Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bloody 11W 100

Wherein I experience all the highs and lows of running 100 miles and stamp "CONFIRMED" on my desire to run a self supported Vol State (500K) in July.

I know this report is a long time coming, but I ran 100 miles!!! if I had written this post any sooner it would have merely consisted of a bunch of run-on sentences interspersed with fragmented statements aimed at processing the experience. And of course, "bloody this" and "bloody that" would've been thrown in there with wild abandon. Thank bloody god that didn't happen.

Now, after more than 2 weeks post event, I do feel like I've processed the experience of the run for the most part. I've simply just not had enough bloody time or bloody energy to capture the memories of this story like I want to- and there are lots of good memories. I truly do want to record it, so I'll just do the best I can. I may invite Charles to fill in the good stuff I miss, plus add some stuff of his own. You can thank me – and him - later.

So, here goes:

Introduction, Please!
The Bloody 11W 100-Mile Run is a point to point 100-mile run on a famous highway with a history, and the latest brain child of Gary Cantrell (Laz). The story goes something like this: Laz has already run the entirety of State Road 11E. During the beginning of 2011,and inspired by the Mother Road, Laz was looking at another highway with history and proposed to have a race along the State Road 11W. This highway is the most haunted road in the U.S. and was once known as "Bloody 11W" because of the frequency of fatal accidents along the route.

Early organization of the race consisted of Gary e-mailing his idea to the ultra list serve. Interested runners could provide their email address, and race details would be furnished as the day grew closer.

An excerpt from Laz's Bloody 11W email:

"The gas giant race, geared towards the over-the-hill crowd, with a gas giant division for the elderly & infirm leading the way and an able bodied division for the youngsters and speedsters will be held during Labor Day weekend. This is a fat-ass style event. The runner takes care of themselves. However, with a 72 hour limit for 100 miles, this is a chance for the old, slow, or disabled folks to log a legitimate 100 miler and with probably a dozen or less runners someone will get a chance to win a race.

As a side note- since the race finishes at the Virginia state line in Bristol, the total distance is more like 109 -114 miles. The only cutoff is 72 hours for the 100 mile split."

I'm not sure how many runners were originally interested in this run, but at the last minute Gary had to cancel the run due to an employment conflict. I'm sure many of the runners let it go at that. However, Charles and I both were thinking about going ahead anyway, when I received a message from Naresh Kumar, asking me if Charles and I still wanted to go ahead. If so, he was also in. Now things are interesting…

All told, and to their credit, six idiots eventually showed up in Knoxville, TN ready to spend Labor Day weekend running all through the day and night (and day again) on a haunted highway:

Official List of Idiots: Inaugural "Bloody 11W 100"
Charles Raffensperger
Psyche Wimberly
Abi Meadows
Janet Duncan
Mimi Hughes
Naresh Kumar

Bloody Hell Those Logistics
Logistics for a hundred mile run of any kind are a nightmare, but especially a point to point run and especially a run where everyone is really just doing their own thing. What "planning" came down to was a bunch of e-mails between us all, with a frenzied rush to "figure it out" a few days before the run.

However, thanks to Charles, Abi, and Naresh, we had a very cool Google map of the course (C-Raff)....

Look how freaking FAR 100 miles look on this map!!!

A turn sheet of awesomeness (Abi)...

And a cool-ass race website (Naresh) complete with a bloody awesome Bloody 11W logo and banner.

Go visit the website. Do it now.

Since Charles, Naresh, and I were running straight through, we decided to leave one of our cars at the start, one at the finish, and one at the mid-way point. Charles and I arrived in Knoxville on Friday afternoon, greeted by record high temps and humidity, and at 4:00 p.m. we set off for Bristol in separate cars in order to leave Charles' car at the finish.

The heat was unbearable. The outside temperature gauge in my car was 116 degrees when I was parked, and never went below 101 degrees on the entire drive!

Warning: Running in temps higher than 100 degrees makes my Check Engine light come on

After 4 hours of driving, we barely made it back to Knoxville for the inaugural Bloody 11W "last supper". Did you catch that? 4 hours of driving to cover the course twice. That's 2 freaking hours to drive the distance we were about to run....

All smiles at this point. From left: Me, Mimi, Janet, naresh, Abi, Charles

As always, it's great to be reunited with fellow runners (Naresh and Abi). This time, we were also privileged to meet two new fellow runners- Janet Duncan and Mimi Hughes. We got to know them each a little bit over a relaxed meal, where we discovered Mimi is an incredible long-distance swimmer who has swum the Bering Strait, and the lengths of the Ohio, Tennessee, Danube, Drava, and Mura Rivers. Not only that, she dedicates her swims to a variety of causes: understanding between nations, environmental awareness, and lifeskills' training and education for women and girls.

Holy cow! She's a beast for goodness!! What an honor to meet her.

The Adventure Begins...
At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, after scouring the area to figure out where to park our car (this area is a little on the seedy side), we all met at Shoney's once again, but this time we took a short walk down the street to the junction where 11W and 11E split- this is the "official starting line!

Group photo of start (minus Mimi)

The first couple of miles of 11W has absolutely no shoulder, so we all ran single file for awhile while watching the first of what would be two very beautiful sunrises.

Gorgeous sunrise #1

Bright runners, big city

The First Bloody 9 Hours - Bloody Hell!
In long races like this, I tend to start out badly and come on strong later. But seriously. From the very first mile, I did not feel quite right. I was having issues with my stomach that are hard to explain. Mostly, I felt like I had eaten too many different foods together at Shoney's the night before. I felt like the food I had eaten last night needed to finish working its way through my system, and then perhaps I'd feel normal again. My stomach felt empty and full at the same time, and sometimes it just hurt. This went on (and on) for... nine... freaking... hours.

For the most part, what I remember about the first daylight hours of the run was the heat and how I felt like I just had to get this part of the run out of the way and hope for things to change - if I had any chance at all of finishing. Although we were running with Janet and Mimi and having some good laughs, I was also feeling kind of withdrawn in to my own world, just trying to cope with the building heat and the anxiety of being uncomfortable.

So, this is the first point where I'd like to have Charles fill in the details he remembers - from the start of the run to our approach in to Bean Station. But first, I have to tell you this great story about Mimi:

As we were heading into Bean Station, I was walking with Mimi and we were talking. At one point, she asked me what our plans were, and so assuming she meant Charles and I, I launched into our whole story...beginning to end....really, really too much information!!! And Mimi is just so cool. She listened, and listened some more, and then after what must have felt like an eternity to her, she listened some more and finally said, "Not to take anything away from your disclosure, but when I asked what your plans were, I was talking about your plans for Rodgersville." Hahahaha!! I about died laughing... I will always remember that!

Right after a beautiful rainbow appeared..I started to feel good- finally!

....Now, take it away, baby!

{Written by Charles Raffensperger}…

The early part of the run was nice and for the first couple of miles we all stayed together as a group, talking and enjoying the only halfway cool part of the day. The humidity was high though as we alternated between running and walking and traded places back and forth along the shoulder that had by now broadened quite a bit.

Mimi at one point crossed over to the right side of the road (running with traffic) and I wondered if she just wanted to be alone for awhile, until I realized that she was seeking out the shade on the Eastern side of the road – the only smart one in the bunch. We all followed suit as soon as we made this obvious connection! The theme then set in for the day – run when you can, walk when you wanted to cool down, and stop in every damn gas station or oasis along the way.

Mimi and Charles and the ever present bag 'o ice at every stop!

Ice cream shop of awesomeness

Around the 16 mile mark we found a neat little ice cream shop and stopped in to cool down and enjoy the ice cream and shakes. Then on down the road to the next gas station…the road winds all the way up through a valley between 2 mountain ridges and is quite scenic. After another good stretch of roadway we saw the Rutledge city limit sign and eagerly anticipated the next stopping point – but in an evil twist they planted the city limits waaaaaaaayyyyyy out from the town because it seemed like several more miles before we hit civilization again!

Psyche was struggling quite a bit through here and all I could do was slow down and be patient – from past experience I knew she would come out of it sometime but really hated that she had to endure her discomfort. In retrospect forcing me to slow down here probably saved me. With air temps edging up to 98 and an even hotter road surface the shade was disappearing – since nearly all of our runs are on trails these days it was a tough reminder of just how difficult it can be to run on an exposed/paved surface…the cant of the road wasn’t bad but the motion of being on a flat surface can produce soreness in your legs, hips, and feet that no trail can.

The other striking memory of this 1st section of the road is the people we encountered at every gas station or stop. I know we seemed like aliens to the good country folk along the way – and although I’ve lived in Georgia nearly all of my life I found it nearly impossible to understand the strong accents of the people in this valley. It surely seemed like many people here have simply never been out of this valley! The typical conversation went something like this: “How far ya’ll hikin?”…”To Bristol”…”Wuh, how miny days will at take?” “We’re hoping to finish sometime tomorrow afternoon”…then they’d scratch their heads and walk away.

Asking for directions or information on the next town, restaurant, or gas station was an adventure in itself…”Are there any restaurants, fast food places, or any other places to eat on the bypass around town?”…”Naw, they’re ain’t nothing here, this is jus a hick town”….”How far is it to the road that cuts through town?”…”Maybe 1 mile, or 4, you go down there and you’ll see a road on the left, not the first road, maybe the 3rd, or fifth, and after you see that road, turn in and then go down a little ways and you’ll see the IGA…but if you see the IGA first you’ve gone too far, then back track to that other road, take a left, nah, make that a right, then go another 5 miles, and then you’ll be on the otha side a town, and it’s 7 or 12 miles to Rogersville from there…..”….(side note: there IS a nice Subway and a pizza place on the bypass around town!).

Getting directions from the locals...

In this way we made a track through Rutledge and Bean Station (and our apologies to the folks in “Bean Station” as we butchered the name as “Bean Town” on conversations with the locals!). Bean Station is where the worst traffic accident in Tennessee history took place along the Bloody 11W but we saw no markers to commemorate the site. It was here that Janet and Mimi went on ahead of Psyche and I (Naresh and Abi had long since left us – but at every stop we gathered information about our relative distance behind them). A stop at Subway around 9:45 was just what I needed in terms of food and foot care and off again we went into the darkness toward Rogersville and our aid drop at the Comfort Inn.

Since the middle of the afternoon Psyche had been feeling much better and we had a good time covering those miles. But the stretch from Bean Station to Rogersville was deceptively long (18 miles I think) and without any stores open it became very tough to keep going. It was still very humid and every time we tried to run I began to sweat uncontrollably. It also seemed like the road went steadily uphill the whole way but that was just our crazy perception at night – in reality much of this section is fairly level. Quite a few cars honked their horns at us and one drunk carload screamed out to try and startle us. I know Janet and Mimi were getting worried as we all tried to keep in phone contact for safety. At 1 in the morning we stopped at a small gas station that had just closed (damn, I really wanted a Coke!) but had a small bench out front. The dehydration was getting to me and I soon got sick. My feet were killing me also and I knew it was another 8 miles or so to the hotel.

We found out from the women that they had arranged for Naresh to back track in his car from the hotel when he got there and pick all of us up. With my vomiting I knew it wouldn’t be prudent to continue so I decided to ride back – Psyche wanted to continue but running alone along the road with a bunch of drunks wasn’t a good idea so I convinced her to ride back. We rode back with Naresh and all 5 of us crashed in a room Janet has reserved. Abi was in another room with plans to rest a little while and continue on after a little rest.

Naresh and Psyche got back up and continued on – the next morning Janet, Mimi, and I drove on up to drop me at my car and check on everyone.
Sunday was an incredible adventure as I alternated between checking on the remaining 3 runners, Abi, Naresh, and Psyche. The heat and distance were taking their toll on all 3 but they continued on…Abi toughed it out for the full 111 miles! I determined where the 100 mile distance was respectively for both Naresh and Psyche and was amazed at their perserverence at covering that distance despite the conditions!!! Psyche, watching you run down that final hill was simply unforgettable!!!

Now the story has gotten a little muddled but here is the rest of Psyche’s report….

Day Two
At the hotel, I discovered that I did a bloody poor job of packing my drop bag. I had no shorts or shirt to bloody change into. I had not thought of the possibility of Charles not bloody continuing on with me, so I had no bloody money and not enough bloody fluids (ewwww) for the remainder of the run.

But runners are awesome - Mimi gave me a shirt to wear, and I washed out my shorts and sports bra and dried them on the heater in the room. Charles gave me some cash to buy drinks and food with, and Janet offered up her blister kit to both Naresh and I.

Our plan was this: Naresh and I would get a little bit of sleep, and head out together at about 4:00 a.m. We would finish, and if we still wanted to complete the entire highway, Charles would take us back to the convenience market to run the 8-mile stretch to the hotel.

Naresh was able to sleep, but I merely rested for an hour or two. I was up and getting my stuff ready at 3:30. I woke Naresh up around 3:45 and told him I'd meet him in the lobby. We officially hit the Bloody 11W road again at 5:00 a.m.

Since I had not run much with Naresh yesterday, I didn't realize he was fairly hobbled by giant blisters, and he was easing in to the morning's run. With the ever-present twinkle in his eye, Naresh regaled me with more stories of Vol State*and we laughed... a lot. We enjoyed the second beautiful sunset in a row and eventually, about an hour later, I told Naresh I wanted to move ahead and see what I felt like.

I was so surprised to find that I felt very good, and was actually running at a decent pace.

Sometime around 10:00 a.m. Charles and I touched base and he informed me that Janet was taking him to his car, and then he would be crewing me, Naresh and Abi for the rest of the run.

Thank god for this! At one point, I left my phone in a restroom at a Mobil Station and he had to go back and find it for me. In addition, he continually brought me ice for my hand helds, and I truly believe that if I did not have that as the heat of the day came on, the heat would have forced me to drop.

I really wanted to finish 100 miles, and without Charles there to measure where the actual 100-mile point was for me (since I didn't run the 8 miles from the convenience store to the hotel) I would have had to finish the whole route just to be safe. I am so grateful I didn't have to run more than 100 miles!!!

The toughest miles were indeed from about mile 82 to the finish. There were times where I felt I was moving really well, but then Charles would come by in the car and I'd find out I'd only gone a mile or 2. I wanted to cry I was so discouraged.

The heat became unbearable around 2:00 p.m. I stopped in every place I could to cool off and get something to drink. I started living for the next Dr. Pepper I could get. I remember I walked in to a Walgreen's and was opening the soda and downing it as I was paying for it. It never even occurred to me what I must have looked like to them!

That was also the store where I called Charles to let him know I stopped in a "WalMart" and then as I was talking to him, I forgot why I thought he needed to know that. Awkward silence, and then I think I just hung up the phone. THEN I remembered it was so he wouldn't miss me when he went by. Then I forgot to call him back. Wild.

At one point, I had a truck full of rednecks play chicken with me, tryying to scare me and drive me off the road. Shortly after that, I had to take my contacts out because they were so dry I couldn't see anything anyways.

And my feet hurt so bad, well, there are just no words for how bad they hurt. Eventually, after Naresh finished his 100-mile run, he was with Charles when I was about to finish mine. As I stopped to talk to them, Naresh told me to put all my weight forward on my feet to keep the blood from running into them- it would hurt less. I remember thinking, "How f**ked up is that?" And then laughing.

Just moments later, I was actually finishing a.... 100....mile....run...of awesomeness, friendship, and adventure.

Abigail Meadows : 35:29 (Ran the whole 111 miles)
Naresh Kumar : 34:04 (100 Miles)
Psyche Wimberly : 35:25 (100 Miles)

In conclusion, this run was an unforgettable experience to me for so many reasons, and I'm honored to have been a part of the legacy of the inaugural Bloody 11W.

This run embodied everything an ultrarunning challenge should hold true to...namely that of solely internal motivation, planning, and execution without the help of a paid entry fee where many of the worries and logistics are left to that of RD and crew. It was all that, and more. According to Naresh and Abi, it was very much like a mini-Vol State, in which case my desire to run THAT race just grew about a hundred fold (get it? A HUNDRED fold!)

* The "text conversation" I had with Charles after reading Naresh's race report for Vol State went something like this: : I hate to tell you this, sweetie, but I'm gonna need to take 10 days off from work in July to run Vol State. Charles: WHAT?? Are you shitting me? Me: No, I'm dead serious. Charles: You are amazing, and I love you so much. Me: : )))))