It's been about 6 weeks since I've done this blog thing, so let's see how it goes.
2015 has been a tumultuous running season. I've ranted a bit about how awful things have been, and that's not really fair. In fact, it's mostly just me being a big crybaby. The fact is, it's been a great year. I've traveled to a lot of amazing locations where I was able to run, and in a few cases, vomit and become delirious. Brazil comes to mind right away.
I won more races and set more course records this year than any other year. And I've also dropped from a record number of races. Those two facts may have a lot to do with each other. And as humans, we all tend to remember the bad times far longer than the good times. Thus...the general sense that it's been a terrible season.
The truth is, I have a lot to be very thankful for.
As the year winds down, I was eager to return to Ville Platte, Louisiana, to run the Cajun Coyote 100. I've run this race before and I love all the great people associated with it.
More than anything, I wanted to have a good run. A good race would also be nice, but I was far more focused on having a solid run that would help me build my confidence after a few tough races. I removed all the peripheral annoyances that tend to add stress to my running leading up to this race and I just focused on keeping things fun and easy. Not always as easy as it sounds.
This race is made up from five, 20 mile loops through the Chicot State Park. Some people hate loops, but I usually enjoy them. They say course knowledge makes a big difference in a race. After seeing the same 20 mile loop a few times, it's hard to become any more knowledgeable.
The weather was perfect! Mid 30's for the low and mid 60's for the high. Humidity would be tolerable. I was ready to go.
At 6:35 AM. we were off.
My plan was pretty simple. I was going to hang back in the pack, somewhere around 5th place, and coast through the first 20 miles. So obviously, I locked onto the heels of the leader and immediately abandoned my plan.
Ed Melancon was leading and he looked fit. Ed won the race in 2014 and I figured he would lead a lot of the race, if not all of it. I wasn't in perfect 100 mile condition, so chasing Ed was mostly for entertainment.
After the first mile, I let a runner pass me, dropping to 3rd place. I followed the two men up front and watched the early miles of the race play out. I felt like Ed was already being protective of the lead. I dropped back 50 yards behind them and kept an eye of things, wondering if they would make it a fight to the death. Because honestly, for me to advance, one of them was going to need to die. I didn't feel like running any harder than I already was.
After a few miles, I ran back to the front and chatted with the leaders for a few minutes before telling them I was going to drop to 5th place. Which is exactly what I did. For about 3 minutes. The pace felt wrong so I went back up to 3rd.
After several more miles, I had lost sight of the leaders, and the noise of runners from behind had faded.
I didn't know it at the time, but I would be running alone like this until I picked up my pacer at mile 60. The only people I saw were race volunteers.
Coming to Aid at Mile 16
My beautiful bride was working the aid station at mile 16. I handed her my pack, and headed out to finish the last 4 miles of my first lap. Jo took my pack to the next aid station, where she would have it replenished and ready to go for the next 20 mile loop.
This was repeated for almost all of the race, as Jo worked both aid stations the entire time I ran the 100 miles. She's tireless.
Coasting in at 20 Miles
When people think of Louisiana trail running, they assume it's dead flat. They would be wrong. This isn't a mountain race, but it has a ton of steep hills to navigate, especially in the first half of the loop. I was already dreading the thought of starting the next loop, but I headed right back out without wasting any time at the aid station.
Running all by myself on the second loop made it hard to keep focus. My mind kept drifting off, like it often does in long races, and I would suddenly find myself trotting along at a 12 minute pace, thinking about something mundane like lily pads. Seriously though...I don't understand them.
Coming Into Mile 36
Again, Jo took my pack and we went our own, separate routes back to the start/finish line.
When I finished my second loop, my pacer, Burke Jones, was waiting to see me. I had to finish my 3rd loop before he could join in on the fun, but I took a few minutes to update him on the first 40 miles.
Burke paced me to my first 100 mile win and we get along well on the trail. He knows how to handle me as well as any pacer I've ever had, and I was looking forward to running with him.
Giving Burke a Status Update
Taking Instruction From a Damn Good Crew
In previous years, we were allowed to run the 3rd loop in reverse, but this year, we had to maintain the same direction for all 5 loops. It may sound silly, but switching directions really makes a big difference and keeps things interesting. Begrudgingly, I headed out for my 3rd loop, which incidentally, looked exactly like the first two.
My left knee had begun to act up. It felt swollen and painful, but I kept running and tried to ignore it. I had taken a bad fall while running in Florida a few weeks earlier and it became evident that my knee hadn't completely healed.
By the way...I'm still all by myself out there. And it was getting dark. Where the hell was everybody?!?!
Coming in at Mile 56
When I got to the aid station at mile 56, I remarked about how quickly the sun was setting. It was only around 5:00 PM and I expected another hour of daylight. I didn't have a headlamp with me, but I only had 4 miles to go before I could get my night running gear. I figured if it got dark before I got there, I could use the flashlight on my iPhone to make my way into the mile 60 aid station.
I handed Jo my pack and then hurried off down the trail.
Just Making Out With a Hottie Real Quick
Within a half mile, it was dark. That's when I realized I had just handed my iPhone to my wife...because it was in my pack. LOVELY!
I spent the next 3 miles, stumbling through the dark.
Interesting Fact: The swamp gets pretty lively when the sun sets. That's all I have to say about that.
I eventually made it to the Mile 60 aid station, which was never a sure thing. I grabbed my fresh pack, a headlamp and a light jacket before heading out with Burke.
I gave Burke another update. It went like this:
1. My left knee is killing me
2. We'll be walking a lot of the hilliest front section
3. I'm pretty sure swamp monsters are real
Burke and I made every reasonable effort to run with deliberation. We mostly failed. Every time we got a good pace going, one of us would kick a root and nearly kill ourselves. But it was mostly me and almost always with the big toe on my left foot. It was funny the first 10 or 12 times, but it started to get old after that. And very painful.
Somewhere around mile 67 and again at mile 70, we were jumped by wild and random armadillos. After a few tense moments, we were able to stare them down, which is really our only defense against armadillos. I really, really dislike armadillos. They have no place in this modern world.
At mile 72, Burke was attacked by a bird, which is strange on so many levels. It evidently dropped from the night sky and bit him. For real. I was there to witness his terror.
By the time we finished the 4th loop, we were battle worn and ready to get this thing over with.
My left knee was really killing me and my left quad was swollen and screaming.
Taking Some Meds For Pain
The last loop was going to suck.
As expected, the final loop was fairly miserable. Burke and I had developed a new rule. We only ran on trail surfaces that we completely trusted. We were both battered from tripping and I was pretty sure my big toe was just rattling around in my shoe at this point, totally detached.
We were still running in 3rd place, as I had been since mile 3, and I kinda thought it would be a nice place to finish. I passively started to monitor the trail behind us, looking for oncoming headlamps. Not like I was paranoid or anything, I was playing it cool. I just didn't really want to be passed at mile 99 and suddenly slip off the podium after holding my spot all day.
The 5th loop was a stark contrast from the 4th. Nothing attacked us at all. Aside from a couple of maniacal deer, we didn't see anything.
We were moving ridiculously slow, but I really didn't care. I felt pretty secure in 3rd place and finishing 20 minutes earlier wasn't going to make any sort of difference.
Burke and I crossed the finish line in 21:55, and I think it's fair to say that we were pretty happy to be done.
Super Tired, and More Than a Little Worried About my Toe
I was very pleased with how well my fueling went. I relied almost exclusively on Hammer Gels and Endurolyte Fizz Tabs for the entire race and they never failed me!
I also got a chance to put my new Topo Athletic MT-2's to a real test. I loved the older version and it looks like the new model will be a huge success too. Aside from ripping my toe off, my feet came out looking great.
I'm pretty sure I'm not done racing for the year, but if my next race doesn't go well, I'm not going to write about it. I'll just pretend my year ended on this high note.
Thanks for reading! I hope to see many of you very soon, out on the trails!