There are some races races that you never think about again after you cross the finish line, there are some races that you think back on every now and then but they don’t really affect you, and then there are races that stick with you, permeate almost every thought, leave you wanting so much more of it. Strolling Jim is definitely the latter.
Jobie ran SJ last year and said it was a good way to get some miles on the legs before River of No Return. He was running again this year as were Jeff Walton, Sinith, and Roy. 41.2 miles on the road — you want to make sure you know a few faces out there. After surviving Boston, I finally pulled the trigger on SJ with the intention of running it as a training run for RONR. Again, 41.2 miles on the road — I assumed it would be brutal, miserable, and that I’d never want to do it again. Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
I recruited my mom to come crew for me, and around 5:15 am, we headed over to Wartrace. By the time we got there, I had just enough time to pick up my packet, hit the port-a-john, give Yong and my mom a hug, say hey to Jeff, Sinith, and Roy, and toe the line next to Jobie. After an unceremonious start, we were off. We settled into a decent sized pack, right next to some ultrarunning legends. As I was running with them, I knew I was going to pay for it later, but it was oh so worth it. I mean one of the guys had run SJ for as many years as I’ve been on this Earth. When you can run with these guys and listen to what they have to say, you do it. Plus, the miles were really clicking by (probably because we were running under an 8:00 pace) . . . even with the “hills”. Spray painted on the first, shall we say, incline was “This Is Not a Hill” — a theme that would continue throughout the day. (Apparently, Laz doesn’t believe anything under 1000 ft is considered a hill and which according to this, there’d only be 4 hills the entire race) We kept trucking along, listening to ultrarunning war stories from these guys.
The week before the race Jobie warned me that 9 was an evil number — big hills fell around miles 9, 19, and 29. Sure enough, right around mile 9, we just kept going up and up. As we reached the top, the pavement read “That was a a hill”. Yeah, no shit, Laz. Even with the hill, we got to Mom and Yong at mile 10 more quickly than expected. I exchanged out my bottle and kept on running. I still felt good and kept up with the group for another 5 or 6 miles I think. I started running with one of the Huntsville guys, Tim. We ran off and on together throughout the day.
Eventually, Tim and I separated from the pack. For me, wheels started falling off after the hill at mile 19. I had already been struggling a little through miles 17-19, but my stomach and legs just wouldn’t cooperate. I chugged some coke and tried to eat a little bit before getting back after it. I still felt terrible and really had to work hard to keep up with Tim. We each reassessed some of our goals for the day. Mine became just survive and finish, and even that seemed lofty at times. I have never wanted to drop from a race as badly as I did between miles 22-27ish, but I kept thinking about something Tim said a few miles back — the only way he wouldn’t finish a race was if a bone were sticking out. Damn straight. I knew I had to just suck it up and walk the whole damn thing if I had to. (Of course, there were a few moments when I tried to think of the best way to get my bone to stick out so I could quit but those were fleeting). Around mile 23 (I think), I stopped to get some hydration and nutrition, and I told Tim to go on. I had a feeling I’d be there a while. I knew I needed to eat something so I tried a few Pringles. Nope. I threw up everywhere– my first time doing so in a race. I just drank more coke and filled up a bottle with Skratch. After she doused me with gloriously cold water, Mom told me to get out of there. I started shuffling along and pretty soon I felt a little better. I was actually able to enjoy some of the scenery– it truly was a beautiful, bucolic setting for a race.
By the time I got to mom around mile 27 or 28, I was feeling good (good being a relative term). I knew that, with only a half marathon to go, I could finish this race. Per Tim’s earlier suggestion (he was long gone by now), I had Mom mix some coke and water in my bottle. Perfection. It was nice to see Mom every couple of miles so I had her keep that up through the remainder of the race. I was so damn hot and so damn tired that the few minutes “wasted” by stopping every 2 miles were completely worth it.
Soon, I was at mile 30 or the “Walls”– just one rolling hill after another. However, it was pretty shady here, and for some reason, this was my favorite part of the race. After the Walls, we began retracing our steps back towards the finish. There was absolutely no sun, but Mom had a system down for cooling me off and getting me back at it. Eventually, I saw Tim again but our crews were staggered so we didn’t stick together long. Also, he got an amazing second wind, and I never saw him again after mile 35ish. I continued on the country road, talked to another guy, Martin, from Huntsville, really tried to enjoy myself. I was still hot and tired but felt good compared to miles 19-27. At some point, I grabbed Mom’s iPod. I rarely listen to music while I run but was desperate for any little help. “Dancing in the Dark” came on (my favorite Springsteen song) which really picked up until I saw Yong and Mom back together again around 37. Mom gave me some coke while Yong wiped me down with a cool rag. This was my first time having a crew for a race — I really like the star treatment! I asked about Jobie who I hadn’t seen in 20 miles or so, and then Yong told me to go– I only had a 5k left.
Sure enough, not too far down the road were the words “Only a 5k Left, Start Your Kick Now” spray painted on the road. It was on an incline, and my “kick” involved me walking up it. But after that, my legs got going, and I could see Mom up at the 2 miles to go mark. I had her wait there just in case I needed something to make it to the finish. Right as I was getting there, Tony, the guy who’d been helping out Tim and Martin, pulled up beside me and said that somehow the 2nd place female was coming in hot behind me. After all of the struggle and suffering, I did not want to give up first place with 2 miles to go. I dug deep, and fortunately, my legs wanted to cooperate with my heart. I ran past Mom and told her to go on to the finish. Soon, I made my way onto the main road that would carry me home. This section was completely exposed and, shocker, had an incline. I didn’t care though– I was ready to finish and finish first. Tony drove by, gave me the thumbs up, and said homegirl was about 3/4 mile back. I started pushing a little harder. FINALLY, I saw the gas station which was so close to the finish line, pushed as much as I could, and made it across the finish line at 6:16:50. I’ve never been so happy to see Mom, Yong, or Jobie in my life.
All I could tell people after the race was over was that it was absolutely miserable. And it was. But I cannot stop thinking about that damn race and how badly I want to do it again next year. I’m not sure if it’s the vibe or the history or the badassness that surrounds it, but it definitely has a magnetic pull on me right now. So yes, it was brutal, it was miserable, but I will do it again next year. And I’ll do it with much more respect for the Jimmy this time.
*Huge thanks to my mom and to Yong for all of their help. I think part of the reason the day was so special to me was that I got to share this experience with my mom. There were definitely spots in the race where I wouldn’t have wanted to see anyone else out there but her. It meant a lot that she willingly spent her Saturday watching me puke and suffer. Love you, and Happy Early Mother’s Day.
**Thanks also to Nashville Running Company for their support
***I think I repressed parts of the race so if description/mileage/etc are off, please forgive.