It's been a tough 5 days in recovery since the race, but finally here's my account of my adventure & mis-adventures for the record:
I had hoped my back would not flare up and allow me to finish, but I ended up battling it from before the start & I was unable to meet the cutoff time at 65 miles. I tried to enjoy myself as much as I could during the race, although this has to be the most painful event I've ever endured (yes, I paid to do this & still happy I did!).
How the race unfolded & how it was run was quite different from my attempt last year, even though the end result was the same. For the very long & extremely boring details, read on . . . . otherwise, thanks for checking by!
Five days before my trip to Sylacauga for the Pinhoti 100, I went out for a jog around the Red Trail that's part of the Louisville's Lovin' the Hills 50k course across from my house. I felt I needed to get one more short run in since I had only run once after Stone Steps 50k a couple weeks ago. My biggest concern was keeping from spraining my ankles on any rocks or roots hidden under the leaves. I did well on that, but didn't expect to slip down on the leaves on a steep downhill & catch my right wrist/arm on a small tree. Going quickly down onto my butt, my arm ended up extended backwards behind me in an awkward position as I slid by the tree. If I was not double-jointed, I probably would have dislocated my shoulder, but instead tore some muscles & ligaments & ?? I had sharp pains from behind my shoulder blade to the top corner of my arm/shoulder & was unable to lift my arm for anything for a couple days. By the time I left for the trip to Alabama, I only had sharp pains if I raised my arm above my shoulder. This would come back on me late in the race.
Getting a good night's sleep at a motel just a few minutes from where I needed to go in the morning is very rare. I went to bed very early & despite all the usual door slams & horn honking (from people locking their cars remotely), I got in a good long sleep. Unfortunately, when I woke, I had a crick in my neck -- actually it was centered on my backbone where the neck meets the shoulder & it was very sore. I could actually put my finger on the offending vertebrate -- painful! I could not turn my head to the left or right without wincing in pain so I took some Tylenol & it felt much better although the pain would return after the race start.
at the start
I arrived at the finish line early at 3:30 am for the ride to the start for this point to point race. Although the bus was scheduled to leave at 4, I wanted to be one of the first ones on the bus to get a good seat -- the closer I sit to the front, the less chance I will get motion sickness (as I had a little last year). However, the bus driver overslept & didn't arrive till 4:15. As I got ready to get on the bus, I noticed the driver checking the side of the bus . . . . a dead battery! Eventually we were able to get on the bus 15 minutes later -- the result of all this was the race began late & the feeling that the day was sure getting off to a bad start!
Getting situated at the start line, I talked & shook hands with a real vet, Dan Brenden (58) -- he was coming off a 100 miler just 6 days previous & finished well this race (26:20)! I also talked a little to Robin Meagher, who repeated her 1st place finish and with a super 21:48 this year -- Congrats! I gave well wishes to Tim Barnes, The Trail Store manager in Louisville & the only other Kentuckian in the race. He was running his first 100 -- finished 4th 20:51 -- Congrats! I also recognized a couple others I knew from reading about their exploits: Karl Meltzer (runner xtraordinaire & winner 17:12) & Christian Griffith (blogger & Lister)
Within the 1st few miles, I can usually tell how the day will go. Right off I could tell I did not have the leg turnover (just like at DWD earlier this year). My legs would just not respond! I'm guessing it was the Tylenol I had took for my neck -- I knew it could be a mistake but I really had no choice if I was to run at all. Also, having to make an unscheduled pitstop right after the start, I came to a stop to let everyone pass (dead last!) -- with the trail following a hillside, there was just no cover. Finishing my business, I took off the best I could, which according to my Garmin was a mere 13-14 minutes per mile -- I knew I was in trouble as last year I was doing 11-12 minute miles with no problem. I did catch up to "steady Freddy" (Fred Davis) and we had a chat as we brought up the rear. We talked about previous races we had together & he told me he had just done the 24 hour in Cleveland, finishing 104 miles! He said he was surprised he did not get an age group award (at age 61).
After the 2nd aid station last year, the course was re-routed onto the road to avoid the trails damaged by a tornado. This year, we went thru this area -- you can see the road & trail in this pic:
This was all new trail to me & the 1st thing I did was get off course! Places I usually get off course in a race is when the main trail or road goes straight & there's no marking directly in front of me when the course makes a 90 degree turn onto a lesser trail. This was the case here as the course switched back more than 90 degrees and there were no markings in front of me (they were to the left of course!). Only went about 800 feet before I realized I was not on the race trail & looped back to find where I went off course ( the loop in the top center of pic above). The RD & volunteers did a great job in removing the blow-downs from the trail that were hard to get by last year, mostly because there were so many. Really nice single track trails thru this Talledega National Forest!
more slow down
At aid station 3, about 18 miles into the race, I had already digressed to 15-16 minute miles. It was so puzzling & knew then it couldn't have been the Tylenol to blame. I tried to keep positive, thinking if I kept up this same pace, I could finish in 26 hours. Of course, reality was that I would continue to slow down -- soon walking much more than anything else. By the 6th aid station at about mile 35, I was at a continuous walk starting up Mt. Cheaha. I had already accepted the fact I was not going to finish & just wanted to make it to the top of the mountain where I had my drop bag & some warm clothes and I could end my race without freezing to death. Unfortunately, my drop bag had my lights too and with 5 miles to walk uphill with only an hour of daylight left, I was in a fix! I had totally not expected to be over 2 hours behind my time of last year at this point. I was saved though by one of the volunteers who gave up his personal flashlight so I could make it to the top -- Thanks Tim! I would not have been able to make it around the rocks & cliffs near the Bald Rock aid station without it.
For some reason, just as confounding as my lack of leg turnover at the start, I got my legs to respond approaching Bald Rock at mile 40. I wish I could figure out how & why this happened & to can it & save it! Maybe because it was now dark & just felt like I was going faster -- nope, I started running uphills! I reached the Bald Rock overlook near the top of Mt. Cheaha. Last year it was crowded with visitors. This year there was nobody -- I had the entire overlook to myself -- what a beautiful sight of all the city lights below in the valley & beyond! It was pitch black & I had to watch my step past here as I carefully made my way on the bare rocks as the course went along the edge of the cliff -- no fence! Running into the aid station, I had every intention to end my race. After hearing so much encouragement from the volunteers though & hearing that I was 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff pace (18 minutes per mile), I started to reconsider. But what really made me change my mind to not stop here was that I did NOT have any clothes here like I thought! They were at the next drop bag location 16 miles away! So I picked up my lights & ran off into the nippy night with no shirt. Going along at night with little clothes on felt OK with me temperature wise -- as long as I didn't stop or got hurt along the way -- very risky!
Leaving the Bald Rock aid station on the paved park road, I felt GREAT! Nice & cool, I had my legs & the road was on a downward grade. I ran my fastest of the race thru here, felt like 11 minute miles. I was looking for the turnoff that went "down & to the right" off the main road as I cruised on down the road. I passed three entrances, but none that I recognized. Soon the hill got steeper & when I rounded a curve & shown my light way down the road, I could not see another entrance at all!! I stopped dead in my tracks! I did not recognize this steeper portion. I realized then I had missed the turnoff & started back up the hill -- what a bummer, what wasted energy! Passing the 1st entrance back up the hill, it was just a bare road heading off into the forest -- I did not recognize it whatsoever. Coming to the next entrance back up the hill, the road led to a large campground -- had I seen this before I thought? I went into the campground & at the1st bonfire I interrupted the partygoers: Does anyone know where I could find the "Blue Hell Trail"? I wondered what they thought, all standing around the fire with jackets on & here was this half naked crazy fool! One fellow stepped out of the crowd & apparently knew there was a race going on & directed me to go back out to the main road & up to the next entrance. So I went to the next entrance -- no flagging, but one red pie plate sign with a black arrow sitting in an island full of other signs -- still, the entrance did not look familiar in the dark.
So I ran down this side road which after a few minutes, was wondering if I was on course. A little later, a woman shouted out to me from a roadside campfire "Are you asleep?" I said "What?!" (she had said "Are you a sweep"). A fellow came up behind her & said the sweeps went thru here 10 minutes ago picking up flags & signs. Wo!! Thanks I said & asked where the course went from here . . . go to the next entrance that goes "down & to the right". So a little later I came up to the entrance that I thought was on the main road!!! So I scurried on down the road, knowing now there would be no markings for the course unless/until I caught up to the sweepers.
Heading down the road, I noticed a small white arrow on the pavement (thank goodness!) pointing down to the left onto the Rock Garden Trail (Blue Hell Trail). I quickly headed off onto this trail and soon found it to be nothing but rocks. I followed what seemed to be the forest trail markings on the trees until I lost track of them. There was no discernible trail among the rocks & boulders -- you easily could see why this was called a rock garden! I took the clearest path down the hill, but I came to a cliff. Wandering around & climbing the rocks & boulders was starting to wear me down & it was tough on the back & shoulders. I was about to give up when I saw a lone flag! I reached the flag, but then what? -- I could not make out a trail in ANY direction! Luckily, I chose a direction down the hill to the left & saw another flag -- whew, saved! I scampered over the rocks & soon I saw a blue blaze painted on a rock, then another flag & then I recognized a huge boulder -- about the size of a small house! I was able to make out a trail after that & I could see 3 lights below me!
I quickly, but carefully headed down the steep rocky hill trying to catch the 3 lights. I sure didn't want to have a fall here as it would be unforgiving, but just as I reached the 3 lights, I raised my light up to see their faces & stepped on some leaves on a slanted flat rock. Both of my feet went out from under me & I landed on my butt with my left hand smacking a rock. How embarrassing, but felt lucky I could jump right up & talk to the sweepers. The 1st thing one guy asks is what's that dripping off your hand, blood? WHAT?!!! I felt something very warm dripping off the fingers of my left hand -- I was afraid to look! Fortunately it was only my gel flask with a cracked top -- what a sticky mess. I told them thanks for leaving a few flags for me, but I could tell they sure didn't want to go back up the steep hill to get these flags that they missed! So there I was, caught up to the sweepers, my 30 minute cushion on the cutoff was gone -- wasted on extra excursions. But I still felt better than the morning, so I took off to the next aid station at best possible speed.
After reaching the next aid station, I didn't stay long as I knew I was last & they all wanted to go home. I had seen a runner leave the aid station when I arrived & I hoped to catch him. This next section was very tough on me last year & this year wouldn't be any different. I fell several times, mostly tripping on rocks beneath leaves, nothing serious but each fall hurt like the dickens! Using my arms to break my fall a couple times brought back the sharp pains from my injury earlier in the week. Also my knee caught a broken limb sticking out in the trail & it knocked me down. If I had hit my knee head on, it would have been very bad news. At several of the creeks, the water was up compared to last year & I made it across the boulders at the 1st one only. The water was chilly, but a good chance to wash the blood off my legs! Occasionally I would see the lone light of the runner in front of me, about a quarter mile or so ahead. But by the time I reached the aid station, he had not arrived yet! I learned later he was found safe.
no longer last
At the Adam's Gap aid station, I got some clothes on & the course became a hard packed gravel road. This would now allow me to shuffle my feet & not fall on my face! About 4.5 miles of the next 5 miles was uphill. Despite the gradual but steady climb, I did not walk much & I totally enjoyed being able to turn off my light & to run with nothing but a half moon lighting the way. So peaceful to be running along a high ridgetop . . . then, I passed one gal who was walking -- hey, no longer last! Reaching the Clairmont Gap aid station at mile 60, I had made it to the point where I stopped last year over concerns of my back going out. I had low level back pain with a few sharp stabs all day, but seemed OK at this point. The aid station volunteers were ready to close shop when I arrived, but I told them one more runner was behind me. I knew I was within minutes of cutoff, but the next section was mostly downhill.
sweeper vs pacer
So as I was leaving, 2 fellows started to run along beside me -- they said they were the "2nd shift" sweepers intending on cleaning up thru the next 3 or 4 aid sections. I've never had a pacer & this was a new experience. Right off, I realized I felt "cramped" by their presence although grateful they were going to accompany me. Here I was on my last legs & they were totally fresh. I knew they were well intentioned, but at night, I like to have a clear path at least 20 feet ahead so my light can show up the best path to take, especially on a washed out double track dirt road. They wanted to run right beside & in front of me, which was OK when we chatted, but made it more difficult to run in my weakened condition. With my feet dragging & my eyes getting tired, it was taking alot of mental concentration to just remain upright! I told them a couple times to go on ahead & look back & keep on eye on my light, but they insisted to stick very tight. I continually reminded myself, these are sweepers, not my pacers. When we finally got off the rough dirt road, the course became an uneven, winding single track on a downward grade for several miles. I sped up & took the lead as I wanted to see where I was going and they kept right up on my heals. I felt they were really breathing down my neck, stumbling to keep from running me over & I probably went alot faster than I should have. Soon my back started to give out big time. Very quickly things deteriorated from here. Although it was mostly downhill, I came to a walk as my back was hurting in 2 places -- I started to have a lean. It was reassuring to have company at this time & I thanked them. When we reached the aid station at Chandler Springs at 65 miles, we were already past the cutoff & the volunteers were in the process of dismantling the aid station. Race over.
Wo! This is a super long report -- maybe in reading this account next year, it will help me on my next attempt!
I had signed up earlier for the Dizzy Fifties (40M) on the 21st, but at this point, I'm having my doubts as I'm still hurting (my shoulder especially). So I'm going to look at my progress each day before deciding what to do.