Friday, June 18, 2021

War Hammer 100 (Race Recap)

London, KY
Friday, June 11
Weather - Humid and RAINY

After Vermont was cancelled, I started looking for a replacement race. Unfortunately, with the late cancellation, everything "good" was already sold out. I put my name on a bunch of wait lists in 50 mile distances, figuring that would be "good enough." Then, I found the War Hammer 100 - a small and little-known race in southern Kentucky. I emailed the race director and asked him a few questions and was really pleased with his quick response time. He even offered me a discount on the race entry if I decided to come out and run.

Initially, I didn't register. I mentioned it in passing to Ben, but I was going to wait and see how some other things shook out. I ended up signing up right before we went to Possum, about 3 weeks before race day. Possum went well and I was confident in my decision to sign up for a hot and humid run in the south.

Race Day

I had slept really well the night before, but due to our late arrival I had only gotten about 4 hours of sleep. I historically get so tired overnight in 100s that I was definitely worried about the lack of sleep going into it. There was no traffic heading from Knoxville to London, Kentucky. We arrived about an hour before the race started, which was plenty of time to use the bathroom a few times and get my stuff finalized.
I had Ben douse me with bug spray, put on my tall socks and grabbed all my stuff and I was "ready" to go. Headed over to the start line with a few minutes to the start and the race director did a quick "reminder" of which flags to look for. Since I had missed the pre-race meeting the night before, this was good information to have. I had found satellite already, but I got an error about too many waypoints and had to reset my watch, so when we were counting down I was anxiously trying to get the course loaded again. Off we went, and like usual, I was in the back. (Keep in mind, there were only about 50 people, so that "back" was pretty relative).

I was under the impression that the first half of the course would be the "hardest." We were told a few days out that cutoffs would be extended to navigate an "overgrown" course. I also thought that miles 11-34ish were going to be most technical/hard. With that in mind, I definitely wanted to keep moving, but I definitely wanted to save my legs.

I haven't done a TON of 100 mile races, but I have done enough that I can say that this was the most "single track" of all the 100s I have done.  Right from the start, it was easy to end up in a conga line because of how narrow the trail was. I passed a person or two, but initially I found myself moving off trail so someone could get around me. Although to be clear, since I was in the back, all of this was done in the first few miles. The course was BEAUTIFUL. Rolling trails and LOTS of pretty trees.

I did find that I was already rapidly overheating. With a 10:00 am start, we were already heading into the hottest part of the day. I found the first 8 miles to be very runnable, even for me. I was keeping a steady 14ish mile pace, which was probably a little slower than I should have been, but I was feeling fine. I arrive at one of the short road sections near the first aid aid station in just under two hours. The sky was starting to look ominous!

I was pleasantly surprised to see a silhouette that looked like Ben! This was a no-crew aid station, but he had talked to the race director and was told it was fine to come and spectate. I was in and out of this one pretty quick. I only filled my bottles and grabbed some watermelon and a pickle.
We had to cross the road and climb over the guardrails, but were dumped immediately back on the trail. I probably had only been running for a minute or two when the sky opened up and it started POURING. Not just "raining" or "drizzling," but full on typhoon weather. Initially I was pretty happy about it. It finally cooled down the air a bit, and I was feeling pretty good. That really didn't last long. The rain continued, and the trail got muddier and muddier.

Everything was CRAZY green at this point. Huge rock formations that were covered in moss and vines. It was truly gorgeous. Over time, the novelty wore off. There were plenty of water crossings, complete with wooden bridges that were really slick with all the moisture. I knew that the trail was going to get more difficult soon, and I was really trying to keep up the pace. Arrived at the bridge around mile 11 where we took a hard u-turn and went underneath the bridge to head up for the flood route. I found this section pretty complicated to navigate. It seemed like it didn't even look like a trail - had anyone even been on this other than the folks that marked the course and the other runners??

We finally started to head down the trail and hit a section of paved road for a bit, which I found very refreshing. I am already forgetting some of the details, but it quickly got more technical after crossing the road. We did at least have a section on a dirt road, although there weren't a ton of flags so I kept questioning if I was missing a turn, as my watch seemed over on the GPS. Finally arrived at the mile 13.3 aid station (which I already measured .25 longer...)

I remembered to ask for ice, which was truly a blessing. The next section was supposed to be the most technical and also, the longest stretch without aid. On my pace chart I showed 8.1 miles, but the volunteer said it was closer to 9 miles. I'm glad they said that. I do not think I was truly prepared for this section. The trail seemed to get even more narrow, if possible. It was graded in areas and slide paths that would tumble you down into the river. It was so muddy. I could not get into any sort of running groove at all, and unfortunately, I'm a crappy climber (still) and I don't walk nearly as fast on trails as I do on flats. I was quickly losing any sort of buffer I had acquired from the early miles. There were lots of water crossings, including ones that required us to cross the river on huge mossy boulders. One section I had to jump down about 7 feet to get to the next rock. There was a volunteer & a photographer there and I questioned how on earth I was going to get back UP that rock. I was not amused by how slick everything was. Not to mention, I don't like having to jump/climb when I'm holding poles. Please enjoy this series of photos from Photo Landmark that really accurately portray how I felt:
1 - Oh! It's pretty here!
2 - Hmmm, better walk quickly so I can figure out how to navigate this water crossing
3 - What the actual fuck?! How am I supposed to climb back up this later?
4 - Wheeee - hope I don't die/slip into the raging river

The trail just got sketchier and sketchier. I wondered at times if I was even on course because I would end up at a "dead end" of foliage and downed trees. Then I'd see a neon pink flag through the brush and realized I'd have to get through all that. W.T.F....

The leader crossed paths with me when I was about 6 hours in, and I think I had calculated that he was at least 6 miles ahead of me at this point. Second and third place crossed paths with me within the next 45 minutes or so. I was at an exceptionally frustrating section of trail where I was having to try to climb over tree limbs that were chest level when one of them told me "it's like this for a little while longer, but you can do it!" My legs were already burning and climbing was feeling much harder than it should this early in a race.
After what seemed like a VERY long time, we had a nice, not overgrown, downhill and I could tell we were finally being dumped into the Cumberland Falls area. I would see Ben here again, and I was looking forward to it, as I had run out of water, desperately needed ice and of course I wanted to complain.

Immediately I was even more agitated. The aid station didn't have any ice (UGH I AM SO HOT) and they were out of water - but don't worry, someone should be "right back" with more. NOT HAPPY. Normally volunteers are bending over backwards, but the two kids at this one seemed super uninterested in anything that was going on. I was NOT HAPPY. Ben quickly gave my calves a quick massage and I tried to get out as quick as possible, and demanded (nicely?) that he bring me more water for when I did that again, ICE, and a ... pizza.
Ben took this video while he was waiting for me at the aid station - I'm sharing so you can see how hard it was raining!

Thankfully, I was informed that the loop that we would be doing was not nearly as technical as what we had done earlier, so I was happy about that. I headed out and had a small road section to connect to the trail loop. I talked briefly with a guy who was doing his first 100 miler - I told him how impressed I was that he was doing all this without poles, and he said his brother had told him "there isn't that much gain, you don't need them." Ugh... after having done Chattanooga, I know how much poles can help me, even on small climbs. The loop wasn't bad, and I was able to do some running here and there, but really I was just trying to keep my pace up. I was watching it creep up to a place I didn't think I would see at all this early in a race.

I started hearing voices behind me, and wondered who had caught up to me, as the voice was female and I hadn't seen any ladies in a long time. When I got dumped back on the road after a 4-5 mile loop I was passed by a gal that I had seen at the aid station earlier. I was so happy to see Ben! He had, in fact, brought me a pizza, and also some other snacks and bottled water. AND ICE. My calves were still pissed, so Ben grabbed my poles and massaged them a bit, grabbed a slice of pizza and headed out. I was still mildly traumatized from the section I was heading into. Tried not to be apprehensive, but I was really worried about the climbing and technical stuff I knew was coming. The gal that had briefly passed me after the loop and I "ran" together for a bit. She also wasn't using poles and I was surprised at how well she was climbing, as my legs were TOAST. I finally let her get ahead of me, since I wasn't doing well. There were definitely more water crossings on the way back than there had been on the way out. I had my Kogalla ready to go, but I was surprised to not need it for a while. At some point I got up to the gal again, and I made another mistake of following her instead of watching markers. We got to a section where we weren't sure where to go and I certainly didn't recognize it, so I pulled out my Gaia and realized we were off track. By the time we got back to the markers, we had probably wasted close to 10 minutes. Then I also thought - am I going the right way?? Ugh - NO WE WERE NOT. Gaia definitely saved me here too. Now I'm super pissed. I'm behind on time and I keep making mistakes I should NOT be making.

The gal seemed to have lost her "oomph" and I lost her behind me on the trail. At some point I passed an older gentleman, and then I passed another guy shortly before one of the water crossings with the big boulders. As if those crossings weren't difficult enough in the daylight, they were worse at night. I was having a hard time figuring out the best way to cross, and while navigating, the last guy I had passed blazed right by me, right as I slipped and one foot ended up in knee deep rushing water. UGH.

I'm really getting annoyed wondering where this aid station is. Thanks to everything measuring long AND being off course, I don't know how far I still have to go. I finally see some lights in the distance and I think maybe that's the aid station? All of a sudden, the guy that had passed me is walking towards me with search and rescue. I'm informed we have to go back because the course is underwater and we can't cross. SO WE HAVE TO GET IN A BOAT. I'm listening to him saying that we will still be able to finish, etc., and I'm actually enjoying the novelty of BEING IN A BOAT DURING A RACE.
We get to the other side of the bank, and I realize the water crossing that we "missed" is the one that I was worried about with the 7' scramble up a mossy rock. Where we were dumped on the river, we had to climb up a goat trail that was really steep, and the guy I was with quickly dropped me. He did stop briefly to help me down a rooty hill, then I really never saw him again. When I pulled out my Gaia it almost looked like we had been put on the wrong side of the aid station? OMG DID OUR RE-ROUTE HAVE US NOT GOING TO THE AID STATION?? I was really upset at this point and actually sat on a rock and pulled out my phone to see if I had service to text Ben because I was FED UP. I didn't have service, so there was really nowhere to go but onward.
I've never seen a crawfish on a trail?? This wasn't even really near the water...
Finally, after what seemed like forever, I arrived at the aid station, right at the soft cutoff. SHIT. So now I'm upset because I'm basically already timing out, a position I never thought I would be in this early. I didn't want to spend too much time at this aid station, but I needed a mental break and some food/ice. Sadly, still no "real" food, but I had some orange slices and then headed out. It was a much "easier" section than I remember, and the flood section that had seemed so sparse was actually much easier to follow in the dark. I finally arrived back at the Spillway aid station, and Ben was there. I got there also right at cutoff. I was debating even continuing since I was already so close to not being able to finish, but figured that I would keep going until I actually started missing cutoffs.
I got some more pizza and ate while Ben helped me change my socks, as I was starting to wonder about blisters. Definitely took more time here, but at the time, I was planning on going a long time. I knew this section had seemed so easy in the beginning and I hoped to be able to make up some time. Unfortunately, about two miles into the 8 mile section, I got tired. It hit me like a brick wall. I went from alert and mildly agitated to just wanting to sleep. I resisted as long as I could because I knew that there was all sorts of creatures out. I was seeing spiders almost every single step, plus I had seen a snake, lots of toads, and of course regular creepy beetles and bugs. Finally I gave myself permission to take a 2.5 minute trail nap. As sometimes happens, it helped, but only briefly. I estimate that I took at least 5-6 of these, essentially putting the final nail in the coffin. 

According to our race guide, the first "half" was supposed to be 48 miles. When I arrived back at the start/finish (somewhere just over the soft cutoff), I was at nearly 52 miles, and my pace was about as slow as I could be/maintain to finish with the 36 hour cutoff. Ben was dressed & ready to pace. I told him I needed some food and I needed to sit. We sat outside the lodge while I fumbled through the race info to find out how much climbing there supposedly was in the back half. When I saw it was similar to what I had just done, I called it. DNF, again.

Garmin distance - 51.69 miles
Garmin time at DNF - 18:12:19
Elevation gain - 7,066'

We stayed at the finish line for a bit, and I talked to the RD's wife - who was super friendly and kind when I told her I was dropping. Yes, I probably could have completed at least another 25 miles, and I'm sure it would have been better with company, but this was a smaller event, and logistically if/when I dropped it would be tough to get back.

Ben got in touch with the hotel we had reserved for later Saturday (this was around 5:30 in the morning) and we were able to get an "early check in" so that we could actually get some sleep. Pretty annoying that once I dropped I was wide awake (insert eyeroll).

The picture below is what my feet looked like more than two hours after I stopped running. Apparently when your feet shrivel up like a prune and then stay that way for 16+ hours wet, they kinda harden that way. 

  • This was an incredibly beautiful course. I just wish I could have enjoyed it more and/or taken pictures! I had to keep my phone in a bag most of the race, so the pictures in this post are actually all I have.
  • The course also got really bad, really fast. 
  • Running in mud is HARD. It's been a while since I've done it, and it was just as bad as I remembered. I couldn't get into a rhythm, and I slid and fell a LOT. In fact, it took two solid days of rinsing, pre-washing my race clothes to get all the mud out. And even now, they are only about 90% as clean as when I started this race.
  • I have NO idea how I escaped with no blisters. I didn't do anything different than normal. Lubed up feet with Squirrel Nut Butter & only changed socks once. Wore my same Hoka Speedgoats. But I'm please with this.
  • I also managed to escape with no chafing! Between the Squirrel I put on my upper body and feet, the Chamois Butt'r Anti-Chafe Cream is a freaking miracle. I blissfully have not had crotch/inner thigh chafing since I started using that. 
  • I got a TON of bites on this course, even with applying bug spray more than once. I suppose the rain didn't keep it on my skin, though. I also ended up with rashes on my chest/abdomen and back. I'm not sure if that's irritation just from being wet for a long time or if I have an allergy to something on the trail (I heard there was poison oak!). I also had prepped for ticks (by using spray and wearing tall socks) and don't think any got on me, but definitely was a fear going into this.
  • Am I disappointed in the outcome of this? Of course. A DNF is never fun. But with over 50 people starting and only 10 finishers, I'm clearly not the only one that struggled. And I think more than half of those that didn't finish dropped well before I did.
  • Would I do this again? No, but mainly because it was hard/expensive to get to this race. I also have now DNF'd a few times in this part of the country, so maybe I just need to do different types of races. 

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