Saturday, October 12th 2019
A single 100 mile loop through the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area spanning two states and visiting some of the most impressive natural areas in the east, the No Business 100 is a race that will not disappoint.
The brain child of Brian and Shelly Gajus, of Ultranaut Racing, the NB100 course was designed with the purpose of showing off this gem of the region. Some say the Big South Fork is the Utah of the east, but perhaps Utah is the Big South Fork of the west. Sandstone bluffs, rockhouses, and immense natural arches are abundant here. Miles of trail follow the edge of the canyon carved by the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River with sweeping views unmarred by man’s hand. The course passes through Pickett CCC Memorial State Park, which holds the distinction of designation as a Silver-tier International Dark Sky Park. I really can’t say enough for the beauty of this area and how well the course canvasses a greatest hits of visual splendors.
It is clear that this course is designed by an ultrarunner. The time limit is more than generous at 33 hours for the clockwise version of the course. Each year the direction alternates allowing one to see all the sights missed the previous year during the long night miles. Each stretch of miles that are more technical and slower seemed to be followed , without exception, by stretches of easier terrain making balancing the pace much easier for a back of the pack runner.
The volunteers are great at every race, it is true. The volunteers here truly went above and beyond in the level of care and kindnesses extended. Each time a runner approached the aid station everyone went crazy cheering. At one point during the night as I approached an AS I stopped to look around… were there other runners? No..it was just me.. middle to the back of the pack. The amount of enthusiasm was staggering. Many of the volunteers had made special foods themselves to add to the offerings; an incredible breakfast scramble at Laurel Hill…or was it Duncan Hollow, homemade jalapeno cornbread at another spot, French cheeses and crackers with coffee by French press at Powerline. These beautiful people extended every hospitality to the runners. Even without a crew I had a dedicated crew. Every time I sat to go through a drop bag or rest a moment , without fail, a volunteer would take my bottles, bring food and drink, and do so with the utmost kindness. It was evident that the volunteers had a genuine commitment to helping each of us see the finish line.
I could gush on and on about the people and sights, but you should sign up and check it out yourself. Words and pictures could never do this experience justice. That said let’s dive in to my recap of the 2019 No Business 100 mile run!
It was dark, a light rain falling and unseasonably chilly temps dominating the morning. Jason and I walked over to pickup our SPOT GPS trackers. Each runner would carry one for live tracking and, if needed, emergency response. A volunteer turned the unit on and I popped it into the GPS pouch on my new UD 2019 Hardrocker vest. The morning race business was then conducted; bathrooms, a short talk by the RD, Brian, and embracing that nervous energy building up as we waited under the tipple where, once upon a time, coal cars were loaded for shipping via the railroad. The countdown issued and we were off to the cheers of those in attendance at 5:00 A.M. sharp.
Climbing up the asphalt path we came to the iconic tipple bridge, a structure constructed in the 1930’s that was built with a dual purpose. It acted both as the tipple for coal shipping, and had a bridge built upon it crossing the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. In it’s heyday this tipple could sort a whopping 400 tons of coal per hour! Today it could send 150+ runners off on an adventure into the majestic wilds of Tennessee and Kentucky. We had been warned the surface of the bridge would be slippery, as would all wooden structures on the course. Everyone moved deliberately slow in crossing.
Arriving at AS #1 : Ledbetter (mile 7.2) it was still dark out. I didn’t need much of anything yet. The cool temps meant I didn’t need as much water or Endurolytes. I wasn’t even sweating. It was an enjoyable morning to run. I was being particularly careful to stay slow and comfortable taking plenty of walking breaks. An ankle injury from work a month previous was still healing. I had an ASO brace on, which my podiatrist gave me with his blessing so long as there wasn’t pain running in the brace. So far so good.
The sunrise came on my way to the next AS, Laurel Hill at mile 15.7. I filled my pack to capacity with water. I had a 70 ounce reservoir and a 20 ounce body bottle. There would be a 10 mile stretch without aid. Originally a water drop was planned about two and a half miles away, but the volunteers carrying it in the day previous ended up with an injury before getting to the drop. Best wishes for a speedy recovery to her! Once again the cooler temps made this much water unnecessary, but better to have it and not need it. En route to Laurel Hill my Endurolytes caps fell out of my pocket. Thankfully Hammer Nutrition had those available on the course and I’d have access to more at each drop location in my bags, the first of which would be coming next at mile 25.2, Duncan Hollow.
Approaching Duncan Hollow there is one big nasty climb of roughly 550 feet vert. A winding gravel jeep road with more than a few false horizons this climb had me winded. I stopped at least twice on the way up. The Aid Station sat immediately atop this beast and was visible from a 100 yards away or so making the last effort up it much easier from the sheer joy of eats and friendly faces soon to be enjoyed. As I came in I grabbed my drop bag and a volunteer dropped a chair down in front of me. I thanked her profusely as she took my bottle and reservoir to refill. My reservoir had a few hundred calories worth of Hammer Heed in it and the body bottle was prepped with a 2-3 hour supply of chocolate Hammer Perpetuem. I managed to pull the bite valve off the body bottle and doused myself in Perpetuem. Once again, the kind volunteer replaced the valve. Despite wearing gloves, my fingers were too cold for nimble work. Swapping out a hat and stuffing my windbreaker into the pack I readied myself for the next section of trail, which would provide some of the most pulchritudinous and enjoyable running of the day.
A large portion of the following 14 miles, including the Grand Gap Loop, would be easy running popping out along the sandstone bluffs multiple times. Sweeping canyon views of the South Fork of the Cumberland River made me stop many times to simply enjoy a moment and take it all in. The view was a potent anodyne to any pain or discomfort of the first 50k of the race. The Angel’s Falls Overlook around mile 38 was breathtaking. I spent a few mintues here soaking it in. A couple offered to take my picture and we briefly chatted about the race. Facing them I also was facing the course. One after another runners came by without so much as looking up from the ground in front of them. I felt a little sad for the opportunity each had missed, but it was time to get moving again. It was less than two miles to the next aid station, Grand Gap (mile 39.5).
The last couple of miles into Grand Gap were enjoyable. Softly rolling trail coming out onto more sandstone bluffs, more great views. My stop at this aid station was short. I kept most visits to under 5 minutes with the exceptions being drop bag locations which took a few more minutes. I knew I have a tendency to blow a lot of time at aid stations and was keeping myself in check. Without pacers or crew the ball was squarely in my court to be as smart as I could be to ensure a finish. I knew I would finish. I only needed to make sure I finished in time. Next stop: Bandy Creek and my second drop bag just a hair over 5 miles away.
Bandy Creek was a haven. I sat under the tent and had quesedillas, soup, pickles, and grazed at a few other offerings. I changed out hats and grabbed spare batteries from my drop bag and loaded them into my pack along with a few more Hammer Raw bars. After finding a semi-private spot to reapply some 2Toms anti-chafe to my “areas” it was time to get on the move again.
It was a short 4.5 miles to the next aid station at the Charit Creek Lodge parking area. The first 45 miles of the race saw aid stations placed roughly 7 miles apart with two drop bags over this distance. Past mile 45 the average distance between aid drops to 5 or less miles and there are 5 drop bags over the final 55 miles. I’m certain this was by design. It is just another small detail that Ultranaut Running got right making the task of running 100 miles more manageble.
I had hoped to see the Twin Arches under light of day, but by the time I arrived at the Charit Creek AS the sun was almost gone. The following miles to the arches were a bit technical and my pace dropped to an average of 20 min per mile. While photos couldn’t capture the arches in the slight light remaining the human eye did an excellent job of taking it all in. The arches command your attention and admiration alike. The North Arch has a clearance of 51 feet, a span of 93 feet and its deck is 62 feet high; South Arch has a clearance of 70 feet, a span of 135 feet and its deck is 103 feet high.
Those 20 min miles continued right on into Sawmill AS, where my next drop bag was. I changed hats and shirts and loaded extra batteries into my pack. It was getting cold fast. Lows were projected to be in the mid-30s and I misjudged which drop bags to start loading warmer clothes into. Thankfully the AS had a large tent with a propane heater set up. I sat on the grass inside and warmed up a bit. I had a dry long sleeve to slip into, but the 8+ miles to my next drop bag were going to be cold ones. The heat seemed to make it easier to get my legs moving again despite stopping for about 20 minutes. The terrain was easy with a couple miles of gravel road. I picked up the pace and made good time coming to the next AS at Middle Creek. It was a water only stop so I passed by focused on reaching Pickett State Park. I fell in with some new friends, one of which was familiar with the trails here. On this stretch I ran into Tara for the second time of the day. Her son, Lincoln, was pacing her. “Hi number 142, it’s number 42” I called out.
As we came down the road and could see all the cars and bustle of the aid station the course shot us left back into the woods for a couple mile tour of Pickett State Park. Tara and Lincoln took off running strong and I slowed my game and ran with a few guys I had been leapfrogging with throughout the day. This park was absolutely beautiful. We crossed over a sandstone natural bridge and ran among mountain laurel and rock. The joy was somewhat tamed by each hill, in which we had hoped the aid station was hiding behind.
The AS at Pickett was inside a small lodge with a fire raging. They had an incredible food spread and I happily sat at a table changing into some warmer clothes I had in this drop. Meanwhile the volunteers asked me what I wanted. I had biscuits and gravy, veggie broth and noodles, bacon, and coffee. Yes, I spent a while at this aid station, at least 20 minutes. Before leaving I grabbed a pancake and smothered it in syrup eating it with my bare hands. Ultrarunning…it is like that.
Leaving Pickett my legs were dead. I had a stomach full of food and needed to get moving, but my mind and body were not on speaking terms. Crossing a suspended footbridge and coming to the other side we had to climb a sandstone rock a few feet high. It was a fiasco. I was surprised to find Tara and Lincoln behind me. I guess I wasn’t the only one who hunkered down at Pickett for a while. After climbing up I offered to let them pass, which they did. Then I made a decision that would ensure my finish. I called ahead, “I’m going to try and stick with you for a bit.” They were clearly running strong and I needed to run strong at this critical point so I focused and followed along. Surprising even myself, I could keep going with someone to follow. I had pacers!
Powerline AS, mile 68.6. A little tent in an open field on a cold and star-filled night. I was still full from Pickett, but they had a plate of crackers and french cheeses, a french press, and good cheer. There was no coffee when we rolled in, but I did have some cheese and crackers. What I failed to do was chew the cheese. Listen up kids! Don’t make the mistake of swallowing a block of cheese at mile 68. The next ten miles will not feel great in the stomach. This goes for all eating during a race. Chew well, chew completely.
A short 4 miles and we were at Blevins Cemetery AS. Yes, it was right next to a cemetery. We had less than 50k to go! Each mile was now a countdown bringing us closer to daylight, closer to the finish. I snacked lightly and changed batteries in my headlamp. Leaving the AS a runner was fumbling with his headlamp. He had locked it into red light mode and was getting nervous joking about how this would be the worst DNF reason ever. I didn’t know how to unlock it and recommended he hoof it the 100 yds or so back to the AS and see if the volunteers knew. He would pass me off in a few miles. Thankfully a volunteer had the same light and knew exactly what to do.
Tara, Lincoln, and I ran and walked and ran and powerwalked those six miles that seemed like they would never end. Great Meadown AS (mile 78.4) was next up and it was a location that held special significance in my mind. The last technical section would come between Great Meadow and Peter’s Mountain at mile 82.7 and this was the opportunity to steel myself for the final big push.
Following enjoyable rolling rocky trail for a moment we could see the lights of the aid station below. But it was a trick! We could see it , but had miles to go before we could avail ourselves of what delights awaited. The coffee was wearing off and I was looking forward to more. It was getting harder to follow Tara and Lincoln. I’d fall behind , then muster a run up and catch up a bit. This was how most of that 6 miles went. Coming to Great Meadow there was a wide stream to cross, the Rock Creek. A rope went across and one by one we made our crossing. I couldn’t help getting my feet wet, but there was a raging fire waiting for us.
I grabbed a chair by the fire and changed shirts, hat, and loaded my pack with the help of the volunteers. Someone brought me a cup of coffee and a cup ramen of spicy soup. The fire was so hot I felt it burning my leg hairs off. Moving back a bit I sat a moment enjoying the warmth of the fire and slammed down the rest of the soup and coffee. It was time as a volunteer had pointed out. “You have plenty of time if you keep moving, but don’t waste any more of it here.” It was back across the Rock Creek and onward towards the last technical stretch and the last big climb.
The first two miles were nice. I was still going slow, around 20 minutes per mile, but making progress. Next came the best marked, most technical section of course. Navigating by small LED lights hanging from tree branches runners followed a confusing labyrinthine course through stream bed and rock crevasses. Enter 30 minute miles. My headlamp had gone very dim, and I foolishly didn’t stop to change batteries making the path more difficult.
Finally breaking free from this section I made the long gradual ascent up Peter’s Mountain. The sun was rising and my heart filled with cheer as the sky turned orange and soon the AS came into view. Mile 82.7 and the toughest trail was behind me. Again I switched out hats and grabbed a quick bite. I didn’t tarry long however. The next stretch would give me 5 miles of gravel and I intended to finally bank some time against the cutoffs again. The gravel was coarse and hard on the feet, but despite the pain, and a few too many bathroom breaks, I was moving faster than I had all night.
A quick stop at mile 88.2, Spring Branch, and I was off again. There was just under 6 miles to my last drop bag at Bald Knob (mile 94). The terrain was mostly easy, but now the sun was up and it was getting warm. A fair bit of this section was exposed and despite the overall temperature being low, it felt much warmer by comparison to lows of the previous 30 hours.
I came to a large rock. Looking around I didn’t see a trail or any markers. I shot a glance up the rock face and realized I had to climb it. Grumbling a few choice words and grunting through the short climb it was over in no time. It really wasn’t so bad, but my mobility was slightly impaired at this point.
Coming in to Bald Knob I bypassed the tent and went straight for a chair. A volunteer had my drop bag in hand by the time my butt met the plastic. I happily shedded the excess layers of night and went to a short sleeve shirt and new No Business running hat. I ate something, but can’t recall what. Just under 7 miles left to go I grilled the volunteers on what the remaining trail was like. I had plenty of time, but didn’t want to make any foolish mistakes. There was 2 miles of road and a hair over 4 of easy trail. There were some small climbs and more decent. I thanked the volunteers and set out on the country road.
I had mental clarity, my body was tired, but not in that bad of shape really. Despite this I kept hallucinating the strangest things under the full light of day. Usually these experiences were reserved for caffeine-deprived night time miles under the glow of a headlamp, but not today.
As I alternated walking and jogging up the road I saw a pickup truck parked in the woods. The angle was severe and I though the driveway must be short and steep. As I got closer I saw a small, newly constructed cabin with windows around the peaked roof. I could see it was empty inside. As I neared the spot there was nothing. Nothing but sticks, trees, and stones. Moss and lichen spots on rocks looked to be painted messages that were indiscernible at a distance, a pink ribbon course marker hanging from a tree morphed into a pink and white banded snake as I passed. None of it made me jumpy or concerned. I knew it wasn’t real and just continued on.
I kept staring at these odd sights trying to discern if they were real or imaginary. Aside from the snake everything else was within the realm of the possible. I thought I saw more than a few bridges and structures through the trees. It was an interesting morning walk through the woods. Soon, I could hear music booming up the valley. By a cruel trick of the terrain, just as it was seeing Great Meadow AS from miles away, I followed the sound of the music until the trail turned away in the opposite direction. There was still 2 or more miles to go.
The silence of the forest and the easy terrain was enjoyable enough, but I was starting to get a little anxious. I had a little over 35 minutes still, but what if I misjudged the distance or time? I walked faster and mustered up a little run when I could. Rounding a turn on the hillside and 70 yards away were two volunteers in NB100 shirts. I was there! I told them I was happy to see them and was starting to get a little nervous. We all had a laugh. I turned left by the volunteers, took a few steps and froze.
I was standing on the Tipple Bridge again, the finish line a little speck roughly 0.2 miles away. Bright blue skies with a few fluffy clouds were overhead, the sun spotlighting the sandstone bluffs high up on the ridge, and below the river valley. It was the most beautiful finish approach I had ever laid eyes on. I walked faster, and after taking it all in started running. I was running faster and faster with a wide stupid grin plastered across my face until I was face to face with Brian, the RD, and Shelly. They handed me a mug, a buckle, and after a brief chat someone handed me a plate with a fresh-grilled burger and fixings on it.
From start to finish everything about this race was great. The course, the volunteers, and RD are all brag-worthy. Even more impressive is that this race is still in it’s infancy with 2019 being the third year for getting down to business. I look forward to what the future holds for this event and am looking forward to returning in 2020 for the counterclockwise tour of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area!
Hammer Chocolate Perpetuem, Endurolytes, Heed, and Raw Bars and a variety of food at aid stations consisting of soups, biscuits and gravy, bacon, pancakes, quesedillas, pickles, and coffee.
A huge thanks to my sponsor, Hammer Nutrition, for keeping me going strong on and off the course! Need help with fueling and hydration? Shoot me a message or the great folks at Hammer’s HQ in Montana.
Use referral code 255648 for 15% off your first order.