106 Miles of Delirium- Cruel Jewel 106

So my pacer was just standing there scratching her butt, while waiting on my slow ass to finish the last of the dragon spine, when another racer stops in the middle of the course, throws his pack on the ground, and lays on a log, straddled, face down, and passes out.  That’s the kind of weird stuff that happens on the Cruel Jewel 100 course.  With over 33,000 feet of elevation gain, on the toughest trails GA has to offer, and with the added heat and humidity of the south, this race chews racers up and spits them out, leaving them begging for mercy. The fact that people do this thing multiple times baffles me.  It really does.  But I’ll probably do it again.  I’m that stubborn.  

My most amazing crew chief ever, my husband Rudy, had prepared so meticulously for this one. He had all the crew gear, had my food all parceled out, and had planned out each section to the nth degree.  All I needed to do was run.  The only thing wrong at this point was that “Aunt Flo” decided to show up the day before and now I was dealing with that as well.  At the start of the race, I met up with a few of my friends, Brandan, Jonathan, Laurie, Deano, and even saw one of my friends from high school, Michael!  We all fist bumped and wished each other luck.  Brandan had gotten me some special waterproof socks that we would most likely need, seeing that it had been raining for 2 days straight, and was calling for storms that night and the next.  The clocked ticked up to Noon on Friday, and we were off!!  A little jaunt down the campground road allowed us to spread out a bit, then we hit single track on the trail to Wolf Creek, a water only station. Next up was the infamous Coosa climb. 4 miles up, then ¾ mile down, straight down, to the first real aid station, Fire Pit.  I grabbed some pickles and some orange slices, and headed back out, not even thinking to refill my pack.  Two liters was supposed to last 20 miles.  
Next up was the Dragon Spine portion of the course.  At 7.3 miles to the next aid station, this section was the most respected in GA. Absolutely no switch backs and relentless downhills made for some pretty gnarly “running”.  The endless 7 climbs in 7 miles turned out to be 1,457 ft down and 1,076 ft up.   It was early in the race so I didn’t think about it much and just kept my head down and kept trucking.  We hit Fish Gap aid and were off to Skeenah gap through some more hills, but in comparison, slightly less relentless than the previous section.  I ran out of water about 2-3 miles out from the aid station. With temperatures reaching into the high 80s, and extreme humidity, I was sweating more than normal and was using more fluid than I had ever needed for this section.  Luckily, Brandan and I were still in close proximity and he had a collapsible flask we finagled under the smallest trickle of mountain water to cool ourselves off.  It was the most refreshing thing all day! And finally, we made it to Skeenah!  Brandan had dropped back a little but was still on the move.  

Skeenah was the first crew station so I met Rudy there and got my smaller pack for the 5 miles to Wilscot Aid station.  Some more pickles, and oranges did me well and I headed off just as Brandan came into Skeenah.  Although hot and feeling like I had just done a 20 mile trail run, I didn’t have any major complaints just yet.  We still had 86 more miles to go!!  The next station was Wilscot Gap, a station that a few of my running buddies from Big Peach in Suwanee were manning.  Keith, Beth, and Michael all came as a welcome site as I entered the station.  Keith yelled out, “I’ve been waiting for you all day! I’m already drunk!!”  It was only about 7:30pm… that’s Keith for you!  Rudy switched out my bottles for the next 5 miles section to Old Dial.  I grabbed some pickles, bacon, pickle juice, and a grilled cheese for some extra calories. Keith and I showed off our abs as Beth and Michael just shook their heads in shame and I headed back out into the woods.  

There were 3 progressively smaller climbs on this section of 5.8 miles.  The second one had a ranger lookout tower about half way through the section.  As I was getting about ¼ way down the last decent, I dawned my headlamp and kept trucking. Although relatively rocky and technical, I was able to get through this section without much issue and Old Dial came as a welcome site.  I was starting to feel the course now and wanted to sit when I got to the car for Rudy to pack everything up.  The next crew station wasn’t for another 19.4 miles so he was going to give me my larger pack and more food.  Since it was dark now, and I have 2 small kids, I was used to getting to bed relatively early so needed some caffeine.  Rudy rubbed my feet (which felt SOOO good), put on new socks, gave me some caffeine gum, which was nasty but did the trick, and I headed back out. He was the best crew Chief ever! About a mile of trail and then 5 miles of road with a steel bridge crossing proved to be an invitation for walking.  It was mostly uphill so I met up with another racer from Greece and we power walked while talking with each other about certain traditions or races in various places. It was a cool conversation and made the time go by relatively quickly!  

Stanley creek Aid was a no crew station so I just grabbed some water, pickles, and a warm cheese quesadilla and headed back out.  A 2.5 mile climb, then 2.5 miles down to Deep Gap in the super late hours of the night with lightening threatening all around was pretty uneventful.  I hit Deep gap aid, checked in, and headed right back out to do the Flat Creek Loop.  Around the time I got about 2 miles up the climb, the bottom dropped out, lightening started popping, and I stopped to look for my rain jacket in my pack… but couldn’t find it!!  The rain actually felt good and I wasn’t cold, but it was more of a fact that you don’t want to get too damp on a race like this.  The slightest little thing can make or break your race.  The rain made the puddles in the course fill up quickly but because of my new Seal socks, my feet were dry and happy!  Best purchase ever!!!  Finally I made it back to Deep Gap, checked in with them and kept going the 2.7 to Morganton.  It was a slow 2.7 miles but I knew my crew would be there and that I might be able to get into some dry clothes, and sit in my Normatec Compression boots and maybe take a short 30 min nap…

As I trudged along the road leading to Camp Morganton, enjoying the lightening on the mountain ranges with the valley pastures below, I entered the building where all the crew was set up.  I quickly realized my anticipation if what was going to happen at this station was a lie!!!  Rudy did give me dry clothes, but had absolutely no intention of letting me sleep, OR letting me get into the compression boots!!  I hate life.  But, I did get to meet Chantal!  She and Carissa had agreed to pace me for the second half of the race.  I had been friends with Carissa for a while, well, since I met her in a Starbucks parking lot for a run one day… But I had asked for another pacer on a FB group and Chantal responded (So did a random guy from Guyana but I declined his request and went with the local chick).  Rudy packed me up, Chantal gave me some food, I sipped some lukewarm coffee, put my shoes back on, gave Rudy a nasty look (sorry Babe!!), and Chantal and I headed out into the dark, rainy night at around 3:45 am.  As we entered the darkness, Chantal said, “HI!  I’m Chantal!  It’s nice to meet you!”  

The rain started coming down again as we hit Deep Gap aid, but we checked in and headed to the loop, this time to do it backwards.  We weren’t the only ones doing it.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I don’t recommend it.  It was terrible.  They tell you to go a certain way for a reason.  Anyways, Chantal kept me entertained by telling me all about her family and asking about mine.  She’s in PT school still so we talked about some of the things patients do, which are hilarious BTW!  If you’re one of my patients reading this, yes, HIPPA is still in effect, but we talk about your cases!  HAHA! By this time, the trail had drained some since the first time I had done it but it was still slippery.  We came back around to the Aid station, called out my number, and took the left turn to Weaver Creek Aid.  

The sun was coming up about now and the GA Mountain foliage was so green, so beautiful, so vibrant, and it was SO HUMID!!  We came to the top of the climb and descended down the stupidest out and back section on a race EVER!  This race is 106 miles.  Not because there was no other way around it, but because some “special” person decided that Weaver Creek was a “Must-Do-Climb”.  I’m sorry, but a 4 mile 1000 ft descent doesn’t seem like “fun” to me. We hit the aid station, exchanged some disregard for this particular section with other racers, grabbed some more damn pickles, and headed back out to Stanley Creek, where we could meet our crew again.  What goes down, must come back up.  And so we climbed.  Nearing the top, we saw Brandan about to make his descent down to Weaver.  We exchanged a nod and an elbow bump in passing and continued on.  1.5 miles down felt great as we reached Stanley.  

Just after leaving Morganton, I texted Rudy that I needed him to meet us at Stanley because I had developed a blister that wasn’t there before.  He had planned on possibly skipping the station but I needed to take care of this before it got worse.  When we got there, he took off my shoes and socks and surveyed the damage.  There was a small, nickel-sized, blister that had developed.  We had learned from previous races that getting through callused feet with a safety pin wasn’t the most effective so we came prepared with hypodermic needles and blister kits this time!  He started getting the needle closer but his hands were a little shaky and I got nervous! I grabbed the needle from him and told him lovingly that I didn’t trust him.  I’ll do it myself!  With quite a few onlookers, I jabbed that needle in there, and sucked out some nice fluid, and even popped one under the toenail just for good measure, managing to get a few gasps from some of the movie-goers.  My Garmin had died just before coming into the station so I hooked it up to a portable charger and we headed back out on the road to Old Dial. 

Chantal was a huge fan of bridges so crossing the old steel bridge across the Taccoa River was cool for her.  We crossed the bridge and headed to the last 1 mile of trail before Old Dial aid
where we met Rudy and Carissa again.  And Travis was there too!  He was super chipper and eager to help.  I needed some more caffeine gum so popped some of that nasty stuff in my mouth, got my bottles refilled for the last 5 mile section with Chantal, and we headed to Wilscot!  But here’s where it started to go haywire.

I got into a really dark place in my head.  I couldn’t get it out of my mind that I still had over 25 more miles to go once we got to Wilscot.  I held back tears and sobbed to myself while Chantal tried to help me stay chipper.  After the three progressively BIGGER climbs this time, we entered Wilscot again.  Keith was his normal weird self but I just needed a hug from Rudy.  He knew something was wrong so got me to sit under the tent in the circle of dis-enchanted, stinky, sweaty, dehydrated, demoralized runners.  When I sat down, I put my head in my hands and just started crying.  Trying to take deep breaths to regain my composure, Keith flipped a switch and actually became compassionate!  He got me an ice bottle and stuffed it down the back of my neck and got me some food.  There was no chance I was quitting but I had gotten into my head and couldn’t pull myself out of it.  As soon as Keith talked me back up and Rudy brought me my pack to put back on to continue, another runner sat down across the circle from me and did the exact same thing!  And apparently, there were 2 guys just before us that had the same experience as well! Wilscot was apparently the place where 100 milers went to cry.  25 more miles, and the toughest trails yet to come was not something we looked forward to. I cracked a joke to the other chick across the way, who tried to laugh but didn’t seem to impressed, gave Keith the stinkiest hug I think he’s ever gotten, gave Rudy a kiss, and took Carissa out for the Worst Prom date EVER!!  

She had joked that when I asked her to be my pacer, it was like I was asking her to Prom.  It was that awkward!  Ha!  But she agreed, and here she was.  I looked at the elevation profile, which sucked, hung my head, and started walking. 7 climbs and 5 miles to Skeenah. I had to suck it up though.  There was no way I was quitting.  I kept having to push that overwhelming feeling of having 25 more miles to go out of my head.  As we neared what Carissa though was one more
climb, I was surprised and kept asking her if she was correct.  She assured me she was and I obliged.  However, after the mileage had come and gone, it got a little daunting. I had looked at the chart before and knew we had 7 climbs but had only done 5.  Finally, after those last 2 climbs which seemed endless, we reached Fish Gap aid.  A water refill in the pack, some tomato bisque with a grilled cheese, and of course, more effing pickles, we grabbed some instant coffee to share and headed back out.  This was going to be the worst part, and I had completely forgotten how bad it was.

The Dragon Spine portion of the Duncan Ridge trail is a relentless system of straight ascents with equally as taxing extreme descents.  Again, no switch-backs.  Whoever made these trails should be drug out back and beaten with every single trekking pole that has ever had to traverse these trails.  We had 7 more climbs, but at this point in the race, there was no hopping over logs, no jaunting down hills, and certainly no power hiking the ascents like I had been able to do the entire race.  I excel at uphills normally but at this point, just putting one foot in front of the other was an issue.  My legs just weren’t working like they should.  Each climb proved to be more and more difficult, even causing me to stop and control a couple anxiety attacks.  I had taken the elevations charts from Carissa at Fish, because I didn’t trust her interpretation of the course anymore.  However, she persisted and said that we had only 1 more mile to Fire Pit Aid.  I knew better, as we had only done 5 climbs and still had one of the worst to come, which was the one we were on!  At one point, she had to backtrack and come hug me because I was having one of my panic moments.  I pulled it together though and knew inside
that we had to get over this climb plus one more small one, then we would be at Fire Pit.  At the top of this climb is where we saw the guy that had thrown his pack on the ground and was about to take a snooze straddling a fallen log off to the side of the trail.  Yay for UltraRunning!  Finally, we reached the last major aid station!!!

There was a dude in a camp chair that looked rather disheveled and another dude just laying on the ground next to the fire taking a much needed nap.  I was actually pretty jealous but I wanted to finish even more. Only 8.7 more miles to go.  We grabbed some coffee and a grilled cheese and headed into the dark woods to climb the back side of Coosa.  It was ¾ mile up (straight up) to the top and then a 4 mile descent down to the river.  What could go wrong??  Well, apparently a lot.  I have no clue what time we left Fire Pit, but I started falling asleep in the ascent and was struggling to stay on the trail.  Luckily I had poles because they saved my life quite a few times.  My brain was shutting down, my body didn’t know what to do, and I wasn’t able to tell what was happening to me.  I knew subconsciously what was happening, I just wasn’t able to do anything about it.  On the descent of Coosa, I started feeling sick to my stomach, which has never happened before.  I hadn’t peed since before Fish Gap, I certainly hadn’t taken any of my Salt pills, and I hadn't eaten any pickles since Fish Gap.  I took a sip of water but I felt like it MADE me thirsty!  And then I didn’t want to eat because I knew if I ate I would need water, and the water was making me thirsty!  These were all ways my body was shutting down.  

I trudged along, stumbling, falling, almost falling off steep drop offs, and freaking out at moths that seemed to be attacking me.  Carissa looked back quite a few times when I stopped and started waving my poles wildly about.  I’m sure she was laughing but also looking at me like I was completely crazy!  I would fall asleep for short periods on my poles and jolt awake, not knowing where I was, or who I was.  The trees seemed to be making tunnels around me, fluctuating closer and closer.  Finally, at one point, after stuggling for so long to keep them open, I reached Carissa and managed to tell her somehow that I needed to close my eyes.  I just stood there.  She said, “okay, 5 minutes.”  I collapsed. After what seemed like 2 seconds, she woke me up again and got me moving, only to have me collapse not 5 minutes later for another 5 minutes.  I leaned over, thinking I had to puke, to no avail, and passed out. She pulled me to sitting position, then to standing, leaned me against a tree, and supported me until I could stand, and we moved.  We kept moving.  I know I kept asking her how far we had to the river, because I knew we hadn’t reached it yet.  I kept asking her where we were.  Then, I just collapsed.  I couldn’t move.  I knew I was in the middle of the trail but couldn’t do anything about it.  I felt her try to get me to the side but apparently, my legs were off one way, my arms across my body another way, and mouth wide open, like a crime scene, except without the blood.  I heard her try to wake me up to get my pass code for my phone so she could call Rudy, but I couldn’t answer her.  I heard her tell other racers to just step over me, and even helped them get around me.  That sleeper guy on the log stepped over me too.  I could hear everything that was happening and it was scary.  I didn’t want this to end.  Not this way.  I wanted to finish!  I heard her call Rudy (using the emergency mode) and talk to him about where we were and what state I was in and that she was scared.  I knew what Rudy would say though.  He always has that tough love for me during a race.  He cares deeply about my well-being but he also doesn’t come to these things to see me quit.  Carissa snapped back into pacer mode and told me to get my ass up and that we needed to finish.  Somehow I got up, after about a 30 minute nap, and zombie walked the last 400m to Wolf Creek Aid, a water only station and then 3.7 miles up.  

I don’t remember much about that 3.7 miles except for her telling me to keep moving, lets go, come on, you’re awesome, you rock… pretty much every single cat poster you can imagine.  As the light of the morning light came through the trees, Wolfpen Gap Rd revealed itself and I woke up!  This was it!!  We had to cross the road, traverse about ¾ mile of trail, and then jog it in for the finish at Vogel State Park.  I saw Rudy in his bright yellow puffy vest, crossed under the finish arch and collapsed in his warm, soft, cushy, very yellow jacket and slightly sobbed to myself. Sarah from Dahlonega Mountain Sports came up to me with the dinner plate of a belt buckle and said, “Welcome Back!” Are you serious?!  *hysterical giddy laughter*  I was glad to be back.  Glad not to be rescued from the trail, and glad to sit down.  

I sat there in a daze while Rudy took my pack and Chantal took off my shoes.  Someone gave me a blanket and I passed out, just sitting there, hearing other zombies coming in too.  I jolted awake several times, maybe from nightmares of being on the trail still, only to fall back into a deep sleep.  We wanted to stay to watch Brandan finish and see his awesome family to give his latest buckle to his 3rdkid, Hudson.  The look on his face when he saw his family, and the looks on their faces as they ran beside him to finish was a tear jerker.  It’s things like this that make me love ultra-running. The unselfish respect these people have for each other, the racers and their families, the volunteers, the pacers, the crew, the race directors, they love this, and it shows!  There are quite a few things I would change for next time… yes, I said next time.  Even though this was my worst 100 mile race ever,  I’ll be back for this one again.  To my pacers and my crew, I would be laying on the trail still if it weren't for you.  So thank you.  I need some sleep.  


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