Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cross Country Flying with Enzo and Strolling Jim "40 Mile", Wartrace, TN, 5/3/14

photo from the Mooney at Take off.
Sidney and I have been wanting to check out Tennessee for sometime now.  We decided to use this race as an excuse to take a little vacation.  Well that is not entirely true… it has something to so with tomato sauce but that is a long story.

Sidney is a commercially licensed pilot, soon to be looking for official commercial work. To remain current and build his experience, several times per year we take cross country flights.  I find a race I have always wanted to run.  Sidney rents a small plane.  We load up our dog, Enzo, and take our time stopping wherever we want.  We had hoped to leave NJ on Wednesday, but whenever you fly a plane with a cabin rivaling the size of a smart car, flexibility with the schedule is important. Weather is a huge factor determining when we can leave. We were hit with some really bad rain and wind Tuesday through Wednesday.  Unfortunately that set our trip one day behind schedule.

We departed Thursday late morning.  The winds were flyable but not cooperative, as we basically flew directly in to a head wind that slowed our speed to under 100 knots… for almost 4 hours.  100 knots is like driving at 115 miles per hour.  Sure this is still faster than driving car and we get a more direct route in the sky, but generally the Mooney flies between 150-200 knots if the winds are in our favor.

Flying slower meant we were in the air for much longer and this meant we needed make a stop for fuel. I think when Sidney says "we need to stop for fuel", it really means, in part, that he needs to pee, but that's only fair because when I say "It looks like it is too bumpy for Enzo" that really means I am not appreciating the turbulence. :)

Sidney picked a random airport that he knew had fuel and we made our descent.  As he approached the airport, he checked the winds by listening to the automated weather report.  The first words I hear in the report are…"Hazard… Winds at (some speed) Coming form the (some direction) …. etc)".  I have never heard the automatic weather provide a warning before and was wondering what that meant.  Sidney wasn't concerned and I don't ask questions when he is in the middle of doing something important, like landing the airplane.

Somewhere over Kentucky

Once we landed decided we wanted to get food and see a bit of wherever we just landed.  The rolling green hills were beautiful from the sky and I was curious about what the area was like.  Often at small airports, when you purchase fuel (which can be quiet costly), the airports sometimes provides you with a free courtesy car so you can leave the airport for a short time (like to get something to eat).  Not all airports have this, but many do.  Since we were hungry Sidney asked if they had a car.  The employee said he sure does and gave Sidney a set of keys.  As we got in the car, it was immediately apparent that this man just gave us the keys to his personal car.  This is amazing and a refreshing trustworthy contrast to our experience that morning when we stepped of our house to view our neighbor's car up on cinderblocks because someone had stolen two of his tire over the course of the windy rainy evening.

The airport in Hazard, Kentucky.
Once back at the airport, I asked a guy what town this was.  That is when I discovered that we had landed in Hazard, Kentucky. Ahhhhh…. "Hazard" was the location of the weather not a warning that we were in danger. Phew! :)

Off to Nashville.  We didn't get to spend much time in Nashville but what we saw was really nice.  We stay in the Opryland section. There is a really pretty greenway that starts or ends at a dam nearby. It was a lovely trail. The weather was cool, so Enzo got a run in.  The city was a CITY and the food there was really good.  We were only there one day.  I look forward to returning for longer.

Off to Shelbyville.  On Friday, we drove an hour to Shelbyville to get my race packet and have dinner with John Price.

Strolling Jim 40 Mile
Strolling Jim is really a special race.  I really just love road ultras.  They tend to be quite the opposite of most road marathons for many many wonderful reasons.  They are small events where everyone is friendly.  When you get your bib, it feels like the RD's are now your friends and they remember you by your name for the rest of the event.

Everything is very informal and low key.  No one pretends like the event is built to cater to every runners' every needs. You need to be able to care of yourself.  If you are interested in things like exactly measured race distances, or frequent aid stations stocked to satisfy your every single need and provide stuff like cold drinks… then you may not enjoy big loop road ultras.

Also, in most cases, when a marathon says a course is "hilly" (like Boston, for example, which runners will refer to as hilly), you can expect to slow your pace some as you run the hills. A "hilly marathon" generally means, I may not PR, I you should be able to run the whole race.  When an ultra says "rolling hills through country roads", most can expect to spend some time power hiking up a mountainside that feels like you are going backwards in time and often results in your projected finish time to rapidly fading from your grasp, especially if you are not prepared for the "hills" (or at least that was my experience).

However, when you finish an ultra and realize just how much you can endure, relentlessly pounding the road for almost the duration of a full work day, with minimal aid and pampering, the feeling of accomplishment is unmatched.

Elevation Chart.  

Race Description
Strolling Jim 40 Mile is a 41.2 mile road race that travels along a figure 8 shaped, one-loop course through the scenic rolling hills of Wartrace and Bell Buckle TN.  The race also offers a 20 miler which is 19.3 miles and a 10k which is 7.2.  I believe there were about 150 runners present for all three events, but this is just a guess. Although there are some aid stations, it seemed there may have been about 5-6 manned aid stations, with some cool water or iced down sports drink that I never heard of, during the entire 40 mile race. There were unmanned water stops which consisted of only gallons of water set in the grass on the side of the these country roads.  There was a sufficient number of  port-o-potties at the start and a set of 2 at mile 28.  The course was marked with arrows on the pavement.  Runners could have a crew drive the course and provide support along the way if the wanted. I did not.   Runners were given an option to leave drop bags at three location, mile13/35 mile (where the course met itself), 21, and 28. Again, I did do that either.  I never use drop bags.

My Race Summary
I had a really great run at Strolling Jim … for the first 32 miles. :)  My last 9+ concluded with the worst crash and burn I have experienced at an ultra in a while, but it was to be expected and it was quite amazing.  I am not sure how to explain this, but sometimes it feels really really good for me to find the point where I reach exhaustion.  (Ideally that happens much closer to the end of the race).  I am still feeling the repercussions of a hard cold long winter where my body got used to training in cold weather. In fact, I am still training in colder weather than TN weather, even though the weather was awesome.  In addition, I was simply extremely unprepared for the hills.  There is not much I can do to train for the rolling terrain of SJ, since where I live does not have what SJ offers.  I just wanted to go down, do my best, and spend time with my family.

Right from the start I felt like I found a nice rhythm.  It helped to hook up with a really wonderful woman named Lisa who shared many early miles with me.  Conversation flowed as miles passed.  We rolled through hills that were quite significant to me, but together we did well.  She turned off just around 14 as she was in the 20 miler and for the rest of the race I was mostly on my own.

The second half of the race was much more challenging for me that the first 20+.  I passed the halfway point feeling smooth and strong.  I just tried to focus on one mile at a time.  I was already salt crusted.  As I approached the marathon, had a little fluid left in one bottle and thought I had fluid in my second.  I passed the gallon jugs of water, which were now sitting in full sun.  I had no desire to drink hot water, so I decided to wait until the next manned aid station to fill my bottles with something cold…

By Mile 28, I realized I was completely out of fluid as my other bottle was empty and I was really thirsty.  I really should have filled up when I had the chance.  There was a older man on the side of the road in a pick up truck.  I wasn't sure if he was part of the race aid or not.  Some of the aid stations were manned pick up trucks with coolers in the back.  He was not part of the race aid but he offered me whatever I wanted from the cooler. I took only about 2 oz of a sports drink since an aid station had to be soon.  I didn't want to take someone else aid, but I was really thirsty.  He insisted I fill up my bottle but I assured him I would be ok.  I did pass an aid station shortly thereafter and they had some cool water.

At that aid station, I took an orange slice, a shot of coca cola, and a gel I could not consume.  I took off running with 11 miles to go, truly thinking I was going to have a great run… but eventually my world imploded and I am remarkably ok with this.

I did overheat a lot at the end.  It seemed that right after that last hill, where I felt like I was going backwards in time trying to walk as fast as I could, which was still pretty slow.  There I just hit a wall and my legs were done. It came on suddenly, on the decline after the hill.  Imagine being so tired that descent become hard.  I felt dizzy and easily confused.  I felt like every running step was pounding the life from my legs and walking steps were much more tolerable.

The last 4 miles were flat but without shade and that was my final straw.  I was simply done.  Now it was just about survival.  Time goals slipped away and I was ok with that.  I was doing my best and I knew it.  I did whatever I could to keep moving.

In the final mile, I ended up taking a wrong turn which is comical. LOL.  I was so tired, not thinking clearly, saw a bunch of arrows on the other side of the highway I was on, and since I was following arrows all day long, I figured they must be telling me to turn back b/c I missed the turn, so I did.   When I turned back to get back on track, I then noticed the words Wrong Way written on the highway with arrows pointing to turn off the highway.  I guess it just wasn't clear to me at that time why there was a bunch of arrows pointing down a side street if we weren't supposed to go that way, since all day long the arrows mean "go that way"… the words Wrong Way were on the highway, not not the side street. But the arrows indicating we need to turn were coming from the opposite direction.  This made my head hurt.  The only sense I could make of this in my tired state of mind was that the arrows were there for people like me who accidentally missed the turn and needed to back track.   All I can say is I was very tired, dehydrated and ready to stop. I saw some arrows pointing back to a turn, thought I missed that turn so I followed them.  I noticed my mistake by going slow and watching behind me to see what the guys behind me did… three guys passed turn and I immediately turned back.  Oh well.  It didn't add much

Things that worked for me:

Weather (yes and no):  Even though the race for me ended at 77 degrees and this was entirely too hot for me to tolerate, the race started in the low 50s, possible high 40's and the humidity seemed quiet low all day.  I am sure this low humidity is what saved my race.  When I finished the race, I noticed how my clothing was not sweat soaked at all. I was even able to tolerate wearing a singlet under my race vest without overheating much during the bulk of the race.

My Gear/Fuel: Nathan's Race Vest (not a hydration pack) with two 10 oz quick shot bottles (one in the vest pocket, one in my hand) and 3 gels in the other vest pocket.  This set up worked  really well for me.  I prefer to not carry anything, but I wasn't sure what to expect.  I knew this was  a one loop course with spaced out aid and I wanted to make sure I had what I needed to get by. I would like use the same set up again.  I started with 20 oz of Gatorade and added water to my bottles as I ran.  I took my first gel at 14 miles, then another at 23, and one more at  33.  I did grab a 4th gel but was not able to get that down.

Sunglasses: I bought a pair of sunglasses last year because I need to do more to protect my eyes.  Again I really dislike running with things on me, so this was a big deal.  I bought a pair of Oakleys because they are made for sports and I really like them. They don't move around, and really did a great job helping me stay focused. I even suspect I felt a bit cooler too (placebo effect) since my view of my world was dimmer than it would have been had I had nothing protecting my eyes.

Shorts: At Boston, I experienced really terrible chafing, where the seems of the shorts I wore rubbed my thighs relentlessly.  This time I chose tights that looked like bike shorts.  They were just perfect. 41+ miles and not one raw spot.  Again, I think this is also a product of low humidity.

ST 5 Racer - My new favorite Road Ultra shoe… a Stability Racing Flat!

Shoes: The best thing I did was choice the ST5 Racers.  These are now my favorite road ultra shoe. I still will use the T7 for 50k and under, but over 50k the ST5s are my shoe.  The ST5 are a stability racing flat.  They weigh in a 8.6 oz, but I believe this is for the Men's sizing since this is a unisex shoe.  I believe it is closer to 7 oz for an average sized women's shoe.  The extra support under the arch did more for me that I thought it would. I normally have arch pain due to chronic plantar fasciitis. I manage it well with taping and my pain is minimal now, however after an ultra there is alway some soreness.  But not this time.  I was surprised at how perfect my feet felt after this race.  I didn't have any blisters, hot spots or any toe nail issues either.  It was very impressive.

The Shirts:  The best part of SJ for me is the Finishers Shirts.  Depending upon how many hours it takes, you will be given a shirt of a different color if you finish under 8 hours.  Blue is sub-6, Red is sub-7 and Yellow is Sub-8.  I was so proud to earn a sub-7 shirt.  I think if I work really really hard, I may have an outside chance at a sub-6 next year… but this will required low humidity again and that I can't control.  All I can say, is this race is going on my calendar and I hope to find some hills to help me be better prepared next year!

Very simple but very meaningful to me.

Distance: 41.2 (plus some extra for me)
Time 6:35:58
Overall Place 29th OA
Gender: 5th


  1. Shannon---I tried to comment before but I don't think it worked--oh well, if the other post shows up, then I will just be telling you TWICE how freakin' amazing I think you are! You make me wish that I had been serious about running when I was younger! Somehow, I'm thinking it might be too late for me to start thinking about ultra's--at 60, but I do enjoy reading about yours!!

    1. It is not too late! Find something and see what you can do. I feel like running as fast as we could when we were younger starts to slip away with age, but running further and further has no age related barriers. Set your expectation based upon your fitness level and get out there! You will love it.