I can’t say that running my first 100 miler was exactly what I thought it would be. In many ways, I was more than prepared physically, but it definitely took my mind and concentration to a new level. You read books about it, listen to podcasts, watch movies, and scour the internet in hopes of finding out exactly what you're in for but you won't find the perfect answer until you actually do it.
The Monday morning the Pinhoti 100, I woke up in Asheville, NC. I had driven in from Greensboro
Sunday and found myself driving head on into a heck of a winter storm, sideways snow and all. I had run a 30+ mile week, about half of my typical mileage. I thought to myself that one last run before the race would be nice. This time of year, the changing colors of the trees in Pisgah National Forest is surreal and it's hard to just sit around and do nothing. 5.5 miles round trip up to Looking Glass Rock left me satisfied. That was it – the next time I lace up these shoes and go for a run, I’ll be on the Pinhoti in Heflin.
Jason, my sole crew member and pacer, touched down in Atlanta on Thursday night and drove on out in a rental car to join me for a beer in Anniston before checking into the hotel. I get a veggie hummus sandwich, he gets a loaded burger with bacon, and we start coming up with a game plan for the following days.
Friday morning, I set off for Birmingham to pass off my dog to a friend of mine who was going to dog sit for me all weekend. I headed towards Sylacauga afterward in hopes of avoiding any line for packet pickup. I walk in, and within 60 seconds, I have my packet, bib number, and t-shirt I’m wearing as I type this up. I shuffle back to the van and start sorting out all my gear and preparing drop bags. Each drop bag consisted of some sort of real food – such as a burrito or sandwich – a beer or Topo Chico, and a few nutritional items to restock should I need it.
Everything is coming together. I have a bag for Jason to bring in the car that contains a duplicate set of clothes in case I need to change things out. It also contains a dry bag full of Clif Bars, Gels, and Skratch Labs so that I can top off my pack as needed. Unfortunately, the shorts I planned to race had disappeared somewhere in my van and I have yet to find them, so I had to default to my next best pair, which was a slight bummer and later problem. Shoes were set, pack was full, and I was nearly ready. As I filled up my hydration pack, I found a missing pair of new socks I had left in there from a long run a few weeks back. I had brought them along on the Art Loeb trail in case I needed to change out socks, but never had to and now their first run was going to be on race day.
Friday night we planned which aid stations I wanted Jason to be at and at what point he should plan to hop on and run with me. Rather than overcomplicating everything, we kept it extremely simple. He would be at the start line and the first couple of aid stations following since they were easy to access. After that, I would be on my own to mile 45 where my first drop bag was at anyway. From there, he would follow me to all crew accessible aid stations and then run from mile 69 to the finish.
I wake up around 4:30 feeling rested. I got at least a solid 7 hours of sleep despite my impending doom. I get my shorts and shirt on, double check that I have everything, and we head out. First stop was the gas station across the street where I picked up an iced coffee to milk over the 45-minute drive. Google’s first set of directions led us into a bit of a problem – a parked train. It didn’t look to be moving anytime soon and there was only 1 other route I could make out so we tried it. There are now several cars behind us and even a few others coming at us from the opposite direction which worried us. We all seemed to be a bit confused. The second route led us onto a dirt road a little sooner and we inched our way down it. A small, barely marked, turn to the right, and we were basically there. We parked on the side of the road grabbed everything we needed and realized we had the better half of a mile to walk to the race start.
One quick trip over to the outhouse and I’m ready. Of all the races I’ve ever done, there’s only one other time where I’ve been this calm at the start line. The other was at a race in Idaho that I DNF’d on my first year, but came back for redemption, which I got. A calming song by Tyler Childers hits my ears through my headphones as I stand there and look around at the runners and their crew. I would guess there were 400+ people there in the campground. There was a little bit of confusion as we didn’t have a race day check in and the race director didn’t make any announcement until just a few minutes before. He announced that the first aid station would serve as check in and in the following minutes, he gave the countdown to 7am.
The start was a bit anticlimactic. The elites and faster runners split off the front and the group I was in didn’t even begin to move until 20 seconds later. Finally. We’re jogging down the road and we take a turn. Here, we drop into the Pinhoti and begin the 100 mile trek to Sylacauga, right after we all form a single file line and actually get on the trail. The packs were so tight that the first few miles took over an hour and there was little to no chance to pass anyone. Wherever you found yourself in line was where you were staying. It seemed that I had unintentionally split up a group of female runners who were hoping to pace together as long as they could, and a couple of the ones behind me were aggressive about passing and gaining the 3 positions at mile 5 so that they could be with their friends. To put it in perspective though, only 7 females finished ahead of me, and one of them I met mid race and got a picture with. The other 6 likely maintained a lead ahead of me the entire day and I never saw them. At first, I was hopeful for them finishing strong, but ultimately, I would guess that most pushed too hard on the first 50 and ended up dealing with fatigue later in the night.
We roll up to the aid station at mile 18, a trailhead that I am very familiar with from my travels. The group that I found myself stuck in had split up into several smaller fractions and hopping onto the road gave us another chance to shuffle up the pack. Jason runs up to me to see how I’m feeling and we start making our way over to the drop bag on the north side of the railroad tracks. As I reach down, we all hear the rumble of an approaching train and can now see the front of it. Instinctively, I grabbed the dry bag I had packed with food and gels and yelled for Jason to follow as we ran across the tracks as the last 2 to safely get across. As we laugh about how close that was and how I could be stuck behind a 5-minute train, I refilled my pack with a couple of extra bars and gels and said my goodbyes. Down the road a couple of miles and we were back on the trail.
Around mile 20 I had started pairing up with different runners hold a similar pace and Anthony and Andrew had already done the same. I had crossed paths with them earlier in the day, but now all 3 of us were there together and there wasn’t any reason to split up since we’d l