i had just finished up a nice trail run at either sope creek or sweetwater in atlanta while i was home over the holidays, and, of course, like i am often prone to do, i took a second to post this on social media. it may have been my first (but definitely my first or second) trail run since the ill-advised attempt to return to trail running halloween night at croom – when i slightly rolled the ankle again – and the run had gone really well so i was pretty excited. the post on facebook triggered a message from a guy i know down here in florida in the ultra community, looking for volunteers to be on a 10 person, 100 mile relay team. what the heck, i said, and told him sure, sign me up.
the long haul 100 is a very small ultrarun in wesley chapel, fl that takes place at the cypress creek preserve in wesley chapel, fl. it has a few events – a 50 mile run, a 100k run, a 100 mile run, and 5 and 10 person team 100 mile relays. i was assigned to leg 7 of my 100 mile team, which meant i was going to kick off around 6 pm, which i realized sometime after i got there meant this was not only going to be my longest trail run since the sprain, but also my first headlamp run. the 10 person relay was designed so that people ran alternating 8 and 12 mile legs. the course was designed as 16 mile out and back, so the 12 mile leg ran all but the last 4 miles of the out-and-back and the 8 mile leg ran about half of the course.
i got there pretty early for my leg and hung around the start area chatting with the volunteers and cheering runners as they came into the checkpoint to fuel up and head back out on another leg. the long haul was your true low key ultra, a lot of volunteers and a few spectators sitting on grass in tents or lawn chairs or camping chairs. hanging out for a while i really got a sense that it was a fun race with a lot of heart. many of the volunteers weren’t even runners but people who had a missionary connection to haiti – which the run benefitted. i also saw the eventual winner come in at 100k in less than 9 hours (he would go on to win int in 13 hours and some minutes – faster than my team finished 8 legs of our 10 leg relay!!!)
after hanging around for sometime, i realized it was about time for my handoff to show up and sure enough about 6:20 she came running down the paved bike path that led to the checkpoint. i got the band and took off going pretty fast. i decided what the heck, i was going to push it and any chance i had i opened up. i didn’t wear my garmin so i am not sure of exact mileage or pace at various points. i’m glad i did this too, because it was nice to have no idea how far or how long i had gone.
after maybe 3 or 4 minutes on the hard, paved surface, the race veered off onto single track trail. a good few miles in the woods; i hadn’t turned my headlamp on yet, because i could see the trail well and i was moving too. it wasn’t tough single track, not like sweetwater or sope creek or croom, but it had it’s challenges. i was still moving though and feeling great on the ankle.
i came out of the woods and crossed the hard road again, past checkpoint 2 – which would ulitmately be my stopping point (8 miles later of course) and then headed back onto trails. the next section was jeep road through the woods, a maybe 2 or 3 mile lollipop. at this point i put my headlamp on and it was pretty much dark from here until the end of the run. i started to see a lot of 100k and 100 milers on this section (i was passing a bunch of course) but i also saw many coming back on the stick of this lollipop. i have to say that seeing these guys running really inspired me and made me really jealous that i wasn’t with them; it was good to get the ultra bug again.
the loop of this lollipop was cut road through grassy fields and i really opened up at this point before i came back onto the jeep road and ran solid back through checkpoint 2 and out on the final and longest out and back of my run. after a bit or running on the pavement heading away from checkpoint two and ducked back into the woods.
most of this section was run on jeep roads too, and while the roads were flat and pretty fast they were also very bumpy and the further you got away from checkpoint 2 the bumpier they got. this was actually the toughest thing for my ankle, the bumps in these dirt roads, but honestly i never really felt through the whole stretch that i was in any danger, nor did the ankle ever really hurt.
the first stretch of jeep raad wasn’t too bad, but after maybe 10 minutes i came out on another paved road and ran on it for a stretch before dropping onto a wide jeep road through the woods. this one was the worst, from the standpoint of being bumpy and i had to slow down and really pay attention to my footing through this stretch. this road, which i desperately wanted to get off of, led to a little single track lollipop where a guy was sitting at the end with food, water and a fire. i passed him, and then really had to pay attention as the trail wound through trees and was almost impossible to tell from the ground. i made it through though and caught back up with the trail. i then ran past the stick of the lollipop and almost went around for another loop before realizing it maybe .3 of a mile down the trail and turned around and headed back.
i took my time going down the bumpy jeep road, then got to the first stretch of pavement. i hung out with a lady who was running the 100 miler who had run the extremely difficult HURT 100 in hawaii last weekend and just shook my head in amazement at what we are capable of. i pulled away from her when we hit the second stretch of jeep trail where i really opened up, and before i knew it i was back on the pavement an cruising into checkpoint 2, where i handed off the run to the leg 8 runner and chilled out with a coke and then some coffee.
all in all i ran it in just under 2 hours i think, which for me off-road is BOOKING. i felt solid the whole way and most importantly the ankle never felt in any danger. it’s tight today for sure, and still has some heeling to do, but as long as i am careful i can pretty much get back into training. also, i am a bit sore today but i haven’t run his distance since the chicago marathon AND i was booking.
i feel good; really good. i needed this run. it boosted my confidence and helped me get bit by the bug again, which, frankly i had been struggling with. being out there among my odd tribe of super long runners helped. having a great run helped even more.
final word about the long haul 100. an amazing run. fun, fast course with great volunteers, well supported and a really good family feel to it. it seemed to me to be all that ultrarunning is about. i can’t wait to come back and run the 100k next year. that’s my new goal!!!