Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Black Mt. Monster 24 Hour Race For Awesomeness

When you race for Awesomeness you gotta bring the "A" game with you.

Without sounding like a complete sandbagger, my "A" game is most runners "C" game, but still......I knew that I had to lay it all out for this one.  I've been training hard, losing the weight, sleeping, eating greens.  You know all of that stuff, so it only made sense to go run myself directly into the hot, hot, hot Black Mt. ground.

I was very certain that if the race went even "OK" that I could get in 24 5Ks.  That would mean one 5K every hour which is how long one loop around the course is.  That would be about 75 miles.  One hour 5Ks?  That sounds VERY slow huh?

Before I get too far ahead of myself it took some effort to make all of this even a remote possibility.  Jason, Christian, Weezy, Joe, and Mark drove up from Georgia to crash at my place on Friday night before the race.  Christian hauled everyone in the ultra-mobile (Excursion) and we had so much gear crammed in it that we had to bungee a table to the top of it.  I figure that we had 6 ice chest, 300 lbs. of gear, and 1200 lbs. in human souls. 

We grabbed some good Japanese food on Friday night - got to bed by 10 PM - then were on the road towards Black Mt. by 6 AM on Saturday.  Gotta throw some props out to Beth (wife) for the homeade chocolate chip cookies and leaving with the kids for the night so we could stink up the house.

Chillin the night before...

The race has a strange 10:00 AM start.  I'm guessing that this allows runners time to setup their gear and get settled in before the race, but not sure.  Well, anyway, it is what it is right?

I didn't enjoy having to lug all of our aid 100 yards down to the race HQ before running 24 hours, but there really is no other way to accommodate everyone.  I only complained once and we all pitched in with the hauling.  We got our base camp setup and had about 45 minutes to rest before the race began.

I knew temps could approach 90 during the day so I dressed in all white.  Weezy and I also agreed to implement the cold ice towel strategy.  We stuck about six white cotton towels in a cooler of cold ice water and could stop and cool down with it when things got hot.  I opted to wear mine like a sheik, but more on that in a bit.

Excitement was building before the start and I enjoyed watching all of the runners get their stuff setup.  Some had massive tents with boxes of stuff.  Others had a little duffel bag and a chair.  I was one of the Biltmore House types with a eight foot long table full of food, drinks, and gear.  May as well have it if you need it.

Everyone setting up & getting ready for the Black Mountain Monster...

When I was unpacking after the race on Sunday I laughed when I found a mirror in my box.  A mirror at an ultra?  Man, I must be getting softer.  I'm proud to say that I never used it during the race either.

Finally, lets get this thing started!  The RD calls all runners up for a quick pre-race briefing at 9:50.
  • The course is marked well, but watch the turns. - CHECK
  • It's gonna be hot so run smart - CHECK
  • Make sure the lap counter gets your number each time - CHECK
  • All loops must be completed to count.  No partials - CHECK
 On your mark......get set.........GO! 

When a 24 Hour event begins you are so excited that it seems you should start running fast, but you don't.  At least you shouldn't.  I started with a walk for the first quarter mile which led to a 13 min/mile pace for the first loop.  Walking any/all hills and jogging flats and downs. 

Knowing that I was going to be spending the next 23:59 hours on this loop, I BADLY wanted to like it.  I knew that taking care of myself for these first 12 hours would probably have a big impact on how my final 12 hours went.
I still cannot believe how much variation of scenery and landscape has been crammed into this 5K loop.  It is seriously like running in a huge dome that has been built like a house.  You make a sharp right and there is a little side trail beside the softball field.  Then a quick right and you enter a paved walkway.  Then another quick right and you are running through a designed field of ferns.
This goes on with about 15 different little "outdoor rooms" until you exit back into the waiting room which is race headquarters.

This is going to be a lot of photos, but I want to show you the course.  There are a ton of sharp turns and cutbacks throughout the entire loop.  I will continue on with the race after these shots...  

You begin here at the clock.  It actually counts the 24:00 hours down, instead of up from zero like a typical race.  This is NOT a flat course.  There is over 300 FT. of elevation gain per loop.  If you ran 100 miles here that would be right at 10,000 FT. of elevation gain.

Then a little more grassy field running and you are back to the start line for a complete loop.

So now you know what it looks like.

I knew that I was going to run the full 24 hours and have a great race after the first loop.  It didn't take too long to complete a full circle and I enjoyed the feeling of posting 3.1 miles each time around.
I ran the first two loops in about 1:45 and was just sort of getting a feel of the place.  It began to heat up some going into loop three so I grabbed a ice towel out of the cooler.  I was going to just wash off with it, but decided to slip it under my visor and wear it sheik style.  I heard a lot of jokes about me wearing it while out on the course, but didn't care cause' it kept me cool the entire day.
I swaped it out for a new one during each of my daytime loops:

It did get hot during the day.  As you can see in the pictures there are several parts of the course that leave you exposed to open sun for several minutes at a time.  I'm guessing the high was around 88 with fairly high humidity.  There were times during the day when the wind would blow and it felt heavenly.

I ran about 13 loops during the first day which ended up being close to 42 miles.  These were fairly easy miles for me as I walked all uphills and jogged the flats & downs.  Ocassionally picking up the pace on some sections just to offer my body a little variety.

It was always fun to complete a loop because race headquarters would have some music blarring over the loud speakers.  I was treated to music by George Michaels, Wham, Steve Miller, Pearl Jam, and some great Jazz music.  I always hoped for a good song to be playing because it would always be stuck in my head for the next loop!

My goal for this race was really just to keep moving for the entire 24 hours, but I had also thrown out that 84 miles would be great to pull in if possible.  I knew that the real race would begin at night after the first 50 miles and fatigue started playing it's dreaded mind games.

As the sun was setting I was excited to see Wayne and Mark at our aid station.  We had been seperated on the loop for most of the day and I enjoyed catching up with them about how their run was going.  The three of us decided to head out into the night portion together in hopes of staying stronger as a group.

Since this is only my 2nd 24 hour event I'm still trying to learn better strategies.  I definately enjoyed the comfort of knowing that the two other guys were there, but felt trapped at times if I wanted to back off the pace or run a bit faster.  The three of us stuck together throughout most of the night and went through some tremendous mental battles.  While looking back, I think it may have been better for me to stay with the group at this particular event since the chair was begging me to sit in it after each loop.

I would hit a low point and Wayne would hit a high point.  Then vice versa.  The two would collide and then we would all get quite.  Mark eventually pulled away from Wayne and I and we settled into a slow rhythm of more and more walking.

Psyche and a few other runners joined in with us around 3:00 AM and I was quickly entering Zombie Land.  It was becoming more and more difficult to answer questions or even remember where I was on the course.

I started playing little games in my head.  Thinking that we were all pawns on the Race Director's game board.  He would move hills around for us to make it harder then put them back where they belonged on the next loop.  One time he even turned the 5K loop into a 15K loop as I was certain that we had done it three times that only counted as one!

Like three grumpy old men - Wayne, Mark, and I exchanged words.  Nothing too bad, just general fatigue and frustration stuff.  I had noticed a lot of food went missing from my coolers and supply during the race and it was driving me mad.  I was sharing my frustration with the other guys as we completed a loop and sure enough, someone had even taken my chair!  I slammed my water bottle into the ground and screamed out in anger.  All that I could do was laugh when I saw it sitting about 10 feet away from where I was standing.

Wow, this was going to be a very difficult night.   Not only that, but when the sunrises at 6:00 AM, I'm still going to have four more hours to go.....

Well, there was no need worrying myself with those thoughts.  Just keep moving and things will work out.

At 5:00 AM, which was 19 hours in at 68 miles the wheels feel off.  Wayne and I were both reduced to a power hike and we started running the numbers in our head.  Well, trying anway.

We figured that we could cover a loop per hour and walk away with about 85 miles.  Yea, literally walk away.

My body and feet were holding up great until we had to start walking.  Then blisters quickly started forming and even the smallest root or rock would nearly bring me to tears. 

We ended up finishing four of the loops and the pain grew exponentially each loop.  As the sun finally came up the morning sun was already begining to heat up the course again.    We stumbled our zombified bodies up and down the loop and just wanted it to end, but it wouldn't. 

We finally finished our 25th loop around 8:30 AM and knew that we could get one more loop in before the race ended at 10:00 AM.  Neither one of us even thought about sitting down and quitting at this point.  Our minds outwilled our bodies and we kept moving.

Christian jumped in and paced us for this loop in his Crocs.  At some points he was even walking backwards talking to us.  He had ran 54 miles during the 12 hour event and already paced Jason Rogers in for his 100K too. 

We were moving slow, but we were moving.  That final loop seemed to take a week to finish, but finally there was the finish line and the clock ticking down with about 25 minutes left on it.

Christian insisted that Wayne and I run across the finish line and we did.  It was tough to do for even 20 feet.

Most of the runners had already broken their camps down and left by now and there were just a few tents and canopies left standing.  Of course, the GUTS canopy was still up and the faithful few cheered us into the finish.

I stumbled down to my chair (yes, it was there!) and collapsed in it.  I put my head into my hands and cried  for a minute.  So glad that it was over, but so emotional to have won the fight.  I think my final mileage was around 81 miles, 26 loops. 

I had to force myself to get back up after a minute or two because everyone was ready to get on the road and head home.  It was a struggle to pack all of our gear up, but we did and enjoyed a post race meal together at Cracker Barrell.

This race solidified my love of ultra running.  Especially the runs over 50 miles.

This is a very organized and conducted race.  If you are on the fence about doing it or supporting it then you need to go ahead and get involved now.  You will be glad that you did.

Here is what I'm taking away from this event: 
  • I took 1 SCap each hour along with other sodium in my food and I was fine.
  • I drank 30 ounces of liquids per hour - good move.
  • The wet - white towel over the head may look stupid, but it works great.
  • I'm changing back to my Maximum Protection Drymax Socks.  They work.
  • Ensure and foods with Ginger in them will help keep you in a long race.
  • I cannot sit more than five minutes during a race or I will likely drop.
Thanks again to all of my friends, the Black Mountain Volunteers, and everyone else who made this a quality ultra race!

Also gonna throw congratulations out to Joe on winning the race with 111 miles (I think?).  Coach Rick hitting the 100K in 12 hours flat and coming in 2nd.  Jason Rogers with his first 100K.  Mark & Weezy for grinding it out all night.  Christian hit 54 miles in the 12 hour and then got up Sunday morning to pace for six more miles.  Kim chewing up close to 40 miles after being injured and Amanda killing her distance PR.  There were many more....

I had to change batteries in my Garmin during the race.  Here are the two sets of Garmin Data from the race:


  1. Way to own it, Jason! You and Wayne lapped me twice during the race at just the right times, because I enjoyed the company and encouragement. You're looking slim and trim these days and the benefits of your hard work paid off big time. I'm looking forward to hitting Pinhoti with you!

  2. Congratulations on a great race! I love the report and all of the beautiful photos. It was wonderful seeing you again. Take care and happy running!

  3. I really liked the way you described the course as being a bunch of different outdoor rooms. I have been trying to figure out how to describe it and that hits the nail on the head. Congrats on your race and sticking it out in the bad times. Excellent training for your Foothills run!

  4. Great job Jason, and thanks for all the pictures! It looks beautiful! I wish I lived closer, but maybe I'll get to check it out sometime.

  5. Good job Jason. It was really good to see you and share part of the last lap with you.

  6. Way to bring it, Big Easy. "A" Game, indeed! You are ready for Foothills.