Maybe a better name would be The Hallucinatory 106 (The race isn’t 100 miles at all. It is 105.9 miles.)
Part of running 100 mile races are the strange things runners see at night especially in the early morning hours of the overnight section, or in the case of the Crewel Jewel 100, “overnight sections” since it took me over 44 hours to finish the race. The hallucinations or illusions are usually caused by a combination of running through miles of “pitch dark” woods, hills and mountains, using a headlamp which reduces your world to a small oval of light directly in front of you. The Crewel Jewel trails are lined with huge trees both standing and fallen, long stretches of rhododendron tunnels, bushes, vines, ferns, roots and of course rocks. Small rocks, car size rocks, house size rocks and mountain size rocks. Just to make things more interesting Saturday night as I followed the Duncan Ridge Trail over the “Dragons Spine,” a series of ridges and peaks ranging from 200ft to about 500ft in height, we were running through cold fog and blowing mist. This was much like driving a car at night in dense fog.
I kept seeing small building or shelters off the sides of the trails. I also saw some large gray structures like columns. I saw a clothes line, several iron gates and a couple of rail fences. Of course, when I looked, there was nothing there. Just illusions. Fireflies off in the dark to the sides of trails appear to be a flickering campfire off though the woods. When you turn to look, again, there is nothing there. Then, I saw three jack-o-lanterns hanging from a tree perhaps 100 yards ahead. Each appeared to have a candle burning inside illuminating the entire pumpkin. The eyes and mouth were clearly viable. After running along the ridge for perhaps 1/2 mile, the jack-o-lanterns were still 100 yards ahead. Obviously they were houses or large street lights somewhere miles away at the bottom of the mountain. About this same time I saw several large buildings on the next ridge less than a mile to my left. I knew there are no buildings on top of the mountains in the Chattahoochee National Forest. I was seeing some structure or structures miles off in a town, or perhaps "I was a town" far off in a valley at the bottom of the mountains. I know that was what I was seeing, but the illusion stayed the same. I could see doors on the side of the building like warehouse bays just over on the next ridge.
Some of the illusions I saw were real. Actually, if it's real, it's not an illusion is it? But they seemed like illusions. Maybe they were "virtual reality" illusions! First was the “strobing eye spiders.” These little spiders are always along the trails at night. Apparently the spider’s eyes react to the oscillation of LED lights used in the headlamps causing the strobe effect. I am always fascinated by the thousands of these little spiders along the trails at all overnight races. Another “real” illusion was along a section of Stanley Creek Road. I ran up the road a little after midnight Friday night and passed what appeared to be a lake (I think it was actually a large field) off to the left. Huge trees surrounded the field and the trees were full of the brightest fireflies I have ever seen. I turned my headlamp off and walked in the almost total darkness watching the brilliant flashes. I had to turn my light on for an instant every 30 or so seconds to check my course. I could see nothing. Each time I turned my headlamp off I saw something else that was a bit disconcerting, lightning. At first it seemed to be off in the distance but It kept getting closer. Then I could hear thunder. About that time, the storm hit. I wish that had been an illusion!! It poured ice cold rain for about 20 minutes then eased up but continued to rain for perhaps another hour. That will bring you back to reality in a hurry!!
I also saw a bunch of mice racing up and down and across the trail Saturday night. Strangely, I don't remember seeing any Friday night. A few times one ran up the trail in front of me probably making fun of how slow I was going. Then, there were the salamanders. I probably saw 20 or 30 both nights. The first one I saw I thought was a very small shiny snake. Then I noticed the four tiny legs propelling it along the trail in a very "squiggly" manner. I had to be careful not to step on one. There was also a lot of mica (a shiny silicate mineral with a layered structure, found as minute scales in granite and other rocks) in several places along the trail. I mean LOTS of mica!! The ground looked like it was covered in diamonds. It was actually really pretty and a nice distraction. I do remember thinking at some point, "I certainly hope all that mica is, in reality, thousands of those little spiders with the strobing eyes. If so, they are about to gang up on me."
Normally, I only see such weird things at night during 100s. Not at Crewel Jewel. After 42+ hours of running (well, more hiking than running) and about 32,300ft of the 33,200ft of total gain, I started up the final climb to Vogel State Park and the finish. This final 3.5 miles was strange. I know there was a gate where the climb ended and we crossed a road to enter the park. The trail up the final climb traversed up a scalloped section of the mountain. That is, there were a series of large concave washed out sections of the side of the mountain, most about ½ mile across. Every time I rounded the crest of the ridge, I entered another scallop. Each time I entered the next scallop I could see the gate at the end of the climb at the far end of the scallop. I was sure it was the gate because I could see people waiting at the gate. I remember thinking, “That’s the top. I’m almost back.” But as I got closer there was no gate and no people. The trail just continued up and around the next scallop. There always appeared to be gates at the far end of the scallops. I finally quit looking ahead. It was discouraging.
I did finally get to the end of the climb and crossed the road trying to avoid all the insane bikers. The road is “Wolf Pen Gap Road” a favorite with “220 MPH Ninja” type bike riders. And they say Ultrarunners are crazy! After crossing the road I realized it was still about 1.5 miles to the end. The trail followed a small creek down the hill on my right. I looked up ahead and saw a large “Yellow Children’s Playhouse” with green siding or roof. It was sitting right on the side of the creek. This didn't strike me as too strange since I was almost to Vogel State Park and there was a playground somewhere I had seen earlier. The playhouse was rounded and looked “sort-of” like a big apple. I was sure it was a playhouse because I could see several kids playing around the far side of the playhouse. At that point I was very focused on the trail because I didn’t want to fall right here at the end. After 50 or 60 yards I looked back up at the playhouse and all I saw was a large boulder with the morning sun shining on it. It had a lot of green moss on the side. There were no children! That one was a little freaky!!
Just a few hundred yards further I looked up to see Marye Jo coming toward me. I didn’t take my eyes off her. I was afraid she would disappear too. She didn’t and she escorted me to the last half mile. The finish line materialized in front of me and that didn’t disappear either. If it had, I would have sat down and cried, or died!!
As I read over this, it sound like a am maybe exaggerating just a little to make it a better story. I promos you, I am not! Actually I could come up with even more strange things, like a pack of dogs barking and people yelling about 3 in the morning on Duncan Ridge Trail. It as very loud and got closer and closer as I ran. I began to get a little concerned! But that's another story.
March 17th and 18th marked the 5 running of the Lake Martin 100. More than 200 runners toed the line at 6:45 AM for the arduous task ahead. The forecast was for thunderstorms on Saturday, but true to form, (you just can't predict the weather in Alabama) it never rained a drop. It was overcast and cool in the morning but cleared in the afternoon it was extremely humid and HOT. Temperatures overnight were cool but again on Sunday it was hot. The race starts at 6:45 AM, just at sunrise, so runners don't have to deal with a headlamp or flashlight early in the race.
Below is a super video of the race start posted by UltraRuns, of MarathonRuns/MRuns.com fame, on Facebook. UltraRuns also posted over 500 photos from the race. There is a link below.
This was the first year runners have had to deal with this kind of heat. In fact, the first four years of the LM100 were cold overnight, a couple of years, very cold for March in Alabama. This year aid station volunteers needed little more than a light jacket to stay comfortable all night. We never cranked up the heater in the Cabin Aid Station tent and for the first time, we didn't even built a fire in the Cabin fireplace!
We had some amazing performances by runners in all three races. Amy Macintire of Tennessee was first overall in 23:33:10 for a new women's course record and sixth fastest time ever. Angela Hill from Florida finished second overall just over 2 hours back. Robert (Bob) Watters, a local runner, finished third overall and first male in 26:07:00. Adrienne and Matthew Fratczak (of West Virginia) finished together with Adrienne the 3rd female finisher and Matthew 2nd Male. Emre Albayrak from Louisiana was 3rd place male and 6th overall. It will likely be a while before anyone knocks Karl Meltzer out of the top spot with the fastest Lake Martin 100 time of 16:56:57.
We usually have a low finish rate partly because we have no requirements for registering for the 100 or any of the LM races. But year after year the main cause is the course is very deceptive. The first lap feels easy and runners just start out too fast. This year we had the heat which really took a tole. We had 55 starters in the 100 mile race and only 29 finishers. That's still better than 50% and better than most years.
Essentially, there is no cutoff for the 27 and 50 mile. Runners are welcome to take as long as they like to finish. Twenty-seven mile entrants are welcome to walk the entire course if they like. We frequently have 50 mile finishers that need more than 16 hours to finish. Of course, most of those drop down from the 100, which is something else that's a bit unusual about Lake Martin. If you have to drop from the 50, or 100 for that matter, but have covered 27 miles, you are a 27 Fun Run finisher. If you enter the 100 but only reach the 50 mile mark, you ran 50 miles, you are a 50 mile finisher! The 100, well, you do have to cover 100 miles but you actually have until sunset to finish. That's about 35 hours. We also allow early starts. The only downside of dropping to a shorter distance is that you are not eligible for place awards.
The Lake Martin 50 Mile:
This year we had 61 finishers in the 50 Mile. Ann Thomas, a local runner, was first female setting a new women's course record in the 50 of 8:40:17. She finished third overall. Women's results were 1st Ann Thomas, 2nd Julia Belcher of South Carolina and 3rd Terri Harris of Tennessee. First place Male was Andrew Catanese, Georgia in 8:34:03. 2nd was Witt Wisebram, Georgia and 3rd Frank Thomas, Tennessee.
The 27 Mile Fun Run:
Everyone Loves this race and we almost never have a DNF. Shane Angelovich, a local runner and recent arrival from Colorado was 1st overall at 3:58:10 with the 4th fastest time ever for the 27. Second was Jonathan Bergeron who not only ran but worked as a volunteer for the rest of the race, that is, the 100 mile race. Third was Dr. Beau Beard, half of the medical team that always keeps LM100 runners on the course and able to finish their race. (Oh, the other half of the team is Dr. Sloan Beard.) Every year they work tirelessly at the race, beginning to end. We are forever indebted to them both. First female was another local runner, Ashley Dawson with the 5th fastest LM 27 time ever, 4:52:43. Second and third went to Naomi Kirchner and Lauren Wright of Georgia who finished together.
A Look Back at the 2017 Southeastern Trail Series
In 2017, Southeastern Trail Runs put on a total of 9 Races. Six events were part of the Southeastern Trail Series. The series is designed as a training program for those new to trail running. The first series race is a relatively easy 3 and 6 mile race. Each of the next 5 races are longer and harder than the previous race, ending with the very demanding, Blood Rock 25K & 50K race in December. Along with the 6 trail series races, Southeastern Trail Runs also has the Lake Martin 100, The Endless Mile timed event, the BOO Run for Down syndrome Alabama and Blood Rock 100 and 50 Mile Endurance Run which runs concurrently with the BR 25 & 50K. Hot food and cold drinks are served at the end of every STR Race. Crew and family members are welcome to the join their runners and enjoy the food.
The Southeastern Trail Series has continued to grow each year with about 1,600 different runners participating in at least one race in 2017. We have about a 40% to 50% turnover of runners from one year to the next. That is, every year we have a whole new “crop” of trail runners join the trail running community in Birmingham. If you live near Birmingham, consider running with us in a few races in 2018 or enter the entire series and save 20%. Find out what trial running is all about and how much fun you have been missing. Full Series Registration
For the past 6 years I have had a blog called "Run Your Frist Ultra" at YourFirstUltra@BlogSpot. I have decided to move all future blog posts to the Southeastern Trial Runs website on Weebly. There are 161 blog posts dating back to 2010 on BlogSpot with my ideas on "how to run ultras." If you would like to see any of those older posts just follow the link back and check them out. Some are outdated but the basics are still the same. The trails still go up and down hills, cross creeks, across a cliff face and sometimes, over very steep snow fields. You still have to stay hydrated and fueled and still need comfortable shoes.
To go to the old YourFirstUltra@BlogSpot, with 161 older posts, follow this link. yourfirstultra.blogspot.com/
After 50+ years of running, 20 years of trail running and 10 years of Ultra Running some things should not even require thought. For example, stay hydrated, don't run a race in a new pair of shoes and when running in mountains, be prepared for anything. Well, in May I ran the Crewel Jewel 50 mile in the mountains of north Georgia. The race has 17,000 ft. of elevation gain and climbs up and down some tough hills. Tough enough that the Crewel Jewel 100 is a Hardrock Qualifier.
Every trail runner knows that the weather in mountains, east or west, can change dramatically in minutes. Every trail runner also knows to always carry a jacket or emergency poncho when running in mountains. The Crewel Jewel 50 has only one dropbag aid station at mile 30 and I was prepared. I had everything I could possibly need in my bag, my headlamp, dry socks, gloves, warm base layer, rain jacket, poncho, extra batteries, etc. I was ready for anything!
But there was a little problem. The temperatures had been in the 90s since late morning and all afternoon. About a mile before the 30 mile aid station the course followed a gravel road along a river with small rapids and lots of people floating downstream on tubes. I couldn't resist and hopped in a calm spot to cool down. That felt great! At the aid station I grabbed my bag, looked through everything and put it back. I didn't want to waste time in the aid station so I grabbed some real food and headed out for the next stop, 5+ miles ahead. At the 35 mile AS I had a popsicle. That was great in that 90 deg. heat. I dumped a little ice in my water bottles and headed for the next aid station at mile 40. After a steep climb to the ridgeline I noticed it was getting dark. The sky had become overcast on the way up the hill and I hadn't even noticed. It was also cooler and the wind was picking up which was great. Because we were running under the forest canopy it was difficult to see what the clouds looked like or if any weather was approaching.
It got darker quickly and it wasn't sunset yet. I began to get a little concerned. Then the wind hit, and I do mean "HIT!" Like 50 miles per hour winds. I was running turned sideways to the right watching for falling trees. I was sure the wind was going to start knocking down trees since the trail follows the very top of the ridge. The temperature had dropped and I was actually cold in the wind. I started hearing thunder off in the distance and hoped the rain would stay away. Well, that hope was quickly dashed as the bottom fell out. I stopped to put on my headlamp since it was now very dark. By then I was totally soaked and the wind was blowing harder than ever. Within minutes of the start of the rain I was freezing. I considered going back to the previous aid station but decided I was probably half way to the next so I continued. The trail followed the ridge for about 4 miles before finally dropping down to the next aid station.
Thankfully, the aid station was down low enough that there wasn't much wind but it was still raining hard. They had a popup tent and a good size fire which someone must have started before the rain hit. A bunch of people were crowded under the tent out of the rain. I was so cold I couldn't stop shaking. I took off my pack and stood by the fire in the rain rotating like I was on a rotisserie trying to warm up. As soon as I stepped away from the fire I started shaking again. I stood by that fire, in the rain, for 1 1/2 hours. Finally, a couple of other runners and I were able to talk a very nice man into driving us back to the finish, more than an hour away.
I don't think I have ever been as cold as I was on that ridge or standing in the rain by the fire. That includes a miserable night at Sherman Aid Station after sweeping part of the Hardrock 100 course in 2013. Three of us were sweeping and arrived at Sherman aid station after midnight. (Sherman is about 9600 ft.) We had no dropbags, no tent, no sleeping bags, no dry clothes and no food, all of which was supposed to be there waiting on us. The aid station crew was also supposed to have hot food and drink waiting but the aid station was deserted. We had been caught in a thunderstorm on top of Cataract-Pole Pass at 12,200 ft. five miles above Sherman and were soaked. I spent the night sitting under a tent fly (no tent) with a Coleman lantern burning under a folding chair (so I didn't set the ten fly on fire) with my head in the air vent on the fly (so I didn't die of carbon monoxide poisoning) while trying to stay warm. It was a LONG night.
Here is a link to the Blog Post from that night in 2013. http://yourfirstultra.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-2013-hardrock-100-from-outside.html
What made the experience at Crewel Jewel so frustrating was that I felt great. Finishing would likely have been no problem. All I needed to do was to get that emergency poncho out of my bag and put it in my pack. I did think about it but for some unknown reason didn't. I had even considered starting the race with the poncho in my hydration pack since the forecast was for rain, but didn't. I would have been able to stay reasonably warm had I had that poncho with me. It was smaller than my cell phone and weighed nothing, but I just didn't pick it up. I looked at the rain jacket and warm base layer and never considered taking them with me. I know there was a good chance of storms that night but none of that registered. I can tell you one thing. In the future, I will always have an emergency poncho in my pack at the start of every race I run. If I should ever run the Keys 100... OK, maybe not that one.
The original quote form Robert Burns in 1785: (Can you tell he was Scottish?)
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
(The best laid schemes of Mice and Men
oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!)
I never cease to be amazed and inspired by our runners, whether it’s the Lake Martin 100, The Endless Mile or our newest race, the Blood Rock 100. That’s what makes putting on these events worthwhile. Over the 5 years of Lake Martin races we have had some amazing accomplishments and almost super-human performances, including a woman that had never run further than a 10K in her life who finished the LM 50 Mile in 2013. In 2014, an 18 year old young man that had never run more than a 50K, finished the 100. This year’s Lake martin 100 was no exception.
2017 was the 4th annual Lake Martin 100 Mile Trail Race and 5th annual LM50 Mile and 27 Mile Fun Run. For the first time our finish rate in the 100 went over 50% with 42 of 75 starters completing the 100 miles. The course is beautiful, following small creeks for miles and some sections along the shores of the lake. The race is entirely on the private lands of the 20,000 + acres of the Russell Forest Trail System. The course is about 85% single track trails and 15% Carriage Paths and gravel roads that do not allow cars. The only paved section is a short paved trail leading to and from the Cabin Aid Station. There is absolutely nothing technical anywhere, at least by Alabama standards. What it does have are hills, Lots of hills! They are all small, with only a few exceeding 100 ft. in height and even fewer could be considered steep. But those hills never stop. Quoting Karl Meltzer, “the hills are RELENTLESS!” All those little hills add up to about 13,000 ft. of elevation gain.
This year we had the best weather yet with a little light rain falling at the start. The rain ended before noon and the rest of the race was dry and cool. The good weather contributed, but I think the primarily reason for our high finish rate was that so many of our runners had run one of the Lake Martin races before and knew how deceptive the course can be. We also spent a little time at the prerace meeting reminding runners to go much slower on that first lap than they feel like they need to.
This year we had 235 starters in all three races. We still had a lot of runners drop down to a shorter distance but that’s fine with us. If you enter the 100 but only make 50 miles, you did run 50 miles after all, and you are still a 50 Mile finisher. This is true in all Southeastern Trail Runs race. We reward runners for he miles covered. Due to the easy access to virtually any point on the course, we have no qualifying requirements to run any distance at Lake Martin including the 100.
Aerial Shots of Russell Crossroads, Heaven Hill and the 27 Mile Start.
Looks like everyone is ready for the start - And the start.
Runners on the first lap coming into the Cabin Aid Station.
Just some of the AWESOME Volunteers that help out at Southeastern Trail Runs Races. Most are BUTS members.
And Exactly What is Jonathan Wearing???
The BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society) Aid Station at Heaven Hill is READY! And here come the runners.
Some of our 50 Mile and 27 Mile finishers and award winners.
It was a very LONG, COLD Night at the Cabin Aid Station and Heaven Hill Aid Station. The fires helped.
Just a few of our 100 Mile Finishers. We are so proud of every finisher. Congratulations.
Runner for 50+ years. Unknown number of Marathons, 10K and 5K. Trail Runner for 20 years. Ten 100s as of 2018.