El Diablo, 140.6 miles on foot....
First things first, I would like to preface this by saying I am no expert in ultrarunning by any means, but boy do I love a challenge. They have all kinds of races in Charleston, SC and so many beautiful places to run. I started ultrarunning on a whim actually when I came across a website that had a 50mile relay race, a 50 mile race and a 50K. I thought, hmmm – We can get a bunch of us to run the relay and have a good day at it. Then, I found out, it’s in the woods? This might be an even better idea than I thought. The race was put on a local (another big plus) company called Eagle Endurance (www.eagle-endurance.com). On race day, we were all stoked and had a good time on the 50mile relay, but there were a couple things that caught my eye. Where were the other guy’s team mates out there on the trail? I asked one lady after seeing her husband come through the start/finish line, get water, food, and dart back in the woods, his wife just smiled at me and said, he’s by himself and he’s running the whole 50 miles. I thought, this is madness, why would he do that? A couple hours later he was finished and I was in awe that someone ran 50 miles by themselves and there were others who did as well. This guy’s name is none other than Andrew Taylor, a very accomplished ultra-runner in the low country area. That was it for me; I wanted to run 50 miles myself and did so the next year… I was hooked.
Fast forward to 2017 and another Eagle Endurance race was on its way to happening in the start of one of the hottest months and it’s called Hell Hole Hundred. This race has various lengths of mileage that you can chose from which is good. If you don’t’ want to run a 100 mile race there is a a 100K is available, you can jump on that one. As luck would have it, the Race Director (RD) Chad Haffa, also incorporates other distances like a 140.6 mile race (El Diablo) and a 211.9 mile race (Devils Doorknob) if you really want to punish yourself and partake in a sufferfest. Of course, I had attempted the 140.6 El Diablo in 2016 and failed miserably due to my lack of inexperience and only made it to 81 miles. I had trained with another fellow runner for that race in 2016 named Nathan Dewey and man this guy is one accomplished ultra-runner. He does his research, has a plan, and sticks to it (this is where I failed miserably). Nathan also finished that race with another very accomplished ultra-runner name Karen Jackson. I can’t tell you enough about how big and popular of an ultra-runner she is in the Ultra Running community, but man she just freaking moves down a trail effortlessly and runs in Luna Sandals. Yes, sandals…no socks. I first saw Karen Jackson in 2014 at one of the races called “Last Chance 50K” and it was freezing out... Like 28 degree’s freezing out... And here this chick is passing by me in sandals, no socks... Effortlessly with a big smile on her face saying “good job”. At any rate, these two did a fantastic job in 2016 at finishing the 140.6 mile El Diablo, but I knew, I’d be back at it in 2017 to get the El Diablo monkey off my back.
This is where the real race report starts at for the 2017 El Diablo (Hell Hold Hundred) but let me also preface this by saying that without all the of the volunteers that Chad Haffa (www.eagle-endurance.com) had out there constantly, round the clock in the freaking heat, getting bit by crazy looking horseflies, mosquitoes, and close calls with snakes, most of us would not even have made it to the finish line. Every single time I came through an aid station, they were right there always willing to help out and they were spot on with everything. I even found that one of his volunteers drove from Jacksonville, FL to help out at the race... really? Again, the volunteers were freaking awesome and always willing to help you succeed... I can’t say thank you enough to them.
My training for the El Diablo was not what it should have been as from the previous year. My father had fallen ill and that left me with traveling back and forth up to the Missouri. So training was sparse between March and May leading up to the June race. It definitely tanked in April when dad passed away, but I had to get past it somehow. In May, I decided to stay in the Swamp Stomp race (50 Miler) and use it has a long training run, but after the first 15 miles, I tanked. I ended up dropping to the 50K race and licked my wounds later. My whole thought process was, “how the hell can I do the 140.6 mile race and I can’t even stick to the 50 miles? My training sucks, it’s getting warmer... all the mind games started. I found my old training schedule after that day and stuck to the back to back long runs and speed work runs for the rest of the month right up until the last weekend before El Diablo. I usually have tapered off a little over 2 weeks by then, but just wanted to get more long runs in.
I took off work Thursday and Friday before the race to give myself sometime to relax and gather my stuff together that way I didn’t have to mess with anything Friday and I can rest all day and take naps (yeah right). I woke up at 7:00 am Friday and never when back to sleep, ugh! Total time with no sleep until I got home was 55.5 hours. I arrived at the race an hour before it started and put my chair/extra shoes/socks and supplies right at the start/finish line (Something I didn’t do last year and I followed Nathan Dewey’s lead on it this year). As the start time approached the race director, Chad Haffa, gathered everyone around for a pep talk and read us our last rights. I usually take this time to relax my mind think about what I’m going to do and tell myself to follow my plan and training. Of course, the only thing on my mind was, “I’m not ready”, “I didn’t do enough”, “Why am I even trying? Before I knew it, the RD said “GO!” and I was like crap, too late to back out – time to push.
1st loop I started with a slow pace, I knew I had to last for the next couple of days so I wanted to conserve and be smart about it. Everyone quickly darted out and I forced myself to stay in the back of the pack, something Nathan Dewey again taught me from last year. Last year’s El Diablo, when everyone darted out, he grabbed my arm and said, let them go, don’t get caught up in all that, we have plenty of time to push later, and it proved to be a smart move. I wanted to be conservative on my first 3 or 4 loops and I wanted to do them at 4 hours a piece. It is do able, but how long can I can I sustain that? Well, first loop, I finished in 3 hours and 15 minutes, stupid. I thought I was being conservative and I wasn’t, and I thought I’ve got to relax and not push so hard. The first loop was pretty uneventful and we had a bunch of people starting the 60k night run and others with the 16.3 run and it was good to have company out there, but I knew in a couple hours, it would get lonely…and boy did it ever… I usually run with others even on my training runs, but this was unbelievable lonely.
Starting my 2nd loop I grabbed my headlamp and went out, conservative and just trying to keep eating early and hydrating as much as possible. The first 12hours of the El Diablo is self-supported. Meaning, you bring your own food and water and have some crew members to support you, the RD had mercy on us and put water out for us. The crew members that I had supporting me were my son Tyler, (who’s 15) and my wife Lori (who says I’m crazy). They met me at most all aid stations making sure I had what I needed, and very thankful they were there for me. Along the way, there are check in sheets about every 3 miles or so and I was keeping a watchful eye on Nathan and Karen doing the 211 beast of a freaking run… I wrote them a few notes on some of the papers cheering them on. Near the end of the 2nd loop I had felt my stomach growl and growl hard, which meant, I needed solid food. I had snacks and such in my vest like ham, crackers, goldfish, and as much as I didn’t want to put all that on my stomach, I knew I needed it. I finished the 2nd loop around 1:30am in the morning, didn’t waste time at the start/finish, grabbed more food and back in woods I went.
Starting the 3rd loop at 1:30 am I knew I wanted push a bit to get done before 6am. I’m used to running with one or two people, usually Nathan Dewey and at the off chance Karen is in town, we run with her. I love listening to their stories of past runs and things going on in their lives. Boy was I missing them at 2:30 in the morning! I knew I was going to be lonely on the trail, no pacers would be joining me until 2:30 am or so Sunday morning. On top of that, I had decided to not listen to any music while I was out there... Just my thoughts, the trail, and peacefulness of it. I should have stated this earlier, but for the El Diablo race, we had 8 people that signed up, and 7 started. Saturday morning at 7 am started a new set of races for the 100 mile, 100k, 60k, and 16.3 mile runs and I wanted to be back out on the trail for my 4th loop before they started and had come in about 5:30 in the morning to the start/finish line, definitely had time to spare but I wanted to take care of my feet, pop blisters if I had to, coat them with Aquaphor, grab food and go, which is what I did.
Starting the 4th loop even at 6am I could feel the temperature change starting to happen and I knew that my next loop I would be changing into clothes that will feel cooler and it’s just plain a good idea to do that anyways after running for over 12 hours. It’s a time when you need to take care of your body because if you don’t and you start chaffing in places that you don’t want to, it can end your race quicker than you think. There was more pep in my step on the 4th loop because it was light outside, I knew the runners would be coming soon and pushing past me from the 100 mile, 100k, and 60K race which I was fine with because it just meant people were out there. I came in at the HWY 41 aid station and saw that they were setting up already and it was none other than Howie! This guy is relentless in volunteering at the aid stations and it’s always great seeing him there. At 9 am, just past the 11-mile manned aid station, I started feeling the heat come out. I had noticed at the last aid station I was in 1st place still and didn’t know how much more I could hold on to it. I turned around at one point on the last 3 miles on the trail and there was the guy from Atlanta that came in just for this race. I started moving faster, thinking to myself, I don’t want to give up first right now but the more I pushed I thought, this is stupid. I forced myself to just walk and let him move past me, he seemed like a solid runner and I didn’t know that much about him but I wasn’t going to try racing someone who most likely has a lot more races under his belt, that would be bad times for me. We exchanged pleasantries when he passed by me and away he went. I actually felt better after that and now I can start concentrating on eating, hydrating, and for Christ sake sticking to the game plan. I came in at the start finish line probably around 10:00 am which is what I had planned for.
The 5th loop is when I wanted to change my clothes so I took a bit of extra time to make sure all my parts were coated with body glide and Aquaphor. The 5th loop is usually the hottest loop and where I wanted to get some solid food in my stomach. Up until this point, I had been munching on small pieces of ham, crackers, goldfish, meal replacement bar, but I knew I needed something else soon. Lori and Tyler grabbed all my stuff, filled everything up with water and Tailwind nutrition and she pushed a ham sandwich in my hand and said, you need to eat every bit of this. I nodded and said, I’ll eat this and walk while doing so. I start to head back out on the to the trail the race director is standing there at the start /finish line and he comes up, smacks me on the ass and says, “get moving! It’s getting hot out here for me! ” I exchanged some pleasantries back to him (not really!) And let him know who number one was! The harassment of the RD is something that is welcome, it’s what makes it fun and of course, we always give it right back to him. I decided to run for about a mile till I got back into the shade of the trail and then eat my sandwich. As I got to that point, I took a couple of bites of the sandwich and swallowed it. Well, that didn’t work so well, my body just rejected the whole thing and right back up it came with everything else I had. Envision me walking and up-chucking and then a runner comes by and she asks “are you ok? “ I give the thumbs up and she goes on her merry way. It’s nice that other runners check on you, something you don’t see very often. At this point, my system is drained and I have nothing in my stomach. I threw away the ham but kept the wheat bread and slowly started to take very small bites of it and try and wash it down. It was a good idea, I finally choked it all down and my body started feeling a bit better. I ate some Ritz crackers with peanut butter and kept pounding the Tailwind Nutrition. It was getting hot and I moved slowly and kept to the shade on the fire roads. There was a 100 mile racer in the last stretch of the fire road that went by me flying, I was like wow, in this heat, but I saw him the next morning and he didn’t look so good. Of course I didn’t either, but man, he really looked bad. So, loop 5, slow but it definitely wasn’t my slowest.
So, starting loop 6, I could feel the temperature going down and I really welcomed that because I knew that meant I would be able to move faster in the last 5 or so miles of the 16.3 mile loop. It was pretty non-eventful for me on this loop other than a slow loop for me. My heart rate started getting jacked up quicker than what it should have been, so that meant more walking than running and running in small bursts. In the back of my mind I wanted to be back at the start finish line about the 6 pm time frame because I also wanted get close to the 97 miles within the first 24 hours. Didn’t happen – a bit of a mental let down for myself but I had to tell myself, “dude, your still a rookie at this, just be glad you made it this far and quit whining about it”. The good thing on this loop is that my son joined me for the last 5 miles of the loop. Now, my son has been involved in all sorts of sports and has also found that the 5k and 10k runs he really likes a lot. He quickly got in front of me and said “What do I do to pace you?” I simply said, just keep me moving forward and making sure I’m drinking and snacking on stuff for the next 5 miles. So we did just that… we joked, talked, he told me that I’m a bit off in the head for doing this run but that he’s amazed that I’ve made it this far etc.…. Near the end of this loop I was starting to feel tired.... as in my eyes are burning , fatigue was setting in, my lower back was just absolutely killing me and I had forgot to bring my Ibuprofen with me on this loop so I was like crap. I was afraid to take my shoes off because I know that I had some blisters that needed to be tended too but it needed to be done. I applied more Aquaphor and changed socks again, but the blisters were all on the edges of my feet but I noticed one started on the ball of my left foot as well and I’ve never had one there.
The start of loop 7 I found my mental aspect of saying, “Man, wtf are you doing?” I was tired. I really was, I know I had 2 more loops left to complete and a 5 mile out and back reverse course to make up the additional 10 miles needed for the 140.6. I told my son to not worry about pacing me till about 2:30 a.m. in the morning because that’s when I’ll really need him. He reluctantly said yes sir and I told him to get some rest until then. Now, my wife grabbed my hydration vest and my bottle, and filled the vest up with water and the bottle with DocScotts Electrolyte water. I had been swapping the DocScotts and the Tailwind every time I came through the finish. That seemed to work well for me throughout the whole process but my stomach was really aching for some solid food but nothing at all was tasting good or looking good. I snacked on some crackers, goldfish, and pounded a PB&J down. My wife asked what else I needed and I said, I think I need to walk for a bit she said, good, I’ll walk with you to the next aid station. I really didn’t want her to walk the whole way because I know she has issues with her back and the constant pounding but she grabbed a flashlight and water bottle and told me to move. Which of course, I did. Now, walking is all relative to the mind I suppose especially if you are following Lori. Lori had been accomplished runner most of her life, but years ago but due to a back injury in the military, it’s deteriorated some things. Her walk? Is a fast paced walk and to keep up it’s my slow freaking jog behind her. So, my walk ended up being a slow jog – with stops to ease my back pain. Did I say I forgot to take the Ibuprofen? I did and boy was that a mistake. The good thing is that Lori knew she had some in the car and Tyler would be meeting us at the next aid station. I came to the aid station on HWY 41, about 11:00 pm Saturday night and this freaking blister on the ball of my foot was getting more and more painful. I sat down, took my shoe off, grabbed a safety pin from my number and popped it. Man, draining that made things better for me.
Sung Ho Choi (who drove up from Jacksonville, FL) took a pic and posted it. But this guy then offered me some Ramen Noodles, he said they were cold, I said... I’ll take them. I took a couple bites and it was good and I inhaled the rest. I can tell you this, from that aid station to the next I really pepped right up with all that, I’m thankful he had them. Going down the fire road at 1:00 am I just totally zoned out into the walking dead zombies. Literally a death march and I started to close my eyes when I was on the fire road to rest them and it felt so good. For some strange reason, I turned around after walking with my eyes closed and looked behind me and there were two headlamps that were a ways down the road. I thought, crap, that’s the 3rd and 4th place guys from Arkansas coming up behind me. I needed to move, so I took off running as fast as I could and still kept looking behind me. I don’t’ know why I felt the sense of urgency to move it woke me up quicker than I thought. I turned around again before getting near the next manned aid station and the lamps were gone. Did they turn their lamps off? I’m not sure, but I know I didn’t want to lose 2nd place. I mean, you can see light for a mile on the road there at night, but it was gone and I’m not that fast of a runner. At any rate, I got to the next aid station which had Eric Goodwin there and he asked me what I wanted. My energy level was down so I said; Mountain Dew and I grabbed a handful of M&M’s and darted back into the woods. Boy did all that pep me up for the next 5 miles. On a side note, I don’t’ drink soda and the only caffeine that I drink is 1 cup of coffee in the morning so Mountain Dew threw a shock into my system!
On the 8th loop I knew it was going to be slow… but how slow, I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I just wanted to finish and go to sleep. Tyler was ready to roll when I came in the start finish line. I filled up everything and we started moving. The ibuprofen was kicking in that I took earlier so the back pain went away and we moved pretty well down the trail. Tyler periodically would remind me to drink and eat… he did good keeping tabs on me. But of course, he was following orders from his mother to make sure I was. We got to the fire road sections of the trail which is Irish Town road and I kept looking back down the road to see if I could spot the other 2 guys or any other trail runners. I didn’t see anyone but I noticed Tyler was acting a bit sluggish at the time and very quiet (very unlike him). I asked him what was wrong and he said he’s just embarrassed to say. I thought, man what’s going on and he finally said, “I’m just tired Dad, but I didn’t want to say that because you’ve run 120+ miles so far”. I told him not to worry about it, that I would just keep checking behind us and we just needed to have forward motion. Keep in mind, Tyler has never run 20 miles in his life and his longest run was 10 miles last year. He was doing well in my book. So we walked more than usual and it was getting light outside, then for the love of humanity the mosquitoes came out and just made us miserable. Running didn’t help at all they just kept pelting us. I turned around and had one last look down Thomas Road before we hit Yellow Jacket and there were the two guys from Arkansas, maybe a quarter mile away. I told Tyler we need to move quickly and he agreed. We got past the Yellow Jacket aid station and we were moving pretty good into the last section of the trail but at the last sign in sheet I could tell Tyler was just about out of gas. I told him to just walk a bit but I need to keep running and moving quickly. Keep in mind; Tyler knows this trail system well so when I left him I knew he was going to be ok to make it the next 4 miles to the start/finish line. My thoughts were, just move, move quickly and don’t give up your position. I started hitting 8:30 to 9:00 minutes paces and knew I couldn’t sustain that for long but I wanted to give myself some space. I had gotten just about a mile past Hell Hole Road crossing and I started to walk. I had briefly stared down Hell Hole Road and knew I had to come back and go down that road. While I was walking, I hear a runner behind me, I’m like crap – I look back and it’s Tyler flying up on me. I said what’s wrong? I thought you were tired? He said, well, while I was walking, I started thinking, you know what happens to little boys that are alone in the woods! He started freaking out a bit and pushed really hard to catch up. We crossed over the highway to the start/finish line. I dropped my hydration vest, just filled up my bottle and bolted back in the woods in reverse for my 5 mile out and back. I passed by the first place winner who already did his out and back he smiled at me and said we are almost done! We exchanged pleasantries, I told him good race and that I’d see him at the finish. A couple miles later I passed by the 3rd and 4th place finishers as well and then hit Hell Hole Road. Holy crap this road is really freaking long. It’s only 3.2 miles to the turn around point but man, this road you can just look down and it keeps going and going. On top of that, the heat on that road is ridiculous if you are hitting it about 10:30 or so in the morning. About a mile down the road I jumped a bunch of feral hogs on the right hand side of the road that were trying to cool off in the swamps, there must have been like 20 of them running off. These aren’t your normal hogs you see in Missouri, they are a bit slimmer, but can freaking move quickly. I’m just glad they went the other way and not crossing my path.
Finally reached the turnaround point for El Diablo and I knew I still had 5 more miles to go but I felt relieved. After a couple miles I reached the 3rd and 4th place finishers when they were doing their final out and back as well. They looked as tired as I was for sure but had more work to do. Right before I got to the end of my route on Hell Hole Road and cut back into the woods for the final 2 miles there stood my wife with her hands on her hips. Remember I took off my hydration vest which had food, electrolytes, and water in it? I just grabbed a 20oz handheld and went back out for the last 10 miles which was stupid on my part. I was almost out of water and man I was freaking hungry. Well, she proceeded to tell me how stupid that was that I needed all that and to not do that again, I agreed. We walked for just a little bit then I noticed Chad Haffa (RD) coming down the trail on his ATV, he was just checking on his runners out there making sure everyone is ok. He told me to hurry the hell up, he was getting tired. ($@#%%$#%) He gave my wife a ride to the finish, man did I really want to jump on that ATV and go with them, but I still had another mile to go so I started moving quickly again to finish up.
Crossing the finish line was a great feeling of accomplishment. Last year I didn’t make it to the finish line because of some rookie mistakes, but surrounding yourself with more experienced runners and actually listening to them made a world of difference. I didn’t do it in the time that I wanted which was 40 hours, but made it in 41:31 minutes. I took a bit more time on the aid stations that I wanted to on the last 3 loops, but I think I needed that time to just collect myself mentally. Again, my training for this race hadn’t been there for this race because of my fathers’ illness and passing but I didn’t want to give up before the race even started. Speaking of Dad, after the funeral I asked my mother if I could have his dog tags (I actually left one for my sister) and she said of course you can. I knew then, I wanted to wear Dads dog tags around my neck the whole race and I did. When I got lonely I talked to him in the middle of the night and held onto it when I felt like quitting. Months before his passing, he was really curious about the 140.6 miles and told me it was probably a bad idea (hahaha) But he told me as with anything, if you start it, you should finish it. I did…. For you pop.