The Black Mountain Monster

Bear at Black Mountain race
photo: Black Mountain locals came out to watch

Timed events remind me of summer camp as a kid.

You show up, find your cabin, your bunk, your counselor, and then you sorta eye-ball a bunch of other kids during various activities deciding who you wanna hang with, and who you wanna avoid.

…and which girl you will be kissing behind the auditorium at the end-of-the-week dance.

Or, maybe that was just me.

One Motley Crew

The Man Van

The “man van” as the GUTS posse affectionately called it, was chock full o’ weirdos.

Here’s the cast of characters ridin’ dirty wid me:

  • C$ (me): somehow suckered into this 2 weeks after the running 100 miles in the Keys
  • Weezy: my li’l redneck friend made popular by his obnoxious friendliness
  • Sully: the fastest dude ever …in basketball droors
  • Motor-boater Elson: and his Hoka clown shoes
  • Big Cat JR: 250 lbs of no sleep ’til 62 miles
  • Fejes: the bully who slapped around the course record like Shaq’s mom does valets

I have to take a moment to mention Mikey Melton was there, too. If you are an ultrarunner, you most likely know Mikey, and understand the element he brings to the game. E’rebody needs a little Melton from time to time to keep themselves honest. Same with Bill Keane.

Lastly, add in a ton of old GUTS friends like Psyche, Charles, Amanda, Kim Pike, Janice, Laura …and new friends like Tatyana, Steve, Sarah, Aaron, Bruce, Michelle…and on and on and on, and yup, just like camp.

“Christian, this is kind of fluff that makes your reports so long, dude”

Ok, I get it – unless you know us, none of this matters and is just noise until I actually have something interesting to write, so I digress and move on to the Black Mountain Monster course.

“…It’s a fast course and mostly flat with a few rolling hills.”

Like Hell, Mr. RD – That course is hilly.

But it’s niiiiice.

The race was a fixed time event. 12 or 24 hours, whichever race you choose.

I knew where my fitness was, and I wanted to run the majority, so I chose the 12. Had I done the 24, I would have just spent an entire night in the woods, death-marching around in circles in that pitiful way that makes those watching the sport wonder why.

When I do it, I wonder why, too.

The Course

What an interesting course.

A 3.1 mile loop, primarily on trails, and very diverse. Each little micro-section was never longer than .25 miles, and the course ran like a mountain bike trail with lots of sharp turns and quick cuts. The uniqueness of each little section made the loop feel shorter than I believe it would have had we just looped one section of trail in some forest somewhere.

wide-open fields

tight single-track

fast jeep road

uneven, day-laborer trail

plenty of climbing

plenty of descending

high grass

some roots

cool little bridges

…and the black feather on one of the trail sections that I named “Pocahontas”

17 times I looped that 5K course.

17 times I greeted that feather.

The Race

Man, since I’m tardy with this report, I’ve already read a bunch of others and they are all so deep and heavy with regards to conquering major personal challenges and slapping personal bests all over the place.

Not me.

I went into this 12-hour race with one real goal of 50 miles, and one dream goal of 60.

I got 52.5 miles.

As usual, I went out a too fast. My happy ass just a’toolin’ around with a backwards ball cap and broken sunglasses (don’t ask), with not a care in the world.

After the first hour, and two laps, I was convinced I could keep that up all day.

Then came the 40 minute loops.

Then came walking the hills …along with a heaping helping of dwindling confidence.

Then came run/walk in the open sun-beatdown sections.

Then came the timed-event-rationalizations that we all know so well, like, “well, I could just call it a day at 50K”, with further rationalization as, “it’s still an ‘ultra’ and a good training run.”

But I didn’t.

I kept on. I knew better.

The Strategy

I never really had any problems.

  • Shoes – I wore racing flats. No blisters ’til late in the game.
  • Nutrition – Ensure, baby, plus lots of fruit
  • Electrolytes – Three sCaps. Total.
  • Approach – run ’til I can’t run anymore, then walk.

What? Am I Supposed to Describe Each Loop?

Shockingly, I have nothing profound to say about the race.

I talked to a lot of people as I circled that 5K loop a full 17 times. I laughed a lot, listened to some personal stories, told some personal stories, and generally enjoyed four great hours of confident running, four hours of so-so running, and four hours of man-this-is-getting-tough running.

There were a lot of people who encouraged me each and every lap, from GUTS members to blog readers, and I really can’t explain how good that feels. It makes going back out for that 7th, 10th, 17th, lap easier and creates a drive inside that makes you want to live up to the support.

Thanks peeps.

Lastly, three buddies, Weezy, Sully and Big Cat V.2, were all chasing personal distance “bests” in the 24-hour race, and I went out with all three of them – first, Big Cat v.2, then Weezy and Sully – for their final 3.1 mile loops that would topple them over their individual goal distance(s).

That, and cutting up into the wee hours of the morning, in that sort of silly, kid-like delerium state of burnt 50-mile brain and humor, were probably my favorite parts of the race.

Everything went well with the running.

Everyone around me for two days was funny.

Everyone was cool the entire time.

Fejez ran 115 miles in 24 hours. {sick}

Great results.

Lots of laughs.

Honestly, I don’t always like races so low-key and relaxed, but I dug it this time.

Holla!

Simple Completion for Self-Confidence

Christian sweltering early at the Keys 100

I suck at hundos.

It’s that simple.

It’s a distance that punishes inexperience, poor training, and lack of strategy; and worse, even if all those things are on-point, 100-miles is a very long way to run and a lot can happen over 20-30 hours of running. (or walking)

A lot.

No matter what any ultrarunner tells you about the 100-mile race distance, the best truism that I try to embrace is the following:

Whatever you do in the first 50 miles, manifests itself in the second 50 miles.

And while this has proven itself true more times than I can count, what happens if you are only trained to go the first 50 miles?

Yup, an all-out war of attrition.

Shaking the DNF Monkey Off My Back

I completed the first three 100-mile races I tried.

I DNF’d the next four.

  • Keys 100
    • Excuse – lacerated, bloody feet. Dropped at mile 67
  • Western States
    • Excuse – Medically pulled for dehydration at mile 80
  • Rio Del Lago
    • Excuse – No excuse. Just sick of it and stopped.
  • Pinhoti 100
    • Excuse – Heart palpitations.

…and really, of the 100-milers I have managed to finish, my race times were always indicative of someone who prepared poorly, participated recklessly, and suffered tremendously.

The week before the race I knew the 2011 Keys 100 would be no different, but I had to do it.

I was 100% dead-set on getting that buckle, and if you read Open Letter to Me, you know why.

Playing in the Street

The Keys 100 is an interesting race.

On paper, race conditions sound more like punishment than anything else.

  • Hot. As in super, duper, skin-scorching hot
  • Excessive humidity
  • Constant sun exposure
  • Constant vehicular traffic
  • 100% road running
  • Much of the time there is very little shoulder in which to run

For all that noise though, the Keys 100 stands out as one of my favorite events. Race Director, Bob Becker, is really one of the nicest dudes around. I mean, there are some nice dudes, but Bob is like, painfully, nice and its evident that he pours himself into his races.

I know, I know, we all love our RDs, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

It’s all about the Course

I’m a beach dude. Period. I run the Keys 100 because it gives me a chance to challenge myself in an environment in which I am most happy. We are all products of our environment, and having grown up in a dream life of surfing, skating, beach cruisers, betties, and barefeets, nothing feels more like home than standing in the sand, squinting into the sun, while staring out over beautiful blue-green water.

The infinite-ness of the water and the sky calms my hyper-active head.

I could stare at it for days.

Or, for 100 miles.

But, it’s not all sunshine and sting rays out on that course. There are periods of Island traffic congestion that rival running through a downtown city, and there are some very long, monotonous sections that block out any slight breeze, and pretty much position you perfectly for a total sun beat-down.

For me, it all comes down to the bridges and the deer.

Yea, “the bridges and the deer”.

For all the varying conditions I experience in the Keys 100, the bridges are like little rewards:

  • There are always nice breezes on the bridges
  • It actually feels good to get off the flats and run uphill for a change
  • The water views are incredible
  • I like chatting with the fishermen
  • As an adrenalin junkie, it’s a cool feeling to be running in a 10 foot wide sliver of road with no escape from oncoming traffic except for jumping over that bridge.

Oh, and the deer? Well, I’ll get to that inna minute.

Pre-race with a Hot Chick

Christian and Babette Kayaking in Key Largo
photo: Kayaking in the mangroves of Pennekamp, Key Largo, FL

My good ol’ pal, “Bon-Bon” has crewed me for three years in a row at the Keys, but this was the first time my wife Babette would help crew me in a 100-miler. She really had no idea what to expect, but was seemingly excited to be part of the event.

Babette and I spent a couple of days in Key Largo scoring supplies, acclimating to the heat, and spending some soothing quality time together swimming, kayaking, and lying around a little private beach in fancy cushy chairs that replaced our usual air-conditioned offices, loud lunches and mentally-draining meetings.

Bon Bon and Babette, my Keys 100 crew
photo: C$, LuvPi and Bon Bon …nicknames everywhere. It’s more fun.

I was doing my best to balance keeping my wife happily entertained, and resting as much as feasibly possible for my upcoming smack-down under the tropical sun. She’s really easy though – a couple of Miller Lites, some sunshine, and few laughs and she’s good.

Christian and Babette the night before the Keys 100
photo: I’m a pretty lucky dude to have a tolerant woman

Mile Markers 101 to 75 – The First 25 miles

One reason I suck at 100-milers is that the 100-mile distance is best suited for either those with incredible natural talent, smart tactical planning ability, or a stable ego that recognizes when none of that exists inside of them and thus approaches the race intelligently and patiently.

I  don’t have any of that, so I always suffer more than your average bear.

As a 211 lb athlete, fatigued, sore and generally choosing to run in a physical condition NOT suited for 100 miles, the strategy was to hang with two other runners, Bob C. and Alan G. both of whom were coming into the race under-trained, but eager to just put out enough to squeek through a finish ahead of the cut-offs.

I had no chance of racing.

They had no chance of racing.

Just some dudes trying to crawl through some stacked odds and hope for the best.

Well, take a guess – How long do you think I stuck to plan?

I was able to walk to the very first mile as recommended by Zombie Runner owner Don Lundell, but I got freaked out when I looked behind and saw we were in a pack of four people and all currently in last place.

I shouldn’t have cared, …but I did.

I started running.

By 3 miles in, I had lost them completely and was slowly making my way back up through the pack.

False Bravado

“Christian, slow down!!!”

During the first few stops with my crew, this was pretty much the sentiment of everything my wife would say to me, but I felt like I was running very slowly and I just dismissed it as, “awww, she doesn’t know…”

She knows.

I’m the idiot who doesn’t know.

Christian feeling good at 12-ish miles in
photo: feeling great! …now.

I mean, I know, but I’m too stupid and arrogant to listen to what I know, so I do the opposite expecting that this will be the one time that I don’t have to face reality and will instead miraculously sail through 100-miles like I’m somehow immune to the effects of the 100-mile distance on a runner.

An under-trained runner at that.

Ten miles in, when runners can use pacers, my wife wouldn’t even run with me, instead offering to run with me “once I slowed down.”

It didn’t take long.

Cool Celebrity Sighting

About 12-14 miles in, as we ran through a beautiful and exclusive area of Islamorada, I look up at an oncoming walker and it’s Jimmy Johnson, once a popular coach of the Dallas Cowboys and now TV studio analyst for Fox Sports and the NFL Pre-Game Show.

I was shocked for a second as it took a moment to register who it was, so I just sorta stared at him. He nodded, smiled and kept up his brisk pace in the opposite direction.

I’m glad others saw him, too, ‘cuz my crew just thought the heat was already getting to me.

1/4 of the Race, Done.

Christian running with Juli Aistars
photo: getting some Keys time with ultrarunning great, Juli Aistars (27:26)

As we made our way to the first checkpoint in the race, Julie Aistars, one of my all-time favorite ultrarunners rolls up on us inquiring about the 25-mile check-in. Julie was running the race uncrewed and had to be cognizant of the all her drop bag locations and uncrewed-only aid stations.

By this time, Babette was running with me as we did a sort of “run a little, walk a little” thing, and breezed into the 25-mile checkpoint feeling pretty good at right about 5 hours.

Of course, this was 20-hour pace which was obviously waaaaaay too fast for me to be getting there.

Mile Markers 75 to 50 – Completing the First 50 Miles

Babette continued to run with me and using utility poles as markers, we’d run 3 poles and walk 1 pole. It was pretty efficient and kept us going at an even pace, but I knew I was already starting to crumble. Thankfully, my buddy Bon Bon hopped out of the car and ran some miles with me, too, and he’s not even a runner. He ended up doing about six miles during the event, so mad props to my boy Bon Bon.

Christian and Bon Bon running together
photo: Bon Bon logs a few miles with me in some high traffic

This section, from Islamorada to Marathon, is just brutal to me. The skin-scorching sun is directly overhead, you are completely exposed, sometimes in high-traffic areas – and when you aren’t as exposed, like on that forever State Park bike path, the mangroves block any wind from actually getting to you, so you suffocate.

Self-inflicted Mistake #1

During this section, somewhere near 40 miles, I changed out of my Saucony A4 racing flats, and into my NB 790 trail shoe. My feet were still ok in the flats, but I was getting sick of stopping and picking out corral rock from the bottom of them every couple of miles.

But, like an idiot, I brought the oldest, most schwaged-out pair of 790s I own, and within a couple of miles felt a blister rub.

I took off the left shoe and sure enough, the fixed insole was worn all the way to rubber of the tread.

I cussed myself in front of my wife.

It was along this forever bike path that I met Bryan.

I think Bryan is in the Coast Guard, but I know for sure he’s military ‘cuz he said so. I noticed that during my last few miles of run/walk, he walked almost completely, and still always stayed pretty much the same distance behind me. Feeling a little defeated with all that, I decided to just walk with the dude, at his pace, and chit-chat a little.

Glad I did.

I enjoyed Bryan’s company and we managed a four mph pace for about six miles, right on into the 50 mile mark (11:26) where I changed back into my racing flats and made my way towards the one …the only …the seven-mile bridge.

Mile Markers 50-25 – On the Road to Completing 75 Miles

It's starting to get interesting now

KA-BOOM!

Enter, my nemesis – the second 50 miles of any 100-mile race.

After making our way through sketchy “Southside Marathon Key”, we fueled up and started the trip over the seven-mile bridge. As you may have read in other reports, the seven-mile bridge is challenging because:

  • You’re 55 miles in and sunburned as Hell
  • There is no aid allowed during that seven mile stretch
  • Lots of big, fast moving, oncoming traffic
  • The shoulder is very tight, leaving about 5 feet of width between the traffic and going over the side of the bridge

Self-inflicted Mistake #2

Like a complete idiot, I only took one water bottle with me for the bridge section.

Sure, if it was a 7-mile race, and I was fresh, I could probably hammer it all without a drop; but, I was 55 miles in during a 100-mile race, and now having been officially whittled to a walk, that 7-miles took two hours, in the heat, …one bottle.

I drained it with still 2 miles to go.

Dumb.

Oh yea, forgot my reflector vest, too…

“Babette, I am ready to get off this fu_ _ing bridge, now…”

That was all I could say during the last 3 miles of the bridge. I was thirsty, and the hot spots that developed from Mistake #1 were now growing into full-fledged blisters. To make things worse, I bet at least 25 people passed me on the bridge.

I know, I know… I wasn’t “racing”, but I hated it anyway.

Seven Mile Bridge, somewhere around 55 miles in the Keys 100
photo: Babette was having much more fun than me at this point. Mile 56-ish

As much as I suffered on that bridge though, I really had a moment of enjoyment with my wife. Being on that bridge together, for 2 hours of no one else, with her actually being part of this craziness was really special for me. I’d sneak little glances at her and think how cute she looked in her matching green and black running outfit, ball cap and water bottle.

For brief periods, the world stopped, and it was just me, Babette, the ocean, the dark and our footsteps.

I was loving her lots.

Navigating the Night

By the time we got off the bridge, it was pitch black. Running down US1 in the Keys, you forget that its pretty raw down there and street lights don’t really exist outside the populated clumps of civilization.

Now 60 miles in, I kicked outta my racing flats, into some funky Nike Lunar Flys, and headed out – solo – so Babette could rest in the crew vehicle for awhile.

I was now 100% whittled down to nothing more than a brisk walk.

Chafe was biting my legs, my balls, my ass-cheeks and I was moving down the road on some pretty solid and evident blisters on both my heels and my forefoot.

Night running (walking) during the Keys 100

This was going to be a long 40 miles.

Self-inflicted Mistake #3

During the night I went through my usual night low-points. I was pounding the 5-hour Energy drinks, but they weren’t working, so there for awhile between miles 60 and 70, I was stopping for crew assistance every mile.

I’d walk. Then collapse in the floor of the van. Pop a blister or drink an Ensure, …repeat.

There were times, when I was walking on patched blisters, that it took me an hour to go 2 miles; but somewhere between 70-75 miles, I started to do the math and realized that if I kept this up, I wouldn’t complete the 100 miles in the alloted time limit.

Huge mistake at being wimpy. I needed to keep moving.

I snapped outta the cry-baby, lay me down in the van, funk and convinced myself to soldier on, with limited stops, until this beating was done.

Key Deer

I love animals.

Just seeing animals feels like adventure to me.

In the Keys they have these little miniature deer, that look like big deer, just smaller sized. They are the coolest thing ever, and I wondered if I’d see any as they are federally-protected on some of these lower Keys.

Key Deer, Big Pine
photo: Cool little Key Deer, endangered species.

Sure enough, late into the night, just before approaching the 75 mile checkpoint, I rolled up on a little guy who was trying to cross the road in Big Pine Key. He looked just like Bambi, all wobbly-legged and innocent-looking, and I so wanted to help him but didn’t know how he’d react.

Then, her comes a big-ass truck. Like, semi-truck, and it was coming hard and fast.

Little deer dude was only halfway across and now mesmerized by the bright oncoming lights.

Screw it! – I jumped out into the road, ran up behind the deer, which spooked him a little but broke his trance, and tried to get him to move along across the road.

Now, we both were most likely gonna need the truck to chill, so I held up my hands and waved furiously for the truck to stop, hoping he’d see me and get it.

He did.

Breaks screeching, horn blaring, he rolled almost to a complete stop.

And the damn deer just mosy’d along across the street, THEN sprinted into the mangroves, gone completely from site.

Truck driver just stared at me.

I just kept walking.

Mile Markers 25 to 0 – Gettin’ it Done

Like a man on a mission, I knew I was moving painfully slow, and that any and all stops had to be 100% necessary, so I didn’t stop much. My crew would drive ahead of me and have bottles refilled and hand-fulls of snacks for me to eat as I kept moving.

At different points, when Babette was pacing (walking) with me, I’d say “I don’t know how I am going to cover 20 more miles like this…”

or, “I don’t know how I can go six more hours like this…”

And like a trooper she’d say, “Just like you did the previous 75 – one mile at a time.”

That really stuck with me for this last 25 miles. I would see the mile marker, and yea, it might be mile marker 18, meaning 18 more miles to go, but I’d just say to myself, “just get to mile marker 17″ then 16, then 15, then 14, and it was working.

I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but when I’m so beat-down, later parts of 100-mile races can be such mental torture for me. I know I can end the pain and simply just quit, but with experience comes knowing that deep down that’s just the beginning of a new kind of pain – and that new kind of pain doesn’t have cut-offs.

Get it done, Christian.

Sun Up

Finishing the Keys 100
photo: A bit dehydrated, swollen as Hell and ready to finish. Babs with a peace sign.

Most ultrarunners will tell you that when the sun comes up, they get a lift.

Not me. It just reminds me how tired I am and how long I’ve been out there – and worse, in the Keys race, it’s a reminder that it’s now day 2 and you are about to take a second sunny side up beat-down from the glowing ball above.

Even though I only had 15 miles to go by the time it got light, it still meant I was in for about 5 more hours at my horrible 3.5 mph pace.

That just sucked.

I’d been through a solid day – sun up to sun down – of incredible heat, humidity and overhead sun; a night of physical, mental and emotional breakdown; and now, in this fatigued state I had to accept that I was going to continue suffering for 5 more hours.

But, I promised I was going to get that buckle. I promised myself, my wife, Bon Bon, and the world via run100miles.com … and deep down I wanted to prove that any athlete, regardless of training or physical circumstance, can complete 100 miles if they just stick to it and go slow enough.

Key West

It seemed like FOREVER, but I eventually crawled over the little bridge that officially puts runners on Roosevelt Blvd, along the ocean, and only 3 miles from the finish.

Lane Vogel (19:48, 4th overall) and Jenn Vogel (Female course record holder) met me just as I came over that little bridge. I was practically a walking zombie, completely delirious and wobbly, and it took a minute for me to understand who they were as they approached me, and even what they were saying to me.

I was a mess.

But, seeing them helped me a bunch. I mean, I had to man up in front of my boy, right? and Jenn’s a badass, too, so I had to try to compose myself as best I could – and I did.

Babette jumped out of the crew vehicle, now drinking beer out of her water bottle, and joined us for a little group stroll towards Smather’s Beach.

That’s my LuvPi. Rockin’ her Miller Lite.

I felt special.

After the Vogels wished me well, the Brocks (Key West Locals and race participants) saved me by pulling up next to me and giving me some much needed coconut water and further encouragement.

This Pretty Much Sums It Up

It was here, at Mile 98, that Bon Bon broke out the camera and asked for my take on the event and how I felt.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5NDHYPeLRc

I’ll leave it at that.

Thank you for reading.