First a thank to the Fort Clinch 100 sponsors:
For the past several months I’ve had a recurring nightmare: I organize a race, sometimes road and sometimes trail, but come race day somehow I’d totally forgotten to organize volunteers, set up aid stations or mark the course. This was probably due both to conscious and unconscious fear of failure I’ve dealt with most of my life and was likely compounded by my newbness as an RD. Stories of failure by a popular race company and director out in California, didn’t help either. I’d heard tales of sponsors and runners showing up to the venues on race day with no sign whatsoever of the RD and company. If an experienced person/company like that can screw up so badly, how could I not? It would nearly become self-fulfilling prophecy.
By race morning the aid stations set up still had not been completed in time to start the race at 6am and we had to push the start back by 30 minutes. Thankfully, most runners were OK with this as it would be less time till sun up and less time needing to wear a headlamp. They could also enjoy a few extra cups of coffee around the fire pit.
However, after the race started and runners had been on the course for more than 30 minutes it occurred to me that I hadn’t marked the trail on a half mile section known as Willow Pond Loop (alligator pond). I had marked the rest of the course the night before, but when I came to willow pond loop, I skipped over it. I’ll be honest, with only a dim headlamp, Willow Pond Loop is creepy as hell at night! I wasn’t going back there by myself. I reasoned that it would be bad for business if the RD was eaten by a swamp ape or a gator or one of those giant, rabid, mutant, shark eating squirrels we have in our woods.
Other than this initial set back, and one more later where some kids decided it would be fun to pull up the course marking flags to wave them around, everything smoothed out and the race went off without any other serious hitches.
Defending, two-time, USATF 100 Mile National Champion, Dave James from Scottsdale, AZ had flown in the week before the race to hang out and explore the island and the course. Despite my poor performance as host with everything else I was trying to get done that week, Dave never once complained. This apparently was a special time for him being back in Florida. You can read about it in his race report here.
In what was going to be a dream race for me as an RD, ultra-legend, 2012 24 Hour World Champion and American Record holder, Mike Morton, was also scheduled to race at Fort Clinch. It would have been an epic show down between two supremely talented runners whose PR’s at 100 miles are right around 13 hours. Unfortunately, Mike sent me a message just a few days before the race informing me that he would need to pull out do to an ongoing tendinitis issue in his leg. With his return to the Western States 100, after over a decade long hiatus, coming up in June, I don’t blame him one bit. The Fort Clinch 100 is chump change compared to the one that started it all out in California.
Altogether, 29 brave runners toed the starting line at the Fort Clinch 100. The weather was nearly perfect for running: Lows in the low 40’s with a high later in the day of mid to high 70’s and relatively low humidity. In what may have been an omen, if you believe in such things, the first thing runners came across on the run out the the beginning of the trail, was the Easter Bun… I mean a marsh rabbit squished in the middle of the rode. Maybe it had been the result of someone who was just driving way to fast coming into the park that morning, or MAYBE it was the Fort Clinch Curse letting the contestants know that this would be no Easter weekend picnic hike through the woods. If you did not respect it, it was going to squish you into the ground.
They were lucky they weren’t running in conditions we had in the 2011 race. The temps were close to 100 degrees with 90% humidity making for a heat index of about 112 degrees. 3 runners went to the hospital that year and the legend of the Fort Clinch Curse was born. You can read Ashley Walsh’s account on her blog AshRuns100s.com. She ended up in the ICU for 2 days.
Only 4 people hit the 100 mile mark in 2011, and out of those 4 only one was female: Juli Aistars.
It would be reinforced just a few weeks later. While on a training ride, elite ultrarunner and triathlete, Jennifer Vogel (who was pacing one of the runners that was rushed to the ER during the race), would hit a hidden pot hole on a training ride, cruising somewhere around 23-24 mph. I commented to Jen that we’d know for sure if the park was cursed if something bad were to happen to Dave James or Mike Morton, or both. Not long after Mike Morton officially registered for the Fort Clinch 100, he got injured. Within days of the race he confirmed he hadnt been able to run for more than an hour without his tendon acting up. Dave James, even though he was able to show up and not get injured, came down with a nasty cold he couldn’t shake for over two weeks, and would end up running one of the ugliest races of his ultra career. However, it seems the FURs who showed up brought along some magic of the unicorn to counteract the curse.
Even so, only 17 would finish the whole distance and only 3 of those would go under 24 hours. Despite my warnings that the course is deceptively difficult and would chew them up before the realized it was even happening, several runners still went out fast. 17 of them finishing the first 10.15 mile loop under 2 hours.
In an impressive display of guts running his first 100 miler, George Barthelmes of Bryceville, FL would stay only a few minutes behind Dave James until about 40 miles. He eventually slowed considerably deciding to take it easier on the back 50 to keep from blowing up. Despite what everyone thought, me included, it turned out George’s goal was never to race Dave James, but instead to get as many miles out of the way as possible during the cooler parts of the day, then coast into the finish. He had one rough patch between 60-70 miles, but finished in 21 hours 58 minutes. Just goes to show that you should never judge someone by what YOU think their race strategy is.
By 2-3 in the afternoon, temps had risen to nearly 80 degrees with only a light breeze. In the exposed sun it felt much hotter. Along with the difficulty of the course, the heat was beginning to show the toll it was taking on runners as one after the other they came into the main aid-station crusted in salt and looking exhausted. I would just smirk and think “I tried to warn you.”
The Fort Clinch 100 course is made up mostly of roller coaster single-track through coastal oak hammock that grew on top of ancient sand dunes. It may not seem like much while you are running it early on, but what most runners may not realize is that all those small rollers add up to almost 9000’ of climbing and equal decent over 100 miles.
From a race report (PDF) by finisher Jodi Weiss,
“The best way I can describe this course is to say that at Fort Clinch 100, a ten mile loop can actually feel like 25 miles or more. It’s worth mentioning though that the first loop, second, even the third was a runner’s joy – I loved the course! However, this course was transformative, but not in the likely way; it transformed from a thing of joy and beauty, to something to be feared and dreaded after about 60 miles, when the ups and downs, the little I’m- going-to-catch-you-roots and knobs became the enemy.“
The constant up and down can wreak havoc on your heart rate if you aren’t paying attention. Experienced ultra-runner Andrei Nana found this out the hard way. In his later laps he was having issues with his heart rate constantly going too high. I was actually rather proud of this as Andrei can be hard to please and loves a challenging course. Case in point, he created a Facebook group where any conversation about race distances less than 100k are deleted because, “they are not inspiring.”
He remarked to his pacer, 8 time Hardrock finisher, Chris Twiggs, who grew up here on Amelia Island, “I’ve run every 100 miler in Florida and this one is the most challenging.”
Throw in the sand around the fort, the exposed root and the mentally exhausting, leg pounding, never ending tunnel that is the half mile long fishing pier, and you have the kind of course where remaining focused and alert is essential to finishing.
Another take on the race, by 10th place finisher, Josh Nelson, can be found here. My favorite quote from the report,
“The sense of relief was soon replaced by a feeling of hatred created by the fishing pier, as tired as I was I could not judge long distance. This only made the fishing pier seem to grow as I made way down the pier for the ninth time.”
As expected, Dave James took the top spot and set a course record in 19 hours and 37 minute beating second place by roughly 2 hours, despite it being an ugly race for him. I ran up to him as he was heading out onto the pier just before finishing his 9th lap, to see what he would need waiting for him when he came back:
Dave, “I need a bullet to the head!”
Me, “We dont have any of those. Sorry. Anything else?”
Dave, “How about an alligator to jump out and tear my legs off!”
Me, “We dont have those either. What do you want in your bottle?”
That I could do. I grabbed his handheld and ran back to fill it and have it waiting for him, hoping that in the meantime he wouldn’t through himself off the pier to be eaten by the bull sharks waiting in the water below. Apparently, the thought had crossed his mind.
Waking up with a nasty cold, cold sweats and sore throat he still lapped every runner in the field at least once.
Dave normally finishes 100 mile races within a 14-15 hour time range and has a PR of 13 hours 6 minutes set at the North Coast 24. I was excited to present him with the Fort Clinch 100 Champion Buckle.
Claire Dorotik from Aurora, CO took the top female spot and 4th place overall setting a women’s course record time of 24 hours 19 minutes. Just a few weeks before, Claire was also the female winner in south Florida’s LOST 118 around Lake Okeechobee.
First time 100 miler Taryn Giumento of Fort Stewart, GA was 2nd Female in a time of 25 hours 35 minutes.
Another first time 100 mile runner was 2012 5th place UROC female Krystle Martinez.
I decided to have a little fun with her and do the old carrot on a stick routine with the finisher buckle to motivate her across the finish line in the last few hundred yards.
Krystle finished with a time of 27 hours 34 minutes. Next to her is “Bruce” Sung Ho Choi, the 2011 winner. He was taking it easy this time around since he was prepping for UMSTEAD 100 the following weekend. He decided to hang back and keep Krystle company all the way to the finish line.
In what was easily my proudest moment during the race, I got to see my good friend Tim Puetz, finish his first 100 mile race.
Honestly, I’m getting a little choked up thinking about it as I write this. Tim was one of the runners I met at my first ultra in Mexico, the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, back in 2010.
When ultra runner Micah True went missing in the Gila Wilderness while out on an easy 12 mile run, just over a year ago, Tim was one of the runners I traveled with to New Mexico to help with the Search and Rescue effort to find our friend. After our search assignment was over Tim, myself and Simon Donato, the other runner and star of the new Canadian adventure show Boundless, decided to do a short search/shake out run of our own on a trail section we thought Micah likely would have used as part of his run. It seemed we weren’t the only ones who thought he would have gone that way, because while on the trail we ran into Remolino Molina, a longtime friend of Micah, and two others running back to the trail head to report that they had found him. He was dead in a creek running through a side canyon that cuts across the trail we were on. They’d decided to search the area on a gut feeling after noticing that the canyon emptied out only a few hundred yards from the Gila Wilderness lodge where Micah had been staying, making roughly a 12 mile loop.
After asking me if I had a radio with me (I didn’t), Ray and Jessica gave Tim and Simon a fleece pull over, some matches, water, one energy bar and a map to point out where Micah’s body was laying. It was dipping into the 20’s at night in the high country of the Gila, and even though they were only wearing tech t’s and running shorts, they ran out to watch over Micah’s body till SAR arrived. I ran back with Ray to report that Micah had been found and more importantly to be with Maria. It would take SAR several hours to mount a recovery operation to retrieve Micah’s body from the canyon. Ironically, his body would be carried out of the canyon by a white/cream colored horse.
More detailed accounts of everything that happened can be found in the New York Times by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Barry Bearak and in Outside Magazine by Born to Run author Christopher McDougall, who also participated in the search effort.
Bringing up the rear were DLF’s Wayne Wright and Jodi Weiss in 29 hours 44 minutes. I will always hold to the idea that the last finishers are always the toughest runners in the race. Typically they are the ones who put up with the most adversity, push through and get it done.
I ran the last few hundred yards with them to the finish line. As we were running Jodi and Wayne remarked that I needed to run my own race next year because, “you don’t know. I don’t think you understand how hard this course is.” Despite my protestations that, yes, I do understand because I designed the course and run it regularly, Jodi would have none of it.
So, challenge accepted. Next year I will be running the Fort Clinch 100. This works out well, anyway. I had toyed with the idea of creating a belt buckle just for me as the RD. Hey, race directing a 100 miler isn’t easy! I deserve to wear a buckle for it, or so I thought, at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that RD or not, if I want to wear a Fort Clinch 100 buckle, I need to earn it the old fashioned way. To do anything less would be sacrilegious and disrespectful to our sport. And just to add a little more pressure, I am going to do it under 24 hours.
Ultimately, the heart and oil that makes the machine go is always the volunteers who show up and bust their humps with little sleep for nothing more than a t-shirt, cheap swag or more often than not, absolutely nothing at all. It can be an almost thankless job if races like this aren’t a passion for the volunteers who attend. No matter how well organized a race is, without passionate volunteers, it can easily become a disaster. And man did I have some amazing people!
First and foremost, thanks to my mom, Chaundra Berghoefer, a realtor for Palm III Realty here in Fernandina Beach. She was easily the biggest supporter of the Fort Clinch 100. Giving of her time, not getting paid, and spending her own money on food in trust that I’ll pay her back, she put up with my generally tired and crabby attitude with little sleep herself and never really complained.
A HUGE thank you needs to go out to the FUR – Florida Ultra Runners group and Willow Pond Loop aid station captain Susan Anger. She was practically co-RD, taking a major portion of responsibility off my shoulders by handling this station with minimal, if any at all, interference from me.
She can be found at pretty much every ultrarunning event in Florida helping out.
They were serving brie, shish kabob, turkey panini sandwiches, magical performance enhancing grilled cheese unicorn sandwiches made with authentic unicorn cheese made from magical unicorn milk, and bacon covered donuts. They were amazing.
My buddy Gene Meade, drove 6.5 hours from North Carolina just to volunteer. He worked tirelessly the entire race driving around to make sure every aid station was stocked off of just 30 minutes of sleep. It seemed as if he was everywhere all at once. He was also running UMSTEAD 100 the following weekend and would finish it in 26 hours 55 minutes.
He took over RD duties for a couple hours so I could get a little shut eye and also let me borrow his display clocks and pretty much any gear I asked for.
And Dave James Tsakanikas for coming out to my no name race to help me put a spot light on it and make it grow.
With his help promoting this race, the website has received thousands of hits on the website from over 10 different countries, been mentioned on the international ultrarunning podcast Talk Ultra with hosts Ian Coreless and Speedgoat Karl Meltzer, and mentioned in Ultrarunnerpodcast.com Daily News.
We even made the local paper: The Fernandina Beach NEWS LEADER!
1. Dave James, 35, Flagstaff, AZ, 19:37 (Course record. Previous record was 21:43, Sung ho Choi, 2011)
2. George Barthelmes, 43, Bryceville, FL, 21:58
3. Jeffery Kasal, 37, St, Louis, MO, 37, 22:37
4. Timothy Puetz, 34, Sliver Springs, MD, 24:30
5. Paul Chenery, 56, Toronto, ON, 25:13
1. Claire Dorotik, 37, Aurora, CO, 24:19 (Course record. Previous record was 29:20, Juli Aistars, 2011)
2. Taryn Giumento, 27, Fort Stewart, GA, 25:35
3. Lana Kovarik, 43, Goose Creek, SC, 27:11
4. Krystle Martinez, 27, West Palm Beach, FL, 27:34
5. Tammie Wonning, 41, Severn, MD, 28:38
More complete results can be found on Ultrasignup.com
Thanks for not pooping on the trail!
Caleb Wilson, RD