Monday, April 21, 2014

Pinhoti Strike Out

So going into this race, the Double Top 100, I had only one goal- to finish. It was to be the first of the Pinhoti Slam 100 mile races and from early conversations, not overly hard. I soon learned how little I actually was prepared.

On Friday I packed all my gear and headed to Hickory to meet Jeff and Phyllis for the drive down.

Important side note- apparently I had managed to lose my Salomon Speedcross trail shoes since the move 2 weeks prior. I spent the morning freaking out but decided to race in my new Hoka Stinson Trails- thanks to the Ultra Running Company of Charlotte- and Jaime (McDonald) who sent an old pair of her Salomon's with Jeff just in case. 

Jeff was also racing and Phyllis had agreed to come crew me and possible run the 50k. We talked about the race, what to expect and how it should go on the way down. We had learned that there was a mere 18 people running and only one other woman. Odds were good to finish in about 28 hours and possibly a win for me. When we pulled up at check in, we were greeted with different expectations. The race director asked us if we were interested in the early start at 3am, Jeff and I both laughed and told him that we had good 100 mile times. He told us that most runners were taking the early option due to the difficulty of the course. Each loop was anywhere from 5-8,000 ft of elevation change and the trails weren't technical but the climbs and descents were steep. When we got to the hotel, two runner confirmed the difficulty and were also taking the early start anticipating no less that a 30 hour finish. This began to worry me. I had been nursing a sore knee since the 100k in January and was just starting to feel about 80% of myself. Having bailed on a long training run two weeks before in pain and in tears, I had no idea how much I had physically for a semi-challenging course let alone one of this magnitude.  Jeff was also not 100%- he had mustered through the Georgia Death Race the weekend before and was taking care of a very sore IT band.

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Packet pickup Friday night

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3am start- headlamp is blazin
We did our best to calm our nerves, pack our gear and settle in for the evening at a decent bedtime to accommodate a 2am wake up call. Minus a totally random knock on the door around midnight that woke us up...I slept pretty well. The alarm went off and we started the morning routines...I had decided to wear my Lust shorts, Steampunk arm sleeves and Gordy tech shirt from INKnBURN. It was about 50 degrees at the start so it was perfect weather to be out racing in. We got some minor and vague last minute instructions on the course and set off. About 2 miles in we came to the biggest decent I have ever seen. The headlamp of the leader was straight down from me.  It was an almost mile and a half drop; nasty switchbacks and leaf covered rocks made the downhill almost impossible to run. We hiked down as relaxed as we could reminding ourselves it was going to be a long day.  Over the first few miles, most of the 12 runners at the start stuck together through the ups and downs. We climbed up to the first aid station at Cool Springs and found ourselves a little lost. We weren't sure which of the trails to take so we fanned out and found the flags the RD had said would always be on our right. Other runners had taken the wrong trails and would continue to make uncorrected mistakes over the day. We came back through that same aid station after a few more miles and headed back into the main aid station. We were all a little confused and the volunteers didn't know where to point us so we headed up the road to a cabin where the RD was staying. He pointed us in the correct direction (which we were on) and headed back out to complete the loop. We climbed, descended and the sun came up to reveal a really gorgeous day to be racing.

Just a short time later the sun rose and we found ourselves heading out on the "Pinhoti connector" which was a little mile out and back that we had to complete twice to make the course a full 100 miles. As we pulled into the main aid station, there were 4 of us that had decided to stick together. Jeff, Kyle and Benjamin. We cruised through the first half of the course exchanging stories and pleasantries. Kyle and I discovered we both had a background in Exercise Science and he was actually working on his Doctoral degree. We all enjoyed the company and agreed that it was helping the time pass. Through that second loop we were high in spirits. However at the main aid station on the third loop, Benjamin was struggling with some GI issues and decided to sit down. We found out later that he ended up dropping so it was just the three of us. The sun had begun to set low in the sky and by now we had been racing almost 15 hours and were roughly halfway through. I had begun getting some cramping and early blisters on my feet. The Hokas were feeling great but unbeknownst to me, my feet were wet and the skin was separating. The socks I wore were too thick and I wasn't sure how to fix it. On the back side of the course, you encounter about a 2 mile climb followed by the last leg down to the main aid station. We began that climb in the dark and feared that it wasn't going to be long for me. Somewhere along that climb I broke- my mind couldn't fathom another 40 some miles and at least another 10-12 hours of racing that is was going to take me to finish. I didn't want to dampen the spirits of the troop so I put my head down and led the charge up the climb. When the guys began jogging the soft decent- I encouraged them to leave me and continue. I knew I wouldn't finish and despite the tantalizing allure of a first place female finish and the loss of the Pinhoti Slam buckle- I just couldn't pull it together. I didn't want to get out on the next lap and get hurt in the dark or totally destroy my feet which would mean months of recovery. It was one of the hardest decisions I made but I pulled out of the race. Offers to look at and fix my feet and pep talks from Jeff and Kyle just weren't enough. I was done for the race, my watch was reading 19 hours and I had just ticked off a 100k. I could only think of a shower and sleep so Phyllis and I sent Jeff back out on a loop and promised to be back in the morning to check. A shower and bed never felt so amazing and I was out like a light.

We woke around 8ish and grabbed some breakfast then headed to the start. As we pulled in, Kyle was at his car prepping for the second half of his last loop. I wished him well despite the nasty fog and rain that had set in overnight. He managed a smile and was off. Jeff was no where to be seen but apparently had lay down to nap in the night and headed out about an hour or so behind Kyle. We fretted about cutoffs and when Jeff pulled into the station he knew he would have to move on the back half.  He dashed off with high spirits and an astoundingly short time later Phyllis went out to run Jeff in for his last 100ish yards. Jeff's finish time was  35:37 minutes- Only 7 runners out of the 16 that toed the line finished. This race was incredibly hard and we were so proud of Jeff's effort.

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As we started home, Jeff asked me if I had any regret not finishing the race. I said that the competitor in me wanted to finish but the reasonable person in me knew better, I couldn't have gutted it out for much more than 20 more miles which still would have left me short and not any happier. This race meant the end to my slam pursuit but a beginning to putting my body/health before my need to win. I made a promise to the RD that I would be back next year to conquer it.

With a bit of a chip on my shoulder- I look ahead to the Blind Pig 100 in just a few weeks to seek out my second buckle. My only goal is to finish... fingers crossed I am successful!!