In preparing for this race, I read so many PM40 race reports that I had a very humble respect for the distance and the terrain. I've never run a 40 miler, my previous distance PR was 35+ miles this summer at the Hot2Trot 8 hour. Every report I read mentioned the thick carpet of leaves that covered rocks and roots. So, two brand new twists in my running journey.
Saturday evening, I met up with my buddy Tom and we drove the 30 minutes from La Grange to the FDR State Park to pick up our packets. Getting a chance to look around and see the trail conditions, this race was going to be fun. Can you say rocky?!?!?
(Yes, there is a trail in there somewhere!)
We had dinner at Longhorn, watched a little college football and tried to get some shut eye-4:45am always comes too quickly!
Arriving back at the park in the pre-dawn hours, we participated in the best pre-race ritual, saying hello to all of the "GUTS family" runners that we hadn't seen in a while. Eventually, Sarah used her bullhorn to wrangle us up and force us out of the warm group shelter, up to the top of the dam, so we could get started. The race started and we ran down a 1/4 mile stretch of road, giving the runners a chance to fall into line before we slipped into the woods and hit the trail.
I love the hush that falls over the group as we head onto the trail. There is always a moment of quiet trepidation as the runners contemplate the day ahead. It usually doesn't last long, nervous energy breaks the silence and old friends cut up and swap tall tales, allowing for the first few miles to pass effortlessly. Tom and I had a simple strategy this day, start comfortable & easy and run from aid station to aid station. We made no major attempt to pass anyone in the early going, only slipping past runners when it was really warranted. We were going to stay together for as long as possible and were in no hurry to get there.
I was able to turn my headlamp off in the 2nd mile and a quick 400' climb found us at Buzzards Roost enjoying a beautiful sunrise, overlooking the surrounding county.
About 80 minutes into our day, we arrived at the first aid station; Fox Den Cove. A short stop here, I grabbed a few chocolate chip cookies and topped off my water. In and out in less than a minute. Those. cookies. were. so. good! This would be the theme of the day. Roll into the aid station, grab some food, thank the wonderful AS workers, exclaim out loud how awesome the food tasted and roll on!
Somewhere along this point Tom reminded me of his favorite poem,
"Melinda Mae", by Shel Silverstein.
Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the
And everyone said,"You're much too small,"
But that didn't
bother Melinda at all,
She took little bites and she shewed very slow,
Just like a little girl should...
...and eighty-nine years later
she ate that whale
Because she said she would!!!
That would be our plan, we "ate our whale" one aid station at a time, trimming our 40 mile trail run into a much more manageable race of 4-5 miles. It didn't take long, 10 miles in, we arrived at the next aid station, Mollyhugger Hill. The running was going smoothly, it was early enough that we still had enough strength in our legs to pick our feet up and avoid the hidden roots and roots. You could never drift too far of the task at hand, a hidden root or rock would always grab your attention if you were sleeping. I commented to Tom that I had forgotten to leave an offering to the trail gnomes, so I dropped a portion of my chocolate chip cookie on the trail, hoping that would be enough for them to leave me upright.
Eleven or so miles in, we came around a bend and I saw something I'd never seen before-widespread trail destruction. On the evening of April 28th, a powerful tornado ripped through F.D.R. State Park and the surrounding area. I had heard about it on the news and had seen pictures, but did not fully understand the strength of Mother Nature until we reached Hines Gap. Unbelievable. I cannot find the words to describe what we saw and ran through. Giant trees snapped in half like toothpicks. It was as if we were running through a scene from Apocalypse Now. Photo's cannot do justice. A very surreal experience.
Just a little after the 3 hour mark, we found ourselves approaching the Dowdell Knob Aid Station. We had drop bags here, but did not need them with only 14 miles in(we would be coming through this AS again at mile 28 probably wanting them) Kim Pike and her wonderful crew got us in and out, like lightening. Heading back out onto the trail we met "Peachtree City" a nice lady named Kim, from, yep, you guessed it - Peachtree City. She hung with us for a while but then zoomed ahead. Probably scared off from our antics.
Tom and I were having a blast. Singing, quoting stupid movie quotes, making fun of each other. I was having a fantastic time and the miles were passing effortlessly. Easy peasy, 12-13 minute pace.
We were motoring along and expecting to reach the Rocky Point AS(mile 17) when all of a sudden, I heard folks yelling my name. WTH, how do all of these people know who I am? AHA! It was Jason Rogers, Jenn Coker & Jaydene Reardon! To be fair to the others, there were many more awesome aid station workers here (and at ALL of the other aid stations), I just happen to know these kind folks by name. What an uplift to pull into an aid station and have people cheer for you and wait on you hand and foot! I need an aid station set up in my living room. (um, sweet boo?) In and out, 1,2,6. Back on trail.
This next section was a 7 mile loop passing through the TV Tower AS at the 5 mile mark. A lot of really runnable trails in this section, extended periods of trail that had little or no major obstacles (i.e., rocks & roots) There were also a collection of creeks and waterfalls that we crossed and ran alongside. Quite possibly the funniest moment of the day (for me at least) was when I had Tom laughing his ass of at some random reference to us being like the guys from "Dumb & Dumber". He was laughing so hard that he tripped and fell; almost falling head first into a waterfall! It was also in this section that we caught back up to "Peachtree City". She told us she wanted to run with us because we were "having so much fun".
Even though I had been taking in a lot of calories at each aid station, I was really getting hungry around mile 21. Tom mention hearing about awesome grilled cheese sammy's, but I was sure he was thinking of the fried egg sammys at the Pinnacle aid station at the Pinhoti 100 miler. The next thing you know, we roll into the TV Tower aid station and guess what? Yup, there stood Frank, cooking GRILLED CHEESE SAMMYS!!!!
Once it hit your lips, it was so good!
Reenergized, we moved out, knowing that next stop was only 2 miles away. Our trail running trio was now moving at a good clip and having a blast. Peachtree was having a little trouble hanging on with us on the downhills, but she was certainly paying her fare by dragging our butts up the climbs! Rocky Point arrived quickly and we didn't linger long. I think this is where Tom discovered how wonderful Red Vine Twizzlers taste! Before we knew it our 7 mile loop was over and we were back at Rocky Point.
In and out quickly, the trio moved on, knowing that we had 4 miles to our drop bags. I really wanted to change my socks and check on a few hot spots on my feet. Without trying to jinx it, Tom and I could not believe how good we felt. Typically by this point in a race, you are running out there by yourself. The fact that the three of us had been running together for so long, the miles were just flying by. Soon enough we arrived at Downdell knob and I sat down for the first time. (After the fact)Looking at my Garmin, this was the slowest mile of the day(22:40) but we stopped to change our socks. Kim Pike did have to yell at me to "Get out of here", to which I replied, "You're not the boss of me!" Thank you KPP for pushing us back out there and not letting us dilly-dally any further!
Back through the sun-exposed, tornado cut. it finally hit us and it hit collectively. A major low point. Seemingly endless climbs. Painful rocks. Stupid roots. 3.5 miles never seemed so far. I lead my fair share of the day, but did not want any part of the front during this stretch. Head down, eyes on the ground in front, we quietly worked through this section. I believe Peachtree quietly pulled us through this section. Just when I thought I didn't want to go any further, the aid station appeared. Our spirits were lifted and I then knew that we would all finish together.
It's funny, we didn't realize we were in that low spot until after it was over. Our silence must have been a huge clue, as we had been bouncing off the walls the majority of the day! The mood was much more jovial in this next section and eventually we pulled into Fox Den, the last manned aid station. Joel told us we had 3 mile to Buzzard Roost for a water stop and then 3 miles downhill to the finish. Two words. Stinger. Waffles. If you know, then you know, if you don't go find out. Now! They are so good, Tom ordered a case as soon as he got home. Peachtree tried them with peanut butter and she said that was amazing. Mmmm, new ultra fuel.
The climb out to Buzzard Roost was hard, we got rolled up a few times, I think 2 or 3 runners passed us. We just didn't have it in us to hold on to our pace. When we finally saw the water coolers, we knew we had done it. Funny, either Tom or Peachtree asked, "Are you sure there is no hidden climbs in the last 3 miles?" Nope. All runnable downhills from here on out. We left Buzzards Roost with 9:10 on the clock. As we were winding down the miles, I was calling out the trail markers. There were wooden stakes in the ground painted red, with letters on them. I think we started at M and worked our way down. Every marker we saw, we yelled out a word or phrase that started with that letter and pertained to the trail, the day, or just plain finishing. (M="Man, this is a long way to run", L="Last Frickin Mile", K= ah, I forget, but you get the picture)
"I hear voices!" - me
"You mean besides the ones in your head?" - Tom & Peachtree
"Well, yes. I think" - me
"I hear them, too!" - Tom/Peachtree (You hear the voices in my head?!?!)-me, in my head
"I see the clock!" - one of us
(Sarah Tynes, most awesome RD, over the bullhorn)
"Get out of the woods!"
Peachtree lead us in and we finished together. 9:41 after we started, our day was over.
Hugs and high-fives all around. Bring me the finest meats and cheeses for a clubhouse feast!(anyone?)
After writing and rereading this report several times it appears a key portion is missing.
The part about the running.
That's what was so awesome about Pine Mountain. I don't really remember it. I know we ran 40 miles. Sure there were roots and rocks. 5000' of climbs & descents. Tom & Peachtree feel a few times. (I didn't...but I did bang the $h!t out of my head on a blow down) I remember the fun. The jokes, the laughter, the awesome volunteers at the aid stations. The smiles, I remember the smiles. This is just what I needed after RnR Savannah. I love being a part of GUTS and the ultra community. I can't wait to get back out there again!
Huge props to RD, Sarah Tynes, & the awesome volunteer captain, Kirsten. Also, thanks to Joel, Kim, Jaydene, Jenn, Jason, Frank, Rachel, Sally, Marty, Janice, Woolery and every other volunteer I can't remember by name! Oh, thanks to Jim "Picklehopper" for marking the course, but no thanks to Joel, who marked it with him, but according to Jim decided to leave branches on the course because they were "part of the obstacles". Finally to JoJa Jogger for stopping by to say hello before the day started!
Photo Credits - Susan Donnelly, Ultra Runner Bad Ass