A Little More Ocean Luvin’

Friday afternoon, May 28, 2010

me: “Babette, can I please go to Fernandina Beach and swim in that 5K ocean race?”

Babs: “Where’s Fernan.. where are you going?”

me: “FernanDINA …beach,” I said. “It’s in Florida.”

Babs: “When…?”

“…right now?”

me: “Yea.”

Babs: {sigh} “so…uh…you’re just gonna go by yourself?”

“to Florida…?”

“to swim…”


me: “uh huh.”

Babs: “ok… whatever”

And just like that, I’m off to Florida.

A visit to the Jacksonville Wal-Mart

Since it’s almost six hours from Atlanta, I didn’t have enough time to go home and pack or get swim gear or anything. Instead, I’d just leave from the office and head south and take my chances at a local Wal-Mart or Target in Florida.

That’s a cool thing about open water swimming – it doesn’t take much to play: a pair of trunks, some goggles and you’re good to go.

I rolled into Jacksonville kinda late, but Wal-Mart was still open. I scored a pair of tighty little wicking underwear things to swim in and a pair of baggy shorts to wear over them until the very last second.

Grabbed some cheap-ass goggles (mistake) and some High Protein Boost for breakfast in the morning.

I’m ready to swim.

Ed Gaw Open Water Challenge

This was the 10th year for the Ed Gaw Open Water Challenge.

I showed up, registered, got written on, secured my #536 bright green swim cap and walked out to the beach to check the water conditions.


Much more choppy than the Pensacola Bay during last week’s 5K swim along the three-mile bridge. That race had perfect glass conditions, but out here on the East Coast “open ocean” side, we had about 1-2 foot chop.

I walked around, eavesdropping on other competitors conversations who had experience with this race over the previous years. Some were concerned with the chop, some not, but everyone agreed that the water temps were perfect (78 degrees) and the current almost non-existent.

I mean, come on… It’s 7:00 a.m., already 80+ degrees with bright sunshine, light breezes, the smell and the sound of the ocean. It was my idea of total and complete perfection. I was so happy to be on the beach.

I’m always happy to be on the beach.

The mental torture of buses

In these 5K swims, it seems the organizers are always sending swimmers to the start on buses, letting them “swim back” to the finish area. This is always a mental mind mangler because as you bounce around on the bus, goggles and cap clutched tightly in hand, you really get an idea of just how far you are going to have to swim to get back.

The longer the bus rides, the longer you stare out at the ocean and wonder.

Open ocean vs. the Bay

This event was much different than the Pensacola Swim.

For starters, in open ocean swimmers start on the beach, and when the horn blows everyone dashes out into the water. The clock has started, but you really haven’t begun the actual race distance yet.

Swimmers must first fight the surf for about 100 yards out, swimming diagonally towards the starting buoy. Once you get out there, you round the buoy and begin your 3.1 mile trek parallel to shore.

Unlike the Bay race, there were no buoys every .25 mile or so. Instead, they had one starting buoy, one 2.1 mile buoy and a finish buoy. (nothing is a beautiful as a finish buoy)

This made it tough for a newbie dork like me. I bet I swam twice the distance with all the side-to-side swimming I was doing. I couldn’t stay in a straight line for anything – I had waves knocking me around, complete lack of ability to sight anything to keep me swimming straight, and an obsessive, yet unintentional, automatic attraction to heading towards the beach.

A couple of times, the kayakers had to point to me further back out to sea.

Because we were swimming south-to-north and because I breath to my right, the swells were constantly in my face when I’d turn to breath. I chaffed my neck by constantly turning my head excessively to the side to get a clean breath every now and then.

And, because of the swells and my constant attention to trying to swim straight, my rhythm was difficult to set and never really “got there.”

I had a couple of panic moments where I wondered if I was perhaps out of my league on this one. I felt like the pack was way ahead, swimming along fine, while I was constantly just trying to get something happenin’. Some kind of rhythm flowin’.


But, then there was this one moment during the race where a feeling of contentment just smacked me in the face like a fishtail.

“I’m swimming in the ocean!”

My love. The ocean.

I’ve never been more content in my life than I am when I’m at the beach. Life surrounds you 360 degrees everywhere else on the planet, but not on the beach. You’re only surrounded by “life” 3/4 of the way — 1/4 is the infinite expanse of the sea.

The ocean calms me.

Its my playground and my serenity.

The smell of the sea, the sand in my shorts, the sticky humidity… it’s all heaven to me.

I all-of-a-sudden didn’t care if it took me six hours. In fact, let it take me six hours, or 12, or all day and night.

Fatiguing or not, one thing was for sure, it would end. And when it did, I’d be right back to normalcy having to deal with the everyday things in life that we all have to deal with all the time.

I didn’t want normalcy. I’m sick of normalcy.

But in the water, it was just me and the jellies, cold-chillin’ on a Saturday morning without a care in the world.

That last buoy

And, just like that, all the uncertainty of finishing disappeared. All the worry about swimming too close, or getting too far out, went away.

I could see the last buoy.

I swam and I swam, rounded the last buoy, and I didn’t stop swimming until I could see the sand below me.

I stood up. Jump-hop-ran through the surf, up the cone-lined beach and past the clock.

2:07 …again.

Same as last week.

Actually, 2:07:26 which is about 20 seconds faster than last week; AND, I’m happy because we had the extra distance(s) from the start and finish to negotiate plus choppier waters.

* Update: official results say 2:03, …cool.

3rd place, 35-39 – but most likely there were only a few 35-39 year olds, but a place is a place and I have the certificate to prove it.

{wink, wink}

Seeing as how I just sorted jumped into this sport, I’m pleased as punch.

So Chris Gaw, you have a great race there in li’l ol’ Fernandina Beach. I learned that Ed Gaw is your deceased father and I’m honored that I got to share in the experience of a little sliver of your annual family tribute to your dad.

Thanks to you, the dude named Scott, all the volunteers sportin’ mad food at the finish and that great lady in the peddle-able kayak who kept a watchful eye on me and offered lots of words of support as I half-drowned down the coast.

I hope to get back there next year – and be a lot faster.

I really enjoy swimming. I’m happy I have this sport as yet another ingredient in my adrenaline junkie lifestyle.

Get some!

Ultra …Swim

Chasing my confidence

3-mile bridge swim in Pensacola, Florida

Cool! …I found something else to love.

And even better, swimming 5K was all it took to shake off the Keys 100-miler DNF and gain some confidence back.  …well, that, and losing my big toenail this morning which pretty much allowed me to equate some mental and emotional finality to the Keys event.

All focus is now firmly on running Western States 100 in exactly one month (June 26).

Can I even swim three miles?

I was a little intimidated when Kid Kahrs and I rolled into Gulf Breeze, Florida, Saturday afternoon.

First of all, as a long distance runner, visualizing 5K in my head seems easy and is much less intimidating than actually seeing it laid out in front of me in a straight line, and second, 90% of the competing athletes that we saw looked like Olympic swimmers with shoulders like coat hangers and abs like TV commercials.

Driving across that bridge really put the distance into perspective for both of us and I think we were both a little sketched at first.

Lots of, “dude,  that’s a long way, man…”

See, I’m not really a “swimmer.” …let alone an “ultraswimmer

I can surf. I grew up in the ocean and I absolutely LOVE the water …especially, the ocean.

Lakes? eh…not-so-much, but even a lake is better than grinding out laps in a pool.

I spent a couple of years as an ocean lifeguard; but, I’ve never swam competitively or with any goal or focus in mind. Swimming was just something fun to do.

About a month ago, I started feeling beaten and battered from all the back-to-back ultrarunning races and decided to start swimming more since my YMCA has a decent pool and the low-impact cross-training would be easy on the joints.

Matt “Kid” Kahrs, a good friend, super-fast ultrarunner and easy athlete to look up to, had been swimming almost exclusively since he can’t run due to a long-standing injury, and I knew that he had planned to try an open water swim somewhere.

I didn’t know where, how long, or really anything about it, but it sounded kinda cool.

All it took was a phone call…

It was on!

The Pensacola 3-Mile Bridge Swim and Aquathon

long 3-mile bridge swim
photo: look how small those boats are, now picture a person swimming from land mass to land mass… then, imagine the 10Kers who same that out-n-back — damn!

The Pensacola 3-mile bridge swim and aquathon had four events:

  1. 1 mile swim
  2. 5K swim (3.1 miles)
  3. 10K swim (6.2 miles)
  4. 5K run, then 5K swim

5K swimmers got in the water at one end of the 3-mile bridge that starts in Pensacola. Swimmers then swim the length of the bridge, crossing the Pensacola Bay, into the ritzy li’l town of Gulf Breeze, Florida.

One added challenge of the race came once you made it to the other side of the Bay. Once you made it 3-miles along the bridge, you weren’t quite finished as you still had to circle a boat dock and small marina for about .1 mile, before making your way to the beaches of the Bay Beach Resort.

The 10K swimmers (which blows my mind by the way) did it out-n-back. Thats a shocking distance to swim to me, but I’m going for it next year!

The 5K run, then swim, would have been cool, but my feet were still all jacked from the Keys 100 foot fiasco, so no running for me.

Um, so, I swam

A swimming race report is tough to write. There is little-to-no interaction with anyone during the event, and you spend the entire time with your face buried in the water, trying to scope out buoys in foggy goggles, and trying not to get kicked in the face.

Actually, once the field spread out, it was rare to have to worry about running into others – or them running into you.

What I loved most about the event was being “in my element.” – I love mountain ultrarunning, trail running and even road running – but they are all stand-ins right now for my true love of surfing.

And with a love for surfing comes a deep desire to be in the water.

When I was swimming that channel, I felt like I was home. I got into a smooth rhythm where I felt like I could just cruise like that forever. Not until the last .1 did I even try to vary my stroke in any way. It was all about making sure that I could both complete the distance, and enjoy myself doing it.

I loved every single second.

The smell of the ocean. The sticky saltwater, the rhythm of stroking and breathing and sighting.

Every time I turned my head to take a breath, I saw blue skies, bright white clouds and the occasional seagull.

The water felt cool and refreshing on my skin, and I could feel my body cutting through the water.

I felt like a dolphin.

When I was out there …like, waaaay out there, I felt so vulnerable but so self-sufficient. It was me against the elements. Against mother nature …but not really against her, just experiencing her gifts for individual challenge and personal satisfaction.

In ultrarunning we talk about “respect the distance,” and I don’t think there’s any stronger situational example of such as with swimming. You can’t just stop when you’re in the middle of a channel. It’s tough to “regroup”, and you certainly cannot “grab a chair for 20 minutes.”

Some people get freaked out in open water, because its dark, you can’t see the bottom, and its very possible to “bump into” various sea life; but I couldn’t have been happier in my element.

I didn’t worry at all. I just smiled.

Beautiful, warm sunshine, plus 79 degree water, and light, cool breezes, with half-naked people everywhere is just a flat-out great mix for a wonderful time.


Just get to the halfway point and take it from there

My goal was to simply cruise as easily and rhythmically as possible to the halfway point. From there, I would know if I could complete the distance.

For safety, kayaks followed along, and should swimmers need to bail, they would wave their bright yellow swim caps in the air. Kayaks would then take them to a larger boat for assistance and transportation back; and of course, like an ultramarathon, immediate disqualification.

I didn’t want this to be me, but I was glad the kayaks were there just in case.

I got to the halfway point feeling terrific. I wasn’t tired, but I naturally could feel that I had been swimming for 1.5 miles.

I was no longer concerned about the ability to finish, but I wasn’t going to try to push it either and end up making a fool of myself, so I continued the same cruise-y stroke.

I knew if it got me here, it would get me to the end.

I started to wonder where Matt was and how he was doing and how everything was going for him. I wondered if he was having as much fun as me.

I’m proud to say that I now know that he was doing great and loving it every bit of it just as much as me. It’s always great when both “travelers” feel good and have a good day – makes for a comfortable ride home. {wink}

And there’s the marina

After almost two hours of swimming, I spotted the marina far off in the distance.

I knew I was going to finish, so I kicked it in a little, passing three other swimmers as I pushed around the boat docks and into the beach area.

The clock read 2:07 when I ran under the red finish awning, and I was more-than-pleased as I had expected somewhere around 2:30.

When I swam 1-mile in the pool (which was a mental nightmare counting those laps), I did it in 40 minutes flat, so being able to carry just a blip over that (40:52) for 3.1 miles in open water was a big win for me.

In contrast, Kid Kahrs? …1:34 kids… just like ultrarunning, he’s most likely gonna be a swim phenom, too. He crushes everything he touches and I knew he’d do well. Right on, Kahrs!!!

Oh, to be 29 again…

So, you know what’s next…

Yup, I’m after more of these.

I loved it so much, and I’m built for swimming. I’m thick, with a strong upper body and decent stroke. I might not be fast, yet – or maybe never – but most likely will only improve once I have more than a month of training in the bank. {wink}

I will always love ultrarunning, but swimming is cool too and now I get have more toys in the chest to play with. …until that day comes when I again get to start my morning by checking the surf.

Get some!

Keys 100 Race Report

Keys 100 - bike path near the mile 50-mile check-in
photo: closing in on 50 miles and picking up the pace. Then, disaster…

Stupid is as stupid does

Any ultrarunner knows that DNFs happen. ** (DNF=did not finish)

But they really sting when everything is going right – Pace consistent, nutrition tight, body strong – and then one stupid mistake, or perhaps a series of stupid mistakes, comes together to bring your race to a screeching halt.

This is what happened to me at the 2010 Keys 100 ultramarathon from Key Largo to Key West.

Stupid mistakes. Poor planning. Lack of respect for the distance.

Cocky, …I suppose.

The setup

I came into the race a little concerned about my ability to run. Having spent over a week on the nasty, parasite-killing drug Flagyl, my body was feeling a little torn up inside. The fact that I hadn’t been running for two weeks up until the event proved to be a good thing as my legs were recovered and ready to go, but this general feeling of “blah” needed to disappear.

At packet-pickup the night before the race, I started to get excited and strongly believed I had not only a finish in me, but perhaps a solid sub-24.

I felt that good.

6:00 a.m. start in Key Largo

As all us 100-mile runners and relay crowd meandered to the start line, I got the opportunity to walk and talk with Monica Scholz. This was a real treat for me as I’ve been aware both of her past accomplishments, and her present goals. She has over thirty 100-milers planned for 2010.

And when we started, I got in a few chats with Beth McCurdy, a personal favorite, before she charged up front with the lead pack.

Within the first few miles, I was greeted by, and chatted with all kinds of people who either knew me from this blog (and the ultralist), or who I’ve run many races with in the past – Jenn Vogel, Cyndi Graves, Alan Geraldi, Scott Sanders, Bry Gardner, Joe Ninke, Bill Andrews …and more.

My goal was to take the advice given to me by DC Lundell and Rob Youngren – start easy, implement a run/walk strategy early, and see how it goes. This would be the first time that I can remember implementing a run/walk strategy BEFORE fatigue required it.

So, I’ll just go ahead and admit it – yea, ok, it works.

The first 25 miles | steady as she goes

Running through the islands of Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada were pretty damn nice. You don’t have as many of the water views as you have in the later miles when the land mass is thinner between the ocean and the bay, but it’s still tropical and pleasant.

But, the heat cranked up quickly.

I’ve heard reports from the Vogels and others of 100+ pavement temps, but there were also some people thinking it wasn’t as hot as a last year, so I don’t know what the true deal was; BUT TO ME it felt extremely hot. Hotter than last year for sure. Maybe more humid, I don’t know, but it felt really, really hot whatever was happening.

But, aside from all that heat, there were some really nice breezes. Unfortunately, you could only benefit from these breezes when crossing the bridges since much of the early running blocked most of the wind.

Per Rob Youngren, I implemented a run/walk ratio of ~25/5 (minutes). This worked out great for the first 25 miles and the run/walk thing allowed me to have almost identical splits for 0-25 miles, and 25-50 miles.

Mistake #1: during the first 25 miles is where dumb mistake #1 began happening. My crew and great friend Matt kept pouring ice cold water over my head about every 3-5 miles. While this kept me cool, and felt like the right thing to do, it wasn’t. My feet stayed wet indefinitely, and while I had yet to find out how bad it was going to get, I knew it might be a problem later.

Let it be stated that I DO NOT blame him in the least. I would have done it to myself and am known for drenching myself in cold water whenever I can.

Miles 25-50 | moving well, but going blind

I went through my first low point after the mile 25 check-in. Even though I knew I was doing the right thing with super slow pacing, 5:59 seemed like a long time to get 25 miles in the bank on the road.

And, the heat was catching up to me.

Then a really odd thing happened, I went blind for about 4 miles.

Mistake #2: Here’s what I think happened – I sprayed a bunch of Bullfrog sunblock on my face, but didn’t rub it in well enough. As I ran, I would spray my face with my water bottle trying to stay cool. I think some of the sunblock ran into my eyes. It was horrible. I could not open my eyes for more than a split second, and this went on for about 45 minutes.

I’d open them really fast to make sure I wasn’t running into US1 highway traffic, and then close them again for relief …all while I was still running!

It didn’t help that I was running without sunglasses, and I think the combination of the chemicals in my eyes + the bright glare of the mid-day sun = burned-out retinas. Luckily, Matt gave me his sunglasses to use and it helped a little, but I still suffered for quite awhile with burning eyeballs.

Once the eye issue cleared up a bit, we were directed onto this thin bike path bordered on both sides by thick, tall 15-foot mangroves. The 25/5 ratio thing was becoming too hard, but I was finding much success in a new run/walk ratio of pole-to-pole.

I’d guess that the power poles in the Keys are generally about 1/10 of  mile apart, so I’d run from one pole to the next, then walk to the next one, where I’d then run again to the next pole.

This pole game was awesome. I caught a lot of people this way – most of them who had seemingly already begun to walk-only, so it was cool to inch closer and closer to them until I’d finally pass.

I really liked this strategy and need to remember it.

Because I was running such short intervals, I could run them pretty fast and not get gassed. Then, the short walk would allow me to recover.

I kept this up from about mile 35-ish through the halfway check-point, and even across the 7-mile bridge. It not only helped me move up in race position, but it also helped gobble up the miles a lot faster.

I hit the second 25 mile split, at mile 50, in 11:53 with an almost identical split to the first 25 miles. I felt strong and according to the girls manning the table, I was now in 25th place.

I was shocked that as slow I was moving, there were still 75+ more people behind me.

Miles 50-60 | the surge

I declined water at the 50 mile check-in because I knew I’d be seeing Matt shortly.

Or, so I thought.

Somehow, he lost me, but later found me about 4 miles later, just before the 7-mile bridge. I was out of water and wondering “where the Hell is this guy?!” when I heard a beep and saw that apologetic smile.

I didn’t care that much. It was nice of him to be there, so I just jumped in the back and started eating everything in sight – Ensures, pepperoni, cheese, Oreos, and handfuls of fruit. I knew I needed to stock up for the trip over the 7-mile bridge since that’s a scary, hairy bridge with zero crew access.

I passed a bunch more people just before the bridge, and crossing the bridge I continued to pass other 100-mile runners.

Between miles 50-60, I bet I passed over 10 people and I was starting to feel really confident.

Sure, I was tired – but I wasn’t anywhere near beaten down and I could still run.

Miles 60-68 | The fastest decline in ultrarunning history

And then all Hell broke loose on my feet.

After the bridge, I continued my little sprint/walk routine. It was dark now, headlamp a-glowin’ and although it was still 87 degrees in the dark, the breeze was far more accessible.

Traffic died down a little, and every so often you’d get little glimmers of peace …until the next semi-truck came screaming around the corner in the black of night.

I was amazed that I wasn’t really sore nor all that tired. I started doing the math and thinking that if I could continue this pace, and complete that last 32 miles in under 8 hours, I’d guarantee myself a 25-26 hour finish…

…and then I felt the most painful skin-tearing ever in my life.

I sat on a bridge near Bahia Honda, threw off my shoe and sock, and looked at the pale, snow-white bottom of my foot. The skin had cracked open, kinda like “athlete’s foot”, in three distinct places and you could see dark blood oozing in the cracks.

Then, in the worst coincidence possible, as I limped along avoiding the right foot, the left foot starting stinging. Welcome to mistake #3…

Mistake #3: Earlier, thinking I knew what I was doing, I tried to tape a developing blister on my left foot. But since I’m such an idiot, lame-ass preparatory dude, I screwed it all up and made it too tight. I knew it was too tight, but chose to run with it poorly taped anyway.

What did this equate to? Well, the tape literally began to tear the skin because it was wrapped too tightly, so I took it off. This proved to be worse since I now had exposed flesh rubbing in my shoes at both the big toe and pinky toe areas.

Matt was cool when I expressed that my race might be over.

“Naw dude, come on, go one more mile and see what happens…”

So, I did.

It took me 22 minutes to complete mile 67 to mile 68.

I was dejected. I knew it was possible to continue on, just hobble-walking, but at what price?

I have Western States in just a bit over a month from now, and that’s my 2010 marquee event.

I just couldn’t risk shredding my feet further.

Just like that, my race was over.

So what did I learn?

I learned a lot in the race. Some things new, and some things that were “reinforced”

  • Respect the distance: I came into the race with a haphazard attitude. Sort of a “whatever”-kind of thing that is completely the WRONG head space for 100-mile event.
  • Steady pacing works: Starting out excruciatingly slow paid off, and would have continued to pay off had I not experienced foot problems. I want to ensure I can refine this strategy and not let ego eat me up when I’m at my healthiest.
  • Gear planning is so important for 100-milers: I needed more shoes, more socks and a better understanding of what to do when the feet start to crack and/or blister.
  • Problems can arise fast and furious: My total meltdown happened within a span of less than 10 miles. No matter how good you feel, it can change in an instant. Especially in the later miles.
  • What happens in the first 50, shows up in the second 50: Early, stupid mistakes will come back to get you in the later miles. Be smart from the first 10 miles to the last 10.

This DNF really stings because I never saw it coming.

I ran well and got stronger as the race went longer.

My nutrition was great – I survived on a base of Vespa + Ensure and fresh fruit. For the occasional protein snack, pepperoni and cheese, which tasted great and satisfied my desire for “real food” in the later miles. Cokes and Oreos when I needed a spike.

Today is Tuesday, and I am not at all sore muscularity-wise. If it wasn’t for my jacked-up feet, I could easily run and train today.

But instead, I’m sitting here, trying to keep the bloody foot balloon from swelling past my toes while playing smear games with vitamin E oil, and antibiotic cream.

Like I said, “stupid is, as stupid does.”

Keys 100 race report creative summary

Strolling Jim

He said there were no real hills.

Strolling Jim elevation chart

Underestimating a Gary Cantrell race is just foolish and you’d think I’d know better – especially after popping my cherry on The Barkley this year – but sure enough, I went into this race thinking, “A nice little road race, good taper run to ease into the Keys 100 in two weeks.”

And then I got educated.

…once again.

Sean O is the man with the plan

I talked my buddy Sean O into running this race, and as I write this, I just realized it was his longest race effort to date  – so – damn good job Sean O!

Sean O is very smart, and he had already calculated all kinds of splits, read some reports, studied the race web site (of course I did none of these things), and had developed a pretty smart plan of attack.

I had no desire to hammer the course, so I wasn’t an eager strategy-beaver, but I did have my eye on a sub-7.

We planned to settle into a slow 9:30-10:00/mile pace until the halfway point where we could then evaluate the performance thus far, conduct personal inventories, and perhaps pick up the pace gradually until the finish.

I mean, “it’s just a road race, right?”

Sticking to a plan

Laz (Gary Cantrell) blew his famous conch shell, and 101 runners started off through the little country town of Wartrace. A short initial climb, round the corner, and we were instantly deep into rolling farm country.

Sean kept us on pace as I really wanted to go out harder. I’d start to push a little and he’d remind me to chill.

We still ran a little faster than we’d planned but never broke 9:00 miles except for rare downhill blasts.

Strolling Jim pace
photo: I forgot to turn of my watch after the finish…

Our goal was to run everything, but this is where I shout-out to Sharon Zelinski because this woman can power-hike some climbs, man. Even though, through the first 25 miles Sean and I ran all the hills, she ALWAYS caught us …and eventually passed us for good very early on.

I’m in awe of the people that can employ walk breaks as strategy. I can’t.

I only try to walk when I feel like I have to, and maybe that’s dumb, but I’m hoping it pays off as I continue to race.

This is not a hill

Some of the unique and comical elements of the Strolling Jim are the messages that Gary Cantrell paints along the course.

“This is not a hill” – when clearly it’s a hill.

At least he does concede “…but this is” – when runners do find themselves climbing something gargantuan.

“Only wimps walk here” – when it’s pretty tough not to walk.

“Big girls don’t cry”

You get the idea. Typical Gary. Harassing runners any way he can.

Happy cows

I have never seen so many happy cows.

I’m going to guess that it had something to do with the beauty of the area coupled with the fact that almost all of them appeared to be free-range, but they all appeared well-fed, happy and content on these humongous farms.

I remember specifically, a little after the marathon point, we made this turn and there’s this collapsed old farm house, sitting there in complete shambles, but begging for a picture, and surrounding it were over 200 big-ass cows.

80% of the cows were huddled very close to road and randomly “moo”ing as we ran by.

Made me smile from ear to ear.

Beauty beauty everywhere

That was pretty much the theme of the whole day.

Springtime in the south is like no other and it almost felt movie-like running down these long, rolling country roads bordered by wooden fences, green hills and the occasional small town.

Everything around us was thick, green and lush. Big, beautiful homes on giant plots of ranch land nestled in nicely with some of the more modest living folks. People waved as we ran by, took pictures and even offered food and drink.

Which reminds me – after running a long time down a seemingly endless country road with legendary Bill Keane, we came upon three churches at a sort of three-way crossroads, and Bill says to me “this one of my favorite parts of the course.” He continued, “The people around here couldn’t agree on a religious denomination, but they COULD agree on where to put their churches…”

And sure enough there were three churches packed together – a Church of Christ, a Baptist church and one li’l ol’ “community church” – all within 25 yards of one another and all without anything else around.

It was constantly little things like this along the way that made you forget you were in a race and felt more like a tour of unique Tennessee countryside.

Race report?

Ok, so I’m not doing very good at talking about the running part of the race, but if that’s how the experience comes out, then that must be how the experience went…

I guess I’ll wrap it up by saying that I truly enjoyed my experience at the Strolling Jim.

Yes, 41.2 miles on pavement is tough on the body.

Yes, it’s harder and hillier than Laz lets on.

But, it’s beautiful and it’s cool and the people rock and the food is good and the RD was good and running through the countryside like that is just special. If you think you won’t feel it, try it.

You’ll see.


Oh yea, ok, so no sub-7 for me.

I saw 6:56 on my watch with another 1.5 miles to go and I was already hobbling with a blown-out racing flat and sore joints, so that’s pretty much when we decided to just chill on in.

7:25 for 41.2 miles is still not horrible, and I’m happy with it for my first Strolling Jim (but, I will have that red shirt next year!)

Interesting tidbits

I like to lay down some interesting tidbits in my race reports that just pop into my mind, so here ya go:

  1. It always rocks to spend time with Gary Cantrell (Laz).
  2. …same goes for RayK. We love our legends.
  3. Running the entire race, and finishing, with Sean O was the coolest. Long runs make for great bonding even when you aren’t talking a lot.
  4. Catching Byron Backer was interesting and will probably never, ever happen again.
  5. Tom “cold water dude” Wilson might just be the most incredible support dude to grace the ultrarunning scene ever.
  6. The Alabama boys kicked butt yet again – Dink Taylor ran is 24th Strolling Jim this year.
  7. Juli Aistars in the house!
  8. Abi and TJ – cool mother/son vibe.
  9. Spyder Tynes chills with her sister through marathon distance, then braves hella’ storms to complete the race.
  10. Beth McCurdy showed off her Keys 100 training with a solid sub-7 and is fast becoming one of my favorite female ultrarunners.
  11. …well, along with Kathy Youngren too – who slayed the course for the women (and who’s husband is chasing the Pinhoti record right freakin now!)
  12. Brazilian Valmir Nunes cross in 4:44!
  13. “The Walls” really aren’t that bad.
  14. Not only did Sean O and I get passed by a dog with six inch legs in the latter miles, he finished sub-7!

Great volunteers. Great RD job by Mike Melton. Great race vibe. Great little town.

Easy to see why this is on the calendar for southern runners every year.

Now it’s on mine.