Saturday, February 26, 2011

Race Recap: Iron Horse Endurance Run 100-Miler

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.

Flop House
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 Jungle
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.
After some last-minute instructions and an invocation we were off.  As befitting an ultra, there were less than 130 runners for all three events, 57 of whom were attempting the 100-miler.  David and I had laid out our supplies near the start, knowing that we would pass by several times and could pick up necessities along the run.  On a related side note, I wore a pair of Asics Pulse I'd been wearing for mowing the grass the past two years, as I wanted some cushioning for my heel - didn't want to spring for new shoes.

David listening to last minute instructions.
The first 25-mile lap went by quickly.  David and I ran together and we were feeling good and clipping off an eleven min/mile pace, which was a little too fast but we wanted to bank some time in case it got hot later on.  The aid stations were about four to five miles apart and were well equipped with tasty treats.  I decided to try to save my gels and stick with what the stations had to offer.  I settled on bananas and peanut butter sandwiches.

Typical course section.

Longest of the three trestles.  Walking was mandatory.
On the second lap things changed.  Specifically it got very warm very fast, and humid.  Whereas three days prior I had been running at home wearing two long-sleeved shirts, hat, and gloves, I was now down to shoes, socks, and shorts.  At each aid station I would stuff a few ice cubes under my hat in an effort to cool off.  Our pace was slowing down to thirteen min/mile.  The temperature reached eighty and it felt like every bit of it.  What little urine I could conjure was as dark as iced tea - not a good sign.  And then it got worse.  Starting at mile 42 I found myself leaning backward and to the left while running and walking.  Didn't feel any pain or anything, just a pronounced list to the port side.  Even the aid station workers noticed and asked if I was all right.  Very weird (After discussing with Laurie she felt that my equilibrium was being affected by my sinusitis). My pace was reduced to running nine tenths of a mile and walking one  tenth.  Tired of the standard aid station fare of carbs, I grabbed a bratwurst and ate it, thereby improving my spirits dramatically.

David replenishing his electrolytes.

Me leaning to the left.
On the third lap David and I separated.  His leg was starting to give him trouble so he slowed it down a bit.  I decided to ease up on this 25-mile loop so I walked five minutes, ran five minutes.  At this point I began calculating my finishing time.  I decided that while I probably wasn't going to make the sub-24 hour time I was well under the 26-hour cutoff.  That was enough of an excuse for me, so I started walking more.

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.

Combination Stew
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.


  1. what an achievement! awesome, really enjoyed the recap!

  2. Congratulations once again on an amazing accomplishment. Way to gut it out to the end! On the plus side, your pace was nearly as fast as what you did on Thunder Road ;)

  3. Congratulations! That's amazing!

  4. Great job! I like those photos.

  5. That's crazy man. Miraculous finish what with such low mileage after the injury. I can't decide if you're heroic or insane - I think I'll go with a little of both. =)

  6. At Bunco last week, your running recap was highly recommended reading! What an amazing feat! (pun sort of intended) Looks like you and David had quite an experience. I've known him and Tammy for some time and our daughter used to babysit for their daughter. Small world.

    Happy running!


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