Monday, September 27, 2010

Foothills Trail (2nd) 77 Mile Run

My first attempt at the Foothills Trail was on 7/24/10 and I dropped out at Whitewater Falls which is around the 48 mile mark.  I entered this run very confident of a finish and thought that I had it figured out.  To make a long story short I dropped once again at Burrell’s Ford (mile 61) which was about 16 miles from the finish.  Severe chaffing and mental fatigue were the main contributors. 

The runners for this one were Denise Davis, Scott Hodukavich, Charles Raffensperger, Psyche Wimberly, and myself.  Byron Backer provided crew support for us and Denise’s husband Alan provided support for her.

Our plan for this run was to start from Table Rock State Park on Friday night (9/24/10) at 7:00 PM.  The strategy was to run the tough Table Rock & Laurel Valley sections of the trail while it was dark & cool and then face the remaining 29 miles in the daylight on Saturday.

The run started as planned at approximately 7:10 PM.  Denise took the lead heading up Pinnacle Mt. while the rest of us fell into a speed hike as the sun began to set.  We hit the overlook at Pinnacle in about 1:20 and were making great time.  A beautiful full moon appeared behind a mostly clear sky and we continued to speed hike/jog towards South Carolina’s highest point – Sassafras Mountain. 

We met up with Byron at the top of Sassafras and refilled our supplies.  After hanging out there for about 15 minutes we headed downhill to the Laurel Valley Parking area at mile 14.5.  Denise & Scott had gotten ahead through this section while Psyche, Charles, and I ran mostly together.  We saw several copperheads on the trail through that section.

My split for the first 14.5 miles was around 4:40 which was nearly one hour faster than the July run.  It was close to midnight as we met Byron again on HWY 178 at the Foothills Trail crossing.

We met back up with Scott here who was waiting on us and Denise had taken off into Laurel Valley just as we arrived.  This would be the last time we would see Denise during the run.   Byron had a great spread of food put out for us again along with ice cold drinks.  We all loaded lots of calories into our packs for the long 33 mile unsupported section through Laurel Valley.

The four of us stuck together closely through the Laurel Valley section until the very end after sunrise.  As midnight came and went the sharp & steep sections of the trail began to take their toll.  I hit a very low point around the 29 mile mark which may have been around 2:00 AM.  I began thinking about how far I had left to travel and the darkness was disheartening.   We pushed on & on as a group of four through the darkness making the best of the night with some jokes and ramblings.

Dawn began to break around 6:30 AM as we closed in on the Bear Camp creek section which was getting close to the halfway mark of the run.  All our spirits were lifted as we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise together on some nice downhill sections of the trail.  Scott got ahead on this section and we eventually made it to Hilliard Falls.  Psyche & Charles decided to take the short spur trail to the falls and I made the decision to keep pressing towards Whitewater Falls where Byron & aid were waiting for us.  Scott had decided to visit the falls as well so Psyche & Charles met up with him there.

I really enjoy the section from Hilliard Falls to Bad Creek.  There is some fantastic single track with some very gnarly climbs.  My legs were beginning to complain about moving for 15 hours at this point, but I was enjoying the cool fall morning listening to the forest come alive.

I hit another low mental point around Bad Creek as I knew the tough climb out of Whitewater was inevitable.  I kept reminding me that Byron was at the top with aid and I would reward myself with a nice break once I got there.  I took a lot of breaks through the next four miles.  I think it took me about three hours to cover the four miles.  I decided that I was going to drop at Whitewater and just could not stand the thought of going another 28+ miles to the finish from there.  Those negative thoughts made the climb out even worse.

The steep climb out of Whitewater was comical.  I was talking to myself and beginning to come unraveled.  Two families turned back on the trail when they saw me having conversations with myself.  I heard one lady say, “Honey, I think we need to go the other way….”  Then about 100 yards up the trail another lady said, “I’m tired and need to turn back”.  I must have looked like a wretch at that point.  I guess 48 miles and spending the night in Laurel Valley will do that to you.

I finally climbed my way up to the gravel parking lot on HWY 130 and was greeted by Byron and Alan.  Wow, was it ever great to see them.  Byron announced that I was looking good because I was still moving and I just sat down on the ground for a minute.  Just as I sat down Scott, Charles, and Psyche came up right behind me.  It was great to see them as well.

If it were not for the rest of the people around me here I would have dropped for sure.  I was in a terrible mental funk and just wanted to quit.  I was not injured and was not extremely tired, but just way down.  We spent about 30 minutes here and packed up heading towards mile 53 at Sloan Bridge.

I felt incredibly great climbing out of Whitewater Falls.  My spirits were lifted and I was so excited to be getting closer to the finish.  The toughest part of the trail was behind me and I felt secure in a finish. 

We reached Sloan Bridge around 5:30 PM which was about 22:30 into the run.  For some reason I developed sever chaffing through this section in my inner thighs.  Psyche let me have her Glide roll on to use and it helped for about 15 minutes, but after that the burning was horrible.  Every stepped left me grimacing in pain.  I tried to make adjustments to my shorts, but it just kept burning more & more.  I was determined to not let this stop me from finishing and kept pushing forward.

The 3.3 mile section from Sloan Bridge to Fish Hatchery was much more technical than I remembered it being from previous runs.  There were lots of roots and downed trees that made for tricky footing.  My inner thighs were burning so bad at this point I wanted to cry.  The sweat and salt on my shorts was rubbing back and forth as I moved.  I just couldn’t find a fix.  I put much, much more glide on, but it just wouldn’t help.  I even tried to rub it all off with my shirt and then re-apply, but again, it made it worse.  I noticed a little blood, but I just pretended not to see it.

I put my headphones on and tried to listen to music for the first time through this section.  I thought that it may take my mind off the situation at hand, but it made me very angry.  I have never had music make me mad like this did.  I think I was listening to some Phil Collins, but not sure.  Either way, I packed my MP3 player back up and kept moving.  The three of us reached the Fish Hatchery off HWY 107 around 6:45 PM which was about 23:50 hours into the run.  We were about to face our second night on the trail.

We put our lights on at Fish Hatcher and turned them on about 2 miles down the trail as we headed towards Burrell’s Ford.  I lost my mind through this section.  The chaffing was about to bring me to tears and facing a 2nd nightfall was demoralizing.  The three of us stumbled slowly downhill towards Burrell’s Ford.  We tried to keep talking some, but we all had a hard time making conversation.    I knew that we only had about 16 miles to go after Burrell’s Ford and that I just needed to get there and get things fixed.

We finally rolled into Burrell’s Ford around 8:15 (25 Hours Into the run) to find Byron patiently waiting for us once again with a truck full of aid waiting at our disposal.  I was having a hard time forming sentences and felt wildly delirious.   I ate some excellent hot chicken noodle soup and a few sandwiches in hopes of getting another lift up.  I knew that I needed to treat that chafe as well.  When I reached down to take a look at it there was a bloody mess there.  That pain on top of knowing that eight more hours of running waited ahead for me to finish the trail made me decide to drop out of the run.  I told the group that I was finished and Charles also said that he was dropping as well.  I had noticed him breathing strange and he was complaining of other complications. 

Byron was ready to run with Psyche and the two of them geared up and headed off into the night down the technical Chattooga river.  As I stood there watching the two of them head back into the woods a flood of emotions came over me.  I was so glad to be finished, but deeply heartbroken to not be finishing the trail.  Either way, I stood by my decision.

I remember praying for Byron & Psyche’s safety as they heading down the Chattooga in the darkness.  I knew Byron was fresh and that he would take care of her out there, but I knew how she was feeling when she left.

My car was parked with aid in it at Burrell’s Ford so I drove it back to Oconee and followed Charles who drove Byron’s truck.  We left his truck at their final road crossing – Cheeohee Rd. – and Charles rode back to Oconee with me.

We got showered and ate back at Oconee where we had setup camp earlier on Friday afternoon and I collapsed in the tent. 

Here is how the run turned out for the group:

Denise Davis – 1st Female to ultra run the Foothills Trail and she finished on her first attempt in 26:58

Scott Hodukavich – Finished on his 1st attempt 30:37

Psyche Wimberly – Finished on her 2nd attempt 31:48

Charles Raffensperger – Dropped at Burrell’s Ford Mile 59.8

Jason Sullivan – Dropped at Burrell’s Ford Mile 59.8

I would like to say a special thanks to Byron Backer for helping us with this run.  He provided excellent aid to us at every possible intersection and even spent some time running on the trails with us.  Not to mention, finishing the 16+ miles with Psyche through the night.  Thank you again Byron!

I’m looking at another run on the trail in the Spring of 2011.  I’m planning on taking the hard lessons I’ve learned and using them to my advantage for a finish next time.  I’m deeply disappointed in not finishing, but I at least feel good about making it farther than I did last time.


  1. Kudos on the run, Jason! See you at FATS?

  2. Cooler weather! It'll make all the difference in the world. Good read. Sorry for the chafe. It can be BAD. I've got scabs just about every place skin touched clothing or skin touched skin from Hinson Lake. I think the heat & salt you sweat has a lot to do with it.

  3. Congratulations on the 61, Jason! This sounds scary and intense, starting with the copperheads and going from there. I always have severe chafing issues if I don't wear my Under Armour compression shorts during long runs, so I feel your pain there. Some obstacles can be mentally overcome, but some of them can't. You've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. In your case, it looks like you did the right thing. Looking forward to seeing you at Pinhoti!

  4. Good decision there Jason. Spring 2011 - you'll do it!!

  5. Nice writeup Jason. It is always great to be on the trails with you and I share many of the same feelings you had after this run...but just remember what an incredible accomplishment it is to go as far and as hard as we did - you're a WINNER in my book!