Carrie Dix and I had been talking about running Cruel Jewel for a year. Right after the race in 2015 we knew we would at the very least run the Cruel Jewel 50 Miler (thank you Janette Maas for throwing down that challenge to us). After running the Death Race 68 miler in 2015 with Carrie pacing me, we both knew that the Cruel Jewel would be no easy race. In November we had attempted the Pinhoti 100 and had to drop after 65 miles of really tough conditions, so I think for both of us another 100 miler was waiting for us. We volunteered for Race Directors, Josh and Leigh Saint in January at 24 Hours of Hostility and that only fueled our desire to run the Cruel Jewel. We both just seem to know it would be the 100 miler and not the 50 that we were committing to!
In January we also ran the Cloudland Canyon 50 miler with our friend Stephanie Johnson (from Knoxville), and spent the race convincing her to join us for the Cruel Jewel suffer fest we had signed up for. All of us had either volunteered, crewed or paced at the Cruel Jewel before and had each told ourselves we’d never run it. But we all learned; never say never! It’s an ultra thing. So we made our plans together and rented a cabin a Vogel State Park where the race starts and finishes.
We all trained, lined up our crew and finalized our race plans. The race started on Friday, May 13th at noon. The first chance our crew would be able to get to us was at mile 21.5 and we wouldn’t get to our pacer until roughly mile 51 (which is the turnaround point at Camp Morganton). We didn’t have an exact time but we had hoped to get to our pacers and crew at mile 51 around 13-15 hours into the race, and we’d all stay together at least to that turn around point and possibly even finish together. Carrie and I had planned to stay together the entire race and shared crew and pacers to help us out. Anne Blanton was crew chief for Carrie and I. She told us at our pre-race meeting that she would not be easy on us, and she wasn’t going to be swayed by any crying. We were finishing and she’d see that we kept at it!
Carrie and I drove up to Vogel Thursday afternoon together, and then met up for dinner in Blairsville with Stephanie and her crew who drove down from Knoxville, TN. Later at the cabin we packed our race packs and talked about how we hoped the next day would play out before all getting a good night sleep. It was nice to have a relaxed morning eating breakfast and getting or packs and drop bags finalized before the race start. We picked up our packets with race numbers and chatted with many of our friends who were there to volunteer or run the race.
Stephanie, myself and Carrie before the start!
My husband, Ed had come up to Vogel to see us off and take a few pictures. Some brief instruction by the RD and the race was off. We all knew the course fairly well, with 8 miles to the first Aid Station which included the Coosa Backcountry climb, we all paced ourselves, and enjoyed chatting with friends during those first miles. We were quickly through that first AS and off to the next. Now on the DRT (Duncan Ridge Trail, also known as the Dragon Spine) we knew there would be lots of ups and downs. Steep ups with steep downs. Again, we paced ourselves. Before we knew it we were through the next Aid Station and onto our crew at the Skeenah Gap AS mile 21.5. It was good to see cheering friends and we all got some cold coke/ginger ale and were off. The next couple of AS came every 5 miles or so and we all tried to stay on top of our food and hydration, although I don’t know that any of us had really eaten much. The heat didn’t cause any of us major stomach issues, but I think we all felt a little off from the heat and climbs. We now had 20 miles to go before the turnaround point and we wouldn’t see our crew again until then. We decided it was also a good time to give up our poles which we had been using since the start of the race. We felt we needed some sort of break from carrying them, and the next 20 mile section wasn’t as much climbing, well so we thought anyway.
Around mile 43 we got into the Deep Gap AS. We had passed and got to greet the front runners of the race just before getting to the AS. The Atlanta Outdoor Club (AOC) were volunteering at the Deep Gap AS, so for me it was nice to see many faces and friends I knew. We got some food and headed out for a nearly 6 mile loop before coming back to the Deep Gap AS and headed another 2.5 miles to the turnaround point. Another quick hello to my AOC friends and we were off to our crew and pacers at Camp Morganton and the turnaround. This wasn’t the half way point in the race because during the return trip there is an extra 6 mile out and back section, but to us it felt like half way. We all planned to make a complete change of clothes, socks and shoes here at Camp Morganton. We felt that mentally if we broke it down into two 50 mile races it would seem a little less overwhelming to tackle and seem like a fresh start leaving the turnaround point. I made a critical decision and decided to work on my feet a little. I didn’t have any blisters or hot spots at this point but felt like the bottoms of my feet would be in pain going back over the DRT later in the race if I didn’t add some cushion to the bottoms of them. I worked quickly to put a layer of Mole Skin on the balls of my feet and wrapped a couple of toes where I often get callouses. (This decision I think paid off big time later on as I was running comfortably and ended with no blisters or black toes nails for that matter). Soon we were all out the door with our pacers and headed back to Deep Gap. The road section was a little slower for Carrie and I headed back to Deep Gap and we were busy catching up and updating Rebecca Watters, our pacer, on the race so far. Stephanie and her pacer moved ahead and we didn’t run with them again.
Rebecca immediately began to access where we were and how Carrie and I were both doing. She kept telling us we looked good but we knew pacers and crew are supposed to say that sort of thing. It was now early morning hours and Rebecca knew that we hadn’t eaten well so far and we needed to get some food in us. Once we got to Deep Gap she made us sit down and began waiting on us and making us eat what we could. The 6 mile loop at Deep Gap was some of our least favorite section of the course, I think that was because it was a rocky section that after 55 plus miles really began to be painful on our feet. It felt like a real struggle and we talked about how it seemed like a loop that was all uphill. Now I can see that we were tired and needed more food and were both sinking into a low point. Once back at Deep Gap for the final time, we were treated to some French toast and hot chocolate. Sometimes in these long races the simplest food seems like the best thing you’ve ever eaten, and that begin to turn things around for Carrie and I. We pushed on the next AS which was on the extra 6 mile out and back section. It was coming down into that AS at Weavers Gap that we started to see 50 mile runners (they had started the 50 mile race at Camp Morganton that morning and at this point the front runners of that race were catching up and passing us). Seeing so many of our friends who were running the 50 mile race and getting more substantial food at the Weavers Gap AS was what Carrie and I needed. Another friend from the AOC was working at this AS and she took extra care of us. Carrie’s lower back was beginning to hurt and my friend was rubbing some Magnesium oil on it to try and relieve her pain.
Off we went from Weavers Gap feeling better than we had in a while. It was a long climb out of there and we saw more and more of our friend running the 50 miler. We chatted with lots of them and even took some pictures with others.
Jason Green made as all laugh as we passed him pacing for David Milner
Now we were headed once again to our crew at the next AS and Rebecca would jump out from pacing duties and Michael Richie would pace the next 15 miles. Once at Stanley Gap AS Carrie took care of a few issues and we put some other gel on her lower back to try and relieve her pain some. The next 5 miles were mostly road and our friend Brad Goodridge had caught up with us and joined us at this point. This was a hot section on the road but we pushed on and got to our crew again at Old Dial AS. At this point Carrie’s back was visibly giving her trouble and she was struggling to stand up straight. We knew we were headed towards the home stretch and Carrie was determined to finish. Brad was still with us and Michael pacing as we left Old Dial headed 5 tough miles to Wilscot Gap AS. The first part of that section was a lot of climbing and Carrie was now beginning to slow down on the climbs. As I pressed on I was really beginning to feel strong and was ready to do some running but Carrie wasn’t catching up. Michael was running back and forth between us and keeping an eye on both of us, reporting that she was falling further behind. I knew Carrie wanted to finish and I knew with the 48 hour cutoff she had plenty of time to finish. Rebecca would be waiting for us at Skeenah Gap to pace the last 20 miles back over the DRT (Dragon Spine). But I also knew we only had one pacer lined up and I didn’t want to leave Carrie with no one to go with her. I called our crew and then Rebecca and let her know we needed to find someone who could pace Carrie from Skeenah to the finish. I knew I would be there waiting to see her cross the finish line but I felt strong and wanted to move faster while I could. As soon as the crew let me know that they had pacer options for Carrie, I was ready to run. Michael let me know she was now at least 20 minutes behind me, so I chose to just go ahead and move on. I knew Carrie would be ok with me doing that, and I knew she was probably slowing down more but still felt certain she’d finish. Carrie and I are good friends and I knew she would want me to go on but it was really tough leaving her and not getting a last chance to talk to her.
Michael ran with me and we got to our crew at the next AS. I let them know Carrie was slowing down but still moving. I needed to keep going, and they both saw that I was moving well at this point; Anne even commented how I had some bounce in my step now and she knew I was in a good place. I wanted them to stay at Wilscot Gap and help Carrie when she got there so I got my jacket and head lamp from them knowing it would be getting dark in a few hours. I also knew with them staying to help Carrie, they wouldn’t be able to crew for me again at the Skeenah AS and I needed to take my jacket and light now. Off Michael and I went headed to Skeenah Gap. I was moving good and still feeling really strong for 80 miles into the race with no sleep. When I got to Skeenah Gap I grabbed more food and some coke, while Rebecca and Michael said hello and goodbye, then we were off. With Rebecca being a strong climber and me feeling good I knew I was in good hands to get me over the DRT and slay that Dragon one last time.
The Sunset on top of Rhodes Mountain was my Ultra Happy Place!
Not long after leaving Skeenah we got word that Carrie had dropped and that was really heartbreaking for us to hear. Now I was committed to running the rest of the race and finishing for Carrie. Rebecca pushed us hard so we could get as far as possible before dark and having to turn on our lights. We were able to enjoy a beautiful sunset on top of Rhodes Mountain and then get to the Fish Gap AS before dark. I put on my jacket, gloves and headlamp there and pulled a beanie hat from the bottom of my pack (Carrie and I had put them there at the last minute in loading our packs the night before the race. It was getting windy and at a slower pace I thought I might get cold). Some more quick fueling from the AS and we were off. One more AS to go before our long decent into Vogel State Park and the finish of the race. But we had 5 tough miles and several climbs still ahead. We passed a few runners in this section as Rebecca led us and I stayed as close behind her as I could, in the dark and into my second night with no sleep Rebecca was keeping me on the trail and moving. Soon we were dropping into the White Oak Stomp AS and I didn’t want to lose my momentum so I grabbed some coke and headed out. Rebecca picked up food for me and I was onto the last hard climb up to Coosa Bald. It was getting windy and chilly out now as the evening temps had really dropped. Once we got to the top of the bald my only focus was to run and get down out of the cold. Rebecca led and I again followed as closely as I could. We passed a few more 100 mile runners before finally crossing Wolf Creek. There was water just after the bridge and I was suddenly very thirsty. After getting a last drink, we headed out for the last 3 miles into Vogel Park. While I felt like I was moving fast, it seemed like the longest climb up from Wolf Creek to drop into the park. Finally on the last mile or so, the trail was technical and I remember telling Rebecca I just couldn’t run any more. Okay so after nearly 106 miles Rebecca laughed and said we could power hike some. We passed a few crew people out on the trail waiting and looking for other runners to come in. Finally to the paved road in the park and the last 1/2 mile stretch to the finish line we began to run again.
After 39 hours and 16 minutes I crossed the finish line and was handed my buckle. My friend Stephanie finished 20 minutes later and we celebrated afterwards back at our cabin. Finishing Cruel Jewel 100 is an accomplishment I still am unable to completely take in fully. Without the help of our awesome crew, Anne and Joyce and the help of Rebecca and Michael pacing, I could have never crossed that finish line. They did an awesome job of paying attention to what I needed when I didn’t even know and made decisions for me when I needed them to.
After a few hours of sleep; Stephanie and I show off our buckles.
Carrie will be back for hers and I’ll be there to help her do it!