Monday, May 4, 2009

Buncombe Trail 34 Mile Report (My First Ultra)

This is my first Ultra and first organized trail run. I have been training for the Chattooga 50k about a month from now, but felt confident enough to pull the trigger on this one first. I knew I would be diving into it alone without my running friends who plan to do the Chattooga with me in June. It was one of those things that I knew that I had to do and the time was right. I had read that Terri Hayes' Ultra trail runs are very laid back and organized. Perfect for the first timer. After completing one - I could not agree more. There were no hassles at all. I pretty much just showed up at the start, pinned on my number, and was ready to run.

Here is a picture of Terri during the run:
I briefly talked with two people I had met before (Joy & Coach) minutes before the race trying to put my own mind at ease. It was only a brief diversion, but enough to keep my nerves from getting the best of me. Terri (Race Director) gave a quick trail briefing and then laid down her clip board and said that she was running today too! I thought that was incredible. To get all of this stuff organized and then head out for the run too! She clearly loves trail running...

We all lined up informally between two trees which served as the start & finish and I heard "go". I started 90% to the back and ran about a mile with what seemed to be most of the middle pack. I struck up a conversation with Tom from GA and ended up running / walking with him to the first aid station at about 9 miles. Tom was a long time runner who had completed lots of 50 & 100 milers. He shared some great stories that made those first nine miles just fly by.

Picture of tom:
The first aid station came quick. It was super clean and looked more like a buffet than a typical aid station. I had some pound cake and grabbed a cliff bar then headed back to running. In the next mile I ran up on a guy who had blown his ankle out and was in obvious pain. He said he was fine so I kept going. I felt bad for him and it made me thankful to still have my legs under me.

The next 9-20 miles were great. The weather was overcast, the wind was blowing, and I was feeling fine. I was keeping a 11-12 minute/mile pace and the trail was in great running shape through here. At this point I was thinking that a 7 hour finish was possible. Wow - this stuff is great!

I hit another aid station around 20.5 and grabbed a quick arm full of food & refilled the camelbak. I know you hear it all of the time, but the aid volunteers were so helpful. I mean they even offered to take my pack off and fill it with water. Once again, thank you guys!

I passed a few people in the next couple of miles and my energy began to fade some. For some reason I started thinking that I wanted to "beat" other runners and that there was no way that they would finish before me. Then the humidity seemed to come out of nowhere and it had suddenly gotten hot. I was really hot at mile 25 and I noticed some swelling in my hands. I went down a hill into the shade and it was either really dark down at the bottom or my vision was screwed up. I remember running beside a creek and it seemed that a huge thick black net was covering the ground. It kind of freaked me out and I ran faster to get out of there.

Thankfully, I caught up with four other people in the next mile (one who I would nearly finish with). We were all five slowly trotting along for a few miles. I wanted to blast by them, but there was no blast fuel left in the rocket so I joined in with them. I felt something like the seven dwarfs in Snow White by the way we were walking and running.

Some of the other runners that I caught up with:

It took me about six hours to get the marathon distance. I knew if I could hustle and get to the final aid station I could make it to the end. "Hustle" - that was a very relative term at this point.

The final aid station seemed to take forever to reach, but when I did I ate like a king. M&Ms, peanut butter cookies, fruit, and a sandwich. I popped my fifth S-Cap of the day and took off with Paul who I had been running with for several miles. Paul was good to run with at this point. We didn't talk much, but it was great to have someone alongside. I even wonder if his name was Paul? I called him that, but I don't think we ever exchanged names... (Update: His name is Andy!)

We finally hit mile thirty and I was starting to fade quickly. I would run 100 yards and walk 200 yards. I think I was walking as fast as I was running. My head was still pretty clear and I knew that the finish line was getting closer and closer. I remember times when I would just put my head down and run as long as I could without even looking up at the surroundings. I was in some pain, but it felt really good. I'm not sure how to describe it other than that.

At about mile 33 "Paul" said, "Come on let's run". I said good luck and he took off. We had just passed another guy as well. This guy started pushing harder too. Both Paul and the new guy were out of sight at this point and I came up on the final stream crossing. There were some stepping stones to get across, but I just slogged right through the middle of the creek. The cold water felt so good on my feet. The other guy's name was Mike. I found out later that he had just had two knee surguries ...Wow!

Picture of Mike:
I passed a little cement monument and I knew I was getting very close. I started to tear up from all of the emotion. I was so thankful for being out on the trail with all of these great people. All of the hard work of training runs was paying off step by step. My family would be proud and I was about to accomplish something new in my life. About a minute later I saw a volunteer clapping say 100 yards to go. I put my head down and took off as fast as I could go. That last 100 yards was pure bliss. The last thought in my head before crossing between the two trees "finish line" was "man, this is why I run". My watch said 8:00:50, but Im not sure what time will be recorded for me. (It was 8:01:51 to be exact)

Here is a picture of "Paul" and I shaking hands right after the finish. It was really cool to see him standing there clapping and waiting for me to finish. My kids and rest of the family were close by and all came up to celebrate with me.

I was really dreading taking my shoes off because my feet felt like they were a mess. However, I was surprised to only find one small blister on the outside of my right heel. Other than being tender everything looked good.

It was a run that I will never forget and it will probably take me a few weeks to reflect back over all that it meant to me. I'm looking forward to the Chattooga in five weeks!


  1. Great job!! A little different experience than the Myrtle Beach Marathon, huh? :) Good to meet you yesterday & I'm glad we have someone else hooked on ultrarunning!

  2. Wow Jason! This makes my little run yesterday seem pretty insignificant. Congratulations on running twice as long as me and not dying!

  3. Great Job Jason!

    I was the other ultra virgin that you passed at the last aid station, me in pain and you looking fresh as could be. You did a great job of describing the run, and the emotion involved, especially as far as family support. Good luck on your next one, perhaps we will see each other again at the Swamp Rabbit,

  4. I'm proud of you Jason!

    I know that you trained hard and you were focused. I'm looking forward to training with you and running the ultra in June.
    Great Job,