If you’ve ever read any of my race reports you know that I’m a planner. I think out the details, write lists and plan each step. The other thing you might notice is I always love to have good company on my runs. I’m not a front of the pack runner that races, I enjoy running and the company along the way. I admit I am competitive at times but it’s about enjoying the journey and my friends mostly.
Carrie, Lisa and I had been running together pretty consistently for months. We all ran a similar pace, are at a similar place in life with kids basically grown, and really like to run and enjoy ourselves. We began calling ourselves Team Rainbows and Unicorns, which started when we were in a race running together. Someone made a negative comment and soon Lisa explained that we could not say anything negative because she was running in her the world of “Rainbows and Unicorns!” We were not to upset that world Lisa was running in. So you know if you can beat them, join them! We all run in that world and we don’t allow any negative into our running world circle, although all are welcome to join us there.
I’m not sure when exactly we all decided to run Pinoti. I had volunteered at the race in 2014, and knew for certain I wanted to run it the next year. Somewhere along the way, I talked Carrie and Lisa into joining my adventure. Lisa was on board first, she was easy, Carrie on the other hand wasn’t sure doing a 100 miler was every on her list to do, but had more recently admitted she had some thoughts of it. By May of 2015 we convinced Carrie to come run Choccolocco 50K, another race in Alabama that is put on by the same race director as Pinhoti. The plan was to show Carrie the beautiful Pinohoti trails, (which Lisa and I had run on some when we did Cheaha 50K a few months before), and convince her into joining us on our 100 mile quest. Well Carrie pulled the trigger on Pinhoti a few weeks before our Choccolocco race and the Pinhoti trails on the Choccolocco 50K only excited the three of us for the awesome journey ahead.
So here we were months later, lots of miles of training and lots of 50K and 50 milers run. We got our lists made, bags packed, crew and pacers set up and felt pretty much ready for the race. Lisa’s husband, Bill and daughter, Melissa were going to crew for us, and Molly Freeman was jumping in later in the race to pace for us. The three of us met together and planned our drop bags, where we would stay the night before the race, how we would get to the race start and all the details leading up to the race. A couple minor changes had happened leading into the race, the biggest of which was rain. Now we were all a way too used to running in wet muddy conditions at this point but it had caused a changed in the course. Pinhoti is 100 mile race, point to point. It starts in Heflin, AL and ends 100 miles later in Sylacauga with several points along the way for your crew to access you. Because of the rain we were told that a couple of the normal aid stations would now be water drop points only as they could not get an aid station set up in there. The race start was also changed. We would now be starting at Aid Station #3 on the course, running back to the second AS then back to AS #3. Sounded easy enough but this didn’t play out to well for the start for us. Planning for 100 miles of wet also offers its share of challenges as you try and prepare for your feet being wet for that long of time. But we had drop bags back and planned to change clothes, and shoes at mile 40 which was Mt. Cheaha (Bald Rock). We had planned as best we could, now it was go time.
Carrie and I stayed at one hotel, got up early race morning and drove to where Lisa was staying. We left our car their and rode with Lisa and our crew to the start.
Just before the start, it was raining lightly
It was an very exciting start with so many runners we knew gathered, and adding so many who were crewing, the crowd was huge and I think it was one of the most exciting starts I had experienced to that point. Soon we were off. Usually early in a race I lead and set a pace. I probably tend to go out a little too fast but I usually try and get us ahead of the slower runners so we don’t fight to get around folks. It was roughly 5 miles from where we started to work our way back a single track section to aid station #3 but just before getting on the single track we went up a very short distance of fire road. With literally hundreds of runners running we quickly found we had started too far back and got in a log jam of people waiting to get onto the single track. That all made for a slow start. Once we got onto the trail it was several more miles of congo line running but we made the best of it and chatted with the folks around us as we settled into our run. Once we got near the aid station it because I steady stream of front runners passing us on their way back from the first aid station and back to the AS where we started. Being a single track trail, we had to constantly stop and get off the trail and hundreds of runners in front of us were passing. Well that wasn’t the start we wanted but we did get to say hello to our friends running in front of us and got quickly out of that first AS and off to the next. We attempted to make up a little time after the slow down off passing runners, we came into the next AS and were about 45 mins ahead of the cutoff. We tried to again get quickly in and out here and off. Just as we got what we needed a train came and trapped us on the wrong side of the tracks for probably 5-10 minutes as it passed. Finally out of there, we felt like we were finally off and running but further back than we wanted to be.
The rain continued to come down during the day, it was warm out so soon we all took off our jackets off. Another 5 miles or so and into AS #3. This was probably one of our favorite AS stops as lots of people were there and all cheering for us. Our spirits were definitely lifted although we remained the same 45 minutes ahead of cut off. A little too tight for our liking but at least we were ahead. We finally made our way to Lake Morgan AS and our first drop bags. We all made our mental notes coming into Lake Morgan what we needed from our bags so we could get in and out as quickly as possible. Getting into the AS required some rock climbing just before the lake, because of the rain Lisa took a bad fall here trying to get up the rock section. We got her up that and all got what we need from the AS and headed out. The next section was a section we had all been on most of from an early training run there. It’s a relatively easy section that is very pretty. What is normally a very dry part of the course, turned out to been mostly water and muddy section. We continued moving as quickly as we could but the water and mud made it a little slow at times. We had gotten our headlamps from our drop bags at Lake Morgan because we knew that it would most likely be dark before we reach our next stop at Mt. Cheaha. We got the next water stop just below our climb up to Mt. Cheaha, one of the biggest climbs on the course and refilled our packs. Not long after that it was dark and we needed our headlamps. The further up the climb we went, the foggier it got. It seemed like a slow climb but knowing our crew would be at the top and a chance to change into dry clothes and shoes was what we were focused on.
Finally into the Mt. Cheaha AS and our crew got us our bags and we were all busing changing clothes. There is “real” bathrooms here and we took advantage of complete change of clothes and assessing our feet damage from the wet day. We spent extra time patching up feet and getting changed before we were off again. By now it was very dark and the fog had rolled in and was pretty thick and we were not far ahead of cutoffs. We were hardly able to see in front of us and had no idea where we were going and where the flags were. Our crew came down the road in the car and was finally able to give us some direction. We knew just ahead we would be heading down “Blue Hell”. The most dreaded part of the course by most people’s standards. The main thing we had heard was you want to get down Blue Hell before dark. Well it was long past dark (partly this year due to the time changing the previous weekend so dark came earlier in the race), raining and foggy. We could hardly see what we were doing and it was very wet and slippery. We worked our way down as carefully as possible but before getting down Lisa and Carrie both managed to take a fall here. Lisa’s being the worst but still able to move although with much more caution. Once down the rocks of Blue Hell we struggled with a handful of other runners to find the course and direction. The rain and mud had literally washed the course flagging away. We finally got on course and were able to continue on working our way to the next AS, making up some time we lost on Blue Hell because a large portion was fire roads once we got off the hill. Although we were still running just ahead of the cutoff times at this point. The next section of the course seems a bit of a blur of water crossings and rocks. Some water crossing were much deeper and swifter than normal because of the large amount of rainfall and Carrie had hurt her leg crossing one where the water was rushing pretty fast. We moved steady but each time we would come around a corner and hear the water rush, we knew a crossing would be ahead and we feared how big it would be. Carrie was extra cautious of the water crossings and Lisa was still nursing her hurt leg. We made it to the next stop at mile 50, rushing in and out of there was we were informed we were now only minutes ahead of cutoffs. Next stop we would see our crew, so off we went. Coming into to the 55 mile AS we were told we were after the cutoffs to keep going. We were not being pulled and we had hoped to make up some time on the next section. We had very little time to chat, we grabbed food and were off.
The next section was a very long fire road section that would have a water drop in about 5 miles. Lisa and I finally began to move hoping to make up some time. This was the perfect place to do it so we continued to push. Carrie struggled more here but we kept pushing. Then the rain started again. We had thought we had seen the last of the rain and none of us were aware it was going to start up again, we hardly had time to talk to crew or the AS working the last several stops to get a weather update. This time the rain was very cold. When we finally got to the water drop we found one runner there huddled under a space blanket waiting for a ride out. We pressed on, soon dropping back onto the trails. By now we had our jackets back on but were all beginning to get very cold. Carrie’s stomach started giving her trouble when we were on the fire road section and now with the rain it was a struggle. We all knew in our heads that we didn’t have time to go slow, but the cold rain was taking a toll and our spirits were quickly sinking. I know in my own head I was quickly calculating that a DNF was almost inevitable. We had run all day long just ahead of cutoffs. Not really where anyone enjoys a run and I had found it very stressful most of the day as we seem to struggle to bank any time ahead of the cutoffs even though we were running good and all felt strong. Possibly the combination of so many things contributed to this ending. We anticipated getting to our crew at mile 65 and some warmer clothes but when we arrived it was again just a water stop. Carrie was now shivering hard and as we were contemplating contacting our crew and what to do. Carrie knew with her stomach she was done but we didn’t have a plan for what to do. The longer we stood their deciding on our next move, the colder we all became. Five miles to warmer clothing was a long ways off. Would Lisa and I push on, could we push on? Several other runners were around us at this point all having the same dilemma. The discussions were quickly stopped when behind us came the sweeper and told us we were all done.
It was a tough ending for us all. All of our legs felt good and we felt like we had run well all day. It’s after a DNF that you begin to think about all the things you could have changed, or done differently to change the outcome. While it stings to take a DNF I can fully own it and wear it proudly. We learn with every race we run and I’m sure everyone who gets a DNF has a list of things they’d do differently next time. Do not make a DNF a Did Not Learn! We’ll move on and Pinhoti will always be there to run again!