Locked Up

Another headline stating a repeat felon was released from jail, went straight back to their criminal behavior and ended up back in jail. These types of headlines have become far too common. No one is surprised. Most people just read the article title, shake their head and continue scrolling without given it a second thought.

“Well, they’re just bad people and criminals. It’s who they are and that’s how it’s gonna be.”

Is it though? Is that how it’s gotta be? Are they despicable people? Or….. are their behaviors despicable?

Hate the behavior, not the person. That’s an important concept. Learn it. It brings compassion and grace.

As a society, we’ve established the prison system as punishment. Rightfully so, people that break the law should be punished. However, if the sole purpose of prison is punishment, how do we expect any actual change in behavior to take place if nothing is being done to actively change said behavior. These offenders are locked up and stuck in confinement to not only dwell in a physical cage… but perhaps even worse… stuck dwelling in the cage of their mind for far longer than they should. Most institutions don’t provide any sort of mental health services. Sad… but it’s the truth.

Most of my week is spent in a small office providing therapy related to mental illness for adults. Some people want to learn how to better manage depression and anxiety symptoms, some people struggle with psychosis, some people want to regain the self-worth they’ve lost, some people want to know how to effectively communicate in their relationships… the list is endless. The truth of the matter is, everyone could benefit from therapy. Therapy isn’t just for people who have “problems”, therapy is also coming into the office saying “I’m a good husband, but I want to be a great husband. How do I get there?” Its coming in and saying “I’m very successful at my business, but lack self-worth in other aspects of my life. I want ___.” Therapy can be a monumental transition into better living.

4 days of my week are spent in that kind of setting… but every Wednesday… my office looks different.

On Wednesdays, I typically swing by the office for a bit to check in to ensure there’s nothing pending or pressing. After catching up on notes or squeezing in a few individual sessions… I hop in my car and drive through a cute, old southern downtown area. Beautiful flowers line the porches of gorgeous craftsman style houses. I pull up to a stop sign and wave at the adorable old man in overalls watering his garden.

From there, I pull off onto a bumpy side street and make my way through a chain linked fence with razor wire adorning the top. I park my car and walk to the back door. I wait patiently as I hear the locking mechanism click and watch the heavy metal plated door slide open. I enter another space where I again wait for the door behind me to close and the one in front of me to open. I pass through a metal detector and hand off my bag to be placed in the sergeant’s office.

“How many we got on watch today Sarg?”

Before starting my day at the jail, I’ll swing by the nurses office to check in to see if there’s anyone that needs to be seen that hasn’t sent a request. Some people lose family members while incarcerated and they’re left to grieve alone. The nurse does a great job of identifying those scenarios and keeps me informed.

Depending on the day, I either get placed in a small room outside of the main booking space or in the inmate side of visitation. They’re remodeling the room that I’ll be consistently set up in, so I get escorted to a long, small room where inmates sit for visitation.

The room is slender, cramped, unwelcoming and warm. The AC broke earlier that day and the repair man hasn’t been out to work on it yet. I roll up my sleeves and unbutton the top of my shirt.

The stools anchored into the ground are hard and uncomfortable. They’re not meant for comfort or extended use. Typically, the chairs are used for 10-15min phone conversations through a small 3 x 12 inch glass window. Thankfully I’m able to pull 2 foldout chairs into the room to make myself and my clients more comfortable.

The first order of every visit is to clear the suicide watch list. A young man is escorted into the small room with me. He’s handcuffed and wearing a smock. A suicide smock is a tear-resistant garment that is used to prevent an individual from forming a noose with the garment. The suit covers all private areas because the wearer is naked under the suit for their own protection.

image from Hamilton Medical Products

The guard sits the client down in the chair in front of me, gives me a nod and exits the room. As the guard exits the room to head back to the booking area… I hear the heavy door shut and the locking mechanism click into place. Yes… I’m on camera… but I’m also a lifetime away from someone opening that secure door.

I immediately send nonverbal signals by sinking back and relaxing into my foldout chair to diffuse any initial hostile perceptions…

Hey man… my names Zach. How ya doing?”

The response varies from the nonchalant “man, I’m not doing too bad…” to the aggravated “I can’t fuckin deal with this shit anymore. I’m just done, man. Fuck this shit I’m done.”

Laughter or tears. There’s no in between.

My therapeutic approach has always been person-centered. According to the Great Carl Rogers…

“Individuals have within themselves vast resources for self-understanding and for altering their self-concepts, basic attitudes, and self-directed behavior; these resources can be tapped if a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.”

In Layman terms… every person has the capacity and desire for personal growth and change. In person centered therapy, therapists provide empathy and unconditional positive regard to help create change in an individual. Therapists don’t instigate change… they simply help clients come to their own personal insight and conclusions to make changes. Therapists facilitate… the real work is done by clients… not therapists.

Every person is different and thus every person deserves a unique approach… hence my belief in person centered therapy…

I go through a detailed clinical assessment with each client on suicide watch. Some clients claim suicidal ideations (SI) to get out of their cell, some claim SI because of boredom and some truly are suicidal. Despite the outcome of the assessment, I always offer further mental health services. Most want services. Most want to have someone to talk to and work through their shit while they’re incarcerated. I’m starting to get the impression that it gets lonely as fuck in jail.

After the watches are cleared, I start working through the list of inmates that have requested mental health services. The list isn’t short. The list isn’t something I’m able to tackle in a day… or even in the next few weeks for that matter. I wish I had more time. I wish these folxs had more resources. I wish… I wish I could do more.

I walk down the hallway into the main booking room where a recent arrest is screaming loudly and aggressively resisting the officers. He’s high as a kite. He’s fucked up. He’s scared. He’s lost. He’s screaming nonsense. He’s… he’s needing help… but help can’t be got until he comes down from his high. Hopefully I’ll see him next week.

I wait while the guards go through the booking protocol. I patiently watch and observe.

The guards are amazing. They don’t see the inmates as anything other than human. The guards are calm. They’re respectful. They’re diligent. They’re genuine. I’m proud to be working hand-in-hand with these folx. Despite the media push that law enforcement is “bad”… it’s relieving to see firsthand that at its core… law enforcement… and humanity in general… are good. Don’t get it twisted… there are many bad apples in every every orchard… but don’t let the media fool ya… the majority of humanity is alright. We’re alright… I promise.

After the scene calms down, I ask for the clients I see on a weekly basis.

Can I get XXX next?”

Despite the response, my affect always stays neutral.

“Damn. Ok…. Well… can I get XYZ?”

XXX had just received her sentence earlier in the week and is heading down to serve her time in prison.

XXX was one of my favorites. It took her a few sessions to truly open up, but after the rapport was built and the trust was gained… we had started focusing on some intensive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In a nutshell… CBT focuses on changing patterns of thinking by focusing on the thoughts/patterns that are creating problems and re-engineering them. It’s a very simple concept that takes a TON of actual effort on the clients behalf. Change isn’t easy. Most people aren’t willing to sacrifice what it takes to make actual change in their behavior. I’m honest with my clients… if they’re willing to put in the effort and work… big changes can happen… but… the effort has to be there.

XXX had the desire and put in the effort. She bought in. We discussed coping skills, explored mindfulness and processed techniques that she could utilize while she served her time. We formalized support systems and structures to actively allow her to escape her environment and make changes when she gets released in a few years.

Was it enough? Will she retain the techniques? Will she hold onto that hope that she created during our sessions together? I hope so. God I hope so. I hope she serves her time, follows through with her intentions and climbs out of the dark, depressive hole in which she currently resides. She deserves it. She’s truly a wonderful human that’s been dealt a troublesome hand. I may never hear/see from her again… but I’ll pray for her often.

XXX is one. One soul who bought into the idea of change. One soul that came to the understanding that her current predicament isn’t who she is and doesn’t have to be her future. XXX was given the chance to seek mental health services while incarcerated… she was given the opportunity to work on changing her behavior.

But how many don’t get that opportunity? There are currently 1.8 MILLION… yes MILLION… people incarcerated in the US. How many of those are getting actual opportunities to change?

I’m hoping your heart sank like mine.

I don’t have the answers… so don’t ask me what I think should be done. Hell… at this point… I’m not even sure of the question that needs to be asked. All I know is… I recognize the struggle and the hardships that community mental health agencies face. We’re trying. We’re throwing every hour, every physical body and every resource available to serve the public to the best of our ability… honestly… to the point where people are burning out and giving up. Until we… as a society… start recognizing the importance of investing time and effort into providing opportunities to change inmate’s behavior while within our penal system…we won’t see change. Perhaps it is the lack of resources. Perhaps it’s governmental laziness. Whatever the case may be… change is hard…change takes effort… change needs to happen… but people resist change for these reasons. So I’m curious… as someone with opportunity… what changes are you willing to make in your own life to help create a better future for yourself and the people around you?

When Darkness Falls

Start of Hellbender 100

Distance doesn’t make the runner. We’ve all heard the “you’re a runner whether you run 1 mile or 100 miles” saying and I whole heartedly stand by that. You’re no less a runner if you’re doing 5ks and your friends are doing 50ks. It’s all about personally preference and insight.

I remember starting my own venture into the trail world. The forest adventure side of me began as a kid and stayed with me through college. Despite an unbeknownst passion for wanting to run wildly through the woods for no good reason, I never got to pursue trail running in college.

“I’m paying you to throw a baseball… not to run.”

For NCAA and clarification reasons… this “payment” was in reference to scholarships, not actually money…. so don’t get yourself into a legal tizzy.

After I got married in June 2010, I signed up for my first 50k in February. Over the course of the 6 months, I fell in love with the extended time I was spending in the woods. My first race at Black Warrior 50k destroyed me. It hurt so bad. Cramps, blisters… all the good stuff associated with ultras happened to me along that muddy ass course… but I finished.

Black Warrior 50k – 2011

I’ve seen a lot of folks go straight for 100 milers. They’ll complete a 50k and just go big. More power to those people, but that just wasn’t me. Maybe I’m old school and don’t need that instant gratification. I’ve always enjoyed the process and the build up.

It took yeeeeeeaaaaaarrrrssss and countless shorter races before I attempted my first 100 miler. Along the way I knew I had the ability to go out and finish the distance, but I wanted to be able to enjoy the process and the experience on race day.

1st 100m – Bryce 100 – finish (2014)

The trail / ultra world especially, falls prey to the “you’re not a real ultra runner unless you’ve done a 100 miler.”

Blah blah blah. I mean if we’re technically speaking… anything over 26.2 miles is considered an ultra. Personally, I love the 50 mile distance. I feel it gives ya errrrythang that’s great about ultra running. It’s a distance where you can push fairly hard, spend the majority of the day in the woods/mountains and still experience those lovely highs and lows without being completely wrecked for days/weeks post race.

But there’s a few things that distance may not always give you… like overnight running.

Everyone has different feels about being in the woods at night. I freakin love it. I don’t know if there’s a more exciting feeling than watching the sun set over the mountains knowing you’re about to embark on an all night push. Something about being in the middle of nowhere at 3am doing an activity very few folks do, really puts me at peace and helps me feel connected to the universe. Maybe it’s because most people in the surrounding area are fast asleep and there’s a little less clustered thoughts in the world. Maybe the veil is thinner during those moments and it’s easier to access the heavens.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone that long. The last time I covered the 100 mile distance was 2 years ago at the Hellbender 100.

I had just started grad school so I had yet to be demolished by the whole “you’ve sold your soul and time to this program and must give an absurd amount of your energy and life to accomplishing this goal” lifestyle.

I couldn’t fathom training for such distance while in grad school, so I stuck to shorter distances. I was able to sneak in a 78 miler, but that was more of a relaxed, fun, solo outing to reconnect with my mountain and to feel alive again.

Now that I’m done with school and starting to settle into only working life, I can start back into a running routine again. Honestly, I’ve felt like a nomad for the last couple of weeks trying to figure out what and where exactly I’ll be working, but I’ve finally settled into an outpatient mental illness therapist position working with both adults and adolescents. Hell, I’ll even have an actual office come Monday 🤘🏼. I’m stoked to have this routine structure back in my life… so stoked that I’ve already started scheduling long runs and hopped into a new training plan for a 100 in the Fall. I’m excited about getting back on that grind and looking forward to an adventurous, hot ass summer in the woods!

The Good Life

What makes you do good? Where does this good come from? God? Are we wired as humans to instinctively do good? I personally believe that humans at their core are morally good. Like everything else, there are exceptions. Wires get crossed and chemicals become imbalanced, but for the most part, the majority of humans are good and capable of doing good things. But honestly… does it really matter where the desire to be good comes from?

Working as a therapist in the public mental health world, you get exposed to everything from mental illness to substance use. During intake assessments one of the main prompts is essentially: In your own words, what brings you here today?

For some, it’s mandated by local courts…

Man, I fucked up. Cops busted me with a little cocaine and I just need em out of my hair.”

If that’s the reason the client wants to get better and start doing good, is it wrong?

For others, it’s a want or need to make changes or improvements in their lives.

If I don’t make some changes and get my shit together, my kids are gonna get taken from me.”

Big or small… no matter the reason… there can be no bad reason to be good.

For many, religion is a key component of why people are good. Christianity leads its followers to believe that if you are a good person, believe in specific things, you’ll go to Heaven. On the other side of the spectrum, if you do bad things and don’t believe, you’ll go to Hell. Now I’m not a fan of fear based tactics… but not being thrown into a lake of fire and being eternally tormented is a damn(ed) good reason to be good. And if that’s your reason for being good… so be it.

pic: Owlcation

What about those who don’t believe in God at all? What’s their reason for being good? Is their reason to be good less valid because they don’t believe in God or don’t follow the same religious practices or beliefs as you? No. Anyone’s reason to be good is a valid reason.

Same theory applies to those experiencing suicidal ideations. There is no wrong or insignificant reason to stay alive.

It sounds like you’re stronger than you think you are. Tell me, how have you managed to stay alive this long?”

It’s stupid, but I can’t stand the thought of leaving my cat behind. Every time I have a suicidal thought, I think of my cat and how lost she would be without me. How confused she’d be if I didn’t come home.”

our 2 cats:
Wobbles (top) Vinmo (bottom)

If your cat is what’s keeping you alive… that’s a 100% valid and good reason to stay alive. That is an identified strength and can be utilized to combat distressful, suicidal thoughts. You roll with that strength and through the process, help that person identify more reasons to stay alive.

Would you even think to say “Oh, your cat? That’s a stupid reason to stay alive.”

Absolutely not. That would be absurd. So what makes us attack others’ lifestyles or beliefs if they’re still being a good human?

I have a hard time understanding how people can completely bash another’s belief or lifestyle simply on the basis that it doesn’t align with their own personal beliefs. The cool thing about this human experience is that every single individual has the opportunity and autonomy to believe in and live as they see fit. Are you being lawful? Are you causing no harm? Are you trying to be a good human? Yea? That’s great. Keep doing you boo.

Part of my duty as a therapist is to advocate for those who can’t always advocate for themselves, to help give a voice to the voiceless and to help people reach their own goals and make their own changes to help them live their best human life.

Regardless of who you are or what you’ve done, you’ll receive a baseline of support and love from me.

Black, white, purple, reptilian…

pic: The Mozilla Blog

Trans, bi, gay, asexual…

It doesn’t matter. If you’re a good person, there’s about a 100% chance Ima love and support you.

The truth is… no one knows the truth. I personally don’t believe we’re built to completely understand this existence while in human form. But we can’t deny that there’s an inner presence in each of us, no matter how big or small, that pushes us to be good. I’ve found that it takes no actual skill to be compassionate and kind to one another… its not an extremely difficult task. I think the media wants us to believe the world is far worse off than it actually is… that people are rooted in evil. We’re truly not as bad as we’re made to believe. We just all need to keep our heads up and our hands out.

So whatever your reason for being good… keep it up. You’re doing great.

Little Things

I’ve always disliked the idea of giving gifts when it was expected… ie: for birthdays or Christmas. It just has always felt… forced? It also puts a lot of unneeded pressure and anxiety on people to feel like they have to give something. We might as well all just be out here swapping $20 bills from our wallets and calling it a Christmas gift exchange.

Real gift giving is different though. Ya know… when ya just randomly stumble across something that reminds you of someone or a crafty idea pops in your head and ya make something for a friend. I adore that type of gift giving and outside of words and time… it’s one of my favorite love languages.

I remember we kinda went all out the first Christmas Kati and I spent together in our first apartment. We got a tree, decorated and bought all kinds of gifts for each other to open on Christmas morning. Don’t get me wrong… it was fun… but afterwards we were like… “what was the point of that?”

Christmas 2010

It just felt off for some reason. So we decided to STOP exchanging gifts for Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries. Outside of a lil black Christmas tree, we’ve really stopped decorating for Christmas altogether. Now, we simply give gifts when the opportunity presents itself and honestly… it’s been wonderful. Before ya come for my head… I’m NOT bashing gift givers or anyone that follows traditions… I’m just saying that we’ve taken a different approach and doing things our way.

I’ve received a lot of wonderful gifts in my day, but one of my favorite gift memories was our first anniversary. We got married in 2010…

and shortly after “I do” I started trail running. I bought my first pair of Salomon XT 2 Wings and my love affair with Salomon products hasn’t stopped since…

I LOVED THIS SHOE. I litrully had ever color. My wife wishes that was an exaggeration… but it’s fact. I then stepped into the S/LAB series and have been hooked ever since…

1st gen S/LAB

I remember watching Kilian sport a new style vest during his 2009 UTMB race. No one had ever seen that type of pack before. It was shirt-like and had just enough cargo space for the mandatory gear…

I pined after that pack. I wanted it so badly but it was ASPENSIVE! I talked and talked and talked about that pack, but it was more of a pipe dream. As newly weds, the last thing we needed to spend money on was some frivolous shit like a fancy euro boi vest so that I could go prance around the woods.

June 5, 2011 rolled around and we had been married a whole entire year!

2011: Babies

Kati pulls out a box and slides it my way…

She freakin got me the vest. I was blown away. I wore that pack EVERYWHERE…

To the beach…

To the lake…

To the Dragon…

I litrully became… a EURO BOI.

That vest was such a special gift to me. It felt more like a gift of freedom and adventure than a physical vest.

Fast forward 11yrs later… we’re a lil older… I’ve greyed a bit (or perhaps a lot)… but we’ve still got that same young fire.

Yesterday I pulled into Cedar Creek Nursery, walked straight inside, grabbed something off the shelf and went to the counter.

You came through that door like a man on a mission. You must have known exactly what ya wanted to buy.”

I pretty much did. The previous weekend we had swung into the nursery to pick up some flowers and plants for the house. After picking a few out, we went into the gift shop to look around. Per usual, Kati stopped at the sight of candles and wafted her way through the shelf. You can always tell when she finds one she really loves. She takes a deep inhale, smiles a lil happy smile and then excitedly turns to me to get my thoughts. I love those little moments.

Kati placed the candle back on the shelf…

“I can’t buy this right now. We can’t spend money on a silly candle.”

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize certain pieces that seem to be consistent components in the success and happiness of marriage. For one, the better the communication, the better the relationship. We openly and safely provide a space to express our feelings, concerns and joys. We share stories and our crazy thoughts with each other. I feel this type of communication builds a strong relationship.

I believe one of the most important components is simply recognizing and enjoying the little things and moments. I know the bigger moments and trips are the ones that stick out the most and are the easiest to recall…

Tetons ~ 2018

But it’s the little things that count. Like a random Saturday where we wake up, have coffee together, go smell some candles, go for a hike and go stick our hands in the creek.

Today marks 11 years with my Dark Princess. Tonight we’ll get our traditional Chick Fil A anniversary dinner, pop in a horror movie, paint our toe nails, monch some popcorn and enjoy a bottle of wine. We may even light a special lil candle…

Moments and gifts don’t have to be elaborate or expensive to have special meaning. Sometimes it’s just the little things.

6593

“What’s the numbers on your chest represent? A phone number? Social security number? A specific date?”

Actually, it’s the elevation of my favorite mountain.

I never expect anyone to understand. Sure, there’s a few that truly understand the feeling of having your soul and heart attached to a certain place, but for the most part, people just shrug and move on as they do with most tattoo questions.

Mount LeConte has held a special place in my heart since the moment I turned the corner at Inspiration Point and my heart fluttered with excitement at the site of the distant Anakeesta ridge.

First trip up LeConte: 2013

LeConte has been a critical part of cultivating so many amazing friendships…

It’s been the home of some wild and crazy solo adventures like The Great Ascension (a 78 mile link up of an out and back of every trail connected to LeConte)

GatlinDome… a +40 mile loop from my hotel in downtown Gatlinburg up and over Clingmans and back…

And some non solo adventures like… Fav 2 Fav… a +40 mile point to point that linked LeConte and Rocky Top…

And the sunset after an off trail free climb of Charlie’s Bunion

Everything from hot summer runs with cool downs in Pigeon River…

Beautiful, crystal clear skies…

Classic Smoky Mtns…

Foggy, enchanting tunnels into the magic forest…

Cold, snowy, freezing weather….

Solo midnight summits…

After hours stargazes and a lot of good, clean fun…

The mountain has even inspired a lot of great songs found on my Huggins Hell EP and The Mountains Are Calling

To say the least, LeConte is a staple in my life.

A few weeks ago, Matty Fierce and I went up to celebrate my graduation. When I received my undergrad degree in kinesiology, I went through the entire process of walking across stage and taking ALL the pictures, but wanted something a lil more intimate and special for my graduate degree.

When me and MF head to the Smokies, we typically try and slide in some newer trails as to slowly check em off the map. We spent the previous day running a 25 mile route on a few trails we’d never been on that lead us to familiar spots.

But I really really wanted to be on my mountain for graduation. So we bounced up Alum and hit the usual spots like the Lodge and the summit…

And Myrtle Point…

As we started making our way over to Cliff Top, I came across a stick that resembled the shape of a diploma.

I’ve got an idea for a graduation picture…”

The rocks were empty when we arrived…

But soon enough, a hiker came up and offered to take a picture.

It was perfect. I’ve had a lot of cool photos with a lot of amazing people on LeConte, but this photo will always hold a significant spot in my heart. It means so much more than I’m willing and able to express through text.

After the trip, I posted the pic on one of the Smokies Facebook pages. I had always enjoyed seeing others’ pictures and experiences that get posted there and just thought maybe others would like to share in this one. It was well received.

It even got pushed around enough that Abby Kousouris of WVLT in Knoxville reached out for an interview!

After that, Tandra Smith of Al.com reached out for an interview!

At this point in my life, I’m feeling extremely grateful. Grateful for a body that allows me to move across mountainous terrain to see the wonders of the world… grateful for the love and support I’ve received and have in my life… grateful for all the people and experiences… simply put… I just feel grateful. I’d even go as far as saying #grateful.

If you know me at all… you probably know that I’ve painted my body with the places, experiences and people that I love the most. I don’t ragret any marking I’ve ever made… (not even one single letter) and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so until I make the passage to the next life…

That reminds me… I need to check to see when Justin of Sanctum Tattoos & Comics is free…

Until then… peace, love and 6593.

Dragonborn

The older I get, the more I’ve grown to appreciate the authentic. Authentic friendships. Authentic experiences. Authentic love. The modern world has us chasing instant gratification and it seems like a new trend comes and goes every single day. Some people and events can mask themselves in authenticity, but if you stare long enough, you can see through the makeup and nails to reveal the gimmicks.

I remember standing outside of Camp Morganton in 2013 when a slender man with a bull horn drew a line in the gravel with his foot.

CJ – the beginning

I was an abecedarian in the world of mountain ultra running, but instantly knew there was something genuine about Cruel Jewel. It was raw. It was real. You couldn’t “fake it till you make it” your way through this race.

Originally, CJ56 started at 4pm and was essentially a night ultra. I lined up with 16 other adventurers and set off for Vogel. After 15hrs20mins, I arrived to the park first, but there was no finish line. The finish was a cabin with a few folks hanging out. For my first ultra win, I got a fist bump and a cold beer. Authentic to its core.

CJ 56 – 2013

Since 2013, I’ve gone back to the beautiful North Georgia mountains to experience the Dragon several times. Before changing directions, I had my eye on Hardrock and fought my way through 2 Cruel Jewel 106 mile finishes (2016 & 2018) to snag qualifiers. Cruel Jewel holds a special place in my heart and my skin…

But let me be authentic with you guys… I’m sure as shit glad that Covid canceled the 2020 attempt. I was not looking forward to battling the Dragon again. The 106 mile journey is such a massive undertaking and a labor of love. It not only takes a special kind of personal grit, but it also takes a special type of human to sacrifice their own time and well being to crew/pace. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, crewing/pacing a 100 miles is harder than running a 100 miles. I’ll forever be blown away by those who support these types of endurance endeavors.

Due to the 2020 covid cancellation, runners were given the option to defer to the following year or get a credit for Dumass events. Since grad school hadn’t really offered the free time to properly train for a 100 miler, I chose to drop down to the 56 miler to give myself a lil more grace with my weekly mileage. My approach to ultra running training during grad school looked completely different than pre-grad school, but I think the approach has been effective. Ive felt happier and healthier with lower mileage paired with more quality workouts/runs. Plus, a lot of my longer efforts have been solo and I believe that’s played into the overall mental well being of my running.

Speaking of grad school…. I’M FINISHED!! I graduated on May 8th! It still doesn’t feel real! Perhaps it doesn’t feel real since I opted for a shorty shorts Mount LeConte graduation instead of the typical walk across stage in a black robe type of graduation.

Professor Fierce doing the honors

Heading back to North Georgia for the 2021 CJ56 felt like freedom in so many different ways. I didn’t have school work or internship looming in the back of my mind,… I wasn’t searching for a job since I had recently secured a therapist position at a private nonprofit… I was free to enjoy the N Ga mountains with no bonds or ties.

Since we (the Road Prong Boyz) already had a big mountain adventure planned for June, the usual suspects couldn’t make it out to CJ to crew. I had originally planned to just snag a campsite and shuttle/drop bag my way through the race, but Kati said we could make a weekend out of it and she’d crew me. My wife Kati has always been one of the biggest supporters of my endurance endeavors, but after I botched a few experiences for her… I gave her a life long pass of not having to come out to anymore events. I got super stoked when she suggested coming along with me since we’ve not gotten to spend a lot of time together due to grad school and such. So we said goodbye to our cats and headed to Blue Ridge.

Wobbles the 3 Legged Phenom

We snagged a cute little AirBnB about 10mins from Camp Morganton called “The Happy Place.” It was quiet and allowed easy access to all the crew accessible aid stations for the race!

After dinner in Blue Ridge, we called it an early night.

Oh damn, it’s kinda cold!”

Race morning weather couldn’t have been any better. 42° and gorgeous.

After a quick sexy photo shoot showing off the 3 day old Salomon S/SLAB SG 8’s...

An adventure cat wished me luck…

And we headed out of Morganton!

We had a small, chatty group as we made our way down the asphalt of Snake Nation and up the big hill towards Deep Creek trail head. The road had been my friend for the past several months so I felt comfortable moving quickly along the blacktop. I didn’t have much of a strategy for the day and had no real plans of competing with anyone other than myself. I wanted this race to be more of a celebratory run than a competition. My personal plan was to go out quick and stay consistent until I reached Skeenah, where I’d inevitably slow down to cater to the Dragon.

I pushed through Deep Gap aid (mile 2.7) without checking up. It had been years since I’d run this loop in the daylight and enjoyed the easy movement. Ya tend to forget how pleasant a section can be when you have +50 miles on your legs already.

I passed my girl Sunny on the backside of the loop. She was back for revenge. Sunny and her pacer Stan were pushing through the first morning. I stopped for a quick hug before carrying on to the aid station. The mental fortitude and persistence that resides in Sunny is something out of this world. I can’t even begin to explain how proud I am of her finish.

I got back to Deep Gap aid (mile 8.5) and quickly had a volunteer verify my bib punch before heading towards Weaver.

Oh Weaver… how thou sucketh so badeth.

This pointless out and back is why you are running 56 miles and not 50 miles.”

Yea… that sign sucks… but it sucks even worsewhen you change the numbers to 106 and 100. Dropping down to Weaver isn’t so bad when it’s mile 10 and not 60. I passed 2 other BHM lads (Don and Robby) pursuing their CJ buckles.

Congrats my dudes!

I found myself enjoying the climb out of Weaver. I wasn’t falling asleep to the sunrise with Matty Fierce like I was in 2018…

CJ100 ~ 2018

I wasn’t deliriously wondering if some old man with a rifle was gonna shoot me and OJG like in 2016… (thassa true story tho…)

CJ100 ~ 2016

I was just climbing and enjoying the morning when I came upon another Birmingham bad ass tackling the 106 miler. As always, Missy looked fresh and was moving well!

Once I topped the climb out of Weaver, it was easy running down to Stanley (mile 18.9).

pic: Tony F (thx dude!)

The guys weren’t too far behind me so I decided to kick a lil on the asphalt to try and bank some extra time for the Dragon. I got into a steady groove and was well ahead of my anticipated arrival (by ~ 45mins) for Old Dial. I was a bit worried I’d miss Kati at Old Dial aid (mile 24.8) and told the volunteers to be on the lookout for a cute girl in a black death metal t shirt. Luckily, Kati had litrully just parked when I was leaving the aid tent.

I took a quick sip of Coke and tried to monch a Clif Bar, but solid foods weren’t the ticket for the day.

I quickly headed out of Old Dial and up towards the fire tower. Even though it’s been since 2018 that I’ve been on this particular portion of trail, everything felt familiar. I allowed myself to revisit some old memories and conversations as I pushed up towards the fire tower, but quickly snapped out of it when they started turning negative. I rolled into Wilscot aid (mile 30.3) a little overheated. Though not as hot as previous years, this was still one of my first exposures to warmer weather this year. Hell, it was 30° with snow flurries during last weekend’s 25 mile adventure in the Smokies w/ Matty Fierce!

I was starting to feel a bit dehydrated and knew I wasn’t taking in enough liquids. I grabbed a 2nd handheld from Kati before leaving Wilscot. As you can see from the above chipmunk cheek picture, the bacon at Wilscot was top notch.

Wilscot to Skeenah was pretty uneventful. I kept pushing as hard as my body would comfortably allow through some of the more runnable sections. Every time I felt overheated, I’d douse myself with a little water and catch a cooler wind through the trees.

Skeenah (mile 35.2) was a welcomed sight. Skeenah marks the beginning of the end. The Duncan Ridge Trail is a relentless beat down when you’ve got a pair of fresh legs… but the Dragon Spine is just down right fierce when you’ve already got many tough mountain miles under your feet.

I was curious of how I’d feel about the DRT when I only had to cover its ground once. As always, the climb out of Skeenah along the BMT was long and hot! As I turned onto the DRT, I gave myself a little pep talk.

Alright Andrews, 20 miles. Stay steady. Pick up your feet. Stay consistent.”

Typically when I run long alone… I’ll get a song stuck in my head and it’ll become my mantra. I’ll tie myself into the song’s cadence or deep dive into the lyrics to take my mind off the present. At Blood Rock 50 it was MGK’s “Kiss, Kiss” that played on repeat in my dome piece. At CJ56, it was Taking Back Sunday’s Timberwolves at New Jersey.

Get up, get up
Come on, come on, let's go
There's just a few things
I think that you should know
Those words at best
Were worse than teenage poetry

Very fitting…

As I started rounding into Fish Gap aid (mile 40), I saw Ryan James well into the late miles heading to another 100 mile finish. Dudes been crushing lately.

It was good catching up with RJ for a bit. I hadn’t seen him since he made the move to Black Mountain from Birmingham. We came into the aid together where the wonderful Baker family was volunteering.

“Ya just need to make it to Fire Pit and you’re done.”

Ryan was right. If I could just drop down to Mulky and fight my way to Fire Pit, I’d be sitting pretty for a solid push to the finish.

After Mulky, a fleeting memory of the Lesbian Mountain Dew adventure flashed in my mind as I passed a certain area along the trail. Years ago… out of water with no access along the DRT, a friend and I came across a strange couple camped along the trail. It appeared that their main form of nutrition for the trip was a 24 pack of Mountain Dew. I verbally expressed my longing for one of those bright green cans and they were generous enough to offer us up a couple.

The memory triggered an immediate need for Mountain Dew at Fire Pit aid (mile 47.4). After a cup or 2, I buried that memory and poured some out for a lost homie.

I slogged my way up to Coosa Bald and was relieved when I topped out .

pic: Paige

I spent the next 4 miles descending towards Vogel. Despite the 50 miles or so already on my legs, the descent was a lot of fun! I knew the guy behind me (Brian) was relatively close (he’d been 1-6mins back all day), so I needed to push the last couple of miles. I hit Wolf Creek aid (mile 52), filled my bottle with a lil bit of water and dug in for the last 4 miles. In the last couple of CJ100s, the headlamp would come out for this long, drawn out duck waddle into Vogel. I was stoked that the sun was still shining bright and I still felt strong (and that I wasn’t at mile 102). I crossed the road and passed Becca as I dipped back into the woods. She snagged a 2nd place overall female finish and honestly… it didn’t even look like she had been moving through the mountains for +30hrs!

The moment my feet hit the pavement at Vogel I heard a camper yell:

“You want a beer?!”

Damn it felt good to be done.

11hrs20mins ~ 1st overall

pic: Grant

The Cruel Jewel folks really know how to put on a first class, authentic event. I can’t speak highly enough of the amount of effort, love and passion they put into this journey each year. The RDs and volunteers are half the reason I keep coming back to support this race.

pic: Grant

I can’t thank my Dark Princess enough for the incredible support she gave me all day!

Kati and I walked into the dining area to sit down for a bit. The heat and the gel diet was slowly catching up to me….

We enjoyed talking with Brian Oestrike post race. He’s such a humble bad ass. Hopefully I can link back up with him at Pinhoti 100 when I’m a lil more talkative and there’s a lil less poison ivy!

I spent the drive back to our cabin periodically getting Kati to pull over so that I could throw up in various Blairsville and Blue Ridge parking lots…

Thankfully the nausea settled overnight and we got to spend the next day exploring the Bigfoot museum…

And Amicalola Falls!

Cruel Jewel was the perfect way to cap off the end of a tough season of my life. I’m sure I’ll see ya again Dragon… in a couple of years.

“An adventure isn’t worth telling if there aren’t any dragons in it.”

Zach of All Trades, Master of… Education?

As most of you know, one of my BIGGEST passions in life is MUT running, but I tend to dabble in just about everything. I love to play/write/sing music solo and with my band, I had a halfway decent baseball career, I’m a sub par mountain biker and tend to just dive in to whatever seems interesting. Typically I can skate my way through anything and at least be semi-good at it. If I pick something up fairly quickly and successfully, Kati will often times throw the “But can you float?” question at me to drop me down a few pegs and keep me humble. And yes for the record… I most certainly cannot float. I sink like the Titanic.

By no means am I a master when it comes to anything… especially trail running. You do anything over the course of a decade, you’re usually able to hone certain skills and get pretty good at whatever that thing is. I personally view trail running as an art form more so than a sport. There’s a certain elegance and beauty in moving seamlessly through rugged, mountainous terrain. I feel like those brief moments of being caught in the flow (if you know, you know) brings a certain level of clarity and freedom. For those few moments, I feel a connection to the higher power and everything goes serene.

To have my name associated with the word master, especially when it comes before the words of education, sounds preposterous (I have to use fancy words… because ya know… higher ed and such). When I graduated with my undergrad from Montevallo in 2009, I swore on everything sacred that I would never go back to school.

Even with a degree in Kinesiology, I had no clue what I actually wanted to do with my life. I bounced around from job to job, learning different skill sets from each, but really didn’t have a passion for a one single thing. Years later in 2017, I had a good job as a Warehouse/Parts Manager working for a company that sold/rented equipment for screening/crushing/drilling rock. I knew absolutely nothing of big equipment and was definitely not mechanically minded, but I learn quickly and am good with people. The work was good but it just wasn’t me. I didn’t feel like I was utilizing my own personal skills to make my community and world a better place. So I took some time to self examine and started compiling a list of all my strengths, weaknesses, what I enjoyed doing, what I didn’t enjoy doing and what I would want a career to look like if I didn’t have any limitations. I took note that people, often complete strangers, would reach out to me and pour out their most personal problems and issues without knowing why they were even talking to me. At the time, I had a really close friend who disclosed her own personal battles with mental health. Hearing her story and struggles made me want to become educated on how I could realistically and genuinely help people struggling with the unseen.

A year earlier, I had started volunteering with Make a Wish and helped launch the Trailblaze Challenge here in Alabama. I really enjoyed the process of getting people to push through their own personal struggles and doubts, to achieve something they thought was damn near impossible. Being able to witness the staff’s love for people was truly inspirational. They sacrifice so much of their time and energy into making dreams come true for kids in need. Seeing how it effected not only the kid, but just as much the family, really hit home as to what kind of good can be done if we could just simply love and show compassion to our fellow human.

All of these factors played into the “hey babe, I think I want to go back and get my master’s degree” statement I made to my wife back in 2018.

I’m not really one to half ass anything. If I’m gonna do something, it’s gonna be whole ass or no ass. After I got accepted into the program, I went hard. I decided to be a full time grad student while working full time. The first Fall semester I took a full load (3 classes) and continued through the summer and remainder of my schooling as a full time student.

It was non stop work. I’d find myself having to come home after a 3hr class, to do homework or a paper for another class. Running quickly took a back seat. My mileage sank but honestly, the busyness made me streamline and rethink my training. Instead of lackadaisical, carefree miles, I had to force myself to make more conscious decisions with my runs. Over time, my runs became ones of better quality. Despite my training looking different, I still found success in the structured process. Pinhoti 100 was the first race I structurally trained, and I ended up with one of my best 100 milers to date.

21:41 – Pinhoti 100 (2018)

I knew going into my 2nd semester that something was going to have to change. My commute for work was approximately 1-1.5hrs one way and with having class 2-3 nights a week, it just wasn’t working out. I hated to leave (cuz it was like a $10 an hour pay cut), but it was necessary in order to pursue this goal. So with a whiskey drink and cake, I said farewell to Crusher Works…

And hello to Impact Sports Rehab.

Impact was 3 minutes away from the house, 10 minutes away from school and allowed me to work part time w/ flexible hours as needed for school. Not only did I get to utilize my undergrad degree for the first time, but I also got to see the impact Physical Therapists and PTAs have on people’s lives and the community. I was immediately brought into the family, but it was a family I already knew since I had done my own rehab there in 2017 when I did PT for a 360° labrum tear in my shoulder.

I enjoyed my time at Impact, but I knew that I couldn’t work there for the remainder of grad school. Financially I couldn’t keep digging our family into a hole and my internship requirements would place me working the same hours as the PT clinic was open. So after a year at Impact… it was back to retail…. another thing I swore off for good.

I hopped into a retail supervisory role at America’s Thrift Store and worked mainly nights and weekends. Since my internship required 600hrs, I was going to have to break it up into 2 semesters. It can be done in 1 semester, but that would a 40hr/week internship, and again, financially I couldn’t just not work for 5 months. So I slipped into a routine where I would go to my internship site rom 7a-12p and then close the store from 1p-930p. The days I had class, I’d either open the store from 7a-330p and do class from 5p-830p or do a full 8hrs of internship before class. It. Was. Exhausting. I found that running just couldn’t be a main focus and had to slide into the self-care slot. Some mornings I’d wake up and run early, some days I’d run after I got off work late at night and other days I just couldn’t pull myself out the door for a run. It took some time, but I eventually accepted this season of my life and allowed myself to run when I felt like it and not put too much stock into performance. Despite the lower mileage, I linked together a smooth 50 mile effort at Blood Rock 50. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact it was at the beginning of a 3 week period of no internship/school and it was a cause of celebration!

1st OA ~ 8:38 (Blood Rock 50 – 2020)

My time at the thrift store has been a lot of freakin fun and it’s mostly been the direct cause of the work family.

I’ve got the opportunity to work with some really fabulous people. Seeing the cool and crazy stuff that comes through the store is the highlight of every day, but there’s been some wicked good/bad stories that’s derived from thrift store. If you follow my Instagram you’ve probably seen some of the… unique items that get donated and have probably heard some of the crazy stories of customers and happenstances. I may eventually create a drop down section on my blog called Tales from the Thrift and share some of these stories!

I’m currently in the midst of working out a 2 week notice with the thrift store. My internship is complete, all classes are accounted for, and I passed my comp exam. All that’s left to do is graduate on Saturday. I’ve opted to pick up my degree instead of walking at the ceremony (sorry mom) so I can spend graduation day running on my favorite mountain. I’m extremely lucky to have been given a job opportunity in the field I’ve been studying for the past 2.5 years. I’ve accepted a job as a school based therapist for Shelby County and can’t wait to get started.

If I’m being transparent, I haven’t felt accomplished in a lot of things in life. That’s not to say I don’t recognize that I have accomplished or been successful at things, it’s just I’ve never felt that feeling of accomplishment that I feel like others feel. I can’t remember a single time crossing the finish line of an ultramarathon and feeling like I had accomplished something great. It was the same for baseball. Even after going to the College World Series or being inducted into the UM Hall of Fame, I just didn’t feel that elated feeling of accomplishment. Maybe it’s my own personal self suppressing the need to celebrate. Through team sports, I’ve been trained to show little emotion and to “act like I’ve been here before” after big accomplishments. Celebrating successes and showing excitement instead of internalizing it is something I’m actively working on.

I do feel accomplished for this degree though. Perhaps it was because of all the sacrifices I’ve had to make in order to make this goal happen and it was something that I chose to pursue without any outside influences. Regardless of my own personal pursuit towards this degree, I litrully could have NEVER accomplished it without the unconditional support of Kati.

She’s seen me at my lowest. She’s picked me up and has validated me when I’ve felt like I was an imposter. She’s sacrificed so much of her time and energy to help me pursue this goal. She’s taken 2nd jobs to help cover finances when I was having to cut back hours for my internship. I’m forever grateful to have her as the person I get to walk hand and hand through this experience we call life.

I’m looking forward to so many things post graduation but I think what I’m looking forward to the most is simply getting back to a simple routine. I’ll be back on a M-F schedule and won’t have to be constantly thinking through school and internship. I’ll no longer have plan around weekends, me and Kati will actually get to spend some quality time together, I’ll get to spend more time creating music and running big mountains with my friends. I can get back into a running routine and hell, I might even get to go all out and start dedicating myself to a more serious training regiment.

I’m so thankful to have such a wonderful support system. None of this would have ever been possible if I didn’t have some amazing friends and family in my life.

So cheers to the next stage of life!

Tiny Dreams

The old Ironman was still standing strong as I drove past the corner gas station. I pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. I never bother to take the keys out of the ignition. Other than some dirt covered shoes and a few moldy water bottles, there isn’t much value within its old, beat up green frame.

From the corner of my eye I catch a faint glimpse of Papaw sitting on the porch, spitting Red Man chew into an empty bottle and watching the cars drive towards the IronMan. With a little bit of chew dribbling down his chin, he again spits into his empty Gatorade bottle and murmurs something about groundhogs under his breath.

“Ima get them lil dudes if it’s the last thing I do. Tearing up my yard.”

*spit*

I skip over the small step up to the porch and slowly pull open the flimsy glass front door.

“Well hey! Haven’t seen you in you in a while!”

I smile as I pull Mamaw Tiny’s fragile frame close and squeeze her tight.

Yea I know… life’s been busy and a bit rough lately, but I need to get up here more often.”

Mamaw walks over to the cabinet and pulls out a 2nd coffee cup.

Just made a fresh pot. You want a cup?”

She knows I won’t turn down a cup of coffee in the same way I know she won’t let me leave this house without some food in my belly.

Before I can even ask how she’s been feeling, there’s a full plate of bacon and toast in front of me. Mamaw worked as a waitress in my little hometown up until she was 84yrs old. Folks ain’t built that tough nowadays.

She tidies up the kitchen as I crunch away at the bacon. I run my finger between the green tiles of the kitchen table, rolling around crumbs left over from the loving homemade meals she’s made the days prior. Before long, she pulls up a chair, pours her own cup and asks how Kati’s been doing.

She’s been good! Funny enough, she finally got to meet Papaw. He popped in for a visit late last night.”

Mamaw smiled. “Haven’t got a chance to see him yet, but I’m sure he’s around here somewhere.”

I get up to pour myself another cup of coffee. Ceramic roosters adjourn the top of old, white wooden cabinets. They’ve been carefully listening and harboring all the generational gossip and secrets exchanged within the canary walls. For the sake of the Andrews bloodline, I’m glad walls and roosters don’t talk.

Here… here’s a little graduation card for you.”

Mamaw, I haven’t graduated yet. I’ve still got a few more months.”

Mamaw laughs and throws up her hands, “Well I know, I know but I may not be around in a few months.”

I tried to brush it off, but like J. Cole said, “All good jokes contain true shit.”

I roll my eyes and open the card. It contains a crisp $100 bill and a simple gold necklace.

I choke back the swelling in my eyes. Years ago I had mentioned in passing that I wanted a piece of jewelry of hers. It didn’t really matter what it was, I just wanted something.

Mamaw, for goodness sake, you know I don’t need any money.”

“I know, I know. You can take Kati out for a nice burger with an egg on it or something.”

She was always worried about me not getting enough food.

I smile and pull her close again. “I love the necklace Mamaw. Thank you.”

I walk over to refill my coffee cup, open the decorated glass jar on the counter and pop an orange slice candy in my mouth. Alongside a basket of hard candy, she has always kept a full jar of them on the counter. Every Sunday, Mamaw would always stuff her pockets full of hard candy so she could distribute them as needed to help get us through the church service.

Mamaw bends over, picks Lady up and sits the pupper beside her.

I sit back down at the table and notice Papaw sitting on the back porch piddling around with something.

The sparking of a lighter draws my attention back to Mamaw and when I look back outside… he’s gone.

Mamaw taps her cigarette onto the ashtray, “Yea son, I miss him too. He used to love watching you pitch that baseball.”

My mind flashes back to the 2006 D2 World Series…

Mamaw sets Lady down on the ground and stands up. “I think I want to sit in my chair for a bit.”

We follow the hardwood flooring into the living room and Mamaw carefully sits down in her recliner. She would never say or admit it, but I can tell she’s tired. She’s always been the one to worry for everyone else. Always the one to bring cohesion to the family when it’s a total shit show. Always the one giving relentless, warm positive regard to every soul she meets. A lifetime of that has to be exhausting. I kneel down beside her and hold her hand.

How the hell do I even begin to express how thankful I am to have this soul in my circle? How does one effectively communicate feelings to someone who has given such insight on how to meaningfully and lovingly move through this realm? You can’t. You know why? Because they already know. That’s the beauty of old souls.

Mamaw squeezes my hand. I squeeze back. Everything that could have ever been said between us was expressed in that simple gesture.

“Come see me when you can son.”

“I”ll see you soon. I love you Mamaw.”

Mamaw peacefully drifts into rest as I start making my way off the floor. I step out onto the porch and I let go of the glass door….

*** BAM!!!! ***

I’m jarred awake. Vinmo is curled up on the black ottoman in the sun. Wobbles is stretched out alongside the top of the loveseat sound asleep. The house is quiet. I slip outside into the warm sun, run my fingers along the gold necklace and give a Tiny smile to the world.

May we all love in the same way Mamaw Tiny loved.

“The Mountains Are Calling”

When the mountains call your name
I hope you think of me
I hate the way this ended 
But it's how its got to be
When you burn that many bridges
You learn how to sink or swim 
But I won't be standing next to you 
When you burn em down again

This bond is broken 
And will never be the same
The words that you spoke to me 
Cut deep to the heart of my veins

When the mountains call your name
I hope that you still smile
I hope you find redemption 
In those Appalachian miles
You're Tennessee whiskey 
And I'm Alabama rum
But no matter how you shoot it 
We've got a long, long way to run

This bond is broken 
And will never be the same
The words that you spoke to me
Cut deep to the heart of my veins 

I've gotta figure out where I'm going from here 
Am I making any sense? Am I making myself clear? 
I never thought that I would see the day 
When I turn my back to you and slowly walk away 

This bond is broken 
And will never be the same
The words that you spoke to me 
Cut deep to the heart of my veins

Thrift Store 50k

“I’m gonna pop some tags, only got $20 in my pocket.”

The rules are simple. You get to wear your own socks, shoes and undergarments but outside of that… you’ve got $20 to spend in one single transaction to get everything you need for a 50k. $20 may seem like it would be plenty, but we (Matty Fierce & I) feel it’s a good cap to make participants think creatively and strategically through their purchases. Since the fatass event takes place in January, you never know what the weather is going to be like. Will it be 70° and humid? Will it be 23° and freezing? Will there be rain? This is the beauty of the Alabama. Outside of clothing purchases… participants must think through nutrition. Yes. You read that correctly. Your nutrition must also come from the thrift store. On top of that… how will one carry said nutrition? Backpack? Fanny pack? It’s all about the hunt!!

The origins of this nonsense seem to be lost in the 2019/2020 history books. I vaguely remember being half lit with my boys on Lookout Mtn 50 mile weekend 2019 wandering around downtown Chattanooga and passed a Family Dollar on the way back to our loft. Someone mentioned that one day we should all just walk into a Family Dollar or Dollar General and make a single purchase and run a marathon. That concept stuck in our dome pieces long enough that we would periodically mention it so we wouldn’t forget.

We set the date in January since there wasn’t a lot going on and we needed a long run. At first, we were just gonna do it ourselves, but then decided to make it an unofficial event and throw it out into the run community for a potential group run. I’m real glad we did that. It turned out to be waaaaaaay more fun that way!

Over the last 3-4 weeks, we went out and scouted a potential route. We wanted to provide errrrrybody with water opportunities every 10-11 miles so that it could be a true fatass event with no aid. Section 1 turned out to be a solid section, allowing an option with easy access back to the start for the folks that didn’t want to cover the 50k distance. I think going forward we’ll keep that section 1 option so that more people can participate and enjoy the challenge!

I was pretty happy about the route we linked together! With the exception of a half mile of road, we never had to backtrack on any trail we had previously covered during the event! The route ended up being 31.4 miles w/ ~ 4K of climbing!

I think what made the event so much fun was the build up to the run. It was entertaining to see people posting their swag and thrift finds on the event page! Everyone had their own unique strategy and style!

Since the weather forecast looked gorgeous, I went minimal with the clothing and loaded up on snacks. I snagged a pair of women’s CrossFit games shorty shorts (w/ “I’m the toughest girl I know” written on the liner), a unicorn Great Smoky Mountains t-shirt, some gloves, a sweet beanie, a Jim Beam fanny pack and waaaaay to big water bottle. For nutrition, I went with oatmeal cream pies (big no-go for next year), some salted nuts, watermelon gummy rings, gummy worms and a Gatorade. My haul cost $18.66.

We honestly had no clue how many folks were gonna show, but we made sure to get out the day before and flag the route. We actually had a pretty decent turnout for a last minute event! And let me tell ya… the thrift swag was even better in person!

After we all had to recite the runner’s oath… we set off for a fun filled day on the trails!

Since this wasn’t an actual race, I stayed back a bit to ensure everyone at least nailed the first turn. I enjoyed getting to chat with some folks that I hadn’t seen in a while. It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve just been a part of a group run outside of my core crew.

Great conversation made the first 11.5 miles tick away quickly. A small group convened near the marina/paddle boats and chatted for a minute or 2 before filling up on water and heading back onto the trails. Most of the crowd did the first 11.5 miles and took the .5 road walk back to their car. A few brave souls were in for the full ride with 2-3 looking to get 20-24 miles in for the day.

The weather continued to improve as the morning progressed. I know winters seem to be grey and gloomy… especially with the early sunset… but this one seems to be more so than the last. The sun was refreshing.

Once we got onto the Blue trail, I linked up with Pete and we made a good push to the BMX area (for lack of a better word: aid station 2). The BMX area was about the 21 mile mark. Pete was wrapping up his run at BMX and I didn’t really feel much like running the last section alone, so we chilled and shot the breeze with Greg & William until the others arrived. Adelita called it a day at BMX (who looked super strong to have only been back training for a few weeks!) & Kristi decided to dock on a few road miles to get her 24 miles. TJ rolled through and carried on down the trail and I joined up with Andrew as he came through BMX. The 3 of us ran the last 10 miles together. I had never run with these dudes before and enjoyed our time on the trails together!

Once we hit tranquility road, we linked up with Teri for the last few miles. We were welcomed at the finish area by a few folks in lawn chairs. I enjoyed the post-run fellowship in the sun!

I/we can’t thank everyone enough for coming out and joining in on our fun run! I can’t wait till next year when we have more time to plan some super cheesy thrift store awards. But let’s all get one thing clear…. Oatmeal Cream Pie is NOT where’s it at friends… right Matty Fierce?!