Friday night we made it down to Greenville and got the kids settled in with my folks. Saturday Kelley and I headed to Georgia. Cool part #1, we got to have lunch at Taco Mac with Mel's husband Jerry. Taco Mac was great and it was really cool to get to meet & hang out with Jerry too. We made it down to Pine Mountain, got checked into the hotel and made it to the packet pickup. Got the stuff, and got to hang with The Snail for a bit too, which is always cool.
The town of Pine Mountain GA is actually a very quaint little town with the Calloway Gardens (whatever that is), tons of antique shops and cute little restaurants. It's where FDR used to go for those "warm spring" treatments. Very cool place! We hit up some of the local shops and landed in a great restaurant for dinner. I was ready to hit the trails.
Morning came early, and we had the Pine Mountain 40 mile trail run starting at 7 am Sunday. I had no idea what to expect on the day. No clue how far 40 miles would really feel or how much pain I would be able to endure. And this race broke all of those expectations that didn't really exist. I took in the whole thing and I'm kind of glad I didn't know what I was getting myself into.
The course was single track. All single track. I heard a lot of "wow, this was a tough choice for your first ultra" thrown out there. As is usually the case with trail ultras, the people you meet on the course are some of the nicest and strangest people out there. I really enjoyed talking to everyone I could find on the trail. We had about 150 people start the race.
|Notice the runners going up the stairs on the right. We started on the dam up there.|
|At the starting line|
|Runners in the woods.|
Now when I say "single track", I really had no idea what I was talking about. This trail was single track so tight you couldn't pass. The first 2 miles or so was pretty kind of almost flat, and not too tough to run through. Unfortunately, the single track was so tight there was no way to pass anyone. And I wanted to be really conservative anyway, because burning out at the end could really be a bad thing.
Then we started climbing. and by climbing, I mean power hiking. Going up stuff like this:
|That's a tight trail covered with leaves hiding rocks.|
The craziest thing was almost falling on a road. Actually I saw the Snail and looked up from the trail just long enough to trip over a rock or something. I didn't fall, but it was a nice reminder to pay attention to the terrain. And getting a little cheer from a good friend never hurts!
Switchbacks make it a little easier to navigate, but you're running over leaves on a slant hiding rocks. It's a recipe for ankle breaking. The parts of the trail that were flat enough to run fast on were covered in rocks. The parts that weren't covered in rocks were so steep rocks couldn't find a place to settle down on. The uphills were just as bad as the downhills. We'd go up to a ridgeline, catch a nice view, then down to the valley below. Cross a stream, then up another huge incline. It was incredibly scenic. Tough, dangerous, slow, but certainly beautiful.
|On a ridgeline, you should be able to see a nice view back there.|
|mid-stride accidental picture that's actually pretty cool.|
|The course followed these rock outcroppings a lot. Dangerous, but cool.|
|looking down over the valley|
|9.12 miles in 1:54? slooooooow going|
By mile 13 I was into a part of the course that had been damaged by tornado's in 2011. Really sad to see this cool old forrest destroyed like that. It also meant that there was lots of sun exposure. I did actually find a quiet spot off of the trail and use the bathroom, only unscheduled stop of the day. That made me feel a little better, but I knew I was out of gas and in for a long time on the trails. Mile 13 is when I knew I was in trouble.
By mile 15 the chafing started with my left nipple. I took off my shirt to stop the chafing, and had to run with it on my side for the rest of the day. I also got off the course for the first time. Not far, but a couple of other guys followed me off course and one of them fell on some rocks getting back down the hill. The course was really well marked, but I just wasn't paying attention. The last thing I need here is extra distance. Pay attention!
|Tornados don't play games|
|Whoever maintains this trail had their work cut out for them. The recovery was pretty amazing.|
|Check out that incline! Tight, gnarly stuff.|
I thought the turnaround was going to hit around mile 20. Or the top of the loop or something. Mile 20 came and went. I lost the will to live right around then. Then I had to keep going. The lollipop is where the trail got really deep forrested. I turned a corner and came up on this:
My second clue was when the trail came up on some place called "slippery rock falls". I figured that must be it. I'm really glad the trail was clearly marked here. There was several sets of these falls, and sometimes the trail would go right up there. In between the rocks, the rock walls, and the trees it turned into more rock climbing or scrambling than running. So cool!
The aide station at the "top" was actually at 22.8 miles. They had what may be the best grilled cheese I've ever eaten. The trail got incredibly wind-ish, with maybe a dozen creek crossings. back and forth, over rocks, across the water, under trees, over more rocks. Getting to that 22.8 was by far the coolest part of the course.
I grabbed my grilled cheese and headed out, when I heard the Snail screaming at me. So cool to see him out on the course! The next aide station was 1.7 miles away, and I had about 35 minutes to make it there before the first time cutoff. That was a bit of inspiration I guess, as I made it with plenty of time to spare. From there on out the course retraced itself, I put the camera away, and the aide stations were about 3 miles apart. I don't really remember much else. That kind of brain funk can only be caused by, well, you guessed it. or something.
At mile 24.5, the garmin battery died. It was around 5:45ish into the race.
I hit the 6 hour mark long before I hit the marathon distance mark.
The next aide station was 28 miles. They said I was an "official" ultra runner then. PDR baby!
next one was at 31 miles. I really had it in for that 50k mark. I wanted it, and I got it.
The 34 mile aide station was the final time cutoff. I cleared it by about 2 hours. They said I could walk in from there and still get an official finish. I took that to heart. 6 miles left.
Since it was an out and back course the first few miles were pretty flat, runnable, and easy. That also meant that the last couple of miles were flat, runnable, and easy. After 4 miles of walking through the hills I had the energy left to run the flats. It hurt, but then everything hurt no matter what I did. I came around one corner and heard music. Thought it was the finish line. Got off of the course again for a bit, just missed a turn. still, that's a bad time to add mileage. Got back on the course and had the sad discovery that the music was not at the finish line. But soon enough, there was some white flecks peeking through the trees. Could it be cars?
then this finally happened.
|I got chicked|
Yea baby! Finally done. Started at 7 am. Finished at nearly 5 pm. Cannot believe it is finally done! 40 miles is one helluva long way to run.
This race broke all of my expectations. There was about 150 people who started, and I finished 90th out of 118 finishers. It's been a long time since I did something and wasn't a complete badass at it. But this course humbled me. It really broke me down in some unexpected ways.
|Hanging with The Georgia Snail at the finish line. I still can't believe one text from him was all it took for me to sign up for this crazy shit.|
|This doesn't show all of the chafing|
The kids were practically asleep by the time we got back there. Monday we headed back to Raleigh, and I could barely move. I really couldn't get enough to eat. My final thought is that I may be one and done on trail ultras. I realized something about myself on that trail. I am really good at fast road marathons and on-road triathlons. I should stick to what I'm good at. Even if "ultra runner" is a pretty decent look on me:
|It's a rugged look for sure.|
|Part homeless chic, part whole foods employee, all badass.|