I finally arrived at the race start area at approximately 4:45 AM. It was only about 15 minutes before the official start of the 3rd annual Thomas Jefferson 100K (TJ100K), which took place on March 12, 2016.
I wish I could say that my arrival time that morning was intentional. Unfortunately, that was not the case. After checking-in and claiming a space for my camp chair and gear bag at the start/finish area, it was already time to line up at the start. No time to warm up. No time to even think. The race started at 5AM sharp with race director and ultra-running legend Andy Jones-Wilkins (AJW) leading the final countdown.
And just like that, we were off…
The TJ100K course consists of 7 laps or loops on 8.9 miles of trails through Walnut Creek Park (outside of Charlottesville, VA). It was dark for most of the first loop, so I didn’t learn much about the course the first time around. I knew that there were a lot of roots, rocks, and some elevation changes. There is about 1200 feet of elevation gain/loss per loop for a total of about 8400 feet overall. The course was well marked with reflective streamers hanging from trees. I was only able to turn off my headlamp a few minutes before completing the first loop.
I ran with a pack of runners for most of the first loop and we were going at a pretty good pace—under 10 minutes per mile. Part of me knew I was starting out too fast, but I still felt good during and after the first loop. It went by much quicker than I was expecting. Before I knew it, I saw the lights of the mid-point aid station. I only stopped to drink some Tailwind and grab a Huma gel, which are delicious by the way, and then kept going. Then after what felt like no time at all, but was probably around 45 minutes, I was back at the start/finish area. So far so good.
- Loop 1 Time: 1:28:20
- Loop 1 Pace: 9:55 minutes/mile
After refueling at the aid station (more on aid stations later), dropping off my headlamp in my gear bag, and stopping by the port-a-john, I was off again. This time, I could actually see the course. Most of it was single track trail. There were very few flat areas and a lot of twists and turns. And like I mentioned, there were plenty of rocks and roots.
During the middle of the second loop is when I felt blisters starting to form on the inner balls of both my feet. I think the extra moisture from the early morning humidity, the tight turns, and quick elevation changes caused my feet to rub and slide more than usual. It was a little frustrating to have to deal with blisters only 14 miles into a 62 mile race. But one of the benefits of a multi-loop course is logistics. I knew I had to take care of the problem before it got worse and thankfully my gear bag was only 4 miles away.
Many runners’ second loop was actually faster than their first. My second loop was about 6 minutes slower. I think some of that was the blisters and the stop I made at the start/finish area between loop 1 and 2. But I think part of it was also due to the fact that I could see the course. Because I could see, the cautious part of my brain took over and caused me to go a little slower on the ascents and descents. Whether that was a good or bad thing, I’m not sure.
- Loop 2 Time: 1:34:50
- Loop 2 Pace: 10:37 minutes/mile
At the end of loop 2, I was still feeling good despite the blisters. However, with 44 miles of running left, I needed to address that problem. Fortunately, I brought duct tape for emergencies such as this. While not the ideal solution (more on this in the “What I’d do differently section”), it was all I had so it would have to do. After sitting in my camp chair at the start/finish and pulling off my shoes and socks, I could see the blisters on the balls of both feet already. They were doozies and they had already popped. Ripped was more like it. Soon, they would just be a raw painful mess. I looped the duct tape around the top and bottom of both feet, fully covering the blisters and holding the flaps of skin in place. I knew if I didn’t go around the entire foot, the tape would just bunch up and slide off. After taping both feet, I was off again. Thus explains part of the 15 minute jump in my time from loop 2 and loop 3. No worries though, because the rest of loop 3 went pretty well. The duct tape wasn’t comfortable, but it was doing its job. After a few miles, I forgot all about it.
- Loop 3 Time: 1:49:01
- Loop 3 Pace: 12:15 minutes/mile
Loop 4 is where things started to slow down. My legs started to feel tired. I walked up more of the ascents. I went slower on the descents. I also took a little longer at the aid stations. I also felt that time seemed to go by much slower between the aid stations. It was strange though. Some parts of the course, like this one large overturned tree, seemed to appear more often. And another sign nailed to a tree that said “Scud Row” (whatever that means) would also seem to appear too often. But the aid stations, those seemed to be 10 miles apart instead of just 4.5 miles.
One of the drawbacks of a multi-loop course is that it can get repetitive and lead to quicker mental fatigue. Despite it feeling like everything was repeating quickly except the aid-stations, I felt the course was long enough and varied enough that the repetitive loops weren’t an issue. On the other hand, one of the benefits of a multi-loop course is that you can think of the remaining distance in loops instead of miles or time. Finishing the fourth loop, I remember thinking that I only have 3 loops left, which seemed much less daunting than thinking I have 27 miles or almost 6 hours of running left.
- Loop 4 Time: 1:55:18
- Loop 4 Pace: 12:57 minutes/mile
Even though I knew it was physically impossible, I would have sworn the hills were getting steeper and longer with each loop. During loop 5, my feet and legs were very sore and my blisters, although not getting much worse thankfully, still hurt. I also didn’t trust my legs to go too quickly on the descents. The last thing I wanted to do was trip, fall, and injure myself.
Again, it helped to think about the remaining distance in loops instead of miles or time. Throughout the fifth loop, I kept thinking to myself that once I finished this loop, my wife would pace me for the 6th loop. Running with my wife to keep me company would help the 6th loop go by quickly. And then once that was over, I would just have one loop left. These simple thoughts kept me moving forward.
- Loop 5 Time: 1:57:12
- Loop 5 Pace: 13:10 minutes/mile
My wife joined me on loop 6 and proceeded to talk for the entire 9 miles, which was helpful, don’t get me wrong. I appreciated the company. It helped the two hours go by much faster. I think I was good about responding and carrying on the conversation at first. But as the loop dragged on, I am pretty sure my responses got shorter and shorter until I was just grunting. She either didn’t notice or didn’t mind.
- Loop 6 Time: 2:09:05
- Loop 6 Pace: 14:30 minutes/mile
Loop 7 – The Last Lap
When I completed the 6th loop, AJW called off my name over the microphone. He said I might want to grab my headlamp unless I wanted to play a little game and try and beat the sunset. The challenge would have been fun, but I didn’t want to risk an injury so close to the finish. So I grabbed by headlamp and stuck it in the front of my vest just in case.
Besides, I already had something to motivate me. I knew that finishing in under 12 hours wasn’t going to be possible. But 13 hours was still within reach and that provided me a little extra oomph to push myself.
The last loop did seem to take forever. There was that same overturned tree. There was that same “Scud Row” sign. My wife was waiting at the midpoint aid station to snap a few pictures and send me on my way. After thanking those volunteers, I was off again.
Unfortunately, about a mile before the finish, I had my second fall of the day. My foot hit a hidden root and it was a complete wipe-out. Fortunately, it was on a less rocky part of the course. My hands got a little scraped up where I slid on the dirt, but that was it. After dusting myself off, I continued on to the finish.
Going up that last hill and seeing the finish line was a great feeling. Then finally walking under the finish line banner was amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get in under 13 hours, but that was okay. At that point, I was just happy to be done.
After I crossed the finish line, AJW came and gave me a big hug. Did it cross his mind that I was sweaty and gross? If it did, he didn’t act like it. He also handed me the “finishing medal” for the race; a crisp 2 dollar bill with Thomas Jefferson himself on it, which I thought was a nice touch.
- Loop 7 Time: 2:10:39
- Loop 7 Pace: 14:40 minutes/mile
- Total Time: 13:04:28
- Total Pace: 12:39 minutes/mile
Bib Pickup and Pre-race Dinner
A few words about the non-running parts of the race.
Bib pick-up and a pre-race dinner was at the Tandom House School on Friday evening before the race. Included in the race packet was a nice simple t-shirt, a stainless steel mug, and a beer from the local brewery.
The pre-race dinner was mandatory for runners and included in the cost of the race. As a nice bonus, all crew and family members were also able to enjoy the dinner at no extra cost. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the dinner. Maybe some regular spaghetti with meat sauce. However, I was wrong. The food was great. There were multiple types of pasta including a tasty pesto spaghetti, an outstanding rice dish, salad, and dessert. I was pleasantly surprised by the dinner. I didn’t plan on stuffing myself, but I couldn’t help it.
Toward the end of the meal, AJW gave an introduction to the course, the support, and provided some instructions.
There were two aid stations on the course—one at the start/finish area and another about halfway through the loop. Both aid stations were very well stocked throughout the day with plenty of Huma gels, Tailwind, water, and a variety of other hot and cold food such as chips, pretzels, PB&J sandwiches, grill cheese sandwiches, pot stickers, noodle soup, waffles, bacon, burgers, and I could go on and on. In addition to the plethora of food, the aid stations were also well staffed with helpful volunteers.
Award and Post-Race Breakfast on Sunday
The awards were handed out at the post-race breakfast Sunday morning. Awards were given to the top male and female overall finishers and top male and female masters finishers. Two friends tied for first place, crushing the course record by over 30 minutes. Check out the fun pictures of them crossing the finishing line together on the TJ100K Facebook page. The third place finisher also beat the previous course record. Here are the overall results.
In addition, an award was given to the most consistent runner who had the smallest difference between their fastest and slowest lap. The awards were a nice stainless steel cup engraved with the TJ100K logo.
Like the pre-race dinner, breakfast was also delicious and included egg and sausage casserole, french toast, biscuits and gravy, and grits.
While the breakfast started at 8AM, due to the time change that night, we lost an hour of sleep, so it felt like 7AM. It was tough to get up that morning, but the breakfast was casual, fun, and definitely worth it. Andy gave another touching speech and it was a great ending to a great race weekend.
Below is a list of my primary gear.
- Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 (V1) – I’ve used these bad boys for a 50 mile race, now a 100K, and many other miles. Besides the blisters, I thought they worked well on the TJ100K course. I was especially grateful for the toe protection they offered against all the roots. I am pretty sure all my toes would be broken otherwise.
- Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Vest – How would I describe this hydration pack? Simple. Effective. Inexpensive. While not the fanciest hydration pack, if you are okay with bladder systems and can get past the annoying way the bladder doesn’t stay hooked on the interior loop, then I doubt you can find a better value out there.
- Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp (new version) – I know they say not to try anything for the first time on race day, but this was my first time running with this headlamp. I did try it around the house and so I thought it was a low risk choice. And I was right. No real issues. My one complaint about the headlamp is that it is easy to loosen when putting on. However, once its on, it seems to stay tight.
Things I would do differently next time
Even though the duct tape helped, it did cause other problems. The duct tape stopped the blisters from getting worse and stopped the skin from coming off completely, which would have been very painful. However, duct tape isn’t very breathable. In addition, it caused some irritation in other parts of my foot. So while it worked, it wasn’t the best solution. Next time, I will be prepared with more appropriate tape, such as Leukotape or Moleskin.
In addition, I probably should have started off a little slower on the first lap. This is always easier said than done. One of these days I will get this part right.
The TJ100K is an extremely fun and friendly race. The entire weekend atmosphere is relaxed and unintimidating. It was great to meet AJW and listen to him speak before and after the race.
With the multi-loop course and the excellent support at aid stations, I think this is a perfect race for those running their first 100K. However, I also think that the course is challenging. Most of the trail was single track with plenty of twists, turns, roots, and rocks. I must have stubbed my toes about a dozen times. Plus, those hills do seem to get bigger every loop.
Furthermore, the race is also very well organized. The course was well marked and the aid stations were well stocked. While it is relatively small, only 60 starters, I have a feeling it will continue to grow and become a staple on the list of must-do ultra-running races.
I hope this race report was both interesting and informative. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Thanks for reading.