Forum: Mohican 100 Mile, 50 Mile and Marathon Runs
Why would anyone want to run 100 miles? It hurts. It does unpleasant things to your digestive system. It is beyond physically exhausting. The prize at the end is a belt buckle that will sit on a shelf. So why on earth would anyone want to pay good money to do this?
Let's see if we can figure this out.
Training partner Dennis Hanna, webmaster/husband Bill Flaws, and I got up at 3:30 am EDT (that's 2:30 am for our CDT bodies) Saturday morning, and arrived at the start of the Mohican 100 Mile Trail run at 4:30 am. We took care of last minute details, such as dropping of gear bins, and walked to the start line.
The 100 milers start in the dark, at 5:00 am, and need to finish within 32 hours... for the math-challenged... we need to finish by 1:00 pm tomorrow.
As we wait for the start, we think about why we are doing this. Answer: Its an adventure, a challenge.
We can hear an announcer speaking, but cannot make out any words, and cross our fingers that he is not saying anything that wasn't covered on the website.
Without hearing any kind of official start, the field simply started moving. "Oh, I guess its time" we muttered to each other.
Our 100 mile journey is a loop course that we will do 4 times. There are 5 aid stations per loop. Between the second and third aid stations, there is a short way, and a long way. We do the long way the first 2 times, and the short way the second 2. We visit the same aid stations on every loop.
The first mile is on road, allowing the field to thin out, and folks to find their correct placement in the field based on pace. When we get to the trail, it will be mostly narrow single track, where passing requires some participation of the passee.
The sun emerged enough to turn off our lights before we reached the first aid station. I noted the time was about 5:45, knowing that this information will be valuable in about 24 hours.
We arrive at the first aid station as the sun is waking up. A quick stop to fill bottles, get a small snack and continue on.
Now that its light out, we can relax and socialize a bit. Though our eyes are strongly focused on the footing just ahead of us, our ears are tuned in to the sounds behind us.
Conversations for the next many many miles went like this: "Hello new footsteps behind us." "Where are you from?" "Have you done this one before?" "Is any of your family here?" "What do you do for a living?" There was Quinn from Nebraska who has kids ages 1, 9 and 15. Toni from Indiana is making her second attempt at the distance. Unnamed lady from Michigan had to build an automatic chicken door before leaving for this trip. Karen from Illinois has gaitors that her husband made from his old running tights.
We spent the majority of our first loop socializing with other runners. At this point, an answer to why are we doing this: The sense of community and camaraderie. This is a group of people that we feel very comfortable with. There is a definite sense of 'we are all in this together' among ultra runners, especially in a 100 miler.
We finished loop 1, and headed out for loop 2 at about 11:40 am. To break things up, Dennis suggested we use our iPods for this loop. I opted to bring my camera along.
The field has thinned out, and we won't see as many runners this time around. We've gotten familiar with the course, and can give a little of our attention to the scenery, and enjoy a little music.
This course is brutal and beautiful. The hill climbs are so steep, that we need to turn sideways so that our feet can better grip the surface... and they seemed to last forever. Downed trees from the recent storms provide climbing obstacles for us.
The trail is mostly in full shade.
We have short stretches in full sun where we can feel the heat, but in the shade, things are pretty comfortable. The under brush ranges from nearly none, to so thick it feels like we
are in a tunnel. Foot bridges over little streams interject our route.
Many parts of our trail are shared by mountain bikes, which we need to watch out for. This terrain is rugged on foot. I can't imagine doing this on wheels.
They come at us from the front, and though we have been instructed to yield to them, many of them are aware of our endeavor, and yield to us, and offer encouragement.
The true star of this show, is the section between the second (Fire Tower) and third (Covered Bridge) aid stations.
This is the section we will only do twice. (We take a shorter route for the last 2 loops.) This section includes Big Lyons Falls, and Little Lyons Falls, both popular attractions in the Mohican State Park.
We reach Big Lyons Falls after descending a couple hundred steps. The course takes us around the base of the falls. Following this attraction, is a section through a gorge.The trail criss-crosses with the stream at the bottom, and is rippled with rocks, fallen trees, mud patches, and unavoidable water crossings. Not really runnable, we hop, jump, shimmy, step, and climb through this section. The picture at right, courtesy Brandi Henry, shows the top end of the gorge.
We reach the top end of the gorge, and get a brief glimpse of Little Lyons Falls. Immediately after this spot (shown at left), we make the turn for the legendary hand-over-hand root climb.
Dennis went first, and then filmed me climbing. This picture is also from Brandi Henry. Click here
for a 30 second video of our climb.
Other scenic spots included the Pleasant Hill Dam, and the Covered Bridge, for which they named the nearby third aid station.
As runners would join us here and there, we ran with just one ear-bud in, so that we could still talk to other runners, talk to each other, and listen for mountain bikers. Late in the second loop, Dennis' iPod
served him a Frank Sinatra song. You could say I am not exactly a fan of Frank Sinatra. Dennis decided to sing along to 'Under My Skin'. So, I've got Foo Fighters in one ear, and Dennis singing Frank in my other ear. Oddly, this strange combination was actually enjoyable. Maybe its because Dennis does pretty good job of singing, or maybe it just offered a gentle distraction. Not something I'd like all day, but it was a pleasant temporary interlude.
We finished the second loop around 7:00 pm. At this point, why are we doing this? Answer: The beautiful scenery, and the serenity of the forest.
Before starting our third loop, we visit our gear bin and cooler. We need a break from the monotony of aid station food, and get some snacks we brought, Diet Coke, as well as a change of clothes, and a dry sports bra. We dropped of our iPods and camera, and picked up our flashlights. We started our third loop at about 7:20 pm.
Darkness came before we reached the second aid station. We have been on our feet for 16 hours, and have covered about 60 miles. We will have to navigate the short section between the second and third aid station without having seen it once in the light. The course has been very well marked, with intermittent small orange flags, and orange arrows painted on the ground. We need to focus on our surroundings, therefore, no music, and little conversation. If we are distracted here, and go off course, it would likely result in couple of panic attacks, as well as cause us to miss the 32 hour cut off, resulting in a DNF (did not finish).
Watching very carefully for our markings to reassure us we were still on course, when Dennis would see one, he'd gently call out 'flag' or 'arrow'. And I would follow it with a confirming 'flag' or 'arrow' when I saw it. For the next several hours, the surrounding forest listened to a docile conversation of 'flag'... 'flag'.... 'arrow'... 'arrow'....
We finished our third loop, and headed out for our fourth, final, and most difficult loop, at 3:45 am.
Meltdowns during a 100 miler are pretty much inevitable, and come in a variety of flavors. The darkness has a way of extinguishing what little energy you have left. The physical exhaustion leaves emotions unsupervised, allowing them to amplify and overflow at will.
My meltdown came about 10 minutes into our fourth loop. The air was cool and still. The night was silent. I calmly and timidly lost control of my emotions. It felt like a pyramid of toilet paper rolls toppling over, quietly bouncing and scattering out of arms reach. We stopped for a moment. Dennis comforted me, and simply said "I know you hurt. I know you want to stop. We can do this." We stood there, and simply breathed for a minute or two. I gathered myself back together, and we continued down the trail. It was as if this meltdown was just another item on our checklist. It was done, and we moved on.
And now... why are we doing this? Answer: I want my blankie.
As we navigated our final loop, we took great pleasure in being able to say goodbye to all landmarks we had noted. Goodbye downed tree. Goodbye really steep hill. Goodbye bridge with slats too far apart. Goodbye bumpy rock patch. Each one offering a definitive accomplishment, a tiny milestone, a tangible measure closer to our finish.
As we got within reach of our anticipated 5:45 am daybreak, it started to rain. Because of the thick tree canopy, we could hear the rain for a good 15 minutes before we could feel it. The rainy weather suppressed the arrival of our highly coveted daylight. We grasped for any spark of natural light, which seemed to have abandoned us.
Finally, around 6:30 am, there was enough light to see without our headlamps. By this time, we were soaked. Wet, hungry, exhausted, it was now Dennis' turn for a meltdown. His was a completely different flavor, involving lots of swear words. Oddly, this actually kept me calm. An odd balance has evolved between Dennis and me. When one of us is struggling, the other seems to be strong. I simply listened to his ranting, and assured him we were safely on pace to finish within the allotted time.
And now, why are we doing this? Answer: I don't bleeping know!!!
After the final aid station, we had 6.2 miles to go. Somewhere way back around the second loop, we started talking about how we felt on a scale of 1 to 10. (10 being good, 1 being bad.) At the end of the second loop, I was an 8, and Dennis a 5. Our numbers have been steadily declining since then, as expected.
By this time, we were both barely holding on to a 1. Our feet have been soaked since about mile 12. My quads are completely shredded. Dennis had twisted his ankle about 50 miles ago. The wet shoes, rugged footing and 250,000+ foot strikes have beaten the living shit out of our feet. My feet would have felt better if you had set them on fire.
Finally, we see the finish. The sadistic race organizers make us run past it, down into a ditch, through a culvert, and around a small field before we actually reach it.
We finished in 30 hours and 42 minutes, comfortably within the allotted 32 hours.
We finally were able to remove our feet from their little jails. We both were a bit afraid of what we'd find inside. Carefully we removed the shoes. Hours of housing mud and absorbing blister ooze, our socks had formed a hard coating that resembled the smelliest paper mache you could imagine. We peeled our socks back, which retained the shapes of our feet.
Calluses, and water soaked wrinkle-skin engulfed our feet. Half my toes sported blisters. One was so big it looked like my big toe was pregnant with another complete toe. Dennis had a toenail that had completely dislodged, and was just hanging on by flimsy blister skin. I think there is a pool going on what day it falls off.
We both agreed, this was absolutely the most difficult thing we have ever done, and arguably, one of the most painful.
Now... why do we do this?
There is something I find very satisfying about pushing myself to the absolute limits of physical exertion. I think we were both there at about mile 95. Pushing beyond that is painful, horrible and exhilarating at the same time. Finishing, and being able to say "We did it." to the hardest challenge we will ever choose, offers a personal satisfaction beyond words.
So, I guess the short answer to why do we do this? Because we can.
It was great reading your race recap and looking at all your photos & video. I ran my 1st 50 at Mohican that day and I will be back for 100.