Race Report: Pinhoti 100

In follow-up of my previous post “Pinhoti 100: Getting Over the Hill,” here is my husband Teddy’s race report for the Pinhoti 100 endurance run on 2 November (photos and my commentary at the end):

“Success greatly depends on your ability to adapt to what happens along the way.” That’s something I read before my first ultramarathon. I always said I wanted to run in an ultra, but probably would have never signed up for one myself. As a surprise birthday gift to me, this past summer, my wife came in with a Nathan hydration vest as an early birthday present. I thought: “What–like for camping?” Then she presented a sticker which read “100 Ultra” and honest, my shock was almost as if I were having twins all over again… I began training.

I noticed that most people who run ultras often choose a 50K as their first race. The more adventurist-type sometimes even choose a 50-miler, but only rarely will you see someone sign up for 100 miles as their first ultra (and even that type has been running marathons for a while and has become bored with only 26.2 miles). It wasn’t until my wife concocted the personal goal of running a half marathon in every state that I had even attempted more than probably 5 miles in at least 3 years. For her birthday, we each ran the Santa Rosa Half Marathon and had a blast. That was in August.

My training regimen consisted of 3-5 miles on Monday (when time allowed), 5-8 miles on Wednesday (when time allowed) and 20-30 on the weekends (which was the idea). Those weekend runs amounted to only a handful and none of which I went the full 30. I came close, but I never ran the full 30 miles. Honestly, I’d have been much more ill-prepared were it not for my wife and I credit what success I did have to her planning, attention to detail, consideration to this goal, and military standard of “Never taking ‘no’ for an answer” with orders to “get off your tail and get some miles under your feet.”

My first ultra-run consisted of 100 miles, through the Pinhoti trail which traverses the highest peak in Alabama. Those who respect elevation and distance soon realize that all ranges, mountains, and even hills, can vary in difficulty and it has very little to do with an elevation profile. Difficulty is in direct proportion to horizontal distance decreases vs. vertical distance increases and the Pinhoti trail has plenty of steep pathways–certainly more than I’m used to living on the gulf coast and coming from Oklahoma. Couple this with training runs that mostly consisted of many hills to my advantage, but very little uneven terrain–which eventually became my ultimate nemesis.

In 2006 I hiked many miles on the AT in Virginia with a few friends. We marched on in the dead of both summer and winter and collectively all became humbled by nature in both hard elevations and even flat, long distances on one occasion in what I like to refer to as a “paradise can be hell” hike. We became virtually stranded on a barrier island in the August heat with our only 2 forms of hydration as: 1. a water filter with no fresh water to filter and 2. a Powerade vending machine ~ 14 miles away… through sea-facing, white-hot sand. Getting to the point… the AT was much more accommodating than the Pinhoti.

The Pinhoti trail is mostly a single-track trail, hardly wide enough to fit two middle school-aged shoes together side-by-side. Added to this, there are many, MANY jagged rocks jetting out from the surface along with tree roots and small stumps. And let’s face it, the Pinhoti Trail gets a fraction of the foot traffic throughout the year than the AT and it shows. Couple these dangers with the fallen leaves of Autumn (and piles of pine needles) and they all become hidden… tucked away in what appears to be a nice Sunday stroll. Although briefed prior to the run about the lack of traffic-ability and inability to pass during the first leg, due to a terrible and unforeseen parking situation at the start for all of the runners, I arrived to sign in with enough time to sign my name, tie my shoes and hear the gun shot–no kidding at all. No stretching, no prep. Just a 15 minute walk through the dark, through upper-30 deg F temps and then: GO!

Although expecting to have a slow start I had no idea how slow–none at all. The first leg was over 6.5 miles. I literally timed myself standing in one spot for over 20 minutes at one point with no way to move forward or pass–20-foot drop to the right, 68 degree slope of grass and mud to the left. We were so packed that I used my headlamp for a total of about 8 minutes over an hour of darkness. Dozens upon dozens of people ahead, the first runners were crossing the first water crossing and the line of runners came to frankly a dead stop. Although I was allotted 2 hours for the first leg, I made it to the first aid station with only minutes to spare.

My plan had been to run MY run. I adopted the “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” ideology and expected to gain time as the race progressed. So much for that. I now needed to make up time. At mile 8 I ran through a yellow jacket nest and was stung several times. I swatted them off furiously and plugged on, passing people when the trail allowed. Side note: anyone who’s ever been with me on a trail knows that downhill I can fly but uphill I pant and suffer. This has only gotten worse since my 5-day hospitalization for IAW-LI. Although armed with 2 inhalers, the elevation still took it out of me. I still was determined to make up time on the downhill however. Remember those rocks and roots and stumps? Not until mile 11, when opening up my stride and flying down the mountain did I discover them myself, twisting my ankle to the point of tears and a 5-minute rubbing/cussing rant. I followed that up with a mile of hopping on one leg excessively (and cuss-grunting). Eventually it became manageable and I blazed again.I fell at least a dozen times by Aid Station #2.

By the time I arrived to station 2 I had made up some lost time, but at an expense I wouldn’t understand until later. I continued to make up time as the race went on–running when I could, marching when I had to and picking myself off the ground when I fell. By mile 40 I had traversed the highest peak in Alabama and made up almost 2 hours of time. My wife had been up the entire night before with our twins who were restless. They love their routine and wanted nothing to do with sleeping in the hotel. Collectively, between crying, squirming and nerves we probably clocked less than 4 hours of sleep between each of us. Even after that, she opted to help pace me at mile 40. Our good friend Clayton Younts was also part of my crew along with his 16-year old son, Alexander. They offered to meet us at the next 2 aid stations and watch the twins as she assisted me.

We began the descent of “Blue Hell” before sundown, which I’ve read is wise. We made up some time on a portion at the bottom where we were allowed to run on actual roads for about 2 miles. By the time the sun bid us farewell we’d traveled 4.31 miles and arrived to aid station 8, Silent Trail by 1811. Clayton and company were there to greet us, refill our gels and encourage us on through the darkness. We made it with 1 hr and 18 minutes to spare. Honestly, the descent was actually “mountain climbing… technical mountain climbing–impossible to run.

The next aid station was 6.82 miles away at Hubbard Creek and no crew was allowed… We also only had 50 minutes to spare when we arrived because we lost some time due to my slowing down. I had begun feeling a tinge in my ankles but tried to remain positive. By this time it was dark again and the cold began creeping into both my ankles and my mind. I began calculating my loss of speed. I began reasoning with myself–with my pain. I began convincing myself that although I may not make it all the way through, I’d still gone further than I’d ever been before. Honest-to-God I was in severe pain as well. I began to feel as if I’d let Sara down, let my friends down, let myself down. By the time we arrived to aid station #10, Adams Gap I’d lost all of the time I made up after the first aid station and I didn’t even walk the last mile… I moaned and groaned, hunched over, burning calories unlike any time during the race: every muscle flexed with each shallow, puny step. I was spent. Worse than that, I felt satisfied.

Although the crew was prepared to allow me to continue to the next station with only minutes ahead of the allotted time, I knew that in my condition any motion forward would have been in vain, to pad my ego, which certainly would have increased the chances of me being seriously injured–especially in the dark. It isn’t what I envisioned but I tried and I really gave it my all. (Side note: Before the race I could wrap my grip around my ankle with middle fingers touching thumb. After, I have shy of two inches separating them.) On the way home today I said: “I am going to kill this run next year…” Final distance traveled=55.34 miles.

Sara stayed with me for 15 miles in my worst hours and I’m grateful for that. I wanted to make it, but that’s what the future is for. At least I now know what to expect: Arrive early. Begin toward the front. Even if the guys who finish in under 20 hours have to pass me, that’s better than me trying to pass 150 people at the expense of my ankles. Win some, lose some. One thing is for certain: Next year I will again test my meddle on the Pinhoti and I WILL finish. That 100-mile sticker will finally get unwrapped! Thanks to everyone who encouraged me along the way.”

Teddy driving

landscape_final2

Edison_cartrip1

Edison_cartrip2

food pitstop

Louisa_cartrip

landscape_final

Aid Station 1

Waiting for Dad at Aid Station 1: Highrock, 6.7 miles
Our crew had been chewing off our fingernails for nearly two hours watching the clock tick down to 8:00 am. My husband can run 6.7 miles in less than an hour, so we knew something had to have gone wrong. Teddy breezed through Aid Station 1 at 7:44 am, just 16 minutes ahead of the 30-hr cut-off. I took his headlamp, his warm layer, gloves, and swapped out his shoes, which were soaking wet from 3 water crossings. He was a little frazzled from being stuck behind other runners moving very slowly on single-track trail.

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Terrible, blurry photo taken by one of our crew members at Aid Station 1…

sunshine

Aid Station 2

Aid Station 2: Shoal Creek, 13.27 miles (9:14 am)
Teddy made great time coming into the second aid station. He complained about rolling his ankle and about a few yellow jacket stings, but he was off and running again in no time. Before he arrived, I heard another runner say he was also stung by some yellow jackets, so apparently a nest must have been disturbed.

Aid Station 3

Aid Station 3: Horseblock, 18.27 miles (10:36 am)
Teddy finally wanted a chair and a fresh shirt at Aid Station 3. He was still making great time and he was ready to continue without much time to rest.

Edison and mom at Lake Morgan

Killing time with a shameless mother-son selfie

Foliage

FINALLY!! Fall colors

Aid Station 4

Aid Station 5: Lake Morgan, 27.66 miles (1:07 pm)

Aid Station 5_3

Knowing my husband, I could tell Teddy looked tired and/or injured when he emerged from the treeline and rounded the lake at Aid Station 5. With some pretty steep climbs ahead of him, we were getting nervous about his mental/physical threshold when he said that he had been crawling up the ascents because his ankles hurt. We wouldn’t see him again for two more aid stations due to lack of crew access at Aid Station 6. We fed him and encouraged him and he was on his way. I became very emotional as we drove away, but pulled it together quickly and focused on getting ready to run with him at mile 40.

Aid Station 5_5

Lake Morgan

twins playing in car

Playing in the car to pass the time—a few hours later I would be eating (and hating) those black cherry flavor bloks my son is holding.

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View from the top–stunning!

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Aid Station 6_final

Aid Station 7: Bald Rock, 40.94 miles (4:55 pm)
Teddy got his second wind! When he crossed the bridge at mile 40, he looked as fresh as when he left the starting line. I felt a surge of confidence–I was almost positive that he was going to finish. He had also made up a lot of time and the fatigued runner complaining about having to crawl up hills at Aid Station 5 had been replaced by an eager runner (eating the best hot dog of his life).

I ran with my husband from Aid Station 7 at mile 40.94 to Aid Station 10: Adam’s Gap at mile 55.34. I found the trails exhilarating and running with a headlamp through the dark forest is eerily beautiful and peaceful (I am happy to report that it was exactly what my nasty black toenail needed to finally fall off). While he didn’t finish, I couldn’t be more proud of my husband for the effort he put forth. He set a new PR of 55.34 miles, which is incredible. I know he’ll be back in 2014 to conquer the Pinhoti 100 and I’ll be there to support him all the way.

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