I'm a little late with my race report, but I have finally sorted through my pictures and picked out a few good ones of stuff I remember from the race. A month ago a group of six of us carpooled (read that: crammed all our stuff and eager bodies into a Dodge Caravan) and made the 13-hour drive to Norton Virginia.
But let me back up a little bit. Back in 2014, a volunteer showed up as we were getting Pumpkin Holler underway and wanted to follow us around and pick our brains as to what all went into putting on a 100-miler. Susan Howell drove from Kentucky, and we worked together doing a lot of the preliminary work at Pumpkin Holler. She helped out at the start/finish for a while and then rode around with me and finally worked at Last Gasp for a good part of the race. She had a lot of questions--all good questions--and took mental notes and maybe just maybe I imparted a wee bit of wisdom in RDing--assuming what I do could in any way be classified as such. I'll touch more on this story later.
Bryan Carpenter--a good friend hooked on ultra running and who has an unhealthy craving for shiny things, latched onto Cloudsplitter. This race, according to run100s.com, has over 26,000 feet of elevation gain (and descent) and in my books was one of the top 10 toughest 100-milers in the nation. I gave my fatherly advice to him warning of the seriousness of climbing incredible inclines on 30-hour tired legs, and reminding him that the 40-hour cut-off was in place for good reason, but this only fanned the flame. Bryan used FB messenger and text messages to subliminally impregnate my mind with running this race, and I finally gave in.
Whether by coincidence or by design, there are a few similarities in Pumpkin Holler and Cloudsplitter. I opted to add a 25K to the Pumpkin Holler lineup, and later actually added a 10K (and then upgraded it to a 10-Mile.) My reasoning was that it gives a few more people an opportunity to be a part of the event, and as a windfall brings in a few more dollars making it possible to have better shirts, medals, aid stations, etc. Cloudsplitter wisely has a variety of distance options. While most 100-miler races start at 6:00 or even at the ungodly hours of 5:00 or 4:00, at PH we've always done an 8:00 start so people can get an extra hour or two of sleep (does anyone Really sleep before a 100?) and it gives time to get all your gear ready, eat a bite or three, dare I say potty visits (I admit there will always be a long line at the drop and splash booths.)
Suffice to say, I like the later starts, and Cloudsplitter had an 8:00 start until this year when it was moved to 7:00 am.
I had actually signed up to run Cloudsplitter in 2014--it's first year. My ongoing knee problem put a damper on my training--with that and an insane work schedule, I sat the race out. It was after that race, reading the race reports, that I realized the severity of the elevation was a serious matter indeed. With an out and back course, every incline you go up, you go down. That many feet of climb figures to an average of over 500 feet per mile when you're going up. This is more than Western States, more than Leadville, and more than 95% of the other 100-milers in North America.
|After eating, and checking into our motel, we drove around to scope out any part of the course we could find. We drove to High Knob--a mountain peak that towers above the quiet valley town of Norton.|
The weather before the race was perfect, and Saturday was great too, although we had Hurricane Irma dishing up buckets of rain on us in the wee hours of Sunday morning and well into the day and evening.
|We were looking for the T-intersection that was a central hub of the race. We found the High Knob campground and assumed this was the first Major aid station. From there, it was just sight-seeing.|
Oddly enough--the race had almost the same elevation gain as the previous course.
|We actually followed the trail beyond this sigh for maybe a quarter of a mile, and it was all UP.|
We made the pre-race dinner and briefing. We picked up our packets and were treated to super nice long sleeve race shirts. I love mine, It's thin and breathable, and makes me look skinnier. How can you not love that??? We were warned about all the critters we might encounter--timber rattlers and copperheads were a bigger concern to me that the occasional bear sighting.
|This was the starting line. I guess I should have taken a picture of the other side of the banner.|
They fired what sounded like a cannon, and we were off. I could not find that comfortable stride at first and alternated between my signature shuffle, a jog, and a brisk walk. Very quickly I was one of the last five in the race and not much longer than that, I was last. I looked at my pace and told myself that everyone else in the race was going out too fast. Funny thing is--I believed that!!
|There were photographers along the way, but I never saw them. In looking at the race pictures, I did see they got a shot of me, and obviously, I did not know they were there, or I would have sucked it in!|
Bryan, Jana, and Christine stayed together every step of the way. Mike hung with them, but at one point fell back a little. Jeremy ran a faster pace, but eventually slowed down for a while and then must have stepped it back up in the final miles. This initial climb--over 2100 feet in 5 miles was the beginning of my demise. I trained with lots of hills. But this hill got hold of me mentally and would not let go. I reached the top finally in last place and was running 32-minute miles. Well--it was a hike. I told myself I could gain some of that back. It was a long race and a long time limit. And this was one of if not the worst climb on the course.
|Notice the heavy leaf cover on the trail--yes there is a trail there. When the trail got rocky, those leaves made it look not so bad but in fact, it was treacherous.|
|A final climb to High Knob. I finally caught up with a few people. It turns out that they were all either in the 25K or 50K and after their respective turnarounds, I was all alone.|
I breezed through the High Knob aid station without using my drop bag. I ate a cookie at the food table and went on without checking my hydration bladder. A slight mistake as I was empty and thirsty by the time I reached the next aid station at Edith Gap.
|Ok, I admit it. Part of my problem is that I take a lot of pictures. I went off trail for this one and it looked to be a spectacular photo, but there was not a clear shot of the lake because of all the trees.|
In studying the course map, I thought the out and back was a pretty straight shot, and assumed it followed a creek bed for 15ish miles. It did, except two or three times it veered up and over a mountain and then back up and back down, rinse and repeat. mmmm--not so straight.
There were lots and lots of creek crossings. Many were dry--no way to get your feet wet. Some were passable with man-made bridges, some you crossed on moss covered fallen trees. Some you could jump boulder to boulder. And a couple you just got your feet wet.
The leaves were in full flaming color. Even those on the ground were in technicolor--more color than I've ever seen in Oklahoma. And true to form, on my blog posts, there's always a couple of sun-peaking-through-the-trees pictures.
|Feet got wet here. Some of those rocks suitable for boulder hopping were also slick.|
I was amazed at the tall trees. Google has helped me decide these were Virginia Pines.
Nice looking trail--huh? Well, this trail went gradually uphill for 1 1/4 miles. Not so steep at all, but it was nothing but shifting rocks from potato to basketball size, all loose, and all covered by a thick blanket of leaves. Every step was a potential ankle twist. I'm a long time trail runner with bionic ankles, but I was cautious here. My trekking poles were of no use here because each plant of the pole seemed to wedge way down between the rocks, and I nearly broke the tip off a couple of times before deciding to just carry them through this section. The trip on the way back was in the dark, despite going downhill, it took quite a bit longer than it did to climb it.
|This was Bark Camp Lake. It was a beautiful section and I had run quite a bit of the way the preceding few miles. The colors of leaves were amazing.|
I waltzed into Bark Camp Lake aid station feeling great. I needed to see about my feet. I had a wee bit of a hot spot acting like it might get worse but overall, I felt good. I was on a high. They offered to give me a full-service tuneup for my feet, and I declined until I found I had not put my foot stuff in my drop bag. :-/ They went to work on my feet. Did a massage thing, and put some sort of antibiotic cream on my hotspot, which I didn't think would make a dimes bit of difference but it did help.
Next, I met this trio on their way back from Hanging Rock. (By trio I mean Jana, Bryan, and Christine--who was taking the picture.) They were doing so chirpy happy good that I wanted to smack them. (Bryan needs a smacking every now and then anyway!) I told them of my decision to turn around and continue on the 100K route. They understood. I did the math and it was the right decision. I secretly was a bit concerned about them as well, although they did one thing that 100 milers rarely are able to do--they never slowed down.
I met Mike about a mile behind them. Mike had tried to keep up with his Amigos and did so for much of the race, but backed off to run his own pace. I have a theory about that--he left his alter-ego Meego on the DASH of the VAN!! Meego could easily see where he went, and see all the runners getting ready to race.
Folks, this is BaD KaRmA. With Meego in tow strapped to Mikes pack, Mike might have won the race.
I met one more dude behind Mike, and he acted surprised to see me. He asked if anyone "knew I was still in the race." WTF??? He told me the aid station ahead (Hanging Rock--the 100K turnaround) was shutting down and had tried to give him all the leftover food. He was told he was the last runner, and the other guy (me) must have gotten off course.
I made it to the aid station 35 minutes before the published cutoff time, and there was NO ONE THERE. I looked in the trash bins and there was a ton of aid station food thrown away. I was a little aggravated, to say the least. I took a picture of the trail sign to prove I was there, and then took another pic with me scowling at the camera. LOL!
|Me with my best mean looking scowl.|
I mentioned catching up with someone, and by no speed of my own, I did catch someone. At Bark Camp Lake, Mike was waiting for me. He also had decided to drop to 100K, and we thought we could tough it out together. By his recommendation, I ate some potato soup and it was awesome, so I had another. Then I ate a piece of chocolate, and a guy offered me a half can of Red Bull, and I slurped it down.
Then Mike and I took off into the night. It was good to have company, and we chatted it up for a while gossiping like a couple of jr high girls. Then a wave of nausea hit me. DAMN! I took more salt, sipped cold water, and tried to keep a brisk walk going, I know from past experience that nausea leads to super slow pace, which leads to sleepy time. All of the above is bad. But Mike kept me going, and by the time I reached High Knob, was a little more alert and hungry for more potato soup.
We drank some coffee and tried to regroup, but Mike had hit a low spot. I tried to talk him into going on with me, but he decided to take the trail back to the finish line which netter him a 50K finish, despite running well over 50 miles.
I left out of High Knob campground and climbed for a few hundred feet and then began my trek to Devil's Bathtub. I was thrilled to be getting to that part of the course. I was also concerned that this course goes through a deep canyon with several deep pools of water, possible waterfalls, slick rocks, and it had begun to rain--Irma was making herself known. At High Knob Lookout, we ran a mile or so on paved road, and then onto a well-maintained gravel road. The sleep monster was having its way with me, which was a shame because I should have been able to really make good time on this stretch. It was maybe 6-7 miles to the entrance of Devil's bathtub, or at least the road that led to the area, yet it took me 3-4 hours to get there. I stopped at one point and laid down on the road to get a 15-minute nap--even set the alarm on my phone. Sleeping on a gravel road in the rain is not one of the smartest things I've done. I decided to just keep moving--even a slow walk would eventually get me there. Weird thing--I'd wake up just standing in the middle of the road. I'd be walking thinking about something going on in my life, and talking to someone, listening to what they were saying and then I was out. These thoughts and spoken words playing in my head were turning into dreams. I was falling in and out of sleep, walking in the rain. I am guessing that went on for at least 2-3 hours, and I must have only traveled 1 or 2 miles. I thought for sure I'd be making my way through Devil'sBathtub in the dark, but daylight hit at least an hour before I got to the entrance road.
The dirt and grassy road that led to the park area was about 2.5 miles and a sweet gradual downhill. I ran my fastest miles here and managed to actually pass a couple of runners.
The final descent into the Devil's bathtub canyon was 1247 feet in 3.9 miles. It was super steep in places, and my trekking poles were a lifesaver.
Even with Irma dumping rain on us all night, there was barely any water running. There's supposed to be a Devil's Swimming Pool too. Someone had built a few cairns in the bed of the main stream. Looks devilish to me.
This is a borrowed pic. I think this I saw this, but not with the little waterfall. I'd like to come back here someday and spend a day poking around.
There's supposed to be 30 or so water crossings here, and with a little more rain, I believe it. As runnable as the trailz were getting here, the last mile through the stream was a slow go.
I then had Bryan, Jana, and Christine PASS ME. They had done the second albeit shorter out and back and still managed to catch back up with me. One There was a mystery aid station at the end of the loop--or at least it was a mystery to me. I met Bryan, Jana, and Christine coming back down a hill heading toward me. They told me there was a real aid station just ahead. And there WAS!! It was run by ultra runners. They had super good potato soup, lots of bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches hot off the grill, and coffee. This was LIFE being infused into my broken body. It was raining so much I had given up on taking pictures, and/or was too sleepy to remember to take any.
After leaving the aid station, I was told to turn right at the bottom of the hill. I was so lost--not sure at all as to how to get out of this place. But this road was the one to go on, or so I was told.
This is what all hills should be. How can I describe it? It was a nice gravel road-wide enough for a Jeep. There were a couple of washed out places. How about 1162 feet in 1.7 miles? Yes, it was all that. But the climb continued. 2477 feet in 7.9 miles. It was mind-numbing.
But seriously, the last half of the long grind was not as bad. It was the nice gradual downhill I described earlier in reverse. I thought with daylight, I'd be through with sleep issues and such. Earlier I mentioned seeing faces in the rocks and in trees. Things started getting stranger. At one point on the long climb out of Devil's bathtub, I saw a rather large motor home parked just off the road. It was a nice one. I saw the windows, the door, leveling jacks, the windshield, a rear bumper. It was an off-white with brown accents. I also saw as I walked a few more steps past the motorhome, a motorboat on a trailer parked just to the side of it. I walked a few more steps and then looked back over and it was GONE. It was just a large rock outcropping. Later, I saw a van--an older Dodge Caravan--off white again, rammed right into the side of a bluff above me. It might have been parked half in a cave, but how in the heck did it get there? I kept my eye on it as I walked by. I wanted to see it magically change into a rock or whatever. It stayed like I saw it--a van stuck in a bluff. But then I kicked a rock in the road and briefly took my eyes off of the van and when I looked back up, he van was gone. It was just a big rock all along, and of course, I knew that. Later, I'd see large shadowy things--much like a sasquatch ahead in the road only to have them turn into trees or just disappear.
I was starting to fall asleep on my feet again, so I took my phone off of airplane mode and saw that I had a good signal. So, I called the wife--no answer. She was probably asleep as she works the night shift. I called Kathy and got voicemail. Left a message. Called Lynna--no answer. I called Melon and left a voicemail and she called back. We got to talking and it was almost as good as having a pacer. I filled her in on all the details of the race, and after 30 minutes, I was walking quicker and shuffling comfortably. Then Kathy called back. She and I chatted it up for 30 minutes or so. By then, I was wide awake and didn't have any more trouble with sleep or hallucinations for the rest of the race.
I did run quite a bit more. I managed to pick off a few more runners and I see now that they must have been 100-milers. I was the last place 100Ker by a large margin.
It started to rain when I was about 5 miles from the finish. I got into a real jungly area where the trail made a lot of weird twists and turns. I popped out into an open area, and there were no course markings to be found, so I retraced my steps and ended back in the same place. Frustrated, It looked like I could easliy burn an hour or more trying to find my way out. So, I tried to open my Googe Maps in the rain. I had my phone in a baggie, but with wet fingers, I could not use the touch screen. Finally, I managed to get the map app open, and saw I was very near a pond that looked like it had a dam. I knew I had passed that on the way out, so with a little bush whacking, I popped onto a gravel road that took me right to the lake and across the dam. I knew where I was from there.
The final descent was super steep and muddy. I greatly depended on my trekking poles for the remainder of the race--at least until I reached the paved road. The last wood bridge was slick as greased snot and I about hit the deck hard but caught myself.
I told Bryan, Jana, and Christine that they would probably catch me. Last time I saw them they had another lap around Devil's Bathtub to do. I was 7 miles or so ahead of them, and they had to do the long nasty hill twice to my once. They caught up with me when I had a quarter mile to go. With nothing left to go for but a finish, I waited on them, and we all crossed the finish line together--the with a hundred miles to their credit (actually 103.7.) I ended up with 68 miles or so, although my Suunto set to ping every minute instead every 15 seconds and it rounded off a lot of the switchbacks. This also skewed my pace readings, I realized later.
Wow!! What a ride!! We made our way back to the motel, showered, and then hobbled next door to a Carl's Jr for some nutrition-dense junk food. And wow--did I ever sleep!!!
We took turns driving home. Jeremy snored. Didn't see any drool, but then again, I was in the front seat. We had breakfast at some little restaurant that looked like a nicer Waffle House. My egg was Mr. Bill. I'm not sure what that means, but it has to be a message.
For just some scriggly lines, we sure worked hard to make them!
When I got home, I had this rash!! It didn't really itch all. It spread like crazy though. Each day I looked in the mirror it was worse. I took a round or Prednizone, and it seemed to get better, but now a month later, I still have a few faint red marks. Bryan got it too, and so did Jana. I think mine was the worst of the three. It wasn't bed bugs--or everyone would have got them. Plss the bites are nothing like bed bugs. It definitely was not chiggers. They attack my ankles and lower legs. This was all on my torso. Mike wore his race shirt during the race, I did not. I wore mine home. We all ate the same food basically. I believe they were some kind of wood mite.
Sorry--no foot blisters to show. All my toenails are about like they were before the race.
All in all, this was a most enjoyable trip. And a huge THANK YOU to Bryan Carpenter for putting this all together.