The word that none of us want to hear – rest. Unexpected injury or illness can take out even the best and strongest of runners. We could end up on the sidelines of the racing season for reasons that are beyond our control and be forced to figure out what to do next and how to keep pushing forward. The thought of sitting around and not being able to get outside is like being grounded as a kid, times 10! This can be a frustrating time as we wonder how to retain our fitness and not lose all we’ve gained in our training. When an injury or illness take us out of our game for an extended time, how do we adjust our plan so we are able to come back strong when we get on the trails again? How do you deal with mental aspect of being injured, which may be more challenging than the physical recovery itself?
It may be a doctor, coach, or spouse who’s asking us to take a break and you may have to look at the greater good of what’s being forced upon you.
My experience has taught me that we can’t use the internet to diagnose ourselves and it may require a trip to a specialist. We may have to make the tough decision to give up running for a period of time due to severe injury or serious illness. This requires us to accept the idea that to continue to run is not something we are either able to do or is wise to do for our greater health, whether this means a short rest period of a few weeks or a longer time frame of several months. We can and will come back, but a time of rest is required and we must accept that.
GET A NEW PLAN
The first thing to do when sidelined is to come up with alternative options for fitness. Giving up running doesn’t mean giving up all cardio workouts, core or strength training (unless we have an illness that requires us to completely stop all activity). We can incorporate other activities like spin cycle, weights, indoor rowing, cycling, swimming, and even yoga to name a few.
Many of the fitness clubs we belong to have a variety of classes that can help add accountability into our workout. Most runners need more cross training, so look at recovery time as a way to get stronger in other areas. These other activities can help us stay focused and active while giving our injury a chance to heal.
When we know our break from running is for a certain period of time, we can stay positive by focusing on a goal further out in the future. It may be big adventure or race that is a year away, but the time will go by very quickly. Other times, healing doesn’t come in time frames easily measured, and an extended break from running may force us to look at goals more long term in nature.
My experience in running and racing has taught me that volunteering is often much more rewarding than racing. We can stay involved in our sport by volunteering at a race, either by working an aid station or helping to crew a friend in their race.
While the ultra runner doesn’t like being forced into a period of rest or even admit to injury it is usually the wise decision to fully recover.
Make the tough call and then start planning your steps through it. The goal is to stay mentally strong and physically active while recovering from injury or illness, and hopefully be stronger and wiser when you return to running.
Taking your running to the next level is tough, but you’ll never feel alone along the way
All sports seem to have a certain camaraderie that goes with them. Often teammates share a love for their sport or seem to be part of a brotherhood. In ultra running, the community that runners share seems to go much deeper, way beyond sharing a love for the sport. There’s an immediate connection with others and you just know “these are my people.” There seems to be a draw for many runners when they decide to cross over to the ultra distances and experience the community that awaits them.
So what is it about this ultra running community? I’ve found in my experience some unique things that make up the bond in this group of runners.
If you are a distance runner, marathon or longer, you’ve probably been asked by friends and family why you do it. Many ultra runners are even considered “crazy” by most who just can’t understand their desire or drive. Within the community of ultra runners, there’s no need to explain why we put ourselves through such long distance runs, pain and suffering. We don’t have to put into words our drive or motivation, we just quietly run alongside one another on the same journey. There’s no questions to answer as to why. Our fellow ultra runners are our safe family of acceptance and give us a sense of belonging.
Short distance races are all about the win, that first place trophy, while longer endurance races are about the finish. The reward to the ultra runner is the accomplishment of completing the race. In the ultra distance races even the faster runners encourage, give high-fives and cheer on all the other runners. When ultra runners pass on the trail they look at each other and say “good job” and offer words of encouragement no matter what pace they are moving.
It’s a supportive community where at times the slowest or last place runner has the largest crowd cheering them on as they cross the finish line. It’s this unusual level of encouragement that greets all levels of ultra runners and truly makes you feel part of the ultra community.
In ultra distances of 50 miles, 100K or 100 miles the runners get help from others. Crew and pacers are used by runners to support them during these race. Sometimes supportive family members help, but mostly its other ultra runners step in and help one another. For some runners it’s a large group that helps get them to the finish line. They often sacrifice days of their time to help one another accomplish their goals and races. While on the course if a runner is hurt or needs even the smallest item, from a Band-Aid to food, a fellow ultra runner will stop and offer help or personal items from their own pack to aid another runner. It’s a community that helps each other cross the finish line.
The ultra running community is a group that encourages, supports and takes care of its own. Run a race or two and you might find yourself saying, “these are my people.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
I guess we all have a story, never did I think mine was all that interesting. Many times people will ask me, “When did you start running?”, “why did you start running?” or “what’s your story?” These are the same questions I would ask others, my curiosity into their story, their beginning. The responses I often heard, “I’ve run most of my life,” “I ran in high school or college.” At first those responses immediately intimidated me, and kept me from sharing my story. The feeling that I don’t belong in the category of “runner,” because I have no back ground or history of being a runner. But we all “have a story” and just like moving to the starting line of a race I put those fears behind me, this is my story to share.
My story starts as a full time mom of 3 kids and basically a couch potato. Oh I played basketball in junior high and high school, grew up snow and water skiing, rode bikes and was always active outside. But being a mom and working full time when my two oldest were young, I wasn’t very active. As the girls got of age, my oldest daughter went off to college and number two was going to follow soon. Our third child was born in 2001 and at that point I had become a full time stay at home Mom.
Fast forward to 2012, at the age of 48 I was basically overweight and out of shape, then a friend invited me to start hiking with her. It was also a bonus that I could get my 3 dogs out of the house. Not to mention that for the first time since living in Georgia, this was an opportunity to begin to explore parks and recreation areas that I’d never been to before.
To expand my hiking opportunities my friend encouraged me to join the Atlanta Outdoor Club (AOC), a club focused on hiking and other outdoor activities. I was welcomed and inspired by so many outdoor enthusiasts in the AOC. Soon I was joining faster fitness hikes and I began to really enjoy the challenge of trying to keep up with the fast pace hikers and was even starting to jog to keep up. These weekly hikes became a 5 1/2 mile jog for me. Next my friend asked me if I wanted to run the Peachtree Road Race. I had never done anything like that, but living in Atlanta for over 20 years, I knew it was biggest 10K event around with 60,000 participants. I immediately said I would, figuring running a 10K (6.2 miles) couldn’t be that much tougher than my 5 1/2 mile fast hikes. I could at least finish it, plus I’m always willing to try most anything at least once. So in 2012 running the Peachtree Road Race was my first race ever.
My daughter Katie and I right after my first Peachtree Road Race
Before long I signed up for other 5 and 10K races as well as running often with another friend who I met in the AOC who was a more experienced runner. As a beginner and having no fitness back ground I started signing up for weekly trail runs with the AOC to build a base. These runners did more than just run with me, they waited on me, they supported me, encouraged me, and taught me that I could do whatever wanted to do. I was slow at first so after one of my first runs with the group I began to bring my dog Summer, an Italian Greyhound, for company. She’s still my best running buddy and joins me on all my training runs up to 30 miles and runs a few races with me too.
On the AOC fitness hikes I met Stacey who became and still is a good friend. Stacey was a runner and really wanted me to do a half marathon with her. That seemed like a long ways from the 5 or 6 miles I had gotten used to running but as I said, “I’m willing to try anything at least once.” However, others had cautioned me to train and not just jump into it like I had done with the Peachtree Road Race. So we agreed on the Georgia Publix Half Marathon in March of 2013, and I began to train for the longer distance.
While training for the half marathon, Stacey asked me about running a marathon. At this point I wasn’t sure I could do a half marathon and I’d never even thought of running a marathon. A marathon wasn’t even on my radar. By now Stacey and I were close enough friends that I knew her background. You see Stacey was a breast cancer survivor of 10 years. She was a young, single mom when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy, chemo and several additional surgeries. She had turned to running during her recovery. Running a marathon was a bucket list item for Stacey and I knew immediately if she could go through all that, I could run 26.2 miles for her. We signed up for the October 2013 Chicago Marathon and spent the summer and fall training. We had the best time running together and a great first marathon experience. She will always be my initial inspiration for running a marathon and continues inspires me as a friend and cancer survivor!
Stacey & I before the Chicago Marathon
Would I run another marathon? The first marathon I ran for Stacey but I felt like I wanted to run another for me. A tough question with a passionate response…”YES”. Two weeks later I upgraded an Atlanta Track Club 10 mile race to the Atlanta Marathon.
After two more road marathons in early 2014 I finally did my first trail marathon. The trails are where I began to run and enjoyed most of my training runs. The feeling of running through the woods, the challenge of climbing the mountains and the technical nature of the trails really developed my passion for trail running. The community I found during that first trail marathon hooked me. The trails are where I truly enjoy and love to run.
Now that trail running had become my happy place, a month later I did my first 50K, an Ultra Marathon (any distance longer than 26.2 miles is considered an Ultra Marathon). Again I thought it would be one of my “try something once and done” type things. But now the trails had become my love and the distance was an enjoyable challenge.
Soon with some encouragement from another running friend I began a quest to run a 100 mile race. Not only was this something way out of my wheel house, I had never even heard of it before. But the challenge was something that excited me. How could a middle-aged mother of 3 who didn’t even start running until the age of 48 begin to consider such a thing? So this is my journey.
I am an ordinary woman, wife and mother. My faith and family are of most importance to me on this journey that I am embracing. A journey that takes me through the good, the bad and the difficult, the ups and the downs along the way, and what keeps me going.
A trail running mom on the path to run 100 milers! I truly believe that EVERY STEP IS A BLESSING! Posting and sharing little bits of trail wisdom as I go!
Carrie Dix and I had been talking about running Cruel Jewel for a year. Right after the race in 2015 we knew we would at the very least run the Cruel Jewel 50 Miler (thank you Janette Maas for throwing down that challenge to us). After running the Death Race 68 miler in 2015 with Carrie pacing me, we both knew that the Cruel Jewel would be no easy race. In November we had attempted the Pinhoti 100 and had to drop after 65 miles of really tough conditions, so I think for both of us another 100 miler was waiting for us. We volunteered for Race Directors, Josh and Leigh Saint in January at 24 Hours of Hostility and that only fueled our desire to run the Cruel Jewel. We both just seem to know it would be the 100 miler and not the 50 that we were committing to!
In January we also ran the Cloudland Canyon 50 miler with our friend Stephanie Johnson (from Knoxville), and spent the race convincing her to join us for the Cruel Jewel suffer fest we had signed up for. All of us had either volunteered, crewed or paced at the Cruel Jewel before and had each told ourselves we’d never run it. But we all learned; never say never! It’s an ultra thing. So we made our plans together and rented a cabin a Vogel State Park where the race starts and finishes.
We all trained, lined up our crew and finalized our race plans. The race started on Friday, May 13th at noon. The first chance our crew would be able to get to us was at mile 21.5 and we wouldn’t get to our pacer until roughly mile 51 (which is the turnaround point at Camp Morganton). We didn’t have an exact time but we had hoped to get to our pacers and crew at mile 51 around 13-15 hours into the race, and we’d all stay together at least to that turn around point and possibly even finish together. Carrie and I had planned to stay together the entire race and shared crew and pacers to help us out. Anne Blanton was crew chief for Carrie and I. She told us at our pre-race meeting that she would not be easy on us, and she wasn’t going to be swayed by any crying. We were finishing and she’d see that we kept at it!
Carrie and I drove up to Vogel Thursday afternoon together, and then met up for dinner in Blairsville with Stephanie and her crew who drove down from Knoxville, TN. Later at the cabin we packed our race packs and talked about how we hoped the next day would play out before all getting a good night sleep. It was nice to have a relaxed morning eating breakfast and getting or packs and drop bags finalized before the race start. We picked up our packets with race numbers and chatted with many of our friends who were there to volunteer or run the race.
Stephanie, myself and Carrie before the start!
My husband, Ed had come up to Vogel to see us off and take a few pictures. Some brief instruction by the RD and the race was off. We all knew the course fairly well, with 8 miles to the first Aid Station which included the Coosa Backcountry climb, we all paced ourselves, and enjoyed chatting with friends during those first miles. We were quickly through that first AS and off to the next. Now on the DRT (Duncan Ridge Trail, also known as the Dragon Spine) we knew there would be lots of ups and downs. Steep ups with steep downs. Again, we paced ourselves. Before we knew it we were through the next Aid Station and onto our crew at the Skeenah Gap AS mile 21.5. It was good to see cheering friends and we all got some cold coke/ginger ale and were off. The next couple of AS came every 5 miles or so and we all tried to stay on top of our food and hydration, although I don’t know that any of us had really eaten much. The heat didn’t cause any of us major stomach issues, but I think we all felt a little off from the heat and climbs. We now had 20 miles to go before the turnaround point and we wouldn’t see our crew again until then. We decided it was also a good time to give up our poles which we had been using since the start of the race. We felt we needed some sort of break from carrying them, and the next 20 mile section wasn’t as much climbing, well so we thought anyway.
Around mile 43 we got into the Deep Gap AS. We had passed and got to greet the front runners of the race just before getting to the AS. The Atlanta Outdoor Club (AOC) were volunteering at the Deep Gap AS, so for me it was nice to see many faces and friends I knew. We got some food and headed out for a nearly 6 mile loop before coming back to the Deep Gap AS and headed another 2.5 miles to the turnaround point. Another quick hello to my AOC friends and we were off to our crew and pacers at Camp Morganton and the turnaround. This wasn’t the half way point in the race because during the return trip there is an extra 6 mile out and back section, but to us it felt like half way. We all planned to make a complete change of clothes, socks and shoes here at Camp Morganton. We felt that mentally if we broke it down into two 50 mile races it would seem a little less overwhelming to tackle and seem like a fresh start leaving the turnaround point. I made a critical decision and decided to work on my feet a little. I didn’t have any blisters or hot spots at this point but felt like the bottoms of my feet would be in pain going back over the DRT later in the race if I didn’t add some cushion to the bottoms of them. I worked quickly to put a layer of Mole Skin on the balls of my feet and wrapped a couple of toes where I often get callouses. (This decision I think paid off big time later on as I was running comfortably and ended with no blisters or black toes nails for that matter). Soon we were all out the door with our pacers and headed back to Deep Gap. The road section was a little slower for Carrie and I headed back to Deep Gap and we were busy catching up and updating Rebecca Watters, our pacer, on the race so far. Stephanie and her pacer moved ahead and we didn’t run with them again.
Rebecca immediately began to access where we were and how Carrie and I were both doing. She kept telling us we looked good but we knew pacers and crew are supposed to say that sort of thing. It was now early morning hours and Rebecca knew that we hadn’t eaten well so far and we needed to get some food in us. Once we got to Deep Gap she made us sit down and began waiting on us and making us eat what we could. The 6 mile loop at Deep Gap was some of our least favorite section of the course, I think that was because it was a rocky section that after 55 plus miles really began to be painful on our feet. It felt like a real struggle and we talked about how it seemed like a loop that was all uphill. Now I can see that we were tired and needed more food and were both sinking into a low point. Once back at Deep Gap for the final time, we were treated to some French toast and hot chocolate. Sometimes in these long races the simplest food seems like the best thing you’ve ever eaten, and that begin to turn things around for Carrie and I. We pushed on the next AS which was on the extra 6 mile out and back section. It was coming down into that AS at Weavers Gap that we started to see 50 mile runners (they had started the 50 mile race at Camp Morganton that morning and at this point the front runners of that race were catching up and passing us). Seeing so many of our friends who were running the 50 mile race and getting more substantial food at the Weavers Gap AS was what Carrie and I needed. Another friend from the AOC was working at this AS and she took extra care of us. Carrie’s lower back was beginning to hurt and my friend was rubbing some Magnesium oil on it to try and relieve her pain.
Off we went from Weavers Gap feeling better than we had in a while. It was a long climb out of there and we saw more and more of our friend running the 50 miler. We chatted with lots of them and even took some pictures with others.
Jason Green made as all laugh as we passed him pacing for David Milner
Now we were headed once again to our crew at the next AS and Rebecca would jump out from pacing duties and Michael Richie would pace the next 15 miles. Once at Stanley Gap AS Carrie took care of a few issues and we put some other gel on her lower back to try and relieve her pain some. The next 5 miles were mostly road and our friend Brad Goodridge had caught up with us and joined us at this point. This was a hot section on the road but we pushed on and got to our crew again at Old Dial AS. At this point Carrie’s back was visibly giving her trouble and she was struggling to stand up straight. We knew we were headed towards the home stretch and Carrie was determined to finish. Brad was still with us and Michael pacing as we left Old Dial headed 5 tough miles to Wilscot Gap AS. The first part of that section was a lot of climbing and Carrie was now beginning to slow down on the climbs. As I pressed on I was really beginning to feel strong and was ready to do some running but Carrie wasn’t catching up. Michael was running back and forth between us and keeping an eye on both of us, reporting that she was falling further behind. I knew Carrie wanted to finish and I knew with the 48 hour cutoff she had plenty of time to finish. Rebecca would be waiting for us at Skeenah Gap to pace the last 20 miles back over the DRT (Dragon Spine). But I also knew we only had one pacer lined up and I didn’t want to leave Carrie with no one to go with her. I called our crew and then Rebecca and let her know we needed to find someone who could pace Carrie from Skeenah to the finish. I knew I would be there waiting to see her cross the finish line but I felt strong and wanted to move faster while I could. As soon as the crew let me know that they had pacer options for Carrie, I was ready to run. Michael let me know she was now at least 20 minutes behind me, so I chose to just go ahead and move on. I knew Carrie would be ok with me doing that, and I knew she was probably slowing down more but still felt certain she’d finish. Carrie and I are good friends and I knew she would want me to go on but it was really tough leaving her and not getting a last chance to talk to her.
Michael ran with me and we got to our crew at the next AS. I let them know Carrie was slowing down but still moving. I needed to keep going, and they both saw that I was moving well at this point; Anne even commented how I had some bounce in my step now and she knew I was in a good place. I wanted them to stay at Wilscot Gap and help Carrie when she got there so I got my jacket and head lamp from them knowing it would be getting dark in a few hours. I also knew with them staying to help Carrie, they wouldn’t be able to crew for me again at the Skeenah AS and I needed to take my jacket and light now. Off Michael and I went headed to Skeenah Gap. I was moving good and still feeling really strong for 80 miles into the race with no sleep. When I got to Skeenah Gap I grabbed more food and some coke, while Rebecca and Michael said hello and goodbye, then we were off. With Rebecca being a strong climber and me feeling good I knew I was in good hands to get me over the DRT and slay that Dragon one last time.
The Sunset on top of Rhodes Mountain was my Ultra Happy Place!
Not long after leaving Skeenah we got word that Carrie had dropped and that was really heartbreaking for us to hear. Now I was committed to running the rest of the race and finishing for Carrie. Rebecca pushed us hard so we could get as far as possible before dark and having to turn on our lights. We were able to enjoy a beautiful sunset on top of Rhodes Mountain and then get to the Fish Gap AS before dark. I put on my jacket, gloves and headlamp there and pulled a beanie hat from the bottom of my pack (Carrie and I had put them there at the last minute in loading our packs the night before the race. It was getting windy and at a slower pace I thought I might get cold). Some more quick fueling from the AS and we were off. One more AS to go before our long decent into Vogel State Park and the finish of the race. But we had 5 tough miles and several climbs still ahead. We passed a few runners in this section as Rebecca led us and I stayed as close behind her as I could, in the dark and into my second night with no sleep Rebecca was keeping me on the trail and moving. Soon we were dropping into the White Oak Stomp AS and I didn’t want to lose my momentum so I grabbed some coke and headed out. Rebecca picked up food for me and I was onto the last hard climb up to Coosa Bald. It was getting windy and chilly out now as the evening temps had really dropped. Once we got to the top of the bald my only focus was to run and get down out of the cold. Rebecca led and I again followed as closely as I could. We passed a few more 100 mile runners before finally crossing Wolf Creek. There was water just after the bridge and I was suddenly very thirsty. After getting a last drink, we headed out for the last 3 miles into Vogel Park. While I felt like I was moving fast, it seemed like the longest climb up from Wolf Creek to drop into the park. Finally on the last mile or so, the trail was technical and I remember telling Rebecca I just couldn’t run any more. Okay so after nearly 106 miles Rebecca laughed and said we could power hike some. We passed a few crew people out on the trail waiting and looking for other runners to come in. Finally to the paved road in the park and the last 1/2 mile stretch to the finish line we began to run again.
After 39 hours and 16 minutes I crossed the finish line and was handed my buckle. My friend Stephanie finished 20 minutes later and we celebrated afterwards back at our cabin. Finishing Cruel Jewel 100 is an accomplishment I still am unable to completely take in fully. Without the help of our awesome crew, Anne and Joyce and the help of Rebecca and Michael pacing, I could have never crossed that finish line. They did an awesome job of paying attention to what I needed when I didn’t even know and made decisions for me when I needed them to.
After a few hours of sleep; Stephanie and I show off our buckles.
Carrie will be back for hers and I’ll be there to help her do it!
My friends, Carrie, Lisa and I had picked this race months before and decided this would be a great adventure! Actually Carrie and I chatted about some of the races that Ultra Adventures does during my 100 mile Blind Pig race. After she spent nearly 50 miles there pacing me, I told her to take a look at some of their races, Antelope Canyon, Brice Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley, etc. She could pick whichever one interested her and we’d go do it. So Antelope Canyon was her pick, and Lisa and I had to admit it looked like an awesome event.
We made our plans to fly into Las Vegas on the Thursday before our Saturday race. You could fly into either Salt Lake City, Phoenix or Las Vegas, all were within a reasonable driving distance of the race in Paige, AZ. In the end Las Vegas was the least expensive at the time we bought our tickets. So early Thursday we flew out to Las Vegas and spent the day traveling from there to Paige. Driving through Nevada, Lisa wondered why on earth we fought the Indians for that land! But we headed north and into St. Georgia, Utah and then into Zion Canyon. We got to spend several hours exploring Zion before heading out to Paige.
We also visited Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas
We relaxed on Friday and did a little sightseeing, not actually too much to see there. But we did hike out to see the famous Horse Shoe Bend and take in the view and sights. We knew we’d run by there the next day in the race but thought that it might be nice to get a good look when we weren’t trying to run. We didn’t want to spend the entire race taking pictures even though we were determined to enjoy it fully.
We did our packet pick up on that Friday afternoon. They offered the racers a unique experience to volunteer and help put mud some Navajo huts. Afterwards they served us some awesome Navajo tacos. You have to take in the whole experience here.
Another high light for us we getting to meet Vanessa Rodriguez, aka Vanessa Runs
The race started early on Saturday morning. We had dropped off our drop bags the night before, but wanted to get there early because there was an early morning Navajo Indian Prayer time before the race start. Soon the race was off. It was an early dark start. We started closer to the front which is not where I usually like to start most races. I don’t think we realized we were that far up. But it got us off and running and it started with a fairly large rock climb which was nice not to be behind hundreds of runners. Once over that rock and down the other side it was a sandy desert run for many miles. While it was still dark, you couldn’t see but we followed a long power line section as we worked our way out towards the first Aid Station. It was getting light out and we dropped into the first slot canyon of the course. It was a nice downhill canyon that was beautiful. Before we knew it we arrived at the first aid station.
One thing that was very different about this race from the beginning was that the RD and the entire race was very Green. All trash was recycled and composted, and each aid station had a composing “out house”. Well it was more of a tent but it was nice to have.
So at our first stop we grabbed some fruit and kept going. Now we were on a long 3 mile or more sandy wash road. Basically a very wide sandy road that was only driven on by large 4-wheel drive trucks. The sand was deep and relentless, tiring you out very quickly. Lisa seemed to do better in this section and left Carrie and I fairly quickly. This section led us to Upper Antelope Canyon which was the most beautiful canyon of the race, although as we hit it, the sun had not fully come up and it was a little dark inside when we ran through. Once through the canyon it was back down the 3 mile sandy road wash back to the aid station as we traced our way back up the way we came down the power lines. From the Antelope Canyon Aid station it was 6 miles to Slick Rock AS and a turn towards the Horseshoe AS.
Carrie had a camera clipped on her pack that takes photos every 30 seconds. You can see in this picture the deep sand
This whole section was long deep sandy stretches through the desert. Once we got past Horseshoe AS we headed out to run a long section above Horseshoe bend and some of the most beautiful sections with unbelievable views. Carrie and I held a steady pace and just kept moving in the deep sand as best we could. It got hot during the day light hours with no shade on the course but in short sleeves and with the dry heat it wasn’t that bad. We got to Water Holes AS and immediately dropped into Waterholes Slot Canyon. It was really more like a steep climb down into it. Carrie and I enjoyed this section and ran here with our new friend Janeth, taking a few photos through the canyon. Soon out of the canyon it was back to sandy road sections and 5 miles back to Horseshoe AS, retracing again our way back to Slick Rock AS. Now it was a short distance back and then climb up the to Paige Rim AS which was only a few hundred feet from the finish line. But first it was a 10 mile loop run around the city of Paige with beautiful view of Lake Powell. At least the deep sand was behind us, but for Carrie the sand had done it’s damage on legs and wearing her out. After completing this 10 mile section, it’s a drop back down to the finish line and a just Navajo Indian made finishers award.
Carrie and I in Waterholes Slot Canyon
Lisa had finished an hour or so before us and sat around a bon fire with many others waiting for us to come in. It was such a perfect day in so many ways, but I think we were just all ready to get a shower and some sleep.
We each picked out a slightly different Navajo made finishers award
Now after a little time to reflect on our Antelope Canyon 50 Miler let me share some of what I learned:
Ultra Adventures does the Grand Circle Series of races, I would highly recommend adding one of their events to your racing bucket list! They have lots to choose from and put on a great race. I personally hope to do one again soon.
Antelope Canyon 50 miler was probably 30 miles of deep sand. It’s a beautiful race and you want to enjoy it but I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a first 50 miler. I’m not saying you can’t do it but I do think the 50K option at this race covers the most beautiful parts of the 50 mile race. The cut off is 15 hours, which seems very generous but don’t be caught off guard by the sand.
Visit all the sites you can while you are there. We went to Zion on the way out and again on the way back. Also got a permit into the South Butte section of the wave. It was all a great adventure and worth seeing as much as you can. I might also add that I would recommend going on the tour out to Antelope Canyon. I know you do get to run through Upper Antelope Canyon but I think having time to see them and take pictures might be worth the trip. One regret about our trip.
I wore a pair of Altra Lone Peak Neo Shells and Carrie wore a pair of Salomon’s that are also waterproof. We both wore a pair of gaiters over the top and neither one of us stopped even once to empty sand from our shoes. I know it might be a trade off,
sand for warmer feet, but my feet were never hot. When the race was over I was surprised when I removed my shoes and there was not a single grain of sand and I mean seriously nothing. You will be emptying your shoes countless times on this course otherwise.
It was an awesome girls trip for Team Unicorn! We were able to share expenses of hotels and the rental car, and because it was off season in February, it was a very affordable trip.
If you’ve ever read any of my race reports you know that I’m a planner. I think out the details, write lists and plan each step. The other thing you might notice is I always love to have good company on my runs. I’m not a front of the pack runner that races, I enjoy running and the company along the way. I admit I am competitive at times but it’s about enjoying the journey and my friends mostly.
Carrie, Lisa and I had been running together pretty consistently for months. We all ran a similar pace, are at a similar place in life with kids basically grown, and really like to run and enjoy ourselves. We began calling ourselves Team Rainbows and Unicorns, which started when we were in a race running together. Someone made a negative comment and soon Lisa explained that we could not say anything negative because she was running in her the world of “Rainbows and Unicorns!” We were not to upset that world Lisa was running in. So you know if you can beat them, join them! We all run in that world and we don’t allow any negative into our running world circle, although all are welcome to join us there.
I’m not sure when exactly we all decided to run Pinoti. I had volunteered at the race in 2014, and knew for certain I wanted to run it the next year. Somewhere along the way, I talked Carrie and Lisa into joining my adventure. Lisa was on board first, she was easy, Carrie on the other hand wasn’t sure doing a 100 miler was every on her list to do, but had more recently admitted she had some thoughts of it. By May of 2015 we convinced Carrie to come run Choccolocco 50K, another race in Alabama that is put on by the same race director as Pinhoti. The plan was to show Carrie the beautiful Pinohoti trails, (which Lisa and I had run on some when we did Cheaha 50K a few months before), and convince her into joining us on our 100 mile quest. Well Carrie pulled the trigger on Pinhoti a few weeks before our Choccolocco race and the Pinhoti trails on the Choccolocco 50K only excited the three of us for the awesome journey ahead.
So here we were months later, lots of miles of training and lots of 50K and 50 milers run. We got our lists made, bags packed, crew and pacers set up and felt pretty much ready for the race. Lisa’s husband, Bill and daughter, Melissa were going to crew for us, and Molly Freeman was jumping in later in the race to pace for us. The three of us met together and planned our drop bags, where we would stay the night before the race, how we would get to the race start and all the details leading up to the race. A couple minor changes had happened leading into the race, the biggest of which was rain. Now we were all a way too used to running in wet muddy conditions at this point but it had caused a changed in the course. Pinhoti is 100 mile race, point to point. It starts in Heflin, AL and ends 100 miles later in Sylacauga with several points along the way for your crew to access you. Because of the rain we were told that a couple of the normal aid stations would now be water drop points only as they could not get an aid station set up in there. The race start was also changed. We would now be starting at Aid Station #3 on the course, running back to the second AS then back to AS #3. Sounded easy enough but this didn’t play out to well for the start for us. Planning for 100 miles of wet also offers its share of challenges as you try and prepare for your feet being wet for that long of time. But we had drop bags back and planned to change clothes, and shoes at mile 40 which was Mt. Cheaha (Bald Rock). We had planned as best we could, now it was go time.
Carrie and I stayed at one hotel, got up early race morning and drove to where Lisa was staying. We left our car their and rode with Lisa and our crew to the start.
Just before the start, it was raining lightly
It was an very exciting start with so many runners we knew gathered, and adding so many who were crewing, the crowd was huge and I think it was one of the most exciting starts I had experienced to that point. Soon we were off. Usually early in a race I lead and set a pace. I probably tend to go out a little too fast but I usually try and get us ahead of the slower runners so we don’t fight to get around folks. It was roughly 5 miles from where we started to work our way back a single track section to aid station #3 but just before getting on the single track we went up a very short distance of fire road. With literally hundreds of runners running we quickly found we had started too far back and got in a log jam of people waiting to get onto the single track. That all made for a slow start. Once we got onto the trail it was several more miles of congo line running but we made the best of it and chatted with the folks around us as we settled into our run. Once we got near the aid station it because I steady stream of front runners passing us on their way back from the first aid station and back to the AS where we started. Being a single track trail, we had to constantly stop and get off the trail and hundreds of runners in front of us were passing. Well that wasn’t the start we wanted but we did get to say hello to our friends running in front of us and got quickly out of that first AS and off to the next. We attempted to make up a little time after the slow down off passing runners, we came into the next AS and were about 45 mins ahead of the cutoff. We tried to again get quickly in and out here and off. Just as we got what we needed a train came and trapped us on the wrong side of the tracks for probably 5-10 minutes as it passed. Finally out of there, we felt like we were finally off and running but further back than we wanted to be.
The rain continued to come down during the day, it was warm out so soon we all took off our jackets off. Another 5 miles or so and into AS #3. This was probably one of our favorite AS stops as lots of people were there and all cheering for us. Our spirits were definitely lifted although we remained the same 45 minutes ahead of cut off. A little too tight for our liking but at least we were ahead. We finally made our way to Lake Morgan AS and our first drop bags. We all made our mental notes coming into Lake Morgan what we needed from our bags so we could get in and out as quickly as possible. Getting into the AS required some rock climbing just before the lake, because of the rain Lisa took a bad fall here trying to get up the rock section. We got her up that and all got what we need from the AS and headed out. The next section was a section we had all been on most of from an early training run there. It’s a relatively easy section that is very pretty. What is normally a very dry part of the course, turned out to been mostly water and muddy section. We continued moving as quickly as we could but the water and mud made it a little slow at times. We had gotten our headlamps from our drop bags at Lake Morgan because we knew that it would most likely be dark before we reach our next stop at Mt. Cheaha. We got the next water stop just below our climb up to Mt. Cheaha, one of the biggest climbs on the course and refilled our packs. Not long after that it was dark and we needed our headlamps. The further up the climb we went, the foggier it got. It seemed like a slow climb but knowing our crew would be at the top and a chance to change into dry clothes and shoes was what we were focused on.
Finally into the Mt. Cheaha AS and our crew got us our bags and we were all busing changing clothes. There is “real” bathrooms here and we took advantage of complete change of clothes and assessing our feet damage from the wet day. We spent extra time patching up feet and getting changed before we were off again. By now it was very dark and the fog had rolled in and was pretty thick and we were not far ahead of cutoffs. We were hardly able to see in front of us and had no idea where we were going and where the flags were. Our crew came down the road in the car and was finally able to give us some direction. We knew just ahead we would be heading down “Blue Hell”. The most dreaded part of the course by most people’s standards. The main thing we had heard was you want to get down Blue Hell before dark. Well it was long past dark (partly this year due to the time changing the previous weekend so dark came earlier in the race), raining and foggy. We could hardly see what we were doing and it was very wet and slippery. We worked our way down as carefully as possible but before getting down Lisa and Carrie both managed to take a fall here. Lisa’s being the worst but still able to move although with much more caution. Once down the rocks of Blue Hell we struggled with a handful of other runners to find the course and direction. The rain and mud had literally washed the course flagging away. We finally got on course and were able to continue on working our way to the next AS, making up some time we lost on Blue Hell because a large portion was fire roads once we got off the hill. Although we were still running just ahead of the cutoff times at this point. The next section of the course seems a bit of a blur of water crossings and rocks. Some water crossing were much deeper and swifter than normal because of the large amount of rainfall and Carrie had hurt her leg crossing one where the water was rushing pretty fast. We moved steady but each time we would come around a corner and hear the water rush, we knew a crossing would be ahead and we feared how big it would be. Carrie was extra cautious of the water crossings and Lisa was still nursing her hurt leg. We made it to the next stop at mile 50, rushing in and out of there was we were informed we were now only minutes ahead of cutoffs. Next stop we would see our crew, so off we went. Coming into to the 55 mile AS we were told we were after the cutoffs to keep going. We were not being pulled and we had hoped to make up some time on the next section. We had very little time to chat, we grabbed food and were off.
The next section was a very long fire road section that would have a water drop in about 5 miles. Lisa and I finally began to move hoping to make up some time. This was the perfect place to do it so we continued to push. Carrie struggled more here but we kept pushing. Then the rain started again. We had thought we had seen the last of the rain and none of us were aware it was going to start up again, we hardly had time to talk to crew or the AS working the last several stops to get a weather update. This time the rain was very cold. When we finally got to the water drop we found one runner there huddled under a space blanket waiting for a ride out. We pressed on, soon dropping back onto the trails. By now we had our jackets back on but were all beginning to get very cold. Carrie’s stomach started giving her trouble when we were on the fire road section and now with the rain it was a struggle. We all knew in our heads that we didn’t have time to go slow, but the cold rain was taking a toll and our spirits were quickly sinking. I know in my own head I was quickly calculating that a DNF was almost inevitable. We had run all day long just ahead of cutoffs. Not really where anyone enjoys a run and I had found it very stressful most of the day as we seem to struggle to bank any time ahead of the cutoffs even though we were running good and all felt strong. Possibly the combination of so many things contributed to this ending. We anticipated getting to our crew at mile 65 and some warmer clothes but when we arrived it was again just a water stop. Carrie was now shivering hard and as we were contemplating contacting our crew and what to do. Carrie knew with her stomach she was done but we didn’t have a plan for what to do. The longer we stood their deciding on our next move, the colder we all became. Five miles to warmer clothing was a long ways off. Would Lisa and I push on, could we push on? Several other runners were around us at this point all having the same dilemma. The discussions were quickly stopped when behind us came the sweeper and told us we were all done.
It was a tough ending for us all. All of our legs felt good and we felt like we had run well all day. It’s after a DNF that you begin to think about all the things you could have changed, or done differently to change the outcome. While it stings to take a DNF I can fully own it and wear it proudly. We learn with every race we run and I’m sure everyone who gets a DNF has a list of things they’d do differently next time. Do not make a DNF a Did Not Learn! We’ll move on and Pinhoti will always be there to run again!
This report is a bit long but most of it is back ground going into the race than about the actual race itself. First off, planning to run my first 100 miler was a journey, one that I wanted to embrace and enjoy every minute of. I’m a planner and an organizer, but don’t necessarily follow an exact training schedule. So for at least 6 months, every race I ran, every hike, or training run was all leading me to this event. But before I got to my 100 mile race, the Blind Pig 100, I ran the Georgia Death Race. GDR was 68 miles long and 40,000 ft of elevation change, with lots of hype of dying, I focused all my attention on the Death Race and didn’t give my first thought to Blind Pig 100 until after I finished the GDR which was just 4 weeks before. (You can read my DGR race report)
“Trail Running 100: Embrace the Journey” was started as an ordinary woman, wife and mom on a quest to run a 100 miler and to embrace that journey that would lead me there. I planned it all out, picked the “perfect” races leading up to it. First a 36 mile race, then a 50 miler, leading up to the Death Race at 68 miles, then Blind Pig 100. I would do it, share what I learned along the way and try to share my struggles as well. It seemed the plan was going very smoothly, completing races, staying injury free (well for the most part, a few scrapes but trail runners don’t count those).
So I came off the Georgia Death Race on a huge high finishing in just under 21 hours. I felt great, had a super fun time, enjoyed friends, made new friends and as far as races go, it could not have gone smoother for me. Now I needed to focus on Blind Pig 100. I had no running buddy to do it with. Everyone I knew that was going to do it, was no longer doing it. I was hopeful as I reached out to Brad, my new running friend who I shared several miles with on the GDR trail with. He had gotten injured on GDR and my hopes of a running buddy were fading fast. Getting myself excited to run the first 50 miles solo was mentally proving to be very difficult. My friend Carrie Dix, who had paced us during GDR was also stepping in again to help crew and pace the last 50 miles of BP100, and while Brad Scott was injured during GDR and no longer able to run BP100 he quickly offered to help crew me as well. I think they were all more excited than I was. But this was a journey, and I had planned and trained and was determined to stay focused.
The week leading into Blind Pig I went and bought myself a iPod Shuffle to keep me company and stalked Ultra Signup some to see if I could reach out to any other potential buddy to run with. One new friend I found, Lisa Grippe who was running the 100K solo seemed happy I reached out to her. We thought we might have compatible paces and be able to run some together. As I said, I’m a planner, I got myself organized with bins containing: clothing, medical supplies, food and fuel items, shoes, jackets, hats, etc. Everything was labeled so it would be easy for my crew to help me out as needed. I had packed enough stuff to keep me running for weeks but I was determined not to forget a thing, you never know what you might want or wish you had. That is one really nice advantage to a loop course, you can get to your crew and stuff and always know exactly what you have to choose from.
I’m not the worrying type. I plan things out and then what happens, happens. Carrie and I drove up Friday afternoon, picked up my race number and got our camp site setup with our pop-up shelter. Then we headed back into Spartanburg for dinner and a good night’s sleep at a hotel. I slept well, woke up and was able to eat part of a bagel with peanut butter, had some coffee and we headed to the park. We unloaded, organized my things and I was ready to go. Lisa came and set up at our site with us, as I said she was going solo and Carrie was happy to help her out in any way she could. Runners gathered at the start line, they played the national anthem and off we went. The course is a 9 mile loop with a half mile out and back at the start to make up the 100 miles. Each loop when you came in, you checked in at the timing station and might I also add very awesome Aid Station, you then looped around the camp ground and passed your camp site.
The course was a beautiful single track, somewhat technical course for the first 5 miles or so. Then dropping into some absolutely beautiful flat trails that winded around for roughly another 4 miles before a couple climbs up and out, dropping you back to cross a bridge, then all uphill to the Aid Station and camp ground area. I did catch up to Lisa, who didn’t have to run the ½ mile out and back at the beginning of the race. Starting around mile 5 or so, she and I stayed within sight of each other or with each other for the most part. The first loop seemed to go by fast and I was on a high. Loving the course, and the single track trails which are my very favorite type of trails to run on, I couldn’t ask for anything better at that point. I went out on a good pace on that first loop checking in at around an hour 40 minutes. Quick check in with Carrie and off for loop two. Carrie had stacked 11 small stones on the table at our site representing the 11 loops. Each time I came in one of us would toss one out, keeping count of where I was. Loop two passed fairly quickly, I stayed with Lisa for some of it, but after that point I only saw her leaving the aid station as I was coming in.
I listened to my music, chatting with runners that I saw. On my third loop, I began running with a fellow runner named John. John and I would stay together for the next 3 loops. Usually he was just behind me as we hiked the hills and ran all the flats and down hills we could. Those loops took us through the heat o f the day. It got into the 80’s and quit hot. We saw many runners struggling with the heat. John and I both were drinking Tailwind, and we seemed to keep on our steady pace. As we came in completing our 5th loop, we expected to run one more together before picking up our pacers. We discussed that we needed to grab our headlamps because before we finished our 6th loop it would be dark. John’s friend who was crewing and pacing him met us as we came across the bridge and said we could now pick up our pacers. Whoo hooo! Carrie quickly got her shoes on and ready to go out with me, John and his friend got out ahead of us and I never saw him again on the trails. Brad and his wife Paula had showed up while I was on my 5th loop and they already had bacon and grilled cheese sandwiches ready to go. I grabbed some of each and off we went.
It was so nice to have Carrie this time out. I was excited for her to see the beautiful trails but before we got half way around the loop it had turned dark. With the dark, we continued our pace with a fast hike, we didn’t stop or slow down, just kept moving. We came into the Aid Station and our crew, trying to quickly grab what we needed and head back out; not forgetting to throw out another rock! We were joined by other runners in the night on our loops, Noah and Nick joined us for a couple loops, and later we meet Dean who kept us quit entertain during one loop. Someone new to talk to and for them it was company as they were running solo.
Finally we came in after loop 9. I knew my feet each had hot spots on them and I was going to need to have some duct tape put on them to avoid a total blister fest. Brad quickly helped get my shoes off and slap some duct tape on my feet. What a life saver that turned out to be, never tried it before but had always heard that was the thing to do. This time Brad and his loyal dog JoJo joined us on loop 10. It was dark, this was the only point in the race I began to feel sleepy and slow. I had some chocolate covered espresso beans in my pocket and that seemed to do the trick until it turned light about half way around the loop. Carrie finally got to see the second half of the beautiful course in the light. She had gone five loops totally 45 miles with me, what an awesome friend!
We got back to our camp sight, down to one more rock. Paula had just made fresh scrambled eggs. I sat down and ate some as Paula got herself ready to head out for my last loop with me. I was afraid it would be disappointing for her as I was so slow, not the run she might have been looking for. Not even sure if at this point I’d be able to talk a lot. As we passed the main Aid Station before heading back out, I grabbed more bacon and they had fresh warm pancakes. I was off for my last loop. I had not really been running since it had gotten dark. My legs were tired but as we hiked through the night I also felt like they had recovered some. Once Paula and I got to some downhill’s and flatter sections I decided to see if my legs could run. Sure enough it actually felt good to start running again. I told Paula as we started our loop that I hoped to hike a little faster and complete it in around 2 ½ hours. So now with a little running mixed in, I was determined to finished in that time. We finally got the flat section of the course, I looked at my watch and it was 10:10am, I knew it had been taking us an hour to get through this section so I had mentally set my mind on finishing by 11:30am which would be a time of 27:30. I ran as much as I could but really I think I was about at the end of being able to run. Paula and I had not seen a single runner on that last loop until we finally came across Matthew and his 10 year old son, Douthard during our final miles. Now there was some inspiration seeing those two! Finally we hit the last two hills and knew the bridge was just around the corner.
As we dropped into the bridge we saw Carrie and Brad waiting across the river for us. I had asked them to meet us there so we could all walk up that last hill and into the finish line together, because what seemed more appropriate but to finish with all the awesome people that helped me get there. As Paula and I came across the bridge I asked her what time it was (my watch was dead). She said it was 10:57am. Holy Moly, I could finish this thing by 11:00am but I needed to run that darn hill to the finish. I had not run it once during the race but I was running it now. Brad got ahead to try and get a picture of me finishing and Paula and Carrie were right behind me. I rounded the corner to the finish and the timers, throwing my hands in the air and gave a shout. 100 Miles Done! Angela (the Race Director) said 26:59 was my time, a sub 27.
My first 100 miler and what a great finish! Angela gave me my buckle, which I had begun to call the “Bacon” during my race. Everyone says go bring home the buckle, but Blind Pig, I was bringing home the bacon!!!
We got back to our camp site and I threw out that last rock!
Leading up to the Mystery Mountain Marathon and 12 miler put on by #GUTS, I think I was feeling pretty good. I had recently done a very challenging hike in the North Georgia Mountains doing 3 peaks and a total elevation gain of 5700 feet. I felt prepared and ready for the challenge. I had ever been to Fort Mountain, but felt like I could handle the climbs.
It might be important to add here that I drove up in the rain and some heavy fog . It had been raining all night there at the park and the trails were muddy and wet.
My plan was just to begin in the middle of the pack and go at an easy pace. I gathered at the start line with several other friends I knew and chatted with them before the gun. A pretty normal start with a few hundred yards on the paved road before dropping into the trail which quickly started on a single track and at times very technical trail for probably 9 miles.
You can prepare for some things before a race such as training, before race food, clothing and such, but some things you just can’t always prepare for. As a trail runner you learn to adjust to the unexpected things that some up. Around a mile and a half into the run, a yellow jacket flew into my face and stung me on the eye. Yellow jackets are known to be vicious this time of year and don’t really appreciate several hundred runners disturbing them, go figure! Just as we came up to mile 3, there was a photographer at the top of a small set of rocks that informed everyone that there were yellow jackets just around the turn. I ran through the Yellow Jacket nest with a couple of other guys, everyone got multiple stings. Luckily that would be the end of the yellow jackets on the course.
Around mile 10 the course turned to go up some very steep power lines. To stop and look up to the top was an almost overwhelming view, but the look back from the top would add the satisfaction of accomplishment. On to some wicked downhill that was nearly as steep as the climb up but not a straight line. Once dropping out of the power line area it was on to around 7 miles or so of fire roads. Sounds like the easy part of the run, but heavy gravel fire roads are not usually what trail runners call fun. Sounds of water falls and some beautiful scenery gave way to the long fire road section that included constant hill climbs as well.
One thing we were prepped on about the course was that around mile 20 we could expect a serious hill climb.As promised that hill would turn out to be everything we were told it was. It was very long, and steep at times, a hill you were certain couldn’t keep going up but it did. Once to the top it would prove not to be the final hill by far. Finally the last major aid station with 4.9 miles to go. At this point everyone was just looking for some flat or down hill to start running again. A few rolling hills before another good climb back to the top of the power lines (gee this looks familiar), yep down we go. Finally to the bottom with some cheering volunteers to encourage us along, the last mile or so looping around the lake and back to the finish were we started. It was not an easy run for sure. I was with others for most of the run, few and fewer near the end. But while several runners were pulled from the course because of missing cut off times, or dropping; I finished! Every step is truly a blessing. The Mystery Mountain Marathon was very well run by GUTS race director, Kim Pike. The volunteers were so supportive and helped me get through this tough race.