Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Endless Journey - The Maine 100 Mile Wilderness Run -86 Miles - 29.5hrs

I almost thought it wasn't going to happen. Getting to the starting line that is. With car trouble starting in Wells, Maine, a two hour pit stop at the Subaru dealership for fixing and a late arrival at the campground, stress levels were at an all time high.

I had wanted to go over last minute logistics with my crew (brother in law Adam and former student Ben) so we were all on the same page. The darkness and us getting some sleep took precedence and we were all in tents by 10pm.

Up at 3:45 to a quick breakfast, bathroom check and dress rehearsal in the darkness, quickly became 4:30am with only 15 minutes to spare before the pre-race meeting held on abol bridge. I threw on my trusty Tecnica Diablo's (which I wore for the entire race) and slowly sauntered over to the bridge. Ian, the run organizer gave us a few instructions (follow the white blazes) and reminded us we were on our own out there so be careful.

We all walked over the bridge, found the trail head, snapped some pics and 3,2,1 we were off.

Leg 1 - Abol Bridge to Pollywog Gorge ( 20 miles)

I wanted to go out conservative on this first 20 segment. I began by running with the leaders and eventual record holders for about 2 miles before I backed off and came to my senses. They were on a tear and I knew it. I also knew I didn't want any part of it. So for the better part of the next 8 miles I ran solo. I could hear voices every once in awhile in the distance but then they would fade for a bit. I passed a few thru-hikers on this stretch and conversated about our adventures and such. It was here the two behind me, Nate and Hogan, caught up around mile10 and joined my one man party. Nate and Hogan were great company after running a few hours by myself. Hogan and youngster at 23 had already run from Maine to Florida (holy s!) and Nate had done some 50 milers in his ultra career. None of us had done a 100 before and did not really know what was in front of us. Hogan's dad, Roger, another great guy, met up with us just before the second aid station, so my initial solo party emerged as a foursome on Jo Mary Rd.

Leg 2 Pollywog Gorge - Jo Mary Rd (20 miles)

Roger, Hogan and myself took off first from the aid station feeling real good. Nate was changing out clothes and such and would join us briefly. We had a good pace going on some runnable sections and seemed to drop Roger and pick up a charging Nate. We ran together for the better part of 8 miles when Nate took a break by a river and Hogan and I kept pushing. We got to know each other well on this section. I have so much respect for such a young dude like Hogan. He's got his head on straight and really has the drive to do anything he puts his mind to. We hit some rough patches here, almost simultaneously, but pushed on together like true ultra warriors. At this point, we were running all runnable sections and walking the tough uphills and rooty/rocky stuff. Nate managed to power walk the whole way we had just ran and eventually caught up with us somewhere past the 3/4 mark of the section. We ran together as a trio, but at this point, and I'm not sure why I just needed to be alone. I had come out of a funk, ate a bunch and felt really good. We seemed to be walking a bit more than I liked and decided to just put the hammer down. I don't know what happened but I think I said I'm gonna run now guys and just took off. I felt really good for awhile and hit the aid station and felt like garbage. My crew got me packed up and sent me right off like any good crew would do.

Leg 3 Jo Mary Road to Logan Brook (13 miles)

Don't really remember too much during this segment. Many cool rivers and lakes. I ran this section solo and slow. Many bog bridges to cross and some rocky sections as well. I ran out of water at some point and crossed a road only to find some guy with a broken down van. I asked for water and he gladly gave me some of his (trail magic at its best). So with a little water back in me I headed uphill for what I thought in my mind was the climb to logan brook road. It was, which I gladly rolled into and sat down around 7pm. 53 miles into the race, I was already a mess. Head was off and stomach was off as well. I wasn't eating much food during the run but pigged out at the aid station. Adam told me the next part was tough. I knew this from studying the map prior but didn't really realize the scope of things. Its getting dark, I'm messed up mentally, I'm going to be alone and I'm in the middle of freaking Maine on the AT!!!

Leg 4 Logan Brook - Katahdin Iron Works Road (17 miles)

So with that in mind I got up and left. My crew looked at each other (and told me later) that they expected me to drop and we'd all head home. They were worried about my state and knew I had a long stretch ahead. Climbing White Cap Mtn from the road had my mind in a frenzy. Do I turn around and head back? Do I push on and see what happens? Get up? Don't sit down, you need to move? The thoughts played out in my head were something I can't even begin to describe on paper. I was in a dark place and wanted to get out. I began to see things flash across the trail, trees pulsate in front of me and even thought I saw some headlamps up ahead at times. I was mentally crushed. Physically at this point I felt good, in fact, when the trail flattened and joined pleasant river road (an old logging road turned trail i think), I turned on the jets and was running sub 8 minute miles all the way to the river crossing. I knew I had a few tenths to go (actually added a few by going to the gulf hagas parking lot and back but whats a few more tenths...) and arrived at the aid at 2am.

Leg 5 KI Road to Long Pond Rd. (16 miles)

Ben would be my pacer on this leg of the trip. It was nice to actually run with someone after being alone for so long. Although I didn't really feel like talking all the time, Ben kept my spirits up with his stories and  kept reminding me to take sips of water or to take and an s cap. I had not eating anything on the last leg and only ate a small piece of  a potato and a banana at the aid station before we left. I really began to get tired on this leg and actually lay on a rock slab for a few minutes and slept. I got really cold and started to shiver (which scared Ben a bit to find out later), but once moving i felt OK. This section sucked. I thought it was 4 mountains, but it was five. I thought we had gone over 4 and it was only 3. It was up and down for 16 miles and at many times foot and toe crushing descents. And I think that's what did me in. My feet on the top of Barren Mtn (the last mt) were toast. Every step was agony and I had mentally given up at this point. Get me to the aid and I'm done I told Ben. All I wanted to do was see my wife and little daughter. I actually started to cry when I thought about them. They had been in my thoughts from the forefront and when times got rough I kept reciting "I love you Kate and I love you Isla". Somehow this took my mind of the pain for so long but now it was just unbearable. No phrase could help, just me sitting down and ending this journey.

When I arrived at the long pond rd aid station, the guys were great and supported my decision. I had told them in the beginning to not let me quit, but I think they knew it was hopeless. As we packed up, Hogan had arrived and was looking to head back out with someone. His crew came over and tried to persuade me to rejoin the race. I would of loved to finish with Hogan but it was not to be. Looking back, I could have done many things differently. Change shoes (I wore the same pair for 86 miles), change socks more often (only change 2x), tried to eat more (tough when I puked over 20x on leg 4 and 5), or maybe tried to duct tape my feet and attempted to hobble the last 14 miles.

I can't look back now, only forward. I had a great adventure and met some amazing people along the way. The landscape that I saw and experienced were well worth the pain and effort. I'm not sure if I want to try this run again, but who knows, I've said that about other races and found myself at the starting line the next year...


  1. Sounds like an amazing and crazy race...you will get that 100 just keep on keeping on

  2. Nice report Justin. Your comments seem to echo those of Ian: The course was more rugged than expected. You did a very good effort - one that you should be very proud of. Hope you have a quick recovery and a good fall running season.
    Bob Najar

  3. Thanks Dan and Bob for the positive comments! It was so so hard. I heard one runner, Roger Marquis say, "This ain't no runnin trail, its a hiking trail!" And boy was he right. Thanks again.