Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pinhoti 100 Heflin to Sylacauga November 6-7 2010

My first 100! This race has been in my thoughts everyday for almost a year. Ever since I joined the running club GUTS, Georgia Ultrarunning Trailrunning Society, I have had the goal of running a 100 mile race. I volunteered at an ultra, and worked an aid station with a 2 time Pinhoti finisher, Mike S. I had lots of questions. I told Mike that I may make Pinhoti my first 100 in 2011. That will give me plenty of time to get ready for it. I cannot remember Mike's exact quote, but it went something like this, "why wait, you never know what the Maker has planned for you". I am a cancer survivor, and that statement really hit home. The Goal was now set, and I laid out some benchmarks for me to hit along the way. Complete Mount Cheaha 50k, (the middle third of Pinhoti 100), run over 30 miles in Hot to Trot, and run 50 miles a week without injury. Check, Check, and Check. On my 2nd anniversary of finishing my last chemotherapy treatment I signed  up.

Elevation Profile from

100 mile plan. Goal number one finish. Stay in the moment. Set short term goals. I am going to get sick. Accept it and know that it will pass. I am going to hit a wall. Don't give up, and find the door. Anything faster than 17min/mile is making good time. Try to always make good time. Get out of the aid stations fast. It is a long race. Anything can happen be flexible.

Bad news before the race. My pacer Greg has caught the flu bug. I have been running with Greg through most of the summer, and this is a big hit cause I knew that he could get me through the tough parts of the course, (miles 40-80). My cousin Bobby was going to help my wife and daughters crew me through the day, and pace me from mile 85 to the finish. I ask Bobby to pace me from aid station 13 about mile 68 to the finish. I knew it would be tough on him, but I also knew that he was there for me.

Race morning, I got a few hours sleep at the hotel. Jo Lena and Bobby picked me up around 4:45am allowing  my crew to sleep in. Much appreciated. We started just after 6am in the dark. Sunrise would be 40 minutes away. I started dead last with plans of only passing people if they stepped off the trail or walked slowly for the first several miles. After sunrise I am chugging along the trail thinking about what lies ahead on this adventure when I hear a voice, "how do you like the flames?", I look up and there is Shannon Farar-Griefer standing on the side of the trail. I tell her that I love my Moeben flames. I got them last year for Christmas from my mother in law. She could not find them in stock anywhere, so she called Moeben, and talked to Shannon who then sent her the sleeves. I thank Shannon for those and the ones I got the night before at the carbo dinner. Very cool, here I am in my first 100 running along with Shannon. I soon went back into my head thinking about this race until aid station 1. In and out in less that a minute.

I caught up with a group of my friends. Wayne, Jason, Dan, and there is Mike leading the train. There were also some new friends Greg and Nathan. I pointed up to Mike and told them, "we keep him in site, we will finish this race". We were moving at a nice easy pace telling jokes and having a good time. At some point I had completely forgotten that we were even running in a race.

Aid station 2 I come in and to my surprise there is Bobby ready to help me fill up my hydration pack. I was not expecting any crew util aid station 5.

Aid Station 2
Photo by Bobby York

Our little train hooks back up and we are rolling down the trail at a nice even pace. The first third of the Pinhoti 100 is just beautiful rolling single track. We spread out, and group back up through the next several miles. Aid station 4 is the first GUTS station in this race. It was nice to see some friends and get that little boost from their encouragement. I also got my first soup of the day. As they send us off, I hear "see you in 50 miles". It hits me, 50 miles to Pinnacle, then 25 miles to the finish. I feel great I am not tired, but man that is a long ways to go. OK, I can do this. Keep Mike in site.

Aid station 5, there is my family/crew. I get a restock on all of my gels and grab a Boost Protein drink to go. I spend a little more time than planed in this aid station just because I am happy to see the "crew". They send me on my way, but I have spent too much time. The train has left without me. I soon catch up to Wayne who is now running with Christian. They step off of the trail, and Wayne assures me that everything is OK, so I continue on. I am still feeling strong, so I start to make up for some lost time in the aid station. For the first time since about mile 3 I am running alone. Not a soul in sight.

Back in my head visualizing getting through night and the finish. I am also trying to figure my pace, how far ahead of cutoffs am I. OK, it is to early to worry. I tell myself stay in the moment, and set short term goals. Hey there is Mike up ahead. I can catch him. Just a little faster. Run just a little bit up that hill. Caught him. Short term goals. They work like a charm. Aid station 6. They are out of everything. No water, No Heed. Just a few pretzels. I grab a few. Mike says something about being 45 minutes behind were we need to be. I am not sure what that means cause I pull out my index card with the aid stations and 24/30 hour pace times, and we look to inline for a 27 hour finish. Then I start thinking, oh yeah, two mountains to go over. Little over 6 miles to the next aid station on top of Mount Cheaha. I tell myself stay in the moment. This is going to be a tough climb. Run what you can power hike the rest. Make some good time. I took off up the trail.

Mackenzie, (My cheerleader),  on top of Mount Cheaha
Photo by Jennifer Tapley

The views on top of Mount Cheaha are just breath taking. That was a good climb. Somehow I zoned out and cannot remember most of it. We climbed up the stairs to the boardwalk. We take off running towards the aid station that is about .25 mile away. There are some people waling around up here. It is a state park after all. One fellow ask, "where are y'all running to?". We answer, "Sylacauga!" "An't that a long ways off?" "Yep, we hope to make it by noon tomorrow". I know most people don't buy it, but when they do, the look on their face is priceless. We reach the aid station, and I look around and my crew is nowhere to be found. Mike yells out lets take 10. OK. I send a text to the crew, "AS7 where r u?" They had just arrived, and were not expecting me for another 30 minutes. Guess I did make some good time. First sock change, and I have some blisters on the bottom of my toes. Nothing new. I give them a quick lancing, apply a good coat of lube, and fresh socks. I change into a dry top and 10min 32sec. Here comes Mike. Let go to "Blue Hell"

I love "Blue Hell". So much so that I enjoyed some of it twice. Yeah we missed a marker and found our selfs wondering around trying to find a way down that did not require a parachute. We agreed to go back up until we found a marker. We did, at the very top. Now I am looking at all of those flags and wondering how did we miss this. Oh well, we lost some time, no big deal. Nice and slow no since in getting hurt falling down. If I remember correctly we will have some pavement and a little fire road at the bottom. We will pick up a little time there.

Mike and me coming into AS8
Photo by Jennifer Tapley
The race starts to head south on me. I got a little heated on that last little stretch, and now I am standing at the aid station table unable to eat anything cause I feel like I might just throw up. I choke down some chicken broth. I look over and there is Wayne getting ready to head out. I guess he past us while we were wondering around "Blue Hell". I am glad to see him. I getting worried since I had not seen him in several hours. I am not feeling well. This is part of running a 100 miler. I will throw up, (reset button), rehydrate, eat, and be back on track. All part of the plan.

The next two sections I get to feeling worse and worse. Really bad. The only thing that was taking my mind off of being sick was the campers that we came across. I was wondering what they were thinking about all of these people running through the dark were doing. Maybe they would let me take a short nap by their fire. 15 minute power nap. That would hit the spot. No, bad idea. Keep Mike in site.

Some of the sections through the night blur together. I think this is aid station 10. What is that I am hearing. Is that Bon Jovi? Good lord, my wife is going to be dancing around the aid station embarrassing my kids. As long as that song is playing I will not get any attention from her. I still cannot eat. I still have the same Gels from AS7.  I am feeling really bad. Doubts are starting to take over my thoughts. There is a chair. I need to take 5. Bobby is back on the crew from his nap at the hotel, and he moves to keep me from sitting down, but he is too late. I will get up in just 5 min. I try to eat some crackers, but I can barely swallow them. I am moving slower, so I need a heaver jacket. Bobby helps me change out my the stuff in my pockets and helps me zip the jacket. This freaks Jennifer out for just a second. She grabs me with I little shake, "are you OK?" Apparently I look strange standing there staring up at the sky. "Yes, I just don't want to blind Bobby."

Choking down chicken noodle soup. Mike is ready to go.
Photo by Bobby York
We are really running close to cutoffs. I am feeling worse. Chicken broth and sipping on Boost is just not enough calories. Mike has picked up his pacer somewhere around mile 60. I am having a hard time keeping up with them. I see a headlamp ever so often turn back my way. I imagine Mike is checking on me. I nod my head as if saying I am coming don't wait on me. I will catch up. Nathan caught up with me, and together we run Mike and his pacer down,  Mike's knee is getting worse. Down hills are getting tough for him. He is moving real slow. Mike and his pacer step off of the trail. I watch Mike do a few stretches. I know we are close to cut offs, I debate with my internal voice about going on ahead or staying back with Mike. I decide to move forward since Mike has his pacer. I hope that Mike will be within a few minutes  of me by the next aid station. I need a few minutes when I get there anyway. As I keep moving with Nathan right behind me, Mike's light gets further and further away. When I get to the aid station Mike is nowhere to be seen.

Despair, verb, to lose all hope or confidence. This is real despair.  I was at my lowest low. I was cold, I could not eat, I felt bad, I am worried about Mike, and for the fist time since I set this goal I do not believe that I can finish the 100 miles. Why try? Every excuse for a DNF came racing through my mind. I look at my wife, my girls, Kristen and Mackenzie. I want to quit, but I cannot tell them. 
"Dad you got this."
"Come on dad you got this."
My girls have been bragging to their friends about me running this race for a while. Thoughts of them having to tell their friends that I quit flipped some switch in my head. "Dad you got this." I can do this. Stay in the moment and set small goals. One step at a time. How far to the next aid? 3.3 miles and Bobby will be ready to take me the rest of the way. I am not going to quit. They are going to have to pull me. Time to harden up. I headed off into the dark alone. 

I am feeling better. Not good, but better. I remember this section from the Mount Cheaha 50k. Easy rolling single track. I can see the lights from the aid station ahead. Yeah 68 down 32 to go. I have been going for 20 hours now. I am still having trouble eating, so it is soup and a few sips of Boost. Time for another lancing of blisters and sock change. I sit down in the back of Jen's SUV. I am shaking so hard that I am having trouble getting my shoes off. The girls are helping get my shoes back on when I notice that Bobby looks a little worried about the cold. He lives in Florida, and it does not get this cold down there. Jen gives him some hand warmers to put in his gloves. I know I thought it, but I don't know if I told him, once we get moving you will be plenty warm. We are ready to go. "Hey cuz, 50k in 10 hours, no problem".

Next stop "The Pinnacle". I am both worried and excited about this section. The stories about the constant climb with a ton of switchbacks had me thinking about the fact that I am very low on calories, and I could reach a point where I just would not be able to go anymore. I am also excited because Len told me that everyone that made it to Pinnacle last year finished the race. I have never had a pacer before, and Bobby has never paced anyone before, but somehow it just seemed to work. He is staying several yards in front of me which has the effect of pulling me along. I am trying to stay in the moment focusing getting to where Bobby is, but where is that aid station. I thought I would be able to see it from miles away up on top of this climb. I start to worry that we are off course. The climb does not seem to be as bad as the stories. There is a marker, so we are on course. Up ahead I see the lights. Almost there. 

The Pinnacle Aid Station
Photo by Kim Pike
The Pinnacle, (mile 75) is the second GUTS aid station. I have been looking forward to this point in the race for weeks. I get to see my running heroes one more time, get tons of encouragement, and fried egg sandwiches. I do love fried egg sandwiches, but the thought of one right now makes me want to blow chunks. I went with the chicken soup and a cup of coffee. All down hill from here right? No? Kim informs me the next 5 miles are very rocky and technical. I am wanting to hang around, but these guys are good. Before I know it I have my water bottle in my hand with Mark walking me out the aid station pointing down the road to the next marker. 

Definitely not down hill. We are still going up with leaf covered rocks. Running by braille comes to mind here. On the side of the trail there is a sizable rock formation. Bobby is looking at it pointing out something. "Did you see those eyes glowing"? No, I did see anything. Bobby said it looked bigger than a squirrel. I said, "Probably a bobcat". Bobby's worst fear is being mauled by a wild animal. I am guessing pacing me in a race where mountain lions live is out of the question. I think he is picking up the pace now. This is the point were the low mileage training for a 100 will bite you. The muscles that do most of the stabilizing in my lower legs and hips are starting to fatigue. All of my joints seem to be bending at all kinds of weird angles. My gait has changed more to a heel strike because the blisters don't bother me until I land on a rock just right. Aid station ahead. 

There is my buddy Jason calling out numbers as we come in. It was odd seeing him at this aid station. He had paced some girl with a bum ankle through the last section and waiting on a ride. I ask him how we were doing on time. "Your past cutoffs, but this is not a pull aid station. Yikes! Down some more chicken soup. Lets go cuz! Down hill Jeep road ahead. lets make up some time. We headed out with Nathan joining us. 

This Jeep road is not going down hill. Most of it seems to be uphill. I run what I can. Power hike the rest. The sun is starting to come up. It is a beautiful sunrise. Bright red band running the length of the horizon. Wish I had my camera. I have been told by several people that once the sun comes up you feel like a new man. Not true. I did feel better. Not new man better. My feet and left ankle hurt. My knees are aching. Muscles are getting sore. All expected because I am just past the 80 mile mark. Bobby is pushing me to pick up the pace reminding me that we need to be making up time. Either the sunrise makes Nathan feel like a new man or Bobby scared him about the cutoffs, cause he took off.

Hallucinations. Another one of those things I had heard and read about. They occur at night while running with a headlamp. Large rats running across the trail. Ghost. Maybe even seeing runners that are not there. Not me. The light would make it look like something moving on the trail right in front of me, but that was it. Until now. You have heard of the runners high. Well I call this the runners "acid trip". I am running along and see a go-cart on the side of the trail. No wait that is just a bush. I giant cowboy boot? Really? Nope stump. Aid station ahead. I see people. I hear a wooo-hoooo. Nope. A couple of trees blown over. There are two things that I am thankful of at this moment. One, I am sane enough to know what is happening. I think I see something, and my brain is filling in the blanks to make it real. Two, Bobby is far enough ahead of me to not hear me babbling about what I am seeing. Bobby says "aid station ahead", I am thinking it better be real. 

Coming into AS16 just after sunrise.
Photo by Jennifer Tapley

Aid station 16 mile 85. Happy to see the crew again. They tell me to hurry I am real close to cutoffs. I shed my jacket and change hats. Grab a few bites from the table. I just ate something, wow, I am feeling better. I tell the crew to give me two gels for the road. Lets go cuz! 4 miles to the next aid. We make it less than an hour we will gain some time on the cutoff. 

It is all fire road and we are making up some much needed time. It has been about 30 minutes and I decide to eat my first gel since I don't remember when. Four gulps of water. My stomach is back to normal. I just wish it could have been sooner. Why would someone leave that here.... never mind. "Runners acid trip". I am glad I won't be driving myself home today. I hear a wooo-hooo. I look at my watch, lap time 54 minutes. Yeah! There is no doubt in my mind. I will finish this race!

Kristen had ran down the road to watch for us.
Photo by Jennifer Tapley

Bobby pulling me down the fire road.
Photo by Jennifer Tapley

Ah yes potatoes dipped in salt and M&Ms. My favorite. A few more miles of fire roads then a little more trail. Lets go cuz!

Bobby and me leaving AS17
Photo Jennifer Tapley
11 miles to go. Setting my small goals. Run to that horse...I mean small broken tree. One last gel to get me to the end. My stomach is 100%. My ankle is really starting to hurt. We turn onto the old logging road/trail. Bobby yells out, "This is runnable Joel". Payback for StumpJump? Yeah, he is enjoying this way too much. "Runnable Joel"!

I am coming into the last crew access.
Photo by Jennifer Tapley
Last aid station.Where is it? My crew is here but no aid station. It is a half mile down the trail, OK. I hope so cause my bottle is empty and I want some more M&Ms. The aid station was down the trail sitting on an earth dam. Refiled my bottle got some my M&Ms. I have 1.5 hours to finish. I can walk that, but Bobby is not going to let me. "Runnable Joel"! 

I always get emotional towards the end of a race. I don't know why. I just do. This time though the emotions are more than I could ever put into words. Everyday I have thought about this race. I have trained as hard as I could. I would talk about it to anybody that would listen. Everybody that knows me is aware that I am running 100 miles today. I spent money on shoes, socks, lube, and other peaces of gear just for this race. Was it all worth it? Hell Yeah! Then I think what if I would have failed? How bad would that low be? Then it hits me. I am here about to finish a 100 mile race for two reasons. The people that are here for me and my preparation. Failure was never an option. My family that has supported me and is crewing for me. Friends that have seen along the way that have encouraged me. Mike, who ran most of this race with me. My cousin Bobby that has pulled me through the last 32 miles of this race. I am glad he is not looking back here at me now. "Runnable Joel!" 

We turn out onto the road. All runnable. Somehow I agree to run 4 walk 1. It sounds better than running to whole way. Stadium lights! There it is! Nope, it is the second school we come to. Dang this is the longest 2 miles ever. There it is. Yeah! I got to keep the emotions in check. It would be embarrassing to cry in front of my friends. I turn onto the track. Big crowd. Don't cry. Don't cry. 

Finish! 29:37:53 

Coming to the Finish Line 100 miles.
Photo by Kim Pike
The Buckle
Photo by Jennifer Tapley
Me and my family/best crew ever!
Photo by Kim Pike

It has been said that running a 100 miles is parallel to life. It is with all of the ups, downs, surprises, and disappointments. At mile 100 you learn the "meaning of life". It is really simple. 
Family and Friends. Humanity.  


  1. Great job, Joel! I really enjoyed your report. Way to persevere!

  2. Way to go, Joel! I knew that you had Pinhoti 100 in the bag when I saw you arrive at Mile 80 aid station. You were a real trooper out there on that tough trail on a cold night and you've now got one of the toughest races in the country under your belt. Very well done and very inspiring.

  3. Thanks guys.

    Always good to see on the trail Jason. You always lift my spirits.

  4. More than congratulations are in order friend...after my experience there I have a better understanding just how tough a challenge this is - you've proven how someone with pure heart can do anything...inspiring :)

    ps. it was nice to run with you in those early must have blazed through most of the aid stations!

  5. Charles, thanks brother I know you will get the next one. Just have fun doing it.

    I don't know about blazing through aid stations, but in and out quick as possible with 2 set as 10 minute stops. 18 aid stations X 3 min each is almost an hour.

  6. How the hell you remembered all that great detail is beyond me!! Great job and way to suck it up and grind it out!!! The single track train was fun!! You got me tearing up too!! What's next? Dan B

  7. Dan, I write down as many details as I can in a notebook after the race. I have just started catching stuff on my blog.

    Pine Mountain 40 miler a few 50ks and maybe GRR100 in March.

  8. I enjoy the efforts you have put in this, thank you for all the great posts.
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