Monday, October 5, 2009

FATS 40 Miler - Coon Dogs & A Bloody Back

Sunday October 4th was the 2nd annual FATS (Fork Area Trail System) 50k or 40 mile race put on by race directory Terri Hayes. Runners are allowed to decide which distance they want to take on after finishing the 50k. You can either stop then or head back out onto the trail for 8 more miles to make 40 miles. I made a personal commitment before the race to finish the 40 miler even if I had to crawl over the finish line. My longest distance up to now was around 35 miles at Laurel Valley.

The trail system is located in North Augusta, S.C. which is about 2 hours from my home in Spartanburg. I opted to get up at 4:30 AM and drive down early Sunday morning so I could sleep in my own bed. The trail head was easy to find and I met up with some GUTS friends - Erica, Tom, Kena & David Ray. We quickly checked in and pinned on our numbers. Terri gave her pre-race speech and we were off & running at 7:30 AM.

This ultra was a different course design than the others that I have ran. There were a total of six loops. You could run five loops for the 50k distance and six for the 40 miler. It was fun to run each section because their names gave you some indication of what the trail would be like.

I will admit that my nerves were shot before the run started. All that I could keep thinking is "don't go out too fast, don't go out too fast....".

1. Deep Step Trail
Everyone started out fresh on this trail from the registration table. It seems like it was nearly all downhill with lots of little "V"s in the terrain. I'm sure the mountain bikers have a name for these, but I will assume that is why it is called Deep Step.?

The entire field seemed to be running together for the first mile so I decided to take a bio break and let the mob roar past me down the trail. I enjoyed feeding off the energy at the start line. It is fun to jockey for position with some of the super fast people. It seemed that the entire pack ran together like a big snake for about a mile.

When I got back on the trail I met up with a fellow runner from Charleston and we ran together for about an hour. It was cool and cloudy during Deep Step and it went by quickly. Two mountain bikers stopped and asked me if I was doing OK. I thought this was kind of weird because I felt great. I figured they were just looking out for the runners.

1a. Connector Trail
A connector trail / road took me from this section to the next. It was strange to run on a paved surface after running trails for so many months straight. This small section of paved road went by quick & turned into a dirt road which led to the first aid station. This was around the 8.5 mile mark. These first miles flew by as I was jawing back n' forth with the fellow from Charleston. I was comfortable and in my running groove at this point. I grabbed a P&B sandwich, filled my bottles up and was back to the run within one minute. Let's see a Nascar crew try to beat that time! Once again a biker asked me if I was OK, hmmmm - do I look that bad already? I was starting to wonder if I remembered to brush my hair & comb my teeth :] (ultra humor)

2 & 3. Big Rock & Tower
This was about a six mile section that obviously passed some big boulders and a fire tower. This section of trail was already showing signs of fall with leaves & pine needles covering the path. As in the other ultras, the first 14.5 miles seemed to fly by, but according to my watch I was moving at about 12 min/mile pace. I saw the lead pack finishing the loop and they were already about 5 miles ahead of me. I laughed and thought they better hope I don't turn on my rocket boosters!

I felt that I was moving faster than that, but I was being cautious of going out too fast and taking a lot of walk breaks. Looking back I feel like I should have just ran faster when I felt like it, but I was enjoying the trails at the same time. This day was turning into a classic cool fall day in the south. Awesome! And of course - another biker slammed on brakes and checked to see if I was doing OK. At this point I was starting to freak out a bit.

Connector trail/road back to the other side of the trail system.
Finished up the loop and arrived back at the same aid station. Once again I scored some peanut butter crackers, a sandwich, fruit and filled the water bottles. I make up for my slow running with super human speed in the aid stations :] My Charleston friend went on ahead and I decided to spice the run up with some Black eyed Pea tunes from the mp3 player. As I was jamming to the tunes down the trail I ran up on another runner who I saw trip over a root and cut a full flip! He hit the ground hard and landed on his knee. A few crackers fell out of his pocket so I quickly went and ate them off the ground and helped him get up. He was fine & I was glad to help him lighten his load by eating his surplus inventory of food. Is that what "trail magic" is? That whole ordeal put a pop in my step...

4. Skinny
After strolling in from the connector road I was greeted by the GUTS aid station dream team! Kim, Tom, Kena, and others were there smiling and cheering me in. They were taking care of runners left and right. Bottles were getting filled, food was being dished up left and right, and directions to the next trail were available. It was terrific to have such seasoned runners helping out! Kim asked why my shirt had blood all over the back of it?

This kind of freaked me out since I had not felt any pain or stinging. After further review we decided it was just a little pimple that my shirt had rubbed the skin off of. This also made sense why all the bikers were asking if I was OK. I suppose seeing someone running through the woods listening to music with a bloody shirt may be cause for alarm.

I was feeling good with some minor toe cramps heading out of the aid station back to the trail. So here is the "skinny" on the Skinny trail. This section of trail was by far the easiest of the day. Mainly flat & downhill sections with some narrow trails. I came 6 inches from taking a biker out on one of the tight turns. It was probably a missed opportunity because he smelled of food as he whiffed by. I dreamed of having a pinata type collision where cheeseburgers and milkshakes came flying from the bike. That was fun to think about while I listened to some Willie Nelson. I started to feel the run near the end of skinny at about 22 miles. I felt a "bonk" was coming soon as I was out of water and food.
5. Brown Wave
Back to the aid station where I ate like a champ! This was the finish line for the 50k distance and Terri stood there like an angel with Domino's pizza all around her! The crowd cheered as I entered the aid station not sure if I was finished or turning back out for eight more miles. The GUTS crew seemed to be everywhere today as they helped me out again. I told them that I was doing 40, but I needed a LOT of food. I ate half of a cheese pizza, 5 Chic-Fil-A brownies, and four shots of Mountain Dew. One of the GUTS guys helped me fill some zip-loc bags with pizza and brownies to stick in my pockets for the rest of the run. I never understood the meaning of "Brown Wave" - it must be North Augusta insider stuff...

6. Great Wall
As I turned away from the aid station back onto the trail my buddy Mike Riggins yelled that there was a water drop about 4 miles into the loop. I'm glad he did because that gave me a shorter goal to aim for instead of the full 8 mile loop. As I hobbled down the trail I passed team Beth (two runners) coming in from their 40 miler with big smiles. Their high energy spilled out & it gave me an instant jump start. (The pizza & brownies didn't hurt either!). About 1/2 mile into this section my shorts were so heavy with food they fell to my knees and I nearly crashed into a tree! After making sure no one saw me - I had to stop and laugh at myself! It would be some sight to see my lying with my shorts down in the forest with bags of pizza & brownies around me!!! Maybe the "ultra version of The Blair Witch"? I decided it would be wise to scarf down some more food to avoid scaring small children & forest animals with another exposure.

To make this section even more interesting, I met up with two coon dogs! One of them was doing that funny bark and the other one was just walking around wagging his tail. I was feeling restless so I started doing my own version of the coon dog bark too! I was buzzing from all of the sugar and had a blast playing with the dogs for a few minutes. After I realized that they just were not that interested in hearing me bark I continued on the journey. I was hurting at this point and the funk was trying to set in.

This is the point in the run when I realized that I was going to be well over 40 miles after this last loop. My Garmin GPS watch loses it's distance under tree cover and I was nearly at 40 miles with four miles to go. Of course, just as I realize that I will probably end up doing about 45 miles a mountain biker shows up and asks if I know that my back if covered in blood? By this point the sweat has turned the entire back of my white shirt red. It looks much worse than it is, but it makes me feel tough. GRRRRRRRR!!!! At this point it was just one foot in front of the other.

This biker was sweeping the loop for Terri and he let me know that I had about four miles to go. He also added that I was the last runner out on the course. It was starting to get dark in the forest so I felt a little more motivated to run and wrap this madness up. The bike sweeper made a 2nd pass when I was about 1 mile from the finish and he let me know that I was very close. After 40+ miles "very close" better mean you can see your car!

At this point I had the most amazing feeling that I have ever had during a run. I was filled with energy. My foot cramps vanished & my posture straightened up. I suddenly felt like a new man and was overwhelmed with emotions. I felt like crying, laughing & singing all at the same time. I thanked God for my life, family, friends, running, brownies, pizza, coon dogs and lots of other things. It is very difficult to put the feelings into words, but the final mile was excellent.

As I make the final turn I see David Ray (who also finished his first 40 miler!) lounging in his camp chair with a huge grin on his face cheering me in with Terri. It was great to see them and they offered me lots of great food and congratulations to wrap the run up.

After I was able to rest for a minute Terri pulls out a bag with a big smile and hands me my FATS 40 finisher's award and this special award for finishing all four of her races this season:

This was very special to me & was lots of extra "icing on the cake" for finishing my longest run thus far (Thanks David for the photo).
Terri offered us some more food for the road and David helped me get my stuff to the car.
I was on cloud nine all the way home and so excited to be a small part of a great day with so many extraordinary people.
I'm not sure what distance I ended up running, but it felt heavenly to park my body in car and turn the cruise control on.
Special thanks again to Terri Hayes for putting on another outstanding run. And a standing ovation for the GUTS aid station dream team. You all rocked!
Next ultra up: Pine Mountain 40 12/06/09 in Georgia.


  1. Great report! Love the part where you helped out the guy that fell by eating his crackers. Good job refueling during the run to keep the energy levels up.

  2. Yeah, I wondered about that too... The guy cuts a flip & you eat his food. Hmm... Good job. I wish I'd gone down there to run it this year. Maybe I'll see you at Pine Mountain. It's on my schedule, but I haven't made up my mind. I'm thinking of running Quad Dipsea in California over Thanksgiving. That will probably cancel Pine Mountain plans.

  3. Very entertaining report Jason :-) And congrats on finishing a 40 miler! Wish I could have been there with the rest of all you crazies, sounds like another wonderful Terri race. Hate to have missed it.

  4. At first glance, I thought your post was titled CORN dogs and I was thinking *damn* I missed out on corn dogs???

    Dude, the battle "wound" is awesome ;-)

    Congrats on your 40-miler!

  5. Hey Jason... Wish I would have known you were at the iRecycle Half Marathon last week... I would have been looking for you. I saw Miss SC before the race and you must have been right there as well. Maybe next time!