I never knew something could tear me down…. yet build me up at the same time… until I did The Pinhoti 100 Mile Trail Race. http://www.pinhoti100.com/
Description of the course from the Pinhoti 100 website-
“Pinhoti 100 is a point-to-point trail run starting in Heflin, Alabama on the unmolested Pinhoti single-track trail. Runners will make their way over the highest point in Alabama while navigating over rocks, through creeks and across beautiful ridge lines of the Talladega National Forest. The course will consist of 80.62 miles of single-track trail, 16.98 miles of jeep road and 4.52 miles of pavement and will finish on the rubberized track in the Sylacauga High School Football Stadium.”
Last year I made a pact with friend and fellow runner Sarah Woerner that we would attempt a 100 mile trail race. It was all set… we would enter the Pinhoti 100. We structured our races and training around this race in hopes that it would prepare us for what was to come on November 6th. Our training consisted of several LONG runs and some back to back running along with several 50k distance trail races, a 60k distance trail race, two 50 mile trail races and one 77 mile trail race. Little did we know that even with all this training…. WE HAD NO IDEA what we were in for.
The day before the race I rode down with Sarah, Carl (Sarah’s dad) and Rock/Creek teammate Sal Coll (who also entered the race). Trey would drive down later after he had put in some time at the office and meet me for dinner. We drove to the finish line where the recreation center was to pick up our race packets and get any information that may be important to know on race day. After leaving there… we headed north to the race start to check out the beginning of the trail.
Race Morning –
IT WAS COLD, but it warmed up quickly as we got moving. Amongst the crowd at the start line were GUTS runner and multiple 100 mile finisher Christian Griffith and crew and they were a lively bunch to start the morning with. Christian would hoop and holler for the first few miles of the race and this took my mind off how nervous I was inside. After settling into a nice comfortable pace I found myself behind a gal named Kim from Atlanta who provided good conversation up until around mile 18-20. At one point Christian yelled up at us and said ” would you guys quit running the hills… you are making us guys look like wussies”. I jokingly replied back and said “we wanna give you something chase today!”. After about the 3rd aid station I decided to put my ipod on and jam out to some tunes. I ran by myself for quite a ways and felt very comfortable in my pace. Eventually I ran up on a guy named Chris who is a stay at home dad and nanny from North Carolina. We chatted for several miles until somewhere along the way we must have gotten separated at an aid station. At aid station #5 I saw Trey who handed an Ensure to me and two other friends down from Chattanooga (Cat Thornton and Celeste Sneed) waiting to run sweep for the next two segments. Seeing their smiling faces lifted my spirits and motivated me. It seemed like the miles went quickly and before I knew it I was at Bald Rock on Mount Cheaha. The next aid station after this would be mile 45 and Trey would be waiting there to pace me.
Mile 45-68 –
At mile 45 Trey joined in after giving me some Gatorade and nutrition. I was still moving pretty well even though I had just come down a nasty stretch of forest service road. Did I mention that I hate running on forest service roads? Luckily… after this aid station we were back onto single track and I found myself picking up the pace for a bit. I knew that daylight hours were numbered and when darkness fell things were gonna slow way down. Trey gave me an update and said that Sarah and Sal were moving nicely and ahead of me by a good bit. I was happy for them and hoped they would keep it going. As for me… I was on 24 hour pace at the time. When darkness fell… it got cold… BONE CHILLING COLD. At aid station #10 (mile 55-Porter’s Gap) I picked up my one and only drop bag and proceeded to change into a fresh set of clothes for warmth and another pair of running shoes and new socks. The La Sportiva Crosslites http://www.sportiva.com/products/prod/531 had gotten me to mile 55 and were very comfortable, but changing shoes would switch things up and hopefully prevent blistering. Also at aid station #10 was a hooping and hollering Christian Griffith. He had dropped earlier in the race due to heart issues he told me, but wanted to stay and cheer on folks at all of the accessible aid stations along the way. From here we would travel for what seemed to be an eternity on forest service roads. Time seemed to stand still on those darn roads, but at last we cleared the next two aid stations and had made it to aid station #13 where Trey would drop off and my next pacer Michael Green (aka Lucky) would pick me up.
Mile 68-95 –
Did I mention it was COLD? Trey was glad to drop at mile 68… he said he was nearly frozen at that point and he had failed to pack more clothing on the previous segment not thinking temperatures would get so low. Lucky looked like he was ready to roll though… he was appropriately dressed for the blast of cold we would face throughout the night and early morning hours. I ended up breaking out my second jacket and put a second layer of gloves and socks on as well. Later we would learn that temperatures plummeted to 25 degrees! At mile 75 or so we hit a nasty climb… The Pinnacle. We didn’t think we would ever reach that muther! The aid station at the top was manned by the GUTS folks out of Atlanta and I was ever so glad to see my precious friend Mark Elson waiting to serve me with an egg and cheese sandwich! Lucky and I sat in front of the warm fire for a bit as I scarfed my delicious sandwich down and then we were back onto the cold and dark trail. I felt good for the next 10-12 miles, but then things turned ugly. I knew my 24 hour pace was shot to hell, but the ultimate goal was to finish this damn thing… even if I had to crawl in.
And then the cramps started. Every time I would squat to use the bathroom my leg muscles would lock up from the cold air…. and I went to the bathroom ALOT! Lucky and I joked about the numerous bathroom breaks along the way. It wasn’t just me having to go. Finally… we were able to sync up and make it a one stop deal for both us each time one of us had to go from there on out. Lucky made the joke at one point about how he was never running in the cold again. He said he was marching straight into the YMCA and getting a membership and would run all winter on a treadmill after this experience. All I could think about was how I wanted to curl up and go to sleep on the side of the trail, but knew I couldn’t or hypothermia would be sure to set in. It wasn’t long after feeling this way that I downed a 5 hour energy drink which would only work for 3 hours.
And then the hallucinations started. I started seeing things that weren’t there. At one point I swore I saw a grey van parked in the middle of nowhere on the side of the trail. When I got to what I thought was the van… it wasn’t there at all. Sleep deprivation can do some weird things to your mind! Lucky kept talking about how he couldn’t wait to get to mile 95 so he could get into a warm car and thaw out. The only thing I was thinking was “5 more slow and cold miles for me”. Finally we reached mile 95 where Trey would pick me back up and Lucky would drop off. I changed shoes as speedily as I could since I knew there were roads coming up soon and wanted to get the trail shoes off.
Mile 95-100.5 –
So you think 5.5 miles to go….. you got it from here… right? WRO-ONG. Those were the hardest miles of the entire race. About 3 miles out my dear friend Mark Mason was waiting at the end of a road for us and seeing him cheer me on brought a smile to my face. He gave me a hug and said “you are almost there… that belt buckle is waiting for you”. By the time we were 2.5 miles from the finish line I was tapped out physically and mentally. The last mile of the race was so emotional for me. I staggered and cried and went through a whole range of emotions that I have never experienced before. It still makes me tear up and gives me chills to think about it. Trey was so encouraging and said to me “come on… let’s go get our belt buckle”! I drug myself within sight of that track and somehow managed to burst into a trot and crossed that finish line with tears streaming down my face. Yeah… I was a train wreck. Once across the finish line my friend and fellow ultra runner from Florida Jeff Bryan presented me with my belt buckle and gave me a big warm hug. Christian Griffith was at the finish line as well and he greeted me with kind words and a hug too. The world of ultra running has been so great to be a part of. There is a great sense of community and everyone has such a positive outlook on life. I feel like it is a second family and am blessed to have these wonderful people in my life.
My final finish time: 28:12121 started the race 73 finished18 women started the race / 9 finished (I was one of the lucky ones)
I found out later that Sarah and Sal both finished with solid times and Sarah was able to clench the overall woman’s title for the race. I was extremely proud of both of them.