By Tim Hill
The No Business 100, directed by Ultranaut Running of Knoxville, Tennessee, course reads like a comprehensive guidebook to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Packed into one massive loop are countless towering sandstone cliffs, arches and rock houses. Ecosystems vary from dark, deep and lush gorge bottoms to dry plateau rim-lines full of vast canyon overlooks. The race promised to be unique, challenging and very scenic.
Toeing the starting line at the early hour of 5:00 a.m. on October 14, I had all of the above floating through my mind as well as the memory of last year’s Pinhoti 100, my first 100-miler. A storm of nerves had nearly derailed my first attempt at the distance and left me with the desire to try it again for the alluring sub-24-hour finish. No Business 100 made perfect sense to be the adventure I was looking for.
The inaugural year of the race was run in the clockwise direction. From the Blue Heron Mining Camp, the snake of runners’ headlights streaked over the 100-foot-high old mining tipple over the Big South Fork River and turned left into the dark woods. The first 25 miles led us down to and across Troublesome, Difficult and No Business creeks. Thanks to Hurricane Nate, which blew through the southeast earlier in the week, a blanket of summerlike humidity engulfed the area. The anticipated cooler fall weather did not make it this year.
After a big climb out of the river gorge, we hit the Duncan Hollow aid station, the first crew spot. So far the day was progressing as best as I could have hoped. I was ahead of my anticipated time and felt comfortable. Unfortunately, that aforementioned heat and humidity caught up to me. Shortly after leaving Duncan Hollow, I realized I had not been drinking enough and a sneaking nausea entered my stomach. My pace started to drop off, which was doubly disappointing because the miles were smooth and flowing single track. The next two aid stations on the Grand Gap loop were also crew stops and I tried to increase my fluid intake. The day was heating up and I could see it starting to affect other runners as well.
I was not planning on using my pacer until mile 62, but I must have looked so bad at mile 44 that he volunteered to run with me starting at Bandy Creek. My pacer and I had marked most of the next section of the course earlier in the week, so were familiar with what was ahead. We would descend to Laurel Fork, cross it several times, climb out and drop again to Charit Creek Lodge. I was aggressive with drinking, trying to overcome the dehydration hole I was in and it started to show some promise. My body progressed from nauseous to cramping.
Leaving the backcountry hostel at Charit Creek, the course passes underneath the massive twin arches and winds alongside several huge sandstone walls. Eventually we popped out on a short road section leading into mile 62 aid at Pickett State Park. Stumbling into Pickett, I found my low point. I was cramped and tired. My crew helped me into a chair and started shoving food and liquids at me. I vowed to never do this again. My wife, who saw me at my lowest at Pinhoti, swore I didn’t look nearly as bad and knew the exact combination of broth and Ensure that would again bring me back from the dead.
My pacer decided to take a break for a nap and meet back up with me at mile 77. I shuffled across the suspension bridge at Pickett and prepared for the long grind to the finish. To my surprise, the cramping and lingering nausea started to fade. I picked up my pace and the pain in my legs and feet started to subside. As dusk approached, I entered the Rock Creek section of the course, where the trail again follows the Sheltowee Trace, a long-distance hiking trail through the Daniel Boone National Forest. In addition to the difficultly of running in the dark, the trail is at its most technical here.
Charging into mile 77 aid at Hemlock Grove, I knew I could make it. I felt strong and recovered from the challenges earlier in the day. I had moved up a few places and would reunite with my pacer. Hemlock Grove was being run by a cadre of experienced Knoxville runners. Their enthusiasm was contagious, although their insistence on serving me alcohol was suspect. One of the many ridiculous things said during a 100-mile race that the general public does not understand is things like: only 23… 17… 12 miles to go!
Finally, I distinguished sights and sounds of the finish. I turned left on to the bridge and opened up my stride as I left the darkness of the woods, crossed through the cool air high above the river and across the finish line. Local runner and friend, Alondra Moody, crushed the course in 20:30 for the overall win, with Nashville runner Kyle Jacobson in second at 21:50 and me in third at 22:03. Of 79 starters, only 36 made it to the finish line.
It is too long of a list to thank everyone who made the race possible. Given the natural beauty of the area, the careful design of the course and the community support behind the event, the No Business 100 was everything I expected. But once it was over, two things surprised me. First, my dad who came to help crew (which was his first trail and ultra race experience), said, “When are we doing it again?” and second, my reply: “Next year.”