In 2021, the first year of the race, I paced for a friend of mine, John Cremer. We navigated through the last 45 miles, and I saw John to a strong finish. While it was an inaugural event and I could see a few things that could be improved upon, it did not stop me from wanting to sign up for the race almost as soon as registration opened. Running this race would complete the Pinhoti Slam for me, having already run Double Top 100 and Pinhoti 100 in other years. The point-to-point race starts in Blue Ridge, Georgia and ends in Chatsworth. I immediately lined up Brad Goodridge as my trusted crew and Alex Anaya to pace me. I really didn’t give the race too much thought until much closer to the race.
Another fun fact about this race, my friend Ana Robbins was also going to run the race with me. Well, the plan was to stay together if possible and I worked on trying to line up pacers for her in case we had to “break up”. Getting additional pacers didn’t work out but more on that later. We would plan to stay together if possible.
The race started at 7am on Saturday morning which is nice for not a crazy early wake up call. Ana invited us to stay at her cabin in Suches the night before the race which helped us to make last minute plans for Brad to crew for us both. Although it was probably the least prepared I’d been before a race in a long time, I felt excited and confident going into it.
Let me first give you some details on the challenges of this race because compared to most 100 milers I’ve run in the past; this one had some unique challenges. First off, the weather, which might ordinarily not be a challenge, but April in Georgia is unpredictable. It called for cool temps during the day and freezing overnight. If you know me at all, you know cold is my least favorite temperature, but I’ve learned to bring the right gear and suck it up for the most part (minus a little complaining that is). The race director had already required that each runner carry a space blanket in their packs for emergency purposes.
Another huge challenge is there are only 9 aid stations in 100 miles and except for one, they are all between 8 and 15 miles apart. On a flatter or faster course, that might not be so bad but in the mountains with lots of climbing and obstacles to navigate, that can be a long time between aid, your crew and support. This meant carrying a little extra gear, water, and food. The race was not that huge, but it did have 100 milers and 100K runners on the course, otherwise without the company of Ana, it would have been a long time between seeing anyone else.
One of the rather big challenges that can be devastating for some runners, is lots and lots of water crossings. The first one was at mile 8 in the race. They were sometimes deep and extremely cold and while your feet would warm up within 50 yards or so, your socks and shoes did not dry out. The first aid station that would give you a longer reprieve from the water crossings where you could put on dry shoes and socks was at mile 65. Lest we be fooled into thinking they would stay dry the rest of the race; one final deep crossing would be around mile 96.
One final big challenge was a section of the course that had a significant number of blown down trees. This long section required you to go under, over, around, and sometimes climbing through these trees. All of which took a significant amount of time, and you could not get into a good running rhythm with the constant stops to navigate. If you can imagine, being tall makes having to go under very hard, or if you are shorter, going over a little more difficult. Either way, it sucked a lot of time this course required from you.
Promptly at 7am we started our race from Downtown Blue Ridge where we ran out of town on paved roads and then followed the railroad tracks before we hit more roads to the first aid station at mile 8. I felt we had a very comfortable middle of the pack pace, although admittedly for Ana it was a bit faster than she would have liked.
After the first aid station we immediately hit our first deep water crossing and the trails quickly dropped us into a more reasonable pace for both of us. Not too long after we hit the trails, it also began to snow and covered the ground in beautiful white. This section was on the BMT (Benton MacKaye Trail), a section I had never been on. At first there were a few runners around us but soon we hardly saw anyone as the race had spread out. While the weather was pretty chilly and my fingers started to hurt from the cold, it was an extremely beautiful part of the course. Nearly 13.6 miles later we cruised into the second aid station and our crew of Brad and Alex.
I was able to get some warmer mittens for my hands along with some hand warmers, eat some food and head out for the next section. This was one of the shorter sections at 8.4 miles that would put us onto the Pinhoti trail and where we would encounter at least 6 miles of navigating the downed trees. Again, a beautiful section following the river, and we shared some of those miles with another runner, Todd, before he sped ahead of us. Our race continued with us seeing our crew after long stretches and we kept up a steady pace. Alex took a break to get some sleep before jumping in to pace at mile 54 and Brad met us at mile 40 just before our long push for the next 15 miles. Ana and I had discussed breaking up before getting to Brad and I let Brad know that the new plan might be for Alex to pace only Ana starting at 54 if I went on ahead of her. It would get dark before we got to Alex to pace so we got our headlamps and hoped we would stay together. I had moments where I felt strong and wanted to move faster but I didn’t really want to be alone or leave Ana alone for this long stretch. We stayed together and got to Alex more than ready for him to pace.
Leaving the Mulberry Gap Aid Station at, it was mile 54, and it’s always a nice feeling when you know you are over halfway. Not to get too comfortable though because this course really starts here. Well, the climbing does anyway. It feels like a long grind to the top of the first climb right after leaving the aid station with plenty more to come. We didn’t discuss it, but Ana slowed down and I knew she was struggling with feet or leg pain. It was time for me to get moving at my own pace, and as Alex and I were together slightly ahead of Ana, I told him that he should stay with her, and I was going to keep going at my pace. I headed down the trail at a late-night jogging pace and it seemed like it only took a few miles before I began seeing headlamps ahead and began to pass one runner after another. By the time I’d gotten to the next aid station, I had passed about 7 runners. It’s a large climb from this aid station and into Fort Mountain Park. More headlamps and eventually I passed a few more runners though this tough climbing and technical section before catching up to our earlier friend, Todd and finishing that Gahuti trail loop with him.
It was light out when I got to the aid station at mile 75, and I was well taken care of by Brad and the aid station crew as they fed me spaghetti. Now that I think of it, that might be my first ever spaghetti breakfast, but I needed food and it sounded so good. Todd’s family had greeted him, and he indicated that he might like a nap. Brad informed me that Ana had dropped from the race, and he was leaving to get her and bring Alex to pace me to the finish. I tried to finish up and head right back out where I met Alex about a mile down the trail. This was the long 301 loop in Fort Mountain Park that Alex and I knew so well and had been on way too many times together. We stopped briefly so I could take off all my warm layers from the cold night as it had started to warm up in the morning sun. We had just gotten to the bottom of the powerline switch backs when Alex told me he saw a carrot! If you’ve paced me in a race, you know I like to chase carrots late in a race. My goal is always to try and take care of myself the first 2/3 of the race so I can finish strong the final third. That’s when I like chasing people down. So, Alex thinks I’ll catch this person on the climb up the powerlines when I’m sure I’m almost on my last gasp of doing anything. Then just as Alex suggested, I’m easily able to pass and finish the huge powerline climb with Alex’s encouragement the whole way. After the climb we hit the aid station in the park one last time where I dumped everything from my pack, got more food to eat and headed out for the final stretch of the race. This time Erin Barbely joined Alex and me to pace the final miles. Erin had come up last minute as we thought we’d want an additional pacer to help Ana.
Brad met us one last time at the next aid station and then it was downhill to the finish. NO IT WASN’T! But it wasn’t all uphill either. Erin led the way and kept me running when we weren’t climbing, we all got our feet wet at the last big water crossing and made our way to the final miles that were finally downhill. Now Alex sees more carrots and I try to tell him I’m not vegetarian, but it was the motivation as I ran every bit of the final few miles passing at least 2 runners before crossing the finish line. It was an amazing feeling having such a strong final 40 miles on this tough course!