Saturday, April 26, 2014

Indiana Trail 100: April 26th, 2014 "Buckle UP!"

I would like to rewind the clock to last summer when I attempted Burning River 100 in late July and I came up short.  I was proud that I made it 74 miles but disappointed that a pain in my foot slowed me down and not making a cutoff prevented me from finishing, although the pain was so bad that even if I made the cutoff I probably would not of continued anyway.  The biggest reason for the disappointment is that I dedicated 6 months of my life to training for the event.  Countless hours driving to and running on the trails and also running around our neighborhood, all so I could achieve my newest life goal and get a 100 mile finisher buckle.  In the later miles of Burning River I kept thinking that maybe I am just not cut out for doing 100 miles but I was caught up in the moment.  Two days after my emotions settled down I was already plotting to find another 100 mile race to jump into.  I knew I needed a few months to rest and recover from Burning River so I thought I could begin training in late fall for a spring race.  Indiana Trail 100 is in late April and a relatively flat course with a little over 5,000 feet of elevation gain throughout the 100 miles so I thought it would be perfect.

I signed up for the race and I went out to one of the organized training runs in October last year to preview the course.  The course is at Chain-O-Lakes State Park in Albion, IN and is a 16.7 mile trail loop that you run around 6 times to complete the 100 miles.  The guys that put this race on (Mike Pfefferkorn, Jerry Diehl, Tom Landis, and Don Lindley along with several others) are extremely dedicated to the community, trail running, and the parks.  They donate most, if not all, of the proceeds from the event to Chain-O-Lakes State Park.  They are out there every weekend doing training runs, maintaining the existing trails and also helping to create new trails.  The Indiana Trail 100 facebook page shows evidence of how dedicated they really are.  They hold training runs every week throughout the year.  They offer advice and even set up aid stations at many of the training runs.  They do all of this for free out of their love of the sport and their community.  This is very refreshing to see because with the ever increasing popularity of ultrarunning there are many businesses trying to capitalize by putting on races for profit which completely goes against the community driven values of trail ultrarunning.  After running the trail, meeting these guys, and learning what they represent I was super excited that I signed up for this event. 

Going into my training I kept in mind the valuable lessons I learned from my attempt at Burning River and I planned on putting that knowledge to use for Indiana.  I changed my shoes in hopes that pain in the arch of my foot would not return in the later stages of the race.  I went a step up from my Altra Superiors to the Altra Lone Peak 1.5's.  I did this because the Lone Peaks have a bit more cushion which I thought would be valuable to preventing foot pain late in the race.  I know this goes against everything I have said about the benefits of minimalist shoes for the last four years but after a lot of experimenting I have found what works for me.  Minimalist shoes taught me proper form and are great for shorter distances but they do not provide the extra cushion I need for the longer distances of ultra marathons and Altra shoes are the best of both worlds.  They have a big toe box which lets the toes spread out rather then getting sandwiched in the front of the shoe.  Altra's are also zero drop which means they are flat from heel to toe.  This help to keep good form because it does not promote heel striking like a raised heel would.  So in a sense they are minimalist shoes with cushion.  Sounds weird but, hey, when in Rome.

Another lesson I learned is that I was over trained going into Burning River.  My plan for that race had me doing three hard weeks and then one rest week at lower mileage and this four week pattern was repeated all the way through the 26 weeks of training.  The hard weeks got harder as the training went on and I was pretty burnt out going into the race.  I wanted to try a new training plan and I found a 24 week plan from the book Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell.  The per week mileage goes up throughout the plan but you are not continually doing three hard weeks at a time.  The mileage varies from week to week and it spreads it out nicely.  I thought this would help me prevent burnout and also get a lot of miles in.  The week day runs of Bryon's plan were longer then the weekday runs of the 26 week plan from before.  The weekend runs were generally not as long which was the best part about it.  Anyway, the reason I switched my shoes and training plan is this: the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  I was mentally happy about my changes and was optimistic they would provide me with positive results.

Winter training run
My training plan went into full swing around mid November.  I liked the idea of doing the heart of my training during the winter months.  I tend to feel better running in the cold and after the holidays we don't have a lot of weekend plans that would conflict with my long runs.  Trail running in the winter is great because the mountain bikers are mostly hibernating and there are no deer flies or mosquitoes.  For the most part us trail runners have the amusement park to ourselves in the winter.  It is cool when there are no leaves on the trees because with increased visibility you can see the scenic surrounding terrain in the woods. I was surprised at how cold it was during those late fall weeks when I began my training.  Little did I know we were headed into one of the harshest winters in recorded history.  I was able to do a hand full of long trail runs before the polar vortex took the rug out from underneath my plan.  As the winter went on the snow kept piling up and the temps kept dropping.  I tried to run my local Michigan trails a few times but they were virtually impassible due to the snow and ice being so deep and uneven.  I ended up with rolled ankles and it took super long to navigate the single track trails but it did teach me patience and how to mentally deal with tough conditions, which running 100 miles is a tough condition all of it's own.  In Ohio I was able to finish two fun trail races which proved to be extremely valuable to my training:  Run For Regis in February and the FPR Race Directors Race in March.

Most of my long training runs were on the snow covered roads of our neighborhood.  I don't think I seen the pavement all winter long on our residential streets.  Over 7 feet of snow had fallen and accumulated throughout winter.  I even had to join my local gym to run on the *gulp* dreadmill when the snow was too deep or the temps dropped below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  I don't have a problem running in 10 degree temps but the wind was usually blowing hard and lead to wind chill temps of 20 or 30 degrees below zero.  I was on a run one cold evening and the liquid in my eye balls froze which was my final push to join the gym.  I did not miss very many miles in my training plan and I did not feel the extreme burnout that I had with my previous 100 mile training even though the total mileage of both plans was similar.  I was once again in great shape and leaner then I have been since high school.  I put in the hard work and battled through an epic winter, now it was time to see if I have what it takes to finish a 100 mile endurance run.

My awesome parents really came through and brought their camper to the state park.  We were planning on tent camping but having an indoor place to lay out all my stuff and feel organized proved it's weight in gold.  After checking in we ate dinner in the camper then it was time to lay down and attempt to get some sleep.  I passed out around 11:00 PM but awoke with anxiety around 2:00 AM.  I knew I had a few hours before I had to be up but I could not go back to sleep.  I did doze off for about a half hour before my alarm started yelling at me.  So I had a little over three hours of sleep and I was about to be up for at least another 30 hours.  I was very amped for the race so I had no problem jumping out of bed and getting ready for my challenge ahead.  A few concerns before the race were lack of sleep and my stomach was sort of bothering me all week leading up to the race.  I thought my stomach problem may be a part of all the phantom pains that pop up in the two weeks leading up to a big event which are mostly mental. 

Ready to roll!
One thing I did not have to worry about was support because I had a great crew for this race.  Jessica (crew chief plus pacer for final loop), my parents, and my sister along with her husband were there to help me get this thing done.  My friend Nick was going to drive like a bat out of hell from Columbus to Albion after he got off work Saturday evening to get there in time to pace me through the 5th loop which goes through the middle of the night.  My friend Fletcher even made a surprise appearance getting to the park in the middle of the night!  I really am lucky that so many great people were coming together to help me out.  There was perfect spots for crew access at the starting area parking lot and also at the half way point of the 16.7 mile trail loop so I knew I would see my crew twice on each lap.  I had a lot of supplies that I would need in my car which was made it easy to grab and go.  The volunteers and aid stations at this event were top notch as well so I would not have to worry about needing anything during the event.   

8 miles in and ready to ditch the fleece
I quickly got ready and woke Jess up so she could give me a ride down to the start line.  All the runners were gathering in the cool morning and the anticipation was floating through the air.  Jess gave me some positive thoughts and I was calm in the starting shoot.  The race was under way before I knew it and hundreds of headlamp lights were bouncing toward the trail head.  The pace at the beginning was a little slow due to the trail congestion that always happens at the beginning of ultras.  It did not take long to settle into a nice easy pace.  I had to remind myself that I will be on my feet for 30 hours so I might as well relax and enjoy the day instead of going out strong and burning myself out early.  I was right around a 12 minute and 30 second pace per mile and the miles seemed like they were going by quickly,  It was great to see Jess at the half way point and she got me a drink of Gatorade and off I went.  The first loop was very steady as I kept the same pace all the way through.  I seen Jess again at the start and finish area at the end of the first loop.  I grabbed a pre made bag of snacks, including grapes and peanut butter filled pretzels, to eat on the go and another drink of Gatorade and I was off.  I was really trying to limit my time spent at the aid stations because that can really drain precious minutes in a 100 mile race.

Lap one done!  Only five more to go.
I started loop two and I was running with two girls who were wearing costumes just for the fun of it on that loop.  One was dressed as a skittle and the other was dressed as a nun and they were handing out little bags of skittles to runners on the trail.  I think they were offended in a joking manner when I turned down their offer, but I try to limit refined sugar during a race.  They were cool and provided me with some laughs which helped to keep me relaxed and enjoy the day on the trails.  When I got to the 25 mile mark my parents were there with Jess and it was a great to see them.  My legs still felt fresh and I was not tired at all but my fear of stomach issues had come true.  I was not sick but everything I ate just made me uncomfortable rather then making me feel better.  I was concerned about this because keeping down calories is key to having enough energy to finish a 100 miler.  I grabbed a turkey sandwich at that point and slowly ate is as I walked and it really didn't help but I was able to eat the whole thing.  The rest of loop two seemed to go by quickly and before I knew it I was done with 34 miles.  Throughout the whole race I met many other people and had great conversations about running and life in general.  That is a great thing about ultra marathons, you meet so many interesting and cool people who are all connected with a common bond.  Most of the conversation on the trails were about the terrible flooding and cold conditions of this race from a year ago.  This year the trail was dry and in great shape, there was nothing to slow us down.  The race organizers and other volunteers had the trail in pristine shape  My overall pace for loop two was almost the same as my pace on loop one and that was great news because I was still feeling good and was slightly ahead of my plan.

24 miles in and feeling good

I started to slow down a bit on loop three and that was partly because I could not find any food that would sit right with me.  When I got to the half way point in the loop, mile 42, I remembered that I had asked my mom to make me some mashed potatoes.  I thought it was worth a chance and when I tried some they went down great.  I felt the energy from the potatoes leech into my body and I think this easily digestible carb was what my body was craving.  I felt like a new man after smashing a bunch of those mashed potatoes, thanks Mom!  I also knew there was a bunch left over so I would have plenty to get me through the race.  The second half of loop three went pretty well with my new found energy and I was back at the start finish before I knew it.  The best part about coming in off loop three is that I was at mile 50, halfway there and still feeling pretty decent!  My rock star crew leader Jess had a chair ready for me and a change of socks and shoes were also there waiting.  After switching socks and shoes I quickly threw on a fresh t-shirt and also grabbed my light fleece as I knew the temps would eventually start to drop on loop four.

Coming into mile 50, half way done
Fresh Shoes, fresh socks, fresh shirt and my fleece, ready for the second half.
Mile 54, it was to warm for the fleece

Starting loop four I was definitely getting tired and was doing a walk run walk run routine.  I was way ahead of my plan so I could afford to do a decent amount of walking.  At the halfway point on loop four, mile 58, my sister Corrie and her husband Craig were there which was awesome to see.  The emotional boost of seeing family and friends during these runs is extremely valuable and I really appreciate everyone support.  Even on facebook I later seen there was a ton of people following my progress and cheering me on which is a testament to all the great people in my life.  Before leaving the aid station Jess told me that Nick had called her and he was breaking all kinds of traffic laws to get there in time to pace me for loop five.  That put a smile on my face knowing that my friend was excited for me to finish this race and was going all out to get there in time to help me.  She said it will be close if he will get there in time but I had faith that he would be there.  This news and the excitement of how well everything was falling into place really got my momentum going for the rest of loop four.  Darkness fell and I switched on my flashlight for the last few miles of this loop.  When I came in off loop four, mile 67, my whole crew was there and Jess told me that Nick just got into the park.  I was really pleased to hear this news.  I had plenty of time to spare and I was able to refill my water and get some food while Nick got ready.

Mile 58, still moving forward!
Nick was hurrying as fast as he could to get ready to pace me through the night.  He parked in the back and was changing his clothes right there in the parking lot.  Some guy was in the car next to him and looked over while Nick was standing there in his birthday suit!..haha..the guy just gave him an understanding nod.  It is awesome the ultra community can find humor and understanding in situations like that.  When Nick was ready he came running at me full speed and gave me a big bear hug.  He was super psyched up and this gave me new life.  I was really starting to feel like there was a great chance that I was going to finish.  We even started off the first few miles of loop five doing some slow running and power hiking.  Nick had me cracking up out there in the middle of the night.  He was also very encouraging and kept repeating how awesome I was doing.  The miles were just flying by and we got to the halfway point of loop five, mile 75, and Corrie and Craig were there waiting for us.  They were kind enough to stay up late crewing for me so Jess could get a few hours of sleep before pacing me on the last loop.  Corrie reminded me this was the furthest I have ever gone, which was another mental boost.  We had some snacks and chatted for a minute and then we were off!

The next 8 miles were the true test if I was going to be able to endure the rest of the race.  Several things happened which hurt my momentum but luckily Nick was there to help me through these issues.  Temperatures dropped quite a bit after leaving the aid station at mile 74 and since we were mostly hiking my body temperature dropped as well.  I began feeling cold, tired, and my right calf muscle was seizing up big time.  I kept having to stop every few minutes to rest and when my calf pain reached a maximum thresh hold I told Nick that it was killing me.  He knew exactly what to do.  He pulled a $40 tube of essential oil out of his running vest and let me put some of that on my calf.  It started heating up and then Nick dug his thumbs into the knot on my calf which shot the pain level up even more but that pressure plus the magic of the mineral oil actually took care of the problem!  The pain was gone and we were power hiking once again.  When we got to the mile 80 aid station I was super tired and exhausted.  The awesome volunteers got me some coffee and chicken broth which immediately gave me new life.  They also had a huge bonfire going which helped to take the chill out of my body and warm up my hands.  Nick called Jess to let her know we would be done with loop five in about an hour.  She didn't sleep much and was already getting ready to pace me through the last loop.

Fletch manning the crew vehicle, I am at mile 92 and tired!
We got done with loop five, mile 84, at around 4:15 am and to my surprise my good friend Fletcher was there!  He had family events going on all day and left at night when he could get away.  I was excited to see him and also excited to see Jess all suited up to pace me on the final loop.  I did proclaim that I was freezing and put on a heavy running sweatshirt and stocking hat.  Fletcher saved the day by telling me to go in the bathroom and run my hands under the hand dryer to warm them up.  I think I did about six cycles and then put my thin gloves back on.  Nick loaned me his thick gloves that I put over mine and it was enough to keep my hands warm.  Fletch agreed to take my car and meet us at the halfway point so Nick could get a few hours of sleep.  I couldn't believe how perfectly everything was coming together.  Now that I was all bundled up Jess and I set out to finish this thing up.  We were walking at a good pace and Jess was keeping me alert by pointing out any trip hazards and also psyching me up for the big finish.  We got to the aid station at mile 88 and I was starving.  We ate some breakfast sandwiches and I was still super cold so we waited a minute by an outdoor heater while the great volunteers were heating up some vegetable soup.

Jess leading me down the home stretch
Jess and I got a good laugh leaving this aid station because a volunteer was trying to convince a delirious runner to keep going.  I was not laughing at the runners misfortune rather that he was so delirious he was babbling on about some crazy stuff and it had everyone rolling.  I took my soup to go and back out into the cold air we went.  It seemed like we made it to the halfway point of loop 6 pretty quick.  I was 92 miles in at this point and hungry and tired.  Fletch had the car there waiting for us and it worked out well because I had some more mash potatoes and Gatorade.  I also downed a few breakfast sandwiches at the aid station.  I thanked the volunteers and we set out to complete the mission.  The sun was up at this point which gave me a sense of revival.  When I arrived at the mile 97 aid station I had a nice feeling of relief come over me because we only had 3 miles to go!  I had some coffee to keep me energized and I warmed up by the fire for a minute before we left.  Jess and I were kind of doing a shuffle as an attempt to run.  I was beat down but just wanted it to be over.  I felt like I could actually run but I had a really bad side ache and running made it worse.  I just decided to walk the rest of the way since I had plenty of time.  When I got to the path that led up to the parking lot of the start finish area we started running.  The adrenaline blocked out all of my pain and I seen everyone that was there crewing and supporting me all standing there cheering.  It was a great feeling.  Jess led me up to the finish chute and I ran through with my arms in the air.

Victory!!  Such a relief crossing that finish line.
Twenty-seven hours and forty-six minutes after I started it was very surreal to cross that finish line.  A volunteer asked me if I wanted to trade my timing chip leg strap for a 100 mile finisher buckle.  Ummm...yes please!  The race director Mike handed me the buckle and I was able to give all of my crew individual hugs of celebration and thanks.  They all played a super important part in helping me get through this life accomplishment and I was glad I could share my joy of finishing this goal.  I want to thank Jessica most of all for supporting me and putting up with all the long hours I am out on the trail or running around our neighborhood.  She really did a great job leading my crew and also pacing me for the last loop and leading me all the way to the finish.  All the hours and hard work I put into training had paid off and it was a great feeling.  Everyone keeps asking me if I will ever do this again and the answer is yes.  I am definitely hooked on ultrarunning and it has become part of my life.  It is awesome to be involved with this community of like minded crazy fools who love trail running for hours on end.  My next race is with Joe Gatton in Pagosa Springs, CO.  We are doing the Devil Mountain 50 miler.  I love the challenge of running in the mountains and can't wait for this next adventure.

The Buckle is finally mine!

My All-Star Crew, I am so grateful!

My man Nick! Thanks for everything

It's official

The hardware


  1. Great race report Jamie. You've just grown and improved as a runner since we met, and it sounds like you have a pretty good textbook race! (No drama is good during a 100 mile race!!) It was nice to see you before the Buckle Run, too!

  2. Thanks Kim! I appreciate the kind words. It was good to see you as well at the buckle run.