Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pinhoti 100 Mile Race 2012

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 was great to see a local trail runnin' friend Chris Worl who had a great race...

Like a fool, I immediately started the race in the front 25% of the pack.  I ran just about every hill and didn't bother pacing myself at all.  I didn't look at my watch and just let the excitement of the morning carry me.  This is normally a recipe for disaster in a 100 Mile race and it nearly was for me then.  My reckless abandon of a moderate pace caught up to me fairly quickly around mile 20 when temps began to hit 80 degrees.  It got hot in a hurry and my basketball shorts were soaking wet with sweat.  Not a good sign this early in Pinhoti.

My crew had already met up with me three times and everything was clicking until the heat crept in.  I began to get very dizzy and nausea around mile 25 and eventually just collapsed beside the trail into a soft bed of pine straw.  I closed my eyes and I could feel the world spinning.  I wasn't even sure if I could make it two more miles into the 27 mile aid station.  Several runners past me and checked to see if I was OK.  I just lied to most of them because I didn't want to mess with their head or slow their race down.  At least until a runner came through that I knew - Denise.  She could tell that I wasn't doing well and offered me some jelly beans.  They did pick me up a little, at least enough to get up and drag myself into the aid station.  I was thinking it may be time to take my race number off and call it a day. 

At the last minute before I saw Joe before getting to the aid station I reminded myself that it was still very early in the race and I was way ahead of the cutoff times.  Just give yourself a chance and try to cool down for 10 minutes in the aid station.  I didn't want to have to face that 4 hour drive back to Spartanburg without a buckle - I would let them down and myself.

28 Mile Lake Morgan Aid Station Where I nearly dropped

It was great to see my crew here and the immediately had me sat down in a chair under some shade.  I must have looked rough because they didn't push me back on the trail at all.  Bo hooked me up with a ice towel to put on my head while Nick & Joe fixed me up with a Powerade, Red Bull, Coke, and some ice water.  They also had grilled me a juicy cheeseburger too which really hit the spot.

I started feeling better after about 10 minutes and I quietly told myself that I would at least make it 12 more miles to Bald Rock where I would see the crew again.  I decided to slow my pace way down and just enjoy the beauty of the trail for a while.  If my dizzy episodes returned then I would drop at Bald Rock and not try to put myself in harms way.

Sure enough I started to feel much better as I climbed up the trail away from Lake Morgan.  Even though I was feeling much better I would only run at a slow shuffle pace on the downhills and flats.  I didn't want to risk blowing up again.

I took it easy all the way up to Bald Rock which is at mile 40ish and a major turning point of this race.  At this point runners are allowed to pickup a pacer to run with them.  And because this is a park you actually feel like you're a part of society again with normal people walking around on top of the mountain and taking pictures of stuff.

My mind was destroyed at this point because I knew that I had a very long 60 miles to go and it would be getting dark in about two hours.  Could I face the dark and more of this trail for 15 more hours?  I had ran out of water again and decided that eating a pack of skittles was a good idea.  I nearly choked on them about a half mile from the top.  Soon after that episode I ran into Brad and Candy who were taking a break on some big boulders.  That looked appealing, but I needed to be alone so I kept going up closer to the top.

I knew that just getting up to the next aid station would give me a huge lift, but it still seemed SO far away.  As I got closer I ran into three ladies who were enjoying the beautiful afternoon walking their dog.  This was one of those big poodle looking dogs with a big Afro and I started petting it.  Before I knew it I was sitting on the ground beside him, petting him and telling him all of my troubles of the day.  I'm not sure how long I did this, but when I looked up at the ladies, I could tell that they weren't comfortable with the situation at all.  It honestly embarrassed me a little bit and I felt like I was having a mental breakdown.

I decided to stand up, man up, and get up to the aid station.

The top of Mt. Cheaha (highest point in Bama') is stunningly beautiful.
I saw Bo waiting for me on top of the boardwalk observation deck and it gave me an immediate surge of energy to hear him cheer for me as I finished up this climb.  I was fired up - when I climbed up the stairs to the boardwalk I dropped down and began throwing down push ups in front of everyone there.  I was seriously on the verge of losing my mind.  Bo told me to get up and we ran the next quarter mile to meet up with the rest of the crew at the Bald Rock aid station.

"Epic" Joe Parker and Marie-Ange were waiting to run with me for the next 15-20 miles, but before that I had to take care of some business.  I quickly changed back into my Hokas, lubed up my feet, and put on fresh socks.  After a Red Bull, Coke, Chips, and Raisinettes I felt like a new man.  It was almost like this was a brand new race.

The Hokas felt great on my feet and we made our way down the steep "Blue Hell" section of the trail.  It was nice to not feel any of the rocks or roots that had been tormenting me for the last ten miles.  Joe kept both Marie and I entertained as we headed into the Silent Trail aid station around mile 46.  It was cool to talk with Marie because she is also a wheat free eater and she had a ton of recipes to share.

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:

Once again, there was the track and I savored every second of running around it.  It felt great to wrap this thing up for myself and my crew who had kept their horse in the race for 27 hours and 14 minutes.  This was a great weekend that I feel fortunate to have spent with so many amazing people. 

Thanks again to Nick, Joe, and Bo who helped me make it happen.  Also to to the race director Todd Henderson and the many volunteers who gave up most of their weekend so 230 runners could go play in the woods.  And Scott, for taking these photos of me at the end.


  1. nice job sully.

    you're beginning to make it look too easy. Other than the dizzy spell, you pretty much breezed on through. Nice work, holmes.

  2. Awesome job Jason. Another incredible race and accomplishment. Love the report, I will use the info when I run this race. Get some rest, eat, drink, and chill.
    I wish I could eat like you do during these long races. I shutdown after the 70 mile mark.

    1. thanks bro. see you out there soon.

  3. Great work, Sully! When you passed me around aid station 85 or so, I knew that you were going to bring it home in style. Score 2 for Team Jason at Pinhoti!
    Thanks as well to Bo for cheering me on at every aid station while he was waiting for you. That was always a real motivator for me. I love my South Carolina peeps.

    1. Team Jason Crushed it man! SO proud of you Jason!

  4. So cool! You have turned yourself into one ultra running machine! Congratulations on ANOTHER 100!!!

  5. Thanks for not mentioning passing my slow butt at mile 96! Congrats on a stong finish!!! You killed those last 15 miles!

    1. too much respect for you to babble about that. that will just get you even more fired up for the next race when you smoke me again :]

  6. Congrats on a new course fastest time for you, Sully.

  7. I'm not sure how I found your Blog page but I am new to Ultra running and I have to tell you I have so much fun reading your race reports. I've read a lot of your accounts dating back now and I agree, you're starting to make it look easy. Can't wait to read the next one!

    1. it sure wasn't "easy", but I feel like I am learning how to take better care of myself. thanks for the encouragement. hope your training is going well.

  8. So glad you bounced back, even when you smoked me with your power-walking! Congratulations, although Tony will have to find a new name for you other than "Jason Who Sleeps on Tables," because you don't have time for that anymore!

    1. Ha Ha - Maybe "Jason who nearly dies on side of trail?"

      Everytime I was acting like a baby, it seemed to be around Tony out on the trail somewhere. He was a big encouragement, especially when he told me to just be thankful that I woke up this morning and could be out there. That went a long way with me.