Was I able to finish or did I DNF (did not finish)? Here is a detailed description of the toughest race I’ve run to date.
Arrived at the host hotel at about 3 pm. the day before the adventure was to begin. All went well and we checked in without any hitches. Race briefing was to take place at 5 pm. Asked if I really needed to attend since i was only running the 35 miles and not the 50 or 100 mile option. I had already set up a time to eat with my daughter and son in law at 4:30pm. I like to eat early on race day to let everything settle. At the last minute I decided it would be best to attend the meeting considering I would be in the middle of a trail I had never run before for 35 miles.
I won’t miss another race briefing! Key piece of information – forestry commission marks their trails with markers that looked very similar to the ones marking the Georgia Jewel course. Only difference is that the Georgia Jewel markers had a piece of reflective tape so you could see them in the dark. Something you might want to know.
Another point of interest was the trail director was not at the meeting because his truck was stuck in the mud while delivering water to an aid station. Water was rising at some crossings, etc… Things that made everything more interesting. And did I mention it had been raining all day and would be on race day?
After the meeting we had a wonderful dinner with my daughter and son in law then we all hung out in our spacious room. Seriously, it was huge.
Eventually it was time for bed. Alarms were set. That’s right alarms, as in 4, 2 cell phones, a room clock and a wake up call. Miss the bus at 5:30 am. and the race is over before it starts. So what time was the alarm set for? 4:30 am. Georgia time – 3:30 am. my time! Ended up getting up at 3 am. my time to start the day. My hydration pack was filled with water and other needed items to be running in the wilderness. At the last minute I removed my flashlight as the race start would be at 7 am. This would prove to be a mistake.
Arrived at the Dalton Convention center at 5:15. Checked in so they would know I was there and they could track me throughout the race for safety reasons. Two school buses arrive on time and we boarded the bus that would transport us to the 35 mile ultra starting line. These school buses were not made for tall people! I felt like I had to do a split just to get into my seat! I had wondered why we needed to board a bus at 5:30 am. to get to a 7 am. start. Didn’t take long for that to be answered. We started to go up and down steep hills and declines. An omen for what the race would become. We eventually reach our destination, the starting line in the rain. For whatever reason running makes you go to the bathroom! So in good race fashion everyone begins to line up at the bathrooms.
After everyone finishes, most board the bus again just to stay out of the rain, as if that was going to make a difference in the big picture. It’s still pitch dark, which gets me wondering, what time is sunrise? As I ask around cell phones reveal that sunrise is at 7:30 am. Well that means I had good news and bad news. Good news is I have a flashlight. Bad news is it’s in my room. Someone recommends to run with someone that has a headlamp until sunrise. Makes sense and I don’t have any other reasonable options. Hey, I’m a plan “B” guy anyway.
At 6:50 am. we gather for a pre-race meeting, have a prayer then wait on the countdown and off we go.
My strategy was start slow and not get caught up in those wanting to start fast due to race adrenaline. Then, try to run a mile then walk one minute where possible. I would power walk serious climbs. If you’ve never run an ultra, this is pretty standard strategy. For most ultra running it’s all about strategy. You are forced to run a lot to make any cutoff times but if you wait to walk until you just have to, it’s too late. It’s an endurance race that will last all day so strategy is key. My goal was first to just finish, as this was the longest race I’ve had to date, secondly to finish under 10 hours.
Did not take long for the climbing to start. When I spoke to Eric who gives me coaching advice, his first words when I told him I was running this was, “That’s a hilly course.” Now Eric is a local ultra running superstar, so I did not take his comment lightly.
Here’s my overall description of the race….
- Yes it was hilly! More accurately, it seemed like we climbed for half a day then descended the other half! Any strategy of running for a mile then walking for a minute was pretty much out the window for the majority of the race.
- Rained for much of the day.
- Started to develop a heal blister about midway. Never developed a blister where it happened – due to the steep inclines.
- Ran much of the race solo. Hours at a time without seeing anyone until I reached an aid station.
- Very woodsy trail. Something hitting you in either your face, calves or arms for a good portion of the race. i once was dodging something with my feet only to look up and have a branch in my mouth! 🙂
- I think the last people to travel that trail were Louis and Clark 🙂
- It was one climb after another. Then the decent. Quad buster running at its best!
Now for the detailed part….
- At one point in the race I said something I never thought I’d say, and I was excited about it… I looked at my GPS watch and told myself that I only had 15 miles to go. That’s when you know it’s a tough race for you, when you get fired up that you’ll be finished in a mere 15 trail miles!
- Thought I was lost twice
- Two others said that most GPS watches were off by a little on this trail so we actually had less than 10 miles to go.
- I eventually see a race representative, I’m thinking I must be getting close to the finish. How much further? 3 miles. I thought I was closer so that was not beneficial.
- Then I had heard about the steep downhill at the end of the race to the finish line and thought I was on it – wrong!
- The steep downhill was on a busy, busy street (2 lane) where cars are going over 50 miles per hour! Very little space left to run on the smooth asphalt which meant running in the brush on the side of the road.
- Eventually I can see the finish at the Dalton Convention center – still on the busy road.
- On the last part of this downhill I look over my shoulder and see a runner making up some ground on me. So far I have not fallen the entire day! Awesome for me as when I go down I go down HARD.
- Then it happened. After seeing this runner making time I turned to make it to the finish. Before I knew what happened I was rolling end over end in the brush on this busy road. My leg then cramps so hard I grab it in dire straights. Wow did it cramp. But this is a race and someone was about to pass me – again! I knew I had to roll over and try to stand up ASAP, no matter how bad it hurt.
- I did. They did not pass me. I did finish the Georgia Jewel 35 mile ultra in 9:03! I met both my goals! Wasn’t pretty but I met them.
As I write this two days later, I’m still having a hard time moving around! My quads are toast! As I sit here in pain I sometimes wonder why I run Ultras knowing it’s going to eventually hurt during and after a race. Then about 2 seconds of having that thought I answer – because I love pushing myself to see what I can endure. I still haven’t met my limit. But I will say that this race was incredibly hard due to the massive climbing – in my opinion, and for my level of fitness. Your mileage will vary. But for me it was the hardest so far.
I would highly encourage anyone to sign up for this race next year. It was really well run and had great volunteers.
But, the Pinhoti Trail is one to take seriously!
So what about the future? I have the Dizzy Fifties 30 mile ultra then the Rocket City Marathon. I also have some other ultras in mind. Ultimately I think I would like to try some 50 milers.