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BrettAshley

Brett
This is a real person, who ran a real Ultra!

BrettAshley

Charleston, WV

twitter: bashley83

Instagram: bashley83

Toeing the line…

On October 5, 2013 I toed the start line (well hovered toward the mid-back pack at the start line) of the Rock/Creek Stump Jump 50k in Chattanooga, TN. This was going to be my first

attempt and hopeful finish of an ultra marathon. I felt reasonably confident going into race morning, I knew that with continued forward momentum I would eventually cross the finish line, hopefully in one piece.

The first marathon…
My background in running, prior to my first ultra attempt, was virtually non-existent. I had taken up trail running just a couple years prior thanks to my brother-in-law and his cousin (a Leadville 100 and Western States finisher). After running a few local 25ks, I felt like it was time to jump up in distance. So I trained and raced the 2013 Myrtle Beach marathon, as my first. I raced with my brother-in-law, cousin-in-law and his wife. They are all experienced runners compared to my resume. I made the mistake of running the first half at their pace, feeling really good, but then the wheels fell off the second half. I limped to the finish, in an embarrassing time, but got the first marathon finish.
Scratching the itch…
It was the day after that race, that we all decided to run Stump Jump. Adam (cousin-in-law) had run it before in the past and said it was a great race, very well put on and a great first ultra. So I signed up along with my brother-in-law, Jon. I spent the summer training as much as I could. However, in July, I took a new job and had to live out of hotel in Pittsburgh for 2 months while training at our corporate office. So in that time, I managed to pack on the pounds, hard to eat healthy when eating out 3 times a day. I certainly didn’t get the hill mileage I wanted just running around downtown Pittsburgh. But I did what I could. The way I saw it, I managed to limp/fake my way through my first marathon, I certainly could do that for a trail ultra…I was wrong.
The morning of Stump Jump, I felt good, slept reasonably well and was super excited thanks to the awesome atmosphere. I would be running with Adam and his wife, and sans brother in law Jon, thanks to an illness. My wife traveled down with us, and would be meeting up in a few different spots for support, which would be much needed.
The start…
The gun fired, and we were off. The weather forecast for the day was not what I was needing (mid-high 80s)- I do not run well in heat, at all. It heated up pretty quick in the first 5-6 miles, thanks to it being October, most of the tree cover was gone. So we were left with brutal sun and high humidity. But I was still feeling good. First 5 miles went reasonably well, we took it a manageable pace, keeping all cut-off times in mind. I am not a fast runner, nor will I probably ever be, so I have to be mindful of the clock (a terrible way to race).
Bzzzzz…
The first sign of things going south were the multitude of yellow jackets. Everyone on the course was getting eaten alive thanks to the ground nests that were being trampled. But I certainly wasn’t going to let a few (20-30) stings keep me from a finish.
At the mile 10ish aid station, my wife was there to meet us. That was a great pick me up, I was beginning to doubt myself by that point. We were inching closer to cut-off times. The climbs on this course were nothing like what I trained on (great lesson to myself for future races- MORE HILLS). My legs/mind were not feeling great leaving the aid station, but we had a 5 1/2 hr cut-off at mile 19.5 to beat. Adam and his wife are super strong runners, and I felt terrible holding them back, but they stayed with me, encouraging me and trying their best to pull me along.
Beginning of the end…
It was around mile 12 that the wheels began to fall off. I was overheating, behind on calories and was just over the whole thing. I sat down on the side of trail and wanted to be done. Adam was a little ways ahead but made his way back to me, and sat down. We hung out for a few minutes, and he gave me the best running advice I’d heard to that point- “things will always get better.” After a few minutes in the dark place, I pulled out, and we forged ahead. The burst of good vibes was short lived however. After just a couple more miles, I was done, I knew there was no way mathematically I could make the cut-offs. So I told Adam and Evan to go on, I didn’t want to ruin their day as well. So they reluctantly went ahead. I finally made it to the aid station at mile 16, which was also a make-shift hospital at this point. It was on the backside of the lolly-pop style course, and had terrible access. The crews had a couple pick-ups down there that they were able to take a few people out. But as my luck would have it, the next time they could drive out would be a couple hours. So my only option was to head out for the next 3.5 miles, to AS 19.5 where the official cut-off would be. Holy hell, what a long 3.5 miles that was. I was miserable, feeling like a failure, like an idiot for even attempting something so dumb. I kept an eye on my watch the whole time, waiting for the time when I would officially miss the cut-off. Strangely, I was so relieved when that time came/went. I knew, for what its worth, that I didn’t quit, I just got cut-off. So that was a small victory, basically the only one that day.
 I was miserable, feeling like a failure, like an idiot for even attempting something so dumb.
I could hear the aid station and families up ahead, I wasn’t running at this point, just a slow shuffle, when Adam came running down the trail toward me. I was totally confused, how the hell did they miss the cut-off. I was wanting to get to the finish line to watch them cross. But he said, him and Evan just missed the cut-off by a few minutes (my fault, although he still won’t let me take blame). My wife was there, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to see her. She still doesn’t understand this stupid sport, but she supports me 100 percent.
Moral victories…
The AS captain at the cut-off was saying this year was the highest % of DNFs they had ever seen. The heat and yellow jackets wreaked havoc on a large percentage, so that was a small moral victory I guess.
Update…
I was happy to be done, ready to go eat and just relax with the family. I learned a lot that day. Some good/some bad. Even though I had fallen apart and vowed to never run again, the next day I signed up for my next ultra attempt. I ran and finished the Frozen Sasquatch 50k in my hometown that January. I didn’t finish anywhere near the top, sadly, it was 3rd from last. But I didn’t give a damn, an ultra finish is a finish in my eyes. Since that time, I’ve finished a second 50k this past March in Eleanor WV. Still finished toward the back, but who cares, someone has to pull up the rear!

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