2024 Old Dominion 100 – Racing the Ages

I wasn’t sure if I would finish this post. I used to write something for all my races and the occasional random topic, but as life has gotten busier and the social media recap has become more popular, my posts have dwindled to just two or three big things per year (seemingly mostly Barkley, Tor Des Geants, and a big FKT of some sort).

But Old Dominion is a special race with a long history, and I don’t write this just to recap my own day out there but in the hope that more will get to experience this classic event. Maybe someone searching for their next race will stumble upon this, or it will pique the interest of someone already considering Old Dominion. And yes, the title similarity to my post on this year’s Barkley Marathons is intentional. While Barkley this year was remarkable, Old Dominion has had many great years and performances dating back to 1979 that should not be lost to time. I wanted to test myself against those.

For the full recap, read on. My tl;dr illustrated summary is below (click here for full size image).

I chose Old Dominion this year for a few reasons:

  1. It’s close enough to me that it doesn’t require significant travel and my family could be a part of it
  2. It has a long, rich history with an impressive course record set in 1992 by Eric Clifton, one of our sport’s all time greats (his performances in the 90s bear many similarities to what Jim Walmsley is doing now)
  3. The timing was right – just long enough to recover from Barkley and then still give me a good long build for Tor Des Geants. In years past I’ve had a big multi-day mid summer FKT attempt, and I wanted to be sure I give myself the best chance of finally having a good race at Tor Des Geants this year after three frustrating outcomes there
  4. For full disclosure, it’s also because I didn’t get into Western States or Hardrock, just like the vast majority of people who apply. There are still many great races like Old Dominion out there to do instead.

Getting to the race in Woodstock, Virginia was a beautiful drive up the Shenandoah Valley not far from where we used to live outside of DC. Check-in was quick and easy, and we went to bed as soon as possible for the 4 AM start. I had to wake up at a time I’m more used to going to sleep at, but at least I knew when it would be instead of being awoken unexpectedly by someone blowing on a conch shell at 12:42 AM.

The Warm-up

My family was my crew and all the way down to the three year old they did amazingly well with the early start. Once the race was underway we had a police escort all the way out of town and up the first climb on a gravel road to Woodstock Tower. Aaron “Butch” Slabach and I had a nice chat heading up, but at the top he briefly stopped at the aid station about 7 miles in as I headed off down the other side. I quickly found myself alone until briefly stopping at Boyer, the next aid station, where I saw three lights behind me on the trail. One of them was Andrew Simpson, who pushed forward to join me at around mile 12.

Lining up for the start. Photo: Mike Bailey

We enjoyed each other’s company for a while, neither of us racing at that point, but no doubt pushing each other’s pace a bit even if subconsciously. We outran my family to the first crew aid station. I continued carrying my morning gear and without my planned resupply, but was optimistic I had sufficient calories to make it to the next one.

Enjoying a perfect morning on beautiful country roads. Photo: Karsten Brown

Andrew kindly offered me some of his food if I needed it, but not long after that our side by side running turned into a long back and forth race. I believe I made the first move, a bit over 20 miles in, probably again a subconscious pace increase driven largely by frustration at missing my family / crew.

The Race

The next stretch was highly runnable – rolling hills on crushed gravel and some asphalt. Mountain trails will always be my favorite, but I do love a good country road (as long as I’m not getting chased by dogs). And as much as I tend to do the races on steep gnarly terrain in terrible conditions, the fast terrain on a beautiful cool morning seemed to play to my advantage. I started to pull away and it felt like a good time to make an intentional move to get some separation, but I just couldn’t fully shake Andrew.

Cruising along, with Andrew constantly lurking right behind. Photo: Mike Bailey

A marathon into the race I checked my watch and had to chuckle. I was right at 3:30. Still over 74 miles to go, rolling terrain, carrying fluids and fuel, but that first 26.2 was faster than my first road marathon I had run just over a decade earlier.

At the end of my first ever marathon, looking much worse than a marathon into the Old Dominion 100 miler

At the Four Points aid station, about 33 miles in, I finally met my family. I resupplied, dropped my extra gear, added some sunscreen, and quickly headed back out to press my advantage. I made it up the next climb, a trail section, and a big descent with no sign of Andrew. Then on the next trail section, coming around a bend out of the corner of my eye, there he was.

The perfect morning temperatures had already left and I was starting to douse myself every chance I got. Photo: Mike Bailey

He caught up to me as we made our way through a muddy, rutty section, and flipped the script on me at the Peach Orchard aid station. He took off as I took a bit longer to cool off and get some more water now that the day was warming up. I didn’t want to overdo it, though, as that aid station is supplied by horse and it would be far warmer by the time most runners reached it.

Andrew pulled away as we headed up the next climb, the high point of the course. For the first time I lost sight of him. I was running faster on the smooth parts, but he was more than making up for it on the technical stretches. I believe that I’m still slightly hesitant and worried that I’m going to roll my ankle and DNF again like at Spine.

After descending to Crisman Hollow at mile 43 we rejoined a gravel road. On a long straightaway I caught sight of him again. The next stretch was another highly runnable gravel road, and I could measure our separation each time he passed a shadow. 2 minutes. 1:55. 1:50. I was slowly but consistently reeling him in, running around 7:30 miles in the process. By the time we returned to Four Points at mile 48, we were effectively together again.

Doing the math in my head for how much earlier Andrew had stepped through that beam of sunlight. Photo: Karsten Brown

I pushed by him right as we hit mile 50, in 6:57. Again, a bit of a chuckle. It was within half an hour of my 2016 JFK 50 miler, which had been good for top 10 in a highly competitive race on a fast course. It was the year that Jim Walmsley smashed the course record. After Old Dominion I figured out that our GAP (grade adjusted pace) for those first 50 miles was identical to my JFK 50.

But again, we still had a long way to go and the day was only getting hotter. Were we pushing each other to new heights or towards disaster?

Not long after that Andrew once again passed me, and by the time we reached Edinburg Gap at mile 57 his lead could be counted in minutes again. From there, I hit my lowest point of the race. The warmer temperatures were starting to get to me a bit, and I was doubting whether I could hold that pace.

To pile onto that, the next 8 miles were through an ATV area. It was rocky, rutty, and muddy (that’s how they like it!) and I was constantly getting pushed to the ankle obliterating rocks on the side of the road to let them pass. One person kept passing me, then stopping to wait on someone, then passing me again. Another decided to ride along next to me and chat for a while. I appreciate the friendliness, and to be fair we were in their area not vice versa, but I just wanted to be able to focus and run my race (and do it where the decent footing was!). Andrew and I also managed to outrun the setup for the next aid station (fortunately they were still able to get me a bit of water as I went by).

I arrived at Little Fort 64 miles in still making great time, but in a pretty rough spot. I figured Andrew could be 10+ minutes ahead at that point (turns out it was still only 2 minutes), and I started to think it was a very realistic possibility that I could break the long-standing course record but lose the race.

Coming out of that aid station there’s a T intersection. I correctly turned left, but shortly after that I looked down at my watch which told me I had less than 10 miles to go. Oh no, I turned the wrong way! I backtracked and went the other way on the T intersection, but it didn’t seem right. I stopped to think, realizing that the course overlaps itself on that short section and my watch had just jumped ahead. I turned around again, continuing back up the hill.

At the top I was relieved to have my suspicions confirmed, with a sign pointing left for mile 93 and right for mile 65. I was also incredibly frustrated with myself. I had lost an immensely valuable 5 minutes. As I continued down the hill and along another runnable stretch without any sight of Andrew, I assumed he was long gone. At the next aid station, Mudhole Gap, I didn’t even bother asking how far behind I was.

The Final Push

Then I arrived at Elizabeth Furnace 75 miles in, where I saw my family again along with Barkley, Old Dominion, and all around ultrarunning legend David Horton. I went ahead and asked how far back I was. They just looked at each other and said I was in first. I had made a 5 minute mistake, Andrew had seemingly made a bigger one.

Wait a second. They said I was in first. But that means… oh no. But also, let’s do this! Photo: Mike Bailey

I felt terrible for him, but also wasn’t going to waste my opportunity. I cooled off as best I could and started my push up Sherman Gap. At that point I felt confident I could win and still do it in course record time. By my math, I only needed 10 minute miles to the finish. Easy! My math did not account for that climb, and after just a few 15+ minute miles my course record prospects went from “easy” to nearly impossible.

I’m not sure how exactly Elizabeth Furnace got its name, but it was a bit warm. Photo: Mike Bailey

That realization was slightly disappointing, but by that point I could smell the finish line and had no plans of letting up. As the course record slipped away my lead grew more and more quickly. I also thought I recalled the 3rd fastest Old Dominion time being somewhere around 15:50, so I set my sights on that to keep me going. It turned out to be exactly 15:50, run by Jim Garcia in 2000, which was at least the 2nd fastest on this course since Frank Bozanich’s 15:17 in 1980 was when the race was in an entirely different area.

Passing on some wisdom. One of my favorite ultra running tips was given to me by David Horton when I first started: it doesn’t always get worse. Photo: Mike Bailey

I made it back to that mile 65 / 93 sign, which turned out to be where Andrew had made his wrong turn. He added about 6 miles and 1,000 feet down and back up, and incredibly pushed through that huge mental blow to finish the race. Read his recap of the day for how he managed that.

Almost there. Photo: Mike Bailey

Not long after, I was back in town and headed to my family in time for a late dinner like I had told them. My kids joined me for that final lap around the horse track (and mostly sprinted ahead of me) for my 15:44 finish. My family and a chair at the finish – all I need really. Well, some ice cream is always nice too.

Why finish around a human track when you can finish around a horse track. Photo: Mike Bailey
My youngest wasn’t able to join me for the full lap, but she’s got the finish line pose down. Photo: Mike Bailey

The Recovery

The ice cream was a great idea. A warm shower at that point, not so much. Pushing that final stretch in the heat really did a number on me, and I think the warm shower pushed me over the edge. I went from feeling relatively ok for after a hard 100 miler, to nauseous with a headache and a slew of other terrible feelings.

Who wants ice cream? Photo: Mike Bailey

We went back to the finish to wait for Butch to come in, and I ended up spending most of the time puking behind the bleachers. It was a real throwback to high school, when hard and fast races almost always did that to me, but I think it was the first time I’ve ever puked after any sort of ultra. The silver lining is that it was before I had the ice cream, which actually then went down pretty well, settled my stomach, and neutralized the acid. But I still felt absolutely terrible, possibly the worst I’ve felt in the hours immediately following an ultra.

Jessi is legitimately laughing at something Mike or I said, not at me puking, but it’s still a perfectly timed photo. Photo: Mike Bailey
See, she does care! She’s actually concerned about something the kids are doing here, but she’s there! 😂 Photo: Mike Bailey

Butch came in at 16:56, just making it without a headlamp and joined by his own crew of friends and family at the finish. He looked much better than I did at that point, but neither of us could manage to stick around until the next finisher. Despite my condition I still anticipated some late night post-race hunger and had Jessi grab some more food on the way back to our accommodations. After a few hours I felt just normal post-race bad, and spent the rest of the night intermittently waking up to eat every last bit of that food.

Photo: Mike Bailey

From there, the recovery was much different from my usual events that are much longer but lower intensity (this was only my second ultra in five years with a finish under 24 hours). I was incredibly sore; I think the first time in many years that I’ve reached the “I can’t sit down on the toilet without grabbing onto something” level of soreness. A bit of that persisted for nearly a week. But the other aspects of recovery – brain fog, trouble sleeping, random moments of total exhaustion, insatiable hunger – those were all significantly less and nearly non-existent compared to the week+ that I can be dealing with those things after something like Barkley.

The Analysis

First, thank you so much to the people who created the Old Dominion 100, the many who have kept it going, and all the volunteers who have made it possible each year. And thank you to my family for joining me as my crew (even with a 4 AM start 😬). Also, thank you to Tomo Ihara, who unknowingly provided the course GPX file to me from his Strava activity for last year’s race.

Post-race breakfast. Photo: Mike Bailey

I’m thrilled with my result there, and it did feel good to run “fast” (even though there were a few times I was begging for a nice long steep climb so I could stop running for a bit). The course record was another one of those things where I said, “odds aren’t in my favor, but I’m gonna give it a go anyway.” Fortunately going for it didn’t cause a full blow-up and I managed my race pretty well. I can’t be anything but happy with that result. Like I said in my initial social media recap, it’s not too shabby for a slow multi-day guy pushing 40 who’s only good at hiking around the Barkley course. 😉

Great, I can stop running for a bit. I have a little climb coming up! Sherman Gap? Doesn’t sound too bad

If a few other things had gone my way (not making that wrong turn, cooler weather, etc.) then maybe I could have managed the course record. It’s also not entirely clear to me if that course record was on the same course (one of the race founders said it was not), but that’s not important to me now. For me, the record was a great motivating goal to get me to reach as far as I could. It did just that, the time definitely is possible on the current course, and now it’s still there to hopefully motivate someone else.

This is also one of the nicest belt buckles, or finisher’s awards of any sort, that I’ve seen. It’s real silver and gold, and they’re made by the person who made the eagle on top of the White House flag pole.

And while I can wish I had a cooler year like they did that year, the year Jim Garcia ran just four minutes slower than me was hotter and much more humid than we had this year. Our weather was absolutely perfect for the first five or six hours. I also had a great 50+ miles of hard and fun back and forth racing with Andrew before his unfortunate wrong turn, and Butch was right behind pushing me along the whole way.

My Strava GAP analysis shows a pretty smooth curve with a good level of degradation for a race like this. It dips some where I mentioned my rough stretch, but I averaged an 8:36 GAP, not far off my goal of 8:30.

One of my favorite parts of running is how easy it is to go back and make clear measurements of progress. Stay consistent for long enough, and we can often do things that earlier versions of ourselves would have thought entirely impossible. The splits for my first marathon, 50 miles, and even 100K beat or matched a lot of my previous races for those distances alone. The first 100K was actually better than I ran at Bandera both in 2018 and in 2023, where I was 6th in a competitive Western States golden ticket race. Perhaps the best comparison is that my 2019 Lavaredo 120K (about 74 miles) was only three minutes faster than Old Dominion. Lavaredo does have about 6K feet more elevation gain, but I ran a full marathon farther in nearly the same time.

Lavaredo also had one of my favorite pictures from all my ultra running adventures. Photo: Federico Ravassard

After any one of those races I probably would have told you the next one was impossible, and jumping all the way from that first marathon in 2013 to Old Dominion I would have said there’s no way that’s even the same person. One of my other favorite comparisons is that in 2022 at age 38 I ran a marathon at a faster pace* than my best high school cross country 5K.

*ok fine, for that marathon I had super shoes that didn’t exist 20 years earlier

None of us know what our limits are in anything until we really go explore them. And while competing with others is highly motivating and fun, few things are as satisfying as beating ourselves (especially when that earlier version would have called the current version an old man 😉).

This will now become one of my benchmark races that I use to plan and set goals in other events, just like TWOT 100 – another low key Virginia race that remains one of my proudest accomplishments (only sub 24 hour finish for 112 miles with ~30K feet elevation gain on rough trails). I’m really curious how Old Dominion times compare to Western States times, and would love to have the data to make a scatter plot of average finishing times at each race for people who have done both. Western States has about 5K feet more ascent, but about 10K feet more descent. Temperature is a big factor in both races. Most of Old Dominion’s surfaces are very runnable, but having never done Western States I’m not able to personally make a comparison there.

The Past and Future

Old Dominion has a history dating back to 1979 (the second oldest 100 miler). It’s part of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, along with Western States, Leadville, Vermont, and Wasatch. Any four of the five counts for the slam.

At one time it was a highly competitive event, along with other east coast classics. The only one that has really retained that level of competition is the JFK 50 Miler. I’m glad that Old Dominion has kept its low key atmosphere – no sponsors, no fanfare, not even a tracker. Just show up and run. I love that and hope it doesn’t change.

But I do also wish that the competition would return, and for there to be competitive events across all regions without everything funneling into UTMB and Western States. It’s also a lot of fun to not just compete directly against others but to also compete against the past (even though we now have significant gear and nutrition advantages). Eric Clifton didn’t just have a good day at Old Dominion in 1992. Amongst other things, he also held the JFK 50 course record for 17 years.

Having it both low key and highly competitive is extremely difficult, if not impossible. To get top competition these days races need sponsors, and with that comes fanfare, and with that the low key atmosphere is gone and the race becomes less accessible to local athletes just looking to have a great day out running. Barkley does a good job balancing those things, even if some of the ways it does it are controversial. But it’s far from fair to expect any race to replicate the sponsor-free intrigue and appeal that Barkley has gained in the past decade.

So maybe all of that sounds like an idealistic dream, but our sport has definitely grown to the point that it should be entirely possible to have regional races that are competitive and can connect us across generations, as well as ones that are relaxed and low key.

Gear and Nutrition

Note: I have relationships with many of these companies. For a full list, see Partners.

Well, I guess there’s not a whole lot to put here when I’m “only” running about 16 hours on a sunny warm day. 😉 I did the entire race in a pair of La Sportiva Prodigio, XOSKIN briefs and socks, Ultimate Direction shorts with waistband storage, and my same old yellow La Sportiva shirt that ended up caked in so much salt that palpable white ridgelines were on my sleeves at the finish. I also used a COROS Apex Pro 2, which still had over 80% battery at the finish.

I’m a salty sweater, but I don’t think I’ve ever had that much salt crusted on my shirt. There were actual ridgelines on my shirt that could be felt (and they kind of look like mountain ridgelines too). Photo: Mike Bailey

For nutrition I had 10-12 Tailwind packets including one Tailwind Recovery, 6 or 7 Maurten gels, two Goo Goo Clusters, and an Oatmeal Creme Pie. I took nothing from aid stations except water. In the wake of the whole Spring Energy nutrition label scandal, I took a close look at all the labels and realized after 3 years of using them that the raspberry Tailwind packets have twice as much caffeine as I thought they did (not because they’re labeled wrong, but because I apparently can’t read 😅).

7 thoughts on “2024 Old Dominion 100 – Racing the Ages

  • 2024-06-24 at 12:30 PM

    Great write up John… I loved reading about your day after we separated for good on course. Regarding Western, I think it is a bit slower, mostly due to the altitude in the first 30 followed by heat. On a “normal” (eg not unseasonably cool like last year) I would estimate you would have been on track for 16:30-45 range at Western. I have no data to back this up, just my personal hunch, having also thought about this comparison since Old Dominion.

    • 2024-06-24 at 6:15 PM

      Thanks Andrew! I guess there’s only one way for me to find out how WS compares. 😉 Hope to spend some time out with you on another one!

      • 2024-06-26 at 6:17 PM

        I’d love to see you get a solid crack at WS for sure! Enjoy Italy!

  • 2024-06-24 at 5:23 PM

    Congratulations on another great race. Your times are amazing. Especially in the heat. Non runner friends say to me how good it is to have a nice sunny day to run when cloudy cooler days are so much better. I always enjoy your recaps 🙂

    • 2024-06-24 at 6:15 PM

      Thanks very much Paula, and may your next run be cloudy and cold. 😂

  • 2024-07-21 at 3:39 AM

    Great post, thanks! There are those of us who don’t find social media worth it, so are very appreciative to get to read these blog posts.

    • 2024-07-21 at 2:19 PM

      Thanks Patrick. I feel the same about social media quite often. 😂


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