Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Georgia Jewel 100 Mile Race

After signing up for the 100 mile race here last year and then dropping down to the 50 due to burnout, I had been thinking of going back and running this race for the whole year.  The course is located in Dalton, GA and features some of the most beautiful & rocky single track trail in the area.

Going in the course measured a little long at 103.9 miles with just over 16,000 feet of climbing involved.  I was very anxious to see first hand how this course would measure up with another 100, The Pinhoti 100, which takes place farther south on the same beautiful Pinhoti Trail system.

We started the weekend off enjoying a poolside dinner and lots of laughs.

My crew/pacer scenario consisted of Annie, Bryan, and Nick.  Nick was to run miles 52 to 64, then Annie would pace me the rest of the way in.  Bryan would stay busy cooking and coordinating logistics.

Joe & Phyllis were running the 35 miler.  Katie, Angela, and Rachel the 50 Miler.  We were literally going to be scattered all over

Bryan probably wondering what exactly he has gotten himself into here.

I tried something new the night before the race (never recommended) and took two Advil PMs.  This gamble paid dividends because I slept excellent and woke up feeling fresh around 3:00 AM.

The 100 & 35 mile runners would begin at the Start/Finish line at 5:00 AM.  The 50 mile runners would begin on the other side of the course and run back to the finish at 7:00 AM.  Nick loaded me up in the Jeep and we made the short 1 mile drive up to the Dalton Convention Center where the Start/Finish was located.

Just after I checked in it begin to pour down rain.  This was far from the ideal way to start a 100 mile journey, but I've learned that you have to be willing to adapt to whatever the trail throws at you.  Unfortunately, this was going to be the case from mile 1 today.

I had doubts of finishing this race as I sat with Nick just minutes before the race.  I had only been averaging about 47 miles per week and I knew this was a monstrous course.  I wondered why I keep coming out and doing it.  Deep inside I knew why this time.

The Start Line at 5:00 AM.

I was excited to be running with Joe (who was doing the 35 miler) for 17.5 miles and my buddy Phil who was doing the 100 miler.  Phil and I have shared some similar race(s) and experiences and we felt it was wise to try and stick together as much as possible.  This turned out to be an excellent decision and as always I gained encouragement from him. 

The race director yelled "GO!" at 5 AM sharp and Phil & I both just stood there.  We purposely placed ourselves in the back of the pack and walked out of the Start line.  It was kind of funny to have Joe starting with us at this pace.  He's such a speedy runner, but today he wanted to hang out and see what the beginning of a 100 mile pace would feel like.

My heart was filled with joy, excitement and anticipation as I made my way up the steep paved road which begins the race.   I spent some of this first mile wondering how I would be feeling about 30-36 hours from now when I was heading back down it towards the finish.  Those thoughts were too overwhelming to handle so I dove into some conversation with other runners around me.

Phil, Joel, Brad, and Dan really put me at ease as we joked nearly all the way to the first 5 mile aid station.  I've ran so many races with these guys & they really helped me to settle in and relax.

The first 10 miles or so of trail is known as "The Rock Garden".  It lives up to its name in every way, but today was even more special with flash flooding.

The first 10 hours of the race presented us with repeated scenes like this.  There was no reason to try and fight it, you were going to be soaked to the bone.

As we chatted down the trail Phyllis came breezing by us on a uphill section making it look way too easy.  She ended up winning 1st place female in the 35 mile race.  Well done!

My crew would first meet up with me at Snake Creek Gap which is 17.5 miles into the race and also the turn around point for the 35 miler racers.  It was very reassuring to see them here and I devoured down about 6 pieces of bacon.  My Hoka shoes which had over 1,400 miles on them blew out I was feeling great despite the rain and quickly got back onto the trail.

Phil & I at Snake Creek Gap Aid station mile 17.5.

Phil and I had plans to stick with each other and he quickly caught up to me after about a mile out of this section.  This was the only mile I spent alone on the trail the entire day.  Fairly amazing for a 100 mile race.

Phil & I shared some great conversation up the fairly tough climb to to the mile 25 John's Mountain aid station.  The rain & wind really began to pick up through here.  As we climbed up the steep jagged steps I would rub my body into the pine trees on the side of the trail that were filled with ice cold water.  It felt so good as the cold water cooled me.

Heading into mile 25 Aid Station

I was starving as I came into this aid station and I could smell bacon!  I had been using my UCAN supplement which helps your body use fat stores for fuel and I'm very impressed with how well it worked.  My blood sugar & pressure remained stable and I didn't suffer the normal big ups or downs through this point of the race.  I used a documented idea of sucking on hard candy while using it and it really worked like a charm.

I have no idea how my Bryan & Nick were able to grill out in "sideways" blowing monsoon storms, but they did!  I felt eternally grateful to be out in the middle of nowhere and have them hand me a huge juicy bacon cheeseburger that was even warm.  I felt like the best cared for runner on the course and this really helped keep my spirits high.  And I stayed really full too.

I had absolutely no issues either physically or mentally in the first 35 miles of the race and much of this is due to my stellar crew!

 It was another great mental lift to run upon Angela & Katie through this section.  They looked very fresh & relaxed as they were making their way through the rain on the 50 mile course.

It seemed that Phil and I knew about every other runner who was running the 50 miler which was a lot of fun as we spoke to everyone.

Phil and I both knew that eventually things were going to go sideways.  They did around mile 35.  As we approached the Manning Road aid station Phil made a comment about how high the river was.  Then we both agreed that this was probably the river that we would have to cross soon.  I figured the crossing would have some high rocks or something, but I was wrong.

Let the "sideways" begin.

Here is what the river looked like when we ran into the aid station:

My crew, Jason Green, and some others warned us that this crossing was being closed because a few runners had gotten swept off their feet during the traverse.  Fortunately Bryan & Nick were paying attention and they were able to help get them out of the river.

Suddenly the race became too much for me to grapple with.  My mind was already entering the Ultra "Twilight" Zone and I didn't understand how the crossing could just be closed?  I had studied and nearly memorized the entire course and this threw my entire plan off.
I begin to panic inside and pouring sweat.  I tried my best to hold it together on the outside, but I was all over the emotional map inside my head.  My crew handed me some more hot food and a Coke.  They assured me that everything would be OK.
This probably doesn't look like a man who is worried about much, right?

Suddenly the race begin to takes it's toll.  Our crew and a few other folks told Phil & I to run to the end of the road and take a right at the red Tahoe SUV.  We both begin to question the race and what was happening.  It must have been some conversation to hear.  We ran up on Dan Burnstien and he didn't even seem to care.  He had his music going just running down some country road.  At this point we had no idea where we were.  I was getting extremely worked up inside my head.
I owe a lot to Phil at this point in the race.  He reminded me that neither of us could afford to waste emotional energy on this "situation".  The race was still running and our job was to just keep running until someone told us to stop.  Those words were perfect and I took them to heart.
We both must have regained confidence because we were constantly having to slow our pace as it was occasionally going as low at 8:30 min/mile.  Not what we need to be running at mile 40 during a 100!
This detoured stretch of road seemed to just go on and on until we finally made it into the next aid station.  I think that our crew may have been the ones responsible for the re-route of the course, but don't hold me too that.  I couldn't get too upset at the situation after that because I knew they had my best interest at heart.
Annie putting up a new course marking sign.
The Narrows aid station was pivotal for me both times I ran through it during the race.  It was the 1st time that I felt that I would surely finish the race and then reassured on the return trip back through.
I've never really been big on "Devoting" a run to anyone, but for some reason my daddy was stuck in the front of my mind the entire week leading up to this challenge.  Specifically how he dealt with me when I was in 7th grade and trying out for the Jr. High football team.  It was incredibly hard on me being a chubby kid who had not had to deal with a lot of rough times early in life so after the 4th practice I went up to the coach and told him that I wanted to quit the team.

When my daddy got word of this he disciplined me and told me that I wasn't a quitter and that I would never be able to do anything in life if I lived in fear.  He sent me back to the coach, who I had to beg for another chance to get back on the team.  I had to run extra sprints after practice the entire season because I had quit, but looking back they were one of the best things in my life.  They taught me to love running and not to quit.

I would have went back to the coach even if my daddy had not said anything too me because I could tell from the look on his face that I let him down.  That look stays with me to this day.

After thinking about this and battling in my mind Phil reminded me at the perfect time that there were only two scenarios left for us during this adventure.
1.  We finish and get the buckle.
2.  We get hurt so bad that our crew drives us to the hospital.

I really believed that I was past this low point in the race as I left the aid station heading towards the halfway point turn around.  I was extremely wrong.

This next section featured a climb from the aid station that nearly brought me too my knees.  The humidity must have reached 100% through this section and even though it wasn't hot, the air was very uncomfortable.  We ran & ran on a gravel fire road that seemed to go on forever.  Many of the 100 mile runners began to pass us through here with big smiles on their faces.  How could they be smiling?  I'm so far behind them and I will never finish this race.  With every runner that passed me, my morale would sink lower and lower.

I was convinced that my race was over at the the turnaround point.  When my crew and the aid station see what bad shape I'm in they will pull me from the course. 

Then just before the aid station it got even worse.
Every ultra marathon seems to have it's overly hyped "gimmick" that everyone talks about as being so bad.  One of those for The Jewel is the Power line section.  If you look closely in the picture you can see the tiny runner climbing the massive hill.  There were maybe 3-4 of these and they brought me to my knees.

Phil and Willy had been running with me through here, but I couldn't maintain their pace.  I feel way behind and debated just lying down and quitting.  If I just "look" bad enough they will make me quit and it won't be my decision.  I kept thinking that as I creeped up the climbs with seat pouring all over my chaffed body.  The salt burned like fire as it hit my exposed raw skin.

I'm not sure how I made it through this section other than with the strength from God because it was clearly not mine.  As a matter of fact, I don't even remember climbing the final hill and running the next quarter mile into the aid station.

I was delirious in every way that was possible.

At this point I just threw myself into the mercy of my crew.  I had no idea what I needed for where I was.  I wanted to quit here worse than any other time in my life.

I couldn't.  I couldn't let my crew down, my family, all of these race volunteers, and most of all my daddy who I was now clearly running this thing for.

I don't remember much about this aid station but I knew for certain that Nick was going to be pacing me for the next 12 miles.  My inner thighs were bleeding from severe chaffing after 14+ hours of rain & sweat and I had to have relief.  I remembered packing a pair of Under Armor shorts in my bag that I never wear at the last minute and I asked Bryan for them.

Nick held up a blanket while I changed at the aid station and I remembered him asking me what I was going to wear over them.  It turns out they were really underwear, but at least it was getting dark at the time.

I don't remember eating or doing anything else here, but my crew hurried me back out onto the trail with Nick.  If it weren't for him going back I'm not sure that I would have made it.  He took control of the pace & attitude of the run.  We know how to run with each other when times get tough and I settled in behind him.  Mindlessly following him into a rich orange golden Georgia sunset.

I moaned a lot going back through the power lines, but they weren't nearly as bad going in the opposite direction.  Then a thought hit me, "I'm heading home...".  My friend Weezy and I had talked about how good we would feel at the turnaround in this race because that would mean every step was getting us back closer to the finish line.  These thoughts in addition to 500 calories worth of sports drink put some fire in my pace as Nick begin to shuffle.  Then we actually begin to run again.

It was very difficult to contain my emotions through here with all the thoughts on my Daddy and the last section, but I kept reminding myself to store them away for much later when I really needed them again.

Me, Nick, Joel, and Dan worked our way through a lot of this section together at a steady pace and it seemed to fly by.   The next thing I know we are at mile 69ish back at the Narrows aid station where I knew I would finish before the first time through.

Once again, Bryan had me delicious bacon, burgers, and sausage cooked and this immediately lifted my spirits.  Annie was taking over pacing duties for the rest of the race and I was ready to face the detour section of hard top road again.

All of the unexpected hardtop road running was destroying my shins.  I used Marshall Ulrich's mental technique of pretending that the hurting areas of my body didn't really exists.  They aren't mine and I don't feel them.  It worked for me so I rolled with it. 

Miles began to click by as Annie & I shared stories from the day.  It was fun to hear about how everything went for the crew and she enjoyed hearing what happened on the trail.

The next 20 miles would be filled with all sorts of animal encounters.  Annie & my crew made certain that I was eating & drinking through the night.  By mile 75 I had passed the point of no return.  My mental capacity for reality was letting go more & more every hour and the trail was becoming my home.

I felt like one of the many animals that we would hear out on the trail as we ran into aid stations.  I belonged on the trail, not with the loud noise of the aid stations and bright lights.

I'm still blown away that Bryan even had hot cooked food for us on top of John's mountain around mile 81 and even at the next aid station around mile 96!

1 AM quickly turned into 3 AM and we had a very disturbing encounter with some type of wild animal that was just off the trail.  As we approached it started making some type of hideous screaming noise.  Annie picked up what looked to be lick a 1 inch diameter pine stick and I grabbed two rocks and started banging them together.  It seemed to heed the warming and leave us alone, but left us both a little nervous for several miles afterward.

No one had really told me exactly how many extra miles were being added to the race by the detour, but I began to realize that it was going to be much more than just a few as we got closer & closer to the finish.

Bryan finally said his final crew farewell to us at Snake Creek Gap which was 17.5 miles from the finish line.   My watch read about 96 miles here.

Annie & I both were anxiously awaiting the sunrise because I knew that we would both get a lift from taking our headlamps off and seeing everything again.  Sure enough, the sun began to creep over the ridges just as we entered the final section of single track known as the "Rock Garden".

I was on complete auto pilot through this section.  I began to have wild hallucinations.  At one point I saw a wooden house up ahead that was incredibly beautiful, then as I approached it was only a downed tree rotted on the ground.  I saw gingerbread men, other houses, and bulldozers.  None of them were real, thankfully.

Some of the sweetest & most gentle souls greeted us at the final manned aid station around mile 103.  There were 2-3 young ladies (I think) who we had lots of laughs with (I think).  I could even hear some man snoring really loudly in the tent (I think).  It was just the perfect way to send us on our final 10 mile stretch.

I asked Annie to just pull me along at this point the best she could.  I wanted to run as much as possible so it would be over sooner.  At the 29:00 hour mark into the race we were both fairly delirious.   I have no idea what kind of pace we were maintaining, but every step was closer to that finish line.

I would occasionally think of my daddy and how proud he would be to see me finish this.  The emotions were way too much to deal with and I would put them to the side.

We finally exited the single track trail and found our way to the final 2 mile stretch of gravel road and highway.  We both struggled down the steep/rocky gravel road that I had easily marched up nearly 29 hours earlier.  Time & spaced seemed surreal. 

Annie pulled herself together as we got on the busy highway stretch that led to the finish line.  She sternly told me to stay behind her and to not get into the road.  I must have been all over the road because she kept telling me to get back behind her.

I went totally off the reservation at about mile 112 going down the road.  We saw two guys about 100 yards ahead of us doing something weird.  They had their backs against each other going down the road.  I thought they were just teasing us so I started sprinting towards them yelling at them to stop!  As I got closer it seems like the runners quads were shot out and his pacer was trying to ease him down the road.  I felt really bad for yelling at him and if you ever read this I'm truly sorry.

We seemed to be in an all out sprint at we saw the finish line down in the valley below with about a quarter mile to go.  Tears filled me eyes as I tried my best to keep Annie's pace down the road.

At last we made the final turn into the Dalton Convention Center and there it was, the FINISH LINE and so many of my friends and crew who had helped me accomplish this monumental goal!  The clock read about 30:10 for 113.5 miles.

Immediately after getting the buckle I took a celebratory shot of top shelf tequila from my crew!


I simply cannot express my gratitude to the Race Director, Forest Service, Volunteers, and my crew & friends who helped me achieve this hundo!  To me it will always symbolize the strength of God & the human spirit.  We can always go further than we ever thought possible.
And I do devote this buckle to my daddy who went to heaven many years ago, but leaves his legacy behind with so many down here.  I normally wear my buckles around to ultras because I'm proud to have earned them, but this is one that I will never wear.  I didn't quit and it's just for him.

View GPS Data From Race:


  1. >> "As we climbed up the steep jagged steps I would rub my body into the pine trees on the side of the trail that were filled with ice cold water. It felt so good as the cold water cooled me." ---- like a big frickin' grizzly bear. Great report, homey. You know I get it...

  2. A great accomplishment. So very proud of you Sully. I especially loved that you shared an emotional memory with us. It was very inspiring. Some would have gained "negativity" from your father's lesson, but you knew it was with love that he disciplined you and you turned it into a lifetime of positive. I loved your blog. Thanks for sharing. Michele Timmerman

  3. Wonderful recap, Sully. I could feel your emotions. I'm especially touched by the fact that the memory of your dad carried you through the race. Again, you are such an inspiration. Thank you, Jason.
    By the way, I was a little worried about you at the Mile 50 turn-around. You looked tired. But Joe never doubted you. He said you'd be alive again when night falls and would no doubt finish. He was right. :)

    1. Thanks Phyllis. I was a little worried then too. My crew & pacers earned this one with me. That is for sure.

  4. Tear jerker! Congratulations on your race! I can not even imagine those climbs, running in the dark, animals! Not to mention just the mileage! You are a true inspiration! I love reading your posts! Congrats again!

  5. This is the best race report! You went through one insane beatdown of a race, but you whipped it good with some mental toughness! I'll have to get the 411 from you about the UCAN supplements, because that seems like something I'll want for the future. Looking forward to pacing you during Pinhoti, which will probably seem like a victory lap compared to this!

    1. Thanks buddy. We'll have plenty of time to catch up at Pinhoti. I agree that the Jewel is tougher, but Pinhoti demands full respect. It's a beatdown for sure.

  6. Great report Sully I knew you had it in you! You’re an awesome closer and you never give up it's just who you are brutha and now I know where you get it your DAD! So glad you dedicated that buckle to him! You know I relate to that. BTY-I like that Buckle Shot at the Finish!

  7. thanks man, it means a lot to me. Phil and I had some good laughs reviewing all of our favorite Weezy memories during the race. And of course, that was Patron!!!

  8. What a great race report. I could relate on so many levels - strange noises in the middle of the night, running for my Dad,... Thanks for sharing, congrats, and good luck at Pinhoti.

  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxLHUxzEoRU Is this the screaming you heard?

  10. Sorry, I just realized that my post looks suspicious, like spam or something. It's not. I live in the area & I'm guessing that what you heard was either a big cat (& yes, I do mean a panther, I've seen one right at the bottom of that mountain you were running on!) or a red fox. The fox sounds particularly surreal in the dark of night. Congrats on your finish & thanks for writing up the story. I'm reading them for inspiration to do the race myself. Having never run before, we'll see... :)