Monday, November 8, 2010

Pinhoti Baby!!! A perspective of a 100 mile trail race from the crew***

The Pinhoti 100 Mile Endurance Run was everything I expected plus a whole lot more…Sit back and relax as we take a tour of Alabama and the Talladega National Forest from the perspective of a crew member supporting two racers.***(This is a long RR...but so is a 100 mile trail race)

After finding out one of my favorite bloggers, Psyche, was going to attempt to earn her buckle at Pinhoti, I immediately reached out to her and offered my support as a pacer and crew. I have been admiring the 100 mile distance from afar and decided I needed an up close and personal view of it to decide if I actually wanted to toe the line with these insane people. She gladly accepted my offer and team “Run like you stole sumthin' from a Georgia Snail” was born.

Friday night we meet up in Sylacauga, Al at the host hotel after the prerace briefing. This race was to be a point to point trail race with 18 aid stations along the way. Psyche and Charles had set up several drop bags that the race crew would drop off at different AS’s and they also gave us a few things to carry as we would be supporting them at different AS’s. After finalizing the last few details we bid Psyche a good night, knowing she was going to need to get some rest before toeing the starting line at 6AM Saturday morning.(Finding out the would be no fires at the AS)
(Big Easy & Lil Weezy)



Not needing to be at the start of this race, Holly and I slept in a little as it would also be a long day for us. I was to help Holly crew for the runners until AS#13(mile 68). I was then going to jump in and pace them through the night and the last major climb up Mt Horn to Pinnacle, 900’ of elevation gain in 1.15 miles. It was all “downhill“after that, arriving in Sylacauga 30 miles later…
We picked up our runners for the first time at AS 3, they rolled through in great spirits, 18 miles into their day. It seemed they were regretting not taking us up on the offer for a ride to the starting line, instead opting to ride the bus set up by the RD with the other runners. The ride was bumpy and there was no coffee to be had. Knowing that there was no crew access at AS4, we got our runners back on trail and told them we would see them at AS5, about 13 miles later.

With a few hours to kill until our runners were expecting to get to AS5, we headed to Anniston to get a little fuel ourselves…Hello IHOP! I knew I would be running in about 18 hours so I was making this my last real meal and jammed on some ‘cakes & scrambled eggs. We grabbed a couple of to-go coffees and headed back to the trail. Arriving at AS5 about 20 minutes ahead of our runners I got to see a lot of my friends who were either crewing or racing. Christian G, Jason S(Big Easy) & Lil Weezy(Wayne D) all came through looking strong. I also saw several GUTS runners, Kena, Perry, Jason, Scott S., Jon O., and a few others. This was turning out to be quite the GUTS party as there were also a bunch of GUTS members crewing. Our runners finally emerged out of the woods into the AS, 45 minutes before the cutoff. We refilled their water bottles, got some fuel in them and also scored huge points for bringing them hot coffee. From the beginning of the day we knew we would be battling the elements as the forcasted overnight low was 29 and the high for the day was to be around 50 degrees. Great running weather…’cept if you planned on being on course for up to 30 hours.


Before sending the runners back out, I gave them a time update, they were 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff pace but had some tough sections coming up. They needed to “bank” a little time on these easier sections, as it would get harder to hold pace as the night's cold air moved upon them. AS 6 was a “no crew” AS so we wished them well and headed to the top of Mt Cheaha, the highest point in all of Alabama. The view from Bald Rock was absolutely breath taking. Holly and I hiked out to the overlook and I was quickly reminded why I run trails. You can’t see this stuff slogging miles out on sidewalks in the middle of Nowhereville, USA…




The parking lot at Bald Rock was overrun with crew and volunteers. I felt like we were tailgating at a football game. We were walking around chatting with everyone, checking out their set ups. Crew members had little propane grills set up everywhere, preparing food for themselves and their runners as they arrived. Tom & Tony were hooking up some serious grilled cheese sandwiches. The actual AS had some chicken soup on the stove and you could feel the electricity in the air when a runner would pull into the AS and everyone would cheer. The best part would be when a regular tourist would give in to curiosity and ask, “What’s going on?” “Oh, they are running a 100 mile trail race.” “What? Is this the finish line or something?” “Oh no, you see this is the 40 mile mark, they still have a ways to go.” The looks we got were priceless.

As the runners came and went, crews packed up and moved onto the next AS. I knew our runners were due, I hated seeing everyone move on; I knew this meant our runners were in the back third of the pack. I received a few phone calls while at this AS; some of my friends had dropped. I was getting anxious to hear word from my runners. Finding out Christian G was struggling with an elevated heart rate and that Big Easy went 5 miles off trail didn’t rest my nerves. I felt like a parent eagerly waiting on a teenager that was out past curfew. (Although I do not have kids-or ever put my parents through that…lol) I decided to walk out to the overlook and wait on my runners. As I turned the last corner, up from the trail pops Charles & Psyche!
“There’s my runners! Welcome to the top of Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in the state of Alabama!” Charles was shocked. “What? We are at the top? That section wasn’t nearly as hard as they said it would be.” Unfortunately, Psyche didn’t look as good. I told them the AS was a ¼ mile down the trail and they quickly made their way down trail to a waiting Holly with her afro wig.


We got some soup in them and assessed their condition. Charles needed a sock change, I helped while Holly took care of Psyche. She was struggling but a couple cups of hot soup was lifting her spirits. They managed to bank a little time and arrived at the AS an hour ahead of the cutoff. The problem, we couldn’t get them out of the AS very easily. 20 minutes later, then were heading down the trail again. Holly and I looked at each other and our expression said it all. They were struggling and the sweepers were looming. As the sun was setting, so was their chance at finishing this race under the cutoff. The next section was a short 4+ mile section; mostly downhill. I found out from others that there were a lot of really steep sections and this section wasn’t completely runable. Hopefully my runners would “wake” up and start feeling stronger. We made it to the next AS in time to see Lil Weezy, he was feeling good and was starting to turn it on. His pacer took him through that last section quickly and they were building steam. This gave me great hope!

About 45 minutes ahead of cutoff my runners came rolling into AS8. We gassed them up and pushed out quickly, Charles was still feeling strong and Psyche was waking up. Perhaps all of my worrying would be for naught! “Off you go! AS9 is no crew access; we will see you at AS 10 by 9:30pm!” We had about 3 hours before they were do to arrive at AS10 so we drove the 20 miles into the nearest town for our second pitstop of the day, our AS was a Chick-Fil-A. A quick bathroom break and a grilled chicken sandwich and back up the mountain raod to AS10.

AS10 was rockin'!!! The directions to the AS were simple, "turn right on Hwy 281 and go until it ends." We were traveling down this road at 9:30pm and it was pitch black outside. They are absolutly correct when they say "The stars are bright above Alabama", beautiful. Anyways, we are traveling down this road in the middle of nowhere when all of a sudden we hear Gun's & Roses blaring and see two bright spotlights...We must have made it to the AS. Since we were at the end of a road and no homes for miles, it was perfectly acceptable to have a roadside party...This was by far my favorite AS. The trail ended right on the edge of the road, crew members were all standing near the trail opening and as a runner popped out everyone would cheer. Lil Weezy appears out of nowhere and his crew surrounds him. They were like a NASCAR pit crew, one guy was pulling off his shoes and taking care of a blister, another guy was stuffing food in his mouth. all the while Christian was trying to get him to eat some pie!

All of the crews were getting their runners out and moving onto the next station, we were gettign nervous. The cutoff for this AS was 10:30. At 10:15 we saw two headlamps coming to the edge of the forrest, Holly was yelling into the woods, "come on Psyche & Charles!" Out pops a runner, but not ours. This fellow named Adam stumbles into the AS and looks terrible. He was running unaided. I sat him down and started talking to him, "Are you hungry, do you want some soup? How about chocolate?" Holly took his bottles and refilled them. He told me he lost 30 minutes on that last section. He didn't know if he could go on. I told him the next section was 5 miles downhill on a jeep road, very runable. We pushed him back on trail and I told him I would see him at the next AS.

At 10:22 our runners appeared at the edge of the woods! We set them down for a quick second and refueled them. I told them that they could not stay long, they were 8 minutes away from the sweepers. The good news was that the next section was very runable and we would see them in 5 miles. I ran down the road with them for a 1/4 of mile making sure they were feeling good.

The cutoff for AS 11 was 11:59PM. We pulled into the AS as Lil Weezy and his pacer Sean Oh were running into the station. He was in great spirits, telling us how "Sean had me doing fartleks on that last section" they were running strong and reeling in other runners. 60 miles in and that man was full of piss and vinegar, I love it!

11:45 and here come our runners! They managed to bank 15 minutes on that section. Jeep roads are a blessing. Good news, next section has 2.5 miles on jeep road and 2.5 miles on the trail. The bad news was that the first thing Psyche said when they pulled into the AS was, "Charles, go ahead without me." He said, "No, we are doing this together." We all tried to put on our best face but deep down inside I knew we were finished. As we hurried them out of the AS, I told Holly I was dressing early. If they made it to mile 65, I was hitting the trail with them. We hung around the AS for a minute, I hadn't seen Adam. Psyche & Charles told me they had passed him on that section and he wasn't doing well. He rolled in a few mintues later and threw the towel in. I tried to convince him to continue through the next section. He told me he was freezing and could not continue. They got him in a truck and let him start to warm up.

We drove down to AS 12 and waited. There was a fire and the remaining crews were waiting. Weezy comes blazing in, yelling for some hot soup. That dudes energy was sick! I have run with him at two other races this year and those are some of the best times I have spent on trail! He was in and out and gaining time on other racers.

The clock was ticking and the remaining runners were coming through the AS. Our runners were nowhere to be seen. They had until 1:30AM...1:20...1:25...I see two headlamps coming down the trail! This must be them! Nope. Another runner and his pacer. Holly and I prepared for what was to come next. We got the heater blasting in the car and waited. At 1:37AM I saw two headlamps coming down the trail. I ran up to our runners hoping to hear good spirits. For the first time the entire day, Charles told me he was not doing good. Ironically, Psyche woke up on that last section and was feeling stronger. I told them that they missed the cutofff but that the volunteers seemed to not really know that and might let them continue. They both said no, they were finished. They knew with Mt Horn's 900' climb coming up, there was no way they would stay ahead of the sweepers. We sat them by the fire and let them rest.

I am so proud of Psyche & Charles! Covering 65 miles in 19 1/2 hours, they maintained such good spirits and are the true defintion of Ultrarunners. This just wasn't their day. I have learned so much from this expierence, I learned so many things from all of the people involved with the Pinhoti 100 miler. A Huge thank you to Todd the RD and all of the wonderful volunteers, what an undertaking! Congrats to all of the runners, those that got their buckles and to those that gave it everything they had.

BTW-Weezy got his buckle! 28:31 finishing time!Weezy's "pit crew"



So, Pinhoti 2012...it's right around the corner. I need a crew and some pacers...who is with me?



Adam & Charles after a little rest

10 comments:

JojaJogger said...

I kept looking for you, but I guess my guy was ahead of your runners. I paced fellow GUTS dude Ronnie to his first 100 miler buckle and had a blast. I've got dibs on being your pacer next year!

Jason said...

Congratulations to Charles and Psyche for giving this a great shot! Thanks to you, Thomas, for helping me out to contact Jason Sullivan on those wrong turn trails. I would offer to crew and pace you next year, but I might give Pinhoti a go myself in 2011!

Charles said...

We couldn't have gotten as far as we did without you guys Thomas! It's neat hearing your perspective on the race being on the other side, one we will gladly be on for you someday :)

Jason said...

I enjoyed reading your report. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and perspectives - they were great to read about.

I felt like I had won the lottery when I heard your voice waiting for me at Cheaha. Thanks for being out there and helping so many people. When many of the finishers remember this race in years to come you guys will both be a part of it. That is great!

See you out there again soon.

Anne said...

You certainly did your part on behalf of your friends and seemed to have a grand time while they ran. Loved reading about a race from your perspective. Great photos too.

Andrew Opala said...

Cool stuff Armbruster! I need such a pacer for my next 5k! :)

This is an awesome task for anyone to do.

And the runners are nuts but admirable!

Adam said...

NICE! Great crew report. I did laugh to myself at how serious you looked in one of those first meeting pictures. Crewing is serious business!

Adam Culp (Crazy Floridian) said...

Wow, this is awesome. Great job crewing, and nice crew report. (Wish I had crew for my 100 in February in North Florida.) I will need to start hunting for some crew, and maybe even some pacers for February. (My goal is 21 hours, the cutoff is 24.)

Ryan said...

Are you seriously considering the 100? I have that secret desire too... Yikes!

Her Name is Rio said...

Oh my goodness! What a rush of feelings just crewing...can't imagine how it running...well maybe I can imagine a bit of it. Awesome of you to crew. Props to Charles and Psyche- strong effort !