I went into this race with very little training and a mindset that I’ve run 2 official 50 milers at 8:00 (Delano/flat and easy) and 9:30 (Masochist, mountainous and hard) so how hard could it be to jog an 11 hour run. Unfortunately, after I signed up I started hearing rumors about how hard the course was…
I drove down to Pine Mountain, GA leaving just before 1:00 and arriving at 6:00pm (lost an hour due to TZ). Packet pickup ended at 6:30. Sat through the pre-race briefing which was mainly running advice from North Face runners, Hal Koerner, Dean Karnazes and Nikki Kimball. (2 current studs of the sport and 1 ultramarathon marketing machine).
Quick stop by Subway for dinner, back to check into hotel, try to lay everything out and go to sleep by 8:30. No luck whatsoever. Super tired but probably didn't really fall asleep until around 11.
Alarm at 3:15… (yes, that’s 2:15 central). Rush to parking area by 4:00, catch the bus to the start/finish and sit and wait. Race starts at 5am. It’s cool but not cold (probably 60). Start in the 2nd wave, 3 mins behind the first.
Within 50 yards from the start you enter the Pine Mountain trail. A single track twisty turny, rocky, hilly, sandy, root filled barrel of fun. Especially when the first two hours are in the dark.
The trail is marked very heavily with ribbons however they are not visible in the dark. For the dark hours there are a number of glow sticks but it is still difficult going and the different packs individually take a wrong turn here or there. Never lost for long but definitely messes with your ability to run. At one point the pack in front of me takes the wrong path and end up milling around in the dark trying to find the right path. I see a small trail and take it in my frustration and end up taking the lead of the group. Here’s where I notice how inadequate my headlamp is. Trying to negotiate rocks, roots and switchbacks in the dark sends me more than once into the woods off trail.
Finally the sun comes up and I run fairly well for the first 20 miles. My goal was to run the first 20 around 11 min miles or so and then fall back to 12 min. Unfortunately, the trail is so difficult (and my fitness is so bad) that I can only manage 12 min miles but I believe this should be OK and will only help me later in the day. The trail continues to be single track and difficult until the “half way” point at 27 miles. I take my first serious break as I’m starting to suffer. I did well with packing calories and salt up until 20 miles but then I start to really struggle with my stomach.
After the turnaround I continue running without knowledge of my pace but thinking I’m doing ok in the 12-13 min range. (I turned off my watch at mile 20 so as to conserve batter power for later in the race as I knew it would only last about 8 hours total)
Around mile 30 I start slowing down as the heat is affecting me. My stomach continues to be an issue and I cannot even conceive eating a gu. At one point I try only to spit out the little bit I taste and then decorate the trail with the remainder before I pack the wrapper. Aid station food is my only option. Coke seems to help a bit.
Around mile 35 we start to go through some sunny spots where tornado's have cleared the trees and the heat hits me. Soon the death march starts as I bonk hard with 2 miles left until the next aid station. Stopping to lean against trees on uphills is not uncommon. I’m convinced I’m going to drop at the next aid station.
When I finally get to the 37 mile aid station, I sit and do whatever I can to pump calories. I sit with a group that I have been running in front / behind all day, outspoken locals who are at least entertaining. One of their group also hasn’t run since Aug 1 and only signed up the previous night on an impulse. He knows it is only a 1.2 mile walk to the finish area and pulls his bib to quit. I sit longer, probably 30-40 minutes total. Unable to make myself DNF, I decide to march forward.
I am feeling better after about a ½ hour rest at the aid station but can still only really walk. Everytime I try to run I start to feel bad again. My feet are killing me now as the rocky trail has plenty of sand and grit that has gotten into my socks and is working like sandpaper between my toes and on the bottoms of my feet. 5 miles to the next aid station…
About halfway to the next aid station I start to think about dropping again only to realize that I am now walking away from the finish line. When I get finally get there, again I just sit. This time probably only for 20 mins, eating what I can. There is a young girl there who has hit her head at some point and the DNR cops are a little concerned. I consider catching a ride back with them but again, I can’t bring myself to do it. Only 8 miles to go, I start back out, now completely committed to walking. I try to power walk it and do fairly well, but it is disheartening as this is a repeat on the same stretch of trail where I originally bonked hard. The next aid is 5.7 miles away and it is a struggle but I make it there. From there I take a shorter break and head out to finish my walk.
When I get near the clearing at the edge of the woods, I break into an all out run and sprint to the finish. I suspect I'm running a blistering 16 min/mile pace. I collapse on the ground and sleep for about 15 mins, hose myself off, quickly change my clothes, take the bus back to my car and drive home.
Definitely I am out of shape and I really struggled with nutrition. I couldn’t seem to use any of my nutrition after about mile 25 and just ate what I could stomach at aid stations. That’s a definite problem. Time to hang my hat on any significant races for a while and just enjoy running.
12:36:19 - 80th - 210 starters - 136 finishers - 60 DNF's