“I am going to cut off my f*****g piece of s**t hamstrings and feed it to the raccoons!” That thought imprinted very vehemently on my mind as I stomped my hiking poles on the trail in the middle of a 1200 feet steep climb starting out of Old Dial Road at mile 75ish. Two points of note here – one, luckily, I did not have a knife/machete/sword/epee etc. Two – the use of the word “steep” in the previous sentence is superfluous when describing any section of the Cruel Jewel (CJ) course. The course is 108 (or, thereabouts) out-and-back with over 30K ft of elevation gain/loss. The course website says 33K ft – I am not sure about that number, but I won’t argue too much. It is a hard course, but not particularly technical. There are some occasional rocks/roots, but, for the most part, the trail is very runnable. On the downhill sections. Last year, I did CJ, but the course was what I considered a baby CJ course. Due to rains (and general BMTA a**holery), they had to reroute the “back” part of the “out-and-back” through a significantly easier section. Accordingly, although I officially did CJ 100 last year, I thought I had cheated to gain the finish.
So yeah, fast forward to 2015, and here I found myself at the CJ 100 starting line. Coming off of several good training runs, including doing SCAR a month ago, I was feeling pretty good. I had set myself a very challenging goal time of 30 hours (time limit is 48), and that (and adrenaline) played a bit of a role in the first section of the course – 21 miles from Vogel State Park to Skeenah Gap. A subsection of this – about 4 miles between Fish Gap and Rhodes Mountain (~mile 20) – is probably the hardest part of the course with the climb up Rhodes being pretty ridiculous. I thought I was not pushing myself too much, and still I found myself at Skeenah in under 5:15. That was almost half an hour faster than I had ever done that section! On the plus side, I got to run a bit with Kevin (from Philly) and Lee (from Akron) for a bit on this section, and that was fun. Another exciting part was getting to the Fish Gap AS and diving into the scones that Molly made. As I rambled down to Skeenah Gap, I saw Alicia. I wasn’t expecting to see her for another 5 miles – so that was a pleasant surprise.
I was feeling pretty good at this point, and the feeling stayed on till the next aid station at Wilscot Gap. Mostly – I started having some issues with my stomach. It had been pretty muggy (80ish and humid), and I may have had more neat water than I probably should have had. And, then, came the first signs of rosy things not continuing to be so. The next section between Wilscot and Old Dial road (miles 26 to 32) went much slower. Correction – the section between Wilscot and Deep Gap (26 to 42) was fairly slow. My hamstrings started complaining (although not the point stated in the beginning of this post), and I had to bite the bullet and take alleve around mile 40 – sooner than I would have liked. Just after Old Dial Road, Lee and, then, Kevin passed me and I think I was quite grumpy at that point. I tried to keep up with them, but they were faster (probably to escape a grump).
Descending to Deep Gap, I saw someone running up the trail faster than I was going down it. Karl Meltzer was already 18 miles ahead of me! I stepped aside and said “good job” and got a dismissive “thanks” in reply. Oh well. After deep gap, I got to a very annoying part of the course – Aska Lollipop done counterclockwise. Now, this section is quite fun going clockwise, but awful the other way. All the nice smooth downhill sections in the clockwise direction are now unrunnable uphills.
The last 3ish miles to the turnaround are on the road, but not too bad. There I was – 13:15 hours after the start to the turnaround. On the way back, there is an extra 5ish mile section – so, I was not quite halfway. Still, I thought I had a reasonable chance at being under 30 hours. And, then (well, not immediately) came the section between Old Weaver Road and Stanley Gap. Halfway between the two gaps (mile 66ish) just before the sun came up, I started having a lot of trouble staying up. I got passed by Kevin and another guy (I will call him the Bostonian due to the way he pronounced “coffee”), and they both seemed a bit concerned about my state. I assured them it was just a passing phase and I would feel better once the sun came up. And, soon it did and so did I. Things from there back to Old Dial Road (mile 75) went reasonably well, and I caught up with and passed Kevin. And, then, came the climb up on BMT (Benton Mackaye Trail) from Old Dial Road with its cutting-of-the-hamstrings shenanigans. Somehow, I managed to crest the climb just before the downhill into Wilscot Gap.
At Wilscot, I caught up with the Bostonian and he was surprised to see me – he said he thought I was done with when he had passed me at dawn. I guess, I might have been – had it not being for my quads strengthened by countless feet of jarring downhill on SCAR a few weeks ago: I could still maintain a decent pace on downhill sections. As I started up from Wilscot, I soon ran into Alicia who was doing her run backward on the course from Skeenah. That really perked me up and the section to Skeenah went pretty smoothly. There, Alicia gave me my elixir – ice cold Starbucks frappucino! I checked the time – I had just over 6 hours remaining till the 30 hour mark. That was going to be tough – 21 miles on (mostly) the Duncan Ridge Trail. But, maybe… Let’s just give it a try.
In the section between Skeenah and Fish Gap, I passed two people, and surprised myself by taking just over 1:30 on this section. Still a chance to get under 30 hours! Then, things got bad, and I took almost 3 hours to get to the next aid station at Whiteoak Stomp (almost 8 miles). I had to take a short break midway to pop my second alleve of the race.
In the state my hamstrings were in, I was dreading the climb up Coosa. But, I didn’t realize I had a secret weapon there – Alicia had turned up at that crew stop and offered to go up Coosa with me! It was slow and painful, but I was perked up now to make up Coosa without too much whinging. On the big downhill (about 2200 ft in about 4 miles), I realized that my tired quads still had enough juice and I ran down at a reasonable pace. I caught up with Lee and someone else halfway down Coosa. I was reasonably buoyed up at this point that even the most annoying section between Wolf Creek and Highway 180 (3 miles of uphill that it just steep enough to not being runnable, but you don’t really feel you go anywhere) did not damped my spirits too much. And, then final mile. I was in a lot of pain, but tried to make it a sprint finish (or, what felt like one). Final time 30:44 – a bit over what I had myself a goal of, but still very satisfied with the result.
With the slow going and pain at mile 40 before the first alleve kicked in, I was toying with the idea of dropping out. But, as someone formerly famous once said – “pain is temporary, regret is permanent, and drugs take you far.”
PS: There were reports of course marking being tampered with on the Benton Mackaye Trail. Given how much BMT Association (BMTA) hates runners and their ongoing efforts to ban races (or, probably even anyone going over 1 mile/hour and not carrying a 60 lbs pack replete with banging pots and pans hanging outside), I would not put it past someone from BMTA doing that.