Pinhoti Hell

The Pinhoti 100 mile trail race was supposed to be my first 100 back from having a baby.  He was going to be 17 months old at that point. I had done a couple others since then, including the Cruel Jewel 50 mile in May in preparation for the CJ 100 in 2018.  The only problem was that I was still nursing and my son had no intention of stopping until he was ready, and he wasn’t ready yet. So I had to make plans to pump along the way.  We tested it out at the 50 miler and it seemed to work. My husband, Rudy, and I decided that I would stop 2-4 times, depending how I felt, and we decided which stations to take a little more time at if needed.  With Pinhoti, the stations were anywhere from 3.4 miles to 7.1 miles apart which I still felt was a little close together. After a lot of juggling and looking at terrain and distances, we decided that we would meet each other around every 15 miles or so which ended up being about every 3rd aid station.  I could just take whatever I needed from the others or skip them all together if I was feeling good enough.

My training leading up to this race was exclusively of my own paration with strong influences from Power Speed Endurance and Brian McKenzie’s method of programming.  My plan included 4 crossfit workouts, 2 interval runs, 3 tempo runs per week anywhere from two to twenty miles, and 2 rest days per week. Once a month, I was able to get to a more technical trail or even up to the North GA mountains with some friends to have some fun romping through the woods for a longer, slower run.  I had tried the traditional training method before and it worked for that particular race, but for the last two 100 milers I have done, this plan had left me uninjured and better prepared than ever before, so I was all for doing it again.

It all started when we arrived at our destination hotel that came “highly” recommended by a friend/ pacer of mine.  The America’s Best Value Inn in Heflin, Alabama. It was right off the exit and down in a hole with a bullet-proof glass to drop your key and a sign on the door to ring the bell and wave to the camera so someone could let you in.  Super sketch. Regardless, we checked in and went to open our room, but were immediately thrown aback by the smell of previous cigarette usage in this “non-smoking” room. I called the desk and asked if there was another room, but since this was the place that all racers apparently stayed before the race due to proximity to the start, there

were no rooms to be had.  One of my other pacers had gotten her own room and offered to switch with us for the night since any amount of time in a smoke infiltrated room will give my husband and I instant headaches and the terrible feeling of a hangover the next day. I declined but she insisted. Shout out to Ellen, best pacer of the night award! Initial pacer, Keith, was in the doghouse for recommending such a high class establishment but he would soon revive himself in the hours to come.  I laid out all my things so that we could just grab and go in the morning, turned off the lights, and dreamt of the fun in store for us the next day.

Race morning came with a very loud alarm, some oatmeal in a cup, a cold shower, and a wall of warmth and humidity to greet us as we opened the hotel room to the early morning air.  We packed up the car as my pacer gathered their things and stuffed them in the left over spaces, met up with a couple friends, and headed toward the race start. After missing a couple turns and finally turning down a sketchy dirt road that eventually lead to Pine Glen Campground, we hiked the mile down the road to the start, made our final woodland potty stops, kissed our loved ones goodbye, and lined up for the race start.  The race director explained a few things about the course, which I’m sure everyone heard judging by all the pre-race jitters and chatter happening. But it’s a 100 mile trail race! What could go wrong!?

As we all set off on the trail with a loud shout and some cowbells, the triple-wide track quickly became a bottleneck single track with no chance of passing unless you wanted to risk the embankment and a twisted ankle.  So most of us settled in behind the tridging feet ahead of us and waited for a slight opening to pass if we needed to. I had a plan with two friends of mine to stay together if we could, with the goal of a sub 24 hour race in mind.  We kicked it through the first and second aid stations with some tricky trail passes and waiting on a train to pass along the way and came into the 3rd aid station where I met my hubby and pacers. When I looked back, my friend Brandan wasn’t there and I hadn’t heard him say anything about slowing down, nor had I heard him fall.  Rudy took my pack, had me sit in the camp chair, and gave me some almond butter and some Kill Cliff Endure, which really hit the spot on that hot and humid morning. After about 5 minutes, he had my pack ready to go and I was feeling really good! I didn’t see Brandan still so I decided to go ahead and leave the station, hoping he’d catch back up.  I guess our other friend, Deano, had passed us somewhere along the way and was ahead of us on the trail somehow. I wasn’t going to meet my crew again until Bald Rock at mile 40.94.

This section actually had some nice parts to it but seemed like 22.67 miles completely uphill!  I met a girl from Connecticut that looked to be super fresh! She and I hooked up together and pulled each other up some of the hills.  As we approached the top of Bald Rock, the clouds had parted and the view from the rock was breathtaking! My legs still felt pretty good, despite seemingly climbing for hours.  I jogged down the boardwalk to the parking area to the first fully packed aid station and our first chance to pick up pacers. Ellen met me at the end of the bridge and took my pack to run ahead and give it to Rudy for refueling.  I hoped in the crew van and did my motherly duties while my crew got me some eggs, bacon, and a cheese tortilla. Best crew EVER!! I downed some more of the Kill Cliff Endure, shed some extra clothing, and got ready for another 15 mile segment.  Keith was going to pace me on this section so we took a couple pictures to document the decay of character that happens in all 100 mile races, and set off down the road with a peppy jog! On the way to the steep, rocky section called “Blue Hell”, I saw a couple of my new running buddies I had only met a few weeks earlier and got some encouragement from them.  With Keith at my side, what could go wrong!?

As the pavement ended, Blue Hell revealed the reason for its name.  It was a very steep, very rocky (actually more like boulders) section that could only be navigated with a controlled fall.  But, once through that section, we were able to cruise along the course. Keith didn’t disappoint with his pacing duties as he kept me laughing with rather inappropriate jokes, stories, root/ limb alerts, and awkward stares when I would fall behind or he had to pass gas.   Yes, all the things you get while running Ultras. You get very comfortable with each other on the trail, especially in the wee hours of the morning when you’re ¾ delirious anyways, and a tree stump looks like a monster armadillo ready to attack. With 15 more miles behind us, we pulled into the next station, ready for Ellen as a pacer.  My blisters by this point were beginning to give me issues. I had to step more gingerly than normal, which was altering my gait and energy expenditure. We pulled into the aid station, I pumped in the back of the car while I did a cycle on the Normatecs, my crew fixed my blisters, got my pack ready, and kicked me out of the station.

Ellen and I set out on our first section together.  This one was a little easier with a good few miles of jeep road before we hit single track.  It was late in the race by this point but I was still feeling relatively good, although tired.  Ellen and I passed the time talking about her four kids and my two, about school, how it sucks, how kids can be mean, how kids can be amazing, how horribly soul crushing and rewarding motherhood is, and how we know each others’ friends.  And just like that, we were at the next crew station! Wow! It felt like that went really fast!

As soon as we pulled into the station, I saw my friend Deano who had apparently dropped due to heat issues but had some of his famous Sweet Potato and Turmeric soup ready to go!  Let me tell you how awesome that stuff is, especially that late in the race. I sat in a camp chair and my crew took my pack to refill. I needed to change my socks because of the blisters and wet shoes.  My insoles were folding up in the shoes due to the damp conditions so I changed those out too. However, Rudy had grabbed the wrong stuff sack from the car and left all my dry socks in the car, that was parked at least a mile away.  In the moment, I got a little frustrated and admit I may have gotten a little snippy at him for getting the wrong bag. Ellen had two pairs of injinjis so she gave me one of the thicker pairs of hers and all was right in the world. Dry socks felt amazing!!  Why didn’t I do this sooner!? With the pack refilled, and an apology and a kiss for Rudy, Keith and I set off down the road.

This section had the infamous Pinnacle climb that hits mile 75 at the top.  It was a short couple of miles to the climb and Keith didn’t disappoint with the songs, the inappropriate jokes, and the perfectly timed comments.  We hit the climb, and I hit my second wind! Ever since doing strength training, my climbing has improved ten-fold. I’m usually able to hit another level and keep going until the climb is done.  We passed people that seemed like they were struggling, but Keith made jokes about how I was kicking his ass and made them laugh too. My headlamp seemed a little dull but I didn’t care, I just wanted to get to the top.  About a mile out, we could hear the music and powered on to the top. As soon as we came into the station, Keith, at the very top of his lungs and completely out of key, managed to awkwardly sing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”.  I just gave him a look like, “I can’t believe you just did that!”, laughed, and asked anyone if they had AAA batteries for my headlamp. Finally, someone was able to stir some up and my headlamp had new life!! We had a couple miles descent down to the next aid station.  You could hear the music from a very long way away due to the location of the station, but due to the trail wrapping around the valley, following a very slow descent, this is where I starting getting in my head.  I just wanted to be there but every single turn seemed to take us away from the music and further away from rest.  I started losing it but didn’t want to let Keith see me, so I just kept my head down and kept walking. At last, we made it in and I embraced Rudy with a much needed hug.  He knew something was wrong but was able to calm me down. I asked for as much caffeine as possible as I just wanted to get this over with. Rudy filled my pack, Walter, got me caffeine, and Ellen took me down the trail to the final section.  

I had it in my head from the beginning that I was going to kill this section.  Especially when I made it to the road for the last 3 miles of the race. That was before.  The slow painful amble you might call a walk was now. The blisters on my feet were so bad by this point, I had to pull over a couple times and pop them with my safety pins from my number.  Probably not the most sanitary thing in the book but, boy, did it feel better when they were popped. They just kept filling up again! Each step was like walking on needles. Then girls that I had passed much earlier in the race were beginning to pass me back.  One by one, they passed. 8 in all. I went from 8th place female, to 16th. I went from a sub 24 hour finish around mile 60 to hoping I could just break 27 hours. Then it came. I heard the sweet noise of passing cars, which meant the road was just ahead. I thought to myself that maybe I could pick it up here!  We turned left onto the road and I tried to start running. Nope. Not happening. We resorted to running a power pole, walking a power pole, a pattern that seemed endless for 3 miles. I knew that the first set of stadium lights you saw weren’t the ones of victory, so I didn’t get discouraged when we passed those and had to keep going.  I kept telling myself, “One pole at a time.” Then I heard the music, rounded the corner and saw the stadium! FINALLY!! Ellen took my pack and ran to get Rudy, Walter, and Keith. Her run looked so effortless as I trotted along in pain! I crossed into the practice field fence, Rudy and crew yelled at me from across the field, and then took off for the finish line.  Stepping onto the soft rubber track was a relief. Somehow, I was able to pick it up to a relatively normal looking run, rounded the turn, and crossed under the finishing arch. 26:57. I wanted to DIE! Todd handed me my buckle and I layed on the warm turf and promptly passed out. My crew even took pictures with me!!

After about 30 minutes splayed out on the turf, watching other runners finish, Rudy helped me to my feet and to the car to drive over to the best damn rec center shower ever!  It was dark, cold, dirty, and amazingly refreshing! I’m sure it took me about an hour to take a shower and get dressed but we finally made it back over to the finish in time to watch my good buddy Brandan finish in 28:53.  He had planned on sub 24 as well but the heat had other plans. Any race I do, I always say I’ll never do that again. There’s only one that that’s ever actually been the case. I said the same with this, but I gave it a few weeks.  Now I just want revenge. It didn’t go as planned but there are so many things that I would change. But not my crew! I would keep my crew forever!!  They were the best and I definitely couldn’t have done this without their help and encouragement.  Next up is Cruel Jewel 100 in the North GA mountains where they don’t believe in switchbacks.


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