Running 100 Miles at The Yeti 100

My first attempt at running 100 miles was at The Yeti 100 on the Virginia Creeper Trail. The Creeper Tail is 33.4 miles long and spans from Whitetop Station to Abingdon. On the way there it passes through the town of Damascus, VA at more or less the mid point. The race consisted of three laps of the trail starting at Whitetop going to Abingdon, back to Whitetop, and finishing back at Abingdon.

I arrived in Damascus with one of my pacers Brandon Thursday night. Our first stop was the packet pickup where we were greeted by the very friendly RD Jason Green. Looking around at all the runners began to get me very excited about this race for the first time in a few weeks. I should back up a bit and say that for the past week and a half I did not think that I would be here for this race. I had an issue with my knee that popped up 10 days before race day which left me hobbling around kind of depressed wondering how after nine months of healthy training for this race could I now get injured? I iced it, stretched a lot and went to see Wes at Antifragile PT. He assured me that it was not an issue with my MCL or meniscus but that because of a tight hamstring and quad, my knee bursa was irritated and inflamed. He stuck me with a few dry needles and sent me on my way. It still hurt to run so I continued babying it with ice and stretching over the next few days before the race, not running at all. When I showed up at the start line I still had no idea if I could even run 100 yards much less 100 miles. I couldn’t stand the thought of not showing up and at least trying after all of the training time I had invested into preparing for the race. I had let both of my pacers who are also good friends of mine know exactly what was going on with my knee and told them that I completely understood if they didn’t want to devote their entire weekend to a race that very possibly might not even happen. They both responded that they would be there. True friends!

It was still dark when Jason the RD wished us all well and sent us on our way at 7AM on Friday morning. I was full of excitement and worry about what was going to transpire over the next ten minutes. I figured by then that I would know one way or another how my knee was going to respond to running again. Brandon was going to meet me at the first aid station to see what the verdict was. I told him that I would either see him in an hour and a half or in three hours depending on my knee.

As the clock struck 7 and Jason said GO, I watched as the front runners trotted forward and then I proceeded to do the same, only with my fingers crossed. What I found amazed me. No pain! At all! I said thank you, thank you, thank you out loud!

The first18 miles are downhill going through a beautiful forest of hardwoods with their leaves just beginning to show the first signs of fall. The trail follows and crosses several streams numerous times on 47 trestles and at one point crosses Holston lake on a beautiful and very long trestle. I focused on keeping a slow pace over the easy terrain in order to conserve as much as possible for the coming long hours through the upcoming night. I chatted with a handful of runners on and off for the first section going down and in what seemed like no time at all I was in Damascus feasting on an enormous bagel that Brandon had procured for me and filling water bottles. I felt very good at this point and was still riding the high of actually being able to run. It’s very true that things are a lot sweeter if you have been without them for a while. I changed shoes because the Altras that I started the race in were apparently a half size too small causing my toes to jam into the front of the shoe on the 16 mile decent. I switched out into a pair of Nike Pegasus and immediately my feet felt better. Up next was a flat section of trail all the way to the Holston Lake crossing followed by a 7 mile climb up to Abingdon and the turn around point. At this point the sun was out in full force and I could tell that it was zapping my energy. Realizing this I began to drink more water between aid stations and at aid stations. I feel like this was a crucial element to my ultimate success as I have read over and over again about runners getting behind on hydration and nutrition in 100 milers, not realizing until it’s too late and then not being able to get caught back up in time. In terms of nutrition for me in this race, I ate EVERYTHING and my stomach was feeling great pretty much for the entire 26 hours. So much food! Pro Bars, bagels, grilled cheese, quesadillas, gels, tailwind, cookies, avocado and sea salt sandwiches, trail mix, oranges, bananas, PBnJ, ramen noodles, and gallons upon gallons of water. I made it up to Abingdon and got to see my crew for a few seconds before turning around to do it all over again in reverse only now I knew exactly what to expect on the second of three laps. The trip back down to Damascus was fairly uneventful aside from seeing some poor cyclist have to get carted away by EMS after a crash and I had to stop to take care of my feet. It felt like instantly and out of nowhere I noticed pain on both feet in the same spot (just behind and to the side of ball of foot). I felt no hot spots. Just BAM, blisters. I stopped, sat down, took off my socks and shoes to asses the damage. On both feet were quarter sized blisters filled taught with fluid. I wasted no time in grabbing a safety pin from my race bib and draining those suckers. I also enlarged the drain holes I had made so that they would continue to drain throughout the remainder of the race. Lastly, before putting my socks and shoes back on, I slathered both feet with Bag Balm to ensure that this would not happen again – and I’m happy to report that it didn’t! Looking back if I were to do this race again I would definitely wear gaiters to keep out the minute limestone pebbles that make up the surface of the entire trail. I would estimate that I had to stop to empty my shoes at least a dozen times before the finish. Gaiters would have prevented this. Around mile 42 I picked up Dalton who was my first pacer. He was with me for the next 25 miles all the way back up to Whitetop through the black night. Running at night is something that I have done before and somewhat enjoy but running in the dark after running for 13 hours through the day was an all new experience for me. I began to slow down considerably and adopted a run 5 minute/walk 1 minute strategy that seemed to be perfect for my current mental and physical state. It allowed me to still make decent forward progress but also have time to recover. We did this all the way up to Whitetop at mile 67. I have never run with a pacer in a race before but I now have huge respect for them. Dalton was awesome in his self appointed duties of keeping track of my 5 minutes of running and 1 minute walk breaks, letting my know when to go and when to stop. We talked the entire time about everything under the sun and before I knew it we were at Whitetop with 66.8 miles on my feet! I felt great. I had noticed that the temperature had dropped but with the constant movement I was plenty warm in just my T shirt. That changed quickly as soon as I stopped to fill bottles and grab some food. I began shaking uncontrollably. Once again my pacers came through for me with a long sleeved shirt, jacket, and gloves. I was ready to rock and roll the last 33.4 miles to the finish and I knew if I kept my current average pace that I would get there in under 24 hours. Oh, the things I did not know!

I switched up pacers before heading down the mountain. Brandon would be joining me all the way in. I knew that if there was anyone in the world come hell or high water that could get me back to Abingdon, it would be Brandon. Turns out that sure enough, he was the man for the job.

I’m not sure of what time it was when we left the aid station but it was very dark and the stars were plentiful. It was beautiful and somehow I felt great. Brandon and I talked about what an awesome experience this was and how it compared to our days on our AT thru hike. Life was great! We resumed the run/walk strategy for a few sessions and then I decided to turn on some music to run to. This got me all fired up and gave me an adrenalin rush. I was ready to GET IT! I felt great. We ran straight through three songs and passed a handful of runners because of it. Then, the bottom fell out. I lost everything that I had. I was 71 miles (16 miles further than I had ever run before in my life) into a 100 mile race and at that point it was everything I could do to shuffle my feet forward at 2mph. I was truly creeping on the Creeper Trail. Everything hurt. Especially my feet and the tendons on the top of my feet. I had been riding an adrenalin high and once it was over, it felt like everything was over. I got passed over and over again. I was frustrated that I could not move any faster. Come on Bryson! It’s just walking! I said to myself. Walking felt impossible. Through what turned out to be 7 miles of my “creeping” we finally made it to the Damascus aid station where I had to have assistance negotiating the slight decline to the aid tent. It was bad. At the aid station I sat down and enjoyed some hot Ramen out of a solo cup while listening to the music that was pumping through the speakers. Brandon and Dalton were running around gathering up everything that I might need for what would undoubtedly be a very long 17 miles to the finish. I’m not sure how to explain it other than running for 21 hours straight will break down some barriers within you, but I began to feel overcome with emotion. Overcome with gratitude toward Brandon and Dalton for devoting their weekend to my goal. And overcome with gratitude just to be here now in the moment feeling so alive! I left that aid station feeling much better mentally and physically than when I had arrived. I still hurt badly and still thought that I could not run but I knew that it was all going to be just fine. Upon exiting the aid station I happened to glance over at the huge red ticking clock over to the side of the course. It said 21:30. I started doing calculations in my head. I had 17 miles to go and 8.5 hours to get there. If I continued on at the pace in which I had entered Damascus I could just barely make the 30 hour cutoff time. I decided resolutely in my mind that I was going to get it in gear and give absolutely everything that I had for the rest of the race. There was no way that I was going to miss the cutoff.  I think that I surprised Brandon when I shared my plan with him. It was like a walking zombie telling him that, okay, now I’m going to run! I asked him to keep track of 5 minutes for me and I took off. Don’t get me wrong I was not breaking any speed records here but I was also moving considerably faster than I had been in the previous 5 hours. I immediately felt better. I still hurt pretty much everywhere but mentally I was golden. I knew that I would make it to the finish. We ran 5 minutes and power hiked 5 minutes through the last of the darkness of night, through the sun rising up for the second time since I had started running, through the early Saturday morning joggers and bikers out enjoying the trail, and through the burning fatigue coursing through my body. We ran over each trestle that I silently thanked that I would not have to run over again. Honestly both Brandon and I became a little giddy, laughing at anything and everything. Be it delirium or impending accomplishment I’m not sure but we were some happy fellas!

A sight that I’ll never forget as long as I live is rounding that last bend in the trail and seeing the finish line where Jason stood open armed to welcome me to mile 100.2 and the end of this adventure. He hugged and congratulated me and handed me my first 100 mile belt buckle. My beautiful wife Erica was there to give me a kiss and a huge smile. Everyone was so happy and I felt pure joy. I have never been so broken before but I’ve also never felt so alive.

It was a truly unique thing to have so many people gathered together to take part in what most folks think of as a quite insane self imposed task of running 100 miles. Many people that I told of my plans to do so met me with questions of why would you want to put your body through that? Are you off your rocker? Is that even possible?

I did it simply because of the challenge that it presented to me. It was new territory and a complete unknown. Up until I crossed that finish line I honestly could not even fathom covering 100 miles in one push with nothing but my own two feet. Is that even possible? For me?

I did it because it required unwavering commitment and strengthened my perseverance. I did it to see how strong my will and my body had become over the many months of training. I did it to test my character. I did it because if I never tried I would never know. I, along with all of the rest of the world only have this one life to live and I don’t want to miss out on any adventure that comes my way. This is one adventure that will always be with me and I am so thankful to have had opportunity to give it a go!