Almost a year ago, I learned of a challenge someone had put out in southern ultrarunning community. To date there was now three 100 milers that used the Pinhoti trail for part of the course in Georgia or Alabama. Could someone run all three hundos in 1 year? Dr. Dan Burstein steps up to make the “Pinhoti Triple Challenge” official and created an incredibly beautiful buckle for this. I took the bait.
The first race was Double Top 100 in March. We started this race, but it was cancelled due to snow. In April, some of us got together and did a “re-run” of the full course in official time on our own to be able to honestly say that we did 300 miles as the Pinhtoi Challenge buckle states.
In July, Rhonda and I did 24 hours at Merrill’s Mile. I wanted to see if I could do another 100 miles in less than 24 hours. I starting having pain in my left ankle and hip flexor about mile 10, by the time mile 25 came, I could not run anymore, only walking. The wonderful staff from Sports Chiropractic Institute was on site and I was told if I kept pushing that I would be putting my Pinhoti dreams majorly at risk. I backed down, but with a heavy heart. I had never been hurt at a race to not finish what I had planned.
For weeks after, I could not run without pain, so I just stopped, for 3 weeks. I really started to question whether my running year was over with and went into a depressed state. I have never been in that situation in over 7 years of ultrarunning. I am so blessed to have wonderful people around me and before long I was back out, running easy and trying to build my miles back up.
Georgia Jewel is second on the list for the challenge. I knew a good bit about this course. I crewed/paced Willy “Natureboy” Syndram for about half the course. I knew this course was deceptive on paper. 16,000 of climbing and the course elevation chart didn’t look that bad compared to other 100 milers, but this course can be BRUTAL!!
I knew that Jason “Sully” Sullivan was running it also, so we started talking about working together and just trying to get this one done. I just wanted to finish without major injury. The last race of the challenge is 6 weeks after Jewel. I am worried, if I get hurt, it’s over.
So Jason and I start working out our pace plan and before I know it, we are in the parking lot about to do this race. We have all been watching the weather and know that we are going to get rained on a good portion of the time. Ever since I did Delano Park 12 hour in pouring rain and 40 degrees, I HATE RUNNING IN THE RAIN!!! But since the injury and losing the ability to run, I decided to be “thankful” for every run I am blessed with, and so I did just that. Would I rather be running in the rain or not running at all? Rain it is, let’s go!
|So fast, we are a blur! :)|
The hundred milers and the 35 milers all start together. The starting line is Christmas tree lights over our heads on 2 poles. Jason and I stand in the back and just let everyone head out. We had our pace and plan and started running our race. Within the first mile we are with Brad Goodridge, Joel Tapley, Dan Burstein, and a few others in the back of the pack. With everyone running off like they did ahead of us, I think I asked if this was the “geriatric” section of the race! :) This might be wrong of me, but I do like being “older” and later on in a race passing some young man.
The infamous Rock Garden lives up to its name. It is some of the most technical single track I have ever been on in my life!! Maybe it is the company of all of us, the early morning darkness, or fresh legs, but it seems we get thru there with a decent pace. Matter of fact by the time Jason and I roll into Snake Creek AS at 17 miles we are a few minutes ahead of pace.
|A little water on the trails!|
We head on to climb up John’s Mountain. This part of the course was changed last year and I have never been on it. Jason ran this last year and seems to know it pretty good. I like to keep things simple, so I hear that when we get to the “stairs section” we are near the top. We are taking jeep roads and single track and finally get to the stairs. Jason and I talk about how incredibly hard it must have been to make them due to being made of rocks and concrete. We get to the AS to be greeted by Mitch Pless and Brandon Young. Another thing I love about this sport, here are 2 guys that run ultras in the lead packs and they are spending their entire weekend helping out everyone.
|Sully and I on John's Mtn.|
Jason and I see our crew, get our stuff, and roll on. What goes up must come down, at least on this course. Not sure of the distance, but it is miles of downhill on this section. We finally come up on a section where I thought the AS would be, but it is not there. I realized they have just moved it due to the way John’s Mtn was in the mix now. We start running on asphalt road. We get down so far and see our crew waiting for us. It is still pouring and Dr. Ryan Lystad of my crew has set up a way to have a shelter for them using a tarp and the hatchback doors of 2 cars. I was so impressed!
|Rhonda cooking in the tarp made shelter. She is amazing!|
When Jason and I get there we are told that we are not going to be able to cross the river anymore. Jason Green is onsite and they have had to just rescue 3 runners that the water took them downstream. For a minute I am thinking, “I think we can do that” but Jason’s crew member Nick stated “You think about doing that and I will physically stop you!!” Yeah, I know by that time, I wasn’t totally thinking straight and appreciated them keeping us safe.
|Dr. Lystad keeping people safe.|
So off onto the road we go. We are told that it will add 2+ miles to the course. We are told to run till we see someone in a burgundy Tahoe and they will tell us which way to go. Jason and I both start talking about this. We discover that neither one of us like to be lost, especially in the middle of such a long race. But I am trying to stay positive. Remember, I could still be hurt on the sidelines, is what I keep telling myself. We also didn’t realize that Jason’s crew had gone ahead to help everyone re-routed and have put up ribbons and make shift signs.
We finally get to Narrows Trail Head AS after about 8+ miles of asphalt to see our crew and a friend, Molly Freeman, is working the AS. I am having some issues of cramping and tightness in my legs, so Dr. Ryan steps in with one his torture devices to help me out.
|I don't trust too many men to work on me like this! :)|
Jason and I roll on and just focused on getting to the turn around. We know that once we get there every step we take will be that much closer to getting this done. I know there was some single track and dirt roads but as most have talked about is the last mile of this section being the Powerlines. Just amazing how steep these things are! Plus if you know this course, you know that the AS is near a busy road. You can hear the road from the Powerlines but are going parallel to the road! I go on ahead from Jason a bit because I know I need some time to address blisters and other issues. When you get done with the trail the AS is across this busy road that you are literally playing human frogger!
I get to my wonderful waiting crew, handle my issues, eat, and then it is back out on the course for return trip. I pick up my first pacer Noemy “Nomo” Clayborn. Nomo and I attend the same church and I started helping her train for her first ultra last year. She now has her sights on completed her first hundo, Bartram, this December and is willing to help me in all my races in preparing for hers.
I always have this grin on my face when I know that she is about to see/experience something new on the trails. I thought she would find the Powerlines very interesting. I also remember on our way back telling her that when got on this single track section to let me be upfront. She doesn’t understand why, but shortly after that finds out. SPIDERS!!! Some of the largest spiders I have ever seen in the woods are starting to come back out on the single track sections and spin their webs. At one point I stop so fast that she about runs into me. I vaguely remember hearing something like “Wow, you are like a running Ninja with these things!” I just don’t want anyone to get hurt/bitten.
|This was a small one!|
On this section, I learned a valuable lesson. I had just recently purchased a very bright headlamp, but was unaware of how fast it could kill the batteries. It died on me 5 miles from the next AS. Luckily, Rhonda had bought me a small light and I carried it for situations like this, but it was a handheld and I had to slow down my pace to see better. We got to the next AS and switched them out plus I carried backups.
Now, back on to the road re-route portion of the race. The oddest thing that happened here was all of sudden from about quarter a mile away in a field we start hearing some type of pack of animals howling/screaming. I don’t know what it was about, but it was a bit disturbing, so we ran a bit faster to finish this up and get back to Manning Road AS that has now been moved to our side of the river.
It is time for me to pick up my next pacer, Allison “Red” Kusic. Allison is also a member of the church and just became an ultrarunner in April at Sweetwater 50K. We head back on to the road, then off on to the trails heading to John’s Mountain.
For a while she has been running in minimalist shoes, but had switched to more traditional trail shoes. I was unaware if she had run with them soaked yet. It has stopped raining when we came up on another creek crossing that's about 2 feet deep. I really didn’t want to have a discussion on this. I asked for her hand, and before she knew it I had her on my shoulders in a fireman’s carry position and walked across the creek and put her down on the other side. I have tried to make my abs/core strength a priority this training season. In my mind, it was kinda cool that I could do that with 80+ miles on my legs!
We get back up to the top of John’s Mountain and Brandon gets me some really good beef stew. The wind is really going up there and they have done a great job of getting the shelters setup with tarps to block the wind. I get cold and want to get down off there asap, so off to the stairs Red and I go.
We click thru those miles and before I know it we back at the Snake Creek Gap AS. This is the last AS I will see my crew to the finish. The brand new ultrarunner, Dr. Ryan Lystad, is going to be my pacer for this last section. In my mind this is the place I most likely could get hurt and what better person to have with me.
The Rock Garden at this point of the race is just ridiculously brutal for everyone! It seems even more technical and twice as long as before. What is also frustrating is that I really think I could be running a good pace but I am so scared of falling and getting hurt! I lost count of how many times I tripped, kicked rocks, and about face planted. I even hear Ryan hitting a few rocks. I tell him he needs to stop doing that and he lets me know that the rock was looking at him funny so he kicked it! :) I have my Garmin on and I am counting down the steps to get off this crazy trail.
We finally pop out to the road and I know that we have 2 miles to the finish! I cannot explain that feeling. The relief of knowing that you are going to finish something that you were not sure you were going to be able to, more than normal due to injury, is just AMAZING!!! Not totally sure of the distance, but I am thinking with the re-route it ended being over 108+ miles.
I cross the finish line and into the arms of my wonderful wife and quietly shed a tear. Not only am I now thankful for every run I am able to do, but in my opinion, when I can complete an epic event like this, it is a gift from God!!!
|You see who's holding the buckle? I haven't seen that thing since!!|
|My own personal GA Jewel!|