After Leadville in 2013, I told myself that I would never run 100 miles again. I’m sure this is common for everyone in the hours, days, and sometimes weeks after running 100 miles. I really didn’t consider doing a 100 in 2014 because of an already satisfying race season planned out, but sure enough some bad influences got the best of me. A group of Rocky Mountain Runners flew out to California this past summer to crew and pace RMR Silke Koester in the Western States 100. Almost immediately after the race, Ryan Smith was on his iPhone to find a qualifier for 2015. He found one – The Pinhoti 100.
I took one look at the race and the first thing that popped into my head was, “Alabama?” The race had little to the description and all I could really tell was that it is a point to point race, it was on 85% “Unmolested single track”, and that the Speedgoat had done this race in the past..twice. So I figured this race is probably pretty awesome and I signed up.
The best part of being in the RMR is that there are no shortage of idiots to do epic adventures with. The biggest of all was Greg Salvesen, who was the first to sign up. For those who don’t know Greg, he is a pretty big slacker (11 100mi/100+mi races just this year alone. One of those races being a 200.. that he won). The second to sign up and the biggest instigator of punishing activities was Ryan Smith. For those who do not know Ryan, he is pretty good at this stuff. SPOILER ALERT: He won the race. Shortly after these two signed up Andy Gisler, Myself, and my father Chris Lassen all signed up. I was feeling relatively fresh after having two months of low intensity running after the Trans-Alpine Run. Andy was coming in eager and ready to run after a fun season running Jemez, Bighorn 100, and the challanging Telluride Mountain Run. Chris was fresh off the brutal West Virginia Trilogy – A three day stage race (50k, 50m, 13.1m) that will push you close to what your body can handle.
The Gun went off and I was happy to find myself running with Greg and Andy. There was about 500 feet off jeep road that turned to single track. We jumped out in front enough that we didn’t get too bottlenecked at the start of the single track. Andy, Greg, and I marched in a train with about 20 others for the first several miles. We ran an extremely comfortable pace that was sure to get us all across the finish line. I was resisting the urge to jump out front and take off, but 100 miles is pretty far and blowing up 10 miles in wouldn’t do me any good. We hit the first aid pretty quick (6.7m). It was nice to see my girlfriend Jessica waiting for us to come through. This was her first time coming to one of my races. She has only got to hear the stories for the past year. Now it was time for her to experience one first hand… she picked a fun one. She was accompanied by Cassie Scallion who was there to crew and pace Greg. After a quick top off on my water, I chased after the train of people running through the woods.
The next 20 miles were rather comfortable, but I was still questioning if I was going to slow or too fast. I am not experienced enough to know how the beginning of one of these should go. I figured if I was hanging with Greg, I was probably going to do pretty well. Since that first aid station, It would be about 17 hours until I saw Andy again. He was feeling great and rolled with it!
I came into the mile 27.7 aid station feeling pretty good. I was able to see Jessica, Cassie, and Silke who informed me that Ryan Smith was leading and running at 15hr pace. I was not surprised. Andy, who was about 15 min ahead of Greg and I left a message with the girls saying that “it was lonely up there”. I was feeling good and thought that maybe I could catch Andy and run with him a bit in the next section. After a quick kiss and some yummy food, I took off.
I ran the next 5-6 miles a little bit harder than I think I should have. I was having fun running with Ryan Meulemans, a strong and experienced ultra runner from Tennessee. After running and chatting with him for about an hour, he let me know that we were running at about 19.5 hour pace. oops, too fast.
I knew that was silly for me to be running sub 20hr pace and was feeling a little bonky from the lack of real food all day, so I started to slow down pretty significantly after the 34.6 aid Station. This was my low point of the entire race. Once I started to slow down my IT band in my right leg became very inflamed. I’m sure most of you know what kind of pain this can cause, but for those who are not aware, It is a very sharp, stabbing pain in the lateral part of your knee. It can take away your ability to even run downhill. I have had this issue sporadically in my past. It is not fun, and it can ruin a race very easily.
I spent a lot of time stopping and stretching out my IT. From Aid at mile 34.6 to mile 40.9 I had to have stopped to stretch 20 times or so. This was very frustrating and I was having thoughts of my only other 100 mile experience where I had to walk the last 30. I really did not want to have to walk 65 miles. Strong and steady, Greg had caught up to me at this point going into the mile 40.9 aid station. The climb that when into this aid was the biggest one of the day. It was nice having a friend there when I was feeling so terrible. He was not feeling that great and was dealing with some stomach issues. I took the time at that aid station to address my issues. It was the best aid that I have had all day. REAL FOOD!!!! I could finally eat. Jessica also busted out my roller and some vitamin I. I still had some negative thoughts, but Cassie reminded me that all the negative things I was feeling could be conquered.
Coming out of the 40.9 aid station, I was feeling reenergized, but my knee was still killing me. I mostly hiked down the technical descent. This was upsetting because I usually love to run down this kind of stuff. After the steep and short descent we had a section of pavement and jeep road that led to aid 45.3. Jessica and Cassie were waiting there. I took more time to roll and eat. I still wasn’t entirely optimistic about my mechanics, and with night approaching I didn’t want to be on a death march. I left the aid station finally starting to feel better and was hitting a good stride.
I was finally running pretty well and was caught up by Chaz Mcallister. He was also suffering from some IT issues and started to feel better once he cut loose a bit. I was feeding off of his positive energy and conversation and I started to feel fantastic. I’m sure the combination of Ibuprofen and some real food helped. We ran together as the sun began to set and we found ourselves in solid group of about 6. I am pretty sure it was 3 runners and 3 pacers (you can pick up a pacer at mile 40). We all were laughing and talking about our days up to this point. Nothing was more satisfying than pulling myself out of such a deep rut.
Going into Mile 52 aid station, I was in full stride and was feeling fantastic! To make things even better, this was the best aid station that I have seen all day. Hot soup, potatoes, bacon, and even wings. I sucked down some soup and a slice of bacon and I took off. I wanted to catch back up to Chaz so I took off pretty hard (I found out later that he hung out at that aid for a while longer). There was a good section of slight downhill jeep road out of this aid and I took advantage of my feeling good and ran it pretty strong. At one point soon after leaving the aid I saw a headlamp emerging from the woods. It was Greg! He was using the local facilities in the middle of the Alabama Forrest. He was still having some stomach issues and sent me off with good wishes and told me he would see me later. I was sure that I would hit another low and would see him soon.
For the remainder of the race there was aid every 4-5 miles. Every single one tried to out do the last. Being that my stomach never became an issue, I was able to eat everything I wanted… and a little more. I spent the entire night catching people up, running with them a bit, then continuing on running through the dark Alabama forest alone. I was having a blast! Things could not have been going any better. It was almost to good to be true and I was waiting for the reality of running 100 miles to catch back up with me. That never came until the last 2-3 miles of the race.
The crux of the race came at the 74.4 mile aid station. This as a long 22 switch back climb to the pinnacle aid station. AMAZING FOOD! Egg, bacon, and cheese quesadillas.. and fresh hot pancakes. I took about five minutes to scarf some of this down my throat and enjoy the warm fire they had. Still feeling pretty good, I didn’t want to stick around to long. The night was getting really cold at this point. The temperatures dipped below freezing and you could really feel it after sitting by the fire.
There was some great hilly running coming out of Pinnacle. I would have loved to say it was all down hill from there, but it wasn’t. The up and down terrain of this race was like a boxing match. The Alabama hills were like jabs to the body all day long. I didn’t want to let up. Jessica had informed me that I have been bouncing between 21 and 22 hour pace. Being that I came into the race with high hopes of breaking 24 hours, I was more than thrilled with how the race was going. I just needed to execute for several more hours and I was going to break 22 hours. I tried to not get that excited because a lot could happen in 5-7 hours of running. I did what I could and I kept plugging away. Aid station to aid station was the name of the game, and next was mile 79.5.
At 79.5 I came in feeling really fresh and not really needing aid. I still took the time to grab some hot soup and a coke. As I read off my bib to the aid station working check in I hear “Hey Lassen!” It was Andy wrapped up in blankets sitting by the fire. I was immediately concerned because that is usually the kiss of death. I wasn’t hesitant to share my concern with Andy and asked him what the hell he was doing. He laughed and said he was fine. “Just was feeling a little bit loopy and wanted to relax for a little bit.” I was reassured that Andy would be fine. He is one of the strongest guys I know and has been doing this stuff for a while. After telling Andy to not hang too long he let me know he would be right behind me, so I took off.
I was excited about the next aid station because I knew I was going to get to see Jessica and my Father (Dad was having some issues with compressed vertebrae and pulled out at 41). It had been a while since I have seen them and I was excited to report to them in high spirits. The most interesting part of the section between 79.5 and 85.6 was a section of gnarly rutted out jeep road that some jack ass thought would be a good idea to drive down. This guy was in a sedan that had about 6 inches of ground clearance. He was drunk as a skunk and wanted me to help him push his car out of a ditch. He needed a truck to pull him out. I let this classy Alabama gentleman know that I was 80+ miles into a 100 mile foot race and I would send him help. After he cussed me out, I went on my way. I caught up a nice man with a British accent and we laughed about the “piss drunk” guy who wanted a bunch of ultra runners to pull his car out of an impossible ditch.
Soon I was at the mile 85.6 aid station. I emerged from the woods alone and blinded Jessica and my Dad as I approached the aid. I call out “bib 130” and both Jessica and my Dad were surprised to see me. I was feeling good and was happy to see them. This aid station had some killer soup that I had a few cups of. I did a little whining to Jessica about not having a pacer for the last 15 miles and joked with her about running the last 15 with me. I don’t think she found it as humorous as I did. Jessica let me know that I was on 21.5 hour pace. I was pretty pumped about that and knew I could maintain it for about 3 more hours. I wouldn’t see them until the Finnish, so they wished me luck and then I ran back into the woods.
The last 15 miles were interesting. I was slowly passing people and had no clue where I was as far as my positioning in the race. Going into mile 89.9 aid they told me I was the 13th person in and they also let me know that Ryan Smith won the race. I was super excited for Ryan (2 for 2 in 100m races). I tried not to take my positioning too seriously because I looked at a shirt that everyone was signing as they came into the aid, and it appeared to have more than 12 signatures. I was a bit fuzzy from running 90 miles and didn’t really care to much about position at this point. I just wanted to get this thing done. I can’t help but be competitive so I was going to still try for top 10. Throughout the next 10 miles I was able to tick off 4 more runners. WOW I was in the top ten (actually 13th).. Again, I wasn’t trying not to get to excited knowing it is really hard to keep track of that kind of stuff working an aid.
The final 2 miles were on a straight road leading to the stadium. About 400 meters away I could see on more headlamp that kept looking back at me. I got close enough to them to see that this was the first place female. I maintained a pace that kept me right behind her. I knew she was hurting too because I was stopping a lot and she wasn’t pulling away. All the pain of the day came in full force those last two miles. The road felt like it was about 5-6 mile long… endless. Finally I saw the stadium. I was so happy to come onto the track. I ran a better race than I was prepared for and was very ready for it to be over. As I came up to the finish line Jessica and my Dad were there waiting for me. The race director handed me my buckle and congratulated me. I was done. 21 hours and 25 minutes. 13th place.
There are very few feelings that I have experienced that come close to finishing 100 miles. I couldn’t be more thankful for Jessica who was there crewing me and driving all over Alabama to make sure I could finish this race. It was also amazing to have my Dad there. He has been a major inspiration to me and is the reason I started running ultra marathons. Love you guys!
I am also extremely grateful for the wonderful team that I am a part of. Rocky Mountain Runners is not just a team of fast guys and girls. It is a mix of all abilities and backgrounds. We all share a few common interests. We like to run, we like to push ourselves, we like to push each other , we all support one another, and we all love beer 🙂
Congratulations to Ryan Smith who took the win in 17:19!
To Andy Gisler who bounce back and ran 22:26!
And to Greg Salvesen who finished his 10th 100 this year in 22:42!
All the RMR who finished this race got it done under 23 hours and were in the top 25 overall. Congratulations!