Several months ago, a college buddy sent me an email saying we should run the Appalachian Trail 100 Mile Wilderness. He attached a link to a news story about three men who set the speed record for the 100 MW, and said “We could crush the 39 hours it took these guys to run it”.
We started to plan our trip. We set a weekend in June to start the run. In the new coverage of the 2010 100MW Run, the runners challenged people to beat their record. We emailed Bill Green, of Bill Green’s Maine, to tell him that we were going to take a stab at the record. We got a response saying that he wasn’t going to cover our story, and that it would be tough to cover in case we didn’t beat the record. A couple weeks later we got another message from Bill Green, telling us that another group of people were going to go for the record. It made sense to get in with a bigger group, so we emailed the organizers and got invited to join.
The next couple of months flew by. I can say that I didn’t do any special training for the 100 MW. I actually trained less than normal. I ran Great Cranberry Island Ultra two weeks before the 100 MW weekend, and did 14 miles in the time between. In the weeks leading up to the run, I ordered a special Nathan Endurance hydration vest, picked up a pair of Brooks Cascadia 5s, and bought some Nuun electrolyte tablets (all ended up being LIFE-SAVERS).
The day before the race I cooked a big meal of spaghetti, garlic bread, and mixed veggies, watched Running the Sahara on Netflix, and packed my gear. My Dad, my friend Jason, and I drove to the trailhead for the 5am start. At 5:02am we were off.
The first 40 miles of the race showed us all that the 100 MW wasn’t a cakewalk. The hills, rocks, slippery log bridges, mud, and (worst of all) roots made the trail very difficult to run. The group I ran with adopted a “run when you can” attitude taking everything the trail gave us. At crew station two, I closed the gap on my speedy friend, Jason. Jason had gone out with the big dogs and held his own, but messed his left knee up and couldn’t go on. I left aid station two with my new trail friends, Nate and Justin. We ran along together for the majority of the first 40 miles, talking about life and running. I tried to convince the guys to try some of the blueberries I was grabbing every time we ran a patch, but they seemed skeptical.
We rolled into aid station three to find out that Jason got hauled off to the hospital, and that my Dad had also dropped out. It was strange to hear that people were already done. We hit a rough patch on the fifth section of the trail. Miles 55-65 were loaded with massive mountain climbs. We hit 100k at midnight and kept rolling. At around mile 65, Nate started to get farther and farther away from me. We were walking different paces, and I couldn’t keep up. Nate ended dropping me for the remainder of section 5.
I had no worries about being in the middle of the woods at night… until I was alone. The next couple of hours were the scariest times of the entire journey. I was exhausted and my body was breaking down. My feet and my right hip flexor were constantly throbbing, and every step had to be calculated. My mind started to play tricks on me in the woods. I started to think I was seeing little animals and objects that weren’t really there. The first thing that startled me was a shadow that ran across the trail that looked like a fox. I realized that my headlamp was throwing strange shadows off from the trees, rocks, and roots, but I couldn’t help but get frightened every time I hallucinated. I was sent over the edge when a shadow that jumped across my path looked exactly like a mountain lion. I screamed, and instantly began to run. I was running over rocks, roots, and mud. I jumped over small water crossings. I was running in a primal “fight or flight” mode (I chose flight). I knew that I was running away from imaginary animals, but I couldn’t turn off the fear. I started to embrace the feeling to pull myself to the next crew station. My pain in my feet and hip disappeared every time I saw animals in the trail, imagined people chasing me, or saw a strange patterns in the lichen on trees (I seriously thought I was seeing skulls).
I finally pulled up to the crew station at mile 70. I heard my Uncle Tim yelling from across a large stream. He told me I had to walk across the stream to get to the next part of the trail. I stumbled through a couple hundred feet of shin-deep water to get to the other side. I was relieved to be with people again. I fueled up at the station, changed my shoes and socks, and took off with my Uncle Tim.
The first couple miles with Tim were pretty slow. I was sore and feeling the 70 miles I had put in earlier. I was sleepy and feeling very tired. Tim called my parents and left a message to tell them how I was doing. When Tim said, “We’re doing great. Hogan is looking good. Right now, we’re averaging 36 minute miles…” I snapped out of my funk. “36 minute miles? That’s awful!” I thought. I took off running the instant I heard about my slow pace. Tim and I kept a good pace going through leg 5. We ran past Nate, and he told us that his feet were toast. When we got to the fifth crew station we heard some crazy news. Everyone had dropped out except the two leaders and ME. Nate was hours from getting to the station and he had to haul himself out before he could call it a day.
The last 30 miles of the trail was absolutely brutal. I had high spirits until the last 7 miles when I was started to break down again. We toughed it out, and made it to the point where I could hear cars driving down Route 15 in Monson. I knew that there were a couple miles left, and I had my last surge. I ran out in front and had a strong finish. I ran past my mom and up to Route 15 and kissed the pavement. I was done.
After some hugs, a couple of pictures by 100 MW signs, and celebratory beers we left behind the AT. I don’t plan on doing the entire 100 MW ever again. The challenge was one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted. There is no way I would have been able to finish without my crew (Mom, Uncle Tim, and Dad), running partners (Justin and Nate), and strong pacing through the last 30 miles (Uncle Tim).
In the end, 4 out of 12 people finished the run. The two leaders smoked me, and got the AT 100 MW speed record. I ended up in third, with a time of 37 hours, 51 minutes, 42 seconds. I couldn’t be happier about my experience. I even broke the 39 hour 30 minute time set by the runners in 2010.
Now, it’s only a matter of time before that beautiful belt buckle arrives in the mail.