Yesterday I completed SCAR for a third time, this time in a northbound direction finishing in exactly eighteen hours. I’m still recovering from the worst “running hangover” I’ve ever experienced. Nausea forced me to go the last fifteen miles without water or calories. The resulting death march was a major disappointment as the fastest known time (FKT) was definitely within sight.
Three other runners started from Fontana Dam with me: Brian Beduhn, Mike Day and Mohammed Idlibi. They started on Friday at 10:45PM. After sleep, I started four hours and ten minutes behind them. Mike called it a day at Clingmans while the others persevered to Davenport Gap. Mohammed finished in just over 22 hours and Brian in under 30.
Since its inception, the SCAR has evolved into a more orchestrated (and maybe less adventurous) undertaking. The fastest runners now utilize hike-in support. Given my goal of posting the fastest time in an arguably harder direction, I chose to follow suit. Mike, Brian, Mo and I would enjoy support at 22, 40 and 55 miles. Many thanks to Lily, Greg and David for spearheading these efforts!
My strategy was to utilize the cool of the night, which would also help regulate my pace. By the time it got light out, I was entering the technical rutted-out terrain past Spence Field. If all went well, the nighttime running would be behind me. Taped to my wrist were a dozen splits for a 16 hour and 45 minute pace.
Encouraged that I was able to maintain this pace even on the climbs in the dark, I enthusiastically welcomed a new day. Peach-colored mist enveloped the valleys below me and I felt thankful to be where I was atop Rocky Top. I turned my attention to navigating the technical terrain to Derrick Knob shelter where Lily had spent the night.
In the first 22 miles, I drank about 100 oz. of fluids. I stopped twice to fill a bottle with more water alongside the trail. At a slow source, I slurped water from a puddle while I waited for the bottle to fill. When I arrived to Derrick Knob at 8AM, I reloaded with 84 oz. of water. I exchanged my windshirt and flashlights for snacks, and was on my way about ten minutes behind schedule.
SCAR vets know all too well about the Clingmans slump. I definitely hit a low spot and actually sat down for a couple minutes to investigate the severity of a torn quad muscle in my right leg. I’d brought this injury with me into the challenge thinking I’d manage okay. Now, 30 miles in, I wasn’t so sure.
I popped my first Advil and pushed on to the summit. I was thirty minutes behind pace by this point. I started down the other side of Clingmans and soon hit a comfortable stride. I found a small spring and stopped to fill up a bottle. By the time I met Greg and my mom at Newfound Gap, I was only a few minutes behind schedule and feeling good.
My mom had dropped my dad off to run from Newfound to Davenport. He’d gotten an 11AM start. When I pulled myself away from Greg’s awesome pick-up aid station, it was 12:30PM. I doubted I would catch my dad, but with 10 minutes separating me from 16:45 pace, the record was within reach!
Stuffing as much food into my mouth as I could, I climbed on to Charlies Bunion. I downed my second Advil and refilled my bottle at a spring before busting out into a stride. My goal was to make up the ten minutes sooner than later. En route to Pecks Corner, I passed Mohammed. He was looking rough. The sun had come out and the afternoon was getting warm without any breeze.
Mo and I discussed running together, but he was struggling on the climbs and I was dead set on breaking the record. After pulling ahead of him, I passed Pecks Corner about five minutes behind pace and entered into my own world of hurt. My right quad surprised me with sharp jolts of pain. I popped a third Advil and chased it with some food and fluids.
I really started to notice the heat and amount of salt buildup on my shirt. I normally don’t have any salt residue on my clothing. I’d been ingesting about one S-cap per hour. My stomach was starting to get queasy at the mere thought of food, or drink. This was a bad sign. I sipped at my water as best as I could, but the motion of running and even walking with anything in my stomach made me nauseous.
Reaching David’s walk-in aid station at Tricorner Knob ten minutes behind schedule, I knew I was in trouble when I collapsed to the side of the trail and pondered over the selection of calories. David had hiked mostly uphill sixteen miles to furnish runners with water, fruit, candy, gu, PB&J sandwiches etc. It was a true oasis. Unfortunately, I was hurting too much to adequately express my gratitude for his help. David gave me yet another Advil and I was on my way twenty minutes later at about 4:30PM.
Of the sixteen miles that remained, most were downhill. As I ran a smooth flat stretch, my stomach rebelled. I truly felt like shit. I started to fall back on 16:52 instead of 16:45 as a goal. It was risky to think of trimming back the eight-minute thin buffer on the FKT, but I needed to keep the candle lit no matter what.
I don’t know how I could’ve been so naïve to entertain the notion of reaching Cosby Knob back on pace. Despite a small rally, I was still twenty minutes behind schedule and running out of real estate to close the gap. The next three miles, mostly uphill were the longest in near memory.
With less than eight miles to go, I had no energy to walk let alone run. I sat on the trail a dozen times to wallow in self pity as the ambitious goal of a FKT finish slipped from reach. Now I just wanted to finish. The nausea was relentless. I sucked on some salty crackers and sipped water and struggled to walk to the finish just as it got dark.
Greg and my parents were there to welcome me. I opted to just lie down on a rock despite all their genuine efforts to refuel and comfort me. I want to thank them, and Adam Hill for their wonderful support. I hope they can forgive me the affects of failure, vomiting, extreme dehydration and the pain of a torn quad muscle, which still plague me as I sit and type.
Sharp and boisterous, the San Juans of Colorado seem to challenge the elements as much they do endeavoring mortals. Wandering among these young and defiant mountains a couple weeks ago has whetted an appetite within me for the “wild and tough.”
Back here in the weathered Appalachians, there’s a certain traverse over tyrannical terrain that rivals what Hardrockers endure. SCAR stands for the (unofficial) Smokies Challenge Adventure Run. And it has received lots of attention lately.
A year ago, Adam Hill and Charlie Roberts traversed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in under 20 hours with Adam going sub-18. Last month Will Harlan tied Bob Adams for the all-time fastest known time of 16:53. To my knowledge, all of these records are in the southbound direction. My 2003 PR is actually in the northbound direction with Scott Brockmeier in just under 24 hours.
Lily and I are headed to the Smokies this weekend with a few other intrepid souls. She’ll be finishing up her southbound thru-hike while I seek to improve my six-year-old record at this classic challenge, northbound...
This past weekend, I got a chance to pace Mohammed for the last 58 miles of the Hardrock 100. Mo later admitted to listening to the same four minute techno song over and over for the last several hours of his run. Whatever it was, it sure worked for him. He finished in 37 hours and 33 minutes. I didn't have an ipod with me, but since I had the gloaming pacing through my head near the end, it seems fitting to this video tribute.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of our 500+ pics/vids from two weeks well-spent in CO...
Within a few hours of landing in Denver today, I was running up the Tenmile Gorge out of Frisco (elev. 9100') to the Gore Range trail. I met a couple retreating from the loop I had in mind. They said there was too much snow and mud to continue. It was afternoon, and thunder rumbled from an ominous sky. My camera also malfunctioned at this point. My courtesy county map didn't clearly show whether or not I was going to keep climbing above treeline...
But I was pumped up to be back in this gorgeous alpine land, and I kept going! The trail topped out right at treeline at 11,500' in a wide meadow framed by a craggy cirque. I forded the icy creek and flew down the singletrack with expansive views in all directions (wish the camera was working!)...
Three hours and 12.5 miles later, I'm back at the Frisco Visitor Center. Barbara has been very helpful. The locals are super friendly. I wait for Mohammed to roll in anytime. It's great to be here.