This is a long one. Grab a cuppa or a hot tea and settle in. It’s worth it (at least I think so!).
“I can’t run that far.”
“How would I even train for that?”
“I am going to injure myself.”
These were a few of the many doubts and questions that would flood my train of thought any time I considered the absolutely epic and mind-boggling 100-mile distance over the last 5+ years. I would sit and watch Western States and see the elites flying along, making it look… almost easy. How were they doing it? I don’t think I will ever have an answer to that, outside of they are doing everything right in their day to day and that allows them to absolutely hammer these races time and again.
In Fall of 2022 I decided I wanted to try the 100-mile distance, so I began searching for the right race for me. I settled upon the Rim to River 100 because its location in the New River Gorge of West Virginia held a special place in my heart from multiple climbing trips I had taken there with my wife and friends years ago. I wanted to continue building memories, albeit of a different kind, in a place that I had grown fond of. This race also had a manageable amount of elevation gain, and that gave me a little peace of mind compared to other races that had 50-75% more gain. Finally, the course was an out and back of sorts, with four smaller out and backs branching of the main spine. This intrigued me. Registration for the race opened on Jan 1. I missed it! I was put on the wait list. I was devastated that I missed the registration start. I instantly feared I would not get into the race.
I watched the wait list like a very keen hawk eyeing its breakfast. I would check it multiple times a day hoping there was a flood of wait-listers accepted, moving me up the list. Eventually I made it to 47th on the list. I was certain I wasn’t getting into the race. I email the RD asking what my chances were. I asked friends who’d run this race in the past, and had also been on the waitlist for their race, if I had a chance. They all reassured me I had an excellent chance of getting in. I didn’t believe any of them. I was bummed.
My wife, exchange daughter, and I had signed up for a 60k in Arizona in April, so I was already going to be training for a race. As we got closer to the 60k, I decided I would start ramping mileage up afterward just in case I did get in. I wanted to make sure I was ready if I got the call to the ‘big leagues’.
I don’t remember when I got bumped to the entrants list, but I know the feeling I had; I was elated and terrified at the same time! This race/challenge/adventure I was just accepted to was going to be the hardest event I’d ever attempted, and that scared the hell out of me (as I feel it should have)!
Training started out great. I worked my way up to a couple ~80 mile weeks and I felt great through my runs and in daily life. I wasn’t overdoing it or stretching myself too thin. My wife and I attended a 3-day stage race in mid-September called Golden Ultra in British Columbia, Canada which had carried over from 2020 (thanks COVID), so I planned that into my training. The race had two heavy days of climbing which I wanted to take advantage of in my training to prep for Rim to River’s ~11,000 ft (~3350m) of gain. The tl;dr of this race is that it absolutely kicked my ass! Day 1 was 4.5k with ~1050m of gain. Day two was a 60k with ~2550 m of gain. Day three was 23k with ~660m of gain. INTENSE. I came away with massive blisters on the back of both heels, quads that were shredded, and a fever issue/cramping issue/possible health concern that required some doctor time. It wasn’t promising for my outlook on the 100-miler coming up in less than two months.
Upon returning from Golden Ultra, I went out for my first run after the races and I suffered a strain in my right calf in the middle of a 12-mile run. It was rainy, ~45F (~7C), and I didn’t have pants or calf sleeves on to keep my always-tight calves warm. I should have known better, but that’s life. I was instantly panicked.
How was I going to run 100 miles in 6 weeks with a calf strain this close to the race?
How would I get enough mileage in to be ready for the race?
Should I drop out?
Through the work of strength training, the amazing hands of a trusted chiropractor Advanced Spine and Sports Medicine (Dr. JP), and the magical needles of a great acupuncturist Doylestown Acupuncture (Ryan Collins), I was able to recover from the calf strain, but I missed 3 of the most important weeks of training, only totaling 6-12 miles (10-20k) each of those three weeks, when I should have been upwards of 80 miles (~130k) each of those weeks. To say my confidence was shaken would have been a massive understatement. I was second-guessing everything, including the decision to run the race. My wife was a rock through all of this and kept me grounded and thinking logically. She’s amazing. That could be a book on its own! She made me realize my training was good leading up to the strain and I could rely on that and build slightly more in the last 2 weeks leading into the race with a reverse tape of sorts. I decided to give my calf one last test; an ~30-mile (~50k) overnight run after spending an entire day on my feet. This would provide an excellent in-race simulation. I started the run at 1:15 am and ran for around 7 hours. IT WAS A SUCCESS!!! After this run, I knew it was ‘game on’ for Rim to River 100!
Race prep started at home during the week leading into the race. Packing all the gear we thought we would need, might need, and could need created a group of 6 large duffels that needed to travel with us on the 6.5 hour drive (car full of 4 adults and 2 pups). We packed it all in and I panicked we were forgetting something [read: everything!] as one does when heading to a big event. Once we were packed, we started the road-trip to WV.
We arrived in Fayetteville, WV Friday around 2:00 so we checked the town out for a little before heading to Ace Adventure Resort for race bib pickup. I got my bib and pacer bibs, read some info about the event, took a picture in front of the race logo wall (requirement!), and bought a SWEET running hat with the race logo on it as a token in the event I didn’t complete the race before the cutoff (32 hours).
After unpacking the car at our house for the weekend, my wife and mother-in-law set in to working on a killer pre-race meal of acorn squash, rice, Beyond sausage, beets, and some other super tasty ingredients. I ventured back to Ace Adventure Resort with my father-in-law for the pre-race meeting to make sure I had all last-minute info and details nailed down. Once I returned to the house, we chowed down on the amazing meal, cleaned up dishes, and headed to bed so we were as rested as possible for the 4 am wakeup call.
4:00 am Saturday, November 4, 2023
The alarm goes off and I rise to my feet for race morning prep which will consist of manically packing my race vest, selecting the right clothes, and getting as many calories eaten as possible. Oh yea, and don’t forget the obligatory morning bathroom routine. If you run races, you know exactly what I am talking about!
The real fun for the weekend starts before the race clock even starts. On our drive to the start line, a gate is closed that was open on the way out the night before. I went directly into a panic assuming we weren’t going to make the starting line in time. My wife had other plans! She did a burnout in the gravel road and started hauling it down the dark country roads while my MIL and FIL searched for alternate routes. I, meanwhile, sat in the passenger seat tearing up thinking that all the hard work and commitment I put into this race was all for not; I wasn’t going to get to run and my race day would be over before it was able to start. Well, Andretti, I mean my wife, turned a 24 minute drive into a 17 minute drive and got us there 10 minutes before the race start. I considered contacting F1©, Nascar©, and Indycar© to see if they had any open driver positions, but I got distracted by that 100-mile race thing lingering in the very, very near future. We hit the parking lot and I dive out of the car to finish pre-race prep; tie the shoes 4 times to get them just right, check all vest pockets to make sure I have what I need to get to the first aid station, shed a few more tears being overwhelmed by the moment, give the family and pups hugs, and shuffle to the start coral to meet the group of runners that would become my comrades, family, and friends for the next day plus.
6:00 am Saturday, November 4, 2023
And we were off! I told myself that I would walk the start of the race; whether what was .1 mile or .5 mile. I felt I needed to set the precedent early that I was committed to a conservative start to give me the best chance of not blowing up and ending the day as a DNF. I stuck to this. I walked approximately .1 miles before I broke into a very shallow shuffle. The first climb of the day was about .125 miles into the race and continually rose through about mile 3 before we consistently started back down, so that aided me in my goal of keeping my pace lower and staying relaxed and conservative early on.
I arrived at Concho Rim aid station at mile 7.5 feeling relaxed and optimistic for the day. As you read earlier, I still had lingering worries that my right calf could cause an issue at any point, so that was on my mind for the entire first section. Concho Rim is a beautiful lookout over the New River and it was majestic just after sunrise Saturday morning! My crew, pups included, was waiting for me with food, water, electrolytes, and love; easily the most important part, in my opinion. I downed some of the remaining fluids from my vest, swapped things out, and made a quick transition out to the Thurmond aid station at mile 17, where I would not see my crew. The section from 7.5 to 17 went smoothly with little issue or concern. I had moments where I felt I was moving too slowly, but I reassured myself I was sticking to the plan. STICK TO THE PLAN JASON literally ran through my mind for this entire stretch. If I saw my watch showing anything faster than I planned, I immediately slowed. Thurmond aid station was at the bottom of a long descent that started on an old rail bed/rail trail. In all, it was 3+ miles down to the aid station, about .75 miles from which we crossed a railroad track. On my way down, a train was sitting allowing runners to cross. After I hit the aid station, I made my way back up the climb. Upon getting to the track crossing, the alert signal was blinking and sounding. A second and third locomotive had arrived and were beginning to move toward the long train to tow it up the track. I was about 200-300m from the crossing and realized I might get stuck waiting for this train. I instantly shifted gears, along with a runner in front of me, and dropped a short-term hammer to get my buns across those tracks before the train! We got approximately 15 steps on the other side and the towing engines started to move toward the crossing. PHEW! Crisis averted! The climb back to the main spine of the course was continuous but moved well as I combined running and walking to make my way back.
Aid station three was at mile 27 and I got to see my crew again. It came after a long, very runnable section along the river. I swapped clothes, downed some hot food (yum!), refilled my vest with treats and fluids and shot out on the trail! Right out the back side of the aid station was a long road climb. I was ready for this! Through my training cycle I focused hard on my power hiking up hills. I developed a fast cadence where I planted poles with each step and it made for a very efficient and fast uphill pace utilizing my upper body to pull me as I pushed with my legs. I kept this pace through the entire hill, passing many people, until we hit the apex and turned off the road onto a trail. Poles went away and easy running resumed.
The next aid station was mile 38 and once again had no crew access. Just over a mile before this aid station, there was a lookout that required you to grab a keychain to turn in at the aid station to prove you ran that section. Check out this view!
I moved in and out of mile 38 aid and continued on. I was still feeling fresh and very optimistic about my very lofty “D goal” of sub-24 hours. I was still on pace and didn’t see that faltering any time soon (*foreshadowing*). As I moved away from 38 and onto 43, where I would see family and pooches again, I continued to move well and feel good. It was a long descent down to the river, which meant a lot of quad-burning time. I started to notice the downhill in my knees a bit, but nothing I wasn’t used to. Coming into 43 I felt grrrrrreat! I consumed more hot food, did some trail showering and move out toward 50.5 where Janet would jump in to start my overnight paced sections. In the sections from 17 to 43, I met some truly awesome people and had some chats along the way that made the miles tick by and the smiles stick around. This is what the trail community is about!
Mile 50.5 aid station. I forgot to use my poles coming up the 1.5 mile hill, so I lost a little time; way to go Jason! I was still in very good spirits and Janet even commented after the race that she was worried with how good I looked. As with every other station, I grabbed hot food, drained and filled fluids and my vest full of snacks, grabbed some kisses and high fives, and headed out onto the night time trail with my wife! This was special for me. I knew I would need some help as the miles piled on and this middle section with Janet was a ton of help and truly enjoyable. We talked about the first half of the race, how things were feeling, and what I was foreseeing for the next 50. The 7.5 miles flew by and the next thing I knew, we were coming down the long road decent into aid at 58. It was night now, so things were a bit more hectic, but my crew was doing such an amazing job keeping things organized, moving smoothly, and gearing me up and getting me out. I can’t say this enough; I could not have done this race without them. PERIOD. After gearing back up, and adding some layers, I grabbed my new pacer, Nick, and headed into the dark night, up a hill, headed for a long 22 mile stretch without seeing my crew. Miles 58 through 65 went very nicely. When we hit 65, Nick and I did a little trail dance because that was my new mileage PR. It was a magical feeling. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last long. I started to feel some things popping up in my shoes that I hadn’t before; small stones, dirt, etc. Normally I wouldn’t even notice this, but my feet were starting to feel the mileage and time on feet, so every little things was causing discomfort. We made sure to clean shoes out as soon as I felt something. Mile 68 to 71 were tough. I didn’t grab enough calories at the previous aid station, so I started to bonk a little. Then we hit the 71 mile aid station, where they had fresh-out-of-the-oven M&M© cookies! They brought a little life to my system as we gathered more food and ventured out into the woods. About half a mile after leaving 71 aid station, I started to have more difficulty with my feet and with my overall mental state. I started questioning if we had time to finish under the cutoff, whether I was strong enough to finish, and if my feet were going to hold up. Nick did a great job assuring me none of those things were going to hold me back and I was going to finish. I think this was the point where I gave Nick permission to be a drill sergeant, if necessary, to get me across the finish line. He would later take me up on that!
The next aid station was at mile 80. This is where I thought I was done. Coming into the aid station, we came back down the long road climb I mentioned earlier on the back side of 27 aid station. My feet hurt, badly, with every step. I knew blisters were in there. I knew it was going to be a tough march to the end. Once again, my crew came to my rescue. Hot food, change of clothes, positive talk, and eagerly helping me to be as ready as possible to tackle the next 12.5 miles until I would see them again. I was in this aid station for 25-30 minutes and it was worth every one of those minutes. The neighboring crew was in awe of my team’s efficiency, spread, and dedication to my needs and wants. I tried to bark out what I craved, changed my mind 3 times, and they were there within seconds with exactly what I asked for. It was a sight for sore eyes [legs] and very much the reason I continued on. I was beat up and bruised. THIS is what I signed up for. I was as ready as I could be. Let’s keep moving. Nick was ready. My crew felt I was ready to head out, so we did. I was warm, full of calories, and ready to push on into the early morning.
From mile 80 to 85.5 aid station was a slow uphill grind. I didn’t stop moving. I vowed to never stop moving. Nick stayed ahead like a carrot for me to see and continually move toward. It worked. I kept moving toward his light. Up. UP. UP. We arrive at 85.5 where I chowed on a slice of pizza and some veggie broth ramen. DELICIOUS! A new spark of energy and motivation hit my body. Let’s keep moving. The next and last aid station was at 92.5 where I would pick up Janet and head to the finish line. I checked off another “never have I ever”. All the food finally caught up to me and I need to do it. I needed to use nature’s bathroom for #2. In all my years running, hiking, and biking, I haven’t needed to go while in the woods. This changed in the last 10 miles, where I would do so twice.
Coming into aid station 92.5 I had just experienced my second sunrise of the run and the view of my crew made me smile and tear up. I was feeling it. I was going to finish (I thought, sorta). This aid station was no different than others; change of clothes, warm food, get out and move to the finish. This is when Nick took his honorary military title to heart. He kept sternly telling me to put the oatmeal down and go. PUT THE OATMEAL DOWN AND GO. I took another bite. STOP EATING AND GO. YOU’RE NOT GOING TO GET ANYTHING BY STAYING HERE. I obeyed, and Janet whisked me back into the woods for my last section before the finish. It would be a slow stroll comprised mostly of walking due to the condition of my feet. She kept me chatty and succeeded in keeping my spirits high. We enjoyed [mostly] the last 7.5 as we moved toward the finish. This last section, moving with her, was the most special. It was the culmination of all the work, time, and effort I put into the training and race. I was going to do it and I was going to do it with her by my side. I was going to finish my very first 100!!!
The last .5 miles was down a fairly steep road. The feet weren’t happy, but I was. I knew I could run this part, albeit slowly, to make the finish memorable. Janet was the biggest, best cheerleader through the last miles and that didn’t change as we rounded the last few bends coming down to Ace Adventure Resort. We rounded the last turn and I teared up. I was here. It was real. I had done it. WE had done it. I crossed the line to cheers from people I had just met that weekend and people I will never meet. It was special.
10:26 am Sunday, November 5th
I sat at the finish line, thinking over the last 29+ hours and what I had just accomplished. I wasn’t able to fully comprehend it due to fatigue and not enough time removed from the event. Sitting here today, I feel so fortunate to have accomplished my goal of finishing this 100. My crew was integral in making that goal a reality.
To close this book out… If you are looking to do hard things. DO THEM. Challenge yourself. Find your limits and step past them. Don’t let someone else tell you what you’re capable of; find out for yourself!