Monday, November 12, 2012

Pinhoti 100: 2012 Race Report

Generally, I will only run a race if I feel a connection to the mountains and trails that host the race.  For example:

...2008 Leadville 100: Dad and I climbed Mt. Elbert on our first trip out West, circa 1994.  During the race, as I passed under Elbert, heading for Twin Lakes, I could feel the Old Man pulling for me.  I'm telling you, I could feel his presence.  Every hair on my body stood up.

...2012 Cascade Crest 100:  Dad went out and climbed Mt. Rainier in 2003.  He told me that I should go climb it, "before it blows up."  As I ran along the PCT, in full view of this monster peak, I imagined it blowing its top.

...2013 Western States 100: My Father-in-law LG paced once and took a good crack at his own attempt many moons ago- sometime in the early 1980's.   Plus, what ultrarunner doesn't have some connection with this race, just because of its place in the lore of our sport.

For Pinhoti, I admittedly had no connection.  I have a cousin somewhere in Alabama, but that's about it.  No spiritual connection to the terrain at all.  Thus, I went to Alabama to run 100 miles for one purely selfish reason only:


Montrail was awarding 2 entry spots for top finishes in the mens and womens races.  I was there to get mine.  In the planning phases, it felt like a business trip, so I didn't even bring my Brandi along.  This was the first of many mistakes I would make for this trip that would cause serious amounts of suffering.  Never again will I carry this attitude and approach into a race.  I may sound negative in my description of what transpired, but I am VERY HAPPY with my experience at Pinhoti.  Make no mistake, this is a fine event and an excellent course.  I will try to describe the ups and downs of my first crewless, pacerless 100 miler and share how I think I could have avoided some of the problems that transpired. 

TUESDAY:  Brandi dropped me off at the airport and I flew out to Atlanta and picked up my rental car at 1:30 AM.  All the exhaustion and edema of flying you would expect.

WEDNESDAY: Since I had no lodging reservations, when I got my rental and left ATL at about 2 AM, I drove west toward Alabama and crashed a few hours in the Alabama Welcome Center rest area, before resuming my drive toward the race area.  Sure, it was Wednesday and I had a few days to catch up on sleep but...THIS IS NOT SMART during race week..never again.  These mistakes add up.  

First, I would explore a few of the trails on the north end of the course and work my way toward the finish line at the south end in Sylacauga.  I went for a nice 4 miler somewhere around mile 13 of the course and felt decent.  Then, I got tired and needed to get to camp.  My base camp would be Cheaha State Park, where I would stay the next 2 nights.

Very humble abode in Cheaha State Park.  This little tent (BD Firstlight) has been everywhere since I bought it around 2002.  2.5 lbs and two trips to Denali.  Very storm worthy.  I have dug this thing out in storms so bad, just the tippy top was sticking out.
 THURSDAY: I had planned to run around Cheaha and Bald Rock on Wednesday, but since I was so tired, I couldn't.  So I went for a run from my campsite at Cheaha to check out some of the trickier and most scenic parts of the course.

Bald Rock Lookout on my "shakeout" 10 mile run.

Looking down over 1500' from Cheaha- the highest spot in Alabama.

The walkway to Bald Rock.

Cheaha Lake.  Very much like the lakes in Ohio, where I grew up.

After running down the Blue Hell Trail (steep, rocky downhill), I didn't feel like running back up, so I took the road out around the mountain, which I knew would go back up to my campsite.  However, the run stretched to 10 miles and was plenty fast.  I felt terrific, but just 2 days before the race- THIS WAS REALLY STUPID!!!!  The mistakes kept piling up.  It seems so obvious now as I write this.  Anyways, I was happy to see some of the course and it looked like fun running, so I was happy.

FRIDAY: I drove south toward Sylacauga, checking on a few trailheads along the way.  I sat in the car way too much, instead of resting = DUMB.  I moved into the Jameson Inn Hotel and drove the few short miles to the pre-race briefing.  I was tired and bedded down early, but I could not sleep.  I wasn't nervous, just unable to sleep.  I lied awake thinking of the race that would be starting in a matter of a few hours.

SATURDAY....RACE DAY.  I eventually drifted off at midnight and was awakened by my 2:45 alarm.  I dressed and headed over to the Sylacauga Rec Center to catch my school bus to the starting line.  Neal Gorman and I talked about lots of things on the bus ride, before getting quiet and napping a bit.  I chatted with Yassine Diboun at the line, fist bumped and said, "See you in Squaw."  He got my drift and we were off.  I led the way and Neal and Yassine gave chase.  Cool, twisting single track with lots of short, steep climbs characterized much of the day.

The race is pretty much a blur.  There are long stretches that I barely remember.  I guess I took it out hard, but felt comfy doing so.  I just ran by feel and found myself alone after 15 or so miles.  I remember feeling early twinges of cramps coming on as early as mile 20.  At mile 27, I made a huge MISTAKE.  I had been running up to that point with one 20 oz bottle.  No big deal, because the morning was not too hot.  However,  I failed to grab my second bottle from my mile 27 drop bag- my first and last chance to get another bottle.  I noticed my appetite decline and a few rumbles in my tummy.  At mile 41, I got my second drop bag at Bald Rock.  My camping neighbors at Cheaha State Park were there to cheer me on.  Harry and Kathy Harp from Florida were great folks and it was nice to see them.  They called my Brandi and updated her on my status.  It was here that I ATE MY FIRST SALT OF THE DAY!!!!  Unbelievable, but true.  Rookie.

I made my way down from Cheaha via the "Blue Hell" trail.  This rocky and techy trail was fun to jump and slide down. Soon, I was at the bottom of the big hill and at the Cheaha Lake.  Some nice road miles allowed me to stretch the legs and I felt pretty good...until a giant cramp in my left adductor muscle almost caused me to fall down.

From here on out, my belly got sicker, my heart rate surged at the slightest uphill and terrible cramping would plague my entire body.  My normally unbreakable quads were so tight and exhausted, that I was forced to walk even the downhills that were too steep and rocky.  I remember walking most of the easy road between miles 55-60.  I could not imagine why no one had passed me yet.  I felt as though I was moving so slowly.  Everything hurt and my head spun.  If I stopped, I would stagger.  My course along the trail was meandering and often going off the trail, because my equilibrium was gone.

By mile 80, I was falling down pretty frequently.  Once, I went face first on a steep downhill and bounced down the trail, smashing and bloodying my hands and forearms.  I ripped a big gash over my patella that sent blood cascading down my leg into my shoe.  Whenever I stopped or fell, the break in tension in my muscles would instantly induce spectacular cramping.  Allow me to elaborate...The muscles in my lower leg were worst.  Some crazy stuff was going down in there- like Peroneal cramps.  I found out that when these muscles along the outside of the calves cramp, your foot turns outward until it faces sideways.  Try running like that a while some time!  It looked like young Forest Gump with his leg braces.  The worst cramping was in the front muscle compartment of my shins- the anterior tibialis.  When this thing goes off, there is nothing to hold your toes back- so you heel strike then slap the ground and beat your feet like sledgehammers.  Why heel strike you ask?  Well...any contact with the ground on the front of the foot would immediately cause the gastrocnemius muscle to seize and cause the toe to point like a ballerina.  This would cause pain that was off the charts, cause me to fall on the ground and pull my toe for 20-30 seconds until it released.  I'm glad no one was around to witness the swearing and desperation in my screams.  DARK TIMES out there.

Eventually, the inevitable happened.  Neal Gorman caught me at mile 90-ish staggering and basically walking along the road...downhill.  It was a non-event in my mind.  Maybe a few hours earlier I would have cared, but I was wayyyyyyyyy beyond race mode any more.  I was in so much pain and so exhausted, that the lead meant NOTHING.  Western States meant NOTHING.  Travelling to Alabama and being away from my wife meant NOTHING.  The only thing that I could focus on was bracing for the pain of each footfall and the bloody collision with the rocky ground that would happen when the next cramp hit me.  Shooting pain now hammering my guts...I know something is bad wrong in there.  Fuel had been hard to accept for several I would have to coast on vapors and hallucinogenic insanity.

I came to a gate that appeared to block the jeep road I was running.  Did I miss a turn?  I stood there a moment and then jogged back a ways.  I saw nothing, so I decided to carry on and jump the gate.  As I did, a crippling cramp shot through my legs and I fell on my back.  GET UP>>>KEEP MOVING.  Soon, I found another marker and found the end of the jeep road and beginning of the pavement.  It hurt.

I figured I had a mile of pavement but it was probably more like 2-3.  I suffered so badly...12 to 13 minute miles required everything I had.    Each inefficient slap from my feet on pavement was excruciating,  but the SCOTT eRide rocker in my T2K's kept rolling, propelling each doubt sparing me from broken bones in my feet.  I reached the Sylacauga High School track and probably logged the slowest 200 meter split of the entire field, barely shuffling along.  I was so done, so cooked, so miserable.  I cried because I hurt so badly.  17:41 something.  My man Todd Henderson, RD extraordinaire was there to greet me and help me out a bit.  I just wanted my hotel bed.  I forced myself to wait for Yassine for his finish and celebrate our Golden Tickets to Western.

He finished, we chatted a few minutes and the stabbing pains in my guts forced me to leave.  I barely remember the 3 mile drive to my hotel, but I vividly remember the next 12 hours of wretched emptying of my entire GI tract.  I had the serious belly demon.  I curled around the toilet and tried to doze between bouts of elimination.  I begged for it to stop...enough!....PLEASE...but there was no rest for the wicked.  Horrible chills, fever and body aches wracked my bones.  This was true suffering.

I got some food poisoning or stomach flu before the race and it worked its foul magic as the race progressed.  I have an iron gut, so I somehow held everything down until after the race.  The weakness, dizziness and muscle dysfunction were partly to blame on the heat and dehydration, but I feel the sickness was slowly getting its grip on me all day.

At the last moment, the sickness broke and allowed me to attend the awards ceremony.  I was so desperately weak, I could barely stand.  I had to call the hotel desk and beg them to bring me something with calories.  I had not had a single sip of water stay down, but that Coke they brought me was perfect.  When I stood, everything spun and my heart raced uncontrollably.  I looked like a I had aged 20 years in 36 hours.  I happily accepted my great prizes and SWAG and congratulated Neal and Yassine.  I thanked Todd Henderson again for putting on a great show and for his amazing volunteers and went back to the hotel to try to sleep it off.

Podium- Neal, me and Yassine.  Western States bound.
Travel back to Idaho the next day took all my strength.  I was barely there mentally and physically.  I JUST made my flight in ATL after beginning my day with a 2 AM wake up call.  I was so happy to find my way back to my wife's arms.  I promised to take her on these adventures from now on.  I felt like a selfish fool without her, bumbling my way around like I had never ran without a team of handlers before.  I failed to understand just how much of my strength comes from her.  Never again.

I have a long winter to think about the mistakes that plagued me in Alabama.  A week has passed and I have bounced back much faster than I imagined.  I am hungry to train and avenge my shortcomings with the performance of a lifetime in June.  For now, I will be patient and let it fester and fuel my dreams.  Every time I think about Western I smile big and feel shots of adrenaline propelling me toward Tahoe...towards redemption.  

Thank you to my sponsors SCOTT-SPORTS and VESPA.  Your support is much appreciated and I hope that I earned my keep down there.  

The snow is piling up. Time to dig out my skis and skins. The next 7 months will be exciting and the stoke is already off the charts.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Picture Catch-up

Just a few pics from what is left of our unfrozen season.

Pinhoti turkey-track pumpkin.  

Shout out.

Droppin' 'em.  Don't hate on the Ryobi 4618 chainsaw.  Sure, it sounds like a crotch-rocket and was made in Bangladesh, but that little rice-burner gets s&*t done and keeps our home from freezing.

Matty at his 50K Frenzy.  6th place.  Watch out for this guy in 2013.

"Seriously Joelle, these shoes run way faster than your Montrails."  
Working the SCOTT booth at the Foothills 50K Frenzy. Boise, ID.

Foothills Frenzy.

Last hunting of the season (during rifle time) with Matty.  Duck Lake. 

Weird hillbilly rant from the 60's, scrawled into this tin sign and way out in the woods.  Little did we know the elk were watching us read this thing and slipping away up the hill.  We gave chase and got close, but to no avail....tag soup for Matty in 2012.

Another run, another fall.  Note the SCOTT brand beer coozie to hold it all together.  "Cool story bro, tell it again."


IMTUF course marking on my last thread.  I hope everyone enjoyed it because it broke me down.  I look my father here, dragging himself home from the steel mill.

Like a ghost.

B receives her ATV rescue at IMTUF.  Molly along for the frozen ride.

Off with the Noob Balance 1010, on with the SCOTT T2.  Always a wise choice.  Quote from Matty, "The New Balance experiment is OVER."

Gotta love Burgdorf.

Strong and beautiful.  Crankin' in the garage.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Full report to come.  Just a quick update because I am too miserable to sleep anyway.

1. Thank you to my wife for allowing me to come down here and pursue this craziness.  I love you and hope I have brought honor to our family with the effort I delivered.

2.  I am going to the big dance.  June 29, Squaw to Auburn.  17:41.  A PR.  My goal was to run under 15 hours.  Sounds ridiculous. Maybe not.  My splits were negative...just not the good kind of negative.   First 50, low 7 hour range.  Second 50, 10+ hours.

3. I got second after leading for the first 90 miles.  Neal Gorman finally reeled me in and passed looking great.  I was walking downhill at the time.  I have no idea how I held on to second.  I was suffering desperately since mile 20.  I can't believe I even finished.  I could barely walk, yet I found the guts to run again and again.  I ran nothing beyond flat in the second half of the race.  If I stopped,, I staggered.  I was dizzy and had no energy.  I am sure the only thing keeping me from laying down and sleeping on the side of the trail was a steady supply of Vespa.  Any slight uphill running locked my entire body down with convulsive cramping and everything spun.    Temps surged into the mid-80s with high humidity.  To hold this together and finish is EASILY the hardest thing I have ever done.  No human should ever suffer that badly.  Hardcore.

4.  After finishing, I waited a while and watched Yassine come in to claim his ticket to the dance.  Psyched to see him in Squaw...great dude.

5.  I staggered into the hotel and knew something was bad wrong...I got the stomach flu or food poisoning and I pretty much can't hold down a sip of water right now...both ends.  I seriously need to re-hydrate, but I can't get anything in.  I believe the dizziness and sick belly I experienced out there was this foulness setting in.  Again, I can't believe I finished.

6.  Flying home tomorrow...that should be fun.  Looking forward to a long break from running.  The damage done to my muscles from the massive cramping should demand a few weeks at least.  I am wrecked!