Friday, May 23, 2014

Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Race and 103 Miles

The Black Mountain Monster is an annual trail running event held in May at Montreat College in Black Mountain NC. It is a family-oriented gathering where you run as much or as little for the time duration you choose- 6, 12 or 24 hours. The race starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and stops at 10 a.m. Sunday, which is great because it allows you to drive in and setup camp the day of the race. If your plans are to run the full 24 hours, it is nice to have 4 hours of sunlight to finish the race the next day.

Anne and I drove up to Black Mountain Friday evening and ate at a local pizza place called Fresh. They cook their pizzas in a brick oven and offer gluten free dishes at a reasonable price. We stayed at a friend’s cabin in Old Fort, which is just down the road from Black Mountain.

Pre 24 Hour Race

Saturday came early and I began my preparation by taping each toe and bottom area of my feet. I spent close to 45 minutes getting them ready for the battle ahead. In the past, blisters have made my long races even more difficult. My friend Kathi Russo let me borrow a book called “Fixing Your Feet.” The book goes into detail as to how to how to prepare and care for your feet during ultra races. I followed the directions for taping, lubricating, and wearing the right socks based on where the problem areas are on my feet. This was the first long race where I walked away without a blister or black toenail. As a reference, I ended up losing 3 toenails after the Boston Marathon last month. My problem areas are with my toes so I brought 2 new pairs of Injinji (5 toe) socks to the race. I wore the Skechers Ultra model. It has a wide toe box and plenty of cushioning even for a 100 miles. The Ultra model has an aggressive tread pattern and not once did I slip and slide on varied terrain on the course. I wore a pair of gaiters over the tops of my shoes to keep the dirt, rocks, and sticks out of my shoe. Not once did I have to take off my shoes to remove any foreign objects.


When we arrived at the race / camp site- Caleb, Stu and Shane had already setup the canopy over our own aid station where we had two 8ft tables on which to set our food and fuel supplies. It is important to have everything at waist level during the race as bending down to pick up something off the ground is too painful to consider. Being this was my first 24-hour race, I brought more than I could ever consume but wanted to err on the safe side. The weather at the start was cool with a slight breeze. The weather could not have been better. The slight drizzle that started at 5am Sunday morning did not have an effect on anyone’s performance.

Caleb Steedley, Martin, Stu Stepp & Shane Vanhoose

The atmosphere was relaxed as families are setting up camp while the kids were playing in the creeks. One racer brought his dog to accompany him for 6 hours. Everyone is cheering each other on and helping in any way. At road races, the competition is with the other runners and how you place compared to them. At Ultra races (unless you are an elite runner), you are only competing with yourself and how far can you go before you stop.

I had some goals for the race in order of importance: A: Be moving at 24 hours, B: Not sit down other than to change clothes, C: Run 100 miles & D: Place in the top 3 for distance. I also wanted to find out how many hours I could run before I started walking up the hills.

The only goal I thought was even possible was to be moving (walking) at 24 hours. The other goals were just plain crazy thinking since I had never run longer than 9 hours (54 miles), only 10% of my running is on trails, and had not run more than 6 hours in the dark in training for the race.

The 3.1 mile trail consisted of a ton of turns, 4 good sized hills, many roots that tried to grab my feet as the race progressed and ½ mile section of greenway payment that featured a severe downhill. The trail was well marked with arrows on the ground and each root was painted white to help you focus and not fall because of them. Each time you completed the loop; you ran by your own aid station to refuel, showed your bib number to the scorer, and took off again. The race aid station featured fruits, drinks, broth, pizza, and every other food group you could imagine. There was a mini aid station at the halfway point deep in the woods. I made it a point to ask the scorer not to tell me how many miles I had run or number of loops. My goal was to be moving at the end and not quit. I did not want the number of miles I had already run to play into whether or not I continued when I entered the “pain cave.”


My only chance for running 24 hours was to not go out too fast and burn out early. I made a commitment to anyone that would listen that I would not allow my heart rate to get over 130 beats per minute for the first 12 hours. My normal aerobic heart rate is 140 to 150 beats per minute. If I fueled correctly, use salt tabs and ate as much solid food as possible, I thought I would have a 50% chance of lasting until the end.

The start was relaxed as the race director thanked everyone for coming and the sponsors. He started the race by saying, “OK go” and everyone started with a slow jog. The first 6 hours, I was always near somebody as the 6, 12 and 24 hour runners started together. I ran 2 loops with Stu and Caleb and noticed my heart rate was climbing on the hills above 140 so I backed off and let them go knowing I had a long night ahead of me. Each time I passed a runner, we would speak and talk about what they wanted to accomplish. Every person had their own reason as to why they would come out and walk/run for 6 hours of more. Many of the participants did not have the lean bodies of runners but somehow found a way to keep moving. I really believe mental strength has more to do with finishing Ultras and then physical ability. Watching 70-year-old men & women completing 65+ miles in 24 hours inspired me. One of my favorite sayings I saw on the back of a running team’s (Runners from Hell) shirts was “Suck it up buttercup.” Ultra runners are not good crowds to complain to if you want sympathy. I visited with some of my Dailymile buddies- Chas W & Sean B.

Before the start, I had mixed up my drinks and got my food ready so I could come by our aid station and pick up what I needed and keep moving. Shane did a great job of refilling my bottles and keeping them on ice for me during the race. Each time I came through, I would grab an ice-cold bandana and tie it around my neck to lower my temperature. One of the time killers I wanted to avoid was spending too much time at the aid station. I was generally in and out within a minute so I was able to stay in a mental zone. One of the many things I observed about myself is how quiet I was as the day continued. I would still give everyone a thumb-up and a smile each time I passed someone. I felt like I had a job to do and needed to put all my energy into completing it. When others would pace me for a lap, I would thank them but not engage in much more talking. I had so many thoughts going through my head and having a hard time concentrating, the best I could do was to keep moving forward. I wore my Garmin watch and only looked at the heart rate and settled into 130 hr zone for the first 11 hours. At 9pm, I took off the watch and ran by feel the rest of the way. I continued to run until 1am when I walked my first hill. I found out that I can run 15 hours without stopping if I fuel correctly and did not let my heart rate surge. I ran without a shirt all afternoon and into the night. At 1am, I put on a short sleeve shirt as the temperatures were in the mid 40’s.

Around 2am, all but a few runners were sleeping. I did not see another runner until 5:30am. My stomach started to give me trouble at 3am so I started eating ginger chews. The ginger helped to settle my stomach and I was able to get my momentum back. Everyone I had spoken with who had completed a 100-mile race told me there would be a bad period during the race and it would be only temporary. I had intentionally not put on any music so I could have that to look forward to when the run got harder. At 4am, I was wiped out but still moving while walking the up and down hills. The down hills are so much tougher for me since I had to break my fall so I did not tumble over. I really slowed down to a 15-16 minute mile pace at this point. The only drink I could keep down was flat coke.
When I completed another loop at 5am, the scorer looked at me and asked what my goal was and I told him a 100. He looked at my miles and said at your current pace, you are not going to make it to 100. He replied, “You will end up at 97 miles.” I would have to average a 12-minute mile pace for the next 4 hours to have a chance. I hung my head and thought about all the people who were texting, calling and praying for me. It would have sucked to tell them I ended up 3 miles short of my goal. Three lousy miles over 24 hours.

Some inner voice spoke to me and said, “I am not going down without a fight.” I have tried so hard to teach my Sons (Sam & Tellor) to push past the pain and always finish strong. Now was the time to put my words into action. I walked back to my aid station, put on my Boston Marathon shirt I had never worn and put on my earphones. I took off. I ran every part of the course including hills to get me back on track. I started just clicking off the loops again and the scorer would smile as I kept coming around every 36 minutes. Shane ran with me at 6am for 3 loops and motivated me to push hard which helped me believe I would hit 100-mile mark. The sun coming up gave me a jolt of energy. I also filled up with hand held bottle with hot broth and Xtend Endurance to refuel each other lap. I started passing others who were walking on the course. Everyone was cheering and giving me high fives as I came through each time.
Just Completed 100 Miles- More Miles to Run

When I hit 100 miles at a little after 9am, the scorer asked me if I was going to quit. He said I was in 2nd place. I told him my first and main goal was to be moving on the course at the end of 24 hours so I kept going even though my pace had slowed down. The race had marshals throughout the course so you could get credit for partial laps and miles. I had to run the last half mile in 5 minutes to get to the next mile marker, which gave me a total of 103 miles. The winner ran 108 miles. I got a nice medal and a gift certificate for 2nd place. Stu Stepp came in second in the 12-hour race and ran 56 miles. Caleb Steedley ran 66 miles and his wife Carla ran 40 miles to give them a team total of 106 miles. Shane Vanhoose put in 40 miles running and keeping us going at the aid station. Gina Lyerly paced us with 19 miles.

After 24 Hours
Caleb & Carla Steedley, Martin & Shane Vanhoose

Things I learned:
·         My ability to concentrate and focus diminished as the race went on. I would get to the aid station and forget what I needed to pack for the next loop. I would be back on the trail and remember I forgot my fuel, etc. The top elite runners have crews who know what to hand them each hour, which takes the thinking away from the runner. My down period came from not remembering to eat and drink previously.
·         I can accomplish more that I can believe when I focus on small goals. My only thought each loop was finishing the one I was running. I never thought about being running outside for 24 hours, total miles, or the amount of effort it would take to run 100 miles. Bite size chunks is all I can mentally handle and be effective.
·         My mental attitude had more to do with me finishing the race than my fitness level. If I am positive and trying to make the best of a tough situation, it goes by faster and is less painful. There was not a moment during the 24 hours where I took the time to complain or think about stopping. My job was to do my best and be glad in it. One trick I used during the race was to smile at each person I encountered and thank every volunteer. The smiling trick worked because when they smiled back I got a boost of energy that kept me going.
·         100 miles is not that far on a loop course. If I had fuel properly at the end, I could have either gotten in another 2 laps or gone longer than 24 hours. This race did not have the altitude and sustained climbing like some of the big boy 100-mile ultra races. This race did give me the confidence to sign up for the Uwharrie 100 miler in October.
·         I need to run more trails than I am currently doing to get ready for the next trail race. Running pace on trails are much slower as the soft ground absorbs all your energy. The terrain is never level so my hips and thighs are reminding me of my little trail training during recovery. Trails are much more fun as the view is always changing and you have to pay attention so you do not trip. The soft ground is also so much easier on your body.
·         When your body is telling you that nothing tastes good, it’s time to get in some calories (fuel). You have go against your intuition (rest, etc) in ultra races.

Gear I Used:
·         Skechers Ultra
·         Xtend Endurance Drink Mix
·         Injinji Socks
·         Vespa Gel
·         Salt Stick with Caffeine Tablets
·         Dirty Girl Ankle Gaiters


  1. An awesome accomplishment! Bravo!!

  2. What an inspiration you are! So glad to have met and ran with you!! #TeamEpic

  3. Thanks Wendell and Team Epic. I am running Dust to Dawn June 28th. It would be great to run with Team Epic again.

  4. Congratulations on your finish. Very nice story.