YABRR: Cruel Jewel 100 2021 Edition
AKA: Mountain Race with Oxygen Version
Thanks to Mike and Agustin for getting the ball rolling for this one, knowing I'd be running with them made it easier for me to sign up initially. Thanks to Elisa, Brent, Ben, Arturo and John for actually running the race. Thanks to Rolando, Kathy, Darren, and Audi for being floating crew and friendly faces on the course. Big thanks to Kenny for driving more miles than I ran in support of everyone. Thanks to the volunteers and Race Directors for doing their best to both keep the runners moving, and get inside their heads at the same time.
Thanks to the various runners who kept me company during the run, in no particular order: Jason, Rebecca, Brian, Chris, Mike, and Andrea (all last names removed to protect the innocent).
As always, thanks to Shellene for letting me make poor decisions, since "Poor Decisions Make Better Stories"
That's the important stuff, everything else is fluff
The weather was perfect. That was probably the one thing that let me run as well as I did. I actually started training for this race in October, but ended up losing 6 weeks due to Covid and recovery. In the end, that didn't hurt me nearly as badly as not having enough long downhill runs. While I didn't have the long uphill runs, I focused on overall fitness, adding strength and body dynamics (body weight workouts and mobility training) and supplemented with fast-burst hard uphills (mainly on Skyline Trail in Oklahoma). I think that worked well for me, since I have had experience with long drawn out climbs in the past.
I didn't spend much time looking over the actual run segments, just the overall elevation charts, so the long road sections were something I wasn't prepped for mentally. I know better, in a 100 mile race you read everything you can, surprises are bad! I broke the course into 4 segments, about 26 miles each (drop bag to drop bag) and set my plan. It was simple, 7,8,9 and 10 hour segment times, based mainly on fall off and not terrain (again, not studying the course is stupid - but it made for a better story). Knowing that I didn't have the long downhill training was going to be tough on my quads, I had three options:
Run all out on the downhill, even if it meant spiking the HR, to have as many miles as possible when the quads gave out
Run at a controlled pace on the downhills, balancing burning the quads as brakes vs running them into the ground
Use my poles to control the downhills, saving the quads but adding stress to the upper body
Race morning started at noon, with the nervous energy flowing from 9AM onward. I was in the third wave with Brent and Ben. We watched Eliza start at noon, then John and Arturo started at 12:03. 12:06 and we were off. I found myself moving easy at a reasonable pace.
When I hit the first downhill, running with Jason from PA, there was only one downhill option. "A-Train ain't got no brakes" and off we went. We caught and passed a chunk of the second group on a downhill, then I caught Elisa and decided to spend some miles with her. After running with her, I started moving again and caught Andrea. We ran and talked for a good bit, she's done UTMB and I wanted pointers. After a bit, John, Arturo and Elisa caught up and we had a good group, but it was time for me to go again. Hit the downhill to the Dragon Spine and just went all out on it. It's a 1.6 mile section with 1000' of pure runable drop. Ate some food at the aid station, stashed some cookies in my run belt and off to the next hill. Got to the 25 mile aid station in 27.5 miles (Yes, the course was long) at 6:30ish on the watch. A little faster than I expected, but I didn't feel like I pushed it. Grabbed my night kit out of my drop bag, and as I was leaving I saw Kenny for the first time.
Poor Kenny, he was trying to crew for all the DDR runners on the course. Brent and Ben had dedicated crew, but that still left Elisa (who was his main runner, he was using her car), John and Arturo (who were staying close together, and near Elisa, which helped) and me. Since I was ahead of the pack I was basically on my own. I had planned for that, and as long as nothing went to sideways, I'd be fine out there.
The section from Wilscot Gap to Deep Gap was much of the same. Gentle rolling hills and trees. There was one section that had been recently burned, I was running with Rebecca during it, and she said that it was a controlled burn. It also included the first road section, which I ran with Chris, as we kept telling ourselves that it had to end. We passed a riverside party that really wanted us to join them, I told them that if they were still there on the way back I'd have a drink. Made it to Deep Gap and started the first loop there. As I was running it, I got passed by the leader, and he was flying. When I completed the first loop, I spotted John, so he was about 5 miles behind me. He gave me the bad news about Arturo. From Deep Gap to Morgantown and back is nothing but road, and I ran most of it with Jason again. Saw John on the road, still looking good. About 2/3rds of the way around the second loop out of Deep Gap I started to feel the effects of "something", so I told Jason to go on and started a self assessment. Fluids were good, electrolytes didn't seem to be the issue, and calories were not that far off. I just needed warm food. Put on my jacket, gloves and hat for a walk to the aid station. As I got there, once again I saw John. I stopped and ate 1.5 cups of ramen/potato mix and that helped a lot. Time for the climb out of Deep Gap.
As I was going up the climb, here comes a runner with her Kogala RA on, blinding every runner coming up as she was moving down. I yelled (from the distance): "Kill you RA please". No response. The distance was now closer, and I yelled louder: "Kill you RA!". I guess she heard me over her earphones as she covered it (poorly) with her arms. Those things have an on/off switch. I actually saw two other runners with RAs, and they were both very good about turning their lights off, and using a headlamp when they did. I thanked both of them.
Made it to the top of the climb out, turned right and saw the sign: "This pointless out and back is the reason you are running 106 miles instead of 100", and it's almost straight down for the 3 miles. I disagree that it is pointless though, it is a section that we only see once, and is actually one of the reasons I'm going back next year, I want to see it in daylight. To me, the second loop at Deep Gap was pointless, we'd already run it once. On the climb up, I saw John again, and he was still moving well. By this point I had finally broken out my poles full time. I had used them a little on the first 50 miles, but not much, preferring to powerhike without them.
Entered into a bit of a mental fog and the next couple of sections just sort of existed, running when I could, walking when I had to, and waiting for the dawn. I'm not sure which aid station it was, I think it was Old Dial Road that I ran into Kenny and got access to my drift bag. I dumped my night kit, figuring that I would finish in daylight (but kept a backup light, just in case), and switched poles from the Black Diamond to the Leki (the BD straps were chafing a little), and off I went. Got back to Wilscot and as I was getting food a chair appeared, with my drop bag next to it. Made a few changes, mainly adding carry food to my vest. The aid station volunteer freaked out when he saw I had fireball in my bag. I told him that I couldn't always count on it being available if I needed it. Up, out and over the hill to the next aid station. As I approached it, I spotted Achilles and Ben walking towards me. Instead of Ben nailing the course, the course nailed Ben 🙁
Sat for a few minutes, eating and then headed up the Dragons Spine. During the last couple of aid stations, Rebecca and her pacer would enter the aid station as I left it. When I got to the top of the spine, I found a log to sit on and enjoyed a Snickers bar as they passed me. I caught up with them, and we ran/walked together for a good bit, picking up runners and shifting who was were (sometimes by a mile or so) as we did so. Too many names, but one was Mike from New Mexico. Having Rebecca nearby helped, she has run the course 5 times (between 50 and 100 mile runs), so she reminded me of what was still to come. She also said that they had modified the course, it was probably 2 miles longer (as if at 106 miles it needed that). Since I clocked 114 miles on my GPS, I can believe that it was long. At one point there is a pair of signs: "If this was a normal 100, you'd be finished" next to "Finish (with arrow) 7.5 miles". I love evil race directors. By that point, your only real options are to continue to the finish or go backwards, there are no more aid stations to drop at. Next year they need a sign at Firepit: "Last chance to catch a ride back to the start"
The last 20 miles were mostly pole work, since my upper body was fresh I was able to actually move well on the uphills, and used them as brakes/crutches on the downhill. During this section, I kept thinking that John would catch me, considering how slow I was going. I was chasing ghosts though, he had also slowed down. I saw the line, heard the crown cheering and "sprinted" for the line with a finishing leap of joy. If you find the video, you'll see how far out of reality my finish really was.
For the record, the important number is 1lb 2oz. That is what the buckle weighs.