Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pinhoti 100 Mile Ultra Race 2013

I've tried to begin writing this race report at least five times, then stopping after being overcome with emotions.  I don't know how to write it, but I want to make some attempt to record it.  This time, I'm forcing myself to just write while putting my emotions aside to the best of my ability.  I would rather not even post what I have, but I know looking back I will regret it.

I'm not going into a lot of detail about the course itself.  This is the 4th time I've ran the race and you can find that information over on the right side of the page from previous years.   The course is a beautifully diverse point to point run taking you over Bald Rock State Park which is the highest point in Alabama.

Several of my friends were running this as their first 100 miler.  Annie, Angela, Bo, and Katie in addition to a few others.  The five of us had done several training runs/races together and shared the common vision of a solid finish under the 30 hour race cutoff time.

You form a close bond with friends like this when you're working towards such a monumental goal race.  All of us had different struggles on various training runs through the six months leading up.  We just all hoped that race day would be the day that everything was "clicking".

Annie and I had decided to combine our crews and run it together as a team several months before the race.  She ended up with most of my regular crew friends and I had the experience of how to run the course.  It was a good decision to join up.  Her husband Bryan and Joe were there to provide support and run with us some.

I rode down with Joe on Friday and we all celebrated our pre-race dinner together at Mellow Mushroom in Heflin, AL.

I was excited to finally be back in Alabama and running Pinhoti again.  This race has that familiar "homecoming" feel to it with so many new & old friends taking part in it.  It was really special to have everyone together and helped me relax before heading to be around 9:00 PM.

I slept great through the night and woke up 10 minutes feeling excited before the alarm went off.  As I laid there watching the minutes tick down to 3:30 I wondered what would be going on 24 hours from now?  The comfort of the warm bed was such a contrast of what was to come, but I was more than ready to face it.

We were up at 3:30 and leaving the hotel at 4:30.  It was a 40 minute drive to the start where Bryan and Joe dropped us off to walk the half mile to the start line.

It was freezing as we walked down the gravel road to the campground.  As soon as we got there and signed in we headed for someones fire in one of the campsites.  It was small so I headed out into the dark woods to gather some more wood.  I just needed a distraction.  I never get to races early because I get antsy just watching everyone get wound tight.  Walking around in the dark did the trick.

Bright smiling faces minutes before the start!

Todd, the race director stood up three minutes before the race and murmured some words that no one could hear, then just like that we were off and running 100 miles at Pinhoti!

Well, we were actually walking because when over 230 runners try to get onto a single track trail it creates a monster traffic jam.  It was a little frustrating to get caught near the back of the line, but I knew that starting slow was smarter than fighting near the front of the pack.

Annie, Phil, and I made our way together sharing a beautiful Alabama sunrise and lots of laughs into the first aid station around six miles.  I've learned that you must adjust "on the fly" during a 100 mile race.  Things rarely go as planned and this had already happened after six miles.  Jason R. Tiana, and Tim informed us that our crew couldn't make it to the aid station.  So we handed them our warm gear and head lamps. 

As we headed off through the next section of trail I couldn't help but to be overwhelmed by how beautiful the trail was.  Off into the distance you could see views of a small town valley and towering mountains under a deep blue sky.  It was just the type of scene that you wanted to freeze and enjoy for a long time.  Unfortunately, the race clock was ticking so that was not possible, but it was a great reminder of why I love trail running so much.

I use a supplement super starch product called UCAN to help "steady" my mental & physical energy during ultras and one serving normally lasts about 3 hours.  It begin to wear off around mile 11 and so did my patience. 

Phil, Annie, and I were all three still running together and begin to come upon large groups of runners.  Sometimes the group would be as big as 15 with someone moving what seemed to be very slowly in the front.  It was very difficult to pass a few times and my patience final broke.

My watch was showing a very slow pace that was incorrect and thought that we were already way behind cutoff times for the race.  Everything blew up in my head and went darting past a large group of about 20 runners.  What was even worse is that it was only about 100 yards from the next aid station which made me really look like a jerk.

I came into the aid station upset and just wanting to get away from the crowds.  My blood sugar and/or pressure had to be all over the map and I instantly began feeling normal again after getting some food in me.  I apologized to Phil & Annie and we continued on down the trail heading to the next stop at mile 18.

The next 10 miles were enjoyable as we all shared stories and just enjoyed the terrain.  I was able to maintain my energy & attitude a lot better and felt so horrible for losing my cool earlier in the race.  I had to put that behind me because you don't want any negative thoughts monkeying around in your head during a 100.

The temperature began to get warm as it always does just before the mile 27 aid station.  I was really excited about this one because Bryan & Joe had us cheeseburgers waiting!  On the other hand, I felt really tired.  It was just the distance and I knew I would work through it.  I just hate having to do it.

My stomach was churning as we entered the aid station.  Bryan & Joe were so helpful always asking us what we wanted and if I didn't answer they would start suggesting different things.  I was able to scarf down about 1/2 of the burger and we were off again.  Heading down one of the longest & toughest mental stretches of the course.

Annie begin to suffer from some stomach issues through here and I actually begin to feel much better.  I knew going into the race that running as a team meant sharing the highs & lows.  We had both adjusted very well with these up to this point.  Annie didn't bother me when I had my breakdown and I tried my best to help her through the stomach issues.

Either way, I knew the real race would soon begin around mile 41 after we climbed up Mt. Cheaha towards Bald Rock State Park.

We made our way up to the top at mile 41 around 4:30 PM which was about 10 hours into the race.  We were still about 1.5 hours ahead of the cutoff and moving well, but not feeling well.  Annie kept complaining of her stomach hurting and I had literally told her everything I knew to do for it.

I felt so nappy, like a dirty salt stick and wanted to take a quick bath.  Joe gave me a hand with it and as always I ended up flashing him and the rest of the park.  As he was holding up a towel a wind gust came by and took all the privacy away.  All we could do was laugh at that point.  It was just better than crying.

It was great to hear that Joe would be running the next five mile section with us!  We were both a little weary from the first 41 miles and I was hoping that he could possibly help Annie out some.

Right after leaving Bald Rock Park the course takes you down a very steep and rocky section of trail called "Blue Hell".  We went off course through this section and ended up traversing a rock slide.  Luckily Joe was there to help us find our way back to the trail which consisted of a really steep climb up a ledge.

At this point Annie was really struggling and in pain.  I kept thinking that she would work through it by the next aid station.  Joe helped her by getting her to take some electrolyte tabs and we enjoyed this easier stretch of running onto the next aid station where Bryan would be waiting for us.

It was just starting to get dark and I knew what was in store for the rest of the night.  It was about to get interesting.  It always does when the sun goes down after running all day.

Bryan had us some hot chicken broth which really brought me back to life at mile 46.  Annie was having a tough time getting any calories to agree with her and we tried to just rest for a few minutes to see if that would help some.

After a few minutes we were headed out into the night with our headlamps trying to prepare mentally for a night on the trail.  We enjoyed a brilliant sunset over the river and ran upon several campers with huge campfires during this stretch.  It was a gratifying sound to smell campfire smoke and hear laughter as it got dark.

We heard Angela and Jason Rogers scream at us from about a half mile back at one of the turns and it was great to have them catch up.  The four of us enjoyed catching up on how the day had went as we were now around mile 50.

Annie was getting sicker through this section and I asked Angela to keep moving ahead with Jason even though she was trying to help her.  We tried to slow the pace on the climbs and it helped out some.

I had finally transitioned over to my "feel good" zone of running with normally happens after about 50 miles.  I knew that barring any big setbacks, we were going to finish this race.  It was just a matter of taking care of ourselves and putting one foot in front of the other.

I was really excited to be sharing this experience with Annie.  I knew how hard she had trained for over half a year and that she was ready to go head-to-head with the rest of the course.  It was going to be fun to see her finally shake off these stomach problems and start building some momentum into the 2nd half of the race.

Bryan & Joe were waiting for us at Mile 55 and I could sense that they were a lot more anxious this time.  Apparently we were now losing time to the cutoff clock.  Annie got very sick at this point and all I could do was sit there and pray for her.  I had exhausted every solution to try and help her and was now just wanting it to finally pass.

Joe was set to run the next 30 miles with us and I was so thankful to have him and Bryan helping us.  We headed off down the trail with what seemed to be less than an hour ahead of the cutoff time that would cause us to be pulled from the race.

This stretch consisted of all fire road and I had yet another mental breakdown.  A truck drove up behind Annie and Joe and came very close to hitting them.  It stopped then spun the tires before taking off.  I lost control and took off chasing the truck running as hard as I could.  I was hoping that the next aid station was just ahead so I could set whoever it was straight.  Luckily, it wasn't and I ended up running upon Angela again.

We made up 8 minutes on the cutoff clock through this section and were quickly through it and back on the trail.  All Annie could do at this point was eat a few ginger chews and try to maintain even a marginal level of stomach comfort.  I was really getting concerned since she had now been dealing with this for over four hours.

Joe did the absolute best he could with us both.  We slowed way down through this next stretch and couldn't really help it because so much of it was rocky & hidden under pine needles.  We were doing anything to take our mind off of it.  Rapping, singing, whatever, just make it end!

When we rolled into mile 65 I think we were about 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff time.  We had lost a lot of time stumbling around through the last section and at this point Annie was hanging on by a thread.  The temperature must have dropped at least 10 degrees and we were all shivering.  Of course it took another five minutes to get our warm clothes on and we got back on the trail as quickly as possible.

Annie began asking me to go ahead and leave her through this section.  She didn't want me to get caught by the cutoff and have to drop.  I understood what she was saying and asking, but we had committed to run this together.  Joe tried to keep us both moving and to not worry about it until the next aid station.

I knew how sick & tired she was at this point.  She had just ran 20 difficult miles after doing 45 other ones with basically no calories in her system.  She insisted one more time that I go ahead and leave her and Joe.  I told her no, that I wanted her to dig as deep as she could and get to the next aid station.  This section had a very long & steep climb that seemed to go on forever. 

Annie got quiet and just started running.  It was the strongest effort that I've ever seen a runner in that condition put in.  Any time that the trail turned I could see her face wincing in pain, but she never complained.  Whenever the trail would flatten out she put in her best pace, running on empty just trying to stay in the race.  To me, it's what ultra running is all about.  Laying it all on the line until you have no more to give.

As we ran into the mile 69 aid station she looked as if she was ready to collapse.  I could tell that the fight was still alive in her mind, but the body was finished.  Shaking & trembling.  Her fight was over for this race.  I told her and Bryan that I couldn't make this decision and as they talked I finally confessed that with us being 10 minutes ahead of the cutoff and the toughest stretch of trail ahead it was over.  They both agreed.

The life went out of me at his second.  I wanted to cry, but nothing would happen.  Within seconds all of the training and talk of this race rushed through my head.  Was this really happening?  This can't be.  I knew how much Annie & Bryan had both put into this weekend to make it happen and it was too much to grasp.  I thought I should just drop.  It would be easier on everyone.  Annie was clearly violently ill and I had no right to be out there.

The confusion and emotions made me nearly get sick.

I may always feel selfish for the decision I made to continue, but I did.  I ran 32 miles with rage.  As hard as I could maintain and at points sending me into spells of delirium.

Joe threw half of a burger in my lap before we left the mile 68 aid station and told me to eat it.  I did and like a dog he threw me the other half and I ate it too.

As we crossed the highway leading into the toughest 5 miles stretch of the course I told Joe that the sweeps would never catch us.  I told him to get in front of me and drag me.  I didn't care what hurt.  This was personal now and it was getting done.  The race now had my heart stamped on it because it had robbed so much from Annie & Bryan.

We must have passed 10 runners on the way up the Pinnacle climb.  I was pulling off my warm clothes and pouring sweat in 30 degree weather and 20 MPH winds.  We made up 10 minutes on the climb up Pinnacle and I wanted more.

The blisters and my heels and Achilles had become highly aggravated from all of the water crossings and burned with pain.  I could feel them burst open in my shoe and it would burn like fire.  I visualized a box in my mind where I would toss any problem that came up.  The box didn't have a bottom and once the problem was in there it couldn't come back up.

As we crested the Pinnacle and went back onto some very rocky single track I kicked a rock so hard I was certain my foot was broke.  It went into the box and didn't matter anymore.

At mile 78 Joe and I both went completely out of our minds.  We had kicked so many rocks and fallen around that we didn't even know where we were.  I think at one point we circled a set of the same trees three times screaming into the dark Alabama night. 

I knew that Joe was in pain.  I had noticed a wrap on his right foot and it was making him run differently.  He laid it all on the line for me.  Another reason to keep moving and not let him down either.

We finally got away from the nasty rocks and had some decent fire road to run on, still only 10-15 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  Now to compound the situation, both of our headlamps were just about to burn out.  Fortunately, the sun came up just as they begin to go dark.

We went as hard as possible down to the mile 85 aid station.  I just knew that we were going to miss the cutoff and my race would be over there.  We pushed and pushed. 

Finally we came out at the aid station with about 10 minutes to spare.  I saw Bryan and my eyes tried to fill up with tears, but I couldn't now.  I had to get out of this aid station back on the trail.  He handed me the best bacon, egg, and cheese muffin I've ever had and I took off. 

I had thought so many times how much fun it would be when Annie go to this section.  It's mainly all fire roads in and you can really start sensing the end of the race.  The thought of it brought me to to ground.  I began crying uncontrollably with me head between my knees.  I'm not sure how long I was there, but another runner pulled me up by the shirt and told me to cry later, we were about to get caught by the sweepers. 

Whoever you were, thank you.

I stood up and ran as hard as I could go.  I ran up hills and down them, nearly to the point of exhaustion.  I was stumbling forward when someone said "hey" and it was Katie and her pacer.  This couldn't have came at a better time and I was able to gain some composure by spending a few miles with them.

I ran ahead into the final aid station at mile 95 with a head full of confusion.  I saw faces and people talking to me, but it was all a haze.  I shoved about 4 brownies down, gave Bryan my water bottles and headed about for the final 4.75 miles. 

I had a tremendous peace come over me during this stretch.  As I was running I felt as if the ground was moving underneath me.  It felt effortless and I've never enjoyed a Sunday morning run as much as this one.  The dew was dripping from the grass and I could hear every breath go in and out of my lungs.  I connected with God in a very real way and just ran with a grateful heart.

The final 1-2 mile stretch is on paved road through a neighborhood area.  I cried nearly all the way down the road because Annie was missing this.  I had fought my fights here before.  I lost some and won some.  It hurt to not be able to share this part of the trail with her, but at the same time I was thankful for such good friends.

Finally, I made the turn into the Sylacauga High School Football stadium and my friend Jon Allen who had finished the race in 4th place was waiting and offered to pace me into the finish.  I was so incredibly humbled by this and it really made my day.  Of course, I continued my tradition of hitting the football tackling dummy on the way into the track.

This finish was much different than the other two.  I took the outside lane of the track and shuffled slowly.  No screaming, or carrying on.  It was a bitter sweet finish that I'm still dealing with in my head.  I crossed the line and I was so happy that the Race Director had ran out of finisher awards, Belt Buckles.  I would much rather get one in the mail and just have it that way.

Of course thanks to Todd Henderson (Race Director) and everyone who volunteered and helped me.  Especially Bryan and Joe who were just perfect the entire race.

And a big shout out to Bo, Katie, and Jason G. who finished their 1st hundos! 


  1. It was great to be a part of your finish bro.

    1. You're one of the most unselfish & giving friends I've ever had. I really appreciate you.

  2. Great report! I really enjoyed sharing some of this race with you, even if only for a few miles. There was never any doubt in my mind that you would beat the cutoffs.

    1. Seeing you out there along the course really helped me keep my head together. Thanks again Jason. Team Jason represented well!

  3. What an inspirational race report! Congrats on not giving up and gutting out the finish. And I loved the bit about "you can cry later" but now you need to run. I often remind myself of that :)

    1. Thanks for the kind words. It's easy to forget how much emotions can help you when you're that broke down.

  4. Hey, great report! Me and my pacer, Jonathan, ran with you some between 85 and 95. You took off at one point and I would never have imagined you'd had so many obstacles earlier on in the race....you looked very motivated and ready to get to the finish! Great job!

  5. Thanks Sonia. I'm fairly certain that I remember you too. Congratulations on your finish too!