2012 Pinhoti 100
I decided to do one more 100 mile race to cap off my 2012 ultra season. Pinhoti 100 with it’s mostly single track running, no elevation and our ability to get there and back in a long weekend made it the perfect choice. Scott and I left the kids with both grandparents for the long weekend and caught our flight to the closest city, BIrmingham, Alabama. We made it down to Sylacauga, Alabama uneventfully and met up with a couple friends from New England. After unloading the rental car and making a grocery stop, we headed to the pre-race dinner and meeting.
We chatted with Grand Slam of Ultrarunning record holder and 2011 Grindstone 100 champion Neal Gorman (the eventual winner), and a couple other nice folks sitting at his table. The pre-race meeting was a hoot. Todd Henderson, the Race Director, had some really crazy deadpan humor. Most of the time we were unsure if he was serious or just crazy. Since the pre-race meal was lasagna with loads of cheese we passed on that food and headed to a local Mexican joint. After fueling up we went back the hotel to put all our gear ready and get a good night sleep. We would be getting up at 3am Saturday to follow the buses to the start, 100 trail miles northeast of Sylacauga in Heflin.
We dropped our friend Kelly Wilson’s vehicle at the finish line and she and Sean Andrish, hopped into our car. Sean would be crewing for Kelly and then pacing from 65 miles to the finish just as Scott would be doing for me. The drive to the start took over 1.5 hours and we had to run 1/2 mile to the start, just getting there when Todd yelled, “Go!” Off we went.
I fell into a good rhythm, averaging a 10.5 minute mile through the winding single track. The sun had not come up yet so we were all wearing head lamps. I reached aid station 1 in just over an hour. My plan was to eat more solid food earlier and move to more liquid calories about 4 hours in, but I lost half my Clif Bar running to the start and had packed my hydration vest with only Hammer Gel and Perpetuum out of habit! So I ingested gel and started taking my electrolyte pills. I felt good and not overextended at any time.
About 12 miles in, I switched to my UltrAspire Isomeric Pocket handheld bottle with electrolyte drink in it. The plan was to give my body a break from my UltrAspire Surge hydration pack at regular intervals where we knew Scott would be able to crew within 1.5 hours. At various points, I ate a few potato chips and pretzels, but started shifting to more liquid energy food. As the day heated up, the guys around me started complaining about it. I felt fine with the warmth. The woods were beautiful with lots of up and down. Most of the trail was covered with long pine needles that made for a soft landing when coming downhill but very slippery on the uphill. The total elevation change for the point to point course was more than 16,000 feet up and 16,000 feet down.
Every so often, you had to watch out for huge holes in the ground. I wondered if they were made by an animal but finally realized they were left when a tree’s roots had burned. I am surprised that no one broke a leg in them. At one point, we traveled down a long hill and at the bottom was a creek. It would be impossible to not get your feet wet so I just walked across. It actually felt really nice. I stopped in the middle to bath my arms, legs and neck.
After reaching the highest point in Alabama, Bald Rock on Mt. Cheaha, we had a very fun rocky downhill but then some long, monotonous roads.
I was thankful to turn back into the woods after the next aid station and after changing my socks. Now we were off the Pinhoti Trail and on a white blaze loop presumably to add miles. At this point we went back and forth from dirt road to trail. The miles between 60 and 65 were some of my slowest of the entire run. Those 5 miles took me 3 hours. I was beginning to feel fatigued and noticed I could not move in a straight line. Something had changed in my body. I did my best to keep eating and moving. I couldn’t wait for Scott to join me at mile 65. At one point I was alone in the dark and looked up. I switched off my headlamp and took a moment to take in the beauty of the stars. In the middle of my pain I was glad that I took that time.
Coming into mile 65 Scott was getting worried. He ran out to find me on the trail and we ran back to the aid station together. I told him how my stomach was beginning to go sour, that I couldn’t take in Perpetuum anymore and most foods, as well as pills, were making me gag. We asked for ginger ale and someone got one thanks to another runner’s friendly crew member! I drank that down and we grabbed a few bananas and a pretzel and headed out. I was able to slowly eat a few banana and then tried an electrolyte pill. It went down and my food promptly came up! Ok, no more electrolyte pills could be taken and I felt like I was getting weaker by the minute.
I needed more food in me, but my stomach was not allowing it. At the next aid we grabbed some peanut butter sandwiches which did not settle well and came back up. My stomach was flipping and I was fading fast. The climb up Horn Mountain was brutal for me. A mile and a half of switchbacks. Scott practically pulled me up the mountain with his encouragement. At mile 77 we were deep in the woods. I was desperate for something to change. After trying to eat some pretzels I threw up again this time I was on my knees and my head was swirling with negative thoughts. I had put some much in up to the point it would be crazy to stop now, so I made the decision to continue on. We grabbed some boiled potato with salt and a few gummy bears. More dirt road ahead. I ate tiny bites of potato with tiny bites of crystalized ginger. I can’t stand the taste of raw ginger but I knew I had to do it.
A few miles more and my stomach began to settle down. With every tiny bite of potato and ginger I took a small sip of water. Little by little I came back to life. While it was hard to fathom making it 24 more miles to the finish in the state I was in, it was even harder to consider not finishing after going so far. I changed my thought pattern from aid station to aid station (4.5 – 6 miles at a time). I moved on and ran more and more. It also helped that a lot of the last 15 miles was dirt road and downhill. I also found that I could drink soda and keep it down. (the only thing soda is good for!) I caught a few runners and did not get passed after mile 85.
My Suunto GPS had died at this point and I did not know what time I was at. I kept asking Scott and eventually he began to realize that I would be able to get under 24 hours if I could keep an average of at least a 14 minute mile. Feeling better and determined I opted for even better than that especially because I had planned on 22 hours and know I could have achieved that had I not gotten sick. After hearing bats, owls and coyotes, we finally made our way into Sylacauga. We hit pavement and knew there was only 3 miles to go. Scott asked me if I wanted to walk the inclines but there was no way. It was time to get this done. We came out onto the high school track, I ran my half loop and came in at 23 hours 25 minutes. After receiving my belt buckle (100 mile finishers award) we went back to the recreation department to wait for Kelly and Sean. Scott got to take a shower but the women”s locker room was being used as storage, so I had to rinse off in the sink. After that, I pulled two plastic chairs together, laid between them and promptly fell asleep. It was about 6am.
Awards were held at 11:30am. The daylight savings time change occurred while we were out on course but the race officials did not recognize it until after the race ended at 12am, so when they rolled back the clock it was a half hour to awards. I was able to keep my place as 4th woman. The top three ladies were phenomenal. Denise Bourassa from Oregon placed first in 19:24. Meghan Hall placed second in 20:16 and Melanie Fryer placed third in 20:25. They all beat the old course record! Fortunately I also got a top ten fastest time! And I received first in my age group. Thank goodness for no double dipping!
A big thank you to my husband Scott. What a great date! Also thank you to Sean Andrish who helped crew. I want to also thank Coach Al Lyman for believing in me and keeping me strong. Now we just need to get me healthy again!