I had never heard of Slade, Kentucky. A place were over 40,000 people migrate to each year from around the world to test their strength and ability as athletes. To utilize the natural landscape given by this area to either make or break them in there sport. Most of them carrying ropes,carabiners, and chalk bags. But this weekend is not for the climbers, this weekend is for the four Ultra runners from Rochester Ny. This weekend is for us!
I traveled solo to Kentucky Thursday morning the 6th of June. Meeting Mike and Natalie there that evening and picking up Laura Friday afternoon. That’s it, my crew of three, and three very respectable individuals in the ultra running community back home. I was in good hands for my first attempt at a 100 mile distance.
I slept great Friday night, not sure if the nervousness would overcome me. My crew and I went over the final logistic of how the next days events would unfold. Weather for the whole weekend included rain, rain, and more rain. Another obstacle I figured I would have to counterbalance. Race start time was 6am and we arrived about 30 minutes early.
26 of us showed up at Natural Bridge State Park to run the 2nd War Hammer 100. Each and every one of us for different reasons why, as we pinned the bib to ourselves. We all counted down the last ten second like a church choir and I slowly began to move forward.
I have begun a journey that will either make or break me. I had no time schedule, no aid station layout, didn’t really know when the major climbs were. I did load pre race, a GPX map of the course on my phone incase flags were tampered with or I got lost and could find my way again. This was highly recommended by the RD. But in all I just wanted to be me, with only one goal. Finish my first 100 mile run.
I felt good, my body responding well to the rhythm of my feet and arm movements. With not even a mile in my feet were soaked, having to trek through my first stream crossing. That of many throughout this course. I broke out nice and slow as I wanted to stay in the middle of the group as we hit the first sections of roads that met with our first area of single track.
We hit a few small hills and I was able to squeeze by some runners. I was now with the lead pack. There were five of us running at a pretty good pace. This is how it stayed for the first 20+ miles and we did it due to course markings were hard to find or non existent. I had to keep pulling my phone out to make sure the group was on track and going the right way. It felt good running together, like we were old friends just going out for a long run. I helped clear whatever nervousness I had. I knew in my heart this would last for long. I would be running alone till mile 55 when I could get my first pacer.
We made distance on one other. I moved through the thick vegetation almost bushwhacking at times. Running smoothly following the pink and white striped ribbon to the best of my ability. I think I’m in third place and holding strong. But I could see anyone in front of me or behind.
By this time I have traversed though some of the most scenic forests I had ever seen. The forest in Kentucky are rich in green and filled with old growth wood. I am alone to start to take it all in. But I say clam and collected through every hill, water crossing, road section, and mud pits. Wait I could see runners.Yes I was not alone anymore, I could at least focus on something in the distance rather than my own thoughts of how I was feeling. I would catch up and make small talk with them, but quickly reduce my pace to make sure I didn’t burn out. This was something that kept crossing my mind because my longest run as of now was 65 miles. It was good because it they brought me through most of the first half of the race. Thank you Zane and Thomas!
I again lost sight of them at the long road section. They were moving so much faster than I was. Damn alone again but now I noticed my feet starting to bother me. My shoe selection didn’t like the road. I knew my feet were swollen and my shoes were tightening. The trail lugs just dug into the bottoms of my feet from the hard pavement not giving in. I couldn’t wait to get them off at the next aid station in about 10ish miles. That’s were I would see my crew and get my first pacer.
I eventually caught back up to Thomas and we chatted for a bit. I knew we were so close to aid. We both made it in together and I could see Zane still recharging from the first 55 miles of the beautiful Kentucky country side. The last 8 miles felt like forever and my crew was ready for me.
I decided to do a shoe and change into dry cloths. My feet were water logged, wrinkly, and almost a fake white color. They almost looked dead. It felt good sliding them into dry socks and shoes. It felt fabulous to have room to move my toes and my socks felt warm. Laura and Natalie were amazing getting everything I needed as Mike was ready to go, ready to help me tackle this course. We ran the next 17 miles together. I was power walking the hills now and running the rest. Headlamps now illuminating the ground beneath us. I felt alive again, it felt good to hear words of encouragement from Mike. We past Zane about an hour ago. Shit I was leading for my first time ever in a race. I was in first place in my first ever 100 mile race! I remember asking, “Is this a good pace, am I doing ok? Mike’s response was ” I’m watching you painting a masterpiece just be patient.” I ran free in the trails of Kentucky’s single track.
We made aid stations transition only five minutes. Quick pb&j’s, pickles, and Sword sports drink. This became my ideal station food and continued all the way to the next crew point.
15 minutes at crew aid stations now became our thing. I could relax a little and take it all in. Still leading and seeing no one other runners in sight. My pack was quickly replenished and set beside me. Mike took Natalie to filled her in on my progress, pace pre mile, aid station food just all of it. I did another change of clothes to be dry again. Laura by my side with anything I needed.
I was up out of the chair a moving again forward. I had a 9ish mile stretch with Natalie. I took each section of trail mile by mile. I already started the count down in my head. Natalie reminding me that I was doing great. How it was inspirational to still see me running into later miles and beyond.
I felt focused now on what I need to do to complete this race and stay on top. At some point in time it was the first time I recognized I could actually win this thing.
We made our way into the final crew aid. It was Laura’s turn and I quickly ask for my final shoe change. I’m crew made fast work in getting my pack filled, food in my belly, and my ass up and headed words the final 18ish miles.
I was now at the end of my ropes. My body giving me troubles after almost 90 miles. Why now I thought after so many mile. I was walking a lot more now but kept moving along. Hearing a soft voice letting me know it was ok to walk. At one point I thought someone threw garbage bags all over the side of the road. It was only a downed tree and I was seeing the glare of the backs of the leave off my headlamp. We laughed about what I thought I seen.
That was it, I needed a break. I made my way to the road intersection and laid down. I could have just slept right there. It felt amazing as my body sank into the warm pavement. Laura lifting my legs and just telling my I was doing great.
I eventually rose to my beat up feet beginning the old man shuffle forwards to the finish. Laura giving me running/walking timed intervals. I could deal with that, it felt better than just slowly moving. It kept me running for at least a bit. Eventually I hear, ” you have two hours and seven miles left, you have a chance to get under 24 hours.” “You came this far why not try.” That’s all I needed
We move into the last aid station and I wanted to just recharge before I charged after the last 3.4 mile. I think it was a 10 minute stop with the first 5 with me laying down and my feet up on a chair. I tried my normal PB&J but that was now hard to swallow. Chips, pickles, and sword was it.
Time for the final push which consisted of all roads. I ran and walked fast. Laura said I had 20 minutes and I really started to run. The last quarter mile was completely up hill and so muddy. Laura was finding it difficult to get grip from her shoes. I moved forward losing sight of her and yelling back the directions to turn.
I was again running up the step muddy hills of Kentucky. Knowing the finish could be around any corner now. I hit the paved road and I started hearing the cheering. With a final sprint I was there, I just crossed the finish line of the War Hammer 100. I just completed my first 100 mile race. Wait…..I just won my first 100 mile race.
Thank you to…
My crew Laura, Natalie, and Mike no word can explain how grateful I was to have such amazing people by my side al weekend.
To Mike and Brandy for a incredible race that I will definitely be returning to next year to the wild trails of Kentucky.
To all the volunteers that made this race possible. That kept the aid stations running. That made me smile and laugh. You were all so incredible.
To all of my new running friends that I meet throughout the race. You are all so bad ass, only 26 of us attempted to run this crazy race. And you were one of them, that says a lot.
To all my trail friends in Upstate NY. You all were a big part of this. The likes, the compliments, the 👍, the times we have shared together on trails, the races we run together, the group runs, the trail maintenance, just getting together and hanging out. I am so proud to belong to such and amazing community of trail runner and more. #trailsroc