Monday, November 18, 2013

Pinhoti100 - November 2-3, 2013

Pinhoti Race Report  - 11/2-3/2013 

I finished Pinhoti in 23:34:40, my 11th 100 mile finish.  I went to Sylacauga with the stretch goal of breaking 24 hours on a course that has beat me up twice before, and all the stars aligned for me.  My training went well, including a 10 day vacation of hiking and running in the canyons out west, and 4 days of running in the mountains of Virginia while visiting my parents.  I stuck to a diet for the first time in I don't remember how long.  Going to the race 10 lbs. lighter than my last race had to make a difference. 

 Race day conditions were near perfect, with temps starting around 40, rising into the 50s mid-day and dropping down to the high 30s the following night.  I pushed the pace (for me) right from the start, trying to stay close to the 24 hour pace chart I had set.  I took one nasty fall at mile 9, toe-hooking a rock and managed to come down hard on my knee and elbow, cutting both.  I felt the knee for the rest of the race.  I was close enough behind Patrick Bene for the crew to still see me at the early aid stations.  Dave Bracken, Vinnie, and George Buffington (who runs the best crew stop ever) let me know that everyone else (Andy Matthews, Nick Bach, Sean Connolly & Amy Costa) were all looking good and that Patrick was pulling away. 

I had one brief down spot from miles 29-31 where it got real hot and I started to lose my head a little bit.  But I took some endurolytes and sugar and pulled it back together fairly quickly.  The only real downer of the day was coming into Adams Gap at mile 55 to see Patrick sitting in a chair, done for the race.   I tried to cajole him to rest an hour and start back up; but he had dug too deep, too early.  Fortuitously for me, his loss became my gain as I inherited his excellent crew and pacers who were jonesing to go.  Dave ran with me the next 30 miles over the hardest part of the course.  It is some very pretty, but wickedly difficult terrain, particularly going up and over Horn Mountain.   We ate up the miles by seeing who could tell the longest stories (it was a draw).  

Vinnie picked me up at mile 85 and brought me the rest of the way in.  By this time, a sub-24 hour finish was looking very doable and I just needed to finish steady.  Unfortunately for Vinny, I had put on headphones by this point and withdrew into my own head just trying to keep going.  We had one brief scare when we didn't see a race marker for nearly 10 minutes; but we fortunately didn't miss a turn.  We hit pavement with 3 miles to go and he induced me into dropping the hammer (what was left of it anyway) for the final stretch.  23:35:40 and 31st place.

Andy got his first 100 mile finish in 2 years, Nick got his first 100 ever, Sean finished only an hour behind me, and Amy got in for her, what was a long training run.  Even Patrick's first DNF could be looked at in a positive light (read his post).  As usual, the RV ride up and back was a blast (I may only enter races that are in driving distance).  Looking forward to recovering and then gearing back up for Ancient Oaks in 7 weeks.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cruel Jewel 100 May 17-19, 2013

I’ve had a miserable run of losing race lotteries recently.  I’ve lost the Western States lottery 4 years in a row.  I was very excited about qualifying for the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc in Switzerland, Italy & France, but I lost that entry lottery as well.  I wanted to take a third shot at breaking 28 hours at Massanutten this year, but failed to get my entry in on time and was so far down the waiting list, I never had a realistic chance of getting in.  But after having a successful time at the Georgia Death Race in March, I was all in for the inaugural Cruel Jewel which shared some of the same trail.  104.6 miles with 60,000 feet of elevation change and nearly all the race on single-track.  With a little prodding, I was able to get Patrick Bene to sign up as well.

Patrick was able to get George, George, Dave & Vinny to all join us as pacers & crew.  We loaded up the RV Thursday morning and headed north.  I have come to believe I do these races almost as much for the break from responsibility and routine, as I do for the event itself.  On the ride up, we watched movies, exchanged stories, and generally acted like we were 25 years younger with nothing more important in our lives than being ready for the next set of final exams (except we now discuss wives and children instead of girlfriends and professors).  We arrived at Vogel State Park about 2 hours north of Atlanta just before dusk and settled in for the evening.  Our camping spot was only a stone’s throw from a babbling brook.  Vinny built a small fire, and we spent a quiet evening enjoying the respite from civilization.

Because it has a 48 hour time limit, the race was scheduled to start at 2:00 PM on Friday.  Patrick and I slept in until 8:00 AM, and awoke to a breakfast of eggs, hash browns and bacon cooked up by Dave under the trees.  Vogel State Park is at the turnaround for this out and back race, so the group went for a short hike on this far end of the course.  After a good deal of nervous fidgeting and re-packing race supplies, we headed off in the minivan (we had towed behind the RV) to the start/finish at Camp Morganton near Blue Ridge.  We checked in, getting customized bowling shirts for entering the race and gawked at the outlandish finishing belt buckles which include a line representing the race elevation chart.  We HAD to finish to get one of these.  Willy Syndram ( Race Director), gave a pre-race briefing to our very small group an hour before the race started.  This was the inaugural running of this race, and with the course difficulty, he had a small group of 23 runners signed up, of whom 21 toed the line at 2:00 PM.
I started the race with my new Garmin Fenix watch on my left arm which is advertised to have a 50 hour battery life.  But because I had not had a chance to test it, I ran with my Garmin 310XT on the right arm to keep track of pace.  The first 2.7 miles of the race are on pavement leading to Deep Gap.  It was mostly uphill, with a 450 foot climb, so there was a lot of walking, even this early in the race.  Our crew of 4 pulled alongside with the minivan door open singing the Muppet’s ‘Mahna-Mahna’ song through a bullhorn to send us off.  We waived goodbye knowing we wouldn’t see them again until the first crewed aid station at 8:30, just before nightfall.  Patrick’s and my plan was to average 20 minute miles with would bring us in to a 34:52 finish.  Our goals were to finish (Good), break 36 hours (Better) and if we felt good, come in under 34 hours (Best).  We planned to run well within ourselves early knowing this long demanding course would take its toll over time.
The second leg of the course is Deep Gap, a 5.8 mile loop that started with a 300 foot descent, an 800 foot climb and then a 500 foot descent.  We tried to take it as easy as we could, but kept finding ourselves finishing miles in 13-17 minute splits.  Even the first major climb of the race (1,400 feet) on the Weaver Creek section was offset by the following 1,000 foot drop and we kept banking time.  I fell twice early in the race.  The first was a toe hook on a stump that resulted in a clumsy somersault and roll across my shoulders.  I managed to continue the roll back up onto my feet and keep running without Patrick having to stop behind me.  The second fall was uglier as my foot slipped, and I dropped down hard onto my hands giving a painful jolt to my hands, lower back and knees, all at once.  Fortunately, it was my last fall of the race.   We reached the Stanley Creek aid station 20 miles in over 2 hours ahead of pace.  But the crew was there, re-energized us and off we went.  The next 3 miles was pavement and we ran easy 10 minute miles, getting even further ahead of pace.

We crossed the Shallowford Bridge, ran alongside the Toccoa River for a half-mile, and then turned onto the Benton-Mackaye Trail and began climbing into what was the first tough section for me.  In quick succession, we climbed Free Knob, Garland Mountain, Brawley Mountain, Bald Top and finally Tipton Mountain with descents to the gaps between each.  It was late afternoon, the temperature was the hottest of the entire race, and this 7+ mile section really took it out of me.  We had caught Will Jorgenson at the last aid station and spent most of this section running and chatting with him.  I had met Will at several previous races, most recently finishing just behind him at the Georgia Death Race in March.  He runs with trekking poles, and used them well as he pulled away on the final descent to Wilscot Gap as Friday night darkness began.

The Tampa crew was here again, and we refueled with Boosts, solid food, and whatever else we could chow down quickly.  Willy had told everyone at race briefing that the first 30 miles to this point were easy compared to what was to come.  He did not lie.  I had run the remaining 25 miles to the turnaround at the Death Race in the opposite direction.  But that was the first section of that race, on fresh legs.  Now I had 30 hard miles already in, and had to do this section twice, once in each direction.  The next 50 miles is the hardest thing I have ever done. 

We were now on the notorious Duncan Ridge Trail and this section is called the Dragon’s Spine.  Look at an elevation chart for this trail and it is not hard to understand why.   Over the next 13 miles, we would climb Rhodes Mountain, Chinquapin Ridge, Gregory Knob, Payne Knob, High Top, Fish Knob, Clements Mountain, Akins Mountain, West Wildcat Knob, Buck Knob, and finally Buckeye Knob before descending to White Oak Stomp.  It was one wicked climb up over 3,000 feet, one after another, separated by knee shattering descents.  What makes it particularly hard is the lack of switchbacks.  Normally trails built on steep slopes wind their way back and forth up the mountain in a punishing, but doable climb. Not here.  The sadists who built this trail followed the ridgeline throughout, straight up and straight down.  It was hard in March, but that had been in daylight and temperatures were in the 40s.  Now it was dark, hotter and brutal.  And then the weather changed.

Sometime in the night (exact times are no longer clear in my head, nor were they then) it began to rain.  It was a light rain at first and pleasantly cooling.  But it soon began to come down in earnest.  The trail got wet and muddy, footing was difficult, and we began having trouble seeing the trail markings.  What we thought was fog, turned out be clouds when I realized we only saw it at higher elevations.  The wind was blowing, so we had misty fog blowing hard left to right, with heavy rain falling down from above.  At times I could barely see the trail at my feet.  The trail throughout the course was mostly runnable, but at the higher elevations became more rocky.  On one steep descent, Patrick slipped on a rock, and slid several feet downwards on his butt.  He stood, covered in mud from his heels to his back.  Another time, he tried to stop at the top of a large flat rock to pick his route down.  But he slipped, and skied 10 feet down the rock back to hard ground.  He was soon quoting a line from Armageddon, “Worst, scariest possible environment ever.”  We agreed, the solo runners would have a really hard time keeping their spirits up through the night in these conditions.  Remarkably, as hard as it was, our moods didn’t turn – yet.  To my disgust though, my new Fenix ran out of battery here, less than 16 hours into the race.  I had enjoyed being able to constantly monitor altitude on one watch and pace on the other.

After the White Oak Stomp aid station, it was only 7.5 miles to the turnaround at Vogel State Park.  There was a 750 foot climb to Coosa Bald, the highest point on the course, and then a long 2,000 foot descent to Wolf Creek.  Patrick had been having trouble all night with elevation sickness.  He had read in Runner’s World that lowlanders like us, could have trouble anytime we went over 2,500 feet.  I wasn’t affected as far as I could tell, but every time we approached 3,000 feet (which was a lot), he had trouble breathing, and got light-headed.  He handled it well until the descent off Coosa Bald.  At some point in the heavy fog I missed a turn.  We had to back track and search for the route, adding an extra mile to our run.  We made the long descent unsure we were on track, I choked back tears thinking our race could be over, and Patrick lagged behind just trying to stay on his feet.  After one last 800 foot climb into Vogel, we stumbled into the turnaround cabin exhausted.

Dave & George had cooked breakfast sandwiches and were waiting for us.  The aid station volunteers were great, and we were encouraged to find that we were 4th and 5th in the race overall.  The 2nd & 3rd place runners had taken a 90 minute nap at the turn and had left just ahead of us.  We had completed 58 miles (55 on the course info) and had 49+ left going back (the return lap skips one out & back section).  I gave Dave both watches to recharge, he gave them back to me at White Oak Stomp several hours later.  We took our time before heading back out just after daybreak and walked uphill for a while with Vinny joining us as our first pacer.  Patrick encouraged me to go ahead of him now that Vinny was with him, and I finally took the bait on the next downhill.  But the longest climb of the race back to Coosa Bald did me in.  I walked uphill for over an hour, feeling my tank bleed dry.  I shook my head when I saw the easy turn we had missed in the dark and fog just hours before.  I started the descent to White Oak Stomp and just couldn’t shake the cobwebs, making terrible time in a relatively easy section.  100 yards before the aid station, Patrick passed me, rejuvenated and ready to go.

Dave joined us as a second pacer from that point, and amazingly ran the last 43 miles of the course.  The steep ascents and descents on the Dragon’s Spine really took it out of us now.  Occasionally we would stop mid-ascent, bent over, trying to recover our breathing and heart rates.  Vinny really struggled with the altitude through here, and eventually fell back before we made it to Skeenah Gap.  When Patrick was feeling well, he ran much stronger than me.  He pulled away from me both descending and ascending and I had to work really hard to catch him again  Midway through the 5 miles to Wilscot Bridge, we caught the third place runner who was walking and struggling.  When Patrick saw the chance for a podium finish, he dropped the hammer and left me in the dust again. 

I managed to catch him not long before the aid station, and we sat down preparing for the 7.5 mile multi-climb section to Shallowford Bridge.  We took our time at this aid station and just as we were about to leave, Will Jorgenson surprised us by descending off the trail just behind us.  Patrick took off like he had been shot out of a cannon, he was not giving back his spot that easy.  It took me nearly half an hour to catch him and Dave again.  Patrick soon had another down period, and I took point for the first time in hours.  Not long after, we crested Brawley Mountain, passed the fire tower, and I started the next descent.  After a bit, I realized I had not heard Patrick or Dave speak for several minutes.  I slowed to a walk and called behind me a couple times.  When I did not hear a reply, I decided Patrick was still recovering, but I didn’t want to wait.  I trotted down the hill thinking they would catch up soon, if not on that section, on the 3 miles of pavement ahead where Patrick would be much faster than me.  But the longer I trotted, the better I felt. 

I made great time all the way to Toccoa River, Shallowford Bridge, and Willy was at the aid station telling me I looked great.  I hustled through the aid station and was able to run fairly solid all the way to Stanley Creek where our crew awaited.   George, George & Vinny made sure I had everything I needed, pumped me up with encouragement, and pushed me on my way telling me to hold onto third.  I had just over 13 miles to go, and this would be the last time I would see them.  As I headed into the woods, I looked back up the road, surprised not to see Patrick or Will approaching.  I found out later, Patrick had run out of water at one point, lost a bunch of time recovering, and fell over an hour behind.  Will came through about 20 minutes behind me. 

I was juiced now, even as the sun set on the race for the second time.  I wanted third place badly, I’d never finished that high in a hundred miler (I was 5th at the 2010 Arkansas Traveler for my bachelor party)  I ran the shallow uphills, strided the steep uphills as hard as I could, and pounded the downhills with everything I had left.  I tried using Patrick’s tricks of shunting thoughts of pain to the side.  The only thing that mattered was holding pace.  I got more than a little loopy down the stretch, repeatedly thinking I could hear Patrick, Dave and Will talking just behind me.  I looked over my shoulder dozens of times expecting to see them overtaking me.  I ran scared, and I ran as fast as I could. 

I hit the Deep Gap aid station gasping for air.  I quickly refueled and hit this 5.8 mile loop.  I knew that Patrick and Will would both likely be on the loop when I returned to the aid station and I’d be able to know how close behind me they were.   I noted the clock time, and realized I had an outside shot of breaking 34 hours, my stretch goal.  I had made up huge time on the last three sections.  Running the loop backwards from the start of the race, I humped up the 500 foot climb as fast as I could and took the 800 foot descent even harder.  It was rough going as the previous night’s rain had turned the previous day’s wet spots into flowing streams across the trail.  My head kept playing tricks with me, as I tried to figure out a shortcut back to the aid station.  The entire loop goes around a loud mountain stream; and I frequently (thought I) heard Patrick and Dave just behind me.  More than once, I turned off my flashlight to peer into the darkness and catch them sneaking up on me.  I then became convinced they were running in darkness to lull me into slowing; so I pushed even harder.

But when I approached the last aid station, Dave and Patrick were both there, Patrick in a chair cleaning out his shoes.  He was clearly suffering and just trying to pull it together for the finishing push.  The aid station volunteer told me Will had come through just 16 minutes behind me though.  I knew Will was strong enough to have cut that lead in half on this loop.  That meant I might have as little as a 6-8 minute lead with just under 3 miles of pavement left.  I was in full flight panic mode as I raced to the finish.  I turned my flash light off when there were no cars, I didn’t want to give away my position to Will.  I turned onto the Camp Morganton driveway and sprinted to the finish in 33 hours, 38 minutes, third place overall.  George, George, and Vinny cheered me across the line and I immediately went inside to cool off and recover, elated. 

Will Jorgenson crossed the finish line just 10 minutes behind me.  That made the final push even more rewarding for me, as I now knew for sure I had needed to push every step of the way to stay ahead.  I took a hot shower, ate some pizza, and waited for Patrick who finished in 5th place in 35:47.  He had vomited on the Deep Gap loop and just held it together to finish.   After he cleaned up, George made the 45 minute drive back to Vogel State Park and we all collapsed into bed in the RV around 3:30 AM.

Last I heard, maybe 11-13 runners had a chance of finishing, but final results have not been posted yet.  This was a brutally difficult course, and one I would highly recommend.  The course is fantastic, although I measured it at 107.5 miles (not including our bonus mile, giving us 108.5 total), a little longer than advertised.  While the ascents and descents are harder than anything else I have run at this distance, it is completely runnable.  There are few spots with so many rocks that you can’t run consistently.  The views from twenty something different peaks and ridgelines are magnificent.  The sound of mountain streams and bird songs dominated the air.  Willy had everything well organized, the aid stations were all great, the course was well-marked.  I don’t think there is any doubt it ascends to being the second most difficult race east of the Rockies behind the inimitable Barkley.  I will hold onto how good it felt to run the last 22 miles the way I did for as long as possible.  Unless my work and life schedule dictate otherwise, I will be back next year. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Georgia Death Race - March 16, 2013

Progress. That is the best word I can use for how the weekend went at the Georgia Death Race. I didn't set any personal records, or post a top-10 finish, or anything else spectacular. But I had a really good race and satisfying result. It was real progress towards accomplishing the things I want to do as a runner.

Last year, I beat myself up running a handful of hundreds, three of them on very difficult courses; Massanutten, Black Hills, and Pinhoti. I've grown to love the mountainous courses with lots of true single track running. For me, nothing compares with running in the middle of nowhere, winding up and down slopes through various habitats and climes. But training in flat Florida has left me ill-prepared for the heart-thumping climbs and quad-shattering descents these races present. They leave me battered and bruised, and crawling in for slow, dispiriting finishes.

For 2013, I resolved to run easier races. But then I saw the posting for the inaugural Georgia Death Race, a 60 mile jaunt through the mountains north of Atlanta, with 30,000 feet of elevation change. My plan was to take the family to our house in the mountains of western North Carolina for Spring break and get one good week of hill training in before the race.

Georgia Death Race

I also started lifting weights with my legs for the first time in nearly a decade. I have been reluctant to do any leg training in the gym for fear of damaging my knees with too much weight. But I had to try something different if I was going to keep signing up for tough courses. Over the past several months, I've worked my way up to 10 sets of really light weights, but lots of reps (25-35) per set. I've done a mixture of deep squats, hack squats, legs extensions and calf raises; all trying to build strength for steep ascents and descents.

Two weeks ago I ran the Long Play 33 1/3 mile race at Croom and ran surprisingly well. There aren't a lot of hills on that course, but my legs felt strong throughout and I was almost an hour faster than I had anticipated. I kept up with the leg workouts and came into the Death Race feeling like I had a chance to perform better.

After convincing Sandra that running the "Death Race" did not mean I need to sign a new Will before leaving, Greg Vannette and I headed north Friday morning. Other than getting stuck on a mountain road for an hour while the police investigated a fatal motorcycle accident, the commute and pre-race preparations went well. Dahlonega, GA is a cute mountain town with a real outdoor sports bent and a number of nice restaurants (we took a chance and ate Mexican).

The race director, Sean Blanton was engaging and definitely had put a lot of work into preparing, including marking the entire course himself.  Sean's briefing was amusing as he went through a list of do's and don'ts, or "You could die out there." We were required to carry a headlamp, thermal top, gloves, thermal hat, rain jacket, space blanket, and emergency whistle at all times during the race. You could not check in if you didn't have everything on the list. If you were caught on the course without those things, you would be DQ'd. I had bought a new Camelbak, removed the bladder, and carried the required race articles in there. I also wore my Nathan belt for my water bottles and normal race stuff conveniently at hand without being on my back. I was a little worried about the extra weight, but it worked out well; I was comfortable all day.

The race starts at Vogel State Park in the parking lot. The 4:00 AM race time temps were a surprisingly balmy 55 degrees, albeit windy, so it still felt chilly. After a half-mile climb on pavement, the race turned onto single track with a long, rocky, and often wet 3 mile downhill. On at least a dozen occasions, we had to leap across narrow streams of water. From there we started a long series of climbs up to Coosa Bald punctuated by brief descents to Locust Stake Gap, Calf Stomp Gap, and Bull Gap.

It was here I began to understand the cruelty of this course. Apparently, the trail blazers here years ago had no understanding or respect for the wisdom of switchbacks. Switchbacks usually mean you are on a steep grueling climb, but the back and forth across the mountain face reduces the rate of ascent to something less than soul-sucking. Not here. These bastards ran the trail straight up. Spring foliage is not out yet, so you can see quite a distance through the trees. At times, I would look ahead and see runners 1/4 mile or more up the trail, bent over, holding their knees; and know I had 10-20 more minutes left in the climb. Even with temps dipping into the low 30s on the windy side of the ridge line, I had sweat pouring off of me as my heart tried to leap out of my chest. But my legs were surprisingly strong and I resolved to keep my feet moving forward, no matter how slowly.

Somewhere in here, I passed Michelle Matys on a climb who looked liked she was doing well. But I did not see her again during the race. After climbing Coosa Bald, Whiteoak Stomp, Buckeye Knob and Buck Knob in quick succession, we dropped into Mulky Gap and a crewed aid station at mile 12.5. Just before we got there, I heard the local runners behind me comment we had just finished mile 13 and only had 51 left. Wait a minute. I thought this was a 60 mile race, not 64?  My Garmin registered 13.3 as I came into the aid station and refueled with Greg.   I told him my pace was going to be closer to 18 hours, not the 16 hour stretch goal I had been hoping for, this course was just too difficult.

The aid station volunteer, as well as another runner told me the next 8 mile stretch was the toughest on the course. I resolved to stay smart, and not over press, regardless of what it meant to my time. The crowd had thinned out, so I put on my iPod and lost myself in the music most of the rest of the day. And this section was as tough as advertised. We climbed Akin Mountain, then Clements Mountain, Fish Knob, Parke Knob, Payne Knob, and finally Rhodes Mountain. I alternated between trying to keep my heart rate below 190 on the climbs, to trying to make my feet move fast enough to not fall on the descents.

Finally, the trail turned down towards Skeenah Gap and AS4. The aid station was the end of a short out and back, so the first 1.3 miles out of the aid station was a climb back to Rhodes Mountain which I did with a young guy, Zack from Birmingham, AL. I was spent at the top, and took a minute to regroup, drink, and pee before trotting ahead. I was almost 23 miles into the race, and my overall pace had slipped to 17:20. I soon felt much better though and started to run more freely. While we climbed Licklog Mountain and Wallalah Mountain in this stretch, it felt easy and I started gaining back time.

Just after Tooni Mountain, I came over the wooden foot bridge at AS5 (mile 25 the course map, but over 28 on my watch) and saw Greg for the second time. I told him I felt great and was quickly on my way. The next 15 miles just flew by as I continued to run well. I talked to two other local runners along the way and confirmed that their consensus was this is a 64 mile course, not 60. I mentally added an hour to my projected finishing time, but still had a sub-17 hour goal for the 60 mile mark.

At mile 34 (actually 38), the course switches over to forest roads until the final mile of the course. With smoother terrain, I really started to run well. I had not been passed since around mile 20, and resolved to pass as many other runners as I could during the last half of the race.   I flew down the Silvermine Ridge descending to the Winding Stairs aid station at mile 40 (44). Greg met me again here telling me he would race ahead to Jake Bull at mile 47(51) and run backwards to pace me into the aid station from there. By now I was really gaining confidence and running strong, and he was barely a mile out of the aid station when I met him coming the other way.

By now, I was really starting to understand what a great day I was having. My legs were surprisingly strong after 40+ miles and I still had leg drive on the uphills. Many times while running alone, my thoughts can wander and dwell on family issues, work situations, whatever. Not today, any time a distraction popped into my head, I put it aside immediately and refocused on the race. More than any other race previously, I was completely "in the moment". It was a truly great feeling.

The Jake Bull aid station had bacon. So I took a minute to wolf down several pieces, as well as a bacon and cheese sandwich. I bragged about how good I felt, I had not had a real low spot all day. Bad Karma coming... I had caught Will Jorgensen here also. I've met Will at several previous races including Black Hills and more recently Ancient Oaks. We ran/walked most of the next 6 miles together, talking away, distracting myself from my bruised feet and various other sore spots. But a mile into the leg, I hit my first low. I should not have opened my mouth earlier, it was an instant jinx. I was light-headed and weak.  I let Will pull ahead while I walked, taking in salt and sugar. Within minutes I recovered and set about catching him and pulling ahead.

After Jake Bull, Greg raced ahead in the truck to the finish at Amicalola Falls State Park and raced backwards to meet me. He caught me about a mile out from the last aid station (mile 55/59). We trotted into the Nimblewood Gap aid station, I refueled one last time, and we set out quickly. Greg told me it was about a 1/2 mile of steep uphill and then mostly downhill to the finish. He also told me I was somewhere close to top-30 in the race.  I broke into a run on the downhill and soon hit the 60 mile mark in 16:01:10. I was elated at having come so close to 16 hours and used the positive energy to pick up the pace. To my surprise, I still had drive in my legs and the next 3 miles were amongst the fastest in the entire race.  I bombed the next 35 minutes, even running the short uphills.

Then bad karma hit me again. I was just telling Greg how well marked the course was and that I had not missed a turn all day. In the very moments those words left my mouth, we were running past the final turn of the race. We soon discovered the error and backtracked slowly in the dark until we found the turn. I checked my watch as this happened, I went an extra 0.4 miles and lost about 8 minutes.

We ran into Will just as he was missing the turn as well and we brought him along with us. The final 0.8 miles of the race is a punishing 1,000 foot descent on rocks and roots. Will surged ahead using his trekking poles for safety. My quads finally revolted and I came down at a much more sedate pace, satisfied with the day's performance. I crossed the finish line in 17:11 with 65.1 miles on the Garmin. I compared notes with other runners, and 64-65+ miles was the consensus.

Maybe the only disappointing thing about the entire race was the finishing spread. It was typical aid station fare of chips, pb&j, and fruit.  None of thiswas appealing at this point, I wanted real food.  I cooled off, threw on my sweats, and we left fairly quickly.  But not until collecting my finisher's award, an engraved railroad spike (Sean says you have to be tough as nails to finish this course) which looks excellent in the trophy case.

We raced to Dawsonville to get sushi before the restaurant closed, I took an ice bath, and was in bed by midnight, a great day.

As always, it was great to have a close friend as crew and pacer. I am looking forward to returning the favor to Greg soon as he rebuilds to race shape from his knee injury last year. Looking back on the race, I am just thrilled with how strong I ran; the weightlifting seems to be making a real difference. I still have work to do to be able to go to a Mont Blanc, Wasatch, or Massanutten and post a good time. But this was a big step in the right direction. Progress.