This would be my third race at the Pinhoti 100 Miler which runs point to point in Alabama from Heflin to Sylacauga. It features rolling technical single track trail, a few big climbs, and 15-20 miles of runnable fire roads. A good mix to keep you interested & entertained over the course of a day or so.
I DNF'd my first attempt and finished in 28:01 last year.
I put together a crew & pacer team of Bo "1 banana" Millwood, Nick Cerda, and Joe Parker. These guys were responsible for driving me to the race start, then following along the course through 18 aid stations giving me what I needed and running with me through the night.
The four of us headed to Bama with Joe's dog Onxy for what shaped up to be a beautiful weekend of trail running. We picked up my race number and packet on Friday in Oxford, AL near the start, enjoyed a steak dinner at Longhorn, then drifted off to sleep in the hotel before 10 PM watching "The Book of Eli" on TV.
I woke up about 20 minutes before the alarm at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning feeling great. We met up with several other runners in the hotel lobby at 5 AM and made the 30 minute drive to the start. Temps were unusually mild around 48 degrees at the start.
The race began at 6:00 AM so it was dark for the first 30 minutes.
It began to get dark on us about 2 mile after this aid station and the miles continued to tick by as we all three shared some great conversation. As we past a few runners who were alone through this stretch I was so thankful to have my friends with me.
It was another lift to run up on my buddy Vic around mile 53. He was my crew chief here last year always gets me fired up when I see him out on the trails. I remembered looking down at my watch and thinking that it was only 9:00 PM, it already felt like I had been running in the dark for ten hours. I knew this race was about to get a lot tougher.
There was my crew waiting for me again at Adams Gap (Mile 55). Joe had one more five mile section to run with me before going back to his crew duties and I was happy to have mostly runnable fire roads through this next section. He kept me entertained with some "hashing" stories from recent runs. This section went by really quick and before I knew it we were already closing in on the 61 mile mark of the race.
Bo jumped into pace me here and we had a lot of fun working through the twisty/rocky sections of trail leading to Porter's Gap (Mile 70) where Nick was going to run with me. We past a lot of runners through this section who were struggling. I was feeling pretty good and really wanted to get to mile 70 because that would mean less that a 50K to go!
I had struggled all day with my nutrition up to this point. I've been eating a wheat free diet for the past 40+ days and I tried my best to run without it during the race. I just kept bonking and getting so low on energy and I remembered Marie telling me to just eat what my body craved earlier during the race. I finally started taking her advice and my energy levels began to rise. I started shoving in all types of bread products and I could tell the difference within minutes. On the downside, I would begin to feel green after about 1 hour of eating it, but the trade off was well worth it.
My nutrition was fine, nothing was injured, and everything was clicking. I knew that once we got up and over the big climb to the Pinnacle aid station at mile 75 I needed to start reaching deep and running as much as possible.
Bo did a great job of pacing me into Porter's Gap and Nick took over for the next 15 miles that that would end up taking us over 5 hours through the middle of the night into daybreak. Just like at Western States, Nick got in front of me and stayed consistent. We climbed up the very steep switchbacks to Pinnacle slowly, but steadily and I didn't feel completely wasted at the top.
Aaron from GUTS hooked us up with some hot bacon, egg, and cheese sammies and we were quickly back onto the trail. I was so excited to know that we were now about 25 miles from the finish and 10 miles from seeing the crew again. If I could just make it to Bull's Gap (Mile 85), most of the single track was over and easy fire roads were the only thing between me and the finish.
I've never had such a surge of strength during a race as I did after The Pinnacle. Once we walked another quarter mile to the top we ran nearly all the way down 5 miles to the aid station at mile 80. This is a mostly downhill stretch, but it is very rocky and technical. I told Nick that I wanted to run and would just accept the risk of falling and getting hurt. I felt way to good to walk. Plus I was afraid that slowing down to a walk would drain my mental fortitude as well.
The volunteers had some amazing tasting Ginger Ale at mile 80 and I drank a whole can of it along with some sandwiches and soup. Food was no longer appealing and I was just mindlessly shoving calories in my mouth at that point. I was sick of eating & drinking, but just like stopping to fuel your vehicle up, it had to be done or we weren't going anywhere.
We ran forever out of this aid station toward the mile 85 aid station where the crew was waiting for us. This stretch seemed to go on forever and I hit my lowest point of the race. I remember telling Nick that it just wasn't right and that everyone at this race were a bunch of liars. I tried to eat what I could, but I felt like it was going to come right back up. Looking back this section HAS to be much longer than the 4.4 miles that the volunteers said it was.
We finally made it to the mile 85 aid station about 15 minutes before sunrise around 6:15 AM. I asked Nick to get some some Dunkin Sticks, Double Shot of Expresso Milk, and some salt tabs. It was on and time to go!
I was in and out of this aid station very quickly, maybe less than a minute and Bo headed out with me to see me in for the final 15 miles.
We absolutely killed the next four miles (by my standards)! We averaged a 10:55 min/mile pace and got there in about 42 minutes. These were rolling fire roads that were much easier than the rocky trails I had just spent the last five hours on. As an added bonus we were able to take out lights off since the sun was now up enough to see.
It was great to see Mark & Tim manning the very remote mile 90 aid station and we flew through it, barely stopping long enough to get a drink.
Right after this aid station I hit another very low point and I nearly fell apart mentally & physically. We had about nine miles to go, but the thought of running for 2+ more hours just seemed impossible. I doubted my ability to finish it and just didn't want to eat another bite.
Bo and I made a game out of the fire roads that my pacer Sean taught me last year. We would pick out landmarks along the road and run to them, then take a short walk break before doing it again. This really helped to take my mind off the pain and I was glad that Bo took over the game and started telling me what to do. Like a sheep going to the slaughter, I just blindly did what he said.
We had one more aid station around mile 95 before running a few miles, hitting the road, then finishing in the high school stadium. A lady was on the trail near the final aid station and she told us that we were close, only a quarter mile to get to it. Well, we ran a quarter of a mile and nothing! I became furious and nearly lost my cool. It was at least another half mile to the aid station and most of this was uphill.
I was a total mess of a man at mile 95. I wanted the pain to be over so badly. My crew was there waiting and I yelled up ahead that I needed more double shots and dunkin sticks. I shoved what I could in my mouth and took off again with Bo. We jogged slowly out of the aid station and then the sugar and caffeine came over me in just the perfect way. I went ahead and ate 2 gels and a pack of crackers too. Then chased it with as much water as I could.
We started running and I knew that I would either vomit and collapse or have a strong finish. I told Bo that I didn't want to talk anymore, just run. We did just that. I put down about a 10 min/mile pace for the final 5.4 mile stretch. When we finally hit the paved road which leads into town I knew that I could hold the pace for as long as needed. I didn't focus on the pain, I focused on the finish and just ran. It felt amazing.
We saw Nick waiting up ahead before the turn into the stadium and he joined in with Bo and I, then Epic Joe was waiting just before the entrance onto the school property: