Dark Sky 50 Miler Race Report

This race really deserves its own report, for sure. Truly one of the most beautiful races I have run but that’s getting a little ahead of things, so let me back up some.
My friend Stephanie Johnson, from Knoxville, TN asked me several months ago to come join her on this 50 mile run. We run at about the same pace, have run several other races together, and enjoy each other’s company. She had lodging figured out, so I was all in! With Stephanie planning the details, I barely even looked at the weather or race information prior to heading up to Tennessee for this inaugural race.
The weather looked great, other than some rain the day and night before, and the course looked to be mostly runnable with around 5,000 ft of climbing. No problem. I met Stephanie and her parents at the camp site (A.K.A. lodging) the afternoon before the race. Later, her friend and running buddy from Knoxville, Bobby Trotter, joined us at the campsite. Bobby was going to crew and pace us. I had met him at other races and was happy to see our friend. Later that night as Stephanie and I were falling asleep in our tent, listening to the rain come down, we discussed our “goal” of a sub 12 hr finish for the 50 miler. We both agreed that we were very capable and felt this would not be a problem.
We were up and ready for the 6:00 a.m. start time. It had gotten light out long before that and the sun wouldn’t set that night until just before the 14 hour cutoff time. (You can do that simple math!)

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Our group of friends just before the start

We started on a simple 2.7 mile loop just a hundred yards from the starting line. Right away, the scenery was a beautiful section of single track trail, and we ran under huge limestone overhangs. The trails were technical, single track with gently rolling hills, which suited both of our running styles well. We came out of the loop feeling comfortable that we had started off at a good pace, not too fast, and about the front of the middle pack. We headed back to the start area and then had 2 miles of road before dropping onto the Hidden Passage Trail for the next 4.5 miles. Every section of trail we ran on was prettier than the one before. We encountered endless limestone overhangs that often had water dripping off the side of them. We would run under and through these overhangs as we worked our way along the single track trail. The vegetation was green and luscious from the recent rain and was well hidden from the sunlight in the dense forest. We enjoyed seeing the moss and ferns along the way, while keeping a close eye on the technical trails. We had completed nearly 9 miles when we came to our first AS, which was water-drop only.

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A “proof of life” selfie early in the race!

There were several other runners at this AS, but we didn’t need any supplies and kept moving. The few runners we saw there would be a few of the only other runners we would see throughout the race. We were never passed by other runners during the entire race, so we continued to believe we were strongly in the middle of the pack. We experienced our first rough patch in the next 4.7 miles to the first full AS. We followed a creek that was very shaded and the trail was very wet from recent rains. It probably never dries out much. The trail was more technical, covered with rocks, and we had to cross lots of wooden plank bridges. The wood on the bridges was so slippery that it required great caution to carefully get across them. Just as we got back into our running groove we would have to stop to cross another wooden bridge. This would be the only section where I took a fall when my feet came out from under me on a wet rock and I fell on my left arm with no time to try and catch myself. Luckily the landing was soft and I was up and off again with no injuries.
We were very happy to get through that section and see our crew, Bobby and Stephanie’s parents, at the 13.6 mile AS at Divide Road. I took off my long sleeve shirt while Stephanie got rid of her jacket, got our packs refilled and were quickly on our way. The next 6 miles were some of our favorite running of the day. The scenery was beautiful and we were able to run almost the entire section before we went to the top of the John Muir Overlook. From here, we had amazing views of Big South Fork, then we descended into our next AS at Long Branch. We now had 6 miles to another water drop and then 4 more miles before reaching Charit Creek AS.

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A short section of our muddy rocky fire roads

These 10 miles turned into our least favorite section of the course. It was beautiful, and most of it was beside a large flowing creek, which in many ways made the section enjoyable. But the “trail” was basically flooded fire roads that were rocky and covered in not just water but shoe-sucking mud. At times, we were diverted onto trails that took us around muddy sections, and other times we tried hard to find our own paths around the mud. The scenery was no less beautiful, however, and we even enjoyed one stop at a large creek to soak our feet and wash the mud off of our legs.
We finally got through the next AS and arrived at the Charit Creek AS where we were met again by Bobby and Stephanie’s parents. Stephanie changed her socks and shoes while I changed my socks before we headed out for the first of 2 loops around the 4-mile Twin Arches Loop Trail. The scenery was unbelievable and we decided that a second time around this loop would not be bad at all. Bobby joined us on our second loop and took a few pictures of some of our favorite sections.

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Running through the arch

After one final time through the Charit Creek AS, we were off on the home stretch of roughly 11 miles. We knew the climb out of Charit Creek would be a big one, probably the longest climb of the day. The 2.8 mile climb to Gobblers Knob seemed longer, and at times endless, but we continued to run as much as we possibly could. We had another 3 mile stretch of mostly fire roads as we continued to the final AS. We had passed one runner on the way to that AS, and then another guy we had passed early in the race surprised us by showing up right behind us as we were headed out. After a one mile drop down to Rock Creek and a water-drop AS, we were back on the John Muir trail and then the Hidden Passage Trail again. The trail finished as they put us on 2.3 miles of jeep roads before we were back on the Picketts Park Hwy and a 2 mile stretch into the finish line.

We knew we had run strong all day, kept a steady pace, passed only a few runners along the way but was never passed by others. When we finished in 13:35, just 25 minutes before the cutoff time, we weren’t a bit disappointed! We ran well all day and finished strong at the end. We had even dropped our pacer somewhere in the last 4 miles. We knew we were solid, middle of the pack runners, but only a few other runners came in behind us. Lots of runners ended up with DNF’s and left us near the back of the pack finishers. Almost all of the runners finished well behind their estimated finish times.
In the end, the race course could have had a few more “confidence” markers (although we never once got off course) and the aid stations could have had more “real” food such as PB&Js and cold Cokes. A little less mud would have been nicer, as well! But the course itself could not have been more beautiful or the running company any better!

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We started together and finished together!

Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Miler

I don’t know if most ultra runners are like me; after a big race it’s hard to sit down and process what you just completed and accomplished. It’s a little overwhelming to think through.  I first heard about the Badger Mountain race when I was running with my friend, Mike Bloom, about a year and a half ago.  It immediately caught my attention because it was in my hometown of Richland, in Washington state.  I had no idea a 100 mile race was run there.  Then Mike went on to tell me it was a great race, he was going back to run it again, and I should come join him.  Mike is an Army Ranger and said he could get us crew and pacers, and it would be a great time.  Note to self: Ultra Runner Amnesia sets in shortly after running something, so don’t trust even your best friend or running buddy no matter how great it might sound!

2017 was the year Mike and I were both able to get the race on our calendar and we made our plans to go run it.  I was so excited to run a race in my hometown, spend time with my parents and family, and run in the hills where I used to ride motorcycles as a kid.  Ok, so it’s already sounding a little too good to be true.  I haven’t lived there since I was 18, and just to save you on the math, that was 34 years ago.  When my mom told me my room was ready for me, I got a chuckle because I hadn’t ever lived in their current home.  They had probably moved 10 times since I was 18!  There’s no doubt my parents were excited about me coming and that was very endearing to my heart.

Mike took care of finding us crew but we both struggled to find pacers.  I knew people in my hometown, but no ultrarunners.  Our fall back plan was to run together.  Mike felt sure I’d be stronger, and he didn’t want to hold me back, but we’d at least give it a go and see how the race went. Anne Chrispo-Taylor, a runner from Georgia who had moved to Portland, Oregon was running it, as well.  So I would know at least one other person, and we know ultra runners are friendly – you can chat and run with most everyone.  Well, if it’s a big enough race and others are around you.

I’d like to give you some background on this race but I don’t have much.  The race website clearly states it’s a tough course with 14,000 of elevation gain and a 32 hr cut-off.  They don’t require a qualifying race but do suggest a very tough mountain 50K race prior to taking this on. Weather is also a huge DNF factor in this race with possible freezing temps at night and often high winds on the ridge. I run in Georgia on the Beast Coast, so how hard could this really be?  I doubt they have anything on the Dragon Spine!

I met Mike at the race an hour before the start.  My mom dropped me and all my gear off with Mike, and our one crew person, also named Mike.  Yes, ALL my gear!  I took a checked bag when I flew out that weighed over 50 lbs!  Before you laugh too hard, I used every bit of it and was darn glad I had it!  The coach I’ve been working with since last summer also encouraged me to take more than I need to be prepared.  I didn’t regret that for a minute, and Mike Nielsen, our crew, was happy to handle it for me.  I have to say that if you ever get the chance to have someone with a military background as your crew, whether they are a runner or never been around an ultra race before, you have no worries.  You will be in very capable hands.  You never would have known this was his first time to crew, and he pulled out all the stops to keep us warm and well taken care of in the brutal weather conditions, and even commented when he knew I hadn’t been eating enough.

Mike greeted and introduced me to several of his friends he knew from his years of living and racing in Washington state as we waited for the start.  As predicted for the week leading up to the race, it was indeed raining at the start, and was expected to rain most of the day.  Not the way you want to start a 100 miler, but you learn to roll with it.  Soon we were off and this race starts with a climb up the front of Badger Mountain!  Welcome to the Badger Mountain Challenge! Later, without a doubt we would definitely view this as one of the easier climbs on the course.  It was a nice smooth crushed gravel path that wound it’s way to the top using switchbacks, then down the other side with similar trails and to our first AS and crew stop.  This looked like it might be much easier than expected!

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Just before the start

From the aid station, we crossed a paved road and then climbed up Candy Mountain with similar trails and switchbacks.  Five miles into the race and a couple of the mountain climbs done.  Once we got to the top of Candy, the nice crushed gravel trail abruptly ended and the real race course began.  We encountered a steep downhill with loose rocks and at the bottom we went through a culvert (my first culvert in a race).

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Culvert under the Freeway

We then had many miles of road, which for the record I don’t like.  Did I say I don’t like roads?  I may tell you a few more times before I’m done.  We ended up running a total of 34 plus miles of paved roads.  The course had been changed just weeks before the race due to some of the private land no longer being accessible for the race.  What was originally going to be a 50 mile loop done twice, was now an out and back course done twice.  So after we made our way through the culvert and several road miles we got to the next AS where we met our crew again.  We then had 4 more miles of paved roads that wound around vineyards and orchards before we literally dropped onto trail again.  We looked across a steep valley that had a climb going straight down and then straight up – probably 300 ft of elevation going down and up.  This kind of straight down hill trail jams your toes into the front of your shoes!  It wasn’t a mountain but it was a BAH (Big Ass Hill)!  If you had to only do it once you probably wouldn’t give it much thought, but knowing you had to go up and down this thing a total of 4 times wasn’t a particularly comforting thought this early in the race.  A few more  miles of rocky jeep roads brought us to the Orchard AS.  The next few aid stations were a little closer together and we got to our crew again in about 3.5 miles, then another 1.5 miles of paved road before we hit the McBee Parking AS.  This became a sort of home base for our crew for a few hours.  We would now climb up McBee Mountain and cross a 4 mile ridge to the turnaround AS.  First, we had to get up McBee Mountain.

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Coming into McBee Aid Station

It was still raining while we climbed to the top of McBee Mt, and the mountain was covered in fog, so there was no visibility.  That was probably a good thing.  The climb was roughly one mile of very steep single track trail, so steep you climbed on your tip toes.  You think that when you get to the top, it’s all good.  But it’s raining pretty good when you hit the ridge, and the wind is blowing around 40 mph.  The trail on the ridge is 4 miles of very technical and loose rocks with more climbs to get to the turnaround AS, and the wind is trying to blow you off the mountain.  We finally got to the AS and some much needed shelter from the wind.  But that brief sense of accomplishment was overshadowed by the thought that you must first get back across the windy ridge and then you’ll have to do it all again on the second out and back.

Mike and I stayed together and as we headed back across the course.  We would solve any issues that came up when we saw our crew and began to talk about the plan once we got back to the 50 mile turnaround. At the 50 mile mark, you can drop your race down to that distance.  If you choose to keep going it will now be a DNF if you quit later.  Just for the record, we never discussed it.  The rain had finally stopped by this point.  We got to the AS and changed into dry, warm clothes for the night, dry socks, and I also had some blisters to patch up.  Mike was already dealing with chaffing, IT Band issues, an ankle he had rolled, and blisters as well.  We made our stop as quick as possible.  I took time to send a text message to my mom, letting her know that Mike and I were doing well, we had stayed together, changed into warm clothes and were heading back out.  This relieved her from a sleepless night of worry.  Soon we were off for the second out and back.  Even as we left, several other 100 milers were sitting there, deciding whether they would go out for a second time.

We were now warm, we had our head lamps, knew the route, and what was coming next.  We had a great power hiking pace and were stilling running well on the downhills and flats.  As we got to the culvert for our second time, the first place runner was passing us and heading back to the finish line.  We were now on the long road section.  Did I already mention I hate the roads?  We made our way back to McBee Mountain, roughly 70 miles into the race.  Mike got his gloves and we bundled up, ready for what we knew would be the toughest part of our race.  The first time climbing up McBee Mountain, we kept a good climbing pace.  This second time, it was a slow, painful climb, just the beginning of our greatest struggle in the race.  On the way up, we said that if we could just make it to the top we wouldn’t complain about the ridge.  But nothing could have prepared us for the high winds and freezing cold that awaited us at the top.  We fought through the cold, strong winds just to move forward over the very rough, rocky ridge that seemed endless.  There are no words to describe how brutal the weather was on this ridge.  My hands were cold, and although we both had our poles with us, I had to put my hands in my pockets, even with gloves on, to keep warm (tucking my poles under my arm).  It seemed like forever until we got even close enough to see the turnaround AS on top of the far off hill on the ridge.  With the wind blowing so hard and having our hoods, buffs and hats pulled up high, we couldn’t hear each other to talk.  So we had to settle for hours of listening to the wind and fighting to stay upright on the trail.  Once again, finally getting to this AS gave us much needed shelter from the wind and cold.  As soon as we ducked in there, we were greeting by lots of other runners who were taking their time and trying to warm up.  Gunhild Swanson was volunteering at this AS after running the 50 miler during the day.  What an incredibly kind and inspiring woman.  They served us warm soup, waited on our every need, and even gave us hand warmers before we headed back out to fight our way once more across the ridge. (Tip I learned from Mike here, put the hand warmers in your gloves on top of your hands, not in the palms.  The veins are on top, and that is the fastest way to heat up your fingers.  Just another advantage to running with an Army Ranger).  It seemed like the ridge would be our last great hurdle, but we both knew there were still several more good climbs, as well.

When we finally dropped off the side of the ridge, the sun began to come up and we were back on downhill single track, allowing us to make up some time and finally run for the first time in quite a while.  Back at the next AS, I changed shoes and socks, and repaired more blisters for the last 20 mile stretch, knowing there would be around 7-8 miles of road.  Did I mention I hate the roads?  I thought I did.  I texted out a few updates and we headed back towards the finish.  We knew we had plenty of time and had hopes of moving at a good pace and making up time on the road sections.  We started to come across more and more struggling runners as we just kept moving at a steady pace.  The next time we got to our crew, I handed Mike my phone to charge so I could get it back at the final AS and have it with me at the finish.  While we started out running sections of the road, it became a struggle to keep a running pace.  Mike was really hurting between his ITB, chaffing, ankle and blisters, but he never complained.  He’s army strong!  We headed back over Candy Mountain, feeling a little more hope knowing it would be our last really tough climb.  The back side of it was straight up and covered in loose rocks, making it extremely slow going at mile 94.  Once we hit the top, we were back on the crushed gravel switchback and we could again move at a better pace.  Mike tried as hard as he could, but a shuffle was all he was able to do.  We made it across the last road and to the final AS and crew.  We knew we had only one last climb, back up Badger Mountain with switchbacks, and then downhill for another 2 miles to the finish.  I sent my mom a final update letting her know I was about an hour from the finish.  Mike was visibly in pain but never said a word about it.  The wind was strong at around 30 mph and it was again hard to have a conversation without being right next to each other.  I went slow with Mike as we made the long climb up Badger Mt.  I told him the good news was we would finish.  The bad news was we wouldn’t make it in sub 30.  If we wanted to sit at the top of the mountain for a while we could be DFL, but of course we had no interest in doing that.  Once we crossed over the top ridge and onto the downhill side of the mountain, I began to finally run again.  I knew Mike was moving slower but I was ready to get out of the wind and end this race.  I ran the last 2 miles downhill at a good pace and was happy to be finishing strong.  Just as it started straight up Badger Mountain, the race ended coming straight down, and there was a nice cheering crowd at the finish. With my Mom, Dad, and sister there to watch me, I have to say it was one of the sweetest 100 mile finishes I have completed!  The perfect ending to a very tough course in my hometown!

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Getting my buckle from the RD, Jason Reatherford

Ten minutes later, Mike came down the mountain.  I met him and ran the last few hundred yards to the finish with him.  We had done it together!  It was a team effort that kept each of us going.

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Buckle Up!

And it was a team that got us through!  Mike Bloom and I were just the runners.  We could not have made it without the help of Mike Nielsen, who crewed us, the awesome AS and race volunteers, Jason Reatherford, a great RD, our family and friends supporting us, and those of you who followed our journey as we conquered the Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Miler!  NEVER AGAIN!  Did I mention I hate the roads?

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Me, Mike Bloom and Mike Nielson, somewhere mid race

Pinhoti 100 Race Report, November 5-6, 2016

Most race reports seem to start with some back ground story, I didn’t want to disappoint you.  Last year I lined up at the starting line with my friends, Carrie and Lisa with our eyes focused on the finish and that coveted buckle.  I could give you a long list of what went wrong from non-stop train to freezing overnight rain but in the end it was a DNF.  We had a great 65 mile run but didn’t make it to the finish line.  I knew for certain I wasn’t done with Pinhoti.

After the Cruel Jewel 100 miler under my belt in May (or maybe that’s on my belt), I seriously started looking towards Pinhoti.  I enlisted the help of a professional coach and signed up once again for race.  It wasn’t long before both Carrie and Lisa offered to help crew and pace me or do whatever I need to make it to the finish.  Later, one of my favorite running buddies and pacers, Rebecca Watters, offered to help pace me as well.  I knew I’d want her help to get me down Blue Hell and out to Porters Gap.  Blue Hell left both Carrie and Lisa a little too black and blue from last year to want to pace that section.

Another one of my favorite running buddies from Knoxville, Stephanie Johnson decided to join me for Pinhoti, so I knew I’d have good company along my journey.  David Yerden, running powerhouse and friend, asked if he could also join us. After struggling in his last few 100 milers, he thought hanging together would give him a little extra support until he got to his crew.  David could help us set a good pace to meet our goals, and we could keep him from going out too fast. Stephanie would have crew and pacers at mile 41, and David would pick up his crew and pacers at mile 55, Adams Gap. I knew I had all the training, support, help and mental strength to get it done this year. I was ready for my redemption but I also sensed it wouldn’t come easy.

I sleep pretty well the night before races, because at that point there’s no reason to stress when there’s nothing else you can do.  We all arrive at the race start on Saturday morning with plenty of time to greet many of our friends and use the bathrooms before go time.

p4Kirby, David, me and Stephanie ready to roll

As we lined up ready to start I immediately find that my Garmin watch battery is low.  I took it off and handed it to my crew so they could charge it and give it back to me at one of the next aid stations.  I feel so insecure without my watch, but maybe it would be good to just to just trust those I was running with and run by feel.  Pinhoti always starts in a sort of cluster, with lots of runners going down a short stretch of gravel road before lining up to squeeze onto the single track trail.  Most of the way through the first couple of aid stations were on and off “conga lines”.  Right away, we got a nice pace rolling and were moving comfortably, not too slow but not too fast, either.  We came through the 2nd AS at Shoal Creek and were 50 minutes ahead of cutoffs.  My heart sank.  Last year we were 45 minutes ahead of cutoffs at this point and never managed to get much more ahead the entire day.  Immediately my first thoughts were how are we going to make it?  Both David and Stephanie reassured me that we were doing great, we’d picked up enough time, and we would continue to build upon it.  My crew had just gotten my Garmin back to me fully charged so I could start keeping up with our mileage, but I felt completely lost on our total time since my watch was off for over 13 miles.

The next few sections run smoothly for all of us.  We were all very quick to get what we needed at each AS, and Stephanie and I had our crew to remind us to eat and check on us.  We slowly began to pick up some time as we moved through AS 3 & 4 and then out to AS 5 at Lake Morgan.  We all had drop bags at Lake Morgan, as it was our first chance to have one and we had no crew access there.  I had put a cold Coke and Ginger Ale in my bag in a small soft ice cooler when I dropped my bag off the night before at the race meeting.  Stephanie and I both enjoyed that nice treat.  BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Running Society) was running this Aid Station, so David and I got to say hello to lots of our BUTS friends.  Ronnie Robertson took mine and Stephanie’s “proof of life” picture here at mile 27 and posted our status update on Facebook.

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Morgan Lake AS

We had a long 7.5 mile section from Morgan Lake to Blue Mountain AS. In the past this has been just a water drop so we weren’t expecting an actual AS.  I had run out of water in my pack several miles out from the AS but still had Tailwind in my water bottle in the front of my pack.  This section felt endless as we were anxious to get the Blue Mtn AS and begin the climb to Bald Rock at Mt. Cheaha State Park. When we finally arrived at Blue Mtn we were surprised to find people, food,  and supplies, not just bottles of water.  We all filled up quickly, grabbed food and headed out.  David knew lots of the runners and we climbed up the last stretch to the top with a runner he knew.  It was not far from the top when David started feeling rough.  He said he sort of felt low on energy, so Stephanie gave him some Vitamin B chews and we discussed what he might need to do when he got to the top of Cheaha.  Stephanie and I had our crew and pacers waiting for us, and David wanted to make sure that he could continue to stay with my pacer, Rebecca, and I when we headed out.

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Carrie and Lisa had some warm chicken bone broth waiting for me.  I drank a good amount of that, some Ginger Ale, and ate bacon Rebecca handed me.  A quick change of my shirt into something dry and I was ready to go.  David was sitting in a chair and I knew he didn’t look ready to roll, but Stephanie was already ahead of us and I wanted to get started.  The three of us caught up with Stephanie and her pacer on the road just before headed down the Steep Lake Trail, better known as Blue Hell.  One of the things people will tell you about running Pinhoti 100 is “get down Blue Hell before dark.”  This section can be so tricky, but we had gotten here with daylight to spare.  Navigating this section in the dark, rain and fog last year was not fun, this year proved to be much better as Rebecca led the way for David and I.

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Picked up Rebecca, one of my favorite pacers at Mt. Cheaha

Once you get down Blue Hell, it’s 1.2 miles of paved road and then a turn onto FS600-3 for another 1.3 miles to the next AS.  David started to slow down while running on the paved road, where it had become dark.  Rebecca got out her handheld torch light so we didn’t have to put on headlamps just yet.  The handheld gave us all plenty of light to run on the smooth road, but David continued to fall back.  Rebecca moved into her awesome crewing mode of trying to pull David out of his slump by giving him some food to eat.  We knew he was continuing to struggle and he said he didn’t want to slow me down, so after turning onto the fire road Rebecca told me to keep going, get to the AS and we’d get me taken care of and then get David what he needed to turn him around.  When we got there, I was feeling good and we waited as David sat down and my crew tried to assess what we could do for him.  He didn’t look like he was feeling very well.  I drank more broth and drank some Ginger Ale.  I knew David had 10 miles to his crew and pacers, and I desperately wanted to see him get there.  David urged me to keep going, and I suggested to Carrie and Lisa that we try and reach his pacers and have them come to this AS to help him.  Leaving David after 45 miles together, not knowing how his race would end, was heartbreaking for me.  The reality that your race can turn on you at a moment’s notice was hitting home for me.  I was all too aware of the carnage that gets left on this course.

Rebecca led the way as we left Silent Trail AS and David behind, and onto 7 miles of very rocky technical trails.  This was a very long stretch but it went pretty fast as now Rebecca and I had time to catch up with one another.  She helped set a good moving pace for us, running the flats and downhill’s, hiking the climbs, trying to bank more time ahead of the cutoffs.  We got into Hubbard Creek AS, mile 52 where I sat down for the first time.  I had got some Coke and a chicken quesadilla and was sitting for a minute to eat while Rebecca filled my pack and grabbed some food for herself.  There were lots of runners here and the aid station workers were eager to wait on us and get us what we needed.  I drank another Coke and ate a lettuce wrap that was offered to me, as well.  I quickly got to my feet so we could keep moving.  I knew we didn’t have much time to waste and my never ending fear of timing out was kept me motivated.  The next AS at Adams Gap was a short 3.2 miles away where we were updated that David’s crew and pacers had reached him and he was moving.

The section between Adams Gap and Clairmont Gap was the beginning of rough, rocky fire roads that started a beat down on my feet.  This section of the course had been closed earlier in the week due to fires, and although they were under control, there was still lots of smoke.  We reached Clairmont and kept going on to Chandler Springs, but still had to run a couple more miles on rough fire roads.  Once we hit the single track trail again, we were able to keep moving at a good pace to get to mile 65.  I felt a huge sense of relief getting to this aid station, because this was where we dropped last year.  But even though I felt great and I was moving well, my angst about finishing wouldn’t go away.  As I grabbed my poles for the climbs ahead, I had one last 3 mile stretch to go with Rebecca and hoped to bank a few more minutes against the cutoffs before she left me at Porters Gap AS.  I drank more broth at Porters Gap, said goodbye to Rebecca, and Lisa jumped in to pace me for the climb to the Pinnacle AS and on towards Wormys Pulpit.  Lisa and I both ate a little after our climb up to Pinnacle.  She tried to get me to eat more, but I felt really good and while my stomach wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, either.  Looking back on it, I think my stomach was actually good but nerves and stress were getting the best of me.  Lisa and I maintained a good hour plus lead on the cutoffs, but that didn’t help settle my nerves.  I knew this race can take down lots of runners in the last few miles, so we kept pushing and moving.  After leaving Wormys Pulpit we were on more rough fire roads, and my poor feet were feeling the pain.  Just before leaving the ridgeline, the course finally got back on the trail.  We ran what we could and dropped down into Bulls Gap where Lisa would jump out of pacing duty and I would pick up Carrie for the final 15 mile push.

Now I was feeling the pinch.  Everyone at Bulls Gap was cheering on the runners and waiting for the last ones to come through for the last 15 miles, but I knew there was still no guarantee of finishing. Terry, who was crewing for Stephanie, assured me that I had 5 hours to go 15 miles, I had time, and I was going to finish.  Carrie and I quickly left the aid station and we started down what I knew was 15 miles of almost all fire roads and then a final stretch of paved road to the finish.  We started out running the initially smoother fire roads before I negotiated with her to allow me to power hike instead of run/walk.  With each step, I was now struggling as my feet were in so much pain.  We had all worked way too hard for me to get to this point and not find some redemption in finishing this race.  Carrie helped me put my head down and get it done, while I tried not to complain, at least not too much, anyway.  Once we finally got to the final few miles and the paved road, which is the most excited I have ever been to see paved road (if you know me at all, you know I hate running on roads), Carrie texted Lisa and let her know we were headed in.  Lisa came out and met us, making the final mile and a half a celebration and victory lap for Team Unicorn as they guided me into the stadium towards the finish line.

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This buckle took me 165 miles to get! 

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Team Unicorn’s Redemption, take that Pinhoti 100!

215 runners toed the start line, and 145 would cross the finish.  David along with many others will be back for his buckle.  Without the support of my team, Carrie, Lisa, and Rebecca, I never could have crossed the finish line.  David and Stephanie got me through the first half of the course, setting a great pace for us and encouraging me along the way.   Coach Sally guided me through my months of training to reach my goal.  My best friend, greatest supporter, and partner in life, Ed took good care of my sweet Summer and son at home so I could go do my crazy.  I couldn’t have done it without each of you. Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rim to Rim to Rim, Grand Canyon, September 26, 2016

I’m not sure how to even begin to tell you about this adventure.  It’s not a race but just a very well known run to do in the ultra running community; unless you are an avid hiker or trail runner the term “Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim” probably means nothing to you. For ultra runners it’s a bucket list item. For me (and my group I went with) it meant going down the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to the Colorado River, then following the North Kaibab Trail across the base of canyon and up to the North Rim, and then reversing direction all the way back to the South Rim.   The route we went, totaled 48 miles which we would complete in less than a day.

I should probably give you a little back ground here.  I had never been to the Grand Canyon before.  As hard as that might seem to believe, at 52, this was my first trip.  I had seen pictures and we’d been planning this trip for almost a year now.  My friends Carrie and Lisa, who I’ve run many ultra marathons with over the last couple of years, have also enjoyed some other great running adventures together. Carrie had done this trip a couple years ago with friends of hers from Wisconsin (where she grew up) and some of them were planning a trip back to experience it once more.  There would be room for Lisa and I to join them on this return trip to the Canyon.  With their previous experience on this run, we left all the planning and details to them.  A date was picked for late September 2016.

So with our plans all set, Carrie, Lisa and I flew into Phoenix on Saturday, September 24th and drove from there to Flagstaff, Arizona to meet up with the Wisconsin crew and another runner from Georgia. Another local running friend from Georgia, Janet was joining us for our run, but because of her tight schedule she would only be able to run down the Canyon to the River and back up, also called Rim to River.  Later that afternoon we all converged on Flagstaff where we spent the rest of the day and most of the next day, before heading over to the Grand Canyon.

My first look at the Grand Canyon, trying to take in what we are about to  do

Our group met up at 4:00am the next morning in the Bright Angel Lodge for a quick group picture before heading down to the trail.  We all have our headlamps on and know that it will likely be a couple of hours in the dark before the sun comes up.  We carefully travel this first steep downhill section in the dark and hit the Indian Garden camp ground just as the sun rises.  This is my first trip to the canyon and in the canyon, so I’m in awe as I take the whole trip in.  I tried to take a few pictures to capture it all, but later when it seems that my iPhone camera just doesn’t do it all justice, I forgo taking more pictures.  Most of the pictures I’m sharing are from Carrie’s snap on camera she wears on her pack.

Our group at 4am and some early photos on our trip down

Once through the Indian Garden Camp Ground area we head down to the Devils Corkscrew section, taking us further and deeper into the canyon.  Soon after we left Indian Garden area two members of our group from Wisconsin told us to all go ahead and not wait on them.  They were only doing the Rim to Rim and staying overnight on North Rim before taking a shuttle back the next day.  So their pace plan would be much slower, and the rest of our group moved ahead.

From Indian Garden down the Corkscrew to the Colorado River

Typically on a run, I would think the whole way down a big hill how I would have to come up it later, but those thoughts didn’t run through my head.  I was really so busy taking in the moment and knowing it would be so much later and mostly likely dark before I was going up, I didn’t think much about that part.  The Devils Corkscrew sections is 3.2 miles that winds you down to the Colorado River.  Then it’s another 1.5 miles along the beautiful Colorado River to what is called the Silver Bridge where we would cross.  It was at the water stop just after crossing the bridge that Janet, our Georgia friend must turn back.  After a bathroom break and water fill up the rest of us head to Phantom Ranch where we stop again, this time for some famous Lemmy’s Lemonade.

The Colorado River crossing and Lemonade at Phantom Ranch

Once we leave Phantom Ranch it’s 7 miles across the base of the Canyon before we start to climb out the North side.  The temperatures were beginning to rise as we made our way across the canyon floor.  I still found myself in awe with each turn and step as I wanted to take it all in and enjoy the moment I was in.  It did seem to get quit warm before we reach Cottonwood Campground on the other end of the canyon base.  There was shade there along with another water stop and chance to eat some snacks and assess how everyone was feeling.  All was well as we headed out just a few miles to the Pump house Station which is the last water and bathroom before going up the North Rim.

From Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood Campground

Now we reach the first real climbing, 3.7 miles up to the Supai Tunnel. Our group of 5 now begins to really spread out more as we climb and chat a little less during this time. Carrie, Lisa and I climb at a more steady pace up the canyon as the other 2 trail behind. The views from the North trail are incredible and somewhat scary as we climb, with a Canyon wall on one side of us and a drop off just on the other side.  Because I’ve not done this before and have done little to no research, but am following the plan set out before me, I really have no idea where we are with regards to the top of the climb.  I hear talk about the tunnel and then certain miles to the top but all of that means nothing to me.  So we just keep climbing and climbing.  Once we finally reach the bridge and Supai Tunnel it’s still a few miles from the top.  We finally get to jump out of the path of the Mule Train coming down, we had waited all day to hopefully see some mules.  During the last few miles of climbing, I start thinking about the Lodge on the North Rim and how I might run down there (1.7 miles) after getting to the top to bring us all back some cold Coke.  After the afternoon in the heat nothing seemed to sound better, and we knew the others were a little ways behind us and might also enjoy a cold drink.

The views coming up the North Rim were spectacular

Once Carrie, Lisa and I got to the top and took our packs off, I looked around for a ride to the North Rim Lodge in hopes of finding cold drinks.  A very nice guy and his son from Georgia (of all places) gave me a ride there.  I did some quick scouting and found that other than a fountain drink there were not sodas or water sold in cans or bottles.  So off I went, running back, empty handed, to the rim trail entrance to meet up with the others and keep them from waiting too long for me.  The others had just gotten in and were assessing how they all felt.  One girl from our team was not feeling too well due to the heat down in the canyon and was resting hoping to feel better.  We discussed who was headed back and when we might go.  I was feeling really good and ready to head out but no one was ready to commit to going back with me.  Carrie opted to stay with her Wisconsin friends until they figured out if the one would be feeling better and able to go back, and Lisa and I headed back together.  Once we left the North Rim we soon realized we would have no way of knowing for certain if one or all of them were headed back or staying the night on the North Rim.  It would be more than 12 hours before we would find out the answer to that question.

Lisa and I were both feeling really good and ran down the North Rim, being a little more careful on the turns and stopping only briefly to get drinks at the water stops. Within a few miles we come across the other two from our group who are only going to the North Rim and saying the night there.  I’m sure they were happy to see familiar faces as we exchanged some conversation and continued down.  We made it back to Cottonwood Campground in what seemed pretty good time.  We both needed to refill our packs, use the bathroom and eat a snack before heading out from there.  Our next goal would be to keep pushing and get as far as we could in daylight, although we went ahead and got our headlamps out while we were stopped.  Once it got dark we found it getting harder and harder to keep our running pace and began mostly hiking the later section to Phantom Ranch.  We came into the ranch as it was definitely dark and were happy Phantom Ranch store was open and we could get some more Lemonade.  We knew less than a mile from here would start our climb back up the South Rim.  I remember us crossing the Silver Bridge and thinking in the dark just how long it was, during the day it seemed to be much shorter and faster to cross.  The climb out would take Lisa and I several hours and most of it not really knowing exactly where we were in the climb with the exception of major land marks like Indian Garden and water stops along the South Rim.  At one point during our climb Lisa and I stopped, sat back against the Canyon Wall, shut our headlamps off and looked up.  We looked at the dark canyon walls in the night with the sky above filled with bright stars everywhere.  Carrie had told us to do this, and it really was something amazing to take in.

Lisa and I finally reach the top of the Canyon and head back into Bright Angel Lodge to have our photo taken by the same lady who had taken it that morning.  She was amazed at our adventure, while we were too tired at the moment to take in our accomplishment.  In many ways, maybe you can never fully take it in.  Lisa and I head to our hotel room for some cold Chocolate Milk and snacks we had waiting for us, warm showers and a warm bed.  I laid in bed afraid to fall asleep for fear of not hearing Carrie come to the door knocking and needing in after she arrived.  It would be several hours later before she would come knocking and me dozing on and off in wait.

Lisa and I just after we finished, also a picture of a neckless that my work (David Douglas Diamonds and Jewelry) made for me before I left for this trip.  I put it in my pack and carried it with me on my R2R2R adventure.  Once Lisa and I got back to our room, I dug it out and put it on.  I’ve been wearing it every since.

The next morning before leaving we would take another look at the canyon and get a whole new perspective of the adventure we had been on.  Rim2Rim2Rim was an  incredible  journey, but not one to be taken lightly.  Our group all runs long distances and tackles some pretty good elevation change on a regular basis, but it was still a challenge to take on the climbing involved in the mile deep canyon.

We take a look back to see just what we did, or really the beginning, the green section down the middle of the big pictures is Indian Garden which is about 5 miles down.  The enormity of the Canyon is more than I can take it.  I’m sure I’ll go back to explore it again!

Mystery Mountain Marathon, October 9, 2016

 

This was a hard one.  Well, all of them are hard, actually, but it does seem like some are harder than others.  Sometimes it’s just not our day.  Maybe we are tired, our nutrition might be off, our mind isn’t quite with it, or for whatever reason the run just seems like such a struggle.  We can try to just enjoy a beautiful day for running and some beautiful scenery, but it’s hard to enjoy that while our head is focused down on the trail.

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Fort Mountain, Chatsworth, GA

I had a goal, a plan.  I even shared it out loud.  Normally I don’t share a goal.  It’s like bad luck – I might jinx myself or something.  But there you go, I said it out loud – I really wanted a sub 6 hr finish.  This would be my third time running this race.  It’s 26 miles with 7,000 ft of elevation gain, lots of single track technical trails (my favorite), long stretches of rocky fire roads and some gnarly downhill sections.  Previously, my best time was 6:16 and each time I’ve run it, I’ve also been the Grand Masters Female 1st Place Finisher.  This year I have been training with a coach and felt like I was stronger and had a good chance of reaching my goal.  I also asked a couple of my running friends, Bill and Loren, if they would pace me.   I knew with a little push, I could stay running on sections I had walked in previous years, and that should help me reach my goal.

Promptly at 8am, the race started with a bang, literally from a cannon.  Like most races it started out on a short road section before entering the trails, then within a mile or so the trail narrows to some single track and very technical sections.  This is my favorite part of the course, but today it took me several miles before I felt like I really settled into a comfortable pace and run.  I know I’d pushed myself up to the front a little more than normal and was running strong with my two friends, Loren in front setting the pace and Bill just a few steps behind me.  We all stayed together and pushed through nearly 5 miles of trails before Bill took the lead and moved further ahead.  He had been struggling with stomach issues all week and I knew he was not feeling great, so I was happy to see him push ahead and find his own groove.  I also knew Loren would continue to set a good pace and help me to push even when I didn’t feel like it.

At each aid station, we got an update on how far Bill was ahead of us.  Sometimes it was a couple minutes, and later it was more like 5 or 6 minutes.  He would leave word that he expected us to catch up to him as he continued to struggle with his stomach issues, but he seemed to be having a great race anyway.

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I really was having a good time

Around mile 9 or so, I turned my ankle.  At first, I wasn’t sure just how bad it was, but I was able to walk it off within a few minutes and begin to run pain free again.  It did, however, make me more cautious so I wouldn’t turn it again.  This wasn’t my “A” race and I knew I didn’t want to injure it seriously.  After the mile 10/11 aid station, the fun really began with a steep power line climb and then a downhill that is called the “downhill of despair.”  I guess that should be description enough.  I was hopeful that once we finished the downhill section, the trail would smooth out and the fire roads would not be quite so technical – a little easier running.  But instead, we experienced more rocks and technical sections that made it difficult to settle into a comfortable stride.

Once we went through the next couple of aid stations that seemed to come quickly on the fire roads, we came to what’s known as Conte’s climb.  Most local ultra trail runners and any GUTS Member (Georgia Ultra and Trail Running Society) knows who Franco Conte is.  I’m sure his ears are burning as many of us go up this long climbing section named after him.  The climb isn’t hard because it’s so steep, but because it’s so very long.  Most Georgia runners are used to hills.  We run on them almost daily, and they are usually short and steep.  Long steady climbs that never seem to end are not our specialty, in most cases.  Two weeks earlier, I had been in the Grand Canyon, so this was right up my training tree.  I had this one.  Loren and I were looking forward to reaching  the Last Gasp Aid Station, but it just seemed to take forever.  By the time we got there, I felt I was a little past my Last Gasp.  We caught and passed a few runners here as we headed into the last section of rolling hills with more climbing.  By now, I’m just ready to be done.  Loren pushed us forward and I kept running even when I really wanted to just walk it in to the finish.   I knew I had to keep pushing to stay with him.  He kept track of our time on his watch and let me know we were doing great, but I didn’t really want to know exactly how we were doing.  As long as we were good, that’s all I needed to know.

Soon we were at the top of the power lines, headed down them and into the home stretch.  We both moved as quickly, but carefully, as possible.  We quickly checked in with the aid station crew at the bottom of the hill, and were off around the lake to the finish line.  I told Loren it would take all his strength to push me in, because I was done.  I kept moving forward, trying to finish as strong as I could.

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This was all the push I had left in me

I wish I would have been smiling as I crossed the finish line, because I could not have had more fun.  I got to run on a beautiful course with absolutely perfect running weather, and I spent time with a couple of my favorite runners.  But I was spent.  I gave it all I had that day.  Maybe on a different day it would have been more.

It took a couple of days before I realized I did reach some of my goals.  I did get a PR on the course by 9 minutes, finishing in a time of 6:07, and I was once again the Grand Masters Female 1st Place Finisher!

 

Yeti Snakebite 50K, August 27, 2016

Holy Humidity Batman! I don’t even know where to start with this race! 

Jason Green from Yeti Trail Runners hosts a Yeti Snakebite 50/50 each year at Sweetwater State Park in Lithia Springs, Georgia.  He changes it up each year usually offering 50K and 50M options thus the 50/50 and it’s held the last weekend in August.  August is not known for cool fall weather in Georgia! This year he changed it up and decided a 50K all at night would be a fun, so you had a 50K or 11 miler option!  This would be my 3rd year running the Snakebite 50/50.

Oh and another fun little change this year would be that the looped course (3 loops) would cross a river with a promise of an awesome island Aid Station in the middle.  Now how could this not be the best race of the summer!  If you’ve ever run at Sweetwater State Park, which most of the local ultra runners have all done at some point, you know the trails can be technical and sometimes challenging.

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Pre-race photo with Loren, Lisa, Carrie, myself, Stephanie and Mark

 

As with most races, we started our course with a short distanced on the paved road to a fire road that led us down to a large bridge crossing the river.  I know Sweetwater Park pretty well and have run at some point on most of the trails/roads through places Jason finds for us to run.  So the race really started out in very familiar territory for me.  I knew the trails, I knew the climbs and felt very comfortable with his course markings.  But as fate would have it, running in the heat, horrible humidity and the dark of night at Sweetwater would not be the easiest thing I’d ever done.   The race had started at 7pm so it would be an hour and a half before we were forced to turn on our headlamps.  I was hoping to get as much of the first loop completed before it got dark, thinking this would be very helpful in following the flagging and knowing my way during the dark night loops.

The island Aid Station was everything I’d envisioned, filled with several of my favorite running friends, island music, Christmas lights and a rope to aid our crossing.  A water station for refills was on the other side of the river crossing.  Once across the river during the first loop I felt again comfortable I knew my way around the main trails of the park, but of course a turn onto some trails I hadn’t been on before (or didn’t recognize at night) changed that.  A little extra distance getting off course and missing a turn told me that this had potential to be a long night. 

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River Crossing just before dark

I came in off loop one having run it with Stephanie Johnson, Loren Starr and Tony Taylor for the most part.  Stephanie was struggling with ITB issues and many of my friends and fellow runners were hanging at the Start/Finish and were dropping after the first loop.  Loren was having stomach issues, my Rock Starr friend had run a 20K that morning so he’d already run his A-race for the day, I’m guessing.  The volunteers were trying to get us out of the aid station, probably trying to keep as many moving as possible, so Tony agreed to run with me and we headed out for loop 2.  I had grabbed some cold Coke from my cooler before we left.

I really had no idea of our mileage or what time it was.  I’m usually paying close attention to that during my races but I had my watch setting on “bike” mode when I first started and after changing it a few miles into the course, I just didn’t bother looking at it.  Tony kept track on his and he would occasionally tell me we were doing good, but I asked him to keep the details of what that meant to himself.  All I really wanted to know was we were in good shape!  Well sort of. The second loop was really a mental funk for me.  My stomach wasn’t great but I can’t say it was terrible, I felt tired and just sort of generally struggling to stay focused.  It just seemed like a mental push.  During our second loop Tony and I helped another runner who kept missing the turns.  The course was marked well, but the night was very dark and it was easy to miss them if you didn’t either know exactly where they were or look up very often.  The technical course kept you looking down and I was lucky enough to be familiar with where we were most of the time.  After that our new friend Joey, decided he’d stick with us.  When he asked us if it was ok if he tagged along I remember Tony saying that’s how we roll, no problem.  Joey had drove down from another state just to run a Yeti race and we enjoyed his company for the remainder of the night.

The water crossing on the second loop helped turn things around some for me.  I still wasn’t feeling great but usually about half way through a course, just mentally I can get to a better place.  Because that AS was so remote there was very limited water there and this time through it was all but gone.  We managed to get a small amount from the bottom of one container.  We were fortunate as others behind us got none.  So sorry guys if we took the last of it.

The humidity of the night was really tough.  We got back in after our second loop and just knowing we had only 1 more loop was mentally a game changer for me.  After getting more cold Coke from my cooler, we were getting ready to head out when Stephanie and Loren came in together.  Loren was now really having stomach trouble and dropping, Stephanie said her knee was feeling better and wanted us to wait before we left for the final loop so she could join us.  Stephanie quickly grab something to drink and a bit to eat and caught up as the AS volunteers were again trying to get us all back out on the course.  Being the start and finish area it was very crowded.  If you haven’t done a looped course before, sometimes it becomes more like a party there later in the race and let me tell you, the idea of heading back out for another hard loop in the dark isn’t always the most appealing prospect.  I know some runner who don’t do looped races for that very reason.  It’s just too easy to call it a day (or night as it might be) and quit.  And if you know the Yeti Runners, it’s all about fun and beer!  So hey, there’s that too!  But off we went.

Last loop, we got this!  Our group was now 4 as we headed back out for the final time.  Everyone seemed to be feeling much better and ready to finish.  It’s always nice when you are on a final loop and you know it’s the last time you’ll have to do that climb or section again, and with each mile further into the loop, you’re that much closer to being done.  Another friend of ours, Richard had “leap frogged” with us the entire night and shortly into our loop became the 5th runner of our little group.  The power lines and the hills were tough climbs but we all found energy to run the downhill’s and flatter sections.  We looked forward to the water crossing one last time and everyone really just wanted to go for a swim at that point.  The water was pretty warm and not so refreshing but by the final crossing it felt a little cooler.  And this time through there was water at the AS although we were all well stocked knowing they probably wouldn’t have any.  A quick drink and we were up the hill and off towards the finish.  We again found our energy to run the flatter sections, avoiding the roots and rocks in fear of wiping out during the final stretch, as we headed to the finish and one Big A$$ finishers medal!  Yeti’s do it in style!  Awesome job Jason!

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Yeti Trail Runners, Not a Cult!

H9 50 Miler Race Report, August 13, 2016

First of all you have to question anyone’s sanity to run this race.  Basically you receive a list of waypoints to put into your map, a 50 mile course that in the past has been very loosely marked and best of luck to you!  Over 20,000 feet of climbing starting from Vogel State Park, up the Coosa Backcountry loop and covering a lot of the DRT or Dragon Spine as the runners here call it here in Georgia.  “Fun Times on the Dragon Spine” is the motto of this race.

With Aid Stationed named “Lipstick and Lugnuts” and the “Fire Pit” that promises to be a slave labor camp if you drop there, you are pretty much screwed from the start.  But just getting to the start is a trick in itself.

H9 race has been legendary and quit a well kept secret for years to the local trail runners of North Georgia.  Only by invitation did runners even know about this exclusive club event.  I was invited last year and did the Marathon having no real details of any kind.  Carrie invited me, I signed up, then showed up with her having gotten the map and details from secret locations.  Clearly I was not in the inner circle of information.

This year you could find the club on Ultra Signup and then only after joining the club were you able to then signup for the race itself.  But don’t kid yourself, that did not get you any information.  The lucky ones were on the Facebook closed H9 group page (this maybe a secret in itself).  This is where some limited information is found.  Several weeks of pre-race chatter on this page only served to scare us poor victims who were running the race, not provide useful insight or tips.  We did however get some limited race info emailed to us.  Highlights included, “wear lots of body glide, humidity level will be near 100%,” “course will be marked with orange flags,” and “if the arrow points the same direction as you are moving and says VOGEL – go that way! That is likely your shortest route to the finish.”  Great! We are all set!

Carrie and I drove up to Vogel State Park the afternoon before the race.  We were staying in a cabin close to the finish line.  That night before the race there was a packet pickup, ok well pick up your shirt is about it.  There was a Pre-race “sensing session (a little bit of handholding – but no real information)”.  And just for the record, I did make Perry hold my hand!  Saturday morning before the race start you checked in and they wrote your race number on your arm in Sharpie.  Mingling with the other runners before the start of the race was more like a family reunion with around 50 of your running buddies! Right at 6:30am the RD Perry Sebastian said “go”, that was it.  We were off!  May the odds be ever in our favor!

H9 is said to be named that after the 9 levels of hell.  After running this race, I’m pretty sure there were far more than 9 levels to this hell.  Here’s a few of the H’s we came up with:

Heat
Hills
Humidity (100%)
Hurt
Hot
Hydration
Helpers (they call them enablers)
Hornets
Happy (not so much)
Hallucinogens (well Mushrooms we saw a lot of but I needed an H)
Headlamps (20 hr cutoff)
Humbled!
HAE (Hard Ass Events, the RD’s races)
Hardware (great finishers awards)
Hell yeah! (Do this race again?  Hell NO!)
I’m sure my fellow H9ers could add more to this list!

The race starts off with the climb up the Coosa Backcountry loop.  We enjoyed a fun time climbing and chatting with everyone during this section!  It didn’t take long for the sweat to start rolling off our faces and never stopped.  Before reaching the top of Coosa we turned onto a small fire road towards Bull Gap and some good climbs leading to the Fire Pit.  The toughest climb to the top of Coosa Bald is really from the backside coming off the DRT, so why would we not want to do this 1 mile straight up climb at least a couple of times during this race?  This is after all “Hard Times on the Dragon Spine!” After leaving the Fire Pit and our first AS it was up to the top of Coosa Bald and then a nice drop into Wolfpen Gap which was some of the best running section of the course.

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Brad and I at the top of Coosa Bald the first time up

We got Coke at Wolfpen AS and were quickly off to the next section, it would be around 10 miles to the next AS at Lipstick and Lugnuts with a water drop only in the middle.  These 10 miles were largely fire road sections, much of it was nice running with later roads that had heavy gravel that started to wear on my feet.  After we got through Lipstick and Lugnuts, loaded up with more Coke and snacks, we were onto some of my favorite parts of the course, Yellow Mountain.  This is such a beautiful section with everything covered in green moss and a creek running through it.  Almost makes the climb out of there worth it.  Several more miles of barely used trails and old roads and we are back to the DRT at Mulky Gap and a water stop.

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Crossing the Fairy Bridge in Yellow Mountain

Three miles of climbing on the DRT and out to Fish Gap AS.  The climbs on the DRT in the heat and humidity prove to be no easier than some of Perry’s “trails”.  We were definitely happy to be at Fish Gap and friendly faces there but not looking too thrilled.  We now had a 12 mile looped section to do that is called the “green loop”.  If you weren’t broke down and beaten by this section, there would be little question that after this loop you were toast.  The one thing about running on the DRT and surrounding trails is the beauty.  I try to make a point of noticing the little things and stop to take in the views when I get a chance.  Today the course seemed to be filled with mushroom in all colors and shapes.  So many seemed to be there just to add beauty to our day and this gorgeous course.

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This was just a sampling of the mushrooms

When we got to the AS out on the Green Loop, Mary Dean and her pacer for the loop, Lara had caught up to us.  We all stayed together and enjoyed the rest of the loop, using that word enjoyed very loosely.  We were feeling so happy to be done with the 3.5 mile loop and headed back toward Fish Gap AS, only to hit the terrible climb up the side of the mountain with no real trail, just flags to follow.  Really Perry, this is the best you could do?  I think his name had been used as a curse word several times during this climb and it was still echoing through the forest.  Once back onto the DRT we felt like it would be smooth hiking/running to get back to Fish Gap but soon figured we were much closer to Skeenah Gap and had some monster hills left to climb just to get back to Fish Gap.  It was a brutal finish to the 12 mile green loop.

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Mary Dean, Carrie and I ready to tackle the last 13 miles

Now at Fish Gap with roughly 13 miles to the finish we were feeling good that we would finish ahead of cutoffs.  We also knew ahead were lots of hills to climb and probably dark before we reached the Fire Pit AS.  Mary Dean, Carrie and I set out together.  Carrie was dealing with a little stomach issues and more back pain.  The climbs were getting increasingly tougher and slower for her.  We knew there were at least 4 others behind us all trying to beat the clock.  We all made it to Mulky Gap and more water.  Thompson was there with ice cold water  and were all so happy to see his smiling face.  From there it was another 2 miles of uphill to the Fire Pit.  Two very long miles.  It got dark shortly after we left Mulky Gap and now the hills had Carrie really struggling.  Mary Dean and I eventually moved ahead to get to the Fire Pit and wait on Carrie to get in there.  After getting some food and waiting about 15 minutes the AS “enablers” encouraged us to go on and not wait for Carrie.  It was dark and I hated to leave her but told the workers to have her wait on the Milner’s who were somewhere behind us.  We knew she could finish with them and knew that David was also struggling on the hills.  So we made the decision to go and Mary Dean and I headed to climb Coosa Bald one last time.  After 45 miles and close to 20,000 feet of climb on your legs already, this one is not easier the second time around.  It was a struggle for both of us but with it dark this time at least we couldn’t look up and see the top!  Of course you can never look up and see the top of this long climb, even in daylight!

Now it was all downhill to the finish, but that didn’t prove to be easy. My feet were so sore and hurting from the climbs and then rocky fire roads that tore them up.  Going down was wet, steep and slippery.  Mary Dean and I both struggled and slipped several times making going down slower than we would have liked.  We knew the fire road ahead to lead us into Vogel was only 1.5 miles away and we thought that would bring an easy finish.  The fire road brought more heavy large gravel that was an extremely painful way to finish off 50 plus miles.  We dropped into Vogel finishing out our H9 race!  Mary Dean was not only given her awesome finishers award but some lipstick!  I think there’s a story there but it’s not mine to tell.

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Mary Dean and I put on some lipstick for this picture taken with our finishers hardware!

We waited for the others behind us to finish and Carrie came proudly in DFL just before the cutoff!  She had always wanted to be DFL.  Two of the final finishers, David and Alicia Milner received their sweet 5 year jackets for finishing the race five times.  Now these people really need to have their heads examined.  I know we are all crazy but this is insanity; a straight-jacket might be appropriate! LOL!!  If you see me sporting an H9 jacket 5 years from now, just don’t say a word!