Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Run 6/4/11-6/5/11 (Race Report)

On June 4 and June 5, 2011, I completed the Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Run with a distance of 100K (62 miles).

Photo courtesy of Kerry Dycus
The Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Run is part of the Race for Awesomeness series in Asheville, North Carolina, and, since I could always use more awesomeness in my life, I was looking forward to testing my endurance during an entire day on the trails.  This event takes place on the Montreat College campus in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and consists of a 5K loop that winds back and forth through the campus grounds in a labyrinthine fashion, resulting in a unique course where even the most seemingly remote trail sections are never more than a few hundred yards from the start line.  It is no easy task to create a fixed time course loop that keeps runners interested for the duration of the event, but the race organizers accomplished this task superbly with a route that led runners through soft wood chip trails amidst fern-covered wilderness, up dirt road hills beside sports fields, down a paved pathway parallel to the traffic of Interstate I-40, across creek bridges, rolling single-track trail hills, and long straight grassy paths back to one final hill climb up an open field to the finish.  At one point during the event, I joked with the race director that he must have entered a contest to see how many ecosystems he could squeeze into one 5K loop.  

I had no idea what to expect from my first 24-hour race, so I decided to use this event as my first real training run for the Pinhoti 100 Mile in November.  Since the weather forecasts predicted a warm summer day, my one and only concrete goal for the Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Run was to manage my body with a proper balance of hydration and nutrition so that I could stay on my feet while avoiding heat exhaustion and the physical problems with digestion and kidney function that can often plague ultrarunners in events of this duration.  When asked about the distance that I was aiming for at this race, I arbitrarily mentioned that I was interested in covering 100K and, therefore, topping my previous distance record at the 2010 Long Cane 55 Mile.  Memories of crossing the finish line of Long Cane 55 Mile in a dazed zombie state with excruciating shin pain and frightening urinary troubles kept surfacing in my mind, though, and I knew that I would be attempting this 24-hour event in worse daytime heat conditions before moving all night through darkness in chilly temperatures.  I am still a beginner in the ultrarunning world and this all-day race would be my first foray into a new level of endurance challenges where my mind would take over after my body had nothing more to give.  

Fortunately, the Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Run provided this student of ultrarunning with the opportunity to spend time with several masters.  Christian Griffith, an ultrarunning veteran with an enthusiastic surfer persona, has been a longtime inspiration to me and the anecdotes in his Run 100 Miles blog have helped me through many a tough spot on the trails.  Mark Elson, a soft-spoken, but tough-as-nails runner, had impressed me last year by running a fast Umstead 100 Mile race in 2010 and then speeding through a fast Sweet H2O 50K the following weekend.  Wayne Downey, a rowdy energetic runner, was one of my first friends in the trail running world, and I have always admired his refusal to drop from races even when the setbacks have appeared insurmountable.  Jason Sullivan, a fellow husky-sized ultrarunner who has recently lost a lot of weight, kept me moving with good humor and endless encouragement at this year’s Sweet H2O 50K, and his ability to stay positive over the trial of miles has always amazed me.  Joe Fejes, a fit runner whose modest good nature belies his ability to set course records, was a sure bet to win this 24-hour event and I was looking forward to watching him gracefully rip through these trails.  Christian, Mark, Wayne, Joe, and I rode to South Carolina to join Jason for dinner at a Japanese steakhouse, and then crashed at Jason’s home overnight before riding an hour to the race start the following morning.   While the six of us shared jokes, taunting, and good old guy talk, I was not shy about asking for advice on ultrarunning strategies.  The pressure was on for me to run a tough race in the company of these friends.

Photo courtesy of Kim Purcell Pike
Unfortunately, my body was not ready to keep pace with my outward show of enthusiasm.  I had run the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon and the Scenic City Trail Marathon respectively on May 14 and May 21, and then followed those races with a hilly 12-mile training run on the trails at Fort Mountain on May 29.  While my weight loss was resuming at a slow pace after hitting some speed bumps earlier in the year, I was still too heavy and my high weekly mileages over the past month were starting to wear me down.  When my road trip companions cautioned me that I had been signing up for races too frequently, I had to agree.  On the morning of this race, I woke up tired and I felt that I had no business whatsoever attempting my first 24-hour event so soon after my busy May schedule.  Just the same, I rubbed dirt on my worries and I could not stop smiling as the other guys and I fired one other up by calling out distance goals while we ate a hearty breakfast at Waffle House on the way to Black Mountain.  

When we arrived at the Montreat College campus area a couple of hours before the 10:00 A.M. race start and began the slow task of carrying heavy coolers and bags to our tent area beside the course, the rising temperatures immediately greeted us with sadistic glee.  I applied sunscreen as I stood in the open under clear skies while the dew evaporated off the grass around me.  This was shaping up to be a dangerously hot and humid day for long distance runners.  Fortunately, I do eventually learn from my mistakes and, for this event, I had abandoned my standard black shirt race attire in favor of a loose bright yellow running shirt.  My yellow shirt made me look like an overgrown Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip, but the color change suited me well for the temperature conditions in the hours to come.  

Just before the start, Race Director Richard Handy gave instructions and assured us that the trail was flat “unless you live in Florida”.  I began the first lap with a slow jog, intending to run each 5K lap in 45 minutes or over for the duration of the event for conservative pacing.  Psyche, a friend from North Carolina, ran with me for much of this loop and we marveled at the abrupt changes in setting that seemed to greet us at every turn.  I instantly fell in love with one section, a wood chip trail through rows of trees that resembled a painting.  I then instantly fell out of love with one steep paved downhill that increasingly wrecked the quads with each subsequent lap.  For this first lap, though, it was all good and I enjoyed taking in the beauty of the terrain while strategizing about the best sections to employ my run/walk strategies.  I knew from the beginning that this race was going to feature a lot more walking than running, but I would be happy to have the time on my feet in any way possible.  Shortly after the halfway point of the loop, an unmanned aid station next to a portable bathroom, a short series of single-track trails opened into a long grassy path out in the open under the sun.  These open grass paths continued sporadically between short trail sections that zigzagged beside a railroad track.  A wall of tall spruce pines bordered the field around one turn that led back to the start/finish area, where music played from loudspeakers in between short live sets from local musicians.

Photo courtesy of Perry Sebastian
The 5K loop was not “mostly flat” as the race website description had read, but the hills were fairly tame this early in the race.  I ran these hills for the first two laps, but soon returned to my faithful ultramarathon strategy of walking these hills while running the downhills and flats.  Some dust or pollen caught in my throat a couple of times early in the race and forced me to cough forcibly for several seconds as I drank water to counteract the dry throat tickle. 

An unfortunate tactical error on my part became apparent early during the race.  I had purposely left my stopwatch at home, because this was a fixed time race where I had no intention of following a strict speed.  Unfortunately, I realized that my well-tested ultrarunning habit of eating a gel every half hour on the half hour could not be followed if I did not have a way to measure the half hour intervals.  I improvised a plan to eat a gel at the end of every loop and to eat another at the halfway point, but my uncertainty about the timing soon allowed chaos to ensue.  When the temperature rose to an alarming 89 degrees mere hours into the race, I began substituting my gels for oranges, watermelon, and bananas from the race aid stations, but I had no way to gauge whether or not I was meeting my goals for 300-400 calories an hour.  I quickly understood that my ability to control my hydration/nutrition balance on a dangerously hot day would be even more difficult than I had previously imagined.  

I completed my first three 5K laps in two hours and realized that I was going faster than my predetermined 45-minute-per-lap maximum pace.  After my third lap, I called out my race number to the lap counters and asked how many laps they had written down for me.  One of the lap counters told me that she had counted two laps for my number and, when she noticed the surprised expression on my face, she laughed said, “Just kidding!  I’ve counted three laps from you.”  I laughed with relief, thanked the counters, grabbed a handful of fruit from the aid table by the finish line, and continued along.  Each time, I waved at Sarah, a friend from the adjacent tent, who was cheering me along as she waited for her training partner, Tatyana, to complete each lap.  

The temperatures spiked as the clock hit the noon hour and I realized that I was setting myself up for a hard energy crash if I kept my current pace.  I started taking longer walk breaks during the loop as the hot sun beatdown commenced.  During one of my faster running stretches, while I was enjoying the cushion of a wood chip trail, I passed by Christian, who was running down an adjacent path in the opposite direction.  He called out, “Take it easy, J!  It’s gonna be a long day.”   The reality that I had only completed two hours of a 24-hour race event started to sink into my head.  That reality clutched around me even more when I entered the open grass sections directly underneath the unyielding sun.  I was carrying a 12-ounce water bottle for this race, because I had decided beforehand that this was the best way to ensure that I did not overhydrate during the loops, but I soon realized that 12 ounces of water between the two 1.5-mile aid station stops was not enough for me in this heat, especially when I was purposely trying to slow my lap pace.  I decided to drink extra Gatorade at the aid stations before refilling my bottle each time.

Photo courtesy of Kim Purcell Pike
I finished my fourth lap, called out my race number to the lap counters, and, as always, asked them my lap count to make sure that the numbers were being written down.  The same lap counter that had joked with me after the previous lap replied, “You’ve run three laps…  Just kidding!  You’ve run four.”  I gently, but deliberately admonished the woman, “That’s not cool.  This race is going to screw with people’s heads enough as it is without you kidding around with us about our lap counts.  If you say the wrong number as a joke, you might write down the wrong number.”  I laughed as I talked to her to cushion the effect and I immediately thanked her for helping out with the race.  Mark had just completed a lap of his own and he voiced his agreement as he watched me while he refilled his drink from the aid table.  I continued along, with the exchange replaying in my head.  I was only 12 miles into a 24-hour race and I was already becoming irritable from the heat of the day.  This was not a good sign.  

I completed my fifth lap 50 minutes later and crossed the finish line as the countdown clock read 20:30 remaining.  Just as I passed the loudspeakers, the Bon Jovi lyric, “Oooohhhh, we’re halfway there, Ooooh-oh, living on a prayer!”, blared into my ear.  I grimaced and mentally cursed Bon Jovi.  I was nowhere close to being “halfway there” and I was burning up in the rising temperatures.  My ankles were already hurting from the residual fatigue of my past four weeks of trail running, my higher-than-the-average-runner body fat percent was stopping me dead in my tracks in the claustrophobic humidity levels, I was spiraling downward into the fatigued irritable loopy frame of mind that I’ve experienced in past races, and, now, even the 80’s hair metal bands were conspiring against me.  This was definitely going to be a long day.  When Jason and Wayne ran to our tent area a few minutes later and ranted about the George Michael song that was playing at their lap finish, however, I had to laugh.

The right company often comes at the right time during ultra races and I was happy when my friend, Aaron, who was waiting at the GUTS (Georgia Ultrarunning and Trailrunning Society) tent next to my drop bag area, voiced interest in walking a lap with me.  Aaron was recovering from a brutal ankle turn, but still managed to crank out a 50K distance at this event by pacing various runners who benefited from his humor and enthusiasm.  Aaron and I joked through the lap and had each other doubled over laughing most of the time.  I talked about how I was glad that the depressing Eddie Vedder song from Into the Wild soundtrack that I had heard on the loudspeakers upon my arrival to the race site was not playing anymore, because the last thing that I needed was another sad hippie song.  At that moment, we passed by an ice cream truck bus in the middle of an open field by the trail and I commented that the bus even looked like the bus that Christopher McCandless stayed at in Alaska in the Into the Wild non-fiction story.  I started improvising Eddie Vedder lyrics with my best voice imitation and this kept Aaron and me cracking up for a while.  

I was thankful for the humor, because I had already realized by this point that I was having a terrible running day.  Summer humidity can wreak havoc on any runner, but it can be especially devastating to those of us with a higher percentage of body fat.  After my two recent trail marathons and my recently increase in weekly mileage for training, I had finally found my limitations on these trails at Black Mountain.  I reached the 26.2-mile distance in almost seven and half hours and, upon my return to my tent area, I joked with some GUTS runners that this was the slowest marathon in history.  The heat was tearing me to pieces and, in the open areas of the trail under the sun, the temperature felt even hotter than the 89 degrees that had been reported to me by another runner.  I reminded myself that I needed to stay slow to keep from succumbing to heat exhaustion.  I was still sweating and, so far, my hydration and electrolyte balance seemed okay, but I knew that things could go south in a very short time.  The dust from the trail, possibly combined with plant pollen or small bugs, caught in my throat a couple more times during these afternoon laps and caused me to cough for several seconds.  Fortunately, misery had company and I enjoyed walking a lap with Shane, a friend who was also trying to avoid the early stages of heat sickness.

Dust caught in my throat once again and, when I started coughing, I suddenly puked on the side of the trail.  Since I did not feel any nausea or other heat sickness symptoms, I dismissed the incident as a case of dust in my throat triggering a gag reflex.  Just the same, I realized that I needed to take additional caution to stay safe in the brutal temperatures.  I arrived at the tent area in an irritable exhausted state and cursed to myself when I was initially unable to find my Accel gels that I had left in an ice cooler.  Mark was resting in a camp chair behind the table under our tent canopy and asked me to get him one of the small half-sized drink cans from the cooler.  I was confused and loopy from the heat, so I fumbled around to no avail looking through the cooler until Mark told me that a normal-sized can of Coke would be fine.  I took a can of Coke as well and decided to chill out for five minutes in one of the camp chairs.

I quickly improvised a way to ensure that my next lap would be a restful one.  I took my iPhone from my duffel bag so that I could use the next 5K to take photographs of the trail.  Ever so often, when the trail around me seemed empty of runners, I would stop to take a picture of the landscape.  With several photos taken, I completed my slowest lap yet to reach the 50K (31 miles) distance in just over nine hours.  I had roughly 14:40 to complete another 50K if I wanted to reach my tentative goal of 100K for this 24 hour ultra.  I smiled to myself, because I knew that I would have no problem whatsoever going at least 100K with the generous amount of time left on the clock.  I was wrong.

For my next lap under the sun, I visited my friends in the adjacent GUTS tent and took a cold towel to place on my head under my running cap.  The cold towel helped immensely and I felt some energy returning that enabled me to run nonstop on the trail for slightly longer stretches.  Parts of the trail were starting to shade at this time and I looked forward to nightfall.  

It always pays to have extra necessities and I was glad that I had brought a backup headlamp for the race.  Joe, who was churning out serious mileage on his way to a new course record, asked me if I had an extra headlamp, so I let him use my old Petzl headlamp while I grabbed my brand new Fenix HP10 headlamp to be ready when darkness settled on the course.  This Fenix headlamp was a champ throughout the night and, although I only used the second-to-lowest lumen setting through the night, I had more than enough light to see the trail even in the most remote stretches.

The daytime heat had really gotten to me, though, and I never recovered.  I had expected that I would be able to run nonstop for increased stretches during the cooler night hours, but I was already drained of energy when nightfall arrived and I was reduced to walking for most of the remainder of the race.  Fortunately, I can walk for a very long time.

The race organizers had ordered pizza in the evening and I indulged in a couple of slices at the end of a lap late in the day.  In terms of race strategy, that was the beginning of the end for me.  One slice would have served me better.  I would continue to eat too much solid food between laps for the remainder of the night when I knew better than to make that mistake.  I ate a McDonald’s hamburger after one lap, more pizza after another lap, a fried egg sandwich after another lap (Thanks, Aaron!  That sandwich ruled.), Oreo cookies at the GUTS tent after another lap, and half a bag of Combos after a lap.  I have always tried to take in 300-400 calories per hour during my ultramarathons, but, during the early night hours of this 24-hour event, I was probably taking in 600-700 calories every hour and fifteen minutes of each lap.  Christian had finished his 12-hour race and was cheering the 24-hour runners from our tent area, so he admonished me later in the night when he noticed that I was eating too much between the laps.  In previous races, I have performed well by avoiding solid foods unless necessary, because too much blood is diverted from the legs into the stomach to digest a large amount of solid food and the fatigue level increases.  Unfortunately, when my fatigue level increased, I misinterpreted the signals and felt that I needed to eat more food.  When I am tired, I am hungry.  This mental block has led to my struggles to control my weight after long ultramarathon events and it was causing me trouble in the middle of this particular event.  I eventually corrected my mistake by taking some Ensure drinks out of my duffel bag and the ice coolers to drink for liquid nutrients, while making sure to limit the calories during my laps. 

As the day transitioned to night, I drank a can of Coke or a half can of Coke at the end of each lap.  This was another strategic mistake, because the soda did not contain sufficient nutrients to help me.  I soon replaced the Cokes with water again after Christian reminded me that I should do so.  Of course, I did make it through the entire night without getting sleepy, so the caffeine may have benefited me to some extent.

The daytime 12-hour runners had completed their race, so I was alone on the trail for long amounts of time at night.  Some of the 24-hour runners were also dropping.  A couple of friends who were ten miles ahead of me in distance informed me that they were going to end their race when they reached 52 miles at the end of their post-midnight lap.  The remaining runners had all slowed their pace, so I often did not see these faster runners for several laps as we respectively continued our laps on opposite ends of the course.  

Darkness, solitude, and heat-induced fatigue are never a good combination and my mental state hit rock bottom after midnight.  I have been down on myself in many races before, but, as I made my way along the Black Mountain trails at night with my path illuminated by my headlamp and the glow sticks along the course, the demons that I created with my fatigue and negativity gathered outside the periphery of the circle of light from my headlamp and began their constant assault on my psyche.  I thought that I was failing miserably at being a runner, because I had been walking for most of this race.  I was often seeing the same runners pass by me on the course at faster speeds and, in my tired state, the scenario weighed down on my mind by bringing back unpleasant memories from childhood, when I was an overweight boy with lazy eye in my right eye, when I was never good at sports, and when I sometimes felt that the entire world had been specifically engineered to humiliate me and exclude me.  I felt fat, slow, and pathetic as I watched the occasional faster runner catch up to me and fly by almost effortlessly on the trail.  I would sometimes pass people on the dark trail, but I reminded myself that I was only passing them because they had already run many more miles than I had.  My self-induced negativity continued to beat down on me during the night just as the sun had beaten down on me during the daylight hours.  When Sarah ran by me on the trail at one point during her night time 12-hour race and we greeted each other, I joked wearily that, if I had been carrying a gun at the moment, I would have shot myself.  I instantly regretted saying this, because I am pretty sure that my attempt at humor did not seem so funny at the moment. 

I would later realize that my worst mental breakdowns were occurring just after the halfway point of the trail loop and that they were probably influenced by the sugar crashes from the cans of Coke that I was drinking roughly 40 minutes earlier at the tent each time.  When I stopped drinking Coke and eating Oreo cookies in the dark early morning hours, my mental outlook seemed to improve.

I remember being at my lowest point when I had six 5K laps left to complete to reach my 100K goal before my time was up.  At the time, another 18 miles seemed like the longest distance challenge that I had ever faced and those miles stretched ahead like an endless catacomb in the dark.  Other runners would occasionally join me for long stretches of the trail as we talked, mostly about how tired we all were.  Brian, a runner from Asheville, was well on his way to ultimately finishing 65 miles and we walked together for the better part of one lap.  Margaret, a friend from here in metro Atlanta, kept me moving beyond my comfort zone with a surprisingly fast power-walk as she rebounded from fatigue and went on to resume running.  Another runner named Allen paced with me for some of the final laps leading into the morning while we were both reduced to limping.  Naresh, a fellow Marathon Maniac who always has a smile for other runners, kept me company for a lap and his pleasant demeanor concealed the fact that he was having stomach problems and unable to take in any food.  Wayne and Jason caught up with me during the night and knew how to fire me up with enthusiasm during a rough time.  Two recently engaged friends from Alabama, Jennifer and Jay, lapped me a few times during their nighttime 12-hour race and I enjoyed sharing jokes with them along the way.  With each encounter, I was inspired by the strength and resilience of these runners on our adventure.  

The company at our tent area at the end of each lap made the exhaustion and solitude of the trail worthwhile.  Christian would yell, “Big Cat!”, when he saw me approach the tent from out of the darkness.  At the end of one lap, I enjoyed the company of several GUTS runners who were recovering from their 12-hour races.  Amanda had run her first ultramarathon distance with an amazing 43 miles.  Laura, a friend from my Galloway training group, had scored a distance record of almost 53 miles.  Kim had recovered from an ankle injury to reach 37 miles.  Matthew, who had completed an amazing 65 miles in second place for his 12-hour, had already departed.  Kerry, who would finish with an impressive 93 miles, stopped by the tent at the end of a lap.  Tatyana and Sarah were alternately running and resting at the tent, so I enjoyed exchanging good wishes with both of them after one lap.  I tend to become extremely talkative when I am exhausted (and I am already a talkative person under normal conditions), so I was happy to have company.  Aaron had completed 50K with his busted ankle and he was all smiles as he made fried egg sandwiches for the runners.  He had changed into a yellow shirt identical to my own and the others did not hesitate to comment on the Yellow Shirt Twins.

The lap counters were as tireless as the runners, of course, and I was always surprised to see the same people behind the table as I crossed the finish line of each lap, called out my number, and verified my lap count.  The Gatorade and water coolers were always stocked for me to continue on the next lap.  

After an eternity of darkness, the sky gradually became brighter on the horizon.  My physical capabilities were diminishing with the night, though, as my deliberate walk became more of a slow limp.  I remembered Marshall Ulrich’s book, Running on Empty, where he quotes, "Keep going, one foot in front of the other, millions of times."  One foot in front of the other, however slowly, would get me to the end of the race.  In retrospect, I probably did myself a disservice by tentatively setting a goal of 100K, instead of merely pacing the 24 for as far as I could go, because my mental and physical capabilities seemed to embrace this distance as the race objective and everything would simultaneously come together and implode at that distance.  I was determined to reach that 100K, but getting there would take everything I had in reserve.

The coldest part of the day is always just after sunrise, and I shivered uncontrollably for a few minutes as I began my second-to-last lap, since I had not taken the time to change my shirt for the entire race.  After a half hour, the temperatures slowly began to rise.  I had noticed my hands swelling at the end of this lap and knew to control my hydration and sodium balance.  For the duration of this event, I had been taking an S-Cap at the end of every lap and making sure not to drink more than 30 ounces of water each hour.  As a result, I was still moving and I was still urinating once every lap or so with lemonade-colored or clear urine.  I had not ventured into the dehydration danger zones with darker-colored urine and, if anything, I was overhydrating myself overnight.  I had remained fairly coherent for the entire race, although I was occasionally irritable and dazed for short times during the extreme heat of the day, so I never took any wrong turns on the trail and I was never confused about where I was during any part of the race.  In future races, I need to experiment with my nutrition to help minimize negativity and irritable moments, but it is always a struggle to stay sane when the body has traveled over 40 miles, especially on a hot summer day.  During this final lap, I made the decision to stop eating any foods so that I could use water to flush the excess sodium.  My plan worked and, over time, my hands became somewhat less bloated.  

I reached the tent area once again in broad daylight and sat on a camp chair in exhaustion.  I had just under three hours left in the race and one more lap would earn me a 100K distance.  Since my 5K laps on the trail were talking well over an hour by now with my slow limp, I knew that I could not stay at the tent for long, but I also felt that time was on my side and I needed to get off of my feet.  Pain was shooting up and down my legs, my hips were aching, my lower back was starting to hurt (probably the aftermath of a pavement fall during a run a few days before this race), my thighs were painfully chafed from earlier in the race when the heat had dispersed the Vaseline that I had applied, and my throat was sore.  The complete breakdown of my body was under way. 

After a few minutes, Christian told me to get back on my feet, because he was going to pace me for my final lap.  I stood up, applied more Vaseline to my thighs, and resumed my snail-paced limp along the trail.  I was grateful for Christian’s company, as we conversed at an eternally slow pace along the trail hills.  I enjoyed taking in the sites of each trail turn, because I was quickly deciding that I would not see these parts of the loop again.  I was completing my 20th lap on this 5K trail, and the idea of seeing these trees, these bridges, and other specific landmarks inspired a strange sadness, probably in the same way that one feels oddly emotional when changing jobs and seeing annoying co-workers for the very last time.  I suppose that the end of something familiar always conjures similar mixed feelings.  I was in a strange state of being in that I was fully coherent and talkative while my body seemed to be crumbling into broken pieces.  Ever so often, I would wince as a specific pain would shoot across my knees or shins.

Christian and I reached the meadow at the end of the loop and I saw 1:40 left on the finish line clock.  I believed that I had time to finish one final lap, but I was already feeling the sharp rise of morning temperatures and humidity and I knew that things could go wrong in a bad way over the next hour and 40 minutes on the trail when my pace was still slowing.  I was afraid of falling short of the finish clock and putting myself in danger for a lap that might not count in the results, so I decided to call it a day.  I had finished 20 laps of the 5K trail loop and, therefore, completed my goal of the 100K (62 miles) distance.  Once we reached the top of the final hill, Christian urged me to run to the finish.  I broke into a decent run across the grass and down the hill through the finish, calling out my number to the lap counters, who verified that I had completed 20 laps.  

I picked up a couple of watermelon slices and quickly devoured them as I started to make my way back to the tent area.  On the way out of the aid station, though, I noticed that the sports massage booth was finishing with one runner ahead of me, so I decided to take advantage of my very first post-race massage.  Thanks to Cheryl Hanson Massage, I was able to get some blood flow back into some dead legs, but, most of all, I was able to lie down on a flat cushioned table after 62 miles.  I then returned to the tent area and enjoyed congratulating the other GUTS runners before walking up to a park building for a quick shower.  It felt good to change out of running clothes that I had worn for over a full day.

After the shower, I saw the “Black Mountain Monster”, or at least one of them.  Some friends directed me to a nearby cabin, where we saw a medium-sized black bear walking on top of a metal dumpster.  The bear retreated just seconds before I was able to take an iPhone photo.

Photo courtesy of Kerry Dycus
My first 24-hour race was in the books.  I had completed a 100K distance in just under a day.  I had rested on a camp chair several times, but I never fell asleep and I never took extended time off from the race.  I stayed true to an objective and I saw the sun rise after an all-nighter on the trails.  

The other guys and I quickly dismantled our tent area and loaded up Christian’s vehicle for the return trip.  Joe had set a new course record by completing almost 115 miles.  Christian had completed a fast 52.5 for his 12-hour.  Mark had completed 84 miles.  Wayne and Jason had each completed 81 miles.  Six exhausted runners made their way to a Cracker Barrel restaurant and recharged on some good food.  After I returned home, I slept for 12 hours and went for a slow walk/jog for 2 miles to get the blood flowing for recovery.  I now feel fully recovered from my race.  

It has taken me a few days to put this report together, because I am still not sure how I should feel about this race.  It is funny that one of my worst race performances on a day with several amateur mistakes resulted in a new distance record.  It stings me now that I did not attempt one last lap with 1:40 remaining on the clock, although I feel like I made the safe decision.  I have been in more of a self-critical frame of mind after this race than ever before, but I consider this to be a positive sign that I am absorbing more ultrarunning lessons.  I have a lot of work ahead of me to physically prepare myself for Pinhoti 100, but this race has fortunately convinced me that I have the mental fortitude to keep moving through the night hours through a forest.  In the end, I am happy that I have a new distance record and I am happy that I made the choices that enabled me to get through my first 24-hour event safe and sound, despite brutal heat and humidity.  

Thanks to the Asheville, North Carolina running community and to Montreat College of Black Mountain for putting an amazingly fascinating and challenging 24-hour event together.  Thanks to the GUTS crowd and to several new friends who kept me smiling and kept me moving through the day and through the night.

The Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Run was my greatest endurance challenge to date and I had to climb my way out of the deepest dark spots, but I still had some great laughs and greater company all day long.  Darkness is all around when we are exhausted and we still have miles ahead, but morning eventually comes and sunlight will shine through the trees.  Just keep moving and putting one foot in front of the other, because that is what awesomeness is all about.

See you on the trails.



  1. Wow, Jason, what a tough 24 hours for an endurance run! That heat and humidity is no joke, even in the mountains. I'm surprised the course was so flat out there. And, I imagine that's a bit of a blessing.

    Good job on persevering, man! Thanks for another thorough report!

  2. Nice job Jason.

    It's funny when people call the course flat. The Comet is flat - this was like looping the yellow loop at Sweetwater over and over (park side of the bridge)

  3. GREAT job, man! Congrats on setting a new distance record AND completing your first 24 hr race! That's some serious mind mojo to get through all of the psychological obstacles that creep up, let alone the physical. I understand what you mean about finding self-criticism after a race, try to enjoy the great positives about this. It's good to analyze so that we can continue to learn and grow, but don't dwell on the negative man - you accomplished a great feat! :) *Dana M from fb and zircadia on RWOL

  4. Fantastic run Jason and most enjoyable race report! Pinhoti, here you come!


  5. Jason,
    Great report. Way to go on the PR! I'm being completely honest when I say that you really kept me going and inspired me to run harder out there. Throughout the race I tried to slow down for a moment and talk to GUTS people on the course and that really kept me going out there. I feel blessed to be a part of such an awesome group of people.

    Sorry I couldn't hang around longer but I left it all out there on Saturday so I had nothing left when the race was over.

    I won't be able to run Pinhoti like I planned because of pacing duties the week before, but if you need a pacer, let me know. I would be more than glad to pace for you.


  6. You did an amazing job leaving it all out there on the course, Matthew. You did the right thing to start recovering immediately and I look forward to seeing you at more races!

  7. Such a great report! Congratulations on your 100k. You continue to impress and inspire me.

  8. Good read & nice job out there. Glad to have met you, Jason.

  9. Jason, I am so amazed and impressed. Congratulations! You are such a thoughtful runner and a great writer with your honesty and details, are way too hard on yourself! I look forward to running together soon so I can pump you up about your accomplishments. Thanks again for helping me through Scenic City (the longest race of my life!!) Katie Simon

  10. What a fantastic read this was! Thank you for documenting such a great accomplishment. I am new to ultras, and doing the 12hr version of this race this coming weekend! The pictures you took are beautiful, and it definitely looks flat! :-)