Here I am at the top of the mountain! Haha:

I made it to the mile 16 cutoff aid station (North Shore) right at 9:28!  I was very pleased.  I saw a couple of other Journeymen runners, and stopped to chat and grab a bite to eat.  One of my friends, Adrian, came up to me and said, “You dropped down to the 50K too?”  This kind of puzzled me for a second, and I said “Whaaaat?”  He had decided to drop down from the 50 Miler to the 50K and so he thought I was doing the same thing.  I told him that I was still running the 50 Miler and he said I had gone the wrong way!!  Of course I began to panic! One of our other friends quickly chimed in and let me know that I was indeed going the right way.  PHEW!  Crisis averted.  For now anyway. Next tweet sent: “Made the first cutoff 47 minutes early.  Right on track.”  I grabbed some food, and took off on the next leg of the race.

The aid station at 26.6 miles is the second cutoff.  You need to be there by 12:50p.m. in order to be allowed to continue.  This stretch of the race is not really that bad.  The terrain is a little easier and there are some small streams to cross.  You need to make sure you pay attention though so you don’t make a wrong turn.  Somewhere around 17-20 miles I came up on these two gentlemen that had made a wrong turn and were just getting back to the right trail.  One of them I called “the blue guy” because he was wearing a blue shirt.  I never asked his name.  Anyway, I stayed behind the blue guy for pretty much the rest of the race.  He was faster than me, but he kept getting lost so I kept catching up with him.  About mile 23-24 I saw David Murphy again.  He had hit the turn around and had started his way back.  I yelled at him and told him I was going to catch up with him! Haha…I knew that wasn’t going to happen.    Finally I arrived at the 26.6 mile aid station.  It was 11:30.  Right on time!!

At the turnaround I got my first workout shake, and it was really good!  Always gives me a good boost.  It’s just protein and gatorade, but over time it’s become like a security blanket.  I chugged my shake, went to the bathroom, and sent another tweet: “Halfway.  Kicking ass but wearing down a bit.”  Making the cutoffs in the times I needed to in order to finish in 10:50 was really exciting.  I felt like I was really doing well, but I knew that the hard part was coming.  I headed out to retrace my steps and make my way back.

From the turnaround, it’s 2 miles back to another aid station.  Once you pass this aid station, it’s a LONG lonely 8 miles to the final cutoff. There is an unmanned water station, but there is no food just jugs of water to fill your bottle up with.  I wanted to get to the final cutoff point at 2:08.  That would keep me on my 10:50 finishing pace.  At some point during this long 8 mile push I ran into the blue guy again, and this time he had another blue guy with him.  Guess what?  I noticed they had just missed a turn.  I yelled at them, “GUYS!! You’re going the wrong way!”  They thanked me.  I was just paying it forward from last year when I missed a turn and someone yelled at me.  The new blue guy fell off, but I stayed with my blue guy until we got to the unmanned water station.  Just 3.2K left to the final cutoff.  It was 1:28.  That gave me 30-ish minutes to get there.  I felt pretty good about that.  I drank a bunch of water, topped my bottle off and headed out.  Blue guy left me.

2:08 PM, another tweet:  “14 left.  Extreme mental test ahead.”  Again I had made the cutoff at the right time to keep that 10:50 finishing time.  This time, however, I knew that I was facing the toughest part of the race and I was probably not going to be able to keep this pace up.  I began looking around for my drop bag so I could make another shake.  It wasn’t there.  Panic!  “Where the hell is my drop bag?!?” Apparently it had been taken back to the starting line by mistake.  I didn’t know what I was going to do.  Approaching the toughest part of this race, and my supplies were not there.  I wanted to grab more GU, change shirts, etc.  It wasn’t happening.  Then a VERY nice volunteer said that she could probably get someone to find my bag and drive it to the next aid station that was about 6 miles away!  What a nice thing to do!  She certainly didn’t have to do that!  This race has a really great staff of volunteers!  I took some ibuprofen at this stop, stuffed my face with some chips and cheez-its, filled up my bottle and took off to cover the next six miles so I could get my bag!

There’s a funny aid station around the 14 mile mark (about 38 coming back) that is a “Hash” aid station.  On the way out there are guys there having fun and giving out beer and red bull.  On the way back it’s unmanned and there are two coolers just sitting there.  One has red bull and the other has cold beer.    It’s funny, but I really do consider grabbing one of those beers every time I go by it.  Once again, this year, I just grabbed a red bull.  I drank a little bit of it, but not all of it.  I had about 4 miles left to get to my drop bag so I pressed on.

I arrived at mile 42 to find my drop bag waiting on me!  I was very relieved, and expressed my gratitude to everyone.  Only 8 more miles to go now, but it’s a tough 8 miles. There was one more aid station 4 miles from here so I knew that I could break this up into two 4 mile runs.  I don’t remember too much about the next four mile stretch.  Probably because I was just zoned out…putting one foot in front of the other.  I finally made it to the very last aid station!

I yelled out my bib number, “63!”  A man at the aid station said, “Well, number 63 only has 4 miles left!”  That’s what I’m talking about!  I was pretty excited to be nearing the close of this race. There were a lot of things going through my mind.  I hadn’t looked to see what time it was or gotten my phone out to update twitter followers so I didn’t really know if I was on track to finish at 10:50, 11 something or what.  I filled my bottle with ice and water and took off to tackle the last brutal 4 miles.  Last year I really struggled with this part of the race.  I got emotional and started worrying that I wasn’t going to finish the race.  This year I was much more positive.  I was ready to tackle this last bit.  I knew I had 1 mile of trail and 3 miles of road left to run.  I was anticipating these awful hills in this last mile.  It actually turned out that the hills really aren’t that bad, it’s just that when you’ve already ran 46 miles they seem a lot worse!  I handled it pretty well.  Nearing the end of the trail there was a fork in the road, and a sign pointing both directions.  I got a little confused and started to make a wrong turn, but a guy showed up behind me and he confirmed which way was correct.  I knocked out the last 800 meters or so of the trail and headed up to the road for the last 3 miles of this long, hard race.

Stepping out on that pavement is like a huge breathe of fresh air.  No more rocks, no more mountains, no more hills, just 3 miles of road.  All you have to do now is put one foot in front of the other and this race is finished in about a half hour.  I’d have a couple of more laughs though before it was all over.  Remember the blue guy from earlier that kept getting lost?  Well, about a mile and a half into this last 3 miles he popped up in front of me on the road coming out of someones driveway.  He said, “are you going the wrong way?”  I couldn’t help but laugh.  This guy’s been getting lost all day and he asks me if I’m going the wrong way?  He points to this old guy standing on his porch with a cane.  I’m not even sure this guy can see very well.  Anyway, the old man is standing there telling us we’re going the wrong way!  I said, “Look man, that guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, we should just keep running.”  So we kept running, and sure enough after another mile or so we were approaching the finish line.

As I turned the corner into Maumelle Park for the last 100 yards or so of the race, I saw my wife and son standing there waiting on my.  I yelled at my son, “Jackson! I did it, I’m done!”  He ran out to meet me, and ran across the finish line with me.  Then he said, “I beat you!  I beat you, dad!”  Too funny!  I looked up at the clock on the finish line to see my time.  11 hours 27 minutes.  Wow!  It sunk in that this was just about an hour faster than last year.   A minute per mile faster! Wow!  That really made me feel good.  I wasn’t too beat up, I actually felt pretty good.  I met up with David Murphy again after the race, and we had a couple beers, and chatted about races.  I also met Charley Hogue, the 2nd place finisher of the 50K.  Pretty crazy.  I admthat can run so fast.  I probably won’t ever be that fast guy since it probably doesn’t fit into my “Lift Heavy Run Long” goals, but it is still pretty awesome to talk to them.  Anyway, I got my wife to snap a pic of me an David and we were outta there!

So, what did I learn from this race?  Well, the biggest thing I’m taking away from it is that I can continue to get stronger and faster at the same time.  Since January, I’ve PR’d my 50K and 50 Mile times and at the same time I’ve PR’d my Back Squat (300lbs) and Deadlift (418lbs.).  I was certainly not expecting such great gains, and I’m really pumped about it.  I also learned that your mental status can make or break you in a long race like this.  I remember the last few miles last year when I didn’t think I could finish.  This year I made myself stay positive.  I told myself it was going to be hard, but I would get past it.  I encouraged myself, basically.  That makes a world of difference.  If you tell yourself you can’t do something you probably won’t.  If you tell yourself that you know you can do it, you probably will.

Oh, and I almost forgot my last tweet that day:  “11:27!  Almost an hour better than last year!! BOOM! #OT50”  Until the next race…

-Lift Heavy Run Long