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.

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Thanks for the race report Christian. Just registered and hoping to run with Beth M. for a little bit until she leaves me in the dust. This will only be my second ultra..running Delano 12 hr in March. Your blog has given me great insight and I appreciate it. Also helps me not take the race so serious and just enjoy the people! Hope to see ya at SJ!!


@John: Man, I’m jealous of the transcon – but will be wishing you well.

@Byron: I pretty sure there’s no catching you at LV, but now I have another goal for that race.

@Chris: yup. A very long way to run on pavement – the Keys 100 will be even longer. {egad}

Great report.
Thats a long way to go on pavement.

Hey, looks like that “learn a little humility” crowd has caused you to lose your balance. Time for a little chest thumping! #4 should read “Now that I caught that Byron Backer in a race, he ain’t never, ever gonna beat me to a finish line again!”

Hope you catch me in many more races. Sharing a road or trail is good, and friendly competition out there is great fun.

Good race. Congrats.

Great report Christian. Hopefully I will be
finished with my Transcon in time next year to
join you in Wartrace… I will see it twice though
this coming July!

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