Cajun Coyote 100 Mile Recap
by Rhea Loney
Distance: 100 miles (other options: 100k and 20 miles)
Elevation gain: a deceiving 2,315 feet total
Finish time: 28:59
The Cajun Coyote Trail Run is held in Ville Platte, Louisiana. So someone signing up for a trail run in Ville Platte might think the run is flat, being that Ville Platte is French for flat City. This is slightly ironic, as the Cajun Coyote course, a single track trail meandering around Lake Chicot in Chicot State Park, is not exactly flat. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t exactly rival Trail du Mont-Blanc, but after you run around the lake five times, 20 miles each loop; you wouldn’t think the trail was flat either. Ville Platte should be French for, “jumping roots” or “banana spider” or even “running in the swamp causes hallucinations” but definitely not flat city.
Let’s briefly digress. Last year I signed up for the 100k, knowing full well 60 miles was out of my grasp so intending to run two loops and log forty miles. I had mainly being doing crossfit the year before and logging only 20-30 miles a week and a longer 20 mile run here and there. I was missing running and specifically, missing running trails, so I signed up for Cajun Coyote without much training and went out and did two loops. I finished and said to myself, I’ll be back next year, and I’ll be doing the 100k. My lovely masochistic trail running friends (you know who you are) convinced me that if I was going to do a 100k, I may as well sign up for a 100 miler. So around May I put it on my calendar, conceived a training plan, and then promptly married my training plan.
First and Second Loop: Sailing through mile 1-40
The 100M and 100k Trail Run began at 6:15 am. Darkness still loomed over the state park, so the race directors held delayed the start 10 or 15 minutes. The first few miles of the run energy bounced from runner to runner, all following each other like little ants down a trail, still struggling to see the trail in the early morning trail darkness. It went something like, walk down a steep hill, run the flats, hike up the steep hill, trip on leaf covered roots, almost fall, but don’t.
By the time the runners hit the Geaux Run aid station at mile 4, we were all starting to spread out and settle down into our own paces. I was fortunate enough to be running with LUR (Louisiana Ultra Runner) friends by chance. I ended up in a group with my friends, Jimmy Marano, Kara Butera, Craig Fomby, Eric de Ronde, and David Coffey. We all cruised through the Mile 8 Forge Racing aid station with just a brief water refill. I learned on the first loop that the 6.5 miles between the Forge Racing aid station and the next Cajun Coyote aid station manned by the Bill’s at mile 16.5 was a long stretch and you definitely needed more than a single handheld, in particular on Loop 2 in the heat. It was also starting to warm up close to 70 some degrees.
After a brief reapplication of Vaseline to the feet, a change of socks and shoes, and I was off to rock the second loop, mile 20-40. This loop went very similar to the first, except the LUR crowd had spread out and I suffered two solid face plants, induced by those jumping roots no doubt. One of the Bills at the mile 36.5 aid station took the time to sponge bath the dirt off my face, arms and legs. After I was deemed presentable, as a lady should be (cough), I finished the loop running alongside my friend Jimmy Marano, who ultimately ran the entire 100 mile run with me, if you can even believe that. I’ve never even committed to running a 5k with someone other than my 5 year old niece, so how it worked out that we ended up running 100 miles together I’ll never know.
Darkness Sets in: Mile 40-60
The 100 mile runners change the direction of the loop for only the third loop; while the 100k runners change directions each loop. This allowed runners to cross paths on the very lonely trail and wonderful run planning. Jimmy and I set back out for the third loop. The first half of the loop ran very similar to the first and second loop, except we started having to incorporate “walking with a purpose” as we left aid stations to let my stomach settle. Darkness set in about 12 miles into this loop as we were passing through the Forge Racing aid station, around mile 52.
The run started to feel very real in the third loop. It was no longer easy and breezy. I started having doubts. At one point I even convinced myself that I could just finish the 3rd loop, call it a day and still be happy with a 100k. As I passed through the Forge Aid station at mile 52 I told one of my friends manning the station to “never ever run 100 miles.” This was the first real mental trough I went through, but definitely not the last. I pushed forward, grasping for any external pressures I could muster to keep me wanting to continue forward, that my pacer, David Coffey, gave up the chance to run the 100 miler himself in order to pace me and he sure wasn’t there to pace me on a 100k. I thought about Albert Dean who ran 100 miles from Baton Rouge to the start of Cajun Coyote and was running the 100 miler and that if he could do 200 miles, I sure as heck could do 100 miles. I thought about my friends who were there crewing at aid stations, they weren’t there to see me finish a 100k. 100k is hands down, a more than respectable distance, but it was not the distance I set out to do. What ultimately moved me forward was the knowledge that if I didn’t finish 100 miles, that the next time I set out to do it, it would be that much harder. That I would have a DNF in the bank disguised as a 100k, and it would be even more mental the next time. So I arrived at the start/finish aid station after loop 2 with the decision to continue onward to loop 4, heck, and my pacer needed to get some miles in anyway, right?
By this time we were no longer on the “24 hour track schedule.” I don’t know exactly what time we set back out for loop 4, but if I recall, we were now about 30 minutes behind schedule. Up until this point my pace was very important to me. But when things started to deteriorate, I had to let go of the pace issue. This isn’t easy for a controlling, slightly obsessive woman to do. I was writing my pace on my arm every lap to remember it. Looking back it seems a bit silly, but it mattered at the time. I’ll use the cliché, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”
Training for Sleep Walking: Mile 60-100
The fourth loop was so dark! The weather was very comfortable but I was getting a chill when we stopped in aid stations. It still had to have been in the high 50’s. My stomach was becoming worse and we had to walk more frequently. At this time I was running with Jimmy still and my pacer, David Coffey, had joined us. I had at least one more solid face plant in loop 4.
The sleep deprivation induced hallucinations also began in loop 4. I kept trying not to step on Abraham Lincoln’s face in the leaves under my feet. What was he doing down there anyway? I also kept seeing Picasso paintings in the trees around me. Who hung those there? I saw boardwalks that didn’t exist, aid stations that weren’t there, and every tree around every corner was someone about to jump out at me. Your entire world is in the beam of your headlamp and your mind plays a lot of tricks on you.
I stopped holding foods down in loop 4 and really didn’t eat or consume much other than S-caps, a ¼ cup of chicken broth and the same amount of ginger ale at each aid station for the remaining 40 miles. I was drinking water, but it seemed to be sitting on top of my stomach, causing even more walking. I did eat a brownie/cookie/something delicious in loop 4 which was a huge mistake. In the really bad times, I would eat chocolate covered espresso beans. My stomach was shot, so I figured I’d at least try to stay awake. Oh, I failed at that as well. Jimmy was a rock the whole run. Even when he had lows, he was not externalizing them. He would just say,” having a low, it’ll pass.” Jimmy’s solid character through the entire run definitely helped me through some of my lows.
By the time we finished loop 4 we were well behind schedule. We left the start/stop aid station and set out for the 5th and final loop around 4 am. I had scheduled to be leaving it around 2:33 am. There are those best laid plans again….
In the beginning of loop 5 I was literally falling asleep walking. We stopped briefly at mile 82 and David ordered Jimmy and I to take a nap after I almost fell asleep and walked off into the lake after the bridge. We promptly fell asleep on the asphalt and were rudely awoken by Pacer David 5 minutes later. We started back through the trails and I immediately began to fall asleep walking up and down the hills. Pacer David stuck his arm out to his side and said, here hold on and don’t wander off into the woods. I immediately laid my head down on his arm and fell asleep. He tells me that he looked over at me, my eyes were completely closed, my head was on his shoulder, and all my body weight was leaning into him and I was swaying sideways as I would step forward. I blame this on Pacer David; he is the one who told me to incorporate walking with a purpose into my training after all. I hate walking, so I must have slept through all of the training and just did what I trained for!
Pacer David let me sleep on his arm while walking the next two miles until he got me into the aid station where I again laid down and took a hefty 15 minute nap. I can only imagine how I looked to the Geaux Run aid station crew as Pacer David walked out of the woods with me asleep yet still moving. I’d love to be embarrassed, but I’m going to call it a skill and leave it at that. I felt amazing after that short nap. I didn’t know people napped in ultras. (I bet Mosi Smith the record setter of Cajun Coyote didn’t take a nap!).
The rest of the loop was unremarkable, defined loosely. At that point I was over it. I wanted to get to the finish. I still wasn’t holding foods down, it was getting late in the morning and warming up again. Once we went through the Forge Racing aid station at mile 88, it seemed like every mile took forever. But we kept moving forward, mainly at a walk. Once we passed the 94.5 aid station manned by the Cajun Coyote Bills, we were speed walking it in! I could taste the glory of being able to sit down. The moment we came out of the woods and turn down the road to head to the finish, I knew we were finally there. There were so many people I knew at the finish it was really special. Many of the 100k LUR runners who started with us were waiting around to see us finish. It was surreal.
At the finish, I was presented with a Cajun Coyote buckle, along with the signature Cajun coyote spinner hat for finishing my first 100 miler, oh and don’t forget the champagne. The finish is a bit of a daze: accomplishment met with exhaustion, a dixie cup of champagne and photos.
100 Miler Finisher High
This was my first 100 mile run. I would be remiss to say anything other than I am on cloud 9. Cloud 9 is 100 miles long for me. I may not have finished in the lofty 24 hour goal I set out to finish in, but I redefined my goals as the run progressed and I achieved the new goal of finishing.
Others have said ultra running is a metaphor for life. There are highs and lows and it’s not how you sail through the highs, but how you move forward through and out of the lows. I mirror this sentiment. As I sit here and write this not so brief recap, I realize that I learned a lot about myself during this run, and learned a little more about my limits as a human being. And in the end, isn’t that what life is all about?
And yes, I will do it again.