Picture taken by the author.
The real turning point of the race for me came around Mile 21. I was lying face-down in the mud, with the left side of my face still in that mud when it started to rain….
I first met Devil Dog 100’s Race Director, Toni Aurilio and many of the members of Team Gaylord at the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 (MMT) in 2011 and 2012. Bob Gaylord (Retired United States Air Force, Brigadier General) and Team Gaylord, as they’re widely known in eastern ultrarunning circles, were doing their typically outstanding job of crewing multiple runners at MMT both years. I’ve enjoyed the privilege of calling these people friends since then. When I saw that Toni had created Devil Dog in 2016 it became a goal of mine to run this race as soon as I could because I knew that they would do an outstanding job producing it. I also had the chance to interview Toni about Devil Dog for quite a long time after the race too and is reflected here as well.
Race Director Toni Aurilio giving her 2018 Devil Dog pre-race briefing. Photo by author
Devil Dog just completed its third annual race at both the 100 mile and 100K distances. Toni’s goal was to create a race that she felt would fall somewhere between the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 and all its massive climbs, descents, and technical trail difficulties, and the Umstead 100 with its five loops on mostly flat, firebreak roads. And Devil Dog was born. After doing some very specific research and having followed and studied this sport for over a decade now, I can safely attest that the Devil Dog 100 is a secret beast of an ultra in the east.
The Devil Dog 100 has an average finisher’s rate of 45% over its three-year history. That is significantly lower than three of Virginia’s longest running 100 mile races. Massanutten’s historical finisher rate is 66%, Grindstone averages 70% average, and Old Dominion’s racer’s guide shows a 53% finisher rate. Personally, I came into Devil Dog having completed 100 mile races in October and November, a challenging 100K in September and the VolState 500K in July. So I was very confident that I was as ready as I could be for “D.DOB.” But the course itself, the time of year and the weather combined into a beast of a race. My ability to finish it was in doubt for almost the entire event.
My Top Five Reasons to Run the Devil Dog 100:
I read an interview with 100 Mile aficionado Susan Donnelly where she said (and I’m paraphrasing) that she loved 100 mile ultras because they are all about problem solving. 100 Mile ultra-marathoners have to be able to figure out and solve those problems and keep moving forward to the finish line. Devil Dog 100 is as full of pre-race, mid-race and post-race challenges as almost any race I’ve run. So if you’re the type of ultra-runner that loves race planning details down to even the minutest of aspects and then employing that plan throughout the race, the DD100 is the perfect race for you.
The wooden footbride over South Quantico Creek that racers cross every time they leave and return to Camp Remi. Photos by author.
The course consists of five total loops around beautiful Prince William Forest Park, the first loop is twenty-three miles long and the remaining four laps are just over nineteen miles long. While that can be a mentally tough format, you really become familiar with the course and where you’re at on it. Prince William Forest Park is also a beautiful place to run.
Trails, trails and more trails. Any ultra-runner that claims to prefer trails as their race format should run DD100. The course is eighty to eighty-five percent single-track, trail with the remaining fiften percent being firebreak road where you can really make up some time and distance. The course itself is very flat and run-able in spots but there’s also a lot of highly technical spots, and tons of short, up and down climbing and descending.
The three Aid Stations are as well-stocked as any race I’ve had the privilege to run, and manned by highly motivated volunteers. There were engaging volunteers every time I trotted into any station, offering everything from hot soup, including vegan, to coffee, sandwiches and typical aid station fare. You could have a drop bag in all three aid stations if you had pre-planned to do so. There were also three unmanned water drops at strategic points between each aid station.
Author with Sara Davidson and Jason Byrd at Camp Toofy Aid Station
There is a solid military influence on the race. The Race Director’s family is career United States Marine Corps, reflected in the Devil Dog title. There was a solid active-duty, Marine Corps presence in the race due to the proximity to Quantico, VA, and the race includes first place awards for active and retired military. This is also a great destination race located just south of Washington DC in northeastern Virginia.
The largest single logistical challenge that the race team and the racers face is the available parking in Prince William Forest Park (PWFP), or the lack of it. There just is very little room for parking at the combined race headquarters, Start/ Finish Line, known as Camp Remi in the race and Happyland Camp 5 in the PWFP. RD Aurilio does a wonderful job of working around that and providing alternative solutions for racers, crew, and staff alike, including bunk house slots on the camp grounds, and multiple buses organized to shuttle racers from a facility six miles away as earlier as 4AM on race morning.
South Fork Quantico Creek. Photo by author
I registered for a bunk house slot so I could sleep the night before the race right at race ground zero. I ended up working most of the day before the race, got on the road behind schedule and missed the last time I could arrive at the park for my bunk slot by a wide, wide margin. That did not overly concern me because I figured I’d just go to the shuttle bus location, park there and get five or six hours of sleep right there and jump on the bus at 3:30AM. Certainly not the best rest plan in the world, nor one I highly recommend, but I use that method all the time. However, around 11PM a security guard pulled up, informed me that I was trespassing, requested that I leave and come back at 3:30AM to catch the bus then. So, long story shortened, I ended up with less than two hours of pretty poor sleep the day and night prior to the race. That was coupled with the fact that I never sleep well the week leading up to a long race, so the lack of real rest impacted my Devil Dog 100 as much as the trail and weather-related factors throughout the race. If not more.
Late Day 1 on the course. Photo by author.
I dressed as sparsely and utilitarian as I thought I would be able to stand for running all day with a high of forty degrees, three hours of forecasted Fall rain, and average temperatures ranging in the high thirties. Hoka Stinson ATRs, Injinji crew-length socks, shorts, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, and my ancient black hooded sweatshirt, headband, cheap gloves and my VaporKrar pack. I had one of the $1.99 clear, plastic rain parkas in my pack. My Hokas were still my best fitting ones, but also replete with a large tear in them from earlier this Fall when one of our horses had stepped on my foot while I was wearing them.
The race started promptly at 6AM after a highly motivational, live-trumpet rendition of the National Anthem. I started the race standing next to a Chris Mintz, who I’d met at the Last Annual VolState 500K in July where Chris spent the entire week as the solo crew for racer Rhonda-Marie Parke. “D.DOG” was Chris’ first attempt at the 100 mile distance, and as we chatted standing amongst our now 200 closest friends and fellow racers, at that moment I wondered if Chris was going to find solo-crewing for those 315 miles at Volstate or running 100 miles harder…And then we were off and moving. It was still as completely dark as night can be, so every racer had his or her own headlamp, or handheld lights, or both.
Once we were underway and the initial excitement wore off, I had a hard time getting into the race mentally and physically and that carried through most of the first loop. At the time, I knew that was just from being tired.
The course crosses a wooden, single-file footbridge a quarter of a mile from the start and then immediately hits narrow single-track trail that pretty much makes up the course all the way to the first Aid Station known as Camp Gunny. I almost always start every race all the way at the end of the starting group, but even though this time I had started with Chris halfway up in the pack, that did not translate to more speed or better distance out on the course. Even after daylight phased in there were still racers much further up front that we walking run-able downhill sections of the course, but not giving up any room for people to pass them either. Nor were people making any effort to get around slower racers in front of them. So the first two hours of the race were a packed, single-track conga line.
I knew I was impatient with the slow-moving line, and the long running conversations in front of and behind me due to my own lack of pre-race sleep, and I tried to mentally work through that. But when the conversations turned to long discussions on Christmas presents in one group in front of me, and then a young woman in a second group behind me started discussing the time she and her roommate, or husband, found out their neighbor was watching them having sex in their bathroom, and then started avidly describing that event, I used those as motivation to get out and pass long lines on the side of the trail. And kept right on going. Sometimes quiet on the trail is better than social.
Photo by author.
The first loop did have a lot of high moments as well. Toni’s teenaged kids were helping with the race as was her husband James, and the kids had Toni’s canines, both Vizslas, at the turn onto the extra 4.5 mile section. Being friends with Toni online, I’d been looking forward to meeting Toofy and Gunner for some time. I’m for Dogs, especially Vizslas. Both of the aid stations out on the course were excellent. All three aid stations, Camp Remi, Camp Gunny at Mile 6 each loop and Camp Toofy at the Mile 13 point of each loop, were as well run and stocked as any aid stations I’ve ever seen. They were manned by friends I had not seen in quite some time; Larry Huffman, Sara Davidson, Scott Haller and a ton of other people. I turned my second hard fall right around Mile 7, into an excellent combat roll mid-flight, and hoped someone actually saw it. I did not realize it at the time but my left knee was bleeding pretty well for quite a while after that one. And it became readily apparent after daybreak, again, that Prince William Forest Park is truly a beautiful race setting as well.
Phot by author.
Regardless of enjoying running in a great event like D.Dog, and the beauty of the Prince William Park and it’s trails, I still found myself battling the small, negative half of my mind for through much of that first loop. “Boy, it’s just switchback after switchback…we’ve got to climb this hill and that hill another four times…it’s going to rain…we’ve already run ten ultras this year, maybe we’ve just had enough trail racing for awhile…maybe we should just call it a day at 100K…” And then I was on the ground at Mile 21.
I was sprawled face-down on the trail having just fallen hard for the fifth time in the first lap. There were still more than four laps to go. This fifth fall was the third time in as many miles too. I was still bleeding from the second fall, that nice combat roll around Mile 7, but this fifth fall hadn’t affected my knee because I had managed to break this fall using the left side of my face. And there I was, lying with the left side of my face still in the mud, taking inventory for any physical damage, when it started to rain….and I remember thinking “Ok, that’s how it’s going to be huh?” I know it was just from being tired but at that point it seemed liked Mother Nature or the Ultra Gods, or both, had been testing my willpower all morning. Then and there I decided that nothing was going to get me off that course until I crossed the 100 mile finish line.
The second lap went much better than the first for me for a lot of reasons. I donned my cheap, ($1.99) clear plastic poncho as well as my MP3 player, and managed to draw motivation from both music and repelling the steady rainy drizzle. That predicted three hours of rain turned into eighteen to twenty straight hours of rain.
Most importantly, the second circuit really made me completely familiar with the course. The course basically flows in a clockwise direction around Prince William Park, and while the sections along South Fork Creek are relatively flat, each full loop included 2000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The first five to almost six miles of the course out to Gunny Aid Station were all looping and turning, up and downhill single-track right to the aid station parking lot.
The second section of the course, the seven and a hlaf miles from Gunny to Aid Station Toofy, are the most widely diverse of the course. Leaving Gunny, racers are treated to just about three and a half miles of wide, up and down, firebreak road surface and this is the best place on the course to gain or make up time.
On the firebreak road beyond Camp Gunny. Photo by author.
Racers left the firebreak after a last long downhill and traveled along the northwestern side of a creek for just over a mile before crossing another bridge and cruising a winding, mostly uphill route to Camp Toofy. Toofy Aid Station is also the Turkey Run Ridge Campground. Racers left Toofy by an alternate exit and rejoined the inbound course section after about half a mile, and eventually crossed the creek over the same bridge. The remaining four miles of the course stayed very close to South Fork Quantico Creek and included quite of bit of technical and up and down terrain. The last half mile of the course seemed to continue to go on and on and on finishing each lap. There were also three unmanned water points on the course approximately midway between each of the aid stations.
Some of the more technical terrain along South Fork Creek. Photo by author.
It was almost dark when I completely the second lap, and even though I’d been wearing my poncho, I was completely soaked. Part of the reason for that was my seventh, (and final as it turned out) fall on the course around Mile 40. I was trying to negotiate my way around a large puddle on a sloped part of the trail, slipped and landed right in the middle of that puddle. I’m pretty sure my sweatshirt absorbed about half of it. The fact that the second lap, and each remaining lap, was four miles shorter than the twenty-three mile first lap made me consider that the race director was potentially a genius.
Back at Camp Remi after completing the second lap, I changed out almost everything I was wearing into completely dry gear. I transitioning from shorts to long running pants, and a lined wind-breaker to continue to battle the drizzle in. The air temperature was also in the high 30s so the full ensemble including dry gloves and headgear helped. My headlamp was back on leaving Remi for lap 3 as well. One of the more challenging aspects of Devil Dog 100 is that racers travel in the dark for fifty percent of the race.
By the time I left Camp Toofy again it was somewhere around 11 PM and the steady rain and fog made the weather seem very close-quarters and personal. By the time I crossed back over the South Fork for the last four miles of Lap Three, I was struggling to stay coherent, and moving at what can only be best described as typical Wal-Mart Speed. I lucked out when a pair of motivated guys running the 100K race caught up to me as I was droning along. They were power-hiking versus running, with the larger of the two leading the way. I fell in along behind them and just stayed focused on staying with them.
The big guy must have tripped and fallen four times in two miles but got up good-naturedly and kept closing towards what would be the 100K finish line for them upon arrival back at Camp Remi. Another pair of 100K racers, a male and a female, caught us from behind less than a mile from the bridge re-crossing the South Fork just below Camp Remi. We powered on through the rain until we cruised past the scoring table where all four of my new friends celebrated their 100K finish. I moved through the aid station and back out on the course for Loop Four.
I was way too mortal for most of the entire fourth loop. As previously mentioned, I had I was already struggling to stay awake late in Lap 3 and that situation did not improve for most of lap 4. One of my favorite tactics for staying awake, albeit pretty atypical for ultras, is to smoke a cigar while moving along out on the trail in the wee hours of the morning. That failed because it was raining so hard that my cigar kept going out until I finally gave up on that tactic. From the point where the course left the firebreak road three miles beyond Gunny Aid Station, I kept falling asleep on my feet, making that remaining three miles to Toofy Aid Station drag for an extended period. At least three times I regaining enough coherency to realize that I needed to re-verify that I was still moving in the correct direction on the trail. At another point, I awoke and realized I was just about to step off a steep edge right into the South Fork Creek. My favorite re-awaking was on the hill a mile below Toofy where I came to, facing the sign that pointed out the hard left turn towards Toofy. I was standing there facing the sign, with no idea of how long I’d been there, nor a memory of approaching it either.
All I wanted when I finally go to Toofy was a ten minute nap. I knew with ten minutes of sleep I’d be leaving the aid station refreshed and at a dead run. But that did not happen. Getting into the aid station I sat down at a picnic, reported my ten minute nap intent but those nice folks manning Toofy at the time simply refused to let me sleep for those ten minutes or at all. One of them even shook my shoulder and I have to admit, embarrassingly, that I growled at him at that point and left the station. But I really needed that ten minutes of sleep too.
When I cleared the Turkey Ridge Campground-Toofy Aid Station area I knew I was in trouble. I was at Mile 74, it was still pitch dark, I was still droning and I was in serious jeopardy of not making it back to Camp Remi before the cutoff to complete fourth lap. I did the only thing I could at that point to finally wake myself up. When I cleared the parking lot and hit the long downhill trail section headed back towards the South Fork, I just started running downhill as hard as I could, for as long as I could. It was still drizzling and I figured I’d either end up landing hard on my face again or jumpstart myself into some pre-dawn running form.
And the jumpstart worked. By the time the Sun started coming up after I was back on the far side of South Fork Creek, I was running pretty well. And since I’m solar powered as far as running goes, my pace only improved as the Sun started lightening the sky. And after about eighteen hours since it started, the rain finally stopped as well. Since I started running ultras I’ve heard it said bunches of times, and read it even more, and I completely agree, there’s absolutely a resurgence on Day 2 of a 100 miler once daybreak kicks in. When I was not climbing, I ran the downhills and flat sections very hard the rest of the way back Camp Remi to close out Lap 4.
More of the technical trail terrain along the South Fork. Photo by author.
By the time I departed Remi for Camp Gunny I had seventy-five minutes to cover the nearly six-mile stretch. I was the last runner of the fifty-one total racers to leave Camp Remi on the fifth loop, in dead last place. There had been some significant discussion around the scorer table as I finished the fourth lap that I probably could not make it to Gunny before that cutoff. I am completely grateful to the guy that was making that case that I could not make Gunny on time. Ironically, this was the second ultra I found myself in this Fall where late in the race I had seventy-five minutes or less to cover six miles late in the race or be eliminated, as I had managed to get myself into that situation at the Boulder Field 100K too.
From the trail high above the creek. Photo by author.
Lap 5 was my best, fastest loop of the race, the last twenty-six miles were my best overall too, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s just something about closing with an ultra finish line, such a sense of accomplishment, that’s the best feeling in the world to me. Before Leaving Camp Remi I had stripped back down to shorts and light long sleeves, my Nathan Hydration Krar VaporPack, had my Let It Rip playlist fired up on my MP3 player and I was moving. When I was not climbing, I ran as hard as I could on the downhills and flats, and I was trail-running like I was fifty again. Or thirty-seven again.
Photo by auther.
I was right on the edge of too late all the way to Gunny but ended up passing 4 other runners traveling together a minute from that aid station, I ended up making it to Gunny in seventy-three minutes from the point I left Camp Remi with two minutes to spare. Whenever I saw a runner on the course ahead of me, I just did everything I could to catch and pass them, if for no other reason just to keep pushing the pace and get to the finish line. I ended up cruising into Camp Toofy at Mile 93 for the last time thirty minutes under the cut off there. I stayed pretty steadily on pace for the last seven miles of the race. While it was still only about 40 degrees, the Sun was out and after spending most of the night traveling by myself in dead last place, as it turned out, I was seeing more and more fellow runners on the course. I enjoyed the trail running companionship and beautiful sunlit Prince William Park scenery all the way back to the finish line.
Devil Dog 100 plunder. Photo by author.
- I highly recommend the Devil Dog 100 to anyone interested in running a challenging 100 mile race.
- The Devil Dog 100 was my 11th and last ultramarathon in 2018. It was also the 70th major event I’ve completed (counting 26.2s and ultramarathons as major events).
- DOG is the 11th race 100 miles or longer that I’ve completed overall and the 4th of 2018.
- I ended up finishing 36th out 51 D.Dog 100 mile finishers.
- My overall time on the course was 30:56:28.
- According to RD Toni Aurilio during our interview, everyone that started Loop 5 finished the race.
- Chris Mintz did finish the D.DOG 100, in his first attempt at the 100 mile distance and only his 3rd Amazing.
Proverbial finish line picture-Chris Mintz and I. Photo taken by RD Toni Aurilio.
- I saw a lot of old friends and made some new ones as well.
- The D.DOG 100 extended my daily running streak to 4006 (Day 1) and 4007 (Day 2) consecutive days running at least 1 mile per day.
- According to ULTRASIGNUP D.DOG 100 finisher’s statistics I was the oldest person to finish the race. That’s the third race of 2018 where I was the oldest finisher.
Photo by author.