Go With the Birds
I had to admit that things weren't looking too good for my first 100-mile ultra. Two months ago during the Thunder Road Marathon I received a stress fracture in my left heel bone (calcaneus). Six weeks of crutches and wearing a boot left me with precious little time to ramp up for the 100-miler. I managed to put in a handful of six-mile runs, one eleven-miler, and one twenty.
And as running buddy David Moore and I headed south toward Palatka, FL for the Iron Horse Endurance Run I was feeling like crap. Some sort of head cold/sinusitis had me coughing every two minutes and blowing snot every other two, and this had been going on for a week. Things were looking iffy for me.
So I changed my goal. Originally I had toyed with the idea of a sub-twenty hour finish. Expectations slid downward to doing it in under 24 hours to just finishing the damn thing. One good thing was that runners could change their race distance during the run and not be penalized. For example, even though I signed up for the 100-miler I could run it as a 50-mile or 100k (62 miles) participant provided I covered that amount of ground.
David and I checked into a nearby hotel and wandered over to the host hotel for packet pickup and race instructions from Race Director Chris Rodatz. We covetously eyeballed the belt buckles that would be given to finishers. After the meeting David and I beelined to the local Chili's restaurant, seemingly the only "fine" restaurant in Palatka. Apparently Chili's is the happening place, as people were standing outside waiting for open tables. None of them looked like runners, though several looked as if they needed to start. So we landed at Golden Corral, hit the buffet, and went back to the hotel to unpack and crash for the evening.
The Iron Horse course is situated upon an abandoned railway going east and west parallel to Highway 100. The 100-mile route consisted of four out-and-backs, with the start/finish line about 1.75 miles from the western end. The terrain was predictably flat and covered with a variety of surfaces, including soft pine needles, rough gravel, and three trestles.
|David Moore at the start.|
|Me at the start sporting my DART shirt.|
|David listening to last minute instructions.|
|Typical course section.|
|Longest of the three trestles. Walking was mandatory.|
|David replenishing his electrolytes.|
|Me leaning to the left.|
|Race Director Chris making the rounds.|
Night fell, bringing cooler temperatures. I slipped on a long-sleeved shirt, grabbed my iPod and headlamp, and shuffled off for the final lap. Normally I don't listen to my iPod when running but I needed something to occupy my thoughts. Other runners were few and far between, some already finished. Many of the 100-milers opted to switch to shorter distances. I figured there were less than fifteen of us left on the course.
Another morale booster was the aid stations, which added more substantial fare overnight. It may have been due to my fatigued state, but the shrimp gumbo was the best I'd ever had, and the chicken noodle soup was amazing. Things were looking up!
Before the last turnaround a heavy fog settled onto the ground and played havoc with my vision, as the headlamp amplified every drop. I felt like I was inside an aquarium looking out.
At the next to last aid station with about eleven miles to go I came upon another runner with whom I'd been swapping places. He was sitting in a chair. Bad idea, I thought. "Beware the chair" was my mantra. I took off in a rapid walk thinking I wouldn't see him again. A few moments later he caught up to me and asked if we could finish up together. I said that was fine and I'd really appreciate the company but warned him that I was going to walk the entire way back.
Turned out that Trixie (yep, that's his name, and he's actually the third) was on his way to knocking out his second 100-mile race, doing the Keys last year. Trixie was a firefighter from Talahassee who had done a stint in Iraq as part of the National Guard. We spent the hours making small talk and reconfirming with one another that we were indeed going to make it under the 26-hour cutoff.
Big Rock Candy Mountain
At last we ambled up toward the finish line which was manned by a skeleton crew of volunteers and a few runners, including David. It felt oddly anticlimactic until Race Director Chris shook my hand and gave me a finisher's belt buckle. After twenty-four hours thirty-eight minutes and thirty-one seconds, sweet relief!
Neither David nor I felt like sticking around, seeing as we had an eight-hour drive back home. We loaded up the van and headed north, taking turns driving every couple of hours while the other slept. This part was nearly as challenging as the running.
|Me seconds after crossing the finish line.|
|David with his 100k finisher's buckle.|