The No Business 100 is a 100 mile trail ultra with over 15,000 ft of climbing and 15,000 ft of decent. It consists of a single loop through the heart of the Big South Fork and across the state line into Kentucky.
I usually will do an after action report for race I attempted. Some of this is to allow myself to think through everything that happened. More importantly it allows me to review everything that went well or didn’t work so well during the race. This way I can continue to improve my preparations for the next race. This is the first time I’m actually posting one of these online and this one is a really long one as it was my first 100 miler. I’m sure it also sounds like just a lot of me complaining. I didn’t put much in about my race stategy or technicals about the course.
My Race Experience
I woke up early Friday morning, got dressed, started the coffee pot and stepped out onto the front porch of our AirBnb located in Historic Rugby, TN. The air was cold and it looked like it rained last night. I could see my breath and feel the cold air enter my lungs as I looked out into the dark woods. It wasn’t nautical twilight yet and fear sunk in as I listened to the silence and stared into the trees. I remember thinking this day has come much too fast soon.
So many questions flooded my mind and made me question my decision to run this race. Did I train enough? I didn’t train for elevation coming from Chicago. Am I set to fail because of the hills? Can I run through the night? Are my shoes a good choice? Do I have the right gear? What pace should I target? Do I even have a goal besides finishing? How often should I take salt pills? Is my nutrition plan going to work? Should I run with poles (I haven’t in training)? I checked the weather app on my phone…it’s going to get colder tonight (low 30 degrees). I stepped back inside and soon greeted Jon, my brother, who was now preparing his gear. As a runner in the race himself, I’m sure he was trying to answer the same questions.
I had already laid out everything I was going to start with last night. Though that morning I rearranged everything again. I didn’t plan to have any drop bags, because truth is, I hadn’t even looked at the course yet. I knew where two of the aid stations were, not their locations but mile wise, where our crew would be so I planned on them having everything just in case. I second guessed my shoes and pack load-out. I switched out both. Stress levels were high. Didn’t help that we realized last night we didn’t get our crew vehicle passes and needed to do so first thing in the morning.
We arrived at the race start two hours early to get settled then drove right down the road to the campsite our crew’s RV was and just relaxed for a while. My fears started going away at this point as I started to convince myself that there was nothing left for me to do but to just run and let the rest happen.
We strolled up to the race start just as the race started and the elite group was off! This signaled we had at minimum 15 minutes before go time. But not knowing exactly how the rolling start was going to be policed I figured I had an hour before I would toe the line. It turned out that they were just checking temps and then letting people go through the start a few at a time so I probably started the race right around 10:20am CT. Jon had already started, I waved to the crew and was off. I quickly caught up to Jon, we said our farewells and we were off to find something. Both probably scared as hell.
The first 8 miles was pretty slow moving for me. I was single car at the back of a long train of people running down a single track mountain bike trail. Once we emerged from the trail onto a dirt road to run down to the first aid station, Pickett State Park, I picked up the pace hoping to get ahead of the group for the next leg to the Sawmill aid station. Our crew was great right from the start. Everyone was cheering as we ran through the Pickett aid station. I quickly refilled water and was off again.
At this point I was feeling pretty good. The weather turned out to be nice and I had just the right amount of layers on to stay warm without overheating. I was eating and taking a salt pill every half hour and finishing two 500ml water bottles about every hour. The trails were beautiful and the miles were just ticking away. I passed the third aid station, Charit Creek, 21 miles in and my only complaint was I rolled my ankle a couple times and my achilles was feeling a little tight. Either way the going was still pretty easy and I was keep a comfortable pace.
This trail is definitely one where you are going to get wet no matter what. We crossed (the first of many) streams where you had to get your shoes wet right before coming into the next aid station. Perfect timing to change out shoes to a dry pair. At Bandy Creek my crew was waiting and help me unpack, change and repack. It was awesome. I was worried that I was getting too excited this was going well and I was also really worried about changing my shoes out. I didn’t have a pair I really like and I hadn’t put many miles on the pair I was going to wear for the next 50 miles. I stood up, thanked my everyone and waved one last goodbye, as I wouldn’t see them now until mile 62.
As I ran out of the aid station, worries set in again. Had I just made a mistake by switching to these shoes? The fitting seemed off and I knew blisters were going to come pretty soon. Would my achilles be okay if I just stayed the other ones? I also was starting to feel soreness set in. While I had ran well over 25 miles in training I never trained on any elevation. At this point I already had nearly 3000 ft of vertical accent, not even a quarter of the race total.
The next leg of the race from Bandy Creek to Grand Gap I ran with John, from Ohio, and his pacer. They were running at a good clip, just a little slower than what I had been doing. Worried I was going to burnout by myself I decided to stay with them for the next 5 miles. We did great and the Grand Gap views were amazing! It reminded me of a slightly smaller Grand Canyon filled with trees. We made it to the Grand Gap aid station, refilled and were off again the next aid station, Duncan Hollow, 7.3 miles away.
During the run to Duncan Hollow, John realized he didn’t bring a headlamp, which was an issue since we wouldn’t see crews again for another +20 miles. His pacer said he had a spare he would lend him. After running another 5 miles his pacer said he was starting to lose steam and would give him the headlamp now and then drop back. At this point I said my goodbyes and continued on to the Duncan Hollow aid station.
As I strolled into this aid station it seemed full of other runners I hadn’t seen out on the course. There were several who were dropping, which made sense, it was just getting dark and temperature was dropping. Looked like everyone but me decided to have a drop bag here. In hindsight that was a really smart idea. Instead I ran with all my gear from the Brandy Creek aid station, now 17 miles back. I pulled off my Ironman ball cap. Threw on a light jacket, hat, and headlamp. I headed off onto the trail hoping someone from that aid station would catchup with me, or I would catch up to another group before it got dark. That didn’t happen… It got dark quickly, I turning on my lamp, ignored the sounds of the woods and just kept running. I was definitely scared at first but slowly got over any fears I had. Running helped because my pack made enough noise I couldn’t really hear anything else. I remember looking at my watch seeing that I’d been running for 9.5 hours and mistaking this for the time of day. In reality it was only 7pm.
I never heard or saw another person on the 9.5 miles to the next aid station, Laurel Hill. While my biggest fear going into the race just came true I was happy it did. I was no longer afraid to be running by myself through the dark. I actually convinced myself I enjoyed it. At Laurel hill I pulled another jacket out of my pack, threw it on, ate a quesadilla and put on my gloves. The temperature was really starting to get down there. I’m not sure if it was in the 30s yet but I was freezing even with the other jacket added on for the first mile. Again, I didn’t run with anyone on the next 8.5 miles. I did pass a couple of people walking who didn’t look so good. That section had a lot of climbing that was starting to make me wish I had my running poles with me. As I neared the next aid station I came up on two distant headlamps and caught them just as we came into the aid station.
Ledbetter, I had another quesadilla, some broth and listened to the runners sitting around the fire for a few minutes. Then took off into the night by myself again. This time though. After running 6 miles by myself I caught another running who I stayed with and we were quickly caught by two other runners. So we had a nice group of 4 running together for the last couple miles to the Blue Heron aid station. At this point my legs were shot, the uphills were getting hard and slow, the downhills painful on my quads and feet. But it was nice to have people to talk with for a little while. Once we got to the giant bridge that crosses over to Blue Heron we ran in single file line. All doing a bit of a shuffle on the frost covered bridge. I wished it had been daylight rather than 1 in the morning so I could have seen the view. It took us several minutes to run across so I know it crossed a big gap and could tell it was really high up. You would see the lights of the aid station below.
Once at camp I met my crew for the first time in almost 40 miles. They set me down in a chair wrapped in sleeping bags and restocked my pack. I had a cup of chicken soup and sat there for 15 minutes just chatting. My spirits weren’t very high at this point. I knew my legs couldn’t take much more and that the next 40 miles would feel like rerunning what I just did twice. Strangers provide some advice that I took with grains of salt. I know they were just being nice but I was freezing my ass off in the 33 degree weather, stiff as hell and way over my skis. I slowly stood back up with help, grabbed my running poles and hobbled to the trail entry to do the 6.4 mile loop, which ending back at Blue Heron.
I was really down at this point. I had overshot the course several times on the 6 mile loop because this part of the trail wasn’t marked as well as the rest had been. I walked a lot and tripped over myself several time. I also fell for the first time during this race and was ready to just pack up and head home to my warm bed. The loop took me almost two hours to complete. By the time I got back I knew I couldn’t stay long or risk not wanting to get up. So I had another cup of soup and sat for 10 minutes then forced myself to walk toward the big bridge back to the main course.
This next section I ran by myself again. It was frustrating because the markers were different than they had been and several didn’t have reflectors which made them very hard to spot. Also, someone or something must have been ripping down the reflectors at this point as several were not hanging but just laying on the ground. The miles started to come pretty slowly but I finally showed up to Bald Knob at mile 76. I was out of it. I don’t remember everything running from Bald Knob to Spring Branch which was 6 miles away. All I remember is that my shoes were soaked at one point and it really sucked running on the side of a ravine for so long. And I remember something about passing a few houses where dogs were barking like crazy.
The Spring Branch aid station was great. I sat at the fire to warm up and plug my watching into a battery charger. A lady there told me the next 5.5 miles was real easy. It wasn’t marked good because someone kept ripping down the markers but all I had to do was run 5.5 miles down a gravel road. Just what I needed. It was 3-4am, my jackets were wet with sweat and I was freezing. I left the aid station at the same time another runner did so we tackled the gravel road together. It turned out to be my breaking point. It felt like running on pavement covered with large stones. Every step sent shooting pains through my left foot and up my right knee. I was done… At this point I was barely running consistently for even a quarter of a mile. I had little to no power in my walk and started to get passed by other runners. I did take solace in the fact it would soon be light. I could see the orange tint of a sun rise on my left. It was almost light when I rolled into Peters Mountain, the mile 88 aid station.
My crew was at Peters Mountain and got me into a van to warm up and eat some more chicken soup. After having a cup of soup I asked if I could sleep for 15 minutes before heading back out. 15 minutes came really fast and I asked for another 10 minutes. After napping 25 minutes I drank a cup of coffee, grabbed my pole, zipped up my jacket, and started walking to the Great Meadow aid station. My legs hurt so bad. I shouldn’t have sat still for so long. My legs were tight and every step sent pains through my right knee. I was no longer running and barely hiking. I walked all of those next 4 miles. Repeatedly, telling myself to just run and get it over with. Then trying to run and stopping immediately due to pain. I was passed by another 4-5 people on the on this section.
To get to the Great Meadow aid station you had to cross a river holding a rope as you wade across. Needless to say I didn’t cross this river even though I could have used more water. Instead I just yelled my bib number across and started the 6 mile trek to Blevins Cemetery. This 6 miles was where I hit my lowest point. I was passed by several others. I felt as if I was starting to do serious damage to my knee and started to get pissed off at the race director for having the course run right down a stream for well over a half mile. It was hard. My feet were soaked. I was just exhausted. I knew I had two choices once I made it to the next aid station, quit with 4 miles left in the race, or ask for pain killers and walk the next 2 hours.
I made it too Blevins Cemetery. Now only 4 miles from the finish. I asked for pain killers. They had none. I ate a cup of Ramen while sitting at the fire, thanked them and took off walking before I could allow myself to quit. My goal was to not give a shit about anything until I made it another 2 miles. Then the only thing to do would be to finish as it would be the closest aid station. I was having doubts though. I pulled up my calf compression sleeve over my knee thinking it might help and just ran. From then on I ran every downhill and easy uphill. This last section was a beast of a trail. It went up and down and followed a rocky stream as well. I didn’t care. The cold water felt good on my feet and I thought my knee is already messed up what more could I do to it.
Finally, with 1.8 miles to go. I could feel it. I wanted so bad for it to be over. I would run for 0.1 miles then walk and then get another 0.1. I was pass by another two runners who looked so strong this late in the race. I knew I should have done more elevation training. When I finally got to 0.48 miles out I ran and I didn’t stop until I crossed that finish line.
I didn’t smile. I didn’t cry. I didn’t fall. I was happy, I just didn’t have the energy to show it and I didn’t care. I didn’t care what that finish photo looked like. I had just ran 102 miles over some of the roughest country I have every been through.
I think it goes without saying we had the best crew at the NB100! They were absolutely the best! There is no way we could have done it without them. They slept as little as I did, drove to every aid station they could on the foreign mountain roads and always had warm food ready to go. Had they not been there I’m not sure I would have finished the race. Several times, like running into the Blue Heron aid station, they were the only thing keeping me going. Thank you all so much!
Backup & Emergency Gear
What Did Not Worked
Would To Do Differently Next Time
My goal was to do a 100 mile run for my 30th birthday. It didn’t go as planned and in hindsight I could have planned a hell of a lot better. I’m so happy that I was able to complete my first 100 mile run, let alone the No Business 100! I’m also just so proud that my brother completed his first 100 mile run the same day. Lastly, I’m just so grateful for our crew and family that made the trip down to take care of us over this race weekend. I know it wasn’t easy and I thank you all of everything you did to get me through this race.