Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ironman v2

I suppose I should give my normal warning that this article is long, because it is. This is my story of a race and all things pertaining to the race, not just a recap. If reading several pages turns you off, then please exit now. I'm sorry.

After completing my first full Ironman in 2012 (Click here for the review) I was pretty confident I would not do another full Ironman (140.6 total miles - 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). The biggest reason was the wear and tear on my hip but a close second was simply due to to the amount of time required in training. Generally, Ironman training is 4-6 months of 12-16 hours per week. That is a huge commitment for anyone with a job and a life outside of fitness and frankly wasn't something I felt like I wanted to deal with again.

In a moment of weakness shortly after Ironman Louisville in 2012 I signed up for Ironman New Orleans 70.3 (half distance Ironman) that was to take place in spring 2013. I had already done three 70.3 Ironman events and mostly enjoyed them and who doesn't love a trip to New Orleans, especially since my wife would actually want to go. Despite another crappy swim, I was very happy with my results there (Click here for the review). Still, I had no sight set on another full distance event.

I did a couple local short distance triathlons after IM New Orleans and then over the winter suffered through a bad IT band injury and the subsequently plantar fasciitis, which killed my 2014 triathlon season. I did ZERO triathlons that year and no races after the Outback in the Ozarks 200 Mile Relay, which was one of the most enjoyable events I've ever done. I simply tried to get healed, which never happened.

For some reason later in the year I started getting the Ironman itch. I wanted to do another full Ironman and break 12 hours and have a fast (for me) bike leg. IM Florida and Arizona both fit the bill but they are both always in the middle of football season. The Razorback football schedule for 2015 came out in October 2014 and when I looked at the dates, both Florida and Arizona were feasible. I went back and forth in my mind, did tons of research on both races and eventually settled on Florida, though Arizona would've been perfectly fine.

For a number of years both Florida and Arizona have sold out of registrations within minutes of opening. The reason is that both races are flat and fast compared to most other Ironman races. Because of this I was prepped and ready to get my details entered into the web screen quickly and click the submit button with my payment shortly after the registration went online.

I was very fast and got successfully registered for Florida within a few seconds. As it turns out Florida registration was open for several hours before selling out. This apparently was due to new (and changed date in the case of Lousville) races in the southeastern US in the same timeframe, so the demand for Florida has decreased. As info, Chattanooga, Maryland, and Louisville (not a new race but moved from August to October), are the new competing races. All of these are within 5-6 weeks of each other and all within similar geographies.

Anyway, I got registered and paid so I was committed. I did have a bit of buyer's remorse but was also excited because it was in a place I haven't been (Panama City Beach) and it should theoretically be a faster race for me.

Unfortunately, the plantar fasciitis I experienced in summer of 2014 still plagued me well into 2015. I never really felt better until summer 2015 so I was finally able to start getting in some longer mileage weeks which happened to coincide with the beginning of my Ironman training plan. 

Things were going pretty well until late July when I experienced some severe hip pain during a run. This pain was on my right side which is the side of my artificial hip. I have a pretty good feel on my hip pain so I know when things are really bad versus nuisances. I knew this pain I experienced was really bad. 

I took a few weeks off and then tried to run again. I got a few pain-free runs in but on one run the same pain returned. At this point I was less than three months out from IM Florida. I knew at this point that my hopes for the race were in jeopardy. I decided to totally shut down the running and focus on cycling and swimming. 

I did a fairly decent job of focusing on cycling but to be honest I didn't work hard enough on swimming. I hate swimming because I suck at it. I tried some water jogging to help prepare for running but it was pretty fruitless.

Leading up to the race I knew I was just going to try to get through the swim, hammer the bike and run/jog/slog + walk the marathon. I did calculations and knew at worst I could walk the entire marathon and still finish under the maximum 17 hours you are allowed in an Ironman race. We had planned a vacation along with this race so there was no way I was not going to at least attempt the race.

Fast forward to race week and I felt totally unprepared. I had not done a single open water swim outside of a few swims during our July vacation in Aruba. It's a 45 minute drive each way to get to open water swims from where I live which is a pain and I simply did not make the required effort. I should HAVE but did NOT. Totally my own fault.

I also had not done a lot of 5+ hour bike rides. I had done a lot of mileage but more short, intense rides versus longer rides. I wasn't super concerned about that but it was a concern.

And obviously I had no running in the three months leading to the event. What a cluster. No reasonable person would do this but I've rarely been accused of being reasonable.

The trip to PCB was to be about 13.5 hours driving so we broke it up into two days. That's a lot of driving and wasn't good for my legs but it worked out fine. For those who don't know, with an Ironman event you typically have two days to check-in with the second day being two days before the event, so in this case you could check in Wednesday or Thursday for the Saturday race. If you missed the Thursday check-in, sorry, you are not racing. Because of this, in both Ironman events I've done I've made sure to leave plenty of time for stupid stuff to happen. Luckily no unfortunate stuff happened.

I need to setup some of the following commentary. IM Florida has ALWAYS been what's called a "wetsuit legal" race. By that I mean that the triathlon organization has rules based on water temperatures on when you can and cannot wear wetsuits. This is important to a lot of people because wetsuits help people swim faster than normal and have an added safety feature, because the wetsuits are made of neoprene rubber that keeps you warm and also helps you float and hence swim faster than normal. IM Florida has always been chilly or cold in the morning and evenings so wetsuit legal was never an issue. Until this year.

2015 in November at PCB was unseasonably warm so the water temps during the week were way warmer than normal, not to mention there had been a lot of red tide in the area the previous several weeks. A few days before the race word started getting out that water temps were rising and wetsuit legal was in jeopardy. Panic quickly ensued.

To further clarify, a water temperature over 76.1 degrees is not "wetsuit legal" BUT there is a caveat. As long as the water temperature is below 83.9 degrees but greater than 76.1, you CAN wear a wetsuit but you won't be eligible for awards or for qualification for the world championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. This is important because it really only impacts a small percentage of racers. So, even if the temperature was above 76.1 degrees it certainly wouldn't get close to 83, so I could wear a wetsuit but wouldn't be eligible for awards. Well, big frickin' deal. I wasn't going to be eligible for awards regardless so I was going to wear a wetsuit regardless.

Thursday morning before the Saturday race I forced myself into my wetsuit (these things are pretty difficult to put on) and went out for a swim. The water was fairly rough but didn't look too bad from our room balcony. I got in the water and within a few minutes I was really struggling. The water was rougher than I thought. A few minutes later I was really starting to panic. After a short amount of time I had to make my way into shore. I was done. At this point I didn't think I could make it through the race. I was sorely depressed and ready to quit.

Thankfully, my awesome wife was with me and helped talk me off the ledge. I took time to go back to the Expo and found another wetsuit (on sale!) that fit better and made me feel more comfortable. The next morning I swam in the new wetsuit and felt like a different person. Similar rough water but I had no problems. I was finally confident I could finish the swim. I didn't realize my old wetsuit fit so bad but it did and was restricting me so much I could barely move in it, which assisted in my panic.

On to race day. Pre-race was pretty uneventful except I forgot to get my GPS tracking device on my bike so my wife could track me. I did all this meticulous planning and screwed up the most basic thing.

The swim corral was a mess. The non-wetsuit wearers went first (about 1600 people) and then 10 minutes later the rest of us (800+) went. We were packed in like sardines but once we crossed the start line the real chaos began. The surf was very rough. Waves were 3-4 feet tall at least and we all had to try to work through those before we could even start swimming.

I finally got started and was pretty relaxed but I (and many of us) got beat up like a boxer. Hands, feet, legs, head were all getting hit. It was a melee. Roughest swim I've been in. Took forever to get some actual open water to swim in. This is the main reason I hate open water swims. 1) people are jerks and 2) you can easily die.

IM Florida is two laps. You actually get out of the water for a few feet on the beach and then go back in. THIS, I liked. REAL swimmers probably don't care for it but as a crappy swimmer, I was all for it. After my first lap I was ahead (time wise) of any of my half Ironman swims so I was really happy. The second half of the swim was less brutal, though I still got beat up some.

I came out of the water in 1:27 and was ecstatic. My time was below average as a whole but was 15+ minutes faster than my Louisville time and I was so happy to be out of the slugfest.

Transition to the bike was fairly uneventful. Getting on the bike and out on the course was a bit frustrating due to the crowd and the stupid jerk who thought he was faster than me bitching about getting around people. I dropped that guy pretty quick and never heard from him again. I wish I could find him and have a conversation about how fast he WASN'T but pretended to be.

The bike course is almost all flat with a few small inclines. I thought I would enjoy this more than hills but I'm not so sure. With hills you get intense work followed by small rests. With a flat course it is intense work the entire day. That's a long 5+ hours.

A big knock on IM Florida is the bike course lends itself to drafting on the bike - many riders following closely to other riders, getting an advantage - similar to NASCAR drafting. This is ILLEGAL in Ironman triathlon. You are not allowed to draft off other people but it happens a lot, anyway. IM Florida is notorious for it because of the flat nature of the course and people being bunched up. I found myself, as a better-than-average cyclist, constantly battling this. I was passing people most of my race and didn't get into a groove until nearly four hours into the race.

For the first 80 mile we seemed to be fighting a headwind no matter which way we turned. Such is Florida weather. Finally at mile 82 we got a tailwind for about 12 miles. It was GLORIOUS. And then the rain started. Luckily it only last for a few miles. The last 10 miles or so were easy, though I did have to work past quite a few people who seemed to have pretty much shut down before the run.

I got to the run and had no idea what was to come. I tried to start running but within half a mile my hip was already hurting. I knew at that point it was going to be a long day. I just had to work through and somehow get finished.

I decided to try to be methodical. I'd run .2 miles and then walk .1 mile and repeat. When that didn't work I'd do time instead of distance. Run 2 minutes and walk 1 minute. I just kept doing these types of intervals over and over trying to get through.

Nearing the half-way point of the marathon I finally spotted my amazing wife. Words cannot express how happy I was to see her. With my GPS mishap I figured I wouldn't get to see her on the course. Thankfully, she is more awesome than me and she found me. She really is incredible and seeing her meant the world to me.

I got through the half-way point and she walked/jogged/talked with me for a couple miles. This helped me immensely. At about 10 miles left I said goodbye to her and began my final journey as darkness fell.

My pain gradually got worse but I tried to continue as I had done. My intervals got shorter because the pain got worse. With around 6 miles left it was fully dark and a lot of people were walking. The high temp and humidity had taken a toll on a lot of people. I've never seen so many people throwing up at a race. Taking on extra fluids while trying to run is not a good mix.

At about two miles remaining to the finish my Garmin's battery ran out. My lifeblood simply quit on me. Well, hell, I thought. It was all "feel" from there.

When I reached the last mile or so the crowds began to grow and I began to see many more racers trying to finish. I was determined to run across the finish line no matter what.

Even within that last mile I had to walk a little bit but was able to finish strong. Such a great feeling to cross that finish line.

My first Ironman at Louisville I felt like I left a lot on the course. I just didn't feel like I had left it all on the course and could've done a lot better. With this race, I knew I had done all my legs could do. I wasn't out of breath but I couldn't move much more.

In the end I was just a few minutes slower than Ironman Louisville in 2012 even with walking a good part of the marathon. I'm certainly happy about that but left with a big "what if."

Swim - 1:27:27 (2:15/100m)
T1   - 11:16
Bike - 5:30:04 (20.4 mph)
T2   - 8:23
Run  - 5:07:32 (11:32/mi)
TOTAL  12:24:42 [Place Overall/Div 667/2418 and 143/376]

Two weeks post-race as I write this I don't know what's ahead. I thought I'd never do another full Ironman again but who knows? If I can get back in healthy running shape I would consider it but for now I want to enjoy fitness for a while instead of being a slave to it.

This was a great and challenging adventure, both disappointing and satisfying. Upward and onward. Thanks to the Lord.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Hills Are Alive

Short and to the Point (sort of)
Detailed version below

Last fall (2013) a friend asked if I was interested in partaking in a 200-mile relay named Outback in the Ozarks (OTO). After taking time to think it over and consider my 2014 race calendar I said yes. I had heard about these types of races, one of the most popular being named Ragnar. If I understand correctly they will get as many as 1,000 teams. OTO is capped at 75 teams, which can be 8-12 runners (standard) or Ultra (6 or fewer). The most common format is a 12-person team. In our case we were doing a 6-person team.

The race is broken into 36 segments or “legs.” Each member would have to run a leg then each other member would run a leg and then repeat that cycle. You were not allowed to modify the order. In my case I had legs 1, 7, 13, 19, 25, 31. The legs varied in distance and difficulty. My legs totaled 37 miles. The race director said I had the most difficult overall legs and I have to say he was right but every runner had difficult legs. Nobody on an Ultra team had an easy time. It was a brutal challenge for all.

There was a lot of logistics and planning for this type of event. It’s not a matter of just going out and running. You need gear for 6 runs, gear for between runs, food for 30+ hours and fuel for runs, night gear, cold gear, warm gear, etc.

Then there is the matter of communication. This route is almost entirely in remote area, so cell service is spotty at best. Every three legs we had to do a vehicle exchange, which means we had a runner from one vehicle handing off to a runner from the other vehicle and so forth. For this to work best on the vehicle exchange legs we really needed to know when a runner was getting near the exchange so the next runner could be ready to go.

Our team did a nice job of most everything and had very few issues and no major ones that I can recall. In the future some sort of short wave radio or walkie talkies would be a good idea.

I fought injuries all through the winter and was worried about performing in the weeks leading to this race. I had some tune-up races that gave me some confidence. I had a good duathlon at Iron Pig (2nd in age group), 3rd in AG at Bentonville half marathon (1:31) and won my AG and finished 8th overall at the Komen 10K and set a personal best with a time of 40:05. With the injuries I fought through I had a hard time believing I would be ready for OTO but these races gave me a lot of confidence.

On to the race.

The crew at the race start.

And it begins. Starting behind the guy in black spandex was not a good idea.
My first leg started at Lake Leatherwood in Eureka Springs. It was cold (40 degrees) and the first mile+ was entirely uphill. After working my way past a large guy in spandex three of us broke away. The trail was nice but seemed to turn constantly and always went up. It was a rough start but at the top of the hill the trail ended and then it was mostly paved downhill and flat until the last mile where it turned to dirt road and one final nasty climb.

2nd leg was all single-track trail in Hobbs State Park that started at War Eagle visitor center. I had run this trail before so knew what to expect as far as I could remember. It was mostly up and down until mile 4 which was all uphill. Pretty rough climb. Actually,
2nd leg start.
really rough and I had to dodge several piles of horse dung.

3rd leg departed from Withrow Springs State Park in Huntsville. Started in daylight and ended in darkness. This was by far my easiest leg but also the longest at 7.5 miles. Nothing special to report here except I had to use pepper spray on a dog and that was the only time I had to do that, thankfully.

4th leg started around 2:30am. It was cold. I don’t know how cold but it was cold. The leg started with a hard climb and then was nice and easy for a few miles until the last 1.25 miles or so. That last bit was the hardest, longest, steepest climb I’ve ever attempted. I ended up walking most of it, since I could walk it nearly as fast as I could run it. I even passed a guy walking. That made me feel good.

5th leg was no joy either. 2 mile climb out of Lake Ft Smith Park. It wasn’t steep but it was constant. At this point my legs were hurting so bad I could barely walk without pain and anything downhill was excruciating. I did a walk/run method (30 seconds walk/30
5th leg complete.
seconds run) the entire climb and this seemed to work well. The last 4+ miles of this run was harder than the climb out because it was mostly downhill, which hurt way worse than the uphill parts. I was in so much pain it was near unbearable. I can’t even imagine what I looked like. Thankfully, no cameras in sight.

6th and final leg. This was arguably the worst leg of the race, not only with the terrain but it being so late in the race. It is 6.5 miles total with 4 miles of climbing with 3 of that being really pretty steep and on poor terrain where you slip and slide with
Start of 6th leg.
each step. I was so damn sore before this leg I really had no idea what to expect. I literally could not squat down and get back up without assistance.

There is something about racing that allows me to get to a deep painful area that I can’t get to in training. Part of the way through the 6th leg my teammates drove by and told me our team had the Ultra division wrapped up. All the other Ultra teams had either quit or were so far behind they couldn’t possibly catch us. I did appreciate knowing this fact but it really didn’t change my race leg. I was going to do the best I could do without injuring myself.

It was my slowest leg by a long shot but still better than what I thought I could do. I finished 37 miles at 8:25 pace and my team won the Ultra division. It really was an ideal outcome and I have no complaints. My teammates were really incredible and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone.

My race details:

My Leg
Overall Leg
Elevation Gain
Elevation Loss
Net Elevation
Very Hard
Very Hard
Very Hard



The Long Version (you are warned!)

The Beginning

What started out as a crazy idea turned into an adventure I’ll never forget. Sometime back in fall 2013 a good friend, L (I’ll use initials to protect the innocent!), approached me with an idea of doing a 200-mile running relay called Outback in the Ozarks. I had heard of these types of events, one called Ragnar being the most popular. Never really had a desire to do one but I wasn’t committed to a big triathlon for 2014, so after consideration I decided to sign up for it.

Training for big endurance events rarely happen without bumps in the road. Summer and fall 2013 I was arguably in the best running shape of my adult life. I was getting in a lot of miles and my training paces improved fairly dramatically. In September I ran a half marathon in NJ. It was impromptu as my wife and I were there for a football game and the race happened to start and end at the hotel we were staying at. I just couldn’t pass it up and it was a nice flat course, which we don’t have much here in Arkansas. My previous best time was 1:41 and I really just wanted to someday get below 1:40. Not only did I do that I actually ran 1:30. Never in my life did I think I could run that fast.

I was on cloud nine. Until December. The dreaded iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) hit me and hit me hard. It literally stopped me in my tracks one day. I had never had it, though it seems inevitable for most runners. It is extremely painful and can take months to fix, most of which means no running. I’m not good at taking it easy, so getting this fixed was a challenge. All the while I was worried I would have to bail on the team. This was one of my main concerns signing up in the first place. It’s one thing if I get injured and miss a race because I’m only hurting myself. It’s another when you impact others. And it’s not very easy to get replacements to do a 200-mile relay.

By late March the IT band was largely healed, though it still let me know it would gladly flare up again if I didn’t give it due attention. This really made me focus on icing, rolling, stretching, strengthening my glutes and hips, and cleaning up and focusing on my running form. The body has a way of telling you how it needs to be treated. The difficult part is listening.

In early April, less than a month from the race, I ran the Bentonville half marathon, a race which I had attempted a couple times before but was unable to attend because of injuries or other races. I really wanted to do this race. It proved to be the test I was looking for. I finished in 1:31, which validated that I was again pretty healthy and that the NJ half was not a fluke.

Of course, a week later I woke up one morning with a horrible pain in the back of my knee where the hamstring connects to the calf. I had only had that pain once before and it was years ago prior to my hip replacement during my first marathon training. Almost impossible to diagnose. I was panicking a little and didn’t want to alarm my team, so I took about a week off and iced, rolled and stretched like crazy. This was absolutely a horrible time to get a nagging injury but thankfully it was all but totally gone a week before the race.

The Description

Our team was running in the Ultra division, which meant 6 or fewer runners. Standard teams had 8-12 runners with the vast majority having 12. An event like this is not just a race. It requires a tremendous amount of planning and logistics. We had a really great team of committed runners. Everyone contributed in the planning and preparation and all seemed to be training well. I felt good about our chances to not only finish the race but perform well.

We initially were going to be limited to one vehicle, which would’ve been a challenge but the week before the race the director told us we could use two. This was a huge help but also brought additional logistical challenges for transferring between runners and communicating – more on that later.

The route.

The format of the race was each runner would run a leg (or segment) followed by another runner until all six had run then repeat that five more times. So each runner would do six runs but each runner would have 4-5 hours downtime between legs. This may sound good but in reality it’s more difficult than running the same distance without resting. The rest periods only cause your muscles to get stiff and sore and swollen. The longer you go the hard it is to run again.

In my case I had legs 1, 7, 13, 19, 25 and 31. The distance totaled 37 miles and I had the most difficult rated overall run but make no mistake – none of the runners had overall easy runs.

Our team consisted of truck 1: myself, L (the organizer and team leader), N (L’s brother) and truck 2: CS (we call him the sandbagger or Mr. Chicked), CH (the youngster), JH (CH’s wife, truck 2 driver and team cheerleader and general studette), and D (the steely veteran and the only one with Ultra running experience).

The team did a good job with prep. It takes a lot of gear for 36 legs of running, food and drink for 30+ hours, night gear, cold gear, warm gear, resting gear, cleanup supplies, etc. It’s really quite an ordeal but we seemed to have all the bases covered and really had no major issues. I think it would’ve been much more difficult with one vehicle, so having two was a nice thing.

The race route took place in the Ozark Mountains. Of course the Ozarks aren’t the Rockies but make no mistake the terrain is hilly and extremely varied. Probably 15-20% of the route was on paved surface and the rest was on dirt roads and single-track trails. I didn’t fully understand how much was on dirt roads until the pre-race meeting. It wasn’t real clear on the route description but it wasn’t a big deal. I did modify my shoe selection slightly but in the end I think it was actually better on my legs, especially my hip.

The route began in Eureka Springs down to War Eagle Mill over to Withrow Springs State Park in Huntsville to Crosses (Elkins area) down to Lake Ft Smith up to Devil’s Den and finishing at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park. 200 miles and 16,000+ feet of climbing.

Time to Race

Teams were split into two start times based on average submitted 10K race times, 7 and 8am, on May 2nd. We had an 8am start along with 7 other teams. It was chilly. High 30s/Low 40s but the start was down in a valley so it felt even colder. Considering it SNOWED the year before, I wasn’t complaining too much.

I had the first leg and it started on a single-track trail at Lake Leatherwood park. It was a sprint at the start as most everyone wanted to get a good position. I started behind a, um, heavy set guy wearing a triathlon kit – read: spandex/lycra shorts and shirt. It was not a pretty sight. At all.

Of course as we hit the climb within the first hundred yards he (lycra guy) was winded and I had to work my way around him. 3 of us broke away from the rest as the climb got steeper. The first mile and a quarter was a long climb. Not a fun way to begin a race. On the last steep part the other two guys dropped me and I couldn’t catch up. After cresting the hill the trail ended and the route moved to pavement. A nice downhill followed toward downtown Eureka Springs and then south with one final steep climb before handing off to N. This leg was 6.27 miles and I finished in 49:22/7:53 pace. Way faster than I had planned, especially given the hard climbs, but I felt great and got our team off to a good start.

Truck 2 was also there as I handed off. We made sure that our entire team cheered on each runner for their first leg. Encouragement is a powerful thing. After all the first legs were complete each truck would only meet up at transitions where we handed off to runners in the other truck. This allowed the “inactive” truck to go ahead to the next major transition and get some rest and downtime.

N had a long first leg and really killed the time. Incredible run. L took off on his run, also pretty long, and we took some time for N to recover before driving ahead to meet L at the next transition. On the way we caught up to L as he was on a pretty nasty climb. N and I noticed a sizeable woman on his heels. N and L have a good sibling rivalry, so as we caught up to L we rolled down the windows and N gave L a pretty hard time about how he was about to get passed by a girl on a hill. It was pretty funny. For the record L did not let her pass even if he had to run harder than he wanted. And that girl was impressive. She was not your prototypical runner, not fat, just big, but she was moving. Very impressive. Anyway, a funny start to the day.

We got to the transition, which was the first “vehicle exchange” for us, which meant a runner from one vehicle was handing off to a runner from the other vehicle. This is a critical moment in these types of races. Both vehicles met up and we waited around for L to arrive. His leg was pretty long and fairly difficult so we knew he would be a while. CS was the next runner and he was mostly ready to go, just hanging out and trying to get loose. At one point CH saw a runner arriving and jokingly told CS that L was here, because he didn’t think it was really L. He just wanted to give CS a hard time.

Well, sure enough it actually was L arriving! CS was suddenly rushing to get his shirt and race bib and running over to get the baton from L. Meanwhile L couldn’t see CS so he started yelling for him. After only a few seconds CS was able to take the handoff and started sprinting down the road. We all got a good laugh.

CS had a mostly downhill leg so we didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. He looked great as we drove him by on the way to the next transition. He really smoked the run but after he handed off to CH he told us how he got “chicked” by this girl who just shot by him like he was standing still. I can’t do the story justice but it was funny how he told it. CS had a really good run time and she just blew by him. As it turns out I was able to find photographic evidence, which I will post for posterity’s sake.
The chicking begins.

And she gone!

CH and D both had difficult legs and both did really well. The temps started to get hot as well with the sun searing down with nary a cloud in the sky. The humidity wasn’t too bad but the sun was definitely heating things up. The dirt roads were a veritable fog of dust with all the team vehicles moving to the transition areas. It really was brutal and both guys did a great job.

My second leg was up next and it was entirely on the War Eagle trail at Hobbs State Park. It was a fairly short leg at 4.9 miles and happened to be on a trail I had raced on before at the War Eagle 25K ( – my first and only trail race at that point. The trails at Hobbs are top quality single-track. You are almost always going up or down. The first three miles were fairly uneventful as you go down to the bottom of the valley. The entire 4th mile is a climb back up to the top. It was rough and relentless. At one point my hamstring felt like it was on the verge of cramping so I backed off a bit. After cresting the hill and dodging a few patches of horse dung I was able to cruise into the transition. 4.9 miles in 39:47/8:08 pace.

After N and L finished their legs we were able to move to the next major vehicle exchange at Withrow Springs State Park in Huntsville. We had a nice, long break here and were able to get a shower and Olive Garden provided a hot meal for everyone. It was nice
Olive Garden catered food. Nice change from gels.
to eat some solid food and get some rest.

My next leg would start in daylight but turn to darkness before I would finish. This would be my longest leg at 7.5 miles but it was rated moderate, so not too difficult. It was basically rolling hills the entire leg. Almost always going up or down. Mostly dirt but some pavement in the middle. Got chased by dogs and had to pepper spray one of them. Luckily that was the only time the entire race I had trouble with dogs. Quite surprising given where we ran, but the race directors went door to door along the route to let them know about the race. I believe that helped immensely. I was moving pretty good and felt good, despite the darkness and cold setting in. 7.5 miles in 58:10/7:46 pace. For my third leg I was very happy as this was a lot faster than I expected I could do.
At this point I was really starting to get sore and stiff between legs. I wore full-length compression leggings between each leg, which did help, but there is little you can do to stop the onset of the pain related to the muscle breakdown.

I don’t remember much about N’s leg but he ran an excellent time. By this time it is pitch black. No moon and a cloudless sky made the stars really stand out. It was beautiful. At this point L would not agree. We knew his leg would be tough, I believe it was likely the toughest of the race, but to add insult to injury it measured 1.2 miles longer than expected. That’s just brutal and unfair. At that point there was carnage all over the course. Runners were walking and team places were falling apart.

While waiting for L to arrive we talked to another team’s runner who was waiting for his teammate to arrive. He was a 60-year old man who happened to be on one of the other three Ultra teams. Their team only had four members. We thought a six-member team was crazy, four is certifiable! His team was made up of two runners who had done 100-mile individual runs plus two others (he was one) who had done 50-milers. These were experienced Ultra runners and this man told us this was the hardest race he had done and we were only a third of the way through.

At that point that 4-person team and one other Ultra team was ahead of us on total race time. When L arrived we were suddenly in the lead and we would never relinquish. After handing off to CS we were able to move on to Crosses for the next vehicle exchange. This next exchange was at a café in Crosses called the Pig Trail Bypass Cafe. The café owner graciously stayed open and offered space to sleep (or try to) and get a hot meal and all the other amenities you normally find at a convenience store. Truly a blessing to have this.

N, L and I all got something to eat from the grill at the café and then attempted to sleep. I know I didn’t sleep at all and I don’t think the other guys did either, at least certainly not much. I did lie down for a good while, which was good for my legs. A little after 2am I got up and bought some coffee and started stirring around. We expected D to arrive a little after 2:30. It was cold out. Cold enough to wear running pants and three layers on top. D arrived about when we thought he would and he was looking good. D always had a smile on his face! We were officially half way through the legs.

I knew this leg, 19, was all pavement and had a climb to begin and one to end and I knew they would both hurt. The first quarter mile was straight up and then it flattened out for a mile and a half or so then gradually rose for two miles. The last mile and a quarter was horrible. Brutal climb that just seemed to keep going and going. I had already decided that I would probably need to walk part of this hill to keep from hurting myself for the last two legs, plus I could walk it just as fast as I could run at that point.

As I approached the hill I could see another runner in the distance and his vehicle was following him. This was allowed on certain legs for safety reasons. I had passed people on the previous two legs and wanted to pass this guy, too. It may sound petty or too competitive but it’s something that motivates me. As I started up the steep part of the climb I began to walk briskly. Within a couple minutes I had caught the other guy and soon passed him – walking. We both grumbled to each other about the hill and I left him.

Each time I saw a turn I thought I was reaching the top but it just kept going up. There was over 900 feet of elevation gain over that last mile. It was just stupid. Seriously, stupid. I did finally make it to the top and the transition was right there. Thank goodness it was over. 5.36 miles in 47:54/8:57 pace. To stay under 9:00 pace with that hill was remarkable for me. I was ecstatic but the soreness was getting worse.

N and L had fairly easy and somewhat short legs and they both ran very fast. We transitioned to truck 2 and then we headed down to Lake Ft Smith. It was a 30 minute drive and was pretty quiet. I think N and L both may have napped a little. We were all very tired at this point as we had been awake 24 hours and still had two legs each to run.

As we pulled off Highway 71 into the park we took notice how far downhill the drive was (since I had to run back out the same way). This was not good. I knew there was a climb out of the park but didn’t realize how steep and long it was. I’m not sure if it was good to know this before I ran or not, but regardless, I now knew what to expect on my next run.

Lake Ft Smith Park is fairly new and is very nice. They have a top notch bathroom and shower facility with hot water. We all got refreshed and ate a little and rested while waiting for truck 2 to come in.

Probably a little late to mention this but the cell service on most of the race route was very poor and non-existent over a good portion, so it was near impossible to communicate with the other vehicle to know when they were approaching for a transition. In this type of race it really is critical to know where runners are. It allows the next runner to know exactly when to be prepared to run. This was one of the biggest problems we had over the entire race but we got through it.

Daylight was finally arriving and we all made it through the darkness. Before the race each of us estimated our race leg times in a spreadsheet, so we had expected times on start and finish of each leg and overall race time. As we finished legs, N (who did a fantastic job of creating and managing this) would update the actual times, so we would have a pretty good estimate of when transitions would occur. This was a great tool and especially useful given the poor cellular connections.

I was really anxious to start my 5th leg (25 overall team leg). The soreness had reached very painful levels. It was difficult to walk. Very difficult. Getting out of the truck or walking down steps or down a hill hurt a lot. I really doubted how I was going to be able to finish.

Truck 2 arrived so we knew D would be arriving in the next 10-15 minutes. It was cold and I just wanted to get it over with. As I waited for D it was cold out. I didn’t dress too warmly because I knew the sun would warm me on the run. I was shivering while waiting so motioned for my truck to drive up so I could get inside while we waited. Unfortunately for L and N when I got in the truck they got a full whiff of the Biofreeze I had sprayed on both legs to get the blood flowing. It was a STRONG smell and I felt bad … but not too bad.

We saw D coming in so I jumped out and got ready for the baton (which was a bracelet that snaps around the wrist with a single “whack”). D was smiling ear to ear. He was way too happy but truly had the right attitude. This course is the epitome of beautiful and this particular area is really one of the most beautiful in the US. Add a beautiful sunrise to it and I can understand while D was smiling.

I had a new plan for this leg given the long climb out of the park and how sore my legs were. I was going to do a walk-run strategy. This has been popularized by Jeff Galloway, a famed runner and running coach, and is sometimes referred to as Gallow-walking. It wasn’t something I wanted to do but I thought it would be a way to help me keep some sort of decent pace getting up the climb. I could barely walk at this point so I didn’t know what to expect.

The two miles out of the park were all uphill but the steep part of the climb was a mile in. I was able to (sort of) run the first mile and then started the run/walk. This worked pretty well. By the time I got to the top I actually felt okay and somewhat relieved. The next 4.5 miles were mostly downhill. O.M.G. those miles hurt something awful. As silly as it sounds I would’ve rather run up more hills than go down. The pain going downhill was near unbearable.

I looked (and felt) like a 90 year old man shuffling down the hill. I just kept telling myself it was almost over. This leg and one more and done. I kept telling myself that. I made it to the turn off Highway 71 and I knew it was a short run to the transition. While only a short distance this proved to be one of my most dangerous portions of all my runs.

The run into the transition from Highway 71 was steep downhill and very curvy. The transition was in the parking lot of a business just after a curve. As I rounded the curve a frigging taxi van almost hit me. A TAXI in Chester! It was flying, probably 45 MPH around the curve. It would figure of all the extreme events I’ve done I would get killed by a soccer mom taxi in Chester. The guy seriously was a foot from hitting me and I was 10 feet from the driveway of safety.

First off, what in hades is a taxi doing in Chester? I mean really? Secondly, why is any sane human being going those speeds on that road. If I could find that person the results would not be pretty.

Anyway, I was finally done and still alive, no thanks to the a-hole taxi van. 6.6 miles in 56:00/8:30 pace. I was amazed the run/walk really paid off on the climb and then I was able to keep a good pace down to the finish. One more leg to go.

N had a pretty easy leg out of Chester but L was not so lucky. He had a hilly run toward Devil’s Den but still ran very well and had an excellent time and pace.

At this point, truck 1 had only one leg remaining. As sore as we were, we were still excited at the prospects of finishing. We drove ahead to Devil’s Den for the last vehicle exchange. The drive was all dirt road and pretty rough terrain. This was the roughest road we had experienced since L’s leg 15. As we got closer to Devil’s Den I started getting a bad feeling, because I thought I recognized the route from the maps. We drove down a long, steep hill and I told L and N that I thought this was the way back out. Sure enough, on the way to the transition we saw signs behind us going the other direction for leg 31 (re: me). As if I needed more stress to finish, the drive down the hills was very disturbing.

On our final bit to transition we saw a couple runners and dog chasing after them. It looked (at first) like the dog was trying to “get” them but nothing seemed bad and we drove through. We got parked and knew we had a while to hang out so we ate, drank and rested.

During this rest period we watched as that previously mentioned dog followed runners into transition and then would follow the new runners out. It didn’t want to hurt anyone at all. It just wanted to run. Apparently it had been doing it for a while, according to the
Best runner on the course.
race officials. More later on the dog.

We were able to relax for a while in the shade of the trees at Devil’s Den. This is a truly beautiful park with trails, caves, streams, etc. The campsites were full and there were a lot of people around but it was surprisingly quiet. We had zero cell reception so we waited impatiently for truck 2 to arrive. By this point we had a good feeling for when other teams started arriving we knew within a certain time period our teammate would arrive.

Strangely, nothing happened for a while and then little by little some runners came in. You could tell the race was taking its toll. I was so anxious I could barely contain myself. I had one last brutal leg and I would be done. This was arguably the hardest leg but I still think L’s leg 15 was as bad. This one was so bad because it was a 4 mile climb out of Devil’s Den, much of it very steep. None of this gave me a good feeling at all.

When we saw truck 2 come around the corner I got a rush of excitement. I knew this was almost over. We talked to truck 2 after they arrived and got the status of everything. We were all still in pretty good shape. We thought we were in the lead of the Ultra teams but weren’t positive.

D arrived shortly and handed off to me and I took off. The dog was gone but I would’ve loved to have run with him. The first mile was all pavement and mostly flat minus the small climb at the very beginning. I was so dang sore I just wanted to do what I could. Doing a squat down and then up was impossible without assistance. I had never felt this much pain during a race, even in an Ironman event.

After a mile the road turned to dirt but was still flat. Shortly after getting off the pavement a runner was coming the other direction (re: behind us) and mentioned to me that there was a huge climb two miles ahead. I sarcastically told him I was aware and moved on. Really? There wasn’t a need to tell me that. I should’ve thrown a rock at him.

Soon after the “informer” my truck came up and L told me that we basically had the Ultra division won. The next closest team behind us (the 4-person team) finally quit and the team behind them was three exchanges behind us. We could limp in and win the Ultra division, so they told me to take it easy. I decided to do what I could do. I was already in pain and knew I could finish. Onward I went.

I knew what was coming. It was just a matter of when. I got to mile 3 and I could tell things were moving up already. I got to about 3.3 and the road turned for the worst. Straight uphill and slippery gravel. Each step I took I was slipping. The gravel was so thick you couldn’t keep from slipping. This trend lasted the remainder of the leg.

I soon started my 30/30 walk/run strategy. It was my last leg and I was hurting badly. The climb out was steep but beyond steep they were treacherous. They were simple gravel/dirt roads but they had a lot of gravel applied so they were slick. Very slick. I had to continually look for paths where tires had slightly worn a path which was easier to run on. During a time where I really needed to zone out I was constantly having to find a good running path.

Before I knew it I was actually getting close to the finish. I knew the expected distance of my run and was keeping current with my GPS watch. As I got closer to the finish I looked for the “1 mile to go” sign but never saw it. I got very discouraged (and really pissed off), because I was SURE that the course was going to end up being longer than advertised.

I kept doing my 30/30 strategy except when I encountered flat spots, where I would run more. As I rounded a corner and another climb I saw what appeared to be a transition area. Sure enough the closer I got the more I realized the end was near. I kicked it in gear up the last hill and I saw L running off to get N for our transition. Clearly, they weren’t ready for me. I think I was a good 10-15 minutes earlier than expected. This was similar (but longer) to L’s first transition to CS, which was talked about earlier. L and I got a good laugh about it.

I was DONE. DONE. DONE! I was so happy to be finished it was really indescribable.  That last leg was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. 6.43 miles in 1:00/9:24 pace.

One thing I forgot to mention is that leg 31 is part of a contest called Running from the Devil. Fleet Feet Sports times each runner and each fastest male and female win a pair of shoes. I knew I had no chance given I was an Ultra runner but I still finished 6th out of the 16 teams. Surprised and pleased with those results.

How I stayed under 10 minute pace is beyond me. The pain was truly horrible but somehow the mind is able to overcome the body and that is the key.

It was a “relatively” easy run in for the rest of the team but everyone was exhausted and sore, so nothing was truly easy. We met truck 2 at the final vehicle exchange at a beautiful area out south of Hogeye. I think truck 2 was even able to nap a bit under some trees before we arrived. The weather was perfect for that. It really was a gorgeous day in northwest Arkansas.

We chatted for a bit while waiting for L to come in and hand off to CS. When that occurred, our truck was done. We drove up to the finish, got some food and waited for the rest of the team to come in. As D came into Prairie Grove we all met him and crossed the finish line together. It was an incredible feeling and accomplishment. We all stayed relative uninjured, except for CH who suffered from some bad IT pain.

We had a tremendously fun time and won the Ultra division. As it turns out we won that division and none of the other teams were even able to finish. I think that fact alone speaks volumes for our team. This event is difficult for 12-person teams but super difficult for 6-person teams. Given the choice I would choose a 6-person team every time.

I’ve had a lot of great moments and achievements as an individual competitor (albeit mostly local events) but I must say this is one of my most proud ones. I’m honored to have raced with this group.

Who knows what may be next but this was unforgettable!

Thank you team Misery Loves Company!

N handing off to L

An example time sheet at each transition.

The finish line.

Air compression for sore legs.

Me and the Ultra 1st place trophy.

Team Misery Loves Company.

The trophy.

I wore these tights after each leg. Very helpful to keep blood flowing.

Race Results

2014 Division Winners:

Outback Champions Team eNeRGy 29:04:06
Men’s Division Runnin Rednecks 32:30:25
Open Division Team eNeRGy 29:04:06
Masters Division 501 Years of Experience 31:38:14
Ultra Division Misery Loves Company 31:39:14

Final finishing times for Competitive* teams:

Start Time Team Name Finishing
8:00 Team eNeRGy 29:04:06
7:00 Rundown 30:14:35
8:00 The Mud Hogs 30:19:20
8:00 Lake Area Runners 30:28:15
8:00 Misery Loves Company 31:39:25
7:00 501 Years of Experience 31:58:20
7:00 Soul Runners 32:11:15
7:00 Zen-E-Thang But 32:26:30
8:00 Running Rednecks 32:30:15
7:00 On the Run 33:02:14
7:00 GBP Final Cut 33:05:12
7:00 White River Roadrunners 33:25:15
7:00 Between a Walk and a Hard Pace 35:19:49
7:00 Blazing Saddles 35:39:20

Final finishing times for Non-Competitive** teams

Start Time Team Name Finishing

7:00 #idontquit 35:53:04
7:00 Retail Speed 00:32:01

Fleet Feet Timed: Running From the Devil


Team Number Runner Start Finish Time Place
17 – 1st Male Steve Latford 12:23:05 1:12:20 49:15 1st
15 David Hunsucker 9:31:25 10:21:40 50:15 2nd
9 Nathan Venable 11:07:10 11:57:30 50:20 3rd
1 Jake Anton 9:27:35 10:24:10 56:35 4th
4 Jason Thomas 11:27:15 12:27:11 59:56 5th
13 Scott Hamilton 11:16:40 12:17:15 1:00:35 6th
11 Adam Hogue 11:54:40 12:56:50 1:02:10 7th
8 Robert Bolaing 10:52:50 11:57:15 1:04:25 8th
2 Micahel Hittson 1:29:55 2:34:30 1:04:35 9th
10 Derek Kilgo 11:28:15 12:34:45 1:06:30 10th
19 Todd Raney 10:22:10 11:35:30 1:13:20 11th
16 Chris Little 1:40:30 2:54:25 1:13:55 12th
12 Bruce Williams 10:11:05 11:25:35 1:14:30 13th
18 Noah Hansen 12:11:10 1:28:05 1:14:30 14th
7 Jeremiah Thacker 10:51:05 12:08:29 1:17:24 15th
3 - 1st Female Valerie Hunt 1:50:20 3:23:10 1:32:50 16th