Strolling Jim – Again!
I’ll be the first to admit that my recall of race courses is fairly poor. OK – real poor. As evidence of that is the memory of Dana Stetson and I being assigned the responsibility to be “lead bikes” at the Tallahassee Marathon about 15 years ago while it was still being run on the old Wacissa course. That race had, oh …. 3 turns in 26.2 miles and the first was about a mile into the run. Despite the fact that Dana and I had both run the race a number of times, we proceeded to take the race leader of course by making a wrong turn in the first half mile. Since he had gone out at such a blazing pace, it took us all about another half mile before we realized that we had turned too early. Our leader took it all in stride by kindly saying, “That’s OK. I’ve got 26 miles to make it up.” Needless to say, neither Dana nor I won GWTC’s Volunteer of the Year for that effort. Jeff Bryan will also attest to my inability to remember details of the courses we have run. We’ll be running along and he’ll say something like, “Remember that big boulder right after you come onto that rocky single track at Iron Mountain where we met the guy from Peoria that had just run the Hoboken Hundred?” It drives me crazy that people can remember such things! I’ve run the Ultra at Wakulla 14 times and if it weren’t for Bill Lott marking the only intersection on the whole course, I would miss that turn.
I tell you this as a prelude to my experience at this past Saturday’s Strolling Jim 40 Mile Run which takes place on the roads around beautiful Wartrace, TN. (The Jim is actually 41.2 miles, but who’s counting? What’s another 1.2 miles among friends, huh?) I had run Strolling Jim for the first time last year after many years of hearing its call, for Strolling Jim, like the Tallahassee Ultradistance Classic, is one of the classic survivors of the road running ultra heyday of the early 80s. While most ultrarunners have forsaken the roads in favor of the trails, Strolling Jim continues to bring together a loyal following the first Saturday in May of each year, just as the TUDC does on the second Saturday in December. The similarities end there, however. Both races have their history, their paved surface and their loyal following but the Jim is anything but pancake flat like Wakulla. Somehow, some way, I had forgotten this.
Now I knew that it had rolling hills, or I should say, I remembered that it had rolling hills. Last week, just to familiarize myself with my post-race feelings from last year, I pulled out the old running log and read the entry which said: “Pretty hilly; beautiful course; lots of birds.” Pretty hilly! Did I leave out a conjunction perhaps? Did I mean to write “Pretty and hilly?” I mean, to say that Strolling Jim is “pretty hilly” is like saying that the Grand Canyon is a pretty nice geologic feature or that A-Rod had a pretty good April or that Boston is a pretty important marathon. Pretty hilly!
The race directors like to write on the road up in Watrace. In the first half mile there’s the entry, “Warning – Bad Dogs Next 40 Miles.” That is followed by “You Think This Is a Hill?” three times in the first 10 miles as you gasp for air and struggle up some incline that seems never ending. Shortly thereafter the runner encounters what the race organizers must consider a real hill for the road is inscribed with, “Now, This Is A Hill.” I’m sure glad they told me that because my legs were Jell-O and if I had been wearing a heart rate monitor I would have sent it back as defective because my heart rate can’t possibly be 200. The thought that now I had encountered a real hill and still had another 30+ miles of real hills wasn’t very comforting. Why didn’t I remember all this?
It was far too early to start whining though and I hadn’t driven 500 miles the day before to turn this into a hike, so with the help of my ever faithful crew person, Gordon Cherr, and a succession of good running partners throughout the day, I eventually made it to mile 30, which marks the toughest and most well-known part of the Jim, “The Walls.” I think they call it that because in marathoning one often hears of “hitting the wall,” whereas in ultramarathoning, there must be more than one. Actually, The Walls are a series of short but very steep inclines that wind through a narrow canyon of sorts. The whole experience lasts for no more than three miles but at that stage of the game, it leaves you (or at least it has now left me twice) a whining heap of humanity. Shortly thereafter you pass the 35 mile mark and think, “Oh, just a 10K to go.” My Mother used to tell me (well, maybe not in these exact words …), “Now Gary, you can do anything for 10K.” My Mother, rest her soul, never ran the last 10K of Strolling Jim. One of my running partners on this day – a fairly top flight sort of runner at that – told me how the last 5K took him 39 minutes last year. Well, I am not too ashamed to say that yesterday ,Gordon (who picked me up at that point to run me in) and I ran (and I use that term very loosely) something like a 75 minute final 10K. It was pitiful, but as pitiful as it was, we passed several people and eventually made it back to Wartrace and the finish line.
So now it is time to make the 2007 Strolling Jim entry into the log. I’ll put down my time of 6:15:45 and the fact that that terrifically fast final 10K earned me 14th out of 65 or so, and that it was much hotter and far more humid than it was in 2006. I’ll put down that it is a beautiful course and that I met some folks that I had read about for years and who I have always wanted to share some miles with, and I’ll write about how Gordon got me through it with his support and encouragement and blazing speed in that last 10K. Finally, I will say something about the terrain, and how it is …. what, gently rolling, or maybe sort of hilly, or is it just still “pretty hilly?” If I tell the truth I may read it in 12 months and decide not to go back again — and I can’t have that happen. Strolling Jim is a classic. I can’t let a few little hills keep me away!