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!

 

Cruel Jewel 100 Race Report, May 13, 2016

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.

 IMG_5222Stephanie, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_5232The 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.

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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.

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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!

Georgia Death Race Report, March 14, 2015

Months of training, planning and running other races all leading up to here. Not only the longest run I’d ever done, the toughest with 40,000 ft of elevation change. From the moment I signed up for this race, we received emails about how we were all going to die, train harder. The race director, Sean Blanton aka Run Bum took great pleasure in telling us how we would surely die on this tough course.

I had originally signed up thinking I would run this race with my friend, Laura. Early on when she had gotten injured I made plans to try and run the race with our friend Lisa, who Laura and I had both met on our very first ultra race. Of course you plan to run together but you also have to be prepared for things to go wrong, someone not feeling well, or even worse and injury. Ed, my husband, had already agreed from the moment I first signed up for the Death Race to be my crew and I had one friend who I had hoped would be able to pace me for the final 20 miles.

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Being an awesome crew person, Ed and I check out aid stations with fellow runner Rebecca and Eric, her crew. What great guys!

Weeks before the race I found a new pacer as my original buddy came up injured. Then to make our nerves even more on edge, the week of the race, as the weather was rainy and not looking good for race day, they reverse the course. I’m still not sure if that made the whole thing more stressful or less. I had fallen so deep into the hype I no longer knew what to expect. I could no longer change things, so I had to go with it, trust my training and stay focused.

Ed and I drove up to Amicalola State Park on Friday afternoon. The car was packed with everything I could imagine I would need. There were 3 aid stations that had crew access. We had planned that after the first aid station at mile 23ish, Ed would need to circle into Dahlonega and pick up my pacer Carrie to meet up with us at Point Bravo Aid Station, mile 43.

Lisa met us at the Lodge in the State Park around 4pm. We had a mandatory pre-race meeting that we had to attend that night, then get dinner and some sleep. Before we did that, our first plan was to get our packs ready, and make final decisions on what to wear and bring. We also had to get Lisa’s stuff moved to our car so Ed could help crew her as well as me. Lisa had crew planning to come up later in the race and meet her by the time we got to Point Bravo, but for now we would share crew.

The meeting was filled with runners. I think we looked more like deer in head lights as Sean when over the course markings, other details along with the explanation of why they had to reverse the course. He told us about the course mileage. He doesn’t use a GPS watch so the mileage they list between AS is “ish” but the cutoff times at the Aid Stations were firm.

How else does one dress for a Death Race!
How else does one dress for a Death Race!

Race morning Lisa and I get up and head to the visitors center at the lower part of the park. The race would start there and climb up 600 some stairs to the top, then run back down the east side trail so that we can run the road back up to the top again. It was raining and the start was slightly delayed waiting on the shuttle buses bringing people who stayed at the finish. Finally we all gather at the start and we are off. We ran a short distance on the road before hitting the stairs. Lisa and I pretty much run the same pace, she helps keep me from going out to fast in the beginning. We stay moving as we climb the stairs and chat with other runners as we are all crammed into the stairs that never seem to end. Finally at the top we head down the trail which is probably some of the most rocky technical section of the course. Once down we hit the road and head to the top again. This time more of a fast hiking pace up the road that is far too steep to run, for us anyway. Once we finally get to the dirt road, well basically the fire roads, we settle into an easy running pace. Lisa has her watch set to remind us to eat every 30 minutes. It sounds like a lot, but they are small amounts of something to eat, and we’ve learned to stay on top of fuel and nutrition. Before long we are at our first Aid Station, Nimblewill Gap. We were both good, looked over the AS table and grabbed a cookie and kept going. We had come into that AS around 2 hours, a full hour and 45 minutes ahead of where we needed to be.

Now from Nimblewill Gap to Jake Bull AS is mostly downhill for 8 miles. We again settled into an easy running pace, not too fast to wear ourselves out but we kept a running pace. The trails were beginning to get wetter and more and more muddy at this point. Within a mile or so, a runner came up behind us and let us know that Lisa’s jacket was falling out of her pack. I looked at her and immediately recognized her as my Facebook friend, Stephanie. We had chatted before on FB after she had been the first female finisher in the Georgia Jewel back in the fall. She settled in and ran with us, as she was running solo and was so happy to find some company. We seemed to make that downhill stretch to Jake Bull in no time. We each grabbed what we needed quickly at AS and were ready to keep moving. The next section was beginning to have larger puddles in the roads and lots of hills going into Winding Stair Gap which was mile 23 and our first crew stop.

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Stephanie met up with her crew here and Lisa and I quickly got what we needed from Ed. Back on the road again, we had another 6.5 miles to Long Creek AS, as the roads got muddier as we went. I had taken off my rain jacket at one point and we were all totally soaked. I put it back on just to keep warm as being wet was giving me chills. Just after the next AS we were finally getting onto the Benton Mackaye trail which were some beautiful single track trail that we were all really enjoying after the 30ish miles on the muddy fire roads. Sapling Gap was at mile 38 and the last AS before we would get to Point Bravo where our crew and pacers would meet us. This awesome AS had grilled cheese sandwiches that we all enjoyed. Still on the Benton Mackaye trail, we came to the swinging bridge where we came across a couple other runners who were looking at a snake. Good thing no one had stomach issues that bridge would have not been fun.

Brad Scott took this picture of us all, and we shared several more miles on the trail with him
Brad Scott took this picture of us all, and we shared several more miles on the trail with him

Just a few more miles and we were at Point Bravo. We had at least 3 hours before the cutoffs and were so happy to see Carrie and Ed standing there to greet us. Lisa’s crew had not shown up yet, and this AS took us a little longer to get what we needed together. Our new friend Stephanie had gotten her pacer and headed out just before us, we wouldn’t get to see her again but we enjoyed some great miles with her. Lisa’s crew showed up just as we were leaving, but soon we were off. The next section, the Duncan Ridge Trail (DRT), also known as the Dragon’s Spine would be the toughest. But as it turned out tougher for reasons we weren’t expecting. We knew the climbs were steep and long, that we already knew. The trail is endless up and down, thus the Dragon’s Spine, again we knew this. We would be doing it in the dark, that we knew as well. But the fog and the mud I don’t think we were quite prepared for. As soon as it was dark and we turned on our lights, we couldn’t see a thing. Trying to adjust to seeing where we were going, we were quickly off the trail, along with Brad and his pacer who was now with us. A little back tracking and we were back on the trail. Following the trail markers and keeping on the trail in the heavy fog took some work, but we finally adjusted and settled into a steady pace. Lisa and I are both strong hikers and we stayed steady. Carrie led the way as we traveled over the DRT. We got to Fish Gap and got some food and coke before heading off towards Mulkey Gap, our last time to see our crew. We just kept moving, that’s what everyone who had done the GDR before had told us, just keep moving. Mulkey Gap was only a few miles and we seemed to be there in no time. We got to our crew and I made a shoe change, unhappy with the shoes I had changed into at Point Bravo. We had gotten to that point in good time, but some rough trails and sections were still ahead of us now.

The next 5 miles were very muddy and slippery. We all had our trekking poles and were using them to keep upright and at times keep from slipping off the side of the trail. This had to be our slowest 5 miles, but as the night wore on it seemed later sections were endless. Finally to White Oak Stomp, we are still several hours ahead of cutoff times and not worrying about the time at all. More grilled cheese and even bacon at this stop. Also Lisa had been looking forward all day to the pie that was promised to be at this AS, it was however pie day, 3/14/15! Apple pie and pumpkin pie, yes please! But before we got to our pie, we were offered shots of Fire Ball! Carrie and I were all smiles!

Carrie and I enjoying the Fire Ball shots
Carrie and I enjoying the Fire Ball shots

We were pointed to the trail and told the next mile was all uphill, very steep climb but after that it was downhill! Off we went. On a mission, we stayed strong, Carrie led us up the hill and to the top of Coosa Bald. One nice thing about doing it in the dark and fog, you have no idea where the top it, so you just keep going. But possibly worse than the climb would be the next 3.5 to 4 miles of downhill. Coosa Backcountry loop is brutal up, but down is treacherous. My now your legs are tired, the trail is muddy and slippery and this section was the most painful for me. My knees were achy and I was ready to hit some flat or even uphill again. Steep downhill was not fun. Finally the last AS Wolf Creek. Carrie crabbed some M&M’s and we had to cross a very cold creek leaving there. Only 3.5 miles left, we got this girls. Three miles of uphill but it would all be over soon. We began to pass runners as we climb at a steady pass up the hill, finally reaching the top and a short distance into Vogel Park were we would soon find the finish line. A finish line was never so sweet. Not knowing if you could do it, would we get cut at an AS, but we never waivered in our determination. We were never negative or doubted for a minute that we would keep going. We finished in just under 21 hours, qualifying us for the Western States Lottery.

Tough as Nails!!!
Tough as Nails!!!