17 October 2020

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I love it when photograpohers make you look good:-)
The No Business 100. What an incredibly beautiful challenge. I earned my entry into this race via the waitlist. In a strange way, I have Covid to thank for it. Travel restrictions and unease to travel in general as a result of the pandemic had many runners deferring or cancelling their race entries altogether. Thankfully, the race director Brian Gajus was able to secure the race permits by implementing certain safety measures including a wave start along with mask requirements when in close proximity to other runners and volunteers as well as several other measures at the aid stations.
The No Business 100 is still a fairly new race that was started in 2017. It is a 100-102 mile loop, depending on the direction it is run in, that runs through Tennessee and Kentucky and crosses through the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Along the way, runners climb just over 14,000 feet while passing numerous natural features like giant sandstone arches, walls and caves as well as cross numerous hanging bridges, stone steps and wooden staircases along the way. Fall season had already started to turn the leaves into beautiful oranges and reds, but that fall foliage also made for some challenging footing on the course.
I decided to take my camper van and to make the 3 and a half hour drive and camp just outside Pickett State Park in Tennessee, the new race start and finish location fo the NB100. Luckily, my buddy Paul was up for the same adventure, so we traveled and camped together. Our adventure buddies Jeff Morgan and Jerry Abbott were racing as well, but since they registered early, they had also reserved a campground right near the start/finish right away. In addition to the 4 of us there were another 4 Huntsville runners taking on this race, including a couple of first timers, Jay Crosby and Christopher Reeves.
We arrived at Pickett State Park on Thursday evening to pick up our race bibs and goodie bags while also answering a two page health questionnaire, all part of the Covid safety measures, which I was absolutely fine with, even if I gave the medical volunteers some grief...all in good fun, that's just my type of humor:-)
Paul and I connected with some of our fellow running buddies before calling it a night and heading to our campground at Bandy Creek just 30 minutes way, which also happens to be an aid station for the race. We settled in pretty quickly, ate our dinners and made some final preparations for our race kit. We had already turned in our drop bags during packet pickup. I had opted for 4 drop bags. Three of them were small stuff sacks that only contained nutrition. The fourth bag was a larger dry sack that contained a fresh pair of Altra Olympus and a change of CEP socks and clothes along with nutrition. I would have access to this particular drop bag twice, first at mile 62 and once again at mile 68 at the Blue Herron aid station.
My race plan was a little different for this event. It was quite a bit more aggressive than my more recent 100 milers. I had spent some time reviewing the previous years' results and was puzzled by the low finisher rates along with the slower than usual finish time averages for a race with a fairly tame elevation profile. I knew there had to be a reason and there was as I'd soon find out. However, that did not keep me from shooting a bit higher than I normally would in a 100. I wanted to really push myself, earn a top ten finish or complete the race in less than 24 hours. To be honest, I thought a sub 24 hour finish would be the easier of the two goals. Suffice it to say, there was nothing easy about my goals for this race.
Part of the COVID measures included a race start in waves, allowing runners to stat anywhere between 10AM and 12PM. There was a 15 minute start window from 10-10:15AM the RD referred to as the Elite start. Runners with particular abitions of a top finish could choose to start during this time. Honestly, I obviousy had no ambitions for a podium spot, but I did have time goal I was shooting for, so I chose the earliest start. My reasons for this were two fold. One, I wanted to get ahead of the larger field to be able to run my own race from the start, without any pressure or risk of running someone else's pace. Two, I had heard that this race course could be wet and muddy, so I wanted to reduce the risk of coming through wet trail sections after 100+ runners had already come through, potentially making the terrain even more sloppy and slippery. I believe that plan ans reasoning worked out to perfection for me. I never ran any pace other than my own, I was never caught in any conga lines and trail conditions were not adversely affected by runners running ahead of me. Of course, that last part was largely due to zero rain during the race.
Paul and I arrived at the race start from our overnight campgound at around 9:30AM, with plenty of time for me to have my temperature checked (another COVID measure) before lining up in the starting chute. I line up with about 15 or so other runners and I was ready to go. I felt fantastic. A quick hello and some banter with the other early starters and eventual winner Karl Meltzer, a short intro by RD Brian Gajus and we were off. I was stoked to get going and committed to my goal 100%. I knew that would mean some long stretches of discomfort, but I was ok with that. If I hit my goal, I wouldn't have to hurt for longer than 24 hours:-)
I was able to tick off the first few miles rather quickly and with little perceived effort, so I was surprised to see a 9 min pace for some of them, much faster than I would ever start of a 100 miler. However, I decided to run by perceived effort only and thankfully, I settled into a much slower pace soon thereafter. I was running comfortably in 4th or 5th, but that changed rather quickly once I dialed back my pace a little. Before I knew it,  ran 10th overall with the runners ahead of me pulling away rather quickly and effortlessly. I was ok with that, the idea was to let my perceived effort be my guide all the way. If that meant that runners would continue to pass me that was ok with me. 
Awesome shot of the big sandstone arch.
However, that never happened. Once I dropped to 10th place, I was only passed one more time by someone who ran at a different level than myself that day, a runner by the name of Lyman Hawbaker, who had started a ful 30 minutes after me and who'd caught up to me by mile 68 at the Blue Herron aid station. We'd run together for the next couple of miles before I made the wise choice to just let him go ahead. 
I rolled in and out of the first two aid stations (Pickett and Sawmill) at miles 8 and 14 feeling fantastic and spending jsut enough time to refill my bottles. I would carry enough Spring energy gels and drink mix to get me from one drop bag to the next drop bag along the course. I've dialed in my nutrition pretty well over the last couple of years, aiming for about 150-250 calories per hour, which would usually be one gel and one bottle of fluids with both electrolytes and calories. I'd supplement that with about 1-2 SCaps per hour, depending on effort, sweat output and general weather conditions, i.e. hot or cold. I would supplement this nutrition plan with the occasional banana, potato, pickle and other bland foods to avoid any stomach issues and to eat some real foods during a long event. During the NB100, I really graviatated towards tortillas with hummus that most aid stations were offering as one of their menu items. It worked really well for me and most importantly, I didn't get sick of it. As the race wore on, I started to drink generous amounts of Coca-Cola whenever I had the chance. However, I was determined to move through the aid stations very quickly as multiple long aid station stops that can really eat away at your finishing time. Instead, I planned for only one longer stop, at mike 68, when it would be a good time to change shoes, if needed, and to put on some fresh dry layers to be ready for the cold night with temps forecast to be just above 30 degrees.
As I settled into my own race over the first 10+ miles, I made sure to keep my head up to enjoy the amazing scenery that surrounded us runners. Large sandstone features were visible all along the course. Sandstone bridges, arches, massive walls and even caves kept me in awe. Thankfully, I had taken my GoPro along to capture as much of this natural beauty as possible. I spent 99% of my time out there completely alone, but that didn't keep me from talking out loud whenever I came up on another sandstone feature. I still cannot believe that the Southeast is actually home to this amazing National Recreation Area.
By the time I arrived at the Bandy Creek aid station (#3) at mile 25, I had caught up to a runner in front of me. But I also spotted the first female runner arriving in the aid station just as I was leaving. Even after 25 miles, runners were still pretty closer to one another than I would've expected. When I arrived at the next aid station, I had caught up to yet another runner. I was now running well within the top 10, at least I thought so, and still feeling great. When you're our there alone for that long, you need to keep your mind occupied. For me, that often means playing a song or even just a verse of a song over and over in my head, hundreds of times, to the cadence of my stride at that time. This is often enough to keep my mind off the daunting task ahead while still keeping me in the moment as well, even if that moment plays inside my head:-)
Keeping track of my placement in the field is another way to stay engaged and in the moment and motivated, at least for me. It's not about winning or losing, its about staying engaged mentally to not let up. Running 100 miles out there and on your won it is often easy to slowly drift back, slow down significantly and even doze off as you move along. I've caught myself many times asleep on my feet having nearly come to a complete stop until waking up and talking to myself to get back moving. "Running scared", if jsut for a moment, can pull you out of such a low place rather quickly. The trick is to use it as a tool or weapon only and not as something that puts undue pressure on yourself. It seems to work for me. I often pack an iPod with a massive playlist of music that gets me going, but as has been the case many many times before, I always seem to do better by just relying on the two methods mentioned above.
Due to the near midday start of the race, runners would encounter nightfall much earlier in the race than usual. For me, that meant somewhere around mile 40, I finally pulled the headlamp out of my running pack, that I had picked up from my drop bag at the mile 25 aid station at Bandy Creek. I also carried my favorite Patagonia Houdini windbreaker for the enture duration of the race along with a pair of gloves and sleeves, just to be ready for the temperature drop that had been forecast. While I did end up changing into some dry clothes at mile 68, I never really needed more than a short sleeve short, my windbreaker and some gloves even when temps reached just above 30 degrees later on in the night. The key to not becoming hypothermic is to keep moving and to not stand around in aid stations allowing your body to cool off. Even with my pretty efficient aid station strategy, it would still take nearly 2 miles after leaving each overnight aid station until the feeling in my fingertips would return back to normal. They would go from numb to tingling to normal every time I left an aid station. The goal was to keep moving and to not allow the cold to creep in. I managed that to a large degree.
The overnight hours were pretty lonely, so having a challenging goal really helped keep me moving and motivated. I made sure to supplement my headlamp with a waist light for the later parts of the night between 1-3AM, when the "sleepies" would be the worst. A waist light also provides a 3D view of the ground, ensuring that a runner's depth perception isn't negatively affected by the dark. I've experienced many race in the past, where my reliance on a hadlamp alone meant that I was unable to see rocks, roots and other obsticles rise from the ground. The terrain just seems to blend in, void of any topographical features, which makes it extremely hazardous for night running. A good waist light aleviates this issue completely. 
I managed to completed the first 50 miles of the race in 10 hours 29 minutes, certain to still be on track for an even better finish than sub 24. Maybe 22 hours were in the cards. I had to lay that idea to rest many miles later, when I finally relaized that 50 miles is not the halfway point. Instead, runners had to cover 102 miles to arrive at the finish. I'm not sure how that slipped my mind, but as a result, my estimates continued to be off my nearly 30 minutes. I didn't realize this fauxpas until mile 85. The slowing overnight coupled with the "added" 2 miles now meant that a sub 24 hour finish could be at  serious risk.
I had to keep moving. As I got more and more tired and continued to slow, the terrain got slower and more difficult as well. It was working against me. I started arguoing with the course out loud. What the H@!!, I need to make up time and you just keep getting more difficult. How am I supposed to make up time in these conditions. I felt sorry for myself, just for a few miles. At mile 92, I gave myself a talking to. You've worked hard all day and all night, you cannoy quit now and just walk it in. You'll regret it as soon as you corss that finish line. Finishing was never in question, only how I would finish. I put my head down and went to work. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't fast, but I was doing what I could to ensure that I knew I'd left it all out there. There would be no regrets at the finish, no matter my time. 
One of the hanging bridges on the course.
A pep talk by Jenny and Frankling Baker at the final aid station was all I needed to keep moving and get it done. Finally, I was hearing voices and even seeing cars through the trees. Could this already be the finish? I thought I still had a mile or so to go? A friendly spectactor confirmed my hope. I opened up my stride one last time to cross the finish line in 23 hours and 29 minutes, well below my 24 hour goal. As icing on the cake, RD Brian Gajus actually introduced a special buckle for sub 24 hour finishers this year and I was lucky enough to be one of 9 runners that would earn one this year. I also managed a 7th overall finish, which mde the day even better. I fell into a chair at the finish and spent the next few hours reliving the race and swapping stories with fellow runners as they continued to arrive at the finish line, sometimes on foot, sometimes in the back of a truck. That's how it goes in a 100 mile trail race.  
Thanks again to Brian Gajus, the RD, for making this event happen under extremely difficulkt and unusual circumstances and thanks to all the volunteers for their amazing support. I don't mind running 100 milers unsupported, i.e. without crew or pacer and that sentimatent held true for this race as well. Great organization, great swag and an amazing course, what else could an ultrarunner as for? I guess I'll habve to come back one day to run this race in the opposite direction to earn the covetted 200 miler buckle reserved for runners who've completed the race in both clockwise and counter clockwise direction. I'm told the race in clockwise direction is easier and shorter, so it should be a cakewalk, right? Nah, I don't think so;-)
Rolling into historical Blue Herron aid station the second time around at mile 68.



Amazing overlook. 

Fall colors in full effect, first few miles inside Pickett State Park.

Huntsville crew at bib pickup the night before the race.

One happy sub 24 hour finisher.
Check out my race video below:



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