Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pinhoti 100 miler

McKenzie River 50 miler. Long Run Picture Company
2012 race season....three 100 milers, one 100k, three 50 milers, and two 50k's.....nine in total.  It is no wonder that as I was traveling to Alabama for the Pinhoti 100, I had more than my share of self doubt.  I was feeling fatigued, under trained, I had a sore Achilles tendon on the left and a sore knee on the right....what was I doing getting ready to run my third 100 miler of the year. Ken did not want me to race Pinhoti, "3, 100's in one year, you are over racing" he said....(This is where I should also mention that in the month of October I married my best friend Ken Sinclair, moved into a new house, and played nurse to Ken through his heart attack and cardiac stent placement!)
In my defense I ran Waldo 100k, Aug 18th (2nd place), followed by McKenzie River 50 miler, Sept 8th (1st place), racing well and feeling great for both races. Pinhoti on Nov 3rd just seemed like a good idea, after all, it was part of the Montrail Ultra Cup Series, Patagonia was one of its sponsors and well.....the idea of running in Alabama in the Talladaga forest on a trail called the Pinhoti....who could resist??
Husband and Wife!!
I arrived in Alabama on Thursday with my pacer and crew Amy Freeman, Ken was going to fly in on Friday (yes, Ken's cardiologist cleared him for travel...NO pacing).  The temps in AL were comfortable in the low 70's, with the humidity in the 50's.  Friday brought Ken to AL and some hang out time at the pre-race briefing with Yassine Diboun, Roxanne Woodhouse and the rest of the ultra pack, all of us prepping for a late season 100 miler.  After the briefing we carbo loaded at an Italian restaurant Amy and I ate at the night prior and heard one of the best lines spoken with a great southern drawl....Ken's dinner was delivered with the words of, "here you go big hungry"! Classic.
That night as I set my race gear out, I took one last opportunity to review the race packet information and my race strategy.  Not knowing how to rate the course, having never run on the trails, I was struggling with what splits to use, that would bring with it my goal finish time.  Ken had printed out from the Pinhoti website splits for both a 20 and sub 20 hour finish.  I elected to focus on the sub 20 hour splits.
Go time was 6am and so we set our alarms for 3:00am, picking Yassine up before making the 1 1/2 hour trek to the start.  Pinhoti is a point to point from Heflin to Sylacauga, where we were staying.  The temps were in the mid 40's with the humidity in the 80's, not too bad.  The drive to Heflin seemed to take forever but then almost to quickly we were toeing the line with the RD calling out, "get outta here"!  We started out on a gravel road before taking a sharp turn onto single track.  I took off quickly hoping that as we hit the single track I was in good position, one in which I could run without needing to pass or be passed.  I was successful, the pace was good, I was in a train with 4 guys and we only got passed in the dark by one speedy chick, Melaine Fryar.  We kept it nice and steady while in the dark, and I was thankful for the train as it allowed me to focus my attention on the rock / root strewn, leaf covered trail, rather than the next turn in the trail.

Feeling spry, early in the race! Picture by Scott Livingston

The Pinhoti course had 18 aid stations, the furthest distance between stations was 6.9 miles and the shortest just 3.3 miles.  Crew could support their runners at 12 of the aid stations and pacers could join their runners as early as mile 40.   I saw Ken and Amy at the first aid station, 6.7 miles into the race where I handed off my headlamp, ate a Hammer Gel and was off. I was thankful for the arrival of daylight as the trail was proving to be rather challenging with the obstacles on the trail fully camouflaged by the leaves. By aid station #2, mile 13, I had passed Melaine along with a couple of guys, and was greeted by my crew once again.  More Gel, a top off of the handheld and see you in 5 miles at aid station 3.  This was kind of fun, it felt like they were with me the entire time!  The trail remained the same, while beautiful with the many colors of fall I think I would have preferred the leaves to be green and UP in the trees.  I did forget to ask what kind of animal lives and digs all the holes that were along the trail.  The holes were about the size of a large grapefruit, some were disguised by leaves while others were identified by the sticks (skewers) someone had shoved into the holes.  To remain a mystery I guess.
Before descending Blue Hell trail. Picture by Scott Livingston
Ken swapped out my handheld for my hydration pack at aid station 5, the next 7 miles included climbing to the highest point in AL, Mt Cheaha and it was starting to warm up.  This section did prove to be a tough one and I was happy to have my ipod with me as I was running mostly solo.  I had moved into 4th place overall but was trading off and on with the 5th place guy.  I think by this point I had already fallen a 1/2 dozen times, no injuries but, body coming into contact with the ground non the less! During this section I crossed a creek about knee high, and came upon some scrappy looking campers....while I did not pay them any attention, they still managed to set me on edge and almost immediately I found myself sprawled onto the ground.  I fully expected to see when I looked back and while jumping to my feet, a rope tied across the trail.  I had to laugh when all I saw was a root crossing the trail, secured at both ends.  Seriously....a rope?!?

My amazing crew at the top of Mt Cheaha!
Aid Station 8 and I was sad to see all my efforts in getting to the highest point in AL were only rewarded with what was called the Steep Lake trail also known as "BLUE HELL" running here!  Huge boulders, covered in colorful fall leaves made up the decent, add in a couple of wrong turns and I was ready for this section to be over.  A little further I saw my crew and was told that Amy would be joining me in 15 miles! Amy enjoys the 1/2 marathon distance but was stepping up to the plate to help a friend in need.  She would run a total of 22 miles, 18 miles on, 10 miles off, rejoining me for the final 5.5 miles.  Something to look forward to!  Added smile at this point was Ken sharing a short story....Yassine, "how far back is the next guy?"  Ken, "it ain't no guy" Yassine, "who is it?", Ken "it's D", Yassine, "shit!"....Yassine was super stoked that I was racing as well as I was....even if I was gaining on him.  He was 8 minutes up from me at that point.
Mmmm chocolate milk, thanks guys!
I was still feeling relatively good, eating what appealed to me at the aid stations, mostly gel and my protein chocolate milk (note taken when I drank too much....yup stomach cramps for a while after that!) I was doing well staying hydrated and taking S caps with the 80 degree temps and the humidity. The next few sections remained status quo for the terrain, rolling hills on a rocky single track trail.  Running along the trail I would actually slow at times to take in all the amazing shades of fall in full bloom.  Otherwise my gaze was focused on the trail directly in front of my feet in attempts at staying on my feet!  I was starting to feel some apprehension as the indentation of the trail was but a mere hint (in a wide open forest) in the broad daylight and the trail markings were few and far the heck was it going to look at night???
As promised, Amy joined me for some night time running at aid station 12, mile 67 (just dusk) leaving Ken to crew us both.   I was happy to have Amy running with me and Amy was happy to see that my pace was one she could easily keep! I took this opportunity to finally ask how much time I had on the second female, F2.  Unlike Western States, I knew exactly what place I was holding.   Amy shared that she and Ken had waited up to  a 1/2 hour at a previous add station and the next female had yet to arrive.  I was relieved as I knew that I was slowing, due to both fatigue and nightfall...I was hoping that F2 was doing the same.  Helping boost my spirits was Amy telling me that I was currently 11 minutes under my goal time!!
At the next aid station, I handed off my hydration pack and went back to my handheld.  The temps were dropping and I did not need the additional hydration (or weight) of the pack.  Amy was great company breaking into song frequently to keep us both entertained.  Having her second set of eyes also helped keep us on course when the markings were less than obvious and the trail almost nonexistent.   She encouraged me to trot off and on when we were climbing the hills and helped me up each time I found myself lying on a bed of leaves.  No surprise, I did not complain when we broke off the trail onto a gravel road.  Amy ran with me for 18 miles, as promised, before taking a break.  I was at mile 85, still feeling strong, mentally and physically.  Ken served me up some more chocolate milk and I was off.  Unfortunately, I struggled with staying on course during the following 10 miles, going off course twice.  The first time there was NO marking at a intersection and the second time I was looking down and missed a right was well marked....I did not ask Ken how I was doing for pace when I saw them at the aid stations.  I had slowed and gone off course.
 Amy rejoined me at Aid station 18, mile 94.5. She was a gem, she listened to me complain about going off course, curse at the rocks on the trail and retch as I tried to take in more gel calories.....and then she would break into song, thank you Amy for lifting my spirits, for being with me!  We were almost done, I was almost done....We saw Ken as we hit the road....just over 2 miles left....Ken calls out my running time....19:01, and then tells Amy not to let me walk!  To put into words what I was feeling.....I was going to be well under my goal finish time for the win (5th overall) and a new course record!  I finished in 19:24, 2 hours and 20+ minutes under the previous course record.  Indeed a nice way to cap off my 2012 race season.

Well done ladies! 2nd and 3rd Megan Hall and Melaine Fryar
When asked if I would run this race answer was without hesitancy, No.  Now, 3 weeks later the toughness of the course has faded along with my body aches and in its place is memories of the beautiful trails, the friendly people, the great aid station support and all within a well organized 100 mile race...maybe I would go back.
My crew and Yassine, 1st Female, 3rd Male, Oregon for the win!
Big congrats to Yassine for earning his ticket to the, "Big Dance" (and not getting chicked)!  I can't thank Ken and Amy enough for their amazing support out on the trails, thank you! Ken, thank you for supporting me even when you felt that I should have been resting.
My Patagonia gear was perfect from the cool morning temps on through the heat of the day.   I raced the early morning hours in my Capilene 4 hoody and Merino 3 liners, light weight yet with enough protection to break the early morning chill.  Thank you to RD, Todd Hendersen and all the volunteers along the 100 miles, 18 aid stations for putting together a great race.   For those other runners out there, I would recommend the Pinhoti 100

Next on my race calendar.....some well deserved rest!!