This would be my second ever 100 mile run and my second Pinhoti 100. I had a successful first 100 last year but I made a bunch of rookie mistakes and I wanted to see if I could improve by changing what I learned last year. My goals for this year were to beat last years time of 24:50 and go under 24 hours and try to break into the top 10-20 overall(last year I was 46th.)
Last year I took long stops at most aid stations, but this year I planned to make much shorter stops. Last year I wore shorts with liners the first half and had very bad chafing, this year I planned to wear stretch pants with no liners the whole race. Last year I changed shoes at mile 85, but toe box was small and my feet had swollen were very painful until I changed the shoes back 10 miles later. This year I planned to wear the same shoes the whole race.
I had the same crew from last year my friend Dean and his wife Heather from Atlanta. When I called Dean to ask if they would crew me again he asked why I would do this to myself again?!! I told him I love running in the woods! Last year my wife Celeste and my kids came to cheer me on. But after last years race I went back to my hotel and took a hot bath which caused me to vasodilate and I passed out. After seeing me pass out Celeste said she would not go back again. I thought she may change her mind but as it turned out her photography business was very busy and she had two shoots the same weekend , so no family support this year.
Also on the family side is the timing of this race sucked! Because I had to be at packet pick up Friday night in Alabama which was also the night of Halloween. So for the first time since having kids I missed trick-or-treating with them. I will not be doing a race again where I have to miss Halloween! Kids are little for such a short time and I don’t want to miss out again.
I made another change this year about 2 months before. I decided to change my running shoes that I ran in last year. Last year I ran in Montrail’s and they did a good job but I felt almost every rock and root. I kept hearing how over a long race like 100 miles, a more cushioned shoe would allow me to run in less pain. So I decides to try using Hoka’s this year which turned out to work great.
This year I went to the pre-race meeting/dinner and packet pick up Friday night that I missed out on last year. I got to talk with runners I met last year and meet some new ones. After the dinner I went to the hotel and tried to get to sleep early. I made a Facetime call to my wife and kids to see all the candy they got trick-or treating. I had to get up very early around 3:30AM to take a bus to the start line. I got very little sleep and tried to catch a few zzz on the 1.5 Hr bus ride. It was very cold 29 or 30 and windy and no one wanted to get off the bus until right before the start.
I was very happy to see Dean and Heather around 30 min prior to the start and handed them my gear bag. I told Dean that I wanted to get in the top 10 or 20 this year and planned to go out with the leaders and try and hold on. He said it sounded like a good plan and if it didn’t work I could always slow down.
I lined up at the front of the race to get a good position. The race starts on a gravel road for about 100 yards then goes right into single track trail. Last year I went into the woods in about 25the place and it was like a conga line for the first 6 or 7 miles. This year I went into the woods in second place and I could run at my own pace. A dog came running by early on and then I got passed and went into 3rd place. At around mile 5 I got passed and was still in 4th place at the first aid station at mile 6.
I had planned to run all the hills the whole race. And through the first two aid stations I did not walk any hills. Coming into the second aid station to my surprise I was catching back up to the guy in 3rd place. As I approached the aid station I could hear a train, but I did’t think much of it. But as I got closer Heather and the aid station volunteers were yelling the train is coming! I ran passed the aid station table and watched 3rd place cross the tracks in front of me and I started to run toward the tracks also and could see the train was fast approaching. I made the split second decision that I am a Dad of three and decided to stop. Once I made the decision to stop I stood and watched as the 5th, 6th, and 7th place runners came into the aid station. I was very frustrated at this point because not only was I catching 3rd but now the gap I had on the three behind me was completely erased!! I was fuming for at least an hour and I new the 6 or 7 minutes wasn’t a big deal but the mental part of having the others catch me sucked.
For the next 27 miles until I reached the highest point in Alabama at mile 40 (Cheaha Mtn.) I kept going back and forth within the top 10. Some of the runners I was passing and getting passed by that I met were Nathan and Kelly. Nathan was from Chattanooga and had his two young daughters and a wife cheering him on and Kelly from Kentucky being crewed by his mom. The view from the top of the mountain was beautiful. The only problem up to this point was on the climb up to Cheaha my back started hurting. I was on track for a 20 hour finish as other runners kept telling me but I knew the pace would slow at night and there was the climb up Pinnacle at mile 75.
My nutrition was going pretty good I was trying to get a GU gel pack in every hour and getting real food at aid stations. Hot soup was my favorite! Including a cupcake that kelly’s mom gave me at the top of Cheaha mountain. I was using water and Heed and kept trying to drink, I was concerned about hydration because I was having to force myself to pee. Later in the race I decided to stop the HEED and just drink water.
At mile 55 I put my lights on and turned on my Ipod to go run in the dark. The music was good company as I never listen to music when training. I found it very difficult to keep a good pace in the single track in the dark. At this point I fell out of the top 20 and my back was hurting on every climb. At around mile 57 I changed my watch from one to the other. From last year I learned my Garmin watch would only last 18 hours. And after it died I would have no idea how much further each aid station was , so I decided to wear two watches this year. Before I shut the first watch off it was acting up and going haywire and was getting frustrated until I turned on the second one.
At around mile 70 I started the climb up to Pinnacle and I just put my head down and hiked all the way up. It was how I remembered, very windy and cold (around 28 degrees). I remembered they had loud music playing at the top last year and I kept listening for it but it felt like the switchbacks up the mountain went on forever. I was so relieved when I finally got to the aid station at mile 75 and I sat down by the fire and had an egg and cheese sandwich and some hot soup. They told me that I couldn’t stay long and kept asking if I wanted a shot of whiskey! Even though I declined their nice offer, the volunteers were great here and at all of the aid stations!
This was the longest I spent at an aid station and it was hard to get going and knowing the trail kept going up for another 8 or 9 miles. Much of the climb were jeep roads but were very rutted out and hard to get any type of running pace on. An enjoyable part of this section was when I kept looking behind me thinking another runner with a light was coming, was actually the moon shining so bright! Also I stopped a few times and put my hand over my headlamp to look at the stars. WOW! – the sky was just amazing there must have been a million stars out that night!
I knew that the last 15 miles were mostly dirt roads and the race finished on a paved road so I was hoping to have a strong finish. I kept doing the math adding the distance and time from the first watch to the second watch that I had turned on at mile 57.
When I was able to run on dirt roads and not on single track I was able to get a good pace. I learned on the single track trail that for my next 100 I need to get much brighter lights. I took a face-plant once or twice and was very timid and slow thereafter on the single track.
At mile 85 I I started to pick up the pace and felt much better on the gravel roads. I did come across something strange on one of the jeep trails at around 2 or 3 AM. A drunk couple with there car stuck and asked if I had time to help them. I smiled and said sorry I’m in the middle of a race. It was very strange and I wasn’t entirely sure I hadn’t only imagined it until I read other race reports that saw them also.
During the last 10 miles I passed some runners including a guy from Wisconsin I met on the bus ride. He told me he had crewed Scott Jurek at Western States and on his first attempt at WS he finished in 22 hours. As I passed him he told me” I can’t believe what strong finishers their are in this race!” I said thanks and he was doing great as well. This gave me a great boost and it felt good to be passing people at the end. As I went out on the road for the final 2.5 miles it was very foggy and my lights were all but out and I didn’t want to stop and change the batteries. The road seemed like it went uphill all the way to the school at the finish. I kept looking at my watch and I was calculating my finish time.
I was so excited to see my finish time of 22:11, almost 3 hours faster than last year! I got my buckle and Heather took my picture at the finish line. I went into a warming tent they had at the finish and there were about 5 other runners sitting covered in blankets. That’s when Heather told me I finished in 18th place! Wow, what a great feeling meeting and exceeding all my goals for the race! I ate pancakes and listened to the other runners. The RD and the other runners were talking about the trophies for age groups. The race director said he was doing one age group winner and it was for the top finisher over 46 and I said can you change it to 44 and older? He just laughed.
Heather and Dean picked up my car and took me to my hotel. They did a great job all the way around and I am lucky to have them as friends!
I slept for about 5 or 6 hours and then I headed home. I stopped in Birmingham for lunch and ordered a 18″ large pizza and ate the whole pie.
There were parts of the race when my back was hurting and it was bone chilling cold and I thought this was my last 100 miler. But only a week or so later I put my name in for the Western States lottery. So, I think I was born to run!
I am so thankful to my family for supporting me through all my crazy ultra races. I am so thankful for the Pinhoti Race director putting on such an awesome race and all the volunteers out there all day and night!
Thanks for reading and if you run I hope we get to run sometime.