3:50 AM, Sunday October 25th. 

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, it’s over.”

“100K, on this terrain, is something to be proud of. Way to go man.”

3:00 PM, Friday October 23rd.

As I pulled onto 15-501, blasting 'Banshee Beat' by Animal Collective, I was watching the sun start its descent onto the North Carolina landscape. My eyes stared ahead, not really seeing anything ahead of me. The corner of my lip curled like the Grinch as he observed the spoils of Whoville. My head exploding with timing statistics, nutrition plans, and “just gut it out” mantras. 

 15 hours.

 4:00 PM, Friday October 23rd.

 “How was your trip?!?”

Vince, my friend of 20 years had just driven from my home-town in Pennsylvania in order to pace me. We had run a 50-miler together, his first, in August. He ended up smoking me by almost an hour. He was totally committed to getting me to my goals.

14 hours. 

5:00 PM, Friday October 23rd.

“You will be traversing 100 miles of what is believed to be the oldest mountain range on the planet. The miles are brutal, but don’t let one mistake define your race. You CAN do this.” 

13 hours.

8:00 PM, Friday October 23rd.

“Alright man, (Vince), preparations made, going to get some sleep. See you in the morning.”

10 Hours.

4:30 AM, Saturday October 24th.

"How’d you sleep?”

“Alright.” - actually like shit, I thought to myself.

90 minutes.

67 runners head off onto Dutchman's Creek Trail at the start

67 runners head off onto Dutchman's Creek Trail at the start

5:59 AM, Saturday October 24th.

“3! 2! 1!”

0 hours

The first few minutes flowed by like a dream. Here I was, finally underway in my first 100 miler. 3 years of ultras and thousands of miles of preparation got me here. It was my time. All of this talk about “Unrelenting”, “brutal”, “impossible”, all seemed overrated. I had been on harder terrain, maintained more difficult paces.

“I got this.”

I hit Crossroads as the sun was coming up.

“Welcome to daylight gentleman!” I said to the men who had been following me for the last two hours. I turned my headlight off and slid it behind me. 6 miles in. Not too bad so far.

After a few more minutes of ups and downs, I hit “Sasquatch Summit”, ‘The most visually intimidating climb of the course’. And it was. After a few minutes we hit the top.

More ups and downs and ups and downs, roots and rocks, roots, rocks, I saw the sign, “Soul Crusher”. I led the climb. I think I remember someone saying, “Why can’t they can’t they call this ‘fuzzy bunny’?”

As I felt my legs loosen at the top of the climb I thought, “only 4 more times”.

The next milestone was Kelly’s Kitchen, where Vince was waiting. 

“You look great! 5th place! GO GO GO!!!”

I cruised the next 3 miles feeling great from Kelly’s to Crossroads. Took a few seconds to grab a Nutella and PB roll-up, and headed out again. The net mile was straight downhill. Then…

Hallucination Hill. Up, Up, Up.

As I was just thinking, “God, this is one, long, loop.” I saw the start/finish lone and heard the cowbells bringing me home.

As I completed the first 20 miles I heard Dan, the race director, say “GREAT LOOP!!”

Vince was waiting. 

“5 hours!! What can I get you?”

“I need to sit.”

Vince led me to a seat, handed me a cheeseburger. “Eat.”

“How are you feeling?”

“It’s no joke man.”

Hiking up Sasquatch Summit during the first lap

Hiking up Sasquatch Summit during the first lap

I took a few minutes to finish my burger, add some Vasoline to the necessary areas, refill my water bottles, and I was off. 

“I took off too fast. I needed more time.”, I thought. But I was committed to my second loop.

I hit mile 25 and kept thinking, “God, this really is no joke. The constant ups and downs really wear on you. But damn, I feel fantastic. That cheeseburger was exactly what I needed.”

I rolled into Kelly’s Kitchen for the second time feeling spent. Sasquatch and Soul Crusher had started to wear on me. I was starting to doubt myself. But there was Vince.

“I got you McDonalds! 20 chicken McNuggets!”

“What had I done to deserve such support?”, I thought. “Saint Vince”.

The next 3 or so miles back to Crossroads took me longer than I wanted, and I thought too much. By now my nipples were chaffing and I needed to change my shirt. I slurped down a cup of Ramen, the best cup of soup I’d ever had I was convinced, changed my shirt, and took off.

The downhills were starting to hurt. Hallucination Hill. More ups and downs. I was convinced I only had a lap at most left in me. I was beginning to think a lot. A lot about home, a warm bed, talking with my wife, hugging my kids, the pain in my legs, my back starting to give out (and old fracture years ago). 

I rolled into the Start/Finish at around 11 hours. Vince was waiting, pacing bib and all.

“I’m ready! I’m ready if you need me!”

“Vince, I think I am dropping to the 100K. I feel like shit.”

“No. You are not”, he said sternly. “Let’s go.”

I stuffed down 6 slices of pizza, chugged an Ensure, ate an orange slice, changed from my handhelds to a pack.

We were into the woods just as it started to get dark. I was walking a lot by this time, and bitching more than is usual. I was starting to give in. My legs hurt, but not that bad, my head hurt, but not that bad. I was tired, so what. I needed to rally and get it moving. 

“Let’s go man.”

We took off. We were hitting 8:30-9:00 minute pace for the first several miles. I had no idea were it came from. I felt good. Maybe it was the pizza, maybe I was just happy to have my friend.

Dark hit like lights out. We switched on our headlamps. I was walking again. We stopped at Crossroads outbound and I said for several minutes. My back was starting to tighten up significantly. I couldn’t fathom another trip (let alone 3 more trips) up Sasquatch and Soul, and Hallucination. Not to mention he dozens of other lesser, but equally cumulative climbs and descents.

“I think I’m done man”, I said. 

“Get up, keep going.”

Sasquatch in the dark was actually fun. It was humorous to hear Vince’s expression.

“Oh my god! This thing is gnarly! You’ve climbed this 2 times already!?”

I don’t know if he was trying to make me feel better or if he was truly impressed. It didn’t matter. It worked. We paused at the top of Soul for a few minutes with our headlamps off. Just listening to the wind. It was…peaceful. 

As we rolled into Kelly’s we were passed by the 1st and 2nd place males in the 100 mile contest. I remember watching them glide up and down the hills. I was so impressed by their skill, 6 hours and 20 miles AHEAD of me. It was both encouraging and demoralizing. I was sinking into the mental blackness.

We were walking exclusively now. I could tell Vince was disappointed. He drove all this way to run. 

“Hey Vince. Why don’t you bomb down these next few hills. I’ll catch up.”

“You sure?”

“Yep. Go for it.”

He stopped to tighten his laces. I was about a quarter mile ahead of him when I heard him crashing through the trees. He was having a blast. Then, nothing…


“I rolled my ankle!" 

“You alright?”

“Yeah, fine.”

He caught up to me quickly and seemed fine. We were walking anyway so I thought he'd be alright. We came into Crossroads inbound. The tiki torches a welcome sight. We sat, ate some soup. Vince complained that his ankle was tightening up. Then, we took off. The next mile or so is downhill. Vince lagged further and further behind. He caught up as we started to climb Hallucination Hill. At the top, I felt reinvigorated and started trotting down the backside, marveling at how technical it was, how late it was, how long I’d been running, and wondering if I could rally and finish the bitch.

I got to the bottom and looked back. Nothing. No headlamps, no sounds, no Vince.

I sat down on a stump and waited. And waited. I saw headlamps coming down the backside of Hallucination and thought, “Hallucination Hill, I wonder if those lights are really there?”

They were, but they weren’t Vince. 

“Are you okay?”, a man asked. “Do you need some food?” 

“I’m fine, I think I dropped my pacer.”

We laughed about this concept, as only ultra runners can understand. 

“You mean the guy with the ankle?”

“Shit. Yeah.”

 “He’s really hurt man, rolled it again.”

I couldn’t believe it. Vince, the Saint, was hurt. He drove all this way, at his own expense, to provide selfless support to me, a selfish runner; and for what? To roll his ankle. It took several more minutes and several more runners passing before I saw the tell-tale “gimp” of a headlamp belonging to a hurt runner, limping down the mountain. He got close enough to see his face. There was no doubt. He was hurt. 

“You okay man?” 

“No, I can barely walk. It’s not broken, but it’s bad.”

“Well, let’s walk it in.”

The next few hours was an exercise in survival. He’e take 2 steps, I’d take 2 steps, he’d lean, I’d support, we’d rest. Repeat. 

Vince was going through phases of shock. Being a nurse himself, he was diagnosing and providing an in-depth narrative to his symptoms, pre-frontal cortex and base-brain responses. I just listened quietly. It was my turn to support my friend. 

We were passed many times, and as the last group rolled by I asked them to let the Start/Finish team know we had a downed pacer that needed sticks and a brace. 

At around 3:30AM we saw lights coming towards us. It was Dan, the race director and a volunteer pacer. Vince, seeing the rescue team advancing, started to blather about feeling horrible he ruined my race, how I shouldn’t have stayed with him, and other nonsense. 

“Shut-up man, they’re here.”

Dan and his friend walked us the last half mile to the start finish. All in all it took Vince and I nearly 4 hours to walk that last 2.5 miles. As we crossed the 100K mark I told Dan I was dropping. 

3:50 AM, Sunday October 25th.  

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, it’s over.”

“100K, on this terrain, is something to be proud of. Way to go man.”