Upstate Ultras Race Director, Matthew Hammersmith recently hosted the 4th annual Knock on Wood race series the weekend of May 12th through the 14th, in Greenville, SC. Distances included an 8k, a 50k, a 24 hour and a 100 mile endurance run. All races were starting on Saturday May 13th except for the 100 miler, which was starting at 8pm on Friday May 12th. Since I was taking part in the 100 mile endurance run, I made the 8 hour drive up to South Carolina on Thursday May 11th and spent the night at a nearby hotel. Since the race would not be starting until 8pm the next day, I was able to get up when I wanted, have a nice breakfast and take my time doing some things before heading on out. Just before noon on Friday, I made my way over to the venue which was at the Lake Conestee Nature Park at the main pavilion near the baseball fields. As soon as I got there I met Matt and a few other people who were already setting up their tents and canopies since it would be our home for the next 2 days. The first person that I actually met was George Rainey. George noticed my Florida license plate as I was backing into my parking spot and asked me right away where in Florida I was from. George let me know he was from Pensacola and was part of FUR, like myself, which stands for Florida Ultra Runners (if you didn’t know). George, an older guy with a funny sense of humor, is quite the character. I saw him setting up his tent when I got out of the car and offered to help him set it up if he would help me set up mine, which he did. Since we were just going to spend the rest of the day relaxing by our tents, we took a ride to Publix to get some lunch, ice for my cooler and a few other things for the race. For the remainder of the day we relaxed and helped other people set up their tents, shelters and canopies before taking a late nap before it would be time to get ready for the run.
After getting up from my nap, I took a walk over to where the Fleet Feet Sports of South Carolina had their tents set up. My friend Heather Hart, a fellow InkNBurn Ambassador, was there with her husband Geoff and a bunch of friends that they run with in the Myrtle Beach area. I had reached out to Heather earlier in the year to ask her if the venue and course was worth me driving the 8 hours to get there. She replied to me pretty quickly to say that it definitely was and so that is when I decided to register and let her know I’d see her there. When she saw me walking up, she recognized me right away since we had actually never met in person. The power of social media, right? Anyway, she introduced me to Geoff and all of her friends and they instantly treated me like one of their own. I got the feeling that they liked me since every time I saw them on the course or passed by their tents, they would shout my name, cheer for me and even shout, “We love you Joe!” This made me laugh and smile each time I heard them say it. Halfway through the run I started shouting back “I love you guys too!” They got a kick out of that. The tight knit ultra community is so cool to be a part of and I love being a part of it. Some friends once told me at my first 100 that you should be able to leave each race with 1 new friend, but this one I left with more than a handful. How cool is that! After talking for a bit, it was time to head back to my tent to get ready for the run.
After getting ready for the run around 7pm, I mentally prepared myself for the task that would be at hand, making 20 loops of this 5 mile technical trail course to complete my 3rd 100 mile endurance run. Since trail runs always end up being slower than road runs, I figured 30 to 32 hours would be a good target to complete the race in. That would mean that I would finish between 2am and 4am Sunday morning, allowing myself to sleep in my tent or car for a while before making the trip home to Florida.
After a quick pre-race briefing by Matt and watching the drone take some video of the area, the Star Spangled Banner was played and a few minutes later we were off on our journey.
At this race I was going to stick to my plan from the very beginning and not let anyone else dictate what I was doing. It’s hard when you first start a run and everybody busts out like there’s no tomorrow and you want to try to keep up, but you need to ignore that. A 100 mile endurance run is no joke and like I always say, slow and steady wins the race. Well, maybe not wins the race, but completes the distance. This time around I planned to do a FB live video after every 10 miles (2 loops) to let everyone know where I was and how I was doing.
Shortly into the first loop, the rain that had been holding off for the entire day finally made its appearance and continued for almost the entire time it took me to complete the first two loops. It wasn’t a torrential downpour like they had been calling for, but at times it was a steady rain and even though we had canopy from the trees, we still got wet. Being that it was nighttime and we were already wearing our headlamps, you really had to watch your footing on the technical parts since the course got a bit slippery, which slowed everybody down. I finished the first 10 miles in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. Tailwind Nutrition, which was the official fuel for the runs this weekend, was being consumed at a steady rate, approximately every 7 to 8 minutes, totaling about 20 to 24 ounces every hour. This early on in the race I don’t concern myself with taking in any other type of calories other than my Tailwind. I did fill my first two bottles with their Tropical Buzz flavor, which is caffeinated, to jumpstart the run. I also took an S-Cap after each loop. These things saved my run at Daytona in December and now never run an ultra without them.
Before heading on out for loops 3 and 4, I decided it would be a good idea to change out of my wet shirt and into a dry one, including a pullover and a new hat, since the rain had made the air a bit cool and damp. After refilling my 2 handhelds with Tailwind, I was off. Once again, with the rain from earlier making the course wet and muddy, I had to take my time and watch my step, especially on the first part of the course where you are maneuvering around rocks and roots while going up and down inclines and making your way through switchbacks. Every now and then I had to steady myself by slowing down or grabbing a tree. Slowly but surely I made my way around the course 2 more times and by the time I hit 20 miles it was just after 1am putting me at a pace of about 4 miles per hour.
When I was finally done with 6 loops and 30 miles in, it was around 4am. That meant I had been running for about 8 hours already and I was a little tired, but feeling good. I was making my Tailwind a bit stronger to get the extra calories and eating some pretzels. It was still dark at this time and so I was still being cautious on the trail. It takes a toll on your legs, but nothing I knew I couldn’t do. I was really looking forward to the next 2 loops since it would mean daylight!
When 8 loops were finally complete and I was 40 miles in, it was light out again and I was able to see what I was running on. It was now about 7:40am and I had been out on the course for almost 12 hours. I was getting a bit tired from being in the dark for such a long time, but the daybreak gave me a second wind and I was ready to continue. A funny moment that I have to share is that during my 7th loop, I closed my eyes while taking a walk break and missed the turn onto the trail. I knew pretty much right away though since the surroundings didn’t look familiar and I backtracked about 25 yards. I thought that was pretty funny. It was also great to finally get the headlamp off my head.
Before I knew it, 10 loops were complete, I was 50 miles in and I was halfway to finishing this run. It was shortly before 11am at this time and I was feeling great! Before heading on out for loops 9 and 10, I changed out of my wet shirt, put on another (InkNBurn of course), threw on a pullover and this time added my Headsweats KONA visor since it was still a bit overcast and the sun wouldn’t bother my head too much. I was eating and drinking like I was supposed to. I did have a banana, pretzels and even a few potatoes after finishing loop 10. I also started taking a few sips of Coke after each loop to get some extra carbs in me. It’s just something that has stuck with me for each of my 100’s.
It was around 2:15pm when I finally finished my 12th loop and 60 miles. I was only 2 miles away from the 100k mark and was still keeping up with my facebook live video poats to let everyone know how I was doing. I was getting a bit tired but really enjoying myself. The course is beautiful. Shortly before finishing up my 12th loop, we had to be rerouted due to someone having a heart attack on the course and the emergency vehicles being there. It was a scary moment and I took a few minutes to stop and say a prayer that he would be ok. Moments like this put life in perspective and it really hits home. Luckily, Matthew, the RD, was prepared and did everything he had to before the EMT’s arrived and took over. I’m not going to mention his name, but I did reach out to him personally after finding out who it was and just let him know that we were all thinking of him and are so happy he is ok. He is now a friend of mine on Facebook and I look forward to hopefully seeing him again one day at another race.
Shortly before 6pm I completed mile 70, 14 loops and was truckin’ on. Obviously I was getting tired at this point, but there was no stopping me. I was feeling good and continuing to do everything I was supposed to to get me through these next 30 miles. At some point it had gotten a bit sunny again and so I changed into my I Love Ultra Running hat.
Before heading on out for loop 15, I knew it would be getting dark again soon and had to put my headlamp back on. I was hoping I would get at least one more loop in the light before needing to turn it on but I couldn’t take the chance and not bring it. By the time I was finished with my 16th loop and 80 miles were complete, it was about 9:30pm and I was getting tired. At that point, even though I had only been on the course for about 25.5 hours, I had been up for about 37 hours since the race had started at night and I had been up since 6am Friday morning. This is definitely something to keep in mind when running a 100 mile endurance run that starts in the evening.
The next 2 loops that got me to 90 miles were just all mental at that point. I was tired and ready to get this done. The only thing was that I was now maneuvering over the roots and rocks again in the dark and more tired than the night before. I found myself holding onto trees to keep my balance even more so than previously in the run. There was even one point where I hit a small stump with the toe of my shoe and literally thought I was going to face plant. It was one of those moments where my arms were swinging to try to keep me upright but my body was falling forward at such a pace that all I could think was, “Oh crap, I hope I don’t hit anything hard.” Luckily for me my legs caught up to my body and I was able to get control and keep from falling. Talk about a scary moment!
Loop 19, miles 90 to 95, had to be the weirdest loop of the entire run. I was very tired at that point and by myself, like I had been for most of the run. My headlamp was making everything seem as if I was looking through a haze. This is where I really hallucinated for the first time ever. I was walking a part of the road when something to the left of me caught my eye. When I turned to look at what it was, I saw the trees just floating and bouncing up and down. It startled me to such a degree that I yanked the charging cable off of my Garmin that I was charging on the go at that time. It was at that point that I really thought about lying down on the road and closing my eyes, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I got my bearings under control and trudged on. A short while later, while on another section of road, I started seeing these 2 red lights just bouncing in the air way up in front of me that looked like alien eyes. Not that I would know what alien eyes look like, but this is what I instantly thought of. Because I never wear my glasses on a run and am near sighted, the 2 lights turned into 4 and it looked like 2 aliens were just bouncing up and down in mid air. I had to keep telling myself that I was seeing things, but I could tell that I was getting closer and they didn’t disappear. Sure enough, when I got even closer, I realized it was my friend George and his friend and I was seeing the light from their headlamps as they were walking. This was a big relief for me to catch up to people since there were only a few of us still on the course at that time. I finished loop 19 with them and was happy to be back at the tent with only 1 loop to go.
At this time, I had only one lap left and I was going to run it with George just to have some company even though they had about 8 loops to go at that point. Before heading on out though, I decided that it was finally time to eat my Chick Fil A sandwich that was in my cooler. The local Chick Fil A gave away chicken sandwiches in the morning, but at that time I was not ready to eat it. Luckily, I had my cooler with me filled with ice and so I stored it for a later time when I really needed it and now was that time. I needed some brain food to get me back on track for the last loop. Talk about getting a bolt of energy. After finishing the sandwich, I felt like it was hours earlier and I had all of this energy to burn. Even though I was supposed to be running this last loop with George and his friend, they were still not ready when I was, so I decided to just take off on my own, especially since I was ready to run again. I ran for 75% of that final loop and when I crossed the timing mat for the 20th time, I had just completed my 3rd 100 mile endurance run with a time of 33 hours, 59 minutes and 20 seconds and I was so happy.
This 100 was definitely the toughest of the 3 that I’ve done so far and was so happy that it was finally complete.
Like always, I want to thank Tailwind Nutrition for being the best fuel that works for me. I used it more than I ever have in any of my 100’s so far. I used the caffeinated Tropical Buzz for the first 2 loops to jumpstart my run, switched to my Naked Unflavored for the next 75 miles, modifying it as necessary to add more calories in the later miles and then even switched back to Tropical Buzz for the last 15 miles to give me that jolt from being up for so long and being so tired. I am proud to be a Tailwind Trailblazer for them and hope that I can remain one for a long time. If you are looking for a fuel that works, please try Tailwind Nutrition, you will not be disappointed. I also want to thank INKnBURN for being the only tech shirts I wear. The shirt might have been covered up at certain times by a jacket or pullover, but the base layer was always INB. At the times that the shirt was not covered up, I was constantly being complimented for the awesome shirt I was wearing and I did wear 3 different styles. INB’s Dry Ice technology makes their shirts, in my opinion, one of the best on the market. Headsweats trucker hats always makes its presence known while I am running and this time was no exception. I even sported a visor for the very first time in any run, the KONA, and I loved it. My I Love Ultra Running trucker hats even made appearances in this run including the new Keys reflective hat. I love representing my PUR / I Love Ultra Running family any time that I can and I sure did that up in SC that weekend. A number of people asked where I had gotten these awesome hats and so of course I let them know. I also let it be known that I was a part of the iRun4Ultra family that I also love being a part of. Even though I am not an ambassador for them, I always like to thank AltraRunning for their awesome running shoes and Balega International for the incredible socks they produce. I wear nothing but these two brands when I run and coupled together at this run, they kept my feet dry and blister free. For this run I chose my Altra Lone Peaks and my Balega Blister Resist. My C3Fit calf compression sleeves also made an appearance for a short while and like everything else, worked out perfect for that weekend. My run would also not be what it was without all of the support from all of my friends near and far on all social media outlets. The likes and loves and comments I received while doing my live posts meant so much to me. Each time they gave me that drive to get the next 2 loops completed. And last, but certainly not least, I would not be the man and runner I am today if it were not for my wife Kasi, who said to me seven and a half years ago, when I said to her that I wanted to train for and run a marathon, that I should because she knew I could do it. I haven’t stopped running since that day and have taken my running to distances I never would have believed I could do. She knows and understands the passion I have for this sport of ultra running and she is my biggest supporter and fan. Thanks for being who you are honey. I love you!
If you are looking to run an awesome 100 in the South Carolina area in May, Knock On Wood is the perfect venue for all the right reasons.
For me, it’s now on to the next adventure!!
Run Hard, Run Strong and #stayvertical my friends