Saturday, May 2, 2009

2009 Strolling Jim 40 Miler

Charette Debuts 8th at Strolling Jim

By ERIC CHARETTE, Senior Writer
May 2, 2009

WAR TRACE, Tenn. – Running his first road ultra marathon, Huntsville, Alabama resident Eric Charette made his Strolling Jim debut in War Trace, Tennessee on Saturday. In the 31st year of this legendary event, Charette finished 8th overall, outlasting 91 other runners on a rain soaked day.

“I really had no idea how difficult this race was with the mental and physical demands that it imposes on runners,” Charette said after breaking the tape in 5 hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds. “I had studied the elevation profile and talked to as many experienced runners as I could leading into this day, but nothing prepared me for the mind games that I went through out there.”

As the runners stood in the town square waiting for the rain to subside, race director Amiee Cantrell blew the conch, signifying the start of the race and the runners headed out on Knob Creek road. From the start, the leaders separated from the pack with Mark Lundblad, a national class ultra runner who won JFK50 last November, taking the early lead. In the immediate chase pack were Brian Kistner from South Carolina and closely followed by Charette, Dink Taylor and Blake Thompson, all of Huntsville, Alabama.

The Huntsville trio ran together in the rain through the first checkpoint at 5 miles in 34:59, or a pace slightly under seven minute miles. It was shortly after this that Charette made the first move, pulling away from Taylor and Thompson. “I was finally warmed up and felt like I needed to put some time in the bank for later. I have always said, when you feel good you have to go for it; when you don’t, it’s time to back off a little,” Charette noted. He went on to run through the next five miles and climb the first official hill in 34:02, bringing his overall average to down to a 6:54 pace as he was closing in on Kistner for 2nd place overall.

Charette continued to run strong through the half marathon, where he clocked a 1:30:00 split time, though he was slowing slightly as the rolling hills were beginning to take their toll on him. Just 12 days prior, Charette ran a near personal best at the Boston Marathon, finishing in 898th place of 26,000+ runners with a time of 2:56:17. This fast turn around left him with little time to recover, and as he headed toward Whiteside Hill, Taylor caught and passed him up.

It was at the 15 mile mark that Charette started to break down. “I was fatigued and it was starting to hit me that I had another 26.2 miles (a full marathon) to go! This was miles ahead of when I normally hit the wall, but running on less than fresh legs from Boston, I should have expected this.”

Fellow Huntsvillian and INOV-8 Race Teammate of Mark Lundblad, DeWayne Satterfield, steamed past Charette just after Taylor had gone through. “DeWayne really gave me a lift when he ran by me because he told me to stay head strong and not listen to my body. I really took this to heart because my mind was still focused on the prize, but the body was not following suit. I knew that this was part of the normal roller coaster of emotions and fatigue that I go through in an ultra, so listening to Dewayne, I was able to push forward.”

“Climbing up the second hill near 20 miles was very demanding and this was the first time that I walked,” noted Charette who on the positive side, was still averaging 7:15 minute-miles, and split 20 miles at two hours and 25 minutes. On the negative side, he had gone from meeting his crew every five miles at the beginning of the day, down to every 2 miles.

Before the marathon split, Charette was passed several more times, dropping him into 7th place. He was still running well, especially considering the fact that after 20, it is a steady climb on Hilltop Road, ascending 300 feet from miles 21 to 24. The split at mile 25 was the first time that he averaged slower than 8 minute miles, when he clocked 41:09. His crew was now trying to see him about every mile and now forcing him to eat and take in more fluids. “I knew that I had to consume about 500 calories an hour, or I would start to go into a deficit, but at that stage of the game, I was glad that I had laid out a clear plan for taking in fuel/hydration for Laura or I would not have done it on my own”. Charette had also been taking salt tablets to ward off leg cramps and a few Tylenol to ease the pain of pounding on the roads, all of which were part of his pre-race plan.

Back in the early miles, Taylor had joked about how the success of a runner in “The Jim” was how long you could hold off David “Hollywood” Jones. Jones had taken the Masters honors every year since 1998 and is known as a second half or negative split runner. “I just wanted to be able to hold him off through the marathon split on Smith Chapel Road. To me that would be a very good accomplishment,” Charette later remarked. Not long after Charette came through the marathon split (in three hours and 15 minutes) he was passed by Jones and his multicolored split-legged shorts. “He had positive words to share, but I was fading fast and they didn’t help much, though I later thanked him for trying to help me out.”

Earlier this spring, Charette ran the 50km race at Delano12, which was in similar conditions, but on a soft gravel surface, all within a 1 mile loop in Decatur, Alabama. He took the overall win at Delano in 3:53:54 and set the course record. It was this race, in addition to strong showings at Mountain Mist 50km (6th overall) and Black Warrior 50km (4th overall) that lead him to register for Strolling Jim. “I had run three trail ultra marathons and Boston over a 12 week span, with shorter distance races mixed in between. I was recovering well each time and I had always wanted to run with the best in War Trace, so I decided that this was the right time to make my debut there.”

Just before heading into The Walls at mile 29, Charette met his crew and decided to lie down on the side of the road. “I knew that I needed to stretch out my legs somehow and that being on the pavement was the best way to do it. I think that I really worried Laura at this point, as she didn’t think that I would be able to get back up,” said Charette. “It is an example of how your mind can play tricks on you after running for that long. I just needed a physical break from the pounding, and lying down seemed like a good idea and the next thing I knew, I was on my back. The longer I sat there, the more I came to my senses and I realized it was insane; clearly when Jones or Lundblad hit a wall, they didn’t just sit down – they moved on, maybe even harder and pushed through it and came out stronger on the other side. I was in a race and needed to get through it and refocus on staying mentally strong.” Though he sat there for several minutes, he managed the strength to get up on his own and start running again.

Charette became somewhat rejuvenated heading into the walls, as his mile count was off and he thought he was on mile 28, but the course marshal let him know it was 29 and heading shortly into mile 30. This helped to give him just the mental lift heading into the last official hill. Through a combination of running, jogging and power walking, Charette navigated through The Walls onto Whiteside Hill Road. In doing so, he split the 50km mark at an even four hours.

The motivation was now to reach the 35 mile mark and then run an even pace through the last 10km to the finish. Charette clocked a 46:22 through 35 miles and as he made the turn onto Three Forks Bridge Road, he passed through the aid station only to find out that Taylor had also slowed and he was just minutes ahead. Charette, who had dropped his singlet hours ago when the rain stopped and the humidity picked up, was now dumping water over his head to remain cool. “I was drinking almost a bottle of Gatorade and dumping another bottle of water over my head at each mile. The external cooling effect helped to regulate my body temperature as the sun started to beat down on us near the 35 mile mark.” It was not long after this that the clouds came back and the skies become overcast again.

Charette was now running in 8th place, having been passed one last time.

“The game had turned into counting the miles off one at a time and knowing that he end was near. So when I saw that there was a detour on the course, which would undoubtedly cause us to run long, I was very discouraged.” The course officials would later note that the detour around a washed out section of the course added a little more than a mile to the 41.2 mile advertised distance.

After getting back on course, the final two rolling hills were ahead, before coming back into War Trace. “I could see Dink ahead of me, but I knew that I could not catch up to him.” Since mile 20, Charette had been calculating the pace it would take to run 5 ½ hours, which was his goal. “When hitting a half way split of 2:25, I knew that I could run almost 9 minute miles over the second half and still be on track, but as the miles passed by I began to realize that I wasn’t going to make it.” The added distance was the nail in the coffin on Charette’s hopes to hit 5:30.

Over the last 10 miles, Charette was meeting with his crew about every 1/2 mile.

With the added distance in the course, some of the times in this running of Strolling Jim were slightly slower than in years past. With one final push toward the end, Charette broke the tape in 5:46:48, covering the approximate course distance which has been estimated as 42.2 miles, at an average pace of 8:13 minute miles.

The full race results are available on the Strolling Jim website.

"Looking back, I am really glad that I decided to run this race and to stick it out after I wanted to quit early," Charette noted and then added, "I recognize the fact that physically my body was ready to run the distance, but I've got some work to do on my mental state of mind when I have to run that long alone. I am going to take quite a few lessons away from this day."

So the question is everyone's mind is what is next on Charette's plate. "I have some immediate plans to work on my short distance speed with some local races coming up. After that, we have a small group of people who will be running across Alabama to raise awareness for Tay Sachs. Beyond that, I am not sure what the future holds. I'm still considering Arkansas Traveler. Right now I am just happy with my Strolling Jim finish and want to thank my wife for being my crew. I couldn't have done it without help."

Whatever he decides to do, we are sure that he will continue to improve with experience and move up in the rankings.

The 32nd running of Strolling Jim is tentatively set for May 1, 2010.

Eric Charette writes race reports after every race and posts them at