Way back in the Spring, I registered for Pinhoti 100. Honestly, I picked this race because a couple of my Team Ninja sisters were running it and I wanted to play in the woods with friends. Being a point-to-point also made this an attractive race as well as the runnable course, though it had 15,000′ of elevation gain. One of our group had to drop the race due to injury, so it was down to me and my favorite-est partner in trail-crime, Kelley. In addition to experiencing this race with Kelley, some of my favorite people in the world were coming along for the ride. Bobby came to help crew. He went to Ouray, but that ended sooner than we had hoped so this would be a real test for him to see how he liked the gig. Baha came to pace me and Greg and Fiona came to crew and pace Kelley. History was made because it was the first time the Team Dirt & Vert trio have all been together at a big race.
I experienced pre-race jitters for a solid two weeks before the race. I think it was a combination of getting my mental game back on track and not wanting to let Baha down. Pacing and crewing is a special gift, because it requires taking time away from work and family. I appreciated Baha being there to pace me and I didn’t take the sacrifice lightly, at all.
When one registers for these events, they seem so far in the future that it is difficult to get your mind wrapped around the reality that you will actually be running ONE HUNDRED MILES. My mind was still in denial, even after waking up and making the final preparations on Saturday morning.
We stayed near Talladega, which was slightly closer to the finish than the start. We left in plenty of time to have a bathroom stop and get to the start line with about 30 minutes to spare. While the weather was clear, it was SO COLD and hanging out, freezing, wasn’t something any of us wanted to do. We stopped at a McDonald’s on the way, which was the same McDonald’s that the race busses had stopped at not long before us. As Bobby was buying coffee, the cashier mentioned that we had just missed the busses full of “5k runners”. When Bobby told her that they weren’t running 5k but 100 miles, her jaw nearly hit the floor. I laughed about that for a good 15 minutes and it was a nice break from the pre-race nerves.
We arrived at the Start at just the right time, only having to stand around for 10 minutes or so. I was so ready to get going at that point just because I wanted to get warm! Because everything I read about the race mentioned the “conga line” in the first miles of the race, I didn’t want to start near the back. I didn’t want to start near the front, either, because I planned to use the conga line to pace myself in the early stages of the race. Running always feels “easy” when you’re fresh and I knew that I would have even more difficulty holding back because the weather was forecast to be SPECTACULAR. I endured the line for an hour before starting my move to the front of the pack. In the spirit of full disclosure, I most likely ran the next several miles too fast, but the legs and lungs felt so strong and I honestly felt like I was running an easy, all-day pace. Those first 20 miles were nothing but fun, except mile 13 when I rolled my ankle. I tweaked it pretty hard, but it worked out easily enough and only bothered me going forward when I stepped wrong. I did a pretty good job of staying on top of nutrition and hydration through these early miles, too.
Having crew is really a game-changer. I had never run a race in which I had crew rushing from aid station to aid station, but it makes a huge difference in the amount of time spent at aid as well the mental aspect of the race. I was able to see everyone at miles 6.7, 13.27, and 18.27 before a LONG stretch to mile 42 without them. I kept thinking how weird it was that they all seemed giddy about how well I was running. Like, guys….I’m taking it fairly easy out here!
I began to feel a little tired around the 50k mark, but I also think that the long stretch without seeing crew played a role in that as well. I managed the climb up to Bald Rock just fine, although I hiked most of it. I was relieved to make the descent down Blue Hell in the daylight, as I had heard many runners discussing that as key to doing well in the race. After Blue Hell, I found myself at Cheaha Lake, mile 42, but…..my crew hadn’t arrived! I called Bobby but signal was so terrible that I couldn’t tell if he had understood what I was trying to say. I joked to myself that I was like Devon Yanko in Billy Yang’s film, “Life in a Day”. All I really needed was my jacket, as the sun would be setting soon, so I resolved to keep moving fast enough to keep myself warm in my sweaty, long sleeve shirt. I knew I could make do with the food I had on hand, took a couple extra minutes to eat at the aid station then decided to get on my way. As luck would have it, I would be on the road for a couple of miles and I ended up passing them as they pulled into the aid station. Fiona said to me, “You’re 20 minutes ahead!” I laughed about that for a long time – as if I had one clue whether I was ahead or behind. The important thing is that I was able to grab my jacket, restock nutrition and keep moving!
The Silent Trail section from miles 45-52 was much slower than I wanted. The sun was beginning to set, the trail was littered with just enough large rocks to keep me from getting in any kind of running rhythm, and there were a ridiculously high number of water crossings. This section started wearing on me mentally but I was able to make it to the 52 mile aid station still moving pretty well. The next section was only 3 miles, and at the end of that 3 miles I would see my crew and pick up Baha. Despite having those carrots dangling in front of me, I struggled to move well through through here. I barely managed to not completely suck, so I guess that I should be happy it wasn’t worse.
The race shifts when you get to pick up your pacer. You aren’t alone anymore and you’re still feeling halfway decent which makes you care about running strong, whether you feel strong or not. And having someone who is fresh and chatty helps divert your mind from the fact that your only halfway there. The next miles clicked away about as fast as they could at that point in the race. For some reason, I didn’t think I would see Bobby again until mile 85, but he was at mile 68! That was an unexpected boost, for sure. From Porter’s Gap at mile 68, we had to make the climb up Pinnacle. I had asked a runner about that climb early in the race and his assessment was spot on. He said that the number of switchbacks was what made it hard, that it was more mental than physical, and that most likely people felt it was the most difficult of the race because it was past the 100k mark. I agreed with all of that. We managed to make the climb then were able to see crew again at Pinnacle. Bobby and Greg were both there…wait…Greg wasn’t supposed to be there..he was supposed to be with Kelley. Bobby told me that Kelley had missed cutoff and was forced to drop from the race. My heart sank. I was so sad for her.
There was even more climbing after Pinnacle, WHY DID IT HAVE TO KEEP GOING UP??? The section from Wormy’s Pulpit to Bull’s Gap would quite literally run me into the ground. Those miles from 79-85 were the most difficult of the race, by far. We were out there in the middle of the night, temps were freezing, the wind was howling, and I was at the point in the race that the pain and fatigue were winning and I COULD NOT stop thinking about Kelley. It is also likely that I hallucinated here. I could have sworn that Baha said he was going to the bathroom, so I leaned up against a tree and closed my eyes. I opened them when I felt Baha staring at me, asked him if he was ready and off we went. He later denied that he stopped for the bathroom. <shrugs> This section really beat me up. I felt with each step my movement was getting worse. I was so cold that my legs didn’t want to move. I was SO TIRED and the pain was starting to get more and more intense. I ended up taking Advil to help with the pain. Advil is always a last resort and part of me feels like it is cheating, but I take the edge off in order to start moving again. I don’t think I’ve ever been as relieved to arrive at an aid station as I was at mile 85 aid. Bobby had me sit down in a chair and we were working on taking in calories. Oh! Maybe one reason that last section SUCKED was because I DID NOT EAT ANYTHING. I know so much, but execute so poorly at times. I noticed Greg talking to Baha and figured that Baha was telling him how shitty I was running. (I learned later that Baha was concerned he had pushed me so far that I might DNF, but that was NEVER a possibility in my mind. Baha did tell me later that he and Greg were discussing the actual race and how to keep me ahead of the girl behind me.) For a moment, I became angry with myself for allowing that last section to be SO BAD. I quickly stopped the negative talk. Negative talk certainly wouldn’t get me out of this mess, so might as well STOP. (HUGE win for me!!) After talking to Baha, Greg came over and asked me if we passed some females in that last section – um, what? I DID NOT PASS ANYONE IN THAT LAST, SUCKY SECTION!!! Then I wondered, “WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME THIS STUPID QUESTION?”
My time telling skills were way off by this point, but it didn’t seem like we spent much time at mile 85. It seemed like we were off again in no time. We would be running mostly on Jeep roads to the next aid station, 10 miles away. Baha stopped and asked me for 10 good miles, and I promised I would deliver. I would have killed myself to give him 10 good miles, especially after that last, sucky stretch. Luckily, the Advil had taken enough of the edge off that I began moving fairly well again. Being on gravel roads helped a lot, too. We had managed 5 pretty awesome miles when I suddenly felt a terrible pain go up the side of my left calf. I still don’t know what happened, but it scared me to death. I screamed, and I didn’t even scream when I broke my arm. Honestly, the pain of that broken bone was nothing in comparison. I know Baha had to have been worried, but he was so calm. I tried to walk, but I couldn’t toe-off on that foot. Initially, I was in panic mode, but that was quickly replaced with “I refuse to walk this thing in BECAUSE IT WILL TAKE FOREVER.” Luckily, I had kept my poles and it only took a matter of minutes for me to work out a method of running. We were off again!
We made it to the final aid station at mile 95 and had a “mere” 7.5 miles to go. I was able to get some more calories in (you guessed it, didn’t eat anything to speak of in that 10 mile stretch) and Fiona rubbed some Runner’s High Herbals on my calf. And that’s when Greg spilled the beans…..he said something about me being 6th female and 7th place was only 9 minutes back. Me: “You mean age group?” Greg, “No, overall.” Me: “YOU ARE LYING!!!!”, then “HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??” Soooooo glad I didn’t know that earlier because that would have been A THING for me to get mental about. At least this way, I only had to fret for 7.5 miles about whether or not she would catch me. I’LL BE DAMNED IF I LET HER CATCH ME AT THIS POINT. And off Baha and I went again.
I fell at mile 98 after getting my pole stuck between my legs. Don’t ask me how because my brain was too far gone to analyze what happened. I took a moment to whine and whimper. I really wanted to cry but I think I was too tired. First my ankle, then my calf, NOW THIS. I was so freaking tired and just wanted to be done AND THERE WAS SOME CHICK TRYING TO CATCH ME. Jason told me to take my time….and I am thinking…he was being wayyyy too nice. Why was he being so nice??? Ok, enough of the pity party. Get your ass up and GET MOVING.
Even though the remainder of the race hopped on and off trails, they were smooth and easy and mostly DOWNHILL. We finally got dumped out onto a road where we came across a sign proclaiming, “Pinhoti runners – 2 miles to go!” I asked Baha if that could be right and while he laughed, I was totally serious. I wanted to be DONE! Those 2 road miles seemed like the longest of the race! We finally turned off that road and I saw the back of the stadium and knew that we were home free!
I have such a great feeling of accomplishment tied to this race. I felt that way about my other two 100 mile races, but this one is even more special. I ran strong for the majority of the race. I spent less time and distance walking/hiking even though this race was more difficult that my last two 100s. Point to point races are pretty awesome. Oh, and Baha paced me to finish as 6th place female – more than I could ever have hoped for!
My crew and pacer made this all possible. There is NO WAY I would have done this well on my own. Thank you doesn’t do justice to my feelings of gratitude. And I am soooo happy that Bobby was able to go and that he actually had a good time! The experience is definitely more special since I was able to share it with him.
Until the next adventure!