Race Report: Savage Gulf Marathon

Race Information

  • Distance: 26.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4,000 feet
  • Where: Savage Gulf State Natural Area, Tennessee
  • When: March 17th, 2018
  • Race Direction: Tennessee Park Rangers Association
  • Layout: Single loop with most of the course being a large lollipop


  • YES: Complete the race
  • YES: Complete the race without completely embarrassing myself
  • YES: Finish in the top 10
  • YES: Finish faster than Ultrsignup predicted I would

Additional Notes

The Savage Gulf Marathon is billed as the “toughest trail marathon in the country”. I can’t speak to the validity of that claim being that a) I’ve not run every trail marathon in the country; and b) people often have drastically differing ideas as to what constitutes “toughest” in just about every facet of life, trail marathons being no exception. I will say that the course is downright brutal, bordering on sadistic, and it was a seriously difficult run, certainly the “toughest” run of the marathon distance I’ve ever done by far, and easily “tougher” than any 50k I’ve done to date.

Because Savage Gulf is quite literally a canyon with fairly steep walls, there was a lot of disparity amongst the runner’s GPS data. Parts of the course wind under large overhangs and directly beside cliffs. As such, tracking distances ranged from approximately 25 to 29 miles and elevation gain ranged from under 4k to over 5k. I’m typically fairly confident in my watch being that it is a newer model with a barometric altimeter (Garmin FR935). Even so, I measured 25.9 miles but consensus is that the course is actually long by half a mile or so.

There were three full aid stations, one of which is passed twice, and a water stop, bringing the total number of aid stops to five.

The course record is 4:05:29 set in 2017 by Evan Dare. This was the 7th annual running of the race. All runners are required to have completed a race of at least the marathon distance prior to being allowed to run. The race is capped at 100 participants.

On a personal note, Ultrasignup predicted me taking 3rd place overall with an estimated time of 5 hours, 10 minutes. I thought it was being a bit generous given that the way it calculates rank doesn’t consider the skill of the competition, at least not from what I’ve observed. For instance a runner could be ranked 100% by winning a couple of small races where nobody fast showed up and another much faster runner could be ranked 60% if he was facing off against elite athletes at every race. Given the relative difficulty of the race and the mandatory marathon requirement, I expected the competition to be a bit more fierce than at other races I’ve recently run.


I had seen this one pop up on Ultrasignup a couple of times and I was immediately intrigued. I wasn’t sure at the time if I should actually pull the trigger on another race halfway in between Fontandango and the Pitchell attempt I have on the calendar for the end of the month, but I didn’t suppose there was any harm in looking.

Eventually I had it narrowed down to two possibilities should I decide to pull the trigger: The Pistol in Alcoa TN (there are numerous distance options and I was looking at one of the shorter ones) or Savage Gulf. While away for Fontandango I met a gentleman named Dave who had some friends who were running Savage Gulf and he made a few comments that upped its general appeal. That night I went to my room, busted out the laptop, and registered. Had I known what I was getting myself into I may not have been so quick on the draw.


I did precisely zero training that was intentionally specific to Savage Gulf. I managed a training week just shy of 50 miles the week following Fontandango and I had completely forgotten that a coworker and I had registered for a local 8k race that weekend. I ran hard at the 8k and took 3rd overall then hurried home to let the dog out before rolling up to meet a gentleman I met on Strava named Zach to do a long run on the NC Mountains to Sea trail.

In hindsight, this long run ended up playing to my benefit as it a) involved a fair amount of climbing on reasonably technical terrain, and b) involved descending over the exact same terrain. That run upped my confidence regarding my ability to move quickly over technical stuff and I have no doubt that helped me at Savage Gulf. Following that run I took it easy by sticking to my normal Monday night group run and a treadmill half on Wednesday before taking Thursday and Friday off to rest up for the race.


If you read my Fontandango race report, you’ll know that I had some car trouble. I’m happy to report that the car is sporting a new water pump, new tires, a fresh oil change, and even new windshield wipers so I was more than ready to tackle the ~4 hour road trip to McMinnville, TN where I was staying the nights before and after the race. There ended up being some traffic in and around Asheville which pushed it to more like a 4.5 hour trip, but it was pretty smooth sailing and I got to the hotel with plenty of time to prep for the morning.

Following what I did at Fontandango, I took the time to have basically everything laid out and ready to go. In the morning all I needed to do was brew a cup of coffee, get dressed, and hit the restroom before driving the half hour from McMinnville to Savage Gulf.

I arrived almost exactly at 7:00 AM and had no trouble finding the place or finding parking. Evidently parking is an issue and is the primary reason for the 100 participant limit for the event. Everyone was nice and generally talkative (at least compared to most other races I’ve been to) so I got to chatting about the race in the lines for packet pickup and the restroom. Overall it was gearing up to be a very pleasant experience.

At about 7:40, one of the rangers announced that people should make their way to the starting line in about 10 minutes. Of course a few minutes later there were more announcements covering the normal details such as course markings, aid station frequency, etc. Finally a gentleman dressed in 1800s clothes fired an antique rifle signaling the start of the race.

Start to Aid 1

I took off with the leaders and within half a mile had established myself in 3rd with 1st and 2nd pulling away fairly aggressively. During the first couple of miles I didn’t bother trying to see how much of a gap I had in front of 4th as that was the least of my worries. Immediately after the race started, I wasn’t feeling as good as I normally do. I’m not entirely certain if it was cumulative fatigue from Fontandango, the fast 8k, and all the training in and around everything leading up to this, or if it was maybe something I ate. Either way, I was not firing on all cylinders so I decided to do my best to grin and bear it for the first few miles to just see how well I’d hold up.

The first couple of miles were on easy, rolling hills with a few roots sticking out here and there. It was very easy running and I clocked my fastest miles of the day here, even with me feeling a bit fatigued. That very quickly changed as I came to what is known as the Stone Door, a rock formation with some man-made steps leading from the edge of the canyon straight down into some switchbacks for a very technical, rocky descent.

Because it was slower, the fatigue mattered less. I was perfectly coherent so I was able to move fairly quickly over the terrain. A gentleman then in 4th place was, however, managing it better than I was and by the time we got out of the switchbacks he had overtaken me. I put down a gel and drank some Tailwind and started to push the pace a little bit. The terrain was much rockier than what I was used to, but I could still move pretty quickly. As a result, the gentleman who had passed me wasn’t able to put a considerable amount of distance between us. At mile 5 I put down another gel and consumed more Tailwind. By the time I got to the mile 6 aid station I was starting to feel much better.

Aid 1 to Aid 2

The gentleman who has passed me was named Matt and he was from California. Turns out he was a super nice guy and a pleasure to talk with. While we traded back and forth a little bit going into the climb out of the canyon, another runner came up behind us and we ended up running together for a bit. The other runner’s name was Jeremiah and he was also pretty cool. Collectively we weren’t going terribly fast as basically the entire trail was nothing but a boulder field (and that’s only a slight exaggeration).

My ascent wasn’t as fast as I would have liked as the rocks very effectively neutralized the climbing advantage I would normally get from my use of trekking poles. There were actually very few runners using poles in this race and I think I was the only one anywhere near the front.

Anyway, at one point Jeremiah slipped and took a pretty nasty spill on the rocks. Matt and I stopped and helped him up, walked with him for a minute to make sure he was good, and then proceeded on. From there he generally seemed to have trouble finding traction on the wetter surfaces. Given that neither Matt or I had the same issue, we quickly concluded it was his shoes. Given the continued traction problems I went ahead and passed and struck out on my own. Matt quickly followed suit and we stayed in close proximity through the easy rolling section to Aid 2.

Aid 2 to Aid 3

Matt and I left Aid 2 a few seconds after Jeremiah arrived and ran together for about another mile through the easy part along the rim of the canyon. After that mile I started to pull ahead and gradually increased the gap between us. By the time I got to the descent back into the canyon, Matt was far enough back that I couldn’t see or hear him.

As I started into the canyon again, the descent is long, rocky, and what appears to be a dried up creek bed (or at least a trail that serves as one when it rains). Almost immediately a giant smile came over my face. I was made for this. I started descending very quickly and it was pure magic. I LOVE this sort of running, even though I knew it would eventually come back to haunt me as a result of me trashing my legs on this sort of terrain.

Sure enough as I wandered into Aid 3 I felt the tell-tale signs of blisters, even though I had never gotten blisters only 17 miles in, never gotten them with Injinji socks, and only once ever previously had gotten them in the Altra Superiors I was wearing. Fortunately it was only one foot and it wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t ignore it. The bigger issue was that my calves and quads were almost done. I chalked it up to a combination of three things:

  1. At this point I knew it was cumulative fatigue that I was feeling when I started the race so everything was going to wear out more quickly.
  2. The relative ineffectiveness of my poles during the climb out of the canyon caused me to put more stress on my calves than I’m used to.
  3. Me stupidly bombing the descent back into the canyon did a pretty good job of trashing my quads.

Aid 3 to Finish

As I was about to turn the corner to put Aid 3 out of sight, I saw Matt cruising in. We had both taken about a minute and a half at Aid 2 and I had taken slightly longer than that at Aid 3 so I figured I had a solid 2 minutes on him. In a road marathon, holding 3rd place with a 2 minute gap over 4th at mile 17 means you’re in fabulously good shape. But in a gnarly, brutal race like Savage Gulf, you can squander a 2 minute lead without even realizing it.

Moving forward was more of the same rocky, technical terrain that defines this race along with a fair amount of up and down. Progress wasn’t quick, but I was moving better than expected and I was being smart about calorie and fluid intake. I was fatigued and beaten up at this point, but at least I could count on everyone else being similarly beaten up.

As I passed the water stop at mile 20, the ranger/volunteer who was there said “this is mile 17” and without hesitating I immediately said back “no it’s not”. I’m not sure if he was trying to play mind games with the runners or if he had been misinformed, but I knew matter-of-factly that it was mile 20 and told him as much before thanking him and getting back on my way.

The next part of the course was the real kicker. Because you’re still at the bottom of the canyon you know there’s going to be a big, steep climb out. If you’ve never run the race before there are several hills while approaching the climb that feel like you’re about to climb out, and then the trail descends again. I don’t remember exactly how many of these there were, but there were at least 4. Fortunately the big climb is fairly obvious when you do eventually reach it just passed mile 22.

I was able to make good use of my poles on this climb out. It’s still pretty technical, but considerably less so than the opposite climb and I could actually dig my poles in without breaking them or getting them stuck. While I absolutely didn’t fly up the hill, I was able to progress considerably faster than I had anticipated. Even so, I was pretty much out of gas by the time I reached Aid 4 where I just refilled a single soft flask.

The last couple of miles were very similar to the first ones, except now I was completely drained and was slowing to a walk ever quarter-mile or so. Every step in the canyon had been pure brutality, but the last two miles, up on the plateau and probably the easiest of the entire course, were by far the worst of the entire day.

Eventually I made my way through it and back to the road for the last couple hundred yards. There were a surprising number of people cheering when I came through so I’m sure my finish photo will in no way reflect how I was feeling at the time. I crossed the line in 4 hours, 58 minutes, and 18 seconds taking 3rd place overall.


The race winner, named Nathan, was close to the finish and asked me what I needed and if he could get me anything. I thanked him and politely declined. I just wanted to go sit down and drink something with a lot of sugar in it for the next few minutes. After making my way to the post-race food, one of the volunteers poured me some lemonade and got me some pretzels. It was exactly what I needed.

I sat there for a bit and in that time Matt finished about 5 minutes behind me with 5th place coming in less than a minute behind him. Matt sat down and we chatted for a bit before I was pulled away for some pictures and awards with the other two podium finishers.

Unlike most races I’ve been to, it seemed a very high percentage of the finishers were hanging around. I went to my car and spent probably 15 minutes or so cleaning up before wandering back toward the finish line. I hung around and cheered for other runners for a bit and eventually found my way into a conversation with the 2nd place finisher, Alex, and the 5th place (1st female) finisher, Alondra. Both of them were super cool and I had a legitimately great time talking to them. Alex had damaged, possibly broken, his wrist during the run and Alondra had a hard fall where she had taken a blow to the head. In fact literally every runner I spoke with had fallen at least once.

I did find out that a few runners didn’t make the Aid 3 cutoff and there were a couple of DNFs beyond that. Also the East Coast Trail & Ultra Podcast guys had run the race and were recording an episode on the premises, it’s available to listen to now via their website.

It was maybe 2.5 or 3 hours after finishing when I finally left to drive back to McMinnville. I had a pretty low-key evening as I wanted to hit the road early. On the way home I took the opportunity to stop by Frozen Head State Park for a recovery day hike.

What’s Next

Yesterday I felt like complete hell but today I’m feeling pretty solid. I’m going to take tomorrow off as well before getting back to normal training on Thursday with a long run hopefully on Saturday.

I had originally planned to attempt Pitchell on the 31st, however the Black Mountains are supposed to get quite a bit of snow between now and then. While I’m not terribly worried about snow on Mt. Mitchell, the trail crosses the wafer-thin Blackstock Knob where several feet of snow would be incredibly dangerous to someone outfitted for trail running. Not to mention there would likely be snow on earlier sections of the trail which would slow progress significantly.

I may end up postponing the whole thing until fall so I can better concentrate on other stuff I have coming up. In April I’m pacing a friend on the Hellbender 100, then in May I have a 30k race a week out from my first 100 miler of the year. It should be a blast.


Race Report: Fontandango

Race Information

  • Distance: 50 miles
  • Elevation gain: 10,000 feet
  • Where: Fontana Village Resort & Marina
  • When: March 3rd, 2018
  • Race Direction: Aaron Saft, MR Running Pains
  • Layout: 10 mile loop run 5 times


  • YES: Complete the race
  • YES: Podium finish
  • YES: Finish faster than the previous course record (10:25)
  • NO: Win

Additional Notes

Fontandango has three distance options: 10mi, 50k, and 50mi, amounting to 1, 3, and 5 laps around the same course. Runners opting to bow out of either the 50k or 50mi races have the option of taking a finish at a completed lesser distance if they did not complete the distance they initially signed up for. For example a 50mi registrant could opt to take a 10mi finish if that runner did not complete 3 loops or a 50k finish if they completed 3 but not 5. The stipulation being that the finishing time is recorded as the time the runner elected not to continue rather than the time he/she completed the lesser distance.

The result of the ability to drop down in distance (along with a few other factors) led to a situation where there were a total of 4 finishers at the 50mi distance during the first two years of the race, and thus the race developed a bit of a reputation, at least according to the people I spoke with.

Also the race has two aid stations: one at the start/finish where 50k/50mi runners can store a drop bag to be accessed between each lap; and a second that is positioned on the course so that it is passed twice, bringing the total number of aid stops to three.

The course has approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain per lap. The front half of the course having more long, gradual climbs with the odd steep spot here and there. The back half of the course having more short, steep climbs and descents along more technical terrain including rocks, streams and creeks, and washed out paths.


Registration for Fontandango was already open last year well before I started throwing together a race schedule for the winter and spring. At first glance I immediately concluded that it wasn’t for me and I pushed it out of my mind looking instead for faster paced 50k races. At the time I was fresh off of a decent performance at the Steep Canyon 50k and I had not yet run my first road marathon. The concept of running a gnarly 50 miler with an abysmally low finisher rate was not exactly appealing.

And yet I would come back to Fontandango at least once every other day while doing my race research as it would inevitably show up in my searches due to it having a 50k option. After some amount of avoiding the subject (and some goading from my friend Devin) I decided to pull the trigger. Besides, I could always just run three laps and take a 50k finish if I wasn’t feeling up to the full 50 mile distance.

A couple of months later during training for the Charleston Marathon, I had most of the rest of my winter/spring schedule put together. I was feeling strong and decided that I could make a fair attempt at Fontandango. At the very least, I knew I had it in my to finish 50 miles. Fontandango then became my A race with Charleston being the only major training hurdle.


Two days after Charleston I was on the trail out in Dupont Forest training with poles. There were two races on my calendar between Charleston and Fontandango, along with an extremely small amount of time (only 7 weeks) so I knew I had to get cracking.

The first race was the Frosty Foot 30k and it went better than expected given that I was still a bit fatigued from Charleston the week before. I ran better than I thought I would (taking 5th overall) but Frosty Foot was basically just a high effort training run for the Mill Stone 50k, which in turn was my tune-up race for Fontandango.

Between Frosty Foot and Fontandango I managed at least a marathon every weekend for my long run. Most of these were outside on trails with some having considerable elevation and/or unfavorable weather. My final training run a week out from the race was a 50k with about 7,000 feet of gain.

I was trying to hit 70+ miles per week on non-race weeks and as a result I usually had a long-ish treadmill run of about 20 miles mid-week. I was doing no speedwork at this point as it was too late in the training block for me to see considerable improvement from it. Most of my speedwork had been weeks out from Charleston, which was appropriate for Fontandango given the abbreviated timelines associated with each race.


Getting out to Fontana Village was very much one of those “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” sort of circumstances. When I was about halfway done with the 2.5 hour drive, my car started overheating. I quickly turned on the heater at full blast and, much to the annoyance of those driving behind me, reduced my speed quite a bit. The overheating indicator turned off before I got to the next exit so I decided to risk hanging on for a few more miles before checking it out.

Not 100 yards beyond the exit and the indicator came on again and this time it quickly went to red and put the car in limp mode. I was now driving 15 under the speed limit on account of the fact that the car simply would not let me accelerate any more. The next exit has no facilities, but the one beyond it did. After about 10 minutes of limp mode driving I was finally able to come to a stop at a gas station to let the car cool off.

Turns out it takes a lot longer for a car to cool off when it has been operating in excess of the recommended temperature. Physics can be a cruel mistress at times. After close to an hour I finally feel comfortable opening the coolant reservoir to take a look (if you’re unfamiliar, vehicle cooling systems are kept pressurized and opening it while the engine is hot will spray hot coolant all over everything) and the reservoir was essentially empty. The station had a gallon of overpriced coolant to sell me, but even after filling the reservoir I was extremely cautious and drove both slowly and deliberately from that point on.

Also it turns out the road to Fontana Village was closed necessitating a 45 minute detour. The RD had sent an email indicating as much, but had later sent another saying the road should have one lane open. It wasn’t until I was already at Fontana Village that I discovered a third email he sent saying to disregard the message about the one lane being open. I have to take the blame on that one for not thinking to check my personal email before leaving.

5 hours after leaving on my 2.5 hour road trip, I finally pull into Fontana Village and get checked in. While doing so I meet an interesting fellow from Tennessee name Dave and we head down the hill to packet pickup together. I elect to skip a proper dinner in favor of a bag of cold pasta and some fruit I brought from the house. I get as many things ready for the morning as possible try to settle in for as much sleep as one can reasonably expect before an A race.

In the morning everything goes off without a hitch. Everything is laid out and ready to go so I’m dressed and having my coffee almost immediately. I was up at 5:30 and by 6:00 I’m chomping at the bit to get started. I make myself sit down for another few minutes and end up showing up to the starting line at about 6:20 where I set up my drop bag, get out my poles, and join some others around a fire before the mandatory briefing a few minutes before the start of the race.

Lap 1

I led the pack off the line and was keeping to myself through the first rolling hills until a gentleman named Ed joined me. Ed is from the UK and is both a super nice guy and a heck of an athlete. We talked for maybe a mile before noting another runner, Bill, who was also in our general vicinity. I immediately recognized Bill as being the gentleman who intentionally showed up in road shoes to run a mostly single-track 50 miler with 10k of elevation gain. Bill is also a nice guy.

Our little trio kept within spitting distance of each other through about the first half of the lap, after which it became apparent that the only way I was going to beat Ed was if he fell and broke his leg. About two-thirds of the way through the lap Bill and I came up on the first steep, technical climb. Due to me having poles and trail shoes I was much better equipped to handle the climb and that was the last I saw of Bill.

I finished the lap in a little over 1.5 hours. I had run a bit harder than I had initially expected due to having company for a sizable portion of the lap. I was comfortably in second, but not so comfortable that I could slack off. My aid stop was literally nothing more than me grabbing two gels while volunteers refilled my softflasks with Tailwind. I was back on the course in under a minute.

Lap 2

This started the most isolated period of the race. With Ed well in front of me and the rest of the pack (and now 50k runners) well behind me, I didn’t see another person except for aid station workers for the duration.

I had my hydration and nutrition pretty much down so the biggest hurdle during this period of the race was simply trying to maintain pace. It was easy to go too fast and it was easy to go too slow, but the Goldilocks zone in the middle where I needed to be was a bit troublesome.

My lap time was more what I expected: about 1:45, give or take. At my drop bag the increasing temperature necessitated a change of shirt and hat, and I made it a point to put down some solid calories as well.

Lap 3

During this lap I was starting to see signs of life again. I had eyed a couple of other runners on the second half of the course where the two trails ran close together. I also passed a couple of runners on my way up to the aid station. Among the people I passed on the way up was Ed who was on his way back down…already, meaning he had put at least a 20 minute gap between the two of us at that point, possibly more.

In the back half of the course, during one particularly long and steep ascent, I noticed my calves were starting to feel more fatigued than I was comfortable with. I pressed on had to walk out about 100 yards or so after I reached the top to prevent what felt like the beginnings of a cramp from taking root.

My lap time was about 1:55 this time, give or take a few minutes. Not that I could have known it at the time, and not that I would do it if I could have known it, but had I dropped out of the race and taken a 50k finish at that point, I would have won the 50k outright.

Lap 4

Now the race was starting to feel downright social. The 50mi and 50k runners were pretty well-distributed at this point so it was never more than a few minutes between interactions with other people. Almost all of the interactions were friendly with the exceptions being the times I came up on runners wearing ear buds who didn’t hear me. A couple of them were quite startled as I had to yell “Coming Up!” rather loudly, and in close proximity, for them to hear.

The aid station crew was also new faces. Instead of the gentleman who was manning it, there was now a crew of ladies who were a bit more enthusiastic and talkative.

Coming into the back half of the course I passed Dave from the night before. He looked like he was having a heck of a time about things and was moving rather slowly. I slowed to a walk for a minute to say hello but started moving quickly again very shortly after.

The particularly steep ascent was particularly rough this time and I was definitely developing leg cramps. At the top of the hill I stopped for 30 seconds or so to stretch before starting the descent.

Lap time was comparable to lap 3. At my drop bag I shed everything from my vest I didn’t need (hat, sunglasses, gloves, trash, etc), loaded up with Tailwind, and popped a couple of electrolyte tablets hoping they could help me stave off the cramps before stuffing a few more in my pocket.

Lap 5

After the aid station and a modestly paced start to lap 5, I was feeling like the risk of cramping was subsiding so I picked up the pace a bit. While I was ascending up to the aid station, I noticed another runner coming up the hill rather quickly. My gut reaction was to presume that it was the 3rd place runner making a lap 5 move to overtake me so I spent considerably less time in the aid station than I had been planning. I basically just got fluids refilled and threw down a couple of pretzels before moving forward again.

I was moving better than I expected and I didn’t have any evidence of cramping trying to creep back up on me. As I came back around to the aid station I asked them if they knew about how far back the 3rd place runner was and they didn’t know. I popped another electrolyte tablet and got going as fast as my legs could carry me. I really didn’t want to have to actually go toe to toe with anyone this late in the race but I didn’t know where 3rd place was, which essentially meant I was acting like he/she was one or two turns behind me for the entire thing. My 44th mile ended up being my third fastest of the day behind two on the first lap from when I was running with Ed.

Moving into the back half of the course was when I started feeling the cramps start to form again. I really had no other recourse other than to tell them “NO” and keep on trucking. I’m really not sure how but it seemed to work, at least until I got toward the top of the really steep climb. From there it was mostly downhill anyway so I said “screw it” and kept on. I was all adrenaline at this point.

I crossed the line in 9 hours, 11 minutes, and 22 seconds taking 2nd place and becoming the 6th person (and 2nd fastest) to ever finish the 50 mile distance at Fontandango. I didn’t get the win, but I did beat the old course record by well over an hour.


I felt good; surprisingly good, actually. With the cramping never having had the chance to take root, I felt considerably better than I did after completing Mill Stone and Charleston. In fact I could have easily turned out another lap or two and probably with fairly decent times as well.

As predicted, Ed completely dominated. Almost unbelievably he finished in under 8 hours, setting a new course record that everyone present was sure will stand for quite some time. I’m really happy he won. He’s a really nice guy and a fantastic athlete and he completely deserved the win.

I cleaned up a little bit, put down some aid station food, and decided to hang around to see the third place runner finish and offer my congratulations. I ended up being there for a while. Turns out my suppositions during my last lap were dead wrong and the third place runner finished close to an hour behind me. Fourth place was just a few minutes behind him.

I made my way back to my room, put down some more food, and took a long bath before heading back down to the starting line to watch other runners finish. I showed up at a good time as I got to see most of the pack finish. In fact there were 26 finishers this year and I stayed until 24 of them had crossed the line.

What’s Next

I’ve been recovering for a few days now and I’m starting to feel good again. Fontandango gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to perform in medium distance ultras and I’m quite stoked for the rest of my race season.

I ended up signing up for the Savage Gulf Marathon, a trail run in Tennessee with considerably elevation gain and a lot of technical terrain, to use it as one of my weekend long runs before I make an attempt at Pitchell, the 100k fun run on the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail from Mt. Pisgah to Mt. Mitchell. After that I have a 30k race a week out from the Knock on Wood 100 miler in May. From there I’ll probably break from racing for a couple of months and then I have the newly announced Jones Gap Marathon a few weeks before the Allison Woods 100 in October. Then it’s back to winter marathon training. I’m thinking maybe Jekyll Island this time around.

Race Report: Mill Stone 50k

Race Information

What: Mill Stone 50k

When: February 10th 2018

Where: Fort Mill, SC


Goal Accomplished?
Finish Yes
Finish without completely embarrassing myself Yes
Set a new PR Yes


Just about every Friday a group of friends and acquaintances go for lunch at a favorite local Thai restaurant. Just about every Friday I join them. Among the regulars is my friend Devin who, among other things, is an ultrarunner and one of the people I credit most with my interest in the sport. Just about every Friday the conversation veers onto the topic of running for at least a few minutes.

It wasn’t too terribly long after I ran the Steep Canyon 50k that I started looking for more races. I brought this up to Devin at lunch one Friday and he pretty much immediately started throwing around some ideas. Among his suggestions was the Mill Stone 50k, a race which he had run last year, albeit unsuccessfully, and he spoke highly of the course and of the race director. I looked it up and saw that it was only $40 to register. That was all I needed to know.

Over the course of the next month or so I began making some other plans and registering for some other races. One in particular that caught my eye was a 50 miler called Fontandango which carries quite a reputation (only four finishers in two years). The only issue being that Fontandango happens to fall three weeks after Mill Stone on the calendar. After mulling it over for a couple of weeks, I pulled the trigger and registered anyway.

As it turns out, I ended up going a little crazy with race scheduling anyway so I said “screw it” and decided that Mill Stone would be a tune up race for Fontandango. If you’re unfamiliar, tune up races are basically a way to train for a goal race (or an “A” race as they’re often referred) by adding the nerves and atmosphere of an actual race.


Training for Mill Stone was kind of a halfway mish-mash of training for the Charleston Marathon combined with training for Fontandango. Or if I’m being perfectly honest, I did no training at all that was specific to Mill Stone. Rather Mill Stone (at least on paper) appeared to be about halfway between a road marathon and a gnarly 50 mile trail run, so with any luck the transition from training for a road marathon to training fo a gnarly 50 mile trail run would land me in about the right place come February 10th.

One thing I had going for me was that I was able to recover from Charleston rather quickly and get right back on the wagon. Two days after Charleston and I was on the trail. The Tsali Frosty Foot 30k was the next weekend and though I wasn’t able to give it 100%, I still managed to take 5th place overall.

Of the three weeks between Frosty Foot and Mill Stone, the first two I logged in excess of 70 miles, each with a full marathon long run at the end to cap them off. The third week was a half-hearted taper with about 20 miles early in the week before taking off the Thursday and Friday immediately before the race.


I tend to be a little overprepared for short runs and a lot overprepared for long runs. You don’t need to be a mathematician to extrapolate from this how I tend to prepare for races. I had an almost comical amount of stuff laid out and I ended up packing four shirts (thin short sleeve, thick short sleeve, thin long sleeve, thick long sleeve), about a half dozen pairs of socks, a couple of pairs of shorts, tights, pants, a couple of hat options, etc, etc, etc.

Better to have it and not need it I suppose. I really should work on this in the future.

Anyway, my biggest preparation concern was whether or not I should wake up ealy on race morning and drive down or if I should drive down the night before and stay in a cheap hotel. I spent probably two weeks trying to come to some sort of a decision before the weather forecast basically made up my mind for me. It was supposed to be moderate to heavy rain for pretty much the entire day. If there’s one thing I hate more than driving in the rain, it’s driving in the rain on the interstate at five in the morning. And it turns out hotels are surprisingly inexpensive in Fort Mill.

The drive down was completely uneventful. Basically it was an uninterrupted two hours and fifteen minutes of me blasting my favorite synthwave tracks. The hotel was a Holiday Inn Express which appeared to have been built last week. Literally everything in it looked completely brand new. Once settled, I wandered across the street to the gas station to grab a couple of ludicrously overpriced things then proceeded back to the hotel to browse Reddit and Strava for an hour or two before going to sleep.

My nutrition strategy this time around was a bit different than usual. Normally I heavily rely on Tailwind and GU with a couple of Larabars in my vest for when I want something more substantial. I had done a few training runs with just water, Larabars, and electrolyte tablets and things seemed to work well so that was what I was going to carry.


The race venue is a private nature preserve called the Anne Springs Close Greenway, and it seems to be quite a nice place. Lots of trails, a lake, at least one covered picnic pavillion, etc. Everyone there seemed to be in a pretty good mood, packet pickup was fast and efficient, and there was a large fire going in the pavilion where a few people were keeping warm. It was just a pleasant morning overall, even if it was a bit rainy.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my father and one of my brothers, who happened to be in nearby Charlotte, NC, had the morning free and were coming down to spectate. This simplified logistics as I could just leave my jacket and rain shell with them instead of having to run back out to the car. Plus I knew I’d benefit from some on-course motivation.

There was a mandatory pre-race briefing about 15 minutes prior to the start that covered the usual topics: aid station distances, how turns were marked, anything to watch out for, etc. And that was basically it. The whole endeavor seemed to be going very smooth.

Loop 1: A little too easy

I should note at this point that the Mill Stone course is a 10.5 mile loop through the Greenway’s trails run three times. I particularly like this setup as you know what to expect later in the race and the loops are long enough to where it doesn’t get boring. There is an aid station at the start/finish and another one that the course passes around mile 3.5 and again somewhere around mile 7 thus creating a nicely even distribution.

I started off toward the back of the front runners. My thought was to push a little on loop one to put some distance between me and the majority of the runners and then maybe reel back a bit for loops two and three. This was a tune up race so I didn’t need to give it 100% and I wasn’t going to try.

I ran the first couple of miles with a guy named Matt Hammersmith who ended up being pretty entertaining to talk to. My pace felt a little too easy, but I knew it wasn’t maintainable so I relaxed a bit and the leaders started pulling away. At this point I didn’t know what position I was in, but I knew I was running in the top 10. Ultrasignup had me seeded somewhere between 15th and 20th and I was expecting a finish outside of the top 10 anyway, so trying to stay with the leaders was a likely a recipe for disaster.

At the first aid station I passed one runner who was taking his time and about a mile later I caught and passed another who was more familiar with the trail and was purposefully slowing down due to some gradual uphill that he didn’t want to hit too aggressively. I had probably 30 seconds on that runner when I came to an intersection with some obscure markings on it where I had to ponder the direction. He came up on me, pointed straight and we both carried on. I gained some time on him as we hit the aid station the second time.

It was at this point that I noticed we had a lull in the rain. Up until this point the course had been quite nice. There was some mud here and there, but mostly it was pretty well drained singletrack with a few iffy spots here and there, the majority of which could be avoided pretty easily (note that I’m all about slogging through some mud, but on a rainy day in the woods it’s both easier and faster to run on “not mud”). That was until I got to the back third of the loop. Probably 2 of the 3.5 miles of this section consisted of “unavoidable mud” while 1 mile could easily be classified as “kind of avoidable mud”. I had but one choice: embrace the mud.

Loop 2: Tim

The volunteers told me I was in 6th place before I started loop 2 and I did so with confidence. My larger concern was trying to keep myself from pushing hard  to compete for position in a tune up race. I was comfortably in the top 10 at this point. All I had to do was not screw up.

But that runner was striking distance behind me. And he was more consistent than me. And it certainly looked like he was gaining on me. So I did what I shouldn’t have done and pushed a little too hard. Now it was a little too hard, not a big too hard so nothing that was going to wreck a race, but certainly something that stood the chance of coming back to haunt me by the time it was all said and done. At the first river crossing he plowed through it whereas I took the extra few seconds to take the bridge. I overtook him shortly thereafter and didn’t get more than 15 or 20 seconds on him for the first half of the loop.

All the while that I’m fighting to keep ahead of this other runner, I’m noticing the conditions on the course have taken a turn for the worse. Well it turns out that reasonably solid singletrack deteriorates pretty quickly once you run a hundred or so people over it. Inclines that were easily traversible had devolved into Slip ‘N Slides. The extra bit of run off room on mud holes had now collapsed inward. There would be two winners today: the eventual race champion and the mud.

About halfway through the second section of the second loop (basically the 3.5 miles between the aid station and the aid station again) I came upon another runner who pysically could not have been at that place on the course unless he was either the slowest runner in human history or one of the leaders who pushed too hard early and needed to fall behind. As I and the other runner almost immediately behind me now passed, we then found out he had been the 5th place runner.

Not 20 seconds after that I was passed by the runner behind me, thus moving me from 6th place, to 5th place, and back to 6th place in a span of less than a minute. So I decided to strike up a conversation.

The gentleman who had been on my heels all this time and had now overtaken me was named Tim and is a super nice guy. Really great to talk with. We chatted largely about running, specifically our near term goals and I had an absolute blast. The thought occurred to me that I probably should have spent a lot less time competing with Tim and a lot more time conversing, but too late for that now.

It wasn’t long before Tim started to pull ahead. There for a minute we were definitely pushing each other a little too hard, but I think we both came to that realization quickly and backed off a bit, but not before Tim had put a solid 15 seconds on me. My last direct interaction with Tim during the race was as I went through the second aid station where I was coming in right as he was going out. Heck of a good run, Tim.

As was predictable by the amount of trail deterioration during the first two legs of the loop, the third leg was an absolute nightmare. We’re talking giant shoe-eating mud holes, borderline unclimable inclines, and enough general purpose mud that everything went more slowly.

Loop 3: ALL the mud

I could be fogiven for thinking that the mud on loop 2 was about as bad as it was going to get because it was pretty seriously bad. Turns out the mud on loop 2 was mere child’s play; a bit of a warmup if you will. Pardon the language but shit was about to get real.

The gravel road down to the first crossing was notably deteriorated at this point. Now anybody actually running this thing would have already been sufficiently coated with mud by this point (at least from the knees down), but already being muddy doesn’t keep the mud from slowing you down unless you’re either well trained for it, or simply don’t care and have enough stamina to fuel the extra effort without (or withouth regard for) negative repurcussions.

On account of Tim, I had run loop 2 harder than planned so I knew to reel back and relax a bit. I was still 6th and that was WAY better than anticipated. I wasn’t supposed to finish in the top ten, remember?

Anyway, the singletrack leading up to the aid station for the first pass wasn’t that bad. I slowed for water and calories on a couple of the inclines but didn’t really give up any substantial time until past the aid station.

The second leg was pretty rough. There was still a fair amount of well drained singletrack, but none that one could simply autopilot themselves through without considerable experience or reckless abandon dealing with mud. I got comfortable running at about a 9:00 pace with walks during the iffy parts which ended up putting my average at a little over an 11:00 pace for the loop.

In spite of being minutes behind 5th place and an unknown-but-probably-considerable distance ahead of 7th, the trail was far from lonely. At this point there were a fair number of people still on their second loop, virtually all of whom offered words of encouragement as I passed.

I was going through water pretty quickly during this stage and I took a bit of extra time at the aid station to fill one of my flasks and put down some additional calories that I knew I needed. There were only 3.5 miles left, but that was 3.5 miles of muddy hell to contend with.

Well, the race director probably could have covered the entire last section of the race with dish soap and I don’t think anyone would have been able to notice. The mud at this point had progressed beyond annoying to downright hateful. Things that physics demanded could not be slippery were somehow slippery. The handful of people on loop 2 that I passed during this span seemed to be having quite a time simply walking this part of the course.

While I’m not entirely certain what was going through my mind at the time, I do know that I was beyond caring and simply wanted to finish. I did have a nice, albeit brief, conversation with another runner on loop 2 with about three quarters of a mile to go, but during the last climb I pulled ahead to try and have as strong a finish as I could muster. I crossed the line in 5:03:51 to take 6th overall, besting my previous PR by 59 minutes and change.


I’m sure I crossed the line looking pretty wrecked. No seriously, I’m sure of it. I have photographic evidence. Turns out my father and brother took a fair number of pictures while spectating, including a couple of choice ones right as I was crossing the line. Fortunately it was short lived and I bounced back as soon as I was able to put down a few calories.

I chilled for 10 or 15 minutes requesting a couple of beverage refills before getting up to get some soup (seriously they had like 15 kinds of soup, including some particularly delicious vegan chili). I noticed my legs felt particularly good but my glutes were basically on fire. My father offered to drive my car home and I graciously accepted. I cleaned up a bit, changed clothes, and we left shortly thereafter.

Lessons Learned

I did better than I thought I would do, but I still could have run a better, smarter race. In hindsight, I need to rethink my nutrition strategy for the 50k distance. Larabars are good sources of calories, but they’re slow to chew and swallow. As a result, I didn’t eat as much as I should have and ran a fair bit of the third loop dangerously close to being depleted. I’ve gone ahead and ordered a couple more boxes of gels and I need to figure out some way of adding Tailwind to my flasks in a quick and efficient manner. I think the Larabar strategy might work better at longer distances where I could afford a little more time, but as it stands I need calories that are quicker and easier to injest.

Another thought is that I really need to work on maintaining my own pace and not letting myself get pushed or pulled based on the activity of other runners. At Frosty Foot I didn’t have this problem as I was running completely by myself for the overwhelming majority of the race and in Charleston I didn’t have this problem as there were simply enough people running to drown it out.

Overall I think it was an excellent training run for Fontandango. Sure it could have used quite a bit more elevation gain, but the tough conditions presented by the rain and mud are the sorts of things I need to be fully prepared for when I toe the line in 3 weeks.

Cheers everyone.

Altra Solstice: First Look

I do the overwhelming majority of my running in Altra shoes. There are a handful of reasons for this that I’ll get into later. For the time being it should suffice for me to note a couple of the biggest reasons: the wide forefoot shape and the 0mm drop. In fact the only running I do these days that isn’t in a pair of Altras is instead in a pair of shoes by Topo Athletic that sport a similar wide forefoot shape (though they have a 3mm drop).

A few months ago some articles started circling the web about some new product offerings from Altra in late 2017 and early 2018. Among them some new casual shoes, an actual bonafide racing flat, and a new low cost (for Altra) road shoe called the Solstice that would be exclusive to jackrabbit.com for the first few weeks of its availability.

As it turns out, my favorite pair of road shoes, a bright yellow pair of the Altra One V3, are quickly getting to the point of being completely worn out (they’ve somehow managed to hang on for over 400 miles but will probably be dead by 500). I have a backup pair of Ones, as well as a pair of Escalantes (and a backup pair of those as well), but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give something new a try. That and I’m kind of like a kid in a candy store when it comes to shoe shopping.

A few days ago I went to jackrabbit.com and ordered a pair and today my shiny new pair of Solstices showed up.

First Impressions

NOTE: I’ll primarily be using the  One V3 and the Escalante as points of comparison given that they’re the closest to the Solstice in Altra’s current lineup. The Instinct is also pretty close, but I don’t have a pair of those to use as a point of comparison.

I really like the look of the Solstice. It’s considerably less aggressive in appearance than the One V3 and it looks more like a running shoe than the Escalante (which kind of resemble a pair of Airwalks made in the 90s). Not that the Escalante is a bad looking shoe or anything, but it doesn’t exactly look like a running shoe unless you get the Boston or Limited Edition colorway (and even then, just barely). Anyway, it looks like Altra has started paying a little more attention to what’s trendy in running shoes with the Solstice, at least in the looks department.

At first glance, the construction seems to be on par with other Altras I have laying around. Basically I don’t see any immediate cause for concern. On the inside, there’s a pretty obvious seam where the front half of the upper is “welded” to the back half. This contrasts with my other Altra road shoes, but doesn’t seem considerably different than what’s found in the Superior 3.0. After I put the shoes on, I couldn’t feel an obvious seam there, so perhaps it’ll be a non-issue. Besides, these are supposed to be the inexpensive, everyman’s Altra so I suppose compromises like this were inevitable.

One thing I noticed right off the bat that I rather do not like is that most of the grip on the bottom of the shoe is made from the same blown rubber material that the midsole is made from. This is also something I really didn’t like on the One V3 (it wears out quickly), but there are two pretty big considerations here: 1) The One V3 has a bit more hard rubber than the Solstice; and 2) the material on the Solstice is considerably more dense than on the One V3. I’ll have to wait until I’m a hundred or so miles into these before I can shed some light as to whether or not this is an actual issue.

Only two other thoughts really go in with the first impressions. The first is that it’s nice that Altra has paired the Solstice up with shoeslaces that are a reasonable length. The second is that I think I’m going to get a fair number of rocks stuck in the slit on the bottom. Regarding the shoelaces, at least for me and my size 11 foot, most shoelaces included with Altras are at the extreme lower limit for acceptable length so it’s nice to see a change here.

Trying Them On

The fit is closer to the One V3 than the Escalante, but the forefoot seems to be a little wider than either. That’s not a bad thing, but I’m not sure if it’s a good thing either. I guess I’ll know in a hundred or so miles.

This is definitely a firmer shoe than the One V3 (which is considerably firmer than the Escalante). Very quickly after I started running I developed a preference for running in firmer shoes, something I’ve had to let go of a bit after switching to Altra, so I’m quite excited to see how the Solstice feels when running.

The shoe is admirably breathable. To test this I stepped outside where the temperature is well below freezing. My feet were immediately cold and I didn’t waste any time getting back inside. They do seem to be more breathable than the One V3 and the Escalante as well as any of my trail shoes. I think the only shoes I have that are more breathable are some Adidas and Mizuno racing flats.

As to negatives, one big thing I noticed is that there’s a stitch seam toward the base of the tongue on the inside that puts some pressure on the top of the foot. Note that this isn’t the same seam I mentioned above. I spent close to a month recovering from extensor tendinitis toward the middle of last year so this is an immediate cause for concern. In fact I relaced my Ones and my Superiors to put less lace pressure on the top of my foot as a result of this. Given that in the Solstice it’s a stitch seam that’s causing the pressure, I doubt changing lacing will have much of an impact if it does start upsetting the extensor tendons. The seam itself is in the same general area as the seam that connects the front and back of the upper so that part of the upper doesn’t seem to stretch at all. I’ll find out well before I reach 100 miles in these if this is going to cause an issue. The Escalante, on the other hand, is basically the perfect shoe in this regard so it’s interesting to see the amount of contrast in Altra’s lineup.

The shoes are generally comfier than the One V3 and a bit less comfy than the Escalante, at least out of the box. We’ll see how they fare when I have some miles on them. I should note that I have no problem doing longer runs in the One V3, in fact I ran my first official road marathon in them, so I don’t suspect I’ll have any problems doing longer runs in the Solstice unless they jack up my extensor tendons.

Other Thoughts

One thing I should definitely mention is that the Solstice is lighter than either the One V3 or the Escalante. My food scale lists both the One V3 and Escalante at about 9 ounces and the Solstice at about 8 ounces, all size 11. I’m not sure how accurate that scale is, but it has proven accurate relative to itself in the past so I trust it to tell me when item A weighs more than item B.

Also, I get that this is a “less expensive Altra” rather than a “budget Altra” but it’s still hard to stomach $90 for a pair of “less expensive” running shoes. This is especially true considering the One V3 lists for $100 and is often cheaper on Amazon, though typically for less desirable colors. That said, the One V3 is at the low end of the spectrum regarding Altra pricing. The Escalantes list for $130 and their higher priced trail shoes come in at $150 and $160. Their most expensive shoe is a “smart shoe” coming in at $220. When put in perspective, $90 really is pretty good considering the cost of entry with practically every other model. But still, it’s $90 for a “less expensive” running shoe, which is a bit hard to stomach.

What’s Next

Well, I actually need to go running in the Solstice before I can comment further. Unfortunately doing so isn’t the easiest thing at the moment. We had a snowstorm last night and I’m resting up for a trail race this Saturday anyway, so we’ll be looking at Sunday or Monday at the earliest. Also that might have to be on the treadmill if the roads and sidewalks are still bad (I’m crossing my fingers they won’t be).

Until then, be well.

Race Report: Charleston Marathon

Race Information

What: Charleston Marathon

When: January 13th 2018

Where: Charleston, SC


Goal Realistic? Accomplished?
New PR Absolutely realistic. Yes
3:20 As long as I don’t screw up. Yes
3:15 If everything goes perfectly. No


How I ended up in Charleston is pretty well summed up in this post, but here’s the short version:

  • Friend/training parter Ryan is thinking about running Charleston
  • Misgivings about it being the weekend before a 30k trail race
  • Screw it, do it anyway, we care more about my road marathon PRs than trail 30k PRs
  • Train, train, train, train, train…..


I really only had the month of December to train hard for Charleston. In late November I had the Dreadmill Endurance Challenge, before which I had the Tryon Half Marathon, before which I had a pretty nasty respiratory infection. I suppose technically I had the first 12 days of January, but I wanted to make sure to get in a good taper as I knew I’d be chasing a PR, hopefully by a considerable margin.

My training plan was simple. If you want the nitty gritty it’s all on my Strava, but after the Dreadmill I did no more to recover than a 10k treadmill run a few days later and then I was right back at it with a fast 5k race and a 50k long run the following weekend. Right after that I spent a couple of weeks doing short, high intensity intervals and tempo runs above target race pace. Then I traded the short intervals for much longer ones and shifted my focus to logging a lot of miles at or around target race pace.

I peaked at 70 miles during the week before Christmas, and then did a 60 mile week right after. I was feeling good and decided to start my taper about two weeks out, which pretty well coincided with the new year.

I decided on an “A” goal of 3:15 with a “B” goal of 3:20. Really I’d be happy with a new PR, in this case anything faster than 3:32:01. Based on my training, I didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to hold a 7:25 pace on a super flat course, provided there were no environmental obstacles.


Immediately after registering for Charleston, I had taken the day before off from work. Charleston is a 3.5 hour drive with minimal traffic with most trips taking closer to 4 hours when accounting for restroom stops, road construction, traffic, etc. Also, packet pickup was at an expo the day before, which shut down at 8:00 PM, so there was simply no way for me to work a full day and being able to make it in time. Fortunately my wife Rachel, a sociology lecturer, didn’t have any Friday classes so she was able to make it work pretty easily.

The drive down was pretty nasty. Rachel and I were in one car while Ryan was in his car right behind us. It was raining, sometimes extremely hard, for almost the entire drive, and in the first hour we had to negotiate passing six oversize loads. The rain let off a bit once we got within the vicinity of the I-26/I-95 interchange and stayed about the same until we got into Downtown Charleston. Once we arrived at our respective hotels, we took an hour before meeting outside to walk to the expo.

The expo was about a 10 minute walk from the hotel and was nicely organized, though pretty typical for this sort of thing. Ryan and I picked up our packets and then walked around for 10 minutes or so looking at the various booths. I didn’t see anything that caught my fancy, but Rachel bought a ball bearing massager for her neck and Ryan picked up a pair of Hokas that were on sale as his current pair had over 400 miles on them already.

I had been texting back and forth with my neighbor, Rob, from a couple of streets over who was also running. He and a friend from Asheville had driven down together and I had mentioned going out for dinner the night before the race. We ended up running into them right before leaving the expo and hitting a local pizza place with vegan options before heading back to the hotel to wind down for the evening.

Race morning I was up at 5:00 sharp and immediately sent a text to Ryan to make sure he was up as well. I started snacking on some whole wheat penne pasta I had prepared before the drive down in order to pack in a few last minute carbs and started getting ready.

The air temperature wasn’t bad, high 30’s, maybe 40 ish and there didn’t seem to be any wind, at least not in between the hotel buildings where we were staying. I dressed appropriately for the temperature: a short sleeve, lined running shorts, and a pullover that I could leave in the car before lining up in the corral. Temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40’s are pretty much my sweet spot.

As it turns out, I was pretty much dead wrong about the wind. Evidently there not being wind when you’re surrounded by four story buildings on three sides doesn’t mean anything when you’re out in the open. The wind was blowing very hard and was very cold. Maybe I’d leave that pullover on afterall.

We had about an hour and 15 minutes before the race started. Ryan and I had planned to wander around and mingle, but ended up spending the vast majority of that time sitting in the car with the heat on. At about 7:40, we got out and Ryan jogged around for about 10 minutes to warm up. I decided that I would do just as well to warm up during the race and immediately went to the corral.

Start to Mile 3 – The warmup.

Getting started, the race was kind of nice outside of a strong crosswind at the very beginning. We were generally traveling southeast along the perimeter of the city. I didn’t have to pass too many people, and not too many people had to pass me, both good signs that people had lined up in the corral appropriate to their relative paces. I should note that the half marathon and the full marathon shared a start time and location so everyone was running together at this point and it was smooth sailing…but not for long. So far I was ahead of my target pace and feeling good. Target was 7:25 and I was putting down 7:10 miles.

3 to 9.6 – The Headwind of Death – Part 1

As soon as we made the turn onto King Street the head north, it became evident that we had been running with a bit of a tailwind. Initially the headwind after the turn didn’t seem that bad, but there was an awful lot of cover from the buildings. A mile or so up King Street and it got worse and worse, very much to the point that it was visibly slowing people down in some cases. I, rather stupidly I might add, had neglected to bring my gloves so my hands were quickly going numb. The longer I spent in the headwind, the more draining it was, but I managed to keep up the 7:10 pace against my better judgement.

The wind prsented an additional hurdle: nutrition. Turns out it’s really difficult to dig out gels, open them, and consume them efficiently when you can barely feel your hands. I started out carrying five gels in the pouch of a Nathan handheld (filled with the same sports drink the aid stations were serving) and on the very first one I knew it was going to be a struggle for the entire race.

9.6 to 12.2 – Respite

At mile 9.6, the half and full marathon courses diverged and the full took a turn south toward a marina. We were running exactly the opposite direction of the strongest winds from when we were traveling north so we got to briefly enjoy a very nice tailwind. My pace increased to about 7:00 flat, sometimes peaking a little faster, and I was doing so with considerably less effort than what it took to maintain the slower pace when traveling north.

In a quick turnaround leg, I saw my neighbor Rob who was a bit ahead of me and looking strong, then I saw Ryan who was also ahead of me but showing signs of exhaustion. After the turnaround leg we continued south to the marina.

Coming up on the marina turnaround, Rob had gained a little bit of ground and had put another 15 seconds or so between he and I. On the other hand, I had completely closed the gap betwen me and Ryan and he was mere seconds in front of me.

12.2 to 20.3 – The Headwind of Death – Part 2

After the marina turnaround, we were running directly into the wind again. Perhaps due to the lack of buildings or perhaps due to the physical exertion at this point, the wind seemed considerably stronger than it had been during the earlier miles. And it was relentless.

My pace immediately started falling. Not by much, but by enough. First it was 7:15, then I held on at 7:30 for a while. At somewhere around mile 17 we started getting into some neighborhoods that had some building and tree cover, but the wind was still bad enough to be an issue. Mile 20 ended up being my slowest yet and I was really feeling it as I had put a lot more effort into the race at this point than I had trained for.

20.3 to Finish- Hanging On

Shortly after mile 20, the course turned out of the worst of the wind and it then seemed like more of a normal cool morning run, excepting the fact that I had just run the bulk of 20 miles into a nasty headwind. I sucked it up and kept slogging along at about a 7:45 pace for the next couple of miles.

At this point, the cloud cover was clearing and I was getting some sunshine. Combined with the wind no longer blowing directly into me and I started to warm up very quickly. There was a mostly self-serve water stop shortly after mile 23 where I grabbed two cups and downed them both, and right after mile 24 I had to slow down and remove my pullover as it became unbearable to keep it on.

Shortly thereafter was the final “fully manned” aid station. I tried to ask for two cups of the sports drink they were serving, but I think I caught the volunteer by surprise. She asked if I wanted the sports drink and I replied with a semi-loud “two”. She looked confused and pulled back as if nobody had given her that answer to that question. To be fair, it’s entirely probably that nobody had so I don’t blame her, I was probably incomprehensible anyway. Regardless I had to slow down almost to a stop and grab two cups off the table, after which I walked for a few seconds to make sure I got more in me than on me.

It sucked losing some time during that mile to jacket removal and aid station confusion, but I really was burning up and I didn’t want to throw away what was assuredly a PR finish by bonking hard with only a mile or two left. I got rolling again at about an 8:00 pace and grabbed two cups of water as I ran by the final water stop before the final push to the finish line.

I saw Rachel yelling and waving as I was coming up on the finish line and I tried to smile in her general direction. I’m not sure as to whether or not I actually succeeded in that regard. I crossed the finish in 3:18:20 gun time and later found out my official chip time was 3:18:12, beating my old PR by almost 14 minutes.


After being handed my finisher medal, I grabbed a couple of bottles of water and a couple of bananas before meeting Rachel and finding somewhere to sit.

Rob found me within a few minutes. He had run 3:12 for a massive improvement to his PR and he got his first BQ as well. We exchanged congratulations, chatted for a minute, and waited for his traveling companion, RJ who finished in 3:30, and Ryan who crossed the line in 3:41.

I was excited given that I had run as well as I had in all the wind. My stretch goal was 3:15, which I was very much shooting for, but given the conditions I’ll happily take 3:18.

We all hung out for a few minutes and Ryan was the first to depart. He hitched a ride with another friend back to his car at the starting line. Shortly thereafter, Rachel and I drove Rob and RJ back to their hotel before we headed back to ours so I could clean up and spend most of the afternoon sleeping.

I’m very happy to have run Charleston and I’m actually quite happy that it was as windy as it was. It showed me that I can perform well in sub-optimal circumstances.

I think it’ll be a while before my next road marathon. Not only am I pretty much fully booked through May, I want to use the summer months primarily for trail running. Ryan will be running Charlotte next November so if I do another one this year, it’ll probably be that one. I may think about Charleston again next year, or perhaps Hilton Head, presuming of course that none of that gets in the way of bigger plans.

Official Results

Strava Activity

Race Report: Dreadmill 48 Hour Endurance Challenge

Race Information

What: Dreadmill 48 Hour Endurance Challenge

When: November 24th 2017

Where: Technically anywhere, but Hendersonville, NC


Goal Realistic? Accomplished?
Finish Absolutely No Idea Yes
Sub 24 Absolutely No Idea Yes
Sub 20 Absolutely No Idea No


In life, every once in a blue moon you run across something so outlandish you know that if you don’t give it a try you’ll regret it for a long time. That was the exact sensation that overtook me one evening a few months ago while perusing Ultrasignup.com looking for winter races. I happened across an event with this as the opening paragraph:

Too cold outside? Wind blowing too hard? Tired of sitting around? How about something different? 100 miles on a treadmill! What no treadmill at home? Split it up over two days! 48 hours to do 100 Miles (yes all on a treadmill). Welcome to the Dreadmill 48 Hour Endurance Challenge!

And just like that I was hooked. I have no idea how or why, but I knew that one way or another I was going to end up running 100 miles on a treadmill.

I didn’t register right away. This was obviously a virtual event, but it advertised that runners could complete it anytime during the month of December, which would be a bit difficult for me. I was really looking for something I could run over the weekend following Thanksgiving. Coming from a particularly large family, it’s difficult to get anything done around the holidays and I had projects I didn’t feel comfortable leaving undone at work so I didn’t want to take additional time off. I thought about it for a week or so, deliberated whether or not such a thing was realistic, much less possible (before this my longest run had been the Steep Canyon 50k). Eventually I mustered up the courage to email the race director.

The race director, Bobby, got back to me quickly and cheerfully answered my questions. We shot a couple of messages back and forth before I asked if it would be cool for me to run the event a little early. Turns out it would work out to Bobby’s benefit to have something of a “pilot runner” to test the whole thing  with photo submissions of mileage and whatnot so I pulled out my debit card and registered.


When your longest run is a 50k, how do you physically prepare for 100 miles? Turns out there’s not really a good answer to that question. While I haven’t encountered a single ultrarunner silly enough to delude themselves into thinking there’s anything reasonable about the distances the sport entails, it’s a heck of lot less unreasonable to make the jump to 100 miles from running 100k events or perhaps even 50 mile events in some cases.

The best answer I could find was that if you can realistically last 50 miles, the rest is mental. I can’t recall exactly where I read this as I came across minor variations of the same sentiment in several places from several unique sources.

Steep Canyon is 3 times around a loop that is just shy of 11 miles. After adding in some stumbling around at the aid stations, I actually measured pretty close to 11 miles exactly for each loop. When I finished, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could have run a 4th loop. My knees would have hated it and I wouldn’t have run it nearly as quickly as the first three loops, but I could have made it and still been in good enough shape to drive home. Going into the Dreadmill 48 Hour, I knew I could handle 44 miles of singletrack and steep asphalt. It wasn’t quite 50 miles, but it was close enough that I felt I could skip any special training.

I was significantly less worried about my mental state. Years ago I used to work strenuous 16+ hour shifts on a loading dock. These days I keep myself occupied staring at code for hours on end. I’m pretty good at tuning the world out and focusing on the task at hand. I figured as long as I had some sort of distration I could fall back on from time to time, I would probably be pretty okay. About a month before the event, I ran a treadmill marathon to see how it would go and it did nothing but solidify my confidence that I could mentally handle 100 miles on a treadmill.


After registering I made it a point to swing by the gym where I’m a member and make sure they were good with me occupying a treadmill for an entire day (it’s a 24 hour gym). The manager said it was cool and that I could pretty much lay claim to one of them so long as I picked one closer to the back, which I tend to do anyway out of proximity to the mens locker room.

My wife was good with the whole thing. Mostly she was curious as to why I would pick the day after Thanksgiving as we normally hit up the local pub on Thanksgiving after leaving the various family gatherings we’re obligated to attend. She agreed to stop in and check on me a couple of times and I rounded up some other friends and family to stop in periodically.

The biggest thing I was worried about was which shoes to wear. I knew that like in every race I was going to wear a white Nike Pro short sleeve shirt and my favorite Salomon shorts. This time around I was trading out the normal sock choices for some Injinji compression socks for blister prevention, but I was completely stuck when it came to shoes.

I’m pretty much all aboard the Altra train with the occasional outing in a pair of Topos I keep for gravel and mixed terrain (a hole in Altra’s lineup). Pretty much all of my road and treadmill running is done in a pair of Altra shoes called the One v3, however that particular model isn’t particularly well endowed in the cushion department. I’ve run marathons in them (which they’re great for), but I don’t know that I would trust them past 50k to not absolutely ruin my feet.

My affinity for the One v3 has almost everything to do with it being firm and lacking cushion. I did a fair bit of minimalist shoe running early on and I generally preferred racing flats for road running up until I starting running in Altras. This was a problem as the only road shoes I owned with any amount of cushion were a pair of Altra Escalantes I picked up to use as daily drivers. Ultimately it was the Escalantes that would go on to be my shoes for the Dreadmill Challenge as I didn’t think that I would be happy with something more heavily cushioned. Also the Escalantes are super comfy.

Beyond that I prepared my standard race fare, just more of it and stuffed into a backpack instead of my mouth. I had an entire box of whole wheat pasta (cooked), a couple boxes of Larabars, a big bag of Tailwind, a bottle of Carbsport, some juice packets, electrolyte tablets, etc, etc.

My only other concern was having some kind of distraction. Outside I don’t run with any music or anything and I typically leave my phone in the car unless I’m planning a particularly long endeavor. At the gym I typically used some fitness oriented Bluetooth headphones paired with my phone for music, but I didn’t trust the battery life of something like that in a 100 mile event. A quick perusal of Amazon and I had some wired earbuds heading my way along with an inexpensive refurbushed tablet that I could load up with stuff from Netflix.

On race day I woke up early as normal to pack in some last minute carbs and put down a couple cups of coffee. I was planning an 8:30 AM start and I arrived with plenty of time to get settled before starting. I picked my favorite treadmill, number 49, all the way at the end of the second row. It gets good airflow from a giant overhead fan and has stair machines behind it so I think it’s actually the closest treadmill to the locker room, though I’d have to measure to be sure. I was as ready as I could be.

Start through mile 39

I got crackin’ on the whole ordeal without much fanfare and the early miles seemed to fly by. I was listening to favorite playlists in between episodes of a Netflix TV show while maintaining a pace that fluctuated between 8:30 and 9:00. I saw and briefly chatted with my friend Ben, a pretty solid 5k runner but down due to injury. My friend Paul also showed up and we talked for a good half hour while he made use of the immediately adjacent treadmill.

I stopped at a couple of points to take a few minutes to put down calories, use the restroom, stretch the legs, etc. My father and step-mother stopped in, as did my brother, bringing me beverages such as coconut water (high in potassium) and Red Bull (an exception to my diet I’ll make only during ultras). Rachel, my wife, was able to stop in at mile 37, took a video as I crossed over to mile 38, and stayed while I took my break at mile 39.

This was, obviously and predictably, the easy part.

Miles 39 through 63

It stayed pretty easy through mile 47 when I took another quick calorie/restroom break. During the break I realized how sore my legs were and rubbed them down with Icy Hot (which helped quite a bit). Getting going again wasn’t quite a chore, but it was close. I reeled my pace back as I could no longer stay where I was without my form suffering dramatically (which can lead to injury).

I had some other visitors come through. My frequent training partner Ryan stopped in, as did my friend Devin (who also runs). My father and step-mother made another stop as did Rachel at about mile 52.

This was about the point where I started becoming extremely bored with the show I was watching. I powered through a couple of documentaries and tried (and failed) to start another show. At some point I realized that eventually the electronics just weren’t going to be doing it for me so I made up my mind to cherish what time I had left.

I hit 63 miles in 11 hours and 7 minutes.

Miles 63 through 80

This was, far and away, the lonliest section of the entire thing. I was hitting my limit with the “entertainment” I had on the tablet, my favorite music was running the risk of becoming hated, and my visitors all decided that sleep was maybe somewhat more important than checking in on a crazy person with a rather strange addiction to treadmill running.

I had a couple of segments where I didn’t get more than 2 or 3 miles between breaks. By mile 80 I felt like my legs were completely shot. The stretch between miles 75 and 80 was definitely the low point of the whole ordeal. The only redeeming qualities being that I was so close to being done that the light at the end of the tunnel was a bit more blinding and that the attendant at the gym was more enthusiastic about the potential of me finishing than I was.

When I breaked for mile 80 I knew I was going to finish, but it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Miles 80 through 100

After a slightly longer than normal break I got back to it, but this time sans video and sans music. I rallied pretty good for a couple of miles and then settled into an aggressive walking pace. It was maybe mile 85 when I realized that I could pull this whole thing off in under 24 hours if I kept breaks to a minimum and didn’t slack on the pace.

I enlisted the assistance of the gym attendant who was happy to refill my water bottles with Tailwind and Carbsport and my break at mile 87 was no more than a minute: just enough to grease up the legs with some more Icy Hot. I took my final break at mile 94. It was another quick one and I skipped any additional hydration or nutrition as I was just walking and not really consuming much of anything.

The last miles went quickly. Entertainment and distraction no longer held any meaning. There was but one thing: the finish.

23 hours, 25 minutes, and 36 seconds.

Mile 100 came without any fanfare. I raised my arms in celebration for half a moment before snapping the mandatory mileage pic and grabbing my things before heading for the locker room. The enthusiastic gym attendant had finished his shift half an hour or so before finishing and I was greeted by much of the same staff that was there the day before.


One of the gym attendants was a little worried about my ability to drive home so she offered me a free spin on one of the massage beds typically reserved for premium members. The massage bed was rather nice and it certainly helped loosen things up. I drove home maybe half an hour later after putting down most of what was left of the pasta. Rachel left a cute sign on the door that I was sure to see when I walked in. I hopped in the shower and then went upstairs to bed.

It was during the shower that I realized how completely destroyed my feet were. The combination of Injinji compression socks and Altra Escalantes had kept me completely blister free, but my feet were almost obnoxiously swollen and red. I knew they’d be sore, but I wasn’t prepared for this.

I ended up sleeping for almost 24 hours straight. I had two brief wakup periods where I hit the restroom and actually hobbled to the pub for a beer (maybe an hour awake, tops), but otherwise I was down for a solid 24 hours.

After resting and waking properly, I felt pretty good in spite of the fact that my lower body wished I was dead. It took three solid days for the foot swelling and redness to subside, then another couple of days before it wasn’t painful to walk. I actually hit the treadmill for a quick 10k before my feet felt completely normal, which was probably a good decision, if only to keep things moing.

A couple of weeks later and I received my 100 mile finisher buckle. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as proud of an athletic accomplishment as I am of this one. It was both a great and terrible experience and I’m on the fence about going for it again next year.

Strava Activity

I just wanted to throw in a postscript noting that this event is technically a “get as many miles as you can in 48 hours” type of event rather than “get to 100 miles as quickly as possible”. I spoke with the RD a few weeks after running and checked the event’s Facebook page and it turns out most runners similarly stopped at 100 with only a couple of them going for any significant distance past the 100 mark. Due to some scheduling issues, some runners had to postpone their attempts into January so official results will likely not be posted for another few weeks.

It was also noted that most runners (even seasoned 100 mile veterans) had similarly wrecked feet, many having some pretty gnarly blistering going on as well. The RD offered the insight that when running outside, there are constant variations to one’s gait to accommodate the terrain whereas a treadmill pretty much demands the same gait the entire time, thus stressing certain parts of the feet more than in a non-treadmill event.

The Road to Charleston

When I started taking running seriously a little over a year ago, I initially had very modest expectations. My new years resolution last winter was to be able to run a 10k, a goal well within the grasp of most reasonably healthy people. I achieved that particular goal within a week or two of the new year and immediately set my sights on bigger, more ambitious achievements.

It was in February when I decided I was going to run a marathon. One evening after having a bit to drink I pulled out my debit card and registered for the Cannonball in Greensboro, NC.

Most of my training was centralized around being able to run the distance rather than being able to run the distance with any sort of speed. I slogged out my normal runs a couple of times a week and made it a point to do a long run every weekend. The process seemed to be working and it was in June when I hit the marathon distance for the first time during a long Saturday morning training run. Strava clocked my elapsed time at 4:20:17. Not bad for a first effort but plenty of room for improvement.

Between that first marathon effort and the Cannonball, I was able to hit a lot of milestones and gain a fair amount of knowledge and experience. I ran my first official race, ran my first 50k training run, ran my first 50k race, learned what speed work is, bought a road bike, and learned how to deal with warts on one’s feet. Also I was able to ramp up my weekly mileage to where I was averaging somewhere between 40 and 50. I also gained a few friends in the process.

The hard work paid off and I was able to run the Cannonball in 3:32:01, which was about as optimistic as I could realistically expect given my training. I was just hoping for 3:45, but one friend in particular convinced me to try and go for 3:30, which I did and I’m glad for it.

Running the Cannonball as I did highlighted some holes in my training up until that point. I bonked pretty hard at mile 22 after averaging a slightly faster than 8 minute pace, at which point I had to add in a fair bit of walking. I hadn’t done a lot of highly specific training, rather I was just getting miles in, and it showed in my results.

To be clear, I’m still super stoked that I was able to run 3:32 in Greensboro. That far exceeded my expectations. I just know that I’m capable of much more, especially given that I wasn’t able to go the entire distance without slowing to a walk. I was on pace for a 3:27 finish when I bonked so 3:27 is the new yardstick.

Ramping up the training…

A couple of weeks before Greensboro, I picked up a copy of Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop, a coach at CTS generally considered to be among the best in the industry. I tore through the book in about 3 days and while it was too late to make any effective changes for Greensboro, I immediately started laying out an improved training plan for the races to follow.

My next race was the Tryon Half Marathon so as soon as I was feeling solid again, I resumed training, but this time with a lot of hill repeats and high intensity 5k efforts. Later this changed to logging a lot of miles on flat gravel roads to emulate the expected race conditions as best as possible.

Within a couple of weeks I was seeing dramatic improvements. Hard 8:00 pace runs became medium effort 7:30 and 7:45 pace runs and I was finally able to drop my 5k time below 20 minutes. While a gravel road half was my next race, I adopted the mantra of “7:30 is the new 8:00” knowing that it wouldn’t be too terribly long before I tried my hand at another road marathon.

Charleston? Why not?

My friend and frequent training partner, Ryan, convinced me to take a good look at the Frosty Foot races which take place within the Tsali Recreation Area at Lake Fontana in Western NC. Tsali is especially popular for mountain biking and evidently it has some pretty solid trail running as well, as evidenced by the general popularity of the Frosty Foot races.

Frosty Foot offers three distances: 8k, 30k, and 50k. I was initially interested in the 50k option, but Ryan convinced me to run the 30k with him. I registered almost immediately. Shortly thereafter in early November, Ryan and I were texting and he brought up the potential of running the Charleston Marathon as well as he was looking for a road marathon to attempt a PR.

The only real issue either of us had was that the Charleston Marathon is a week before Frosty Foot. After some discussion, it became clear that our reservations were not firmly held. Earlier in the year I had done a solid 30k training run four days before setting a 50k PR at Steep Canyon so I said “screw it” and pulled out my debit card to register. Charleston would then become my winter “A race” as I care more about my performance in a road marathon than I do about my performance in a trail 30k for reasons I’ll explain later in another post.

Ryan ended up missing the boat for Frosty Foot. I checked the registration page and entrant list to see if anyone else I knew had signed up and all three distances were sold out. I let him know immediately and while he didn’t explicitly indicate as much, I get the feeling that he stopped caring as he’s been putting all of his effort into training for Charleston.

And here we are…

…a mere two weeks away from the Charleston Marathon. I’m easing into my taper presently with an easy hour on the treadmill later this afternoon and the last pre-race long run is on the books for tomorrow morning. I’m aiming high this time, as I did in Greensboro. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t hit a new PR as my primary goal is 3:20 and my secondary goal is 3:15. Hopefully nothing flies too far off the rails. 7:30 is the new 8:00.