I signed up for Pinhoti on August 26, about ten weeks before race day (not much time to “train” for a 100!), when my good friend/former adventure racing teammate Ben from CO finally decided to pull the trigger. I had told him earlier in the summer that if he did it, I would too. (Probably.) And I did. I had Hinson Lake scheduled for September 26th, so I did alter my race plan there to not push too long/hard, which I followed through on — 82.7 miles in 15 hours 45 minutes, when I called it a day. I felt great at Hinson and recovered quickly, though I did no more long training runs in the following weeks prior to Pinhoti.
I drove down from NC Thursday evening and met Ben in Atlanta at his friend Brian’s house, who was gracious enough to let us crash at his place Thursday and Sunday evenings – even though his wife was 38 weeks pregnant. They were tremendously hospitable both nights, which was of course much appreciated.
Friday late morning we hit REI for last minute supplies (socks!) and drove down to Sylacauga, Alabama, the race check-in area, finish, etc. We were greeted by this sign:
We checked in, organized gear one last time, and put in our drop bags. Both of us would be doing this race unsupported (no crew, no pacers). I opted to use all five drop bag locations, even though for the 1st and last I just had a small ziplock of 3 or 4 food/fuel items (inside a larger bag). For the middle drops, I had a head lamp (mile 41), dry/warm clothes (mile 55), a change of shoes and a 2nd warm top (mile 69).
After that we had some time to kill. Google and Yelp searches showed there was no coffee shop in town! What!!! I had my jetboil and had brought some coffee, so we went off to the local Piggly Wiggly to get some heavy cream, when I ran across this:
Wow, that’s a lot of block margarine! At check out, I asked about coffee shops, and eventually found that there was brand new one in town, called Heavenly Grounds, so we went off to hunt for it. We searched up and down the main drag, and could not find it. They need to work on their advertising and signage! Eventually we found someone that knew where it was, went back out, and ended up here:
The barista had no idea what an iced americano was, so I walked her through how to make it, and it was quite good. She said it would be on the menu next week. On the drive back to the pre-race meeting, look what came on the radio:
I’m actually more a fan of the Johnny Cash version, but it was still apropros.
We decided to skip out on the pre-race meeting — the RD said if we didn’t have crew, it probably didn’t matter, so we headed out with Jason Tischer to the Marble City Grill and had a good dinner. I opted for my (almost) normal meal of fish and sweet potato, with a big salad to boot. Ben and I headed back to the rec center, where we’d be sleeping for $10/night, while Jason went to his hotel.
(One thing mentioned at the pre-race meeting that I didn’t find out about until on the course was that aid stations 4, 6, and 13 were converted to water only. This didn’t really affect my run strategy, but it would have been nice to know!)
Back at the rec center, the meeting was just wrapping up, and once everyone left, we helped remove the tables and chairs from the room, and pulled in the cots. I had a buff to cover my eyes and ear plugs to block the noise, but it was still not the best sleeping environment. I got a few hours of sleep here and there, but it was a bit fitful. I’m not so sure it would have been any better in a hotel, to be honest.
We got up at the un-Godly hour of 3:45, to make coffee, pack up, etc. and get on the bus to the start. The race course was modified due to all the rain and the fear that the busses would struggle to make it the last 30 minutes of dirt road to the start, but the departure time was not modifed This meant we were at the start area for quite some time before the actual start. Here’s Ben:
And Ben and Marianna:
Here’s what we were in for:
(I would note the scale — the big climbs are not as bad as they look — the horizontal is scrunched up and the vertical is not that bad. So that climb up to 40.9 is really about 2200 feet over five miles.)
I carried my phone (more on that later) for pictures, but didn’t take it out as much as I wanted to. The weather was quite bad — lots of rain — so it stayed in a splash caddy zip lock inside my fit belt for the most part.
With the modified course, it was a mass start on a dirt road, which then turned up another dirt road, before jumping on to the single track. I didn’t want to get too far back and stuck behind a long chain of runners, but I probably still ran harder than I should have at the start of a 100. And then once in a conga line, I never really wanted to step aside, so again, I ran faster than I should have.
With the modified course and the out and back to start, I could see how far ahead of me Ben was, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Maybe just 2 or 3 minutes when we crossed paths at mile 6/7. But I didn’t think I’d be seeing him again…
From miles 5 – 12, I didn’t feel great. I decided to back off and chill a bit just before the AS at mile 13, which is where this shot was taken:
I ended up catching Ben just after the AS, and we were able to run together for a while, though we did leap frog each other here and there.
I recall the early hills like this where I felt like my legs were 60 or 70 mile legs, not 20 mile legs. That didn’t bode too well so early in the race!
Sometime around mile 23 or 24, I got a bit of a 2nd wind, and I jumped behind a female runner who was keeping a good pace. We saw this waterfall just before the AS (and 1st bag drop) at 27.7. I never saw her again as I was in and out quickly, just grabbing two fuel items from my bag, and taking off. This AS was on a slight out and back so I did see Ben coming into it as I was leaving.
Then it was a bit of a long slog to mile 40.9, the highest point of the race (and Alabama). Just before the climb we had to cross a pretty wide stream, which with all the rain had quite a bit of rushing water. Maybe I picked a bad spot to cross, but this was thigh high water moving rapidly, over slippery rocks. I did in fact slip right at the end, but I was able to catch myself on shoreline rock before going under! Then it was on to the 2200′ climb over 5 miles, in which the last pitch was a bit steep, but I eventually made it up, pulled out the phone, and took a couple of shots:
That last photo is supposed to be a great view. It’s also right before I slipped on those very slick rocks and shattered my phone. Doh!
Somehow as I was looking at my shattered screen and half following the guy in front of me, we ended up missing the flags that brought all of the runners to the board walk, but the photographer yelled to us that we could get on it half way down, which meant we missed the photo opp.
I got to the AS at 40.9, and asked for my drop bag (just more fuel and a head lamp). It was a mess — the bags were not ordered in any fashion, just piled up. When we found mine, I suggested they put them in bib order, but the look I got suggested that wasn’t in their plans. When I finished with my bag, I suggested they put it to the side so the bag pile would diminish, but that also wasn’t in their plans and it was thrown right back into the mix. I love the volunteers, especially being out there in the cold and rain, but I was only trying to make their job easier!
After Bald Rock, we had a bit of road running before we reached “Blue Hell,” which is something like a descent of 800-1000′ in half a mile. On slick rocks. Pictures never do this kind of steepness justice, but here are a couple I took anyway:
It was slick but I made it down without any problems. It had been chilly up top, but once we descended I was comfortable again, and I slogged along to the drop bag / AS at mile 55, where I picked up warm clothes, threw them in my pack, and put on my head light, as it was quickly getting dark. They also had some pretty amazing egg, cheese, and bacon quesadillas!
Now the memories start to blur… It was a 13 mile jaunt to the next AS/bag drop, and I think this is where we jumped off the Pinhoti trail onto Sky Line, which was quite over grown, and every time I thought I might be off trail, I’d come across a little orange flag and felt much better. I also had a train of 15-20 runners spread out behind me over maybe half a mile that I could see as we switchbacked up the climb, so I was hopeful I was not lost and leading everyone astray!
I should also mention that after mile 27, I had really felt better, and was moving along nicely, passing a fair number of runners.
At the mile 68.8 aid station, I had a drop bag with Hoka’s and dry socks, so I changed into those. I grabbed a bit more fuel, but opted to leave behind my heaviest/warmest top. I had a bag of dry clothes and a warm top from mile 55, and was still feeling comfortable (warm), so felt I wouldn’t need the extra heavy top. Dry feet, socks, and shoes were a little slice of paradise for about 35 minutes, until we hit the next stream crossing. At this point the race was really spread out and I didn’t see more than a runner or two on this 6 mile section.
As I started the big climb up to the Pinnacle at mile 75, one runner did pass me. But he was running a very steep section and soon petered out, and I passed him back, and didn’t see him again. There were a lot of switchbacks here, and the music coming from the top was LOUD. VERY LOUD. I must have been able to hear 4 or 5 songs on that climb, very clearly. One of them was “Lights” and I was going to say “I bet you play that for all the runners,” but then 3 more songs came on and it was no longer funny. (Probably never was, but for a runner 74 miles into a run, it seemed like it to me!)
Here’s a video I had to take coming into this AS — “welcome to the pinnacle!”
The Pinnacle had pretty amazing tomato soup and the best egg, cheese, and bacon thingy around. I had a couple of them.
From mile 75 to 85 things got interesting. Somewhere in there I passed a runner and her pacer, and heard him call her Wisp! Someone back from where I live! We don’t know each other well but I always run her Little River 10 miler (she’s an RD) in January, so it was funny to run into her here. She’d end up finishing just a few minutes behind me. A little later I had stopped to change the battery on my head lamp, and her pacer helped me out by giving me a bit of light (rather than me digging through my pack for my small hand held), but my hands were chilled shaking, so it was tough.
Also, the rain and wind really picked up, and it started to get chilly on the ridge line. At the mile 79.5 aid station, I thought all the stuff there was about to blow off the side of the mountain. The volunteer said “two miles down this road and then 4 miles of single track to the next AS.”
That was a long road — more like 4 miles. Luckily another runner came up, and we stuck together here, questioning whether we were on the course or not. Every time we came across a little orange flag, we felt better, but it seemed l like they were pretty spaced out here. We didn’t do much talking, as we were both chilled. I at least had a shell on, but he was just in a thin sleeveless shirt, and he was really cold. It was a bit of a death march down the trail… I had warm clothes with me in my pack, but I really didn’t want to stop in the cold rain and wind, take off my shell, my wet shirt, and then try to put on dry clothes. I thought if I could only make it to the AS, I’d change there… But it was a long slog.
We finally got there and I was greeted by an amazing thing — a wooden covered/enclosed trailer with a propane heater! Wow! I went in, took of the wet clothes, put on my dry clothes, and found to my surprise dry gloves, a fleece hat, and my buff, all in the drop bag I had for this AS! That was a life saver. I put on my dry top, my shell (and here I wish I had grabbed my even warmer top at AS 69, but oh well) my fleece hat, and wrapped my buff around my neck and over the hat.
I was STILL cold and shivering for the 1st mile or two leaving 85… At this point, it was a lot of dirt road, and I was moving along ok. Walking a bit, but still running a fair amount – trying to keep moving fast enough to keep warm. Admittedly it was a slow run at best.
I eventually hit the AS at mile 89, I think about dawn — the sun was just about to come up but it was a little light out now, and then it was more dirt road and forrest road to the AS at 95. Both these AS’s told me how far it was to the finish, and I was calculating the time needed to break 25 hours based on that info. Turns out they were about a mile off — the modified course had about an extra mile of pavement.
And that paved road seemed to go on and on and on. I kept seeing signs saying I was still on course, but it was taking forever. At this point I was not moving as well, so I’d do things like run to a mail box, then walk to the next, or the power lines, or the next side road. I was only trying to keep my pace under 14:00/mile, to break 25 hours. But it soon became obvious that wasn’t going to happen due to the additional distance, and I crossed the line in 25:06. I’m not sure if I could have shaved 6 minutes off that if I had known the proper distance, but it really doesn’t matter. I only wanted to finish Pinhoti to get a WS100 ticket.
As you can see from these results, I had a pretty solid second half in terms of standings. I moved from 72 place at mile 41 to 33rd over all out of 133 finishers and 250 starters, so not bad.
It turns out Ben didn’t have a great day, and when I finally found him on the GPS tracker he was wearing, I could see it was going to be a few hours. So I went the pool (after eating two huge plates of eggs, bacon, biscuits, and cream cheese), showered off, went back to the finish, tried to sleep for a bit in the car, before getting out to greet him at the finish line. Only to miss him because the tracker indicated he had 10 minutes to go, but that is when he walked up to me.
Side note on the tracker: I had worn one in my pack, but I changed packs at mile 55. I dumped all the contents of the 1st pack and repacked the 2nd, but somehow missed the charger. So it was driven back to the finish, and my wife though I had crushed the 20 hour barrier.
After Ben cleaned up at Jason’s hotel room (the pool shower water was a bit chilly), we started the drive back to Atlanta. I did get pretty sleepy when Ben passed out, but after we hit up Cracker Barrell and I had some coffee, we made it back to Brian’s. Brian had cooked up pulled pork, rice, and veggies, and I had two huge plates.
I didn’t make it much past 7:30 p.m. when I crashed and slept a solid 12 hours. I do recall getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and the air mattress I was on had lost some air, and I had a lot of difficulty getting up/out! I had to roll on to my hands and knees and then try to stand, but I made it. I drove home from ATL to NC, and that’s never fun. You really stiffen up sitting still for so long!
Here it is almost two weeks later, and I’m finally writing this. I had perhaps the best recovery ever from any run I’ve done longer than 50 miles, and while I should be chilling for a bit, I’m already thinking about Uhwarrie 40 in February.
Holy mudfest Sparrow. Well done, well run. Sounds like the most damage was actually to your phone versus yer legs. Hope your WS dreams come true. And good on you for attempting to create a Six Sigma project with those aid station volunteers.
Great race recap and performance. Pinhoti is on my list. Rest up.
Interested in your thoughts on the whole HIIT v “cardio” debate. Seems to me it has to be split into a couple parts – value for general health/wellness/fitness and the role of each in training for endurance sports.
Hey, 1st, did you mean to include the northern tool link? I discarded that bit of your comment!
2nd, on HIIT vs. cardio, it’s not so simple. I’d consider looking at Friel’s Fast After Fifty book, but then that can be misinterpreted. A combo of Friel + MAF if you have the time and the long distance endurance goals seems best. HIIT may get you through some things, but I don’t think you’ll reach your potential.
Very nice write up. Enjoyed reading it and reminiscing already. I would have loved to have taken as many pictures as you did, but I seem to be about as lucky as you. Even though I have a Lifeproof case and had my phone in a ziplock, I still feel like something would have happened just as it did for you. Sorry about your luck. I guess we met up or were at the Bulls Gap AS at exactly the same time. Missed opportunity to meet up and enjoy some miles together. Man was that rain and accompanying wind relentless until the last 2 hours…of course :). Congratulations on the finish and getting that WS ticket. I am hoping for the same. Perhaps we will meet up somewhere in the future. PS Also enjoyed reading your other posts from past events as well.
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