I’ll start off with how I’m feeling post race and some thoughts before getting into the race description. So if you just want a race report skip this first section.
I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to run Pinhoti 100. I had no race plan whatsoever… aside from DNS (do nothing stupid) and wanting to get my DNF monkey off my back and a WS ticket. This isn’t really a plan as far as I am concerned. Usually I really think about how my training has gone and then try to figure out my pace, if for no other reason then to give my crew and husband an heads up as to when I should be coming through aid stations so they don’t have to stare at a trailhead for hours wondering when exactly I’ll be into the aid station. I mostly just printed out the generic 24 hour pace chart and figured I would see how I felt once the race started. The first time I ran it in 2013 I finished in 22:59, but that was with perfect weather conditions, and perfect training and recovery…. and I was pretty trashed after, in every way; physically, emotionally, and endocrinally (yea not a word, I know). I ended up with hives and a sort of bruised bladder that hurt.
Driving down to AL there were two major storms that looked like they were going to converge right over the race course on Friday night into Saturday. We all watched the weather reports as scenes of wind blown trees and hail flashed on the TV. Luckily the storms sort of missed and we ended up with consistent rain and wind, but nothing as extreme as it could have been.
Its been 4 days since Pinhoti, and I feel the best I’ve felt after a 100 mile race. A bit sore, pretty relaxed, but no where near as tired or sore as I’ve been in the past. I’m pretty happy with that, usually I am as emotionally drained as I am physically drained, and a bit of a zombie for a few weeks. That hasn’t been the case this time around. I was pretty sore on Monday, but by Wednesday I was contemplating going for a run because I was ready to get back. I resisted the urge and repainted our kitchen cabinets and all the trim, washed our floors, and reorganized the pantry instead. (After work of course.)
Not only is my post race recovery better, but during the race I usually have to play mind tricks so I don’t get overwhelmed. Things like only thinking about how far it is to the next aid station. Or I can have that really tasty piece of chocolate when I get to mile 80, or just digging into that pain cave and blocking out everything and going numb, which is often what I do in the latter stages of the race, just totally disconnect. I was wholly present, I remember each part of the day and night, never disconnecting, never getting down on myself but really being in the moment..I have never been so present in a race. It was strangely wonderful.
Ok, so let’s get to the race report.
Friday night I slept like the dead, only waking a few times when the thunder shook the hotel. The start was later than usual, 7am and we stayed about 15 minutes away so I got to sleep until 5am. We piled into two cars and headed to the second aid station. Because of all the rain the course wouldn’t be the usual point to point, we would start at a/s 2, run back to a/s 1 and then turn back around and run the rest of the course as it would have been normally run. This little out and back section was a bit tricky when we turned and headed back past the runners behind us. It wasn’t terrible on that narrow single track, but there were a few places people almost fell off the side of the mountain and I was glad that it was a very short section.
It was quite warm and 100% humidity with rain off and on for the first 30 miles. In 2013 I remember maybe a handful of shallow water crossings, this year with all the rain from the previous week, plus the rain coming down there were so many deep water crossings I opted not to change my shoes and socks. I figured what was the point, It felt like almost every half mile we were crossing something. There were at least 3 places that I stopped and waited for another runner before I crossed. The water was high up on my thighs and churning so I couldn’t see the bottom of it. Fortunately my feet were ok, nary a blister. I could feel that my toe nails were getting so soaked that they were lifting off the nail bed, but it wasn’t painful, just weird feeling. Looking at my feet now I am sure that I will be losing at least 6 toenails soon.
Anyway, I was feeling hungry from the start, which is unusual so early in the race, and realized that my glycogen and fat stores were probably still low from RRR and all the hiking (and not recovering) I did in the month in between. This is when I realized that if I really chose to race it would be painful, and I had a good chance of bonking. Around mile 14 I came into an aid station and told my crew that I finally had a plan. I would be eating more sugar and simple carbs than normal, and going slower than normal. I was going to run aerobically and enjoy the race (despite the rain.) I would let pain and effort (and an ever impending cramp in my hamstring) be my pace guide.
Up and Up to the highest point, Mt Cheaha is my very favorite part of the whole course. The first 30ish miles are rolling and runnable up and down, the section up to Cheaha is the first real climb and I was super excited for it! We rose up into the clouds and the mist through the trees and lichen covered boulders was really cool. I ran into a/s 41 excited and feeling GREAT! The next section is some road, that eventually leads to Blue Hell, which is a boulder-y section that doesn’t last long, but changes up the pace from the road running. It was super muddy and slick, so I happily took my time. No hurry, no worry…I had 30 whole hours to finish this race. Eventually it dumps you back onto road, which turns into a dirt road, and then back into single track.
I made the mistake of forgetting my second headlamp for the single track section. I am so night blind, I had to slow way down in the next section. This was probably the only time I got close to being frustrated or down, but I figured my headlamp was only 7 miles away, and again…I had time, I was almost at mile 55 and was somewhere around 11/12 hours into the race.
I had the best race in terms of feeling good, being happy and positive, and relaxed. I ate trail butters for 50 miles, chicken broth, chips and guacamole, I had scrambled eggs at one aid station..mmmmm. I never had any tummy issues, which is a huge deal for me because I am usually plagued by GI problems. I held off any caffeine until mile 85, and drank plenty. I have done enough races in the south now that I recognize many faces now and so I chatted and socialized most of the way. No focused racing quiet for me.
The rainy warm day, changed into a very wet, cold and windy night. I had been so hot that I didn’t grab warmer clothes for the ridgeline, fortunately my pacer had a trash bag and gloves, which I put on to keep the howling wind at bay. This time I was able to move fast enough to keep myself warm, unlike at RRR, otherwise I could have found myself in the same hypothermia predicament again. Speaking of hypothermia, its really quite scary seeing it on someone else on the trail. Just before mile 68 we happened upon a very confused and shaking runner. He was staring off towards a tree, and at first I thought he was peeing. When I saw him shaking in the rain I knew something wasn’t right. I peered into his eyes as he stared blindly back at me. I asked him if he was ok, if he was cold, if he knew where he was, his only response was an unintelligible mumble. I could see the aid station lights just a bit ahead through the trees, so I turned him in the correct direction, put my trash bag on him, and told him to follow me. We were less than a 1/4 mile, but rather than me slow down and get too cold, I continued on ahead to the aid station. Coming in I grabbed a volunteer and told them that someone was in need up the trail, very close, but to maybe take a blanket and go get the guy. I have no idea what happened to the runner, I assume he got into the a/s ok. That was kind of a scary moment for me thinking back to how I must have looked at RRR, it also made me thankful that I did have the sense to drop and not continue back up into the wilderness like that.
Anyway, so back to the race. Up until this time I had been ahead of Nate and Lynx. I had seen lynx below me on one of the switch backs around mile 28 and had been expecting him to catch me at any point… he never did. Nate, however, came bombing by at this aid station, mile 70ish or so. He looked focused and I could tell he was hurting, but in that “I’m racing so bring on the pain,” way. I was excited for him, thought about staying with him, but remembered my Zen race and gave him a hug and wished him well as he left us in the dark.
The rest of the race went about the same, I chatted with my pacer, I didn’t rush through aid stations, but I also didn’t linger long either. At mile 85, completely soaked through and not able to use my fingers it was time to change. The car was parked a 1/4 mile up the road in the wrong direction, but being comfortable and enjoying the race was more important than a time or place, so we jogged up the road to the car. I put on two shirts and a rain jacket, and went back through the a/s towards the finish. This section, 85 to about 93 is mostly jeep road. I ran most of this, only walking the steeper hills. The first time I ran this I panicked the whole road section. There are tons of turns along this jeep road, and I kept thinking I missed a turn, I was tired and was desperate just to be done!. This time I remembered where the turn was and I just kept trucking towards it. The sky was starting to turn pink and I knew that sunrise would be soon. Into aid station 95 I took off my jacket and pack and gave it to my crew. I felt so good I knew I wouldn’t need any more food or water the last 5 miles. I set out from the aid station and ran the whole last 5 miles in. I had miscalculated and thought I could sneak in just under 25 hours, so I pushed myself for those last road miles. I passed at least 7 runners along the way, including one female. Putting me across the line in 25:11, and 5th place.
Typically I cross the line hurting, and throwing up. Not this time! I went and found Nathan and congratulated him, hung out with him a bit, ate some of the really good breakfast, and eventually went to take a nap in the car while we waited for Lynx to finish. Zen 100 mile finishes are so nice. It turns out that Lynx’s ITB locked up so he hiked most of the second half of the race.
So what did I learn from this race? Can you run two 100 mile races in 7 weeks(well one 70 mile DNF, and one 100.). Yes, I can. Not terribly fast, but decently fast on tired legs, with out pushing. I think this race has given me a new outlook on 100 mile racing. Its maybe helped me let go of the need to compete, at least let go of it from time to time. I reached my goals, I finished well under the cut off, I stayed positive and smiling the whole way, I didn’t have GI issues, and I’m more confident about future races. I have learned that the pain is from the racing, and that I am in control of it. If I choose I can finish a race with no pain, and if I choose I can push myself and race and feel the pain of competition. I’m hoping this will give me renewed confidence for 2016’s racing season!! My self doubt may be lifting ever so slowly.
Congratulations to Nate and Lynx as well. Nate bested his 24 hour goal by more than a dozen minutes, and negative split the race! Lynx paced himself, and while his ITB gave him some problems, he hung on and got his WS ticket too!
Of course I can’t take all the credit. My husband supported this kind of crazy endeavor. Our usual agreement is one hundred mile race a year. This was two in two months, which is pushing our budget a bit, but fortunately he knew how much a WS qualifier meant to me. I had terrific crew and pacer. Thank you ET and Ringo. Of course last but not least, I put in a lot of hard, painful miles of training this summer, thanks to my very good friend and training partner Jordan’s guidance.
And now, finally, my first EVER off season! I think there should be a post coming about that soon. If anyone has any comments about how to properly take an off season I would love to hear!!