Ultra Runners


Strolling Jim (Read 63 times)

old woman w/hobby

    Discuss please.



    Just run.

      What do you want to know?Historic road race-Ann Trason has run it. A bunch of older fast guys show up every year. Leah Thorvilson was the first female to be overall winner a couple of years ago. Hilly, can be hot in May. Course is closer to 42 miles. New, shorter distances of 20k and 10k added this year. It's only an hour from me-I haven't run it but would like to.

      old woman w/hobby

        What do you want to know?Historic road race-Ann Trason has run it. A bunch of older fast guys show up every year. Leah Thorvilson was the first female to be overall winner a couple of years ago. Hilly, can be hot in May. Course is closer to 42 miles. New, shorter distances of 20k and 10k added this year. It's only an hour from me-I haven't run it but would like to.

        Pretty much this.  Thanks!

        mta:  And any in put from past runners



        Just run.

        Uh oh... now what?

          Wife and I ran it in '88 (19', not 18').  Met Steve Warshawer, Phillip Parker, and a few other fast folks from the south.  First run I have ever done where I went in a store and bought some popsicles.  Hot day.  Everyone should stay in the Strolling Jim (hotel, inn, whatever it is called) once.

          old woman w/hobby

            Wife and I ran it in '88 (19', not 18').  Met Steve Warshawer, Phillip Parker, and a few other fast folks from the south.  First run I have ever done where I went in a store and bought some popsicles.  Hot day.  Everyone should stay in the Strolling Jim (hotel, inn, whatever it is called) once.


            Thanks, John!



            Just run.

              Oops-the new distances are 20 MILES and 10k. Sorry! I'd run it just to meet Big, Laz's dog. Smile

              Gotta Flee Em All

                I've run it a couple times. Thinking about running it this year as a last long run 2 weeks before Thunder Rock 100.


                Big hills at 9, 20, 26 and then big rolling in the mid-30s. Almost no aid beyond water jugs roadside every 2 miles or so, although in recent years it has softened up a bit. Can be warm or downright hot and humid, but some years it has not been.  Very beautiful.


                I wrote this overlong RR after my 2009 run, still one of my best races ever -


                The Strolling Jim 40 mile run takes place the first Saturday in May each year among the rolling hills and rural countryside of Bedford County in middle Tennessee, starting in the town of Wartrace. The ultra is put on by Gary Cantrell, infamously known as Laz among ultrarunners. He is infamous, of course, because he also puts on the Vol State 500k run across part of Tennessee and the Barkley 100 mile race and 60 mile fun run. The Barkley 100 miler has been completed only 8 times in the past 23 years with over 700 attempts. Laz has a reputation, and Strolling Jim runners get to taste it. Among Strolling Jim's primary features are its rolling course with four major climbs that will make even hardened runners cry (and/or walk), typically warm temperatures, beautiful scenery that includes more road kill than you can remember and, of course, color coded shirts for finishers based on finish times: yellow for sub-5 hour, blue for sub-6 hour and red for sub-7 hour.


                I have had the Jim on my list for several years now, and 2009 was my chance. My training has been going very well as evinced by a running streak going on now for 137 days (on race day) and weekly miles mostly around 60. I have cracked PRs in every distance but the marathon and am generally feeling good and have been injury-free. I have a goal marathon in mid-June and hope to get my PR there and then use it as a stepping stone for a BQ sometime to follow. My family has continued to tolerate my miles, and so I figured this year I would give the Jim a shot, and fight for that red finisher's shirt.


                As an aside, one week out from the Jim, I ran the Country Music Marathon. This massive event marathon, when combined with the half marathon, brings 30 000 runners and walkers to the starting line. Since my training had been going well and because this race starts nearly in my back yard, I thought to run it as a PR attempt. I got to race morning with all that good training, a real honest-to-goodness three week taper under my belt, and what I thought were well-loaded glycogen stores from a week of carbalicious eating. Sadly, the one thing that I could not control doomed both me and most of the rest of the racers out there. Marathon morning brought some of the seasons first HOT weather and that wilted many of the unacclimated runners. The temperature was in the upper 60s at the starting line and hit 80 before three hours, with a brilliant sun glaring down unobstructed. I slowed down at mile 2 and then slowed further at mile 14, right after I saw an elite runner sitting on the side of the road, one of the days many DNFs. In the end, I pulled myself together and grabbed a 4:01, a full 26-31 minutes off my best-case times, and yet still ahead of my buddies who set out to grab a 3:30 with me that morning. A tough day, and that's all I'm gonna say about that. Well and this: training-to-date wasted, I figured that the Jim would give me another shot at a good run.


                So, the Jim loomed a week later. I spent much of the interim week running 3-5 mile days just to keep my legs open and my daily running streak going. Many of these runs were tough since it often takes me 3-5 miles just to loosen up. I also grabbed a massage on Thursday morning to break up some of the training and marathon damage, and that hurt big time! (Thanks Heather!) But mostly, I lurked on weather websites to see what was coming. For the most part it looked pretty good, with a small chance of rain and a high in the upper 70s, but mostly cloudy and low 70s. Of course, several cold fronts were moving through at week's end and the forecasts changed hourly.


                I also spent much of the interim week considering my food and hydration strategies. At the Jim, there are four aid stations, one each at mile 13, 20, 29 and 35. The first three each fall right after one of the major hills, which fall at mile 9, 19 and 24. The fourth major hill is actually a set of maniacal sharply rolling up/downs called the Walls, and they hit just a few yards after the mile 29 aid station. I was not sure exactly what the aid stations would have, but I knew they would at least have Gatorade. There were also drop bags at mile 20 and 29, so I could pack in the stuff I needed. Lastly, along the way, there were jugs of water every 5 miles. No cups, no tables, no volunteers, just jugs on the side of the road. So I decided that I would carry a 22 ounce bottle of Gatorade and refill at each of the stations, would carry four Gu packets and would leave one in each drop bag, and would take water along the way as needed. I also put some candy bars in my drop bags since they have worked for me well in the past on 40 mile training runs. Talking with friends, some packed nearly entire refrigerators into their drop bags while others responded, "what drop bags". So I figured that mine would be about right for my needs.


                The race was to start at 7am, with packet pickup starting about an hour before that, both in the center of Wartrace. Two buddies were going to meet me at my house to leave at 4:45am, thereby giving us plenty of time to get our packets, use the facilities and get ready. After spending much of the day before eating, I found myself exhausted and so I went to bed early. It rained through most of the night and I slept very well. Very very well. So well, in fact, that I was a bit surprised when my wife woke me and said, "Honey, shouldn't you be awake by now?" I looked at the clock: 4:44 am. DOh! My buddies were already outside. That may be the fastest I have ever gotten ready for a race, and thankfully I had set everything out the night before. We were on the road by 4:50am, but I was still spinning from the sudden waking and out the door. My friends thought it funny, after they had gotten over the worries of coming to a dark house on a dark night and not knowing if they were in the right place.


                Did I mention that it was raining? Wow. Seriously raining. With lightning. And more lightning. The kind of lightning that flares the entire sky through the dark torrential downfalls, showing off incredible patterns that persist on your retina. With thunder that shakes the dashboard. And rain, and more rain. It was as if the past few years' droughts were being cured all at once. This did not bode well for a dry race, an none of us in the car could imagine all the places that were yet to chafe.


                Well, we pulled into town with the rain still pouring down and just under an hour until the race started. Got our packets containing our bibs, a starters' shirt and a booklet with all the history of the Jim and the last running of the Barkley. I tried twice to use the portapottie to take care of what I did not have time to in the 6 minutes between waking up and leaving, and was only marginally successful, which just gave me one more thing to worry about (as if 40 miles of hills in the rain were not enough). And then we went over to the starting line and stood under a band shelter with the other 60-70 starters chatting, shivering in the wet and chatting. I knew a bunch of folks there from the running circuit, from Nashville and from the rinky dink marathon I direct each Fall. We were just chatting away when suddenly folks were running. Erm, no prerace announcements, no speaker system, no racing chips, just start running when Laz blows a conch shell. Well, none of us heard it, but he apparently had blown the shell. So off we go into the rain and up the first nonhill climb and out into the countryside.


                I call the first little ascent a nonhill climb because, according to Laz, there are only four hills on the course. Bedford County, like much of Middle Tennessee, is far from flat. Wartrace is at an elevation of about 800 feet above sea level. The only climbs on the Jim that earn the moniker, "Hill" are those that approach (or surpass) 1100 feet, and do so abruptly. The rest of the course rolls and even has a few steady flat sections. But the 50-150 foot climbs and drops that that make up the rolls go on without relent, especially in the first 19 and last 10 miles. Between those sections, you get to hit three of the major hills, separated by some runnable flats (if you have anything left in the tank to get you running). The course itself is a figure-8, with about 3 miles shared between the out and back sections. The shared segment covers from miles 13-16 on the out, and miles 32-35 on the back. But you cannot think about that; the enormity of realizing that you enter the back loop and still have 16 miles to go before you get to head back, and then still have almost 10 miles afterwards is staggering. Gotta chunk the race one mile at a time. So anyhow, while the course is far from flat, there are only four hills, and everything else is apparently there just to, er, keep things interesting.


                My goal for the day was to go under 7 hours for the 41.2 mile. I knew that I would lose time on the hills and would likely slow a bit in the last half or quarter, and that I would probably spend a minute or three at each of the aid stations. To get the red shirt, I would have to run an overall 10 minute pace, aid station stops and any slowing included. So with those slower miles, I would need to grab some quicker ones in between. I felt pretty good so I went out at an approximate 8:50-9:15 pace. I started with a friend and masters runner who has dominated at just about every distance he has run, from 5k to 100 miles. We chatted easily as we set out, and I felt pretty good. I worried a little about the pace, thinking it may be a bit aggressive, and worried about whether I would end up paying for it down the line. But I wanted that red shirt and needed the cushion. So on we ran.


                I believe that the relevant literary device would be called foreshadowing. As we launched out into the countryside, under the drenching rain, we started crossing bridges over normally tiny creeks and rivers that were now swollen up to near-Mississippi size. Brown and swirling, the flooded waters poured out into adjoining fields where they spread without banks to contain them. It was a fairly awesome sight, so much water, so much power, just inches below the roads. We will return to this theme, you know, since I called it foreshadowing. But at mile 2, running over the flooded river, I had no idea.


                I spent a lot of the race inside my head, keeping my mind as neutral as I could so I could minimize the mental battles that can break you. Seven hours is a long time to be out on the road and any little mind tweak can derail the train. After my buddy left me a few miles in, I ran most of the race alone. As I passed people, or was passed, I said little. I mostly focused on nothing, on the scenery and on the next little bit of road that I knew was coming ahead. I took energy from those who passed me, from those I passed and from the few words I exchanged with the crews out supporting and cheering on some of the other runners. There were lots of things to see to keep my mind off the work at hand: cow farms carved out of the knobby hills on either side of the road, chicken farms, lots of dogs, even more roadkill (such as countless possum and toads and the occasional deer, cat and turtle), woods, flooded rivers and vast vistas from up on high.


                Running through the countryside, we hit very few towns or developed areas. Around mile 8, we crossed near the scenic little town of Normandie, which looked right out of a post card and is the home of a distillery. From there, we turned up onto the first hill deep through pretty dark woods. Around this point, the steady rain finally started to wane and my glasses cleared up. It was not like I particularly wanted to be able to see the hill that rose out ahead of me, but there it is. This was the last point in the whole day where I actually ran with or near groups of people. Though the hill was memorable, it was over reasonably quickly. Perhaps my daily running on similar hills helped me mentally and physically, but in the end it did not seem that bad. Over the hill and down the other side, and then before long the first aid station loomed. I made it a quick stop, knowing that I would need the time later, and grabbed a couple Oreos and filled my Gatorade. Immediately afterwards, I hit the half marathon split at 2:01, which gave me a 6:30 expected finish if I continued on that pace (which I knew I would not do). Plenty of cushion there, though.


                I had an intense motivation to get the race done, which helped. It is amazing, the things that will motivate a person to run 40+ miles, and to do it in a pre-specified time. Among my mental mantras all day was "sub-7", which I interpreted to mean "red tee shirt". A five dollar cotton shirt that I did not need drove me. It caused me to run when I had nothing, to push through pain and fatigue, up mean hills and through cramps. Certainly other things went through my mind to get me to the finish, including the Coke dispenser I knew awaited me there, and the ice-cold fountain where runners can chill their legs, and of course, all the friends I told I wanted to run this in seven hours. But that silly red cotton shirt is ultimately what carried me forward through the darkest of moments.


                To that point, my darkest moment hit around mile 18. I was not really sure what was going on, but suddenly there I felt just terrible. I had much more than half the distance left to cover, my legs were beginning to tire and there was nobody around me. I felt weak and dispirited; I was in the middle of nowhere and felt completely isolated and almost lost. In retrospect, I think it may have been a nutritional low; I had taken very few calories at the first aid station 5 miles before, had choked down only one Gu packet, and that had been 9 miles before. I actually took heart in the knowledge that the next major hill was a mile away and that I could slow up there and gulp down another Gu. So I trudged on, relentlessly moving forward. Every step forward was one step closer to the end, and brought me a lower and lower chance of stopping altogether. And then there was the hill. And my Gu. And atop the hill was the blessed aid station. And here I stopped for a moment, just in time to see the buddy I had started with drive off to take a DNF due to a hurt knee; he told me that I had this, that I was doing well. That helped. So too did the generic coke that I guzzled down there. I refilled my Gatorade, feeling stronger, and took off. I completely ignored the candy in my drop bag, knowing that there was no way I'd be able to get it down. But the coke sure did help. I was to make a habit of drinking a can of the coke at every subsequent aid station, they have the calories and the salt of a Gu packet and go down much more easily.


                Running out from the aid station, you descend "quad killer" hill and then fairly quickly hit the halfway point on the course. I felt much better, stronger and more focused. At the bottom of the hill, the course actually leveled out and I could settle into a groove. From here, miles ticked off pretty easily, although the lack of rolling meant that I kept beating on and using the same muscle groups and so after a time I began to feel the weariness settle in. The good (?) news is that it did not take long for the road, creatively called Hilltop Road, to start to climb up the highest, steepest, meanest climb of the day. Hill 3. Again, I slowed to take a break, but found myself a bit more breathless than on the prior hills. I actually passed somebody while climbing this beast; he had fallen off his 6:30 goal finish. When the hill finally topped out, I tried to choke down another Gu. I could barely do so, gagging the whole time. It was to be my last Gu for the day. And then down the other side, to some more flat runnable road. It was here that I hit the marathon split in 4:10, which was 2:09 from the prior half split. I was doing okay and still had plenty of cushion.


                At this point, the clouds were trying to clear and all the rain was turning the day into a bit of a steam bath. The road was straight and flat, the sun was shining and I was past the marathon mark. I was in pure work mode, just trying to click off the miles. The darkness was behind me and I felt pretty good. At this point, as I was passing the water jugs on the side of the road, I would pour some over my head and neck, and a bit in my mouth just to wash the Gatorade taste away. Mile 27. Mile 28. Then there was the aid station at mile 29. A buddy was manning that aid station, and his face and encouraging words (along the lines of "you are rocking it") helped me keep going. Another coke down and some icewater over my head and I was gone. Around the corner, onto a country road and off to the Walls.


                I was not really sure what the Walls were. I knew that they contained a bunch of hills, and that many runners' race ends there. What I learned was that the Walls consisted of hill upon hill upon hill upon hill, without relent. The ups are steep, the downs seem steeper, and both require extreme care on tired legs. You can get no rhythm. Through dark woods on an old broken road, no less. Looking back now at my run data, it appears that there were 8 climbs and drops of 50-100 feet over the 2 miles encompassed by the Walls. In the middle of the Walls, I hit the 50k mark in 5:01, which was reasonable. And so on I went, hoping ever for that red shirt. I was tired, but I could begin to smell the end, and up in the Walls, I suddenly realized that I had less than 10 miles to go. Single digits.


                And then I found myself suddenly back on the route I traveled before, some 16 miles earlier in the day. I had 3 familiar miles to go before the next aid station, and then just a 10k to complete. Around this point, I passed a couple runners and a couple runners passed me. The rolling hills still kept coming, and it seemed that the ground now held more road kill here later in the day. But the air was cooler, the terrain more open and the end ever closer. Pushing the best I could, I covered the distance to the last aid station, where I was surprised to find another friend running it. Another coke and another Gatorade refill and I was off. Just over 6 miles to go. I had an hour and fifteen minutes. That gave me about 12 minutes per mile, which should be enough even if I crumped somewhere over that distance.


                A few runners had congregated at the aid station, and we then head out one-by-one. I tried not to stay that long, and head off into the persistent rolling, chasing a runner who had run in my rinky dink marathon last Fall. He started 10 minutes late and was rolling along looking strong. It inspired me to run and try to keep up. Or, at least, to keep him in sight. And so I did. More gentle ups and downs, more miles ticking by. Around mile 36, we were running along some lowlands and the tiny creek in the distance was now lapping up against the road; the other side lost somewhere in the distant trees. And then out into the open farmland towards mile 37. And then a detour.


                Yes, a detour. The rising rivers and creeks had taken out the road on the course. For the first time in 31 years, the Jim had to divert the course. Take a left and then the next right, the cops told me. I did not dare ask if the route was longer; I did not want to know. Except that I did. A longer course would eat into my cushion. I figured that the red shirt was for sub-7 hours, not for sub-7 hours corrected for a longer course. And I wanted that stupid shirt. So there was nothing to do but to run, and to try my hardest to keep running. And hope that the course ended before I hit 7 hours, whenever that would be. I got mad, and I channeled the anger into getting the thing done.


                Mile 38, up some new climbs, never before run on the Jim. Mile 39, still on the rolling hills, and then out onto the highway that takes you to town, somewhere ahead. I hit the 1 1/2 marathon split around 6:29, I think. Slowing down, but about what I expected. A couple people ran by me going the other direction and they all gave me different estimates about how much further I had. So I just kept on running. As hard as I could muster, a bit slower on the ups and a bit faster on the flats and downs. I felt every one of the preceding miles and all the previous week's marathon. But I had to push. My watch read 6:48 or so when I saw the outskirts of town. I saw a couple runners ahead of me, and I fought to keep them in sight, if not to catch them. That helped; that fired me up and kept me going. My watch read 6:53 when I began to see houses and cars parked aside the road. I could not see the finish or the downtown, but my anger and my energy were focused just on moving forward and so I saw very little. My hammies were cramping, but I did not have the time to slow down. I ran. I dug, and I ran some more. I stopped looking at my watch, and just ran. And then I saw the downtown. And the finish. And the tape.


                I was done.


                They handed me a card. It said on it "31st Annual Strolling Jim 40 Finish Card...You finished 24th...Time: 6:58:03".


                I did it. I got that stupid red shirt. Well, I would have, but they ran out. Apparently, they are gonna mail it to me. Heh.


                As an aside, one of the buddies who rode down with me finished about 10 minutes before I did. He was standing at the finish. The first words out of his mouth? Nope, not something congratulatory or hyperbolic. Rather, the first words out his mouth were, "Erm, I locked your keys in the car." Heh. Thankfully, the fire department guys were able to get the door open, so no harm, no foul.


                So, in summary:

                Splits -

                HM 2:01

                M 4:10

                50k 5:01

                1.5M 6:29

                Finish - #24/93 starters, 90 finishers


                Special points about my 2009 Jim:

                - Huge rains taught me new places that could chafe.

                - "Honey, shouldn't you be awake by now?"

                - I inadequately evacuated.

                - Flooding added a mile to the course, but the clock ticked along normally.

                - "Erm, I locked your keys in the car."

                - A super-hot marathon took me down just a week before


                The course:


                Gotta Flee Em All

                  What do you want to know?Historic road race-Ann Trason has run it. A bunch of older fast guys show up every year. Leah Thorvilson was the first female to be overall winner a couple of years ago. Hilly, can be hot in May. Course is closer to 42 miles. New, shorter distances of 20k and 10k added this year. It's only an hour from me-I haven't run it but would like to.


                  When Leah ran it, she also took 40 minutes off the woman's course record.


                  The shorter distances should be ignored.

                  old woman w/hobby

                    Thanks, Trent.  Great report.



                    Just run.

                      Great RR, Trent. Agreed that if you're doing the Jim, you should do the entire thing.