Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thomas Jefferson 100K 2015 Race

Deceptive, Relentless Grinder with Old-School Charm

The mud was thick, slippery and clay orange in color. Much of the 8.9 mile course loop was covered with it, especially the last 4 miles. There was no traction to be found. On the down hills, the best you could hope for was to slide without falling.

Wet 5am start, in the dark and rain

Jim and I ran along, trying to keep pace. During 5 loops, we were very consistent, about 2 hrs per loop, just as planned. Go out slow and hold steady. Early on we developed a flow, one would lead, we’d hike the hills, run the descents and flats. Starting the sixth loop, it was doubtful I would be able to keep with him. My quads had really been complaining after 10 hrs of running, and a brain cloud was squelching my focus.

Jim during loop 2

Loop 2, in the drizzle
The course, at first view, seemed tame. Single track that wondered through the woods around a lake, with about of 1K ft of gain/loss per loop. Reality was quite different. There was a constant variation of climbs, descents, turns and switchbacks while running over roots and rocks. It was difficult to establish any rhythm. The course relentlessly ground you down. The rain added a layer of complexity to running, Wet from the start, the trail was a bit sloshy. As the loops clicked off, conditions deteriorated as the skies opened up during the forth and fifth loops. The mud worked hard to claim your shoes and put you on your butt. The down hills became a free fall, balancing test, trying to hold on to some momentum into a turn or up a rise.

Some technical parts, look tame when dry

Lots of rocks on the climbs (during training run)

Add rain and 1000 foot prints, you get mud sludge

Race director, the legendary ultra-runner, AndyJones-Wilkins (AJW) worked hard to give this race an old school feel with a friendly vibe. Starting with the pre-race dinner and meeting held at Tandem Friends School, (where AJW is Head Master) runners were treated to wonderful food and felt as if we were members of a casual, local running club. A loop course (well marked) was selected for ease of logistics and crewing, giving an old style bent of “let’s run in the woods with some friends”. Little things like hand written loop times on a big board, lent a real low tech, fun feel. There was almost no cell coverage on the course, so someone had to drive several miles to get a signal to upload loop times. Adding personal touches, AJW was at the loop finish, announcing each runner’s name, as if we were elite. There was plenty of covered space and small tents at the start, offering easy access to stowed gear.

RD & MC AJW, greetings at every loop

Two aid stations, one at start/finish and one just before half way, were staffed with amazing volunteers who were focused on service; filling bottles, handing out food, massaging cramped muscles, triaging blisters and trail wounds. Laurie and Craig Thornley (RD for Western States 100 mile Endurance Run) were part of the volunteers who worked tirelessly all day. The aid station food selection was outstanding, the best ultra-feast I have experienced, mostly home cooked by the volunteers. Along with the staples of potatoes, PBJs, flat coke, etc, there was an amazing selection of dishes. There was even huge slices of bacon! (Oh did that taste good.) I discovered a new favorite trail food, sweet potato - almond butter burritos (thanks Helen M). Jim and I had one on at least 4 loops.

AS feast. Sweet Potato-Almond Butter Burritos!
Happy volunteers handed out food, massage and triage

Unexpectedly, I found a second wind on loop 6. Perhaps it was the stick massage Angela, my crew member, did on my quads. Jim and I were still keeping a good pace, and started to enjoy the mud. Another deception of the course was that from the far side of the lake, you could see the finish area. You got to see it 4 times before finally turning towards it. Each time you came to the water’s edge, thinking the end of loop was near, back into the woods you would be sent. This messed with your mind, so by loop 6, we started cursing the sight of the lake, then tried to ignore it.

Across the lake, loop 7, as sun diminishes

I had fallen during each of the first 3 loops. The first was only a mile into the race. In the dark, I stumbled and tried to recover by taking several step and quickening my cadence. This only accelerated my fall, with my head leading the way. Just before hitting the ground, Jim caught me by the chin and righted me up. (A big thanks Jim! Nice catch!) The other two times I went down hard, causing some lingering mechanical issues that had to be worked off.

Some Ultra-Smiles early in the race

During the 7th and final loop, both Jim and I started to slow a bit, and were trading places being dragged along by the other.  Using the TJ100K as a training run, fitness-check race, I had a set of workable goals: 1) finish 2) finish in less than 15 hrs 3) if all goes great, around 14 hrs. The sun started to set during the 7th loop. We pushed on, hoping to beat the darkness. As the mud did its best to suck us down, we slogged on. Such a great feeling came over me during the last mile, knowing we would finish much better than hoped, and with the last remnants of daylight.

Jim and I crossed the finish line together, in 14 hrs, 19 min, an amazing time for both our first 100K attempts. Running the entire race together, it was only fitting we finish that way. AJW was there to provide our race awards, new $2 bills (with portrait of Thomas Jefferson).

Expectations Exceeded! Jim and I at finish

With AJW and our race prizes

The Thomas Jefferson 100K was a very enjoyable race; relentless, surprisingly tough, with a big dose of old-school fun. Definitely a race that will challenge you, with a course you need to respect. As the word gets out about this race, it will likely grow in the coming years, becoming an east coast favorite. I know I’ll be back!

A big THANK YOU to Andy Jones-Wilkens and his team of volunteers for hosting an outstanding ultra event. The course, the organization, the food, the warmth and service were exceptional. Each runner was made to feel special and part of a family.

Thank you Jim Freiss for pacing with me the entire race.  Also much appreciation and thanks to Angela for providing amazing crew support.

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