15 October 2022

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Areal view of the highest point on the course, High Knob Mountain.
Well, this is awkward. I thought taking nearly two months off from running ultras would be enough to shake that DNF monkey, but apparently, it wasn't. To be fair, I sustained an actual injury in this one, risking long term issues if I had continued on for the finish, especially knowing what still lay ahead on the course. While this is the first time I experienced consecutive DNFs (in fact, my last DNF prior to Kodiak and this one was more than a year ago in my first 200 mile attempt at Bigfoot), it was still the right decision. Man, I really hope I don't get used to saying this. Two DNFs in a row feels like a pattern for sure.
The Cloudsplitter 100 Miler had been on my list for a while, even though it is still a fairly new ultra event. When I signed up, I really didn't check out the course much. I wrongly assumed that it was a loop, when the actual course consisted of a double out and back along with a single out and back, but that wasn't the problem. The vertical gain wasn't the problem, either, I love a bunch of climbing. The weather wasn't the issue either, it was perfect! The only issue was the running surface. 
I had been wondering why finishing times for the race had been rather slow considering the total vertical gain over 100 miles. I had my answer once I stepped onto the course. I need to preface all of this with one important note. Nearly 18 months ago, I tweaked and rolled my ankle multiple times and so badly that it basically destroyed some of my right ankle tendons. In fact, I have to tape my ankles every time I attempt to run on trails. It has been the only way to prevent further ankle rolls. This surface terrain made me nervous. 
The race director is aware of the difficulty of this course, which is why she provides a generous cutoff time of 40 hours, which seems a lot at first glance, until you step onto the course. But enough about the terrain for now, Fall colors were on full display on race weekend, which is hopefully evident in the pictures I took during the race. 
A little bit about the Cloudsplitter 100 and the host town of Norton, VA. The Cloudsplitter is a unique and very challenging race on rocky, rugged, and breathtakingly beautiful trails in Central Appalachia. High Knob, the highest point on the course and location for an aid station runners would hit a total of four times, is also the highest point in the Cumberland Mountains at an elevation of 4,223 feet above sea level (nearly eight tenths of a mile), and it is one of the highest points in the Commonwealth of Virginia. From its observation tower above the City of Norton visitors can see five states on a clear day Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and North Carolina.

High Knob is one of Appalachia’s most vast mountain ranges, measuring more than 13 miles wide from base to base and over 26 miles long it stretches across portions of southern Wise County, northern Scott County and the northeastern tip of Lee County. Because of its massive width and size, High Knob is home to one of the greatest concentrations of deep mountain gorges, extreme whitewater streams and high mountain lakes in Virginia and in all of the southern Appalachians. The High Knob region contains the greatest number of significant caves in Virginia with the deepest cave in North America east of the Rockies and north of Mexico. It has the most water bodies of any mountain within the central and southern Appalachian mountains seven man made lakes are found upon its mass. This enormous isolated landform straddles two climactic zones.  

Norton, VA is an old mining town with a population of just over 3,000, making it the least populous city in Virginia. This event is meant to bring both attention and people to the area that has so much to offer in terms of recreation.
I arrived in Norton, VA on Friday afternoon, just in time to grab my race packet before heading to the next town over, Big Stone Gap, to check into my campground. I had taken my camper van as is my preferred mode of transport and lodging when running ultras. The race wouldn't start until 8AM on Saturday, so I would get a full night's sleep.
I arrived at the race start at the Norton Expo Center 30 minutes prior to the race start. I managed to connect with a fellow Huntsvillian and friend David Holliday, who'd moved away a while ago, but who I'd bump into frequently at ultras. I had decided to try to stay with him at least through the very early stages as I had no idea how well I could run. I had actually put in the training, so fitness wasn't the problem. The problem was between my ears, since I never get over a DNF until I get another ultra finish.
David and I ran together for a while, but would separate on the long descent down High Knob mountain. Eventually, we would catch up to each other at different aid stations, until I eventually lost sight of him altogether, until, well until I saw him again.
I was moving fairly well through 30 miles and decided to back off pace a little thereafter to preserve energy. The terrain had started to take a toll on my pace as well. It featured lots of leaf covered rocks and lose rocks, especially across the numerous creeks along the course. I had already rolled both of my ankles a few times, but none too serious to cause concern. It had started to get dark and then it finally happened. David and Andres had finally caught up to me as my pace continued to slow and we were moving through one of the worst sections on the course (for the fourth time).
Around mile 60 or so, I rolled my left (good) ankle so violently, it stopped me in my tracks. There may have been a bit of a scream involved as well. Considering the state of my right ankle, rolling my left ankle now meant potentially serious damage to both ankle if anything else would happen. Since there was even more technical terrain to come, I quickly pulled to plug. All that was left to do was to limp the next 5 miles to High Knob aid station to declare the end of my race and to hitch a ride back to the start/finish area. Both David and Andres were kind enough to stay with me until we reached the aid station. 
Well, I made it to 65 miles, which was 25 miles further than my Kodiak 100 DNF. Now to lick my wounds and decide on what's next. I'm sure it will be another grand adventure with the outcome unknown. But isn't that why ultrarunners choose events? If you've made it this far, head on over to my YouTube channel to check out my full race video.


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