This is my race report for the 2014 Georgia Jewel 100 mile race. This was my first 100 and the race I chose to hold that title for me proved to be a VERY tough one indeed. First, let me give a very brief overview of the course as described on the Georgia Jewel Website. “This rugged course on North West Georgia’s Pinhoti Trail will escort you across five scenic mountains and along the narrow crests of several ridges of the Chattahoochee National Forest. This mostly single track trail is technically rocky and rooty but is well maintained by our friends at NWGA SORBA. There are several stream crossings to be experienced during the race. The lowest elevation on the course is 770 feet and the highest elevation of 1788 feet will reveal the views from the top of Dug Mountain. Because of the out and back nature of the course, runners will both climb 16,053 feet and descend 16,053 feet during the 100 mile distance. The course consists of roughly 70 miles of single track trail, 21.5 miles of jeep road and 8.5 miles of paved road. Tenacity will allow you a final downhill finish to a unique award for your ultra-achievement!”
I had made the decision to run this race many months before and had scheduled my vacation time at work around it. 2 days prior to the race, 2 days for the race itself, and 4 days after to recover. I found 3 of my friends willing to pace for me (Trena, Anne and Leigh) and had our “pacer meeting” the Wednesday before the race. Of the 4 of us there, only Anne had experience with both running a 100 as well as what exactly would be involved in pacing for me. Her knowledge proved to be very valuable. We set up exactly what responsibilities would be and a rough timetable as to when I would be into aid stations to pick up each respective pacer. I would start with Trena, picking her up at the Mack White Aid Station which was the turn-around point for the 100 at about 52ish miles. From there we would run about 20ish miles to the Manning Road Aid Station where I would pick up Anne to run the wee hours of the night with me for 15ish miles. The final leg would be from Snake Creek Gap, where Anne would trade off with Leigh, until the finish back at the Dalton Convention Center, where the race began a day and a half earlier. But the first half of the race would be entirely on me.
I spent the Thursday before the race getting last minute items and packing my drop bags. I could have a drop at each of the aid stations where I would meet my pacers so I packed them accordingly. Not knowing what the course would require of me, I figured I would just pack for the worst. In each bag I included a fresh pair of shoes, socks, a complete change of clothing, a couple packets of Roctane powder (the drink mix I have been using for my long runs and races), a few extra granola bars, a spare handheld water bottle, extra batteries, and a baggie with Tums, Ibuprofen, Aleve, NoDoz and extra anti-chafe powder. For the drop at the 52 mile turn around point, I also included my Black Diamond Spot handlamp as well as my battery backup for my Garmin. At this time I also planned out my pack and my race day gear. I settled on using my Ultraspire Omega pack with a 2 liter water bladder. I also had a Nathan handheld water bottle in the front pocket full of Roctane. I packed a few Bear Naked granola bars and my guilty pleasure of Giant Chewy Sweet Tarts. In the back I packed a small first aid kit, my ArcTeryx Incendo running jacket, and a pair of Black Diamond Distance Z-poles. On me I wore my Altra Lone Peak 1.5’s with Injinji toe socks and Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters. I wore a comfortable racer back tank, running skirt and arm warmers with my favorite Salomon hat and a Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp. To top it all off I recorded the race with my Garmin Fenix GPS watch.
Friday, I drove up to Dalton, GA for the packet pickup and pre-race meeting. Arriving at the hotel where both were located, my nerves started to act up. This was REALLY happening. I just picked up my race number for a ONE HUNDRED MILE RACE!!!!! What have I gotten myself into?!?! While there, I started to see many familiar faces. People who I have met along my relatively short ultra-running journey up to this moment. I say relatively short because it had been less than a 10 month progression from my first 50k to now sitting in the pre-race meeting of my first 100 miler. Nevertheless, I have met MANY wonderful people along the way and it felt really good to see these familiar smiling faces on the eve of what I was sure would be my last day on earth. The meeting was informative and afterwards we were all released to have dinner and prepare for the next days events. I went with my friends Mary Dean, Laurie and Elizabeth to a little Italian Restaurant which was apparently popular amongst the other runners because as we sat there, we saw more and more groups from the hotel filtering in. After a satisfying meal of pasta and great conversation, we headed back to the hotel to split up to our respective sleeping quarters for the evening. I made the decision to stay on the cheap and sleep in the tent at the start/finish line. I had a yoga mat and a sleeping bag and was out by 9pm. The hard ground and uncomfortableness of sleeping in a sleeping bag kept waking me up and I honestly did not get a great nights sleep. I feel like I was awake more than I slept and before I knew it, my alarm was going off at 2 am. The hotel had breakfast for runners at 3 am and check-in time for the race was 4 am for the 5 am start. I made my way to my car so I could go to the hotel and change in the restroom before heading to breakfast. However, my conscious got the better of me and thought that partaking in the hotel breakfast without being a guest at the hotel would probably be bad karma at the beginning of an undertaking that would take every ounce of good karma I could muster. I decided to find my breakfast elsewhere. However, breakfast options at 3 am in Dalton, GA are quite limited. I finally settled for the drive through window at McDonalds because at least I could have coffee. Getting breakfast because my morning is just starting at 3am stood in stark contrast to the majority of other patrons there who were finishing their nights out after a night of partying. I ordered my coffee and my egg and cheese biscuit and headed back to the start. People started to filter in slowly until the parking lot was relatively full with about 20 minutes before the start. I was getting more and more nervous the closer it got to start time. About this time, I saw another familiar face in the crowd. It was Laurie. She was running the 35 mile race which started 30 minutes later from the same location but was checking in at the start tent. The 50 milers would be starting from the 52 mile turn around point 2 hours later. We talked for a bit and took a couple of pictures before they announced we were about to start. She wished me luck and then my attention shifted to the race itself. In customary ultra fashion, the start is somewhat anti-climatic. Nervous, Nervous, Nervous, Ready, NERVOUS, Go, Wait? we’re started? everyone around me is moving … I guess so.
The race begins by leaving the gravel parking lot at the convention center and starting up the road. I am DETERMINED not to go out too fast on this race so I purposefully slow my pace and hang back with a group of similarly paced runners. Our headlamps bounced and lit little patches of road in front of us as we saw the main lead pack of lights moving further away on the road ahead. The road turned up and the pace slowed to a hike. I was actually kind of glad that I had stayed with this group who had no problem hiking this early in the race. When the road went back down, we jogged a bit but then hiked the ups. When the course turned us into the woods briefly before connecting with a gravel road, we were jogging a bit, happy to at least be off the road. By this point, our little group was down to just a few. When we finally hit the main trail and the beginning of the Rock Garden, we were quite happy to finally be able to run a bit. Our headlamps shone on the backs of the person in front while illuminating the rocks protruding from the ground all around us. We picked our way through this never ending maze of rocks with only one minor fall by the runner behind me. I talked a bit with the runner in front of me as we discussed different trails we had run and where we were from. It really helped the time go by because it wasn’t long before we had passed the first unmanned water stop and the sun began to hint at coming up. After the sun finally DID come up, the trail became a bit easier to navigate without relying on the narrow field of view that a headlamp provides. Before we knew it, we were at the Stover Road Aid station and had completed 1/10th of our journey.
After leaving the Stover Road Aid Station, I began to pick up my pace a little bit. Not MUCH but just a bit. Before too long, I left our small group that had navigated the Rock Garden behind and began running my own race. It was here that we began to be overtaken by the 35 miler leaders who had left 30 minutes later than us but were running a significantly faster race than we were. I had been doing good with my pace and was feeling great. There was a long gradual downhill into Snake Creek Gap and I picked up my pace a bit and began to fly down. I LOVE fast technical downhills and this one was perfect! I had a couple guys fall in behind me as we stutter stepped and juked our way down the hill, flying over rocks and around switchbacks. Looking back now, it may have been a bit TOO fast but I was having fun which is what this is all about right? We finally made it into the aid station at the bottom where I really wanted to concentrate on refueling. I had a Black Rice Burrito which was AMAZING and refilled my Roctane and was off to the next aid station.
Leaving Snake Creek Gap, it was a steady climb up to the ridgeline where I briefly got cell phone signal and was able to get a group text message out to my pacers “Just left snake creek as. Feeling great” There was a bit of up and down from here before heading down to a couple of ponds and a gravel road with a parking lot which served as a trailhead for John’s Mountain. Here, the trail began to rise and get somewhat rocky. Then it rose some more and started with the switchbacks. There were some gorgeous views from the trail here as the side of the mountain was quite steep with little to no tree cover to block the view. The trail went up several rock staircases before finally summiting the staircase beside a wooden overlook built as a viewing platform over a waterfall. Climbing the last portion of stairs, a couple was coming down and they were visibly upset “don’t even bother …. there’s not even any water on the falls” I’m pretty sure she assumed that is why I was climbing this steep trail. I didn’t bother telling her that I hadn’t even planned on stopping off at the platform to look. From here, it was a short flattish section before the trail began to climb yet again. It was here that the leader of the 50 mile race began flying down the trail towards me. She told me that the aid station was just ahead and then she disappeared down the trail. After very little additional climbing, I arrived at the John’s Mountain Aid Station and the highest point of the race.
After leaving the John’s Mountain Aid Station, the trail followed a gravel road quite steeply down the far side of the mountain. I saw a few of the 50 milers but not as many as I expected to see before the course finally followed a trail off to the left. Almost immediately after reaching this trail, my GPS showed that I had hit my first marathon point …. 26.2 miles. I was 1/4 of the way there. I began seeing a few more of the 50 milers now. The trail at this point was narrow and somewhat rolling before it finally turned almost into an overgrown road. I had been passing 50 milers pretty steadily now and was eagerly waiting to see my friends who were running that distance. Finally, I rounded a corner and saw not one, but both Mary Deane and Elizabeth heading toward me. We greeted each other and wished each other good luck and went on our way. It was quite encouraging to see them though and my spirit was lifted a bit. From here, the course went down to the main road where we ran on pavement for a ways before turning onto a side street that after running a bit on the rolling hills, went down and disappeared into a creek. On the other side lay the Manning Road Aid Station and the absolute best hummus wraps I had ever eaten.
At our pacer meeting before the race, we were attempting to determine pace and what time each pacer needed to be waiting at their aid station for me. My best estimate was to take my best 50 mile time (which was about 12 hours) and add a couple of hours for slower pace (so now we are looking at 14 hours) and that is when I SHOULD be into the Mack White Aid Station at mile 52ish. From that I could extend it out to the other aid stations based on my average pace. However, all of my calculations were based on 50 miles instead of 52ish. So I was planning everything based on close to a 17:00/mile. When I got to Manning Road, I was averaging 15:30/mile and feeling fantastic. If I kept this up for the next 20 miles, I would be almost an hour and a half early. I figured I should probably get a call out to my pacers to let them know I was coming in early. After leaving Manning Road, I made it to a ridgeline where I got a call off to Trena. I tried to tell her that I was making good time and was running early and to let everyone else know. The problem was that she had been planning on arriving early anyway. Since I had mentioned that my 50 mile time was 12 hours, she had planned on arriving then, since it was theoretically possible for me to do that again. When I said I was running an hour and a half early, she took it to mean 10 1/2 hours …. not 12 1/2 hours which is what I meant (the original time I had said was 14 hours). After getting the call off, i began to feel good about my pace. I started to feel confident. But that is when I started to feel a twinge in my left knee. It didn’t really bother me all that much at first. It was more just an awareness that the back of my knee was there. Then it started to feel a bit tender. And before long it stated to just ache outright. It was around this time that I hit the road where we run for a short ways before turning onto a smaller paved road that does a couple of quick up and downs before it settles on a steady slightly up track in front of a barn , some fields and a giant cornfield. The road quickly turns gravel and before you realize it, you are rolling into the Narrows Road Aid Station. Coming up the road, I saw a few people standing near the crest of the hill and suddenly I heard a loud “KELLLLLLLYYYYYYY COOOOOOOPPPPPPPEEEEERRR” At first I was shocked that anyone there would even know I was coming much less recognize me from so far away. As I get closer I realize it is my friend Keith who was working the aid station. We joke a bit mainly about the fact that I wasn’t going to let “a little thing like Bronchitis” keep me from running, referring to my previous race, less than a month earlier, where I had to drop from the 50 mile to the 50k because of a nasty case of bronchitis which left my lungs in searing pain. He offers me a beer which I gladly accept and drink most of while getting a report on the trail ahead. And then it was onward.
Leaving Narrows Road, the trail was mainly rolling singletrack through the woods for a few miles. My knee started to REALLY give me problems now.I found that my gait had a slight limp in it at all times and also found myself walking a LOT more on the uphills than I normally would have. The pain seemed to be coming from the back side of my knee so I didn’t feel like it was just another case of IT issues like I have had in the past. I couldn’t quite tell if the pain was coming from the joint itself or from a muscle or a tendon and even if it was, which one. All I knew was that it HURT. I had 11 miles to make it to the Mack White Aid Station where I would meet with Trena who would , in my way of thinking, make it all better. I figured this was just one of those minor injuries that gets overplayed in your head when running alone for so long. As soon as I get my pacer and have company, it won’t be as big of a deal. Except it WAS big deal. My pace slowed tremendously and as I was walking along, I even had an experiment where I walked an entire mile to see how bad that would hurt my pace. I attempted to isolate the pain a bit more. I noted when the pain was the greatest and what caused it more. I found that it seemed to actually be coming from the tendon that attaches my calf muscle into my knee. With this “knowledge” I was able to adjust my running to engage less calf muscle and therefore cause less pain, but this was a band-aid at best. The pain was still there and now my altered running form was creating a kind of hobbling motion that proved to cause more problems down the road. The trail itself came out of the woods and onto some gravel logging roads. These roads actually were kind of a reprieve from the more technical trail. Though I typically HATE gravel roads and ESPECIALLY when they use large sized gravel, I found myself not hating these too much. Here, I saw the leader of the hundred coming back toward me and pass by at what looked like a blistering pace. It would be a while before I saw the next runner because he had a rather large lead. The miles started to tick away and more and more runners started coming back toward me. I began noting how many so that I knew where I stood in the rankings but quickly gave up because I kept losing track of where I was. I started to note that my Garmin was saying I was getting rather close to the 50 mile mark and yet I didn’t really see an end in sight. Finally, I got to a turn off from the gravel road where the trail followed some power lines. I knew this “should” be close to the aid station so I hiked over the first little hill with enthusiasm. However, the first step I took off the road, my legs began to cramp. I pushed through the cramps because I was excited about the proximity of the aid station. After cresting the hill and seeing what was laid out in front of me the enthusiasm quickly drained. These power lines were no joke! Dropping down from the first hill, the second hill began to loom higher and higher in front of me. Climbing up, I was informed that there were just a couple more to go. This hill was already insanely steep and I couldn’t even imagine something longer and worse …. until I crested that one and saw the next one. Coming down these hills was almost worse than going up them. The soil was VERY loose with rocks and pebbles thrown in. Footing was almost non-existent. In some places you pretty much had to do a controlled fall and where your foot landed it would slide several feet down the loose soil until you took another step/fall and repeated the process over all while trying to stay upright. Looking ahead to the next climb, you could vaguely pick out runners making their way down towards you but their size was so small in comparison to the climb that you began to question whether you were just seeing things or if they really were people. After FINALLY making it down the one and up the other, the trail turned into the woods for a bit of trail before opening up on the road with the aid station immediately on the other side.
I rolled into the Mack White Aid Station at close to 7pm, which was pretty much right on my original estimate of 14 hours. Trena had been waiting on me for over 3 1/2 hours. My pace had slowed tremendously since I had gotten that phone call off to her 20 miles prior. When I came in, the only thing I wanted was to sit down for a minute. Prior to this aid station, I had not allowed myself to sit down at all knowing the momentum sucking power of the chair. But this time, I figured I had earned a small break. I began giving Trena the update on everything that has been happening. How my knee had been bothering me and about how my pace had slowed and how well I had been staying on top of hydration and eating. She began running around getting things I may need like food and drink, while I sat in my chair with my drop bag taking care of myself. I peeled my shoes and socks off to find my feet were wet and pruny from the water crossings a couple hours earlier. I sprinkled them liberally with my anti-chafe powder which seemed to dry them out instantly and put on fresh socks but my old shoes. The shoes I had in that particular drop bag fit a bit snugger than I would have liked at that point in the race when my feet were already swelling. So with fresh socks and my shoes back on, I began to address other needs like getting my charger onto my Garmin which had already been chirping at me that it had a low battery. I also took the time to get my other headlamp form my drop as well. I sat for a minute and relaxed while talking with some of the other runners while eating a veggie burger and drinking some coke before finally deciding it was time to go. The sun was starting to fade and the more time we could be on the trail in the light, the better.
Leaving Mack White Aid Station felt infinitely better knowing I had Trena with me. We ran the short section through the woods on our way to the power lines. We passed by a small cutout that had power lines running down it with a couple of large hills along the way. “i’m sure glad we don’t have to run down those”, said Trena I just laughed. I told her to wait just a bit and see what we DID get to run on. We made it to the power lines and she agreed that these were a bit more impressive. The effort it took going over these hills was really messing with my knee and Trena offered me some Biofreeze to see if it made a difference. We stopped halfway down the hill to both apply the Biiofreeze and to try and take a picture of the hill when, while standing still, my feet slid out from under me and I fell hard on my right arm and butt. The only fall of the entire race, and I wasn’t even moving.
After finally leaving the power line section behind us, we began our trip down the gravel road. My knee was screaming at me now and I informed Trena that I would not be able to run for a bit. Possibly if I walk it off for a mile or so it would calm down and let me run on it, so we did that. It began getting darker and darker and the headlamps became necessary. We started seeing fewer and fewer runners coming towards us until finally no more at all. From this point on, we would be alone out there. We pushed on down the gravel road and my knee began to feel a little better from the Aleve I had taken earlier along with the Biofreeze. I began to run a bit, even if it was a super slow pace. I would run until the pain just became too unbearable and then we would walk. This went on for a way until I started noticing that i was becoming EXTREMELY tired. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open while walking down the road. I began staggering down the road almost falling off the edge a couple times. I took out my trekking poles so that I could have that extra bit of stability from falling over and they helped a bit. I decided it was best to try and run some even with the pain because otherwise I would be asleep while walking. So we ran some but eventually the pain was too much to continue like that. I was absolutely dragging. It got to the point where the trekking poles didn’t even help because I was just dragging them on the road beside me. I put them away and continued to try and eat and drink. We finally made it to the turn off into the woods but the sleepiness never really left. We periodically would try to run but it never lasted for long. My pace was glacial. Absolutely NOTHING was fast about it. As we were trudging along, a noise off to the side of the trail caught both Trena’s and my attention. It was big …. and it was staying there. Adrenaline has a way of waking you up a bit. Suddenly I was WIDE awake and alert. I tried shouting at whatever it was behind the earthen berm but nothing … it kept moving around as if we weren’t there. I tried clapping …. no effect. I started to get a little frightened and had Trena pull my trekking poles off the back of my pack to use as weapons if we needed to. It continued to root around in the leaves and underbrush and nothing we did even seemed to startle it. We continued on slowly, each clutching a trekking pole as if it was a spear until we left whatever that was behind us.We later found out that it was most likely a feral pig because they have no fear of people at all and no amount of yelling or noise will startle them away. In our periodic glances over our shoulders, we noticed a lone headlamp bobbing its way towards us. Eventually this runner would overtake us and we marvelled at what it would take to run this thing at night with no pacers. We both agreed that we wouldn’t want to do it. Once the adrenaline began to wear off, my exhaustion came back with a vengeance. There were times when we were walking along and suddenly Trena is almost out of sight ahead of me because I had apparently dozed off on the trail and woken up several seconds later. My staggering almost dropped me off the trail on MANY occasions and our pace was beyond slow. I talked Trena into letting me have a 15 minute nap at the next aid station. She agreed because at the rate we were going, we would not make it to the following aid station if something didn’t change.
We made it to the Narrows Aid Station and the ONLY thing on my mind was finding a chair and getting that glorious sleep. My friend Keith offered me another beer which I declined in favor of a chair in front of the fire. I removed my pack and left Trena to do her thing at the aid station while I nodded off for my alotted 15 minutes. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when I heard Keith near me telling me that I HAD to get up. He kept telling me that I HAD to leave. He was ordering me to leave his aid station so that he could read about my finish the next day. Surprisingly, once I opened my eyes and stood up, I felt 1000% better. I was alert and awake and NOT stumbling around. I WAS, however, freezing. Stopping for even the 15 minutes, my body was no longer producing its own body heat and now being removed from the fire, I began shivering uncontrollably. I pulled my jacket out from my pack and put it on but I was still cold. The other volunteers gave me a cup of warm broth with ramen noodles to try and heat me up from the inside. I took it but my hands were shaking so much it was splashing out of the cup. I sat down once more but just the act of sitting made me instantly tired again and I fell asleep briefly dropping the cup of broth onto the ground. They got me awake again and refilled my cup and sent me on my way with the thought that moving would wake me up and warm me up better than anything else they could do at the aid station. And it worked.
We left Narrows Aid Station down the gravel road with a cup of noodles in my hands. I sipped the warm soup while making our way down the gravel road. Once the road turned to pavement, we were able to run a bit. We alternated running and walking as my knee would allow it, but on the road, I feel that we got more running in than usual. We made our way past the cornfields and out onto the main road. It was after midnight at this point and I am sure that the cars that were passing us thought we were absolutely crazy running on the road with headlamps at that hour. The nap I had taken at the aid station seemed to really do the trick because I was no longer sleepy like I had been earlier. We ran down the road and turned into the woods for our final few miles before the Manning Road Aid Station. We had climbed a mountain and were descending into the valley where the aid station was when we started hitting these cool pockets of air that felt at LEAST 15 degrees cooler than the area around them. It was really getting quite chilly out there. We finally made it down the mountain and saw the aid station ahead with its fire going and we ran on into the clearing. The aid station volunteer asked for my number and then said “Kelly? Your husband is over there in the truck” Now I know I was starting to get delirious out there but not so much as to not remember being married. “Excuse me?” I said. “Yes. Your husband is in the truck waiting for you” “Um, I’m not married” “Well, SOMEone is waiting for you over there” ….Trena and I walk over to the truck and look into the driver side window to see Anne’s husband there and her napping in the passenger seat. LOL She gets up and comes out and we exchange all of our updates as to how things are going. I get my drop bag and drop off a few things I don’t need anymore like my Garmin charger and my first headlamp. I refilled my Roctane bottle and resupplied my food. I then found a stick roller and rolled out my legs particularly my calves. Anne began to ask if I was SURE I was ok. Because if I felt I would not make another aid station it would be best to drop here. I insisted that I was ok to go and so we started off away from the aid station. Anne’s husband was going to drop Trena off back at her car so she got in the truck and since there was a water crossing immediately outside of the aid station, Anne rode in the truck as well so as to not start her run off wet. However, I HAD to run through it because I was still racing and couldn’t be carried ANY of the course. I stepped into that icy water and probably scared the neighbors for miles around with my obscenities coming out of my mouth. That water was FREEZING!!!!! I will say that it does wonders for making sure you stay awake though.
Anne and I made our way down the road; me with wet feet , her with dry. When we turned off the pavement and onto the trails, I was still feeling fairly fresh. By this point, I had been alternating Aleve and ibuprofen every 3-4 hours and reapplying Biofreeze to my knee in an effort to get the pain under control. I found the best thing I could do for the pain was to walk. I ran when I could but always with pain. When it got too much, I walked again. We made our way through the snaking singletrack in the shadow of John’s Mountain. The sounds being made in the woods reaffirmed my desire to never run this race without a pacer. We continued on and the conversation we had was very therapeutic. It took my mind off of pain and sleep. We just continued to plug away the miles. We finally made it to the gravel road that steeply led up to the John’s Mountain Aid Station. We began the gruesome hike. One good thing about running in the mountains at night versus the day is that you can’t really see how much further you have to climb at night. You just go …. and keep going ….. and keep going until you are there. At one point I shone my light up the road and it disappeared into the darkness without ever showing an end to the climb “I don’t wanna do this no more” I said jokingly. “too bad, you have to”. I had made up my mind MANY miles earlier that I was not going to quit. I had already gone further than I ever had before and every step I took was a new record for me and yet having come this far, much of it on a bad knee through pain and lack of sleep, I WOULD finish this thing or get cut on time trying. We made it to the top and took the opportunity to sit and relax for a bit. They offered a bowl of vegetarian chili which was probably the most wonderful thing I had ever put in my mouth. I was sitting by the fire eating my chili in the middle of the night with fellow crazy runners around in the most epic experience of my life and I couldn’t be happier. I had already been on the course for close to 24 hours and had a little over 20 miles to go. Anne and I each made a quick trip to the portapotty before setting off once again. This time it was a descent down to the stairs section above the falls. Going down this section I began to get lethargic and sleepy again. Anne was telling me it was my body shifting resources to digesting the food I had just eaten. This combined with the fact that we had stopped for a good long while at the aid station and then started back up made my body feel like it had to “catch up”. Whatever the case may be, my body was shutting down again. We made it to the wooden overlook and I could not keep my eyes open. I begged Anne for a mere 5 minutes to take a nap and she agreed. I laid down on the bench and had barely closed my eyes when she is insisting that we get moving again. That 5 minutes helped but not as dramatically as the 15 minute nap did earlier. What proved to be absolute BEST thing to keep me awake was on the horizon about 30 minutes away. Coming down John’s Mountain, we could see the sky turning red in preparation for sunrise. We, however, could not wait around to see it from here because over the course of the night, the time buffer I had built up in the first half of the race had been eroding away and now I was getting dangerously close to cut-off times. We continued to move our way down the course hobbling as best I could. We made it out to the gravel road and around the ponds and back onto the singletrack trail. I was really beginning to feel the time crunch now. We had a mountain to go over and descend before the next aid station and I was determined to not miss that cut-off. I dug deep and ran as much as I possibly could down the mountain. Every single step offered a shot of pain that emanated from my knee. By this time, I had been hobbling on it for so long that my new awkward gait had caused my IT band to start flaring up as well. Now my knee hurt in two locations instead of just one but I continued on. Halfway down, I sent Anne ahead to get Leigh up and ready at the aid station so that there would be no down time when I got there. I caught up with her halfway down the trail as she had just gotten cell service and was getting a text out to her. The trail was a bit misleading though because as I passed her there with her phone, I began hearing the cars below me getting louder and louder and suddenly I emerged from the woods across the road from the Snake Creek Aid Station. Anne was still behind me trying to get a text off and I was already at the parking lot limping my way across. Leigh was by the fire and saw me coming and jumped up scrambling to get her gear together. Anne came running up from behind and briefed Leigh as to what was going on. We explained the time crunch and did our typical aid station routine of filling bottle, grabbing a burrito, popping some more ibuprofen and taking off on my blisteringly slow pace back up the mountain that 24 hours earlier, I had flown down.
I felt incredibly guilty for my slow pace with all of my pacers. I felt like they wanted to go much faster and that my pace was slowing them down. It took a lot to convince myself that they were out there to help me stay on track for my race and not to feel guilty for slowing them down. That was most definitely the case on the last 15 miles of this race with Leigh. Even with the cut-off looming over me, there was only so much I could do. I tried to run when I could but it was becoming harder and harder. And that is not even taking into account the fact that this is the section where my hallucinations really started with a vengeance. I was constantly seeing an aid station just ahead that turned out to be an fallen tree, or a parking lot full of cars which turned out to be a few rocks. I was constantly seeing the Pinhoti symbol (a turkey track) carved into the rocks along the course only to see it disappear when I looked closer. I saw the road just ahead despite the fact that we were running along a ridgeline with dropoffs on either side hundreds of feet down. I am certain that Leigh began to get tired of me calling out what was coming up only for it to end up being imaginary. I decided to just follow her and let her tell me what was actually coming up regardless of what I saw. We did finally make it to the last manned aid station at Stover Road. We were just barely ahead of the cutoff so we quickly restocked and went on our way. We climbed our way up the road and turned onto the trail. We picked our way through the rock garden and the running portions of our journey were becoming fewer and further between. My knee was really feeling terrible. I was looking at my Garmin and saw that we SHOULD be getting close to the end but nothing was looking familiar. The last time I had been on this particular part of the trail it was dark. FINALLY we made it to the gravel road that would lead us to the last paved road section before the finish. I began to get really excited that this was REALLY happening. I could actually finish this thing ahead of the cutoff and ACTUALLY get my buckle! Another runner had passed us a mile or so back and we now saw them ahead on the gravel road. They gave us an idea of how much further we had to go. We ran a little but mostly walked down the gravel road until we hit the short section of trail before the road. when we hit the road, Leigh asked “do you want to try and run a little?” “HELL YEAH I DO!” There was less than a mile to go before the finish and it was mostly downhill on pavement. The clock was sitting at 34 1/4 hours with a 35 hour cutoff. I began to run/limp my way down the road and began to pick up speed a bit. The runner we saw earlier was still ahead but as we crested a hill, we saw another runner and his pacer limping their way to the finish line. we were quickly on top of them and around them still following the runner ahead of us. I sent Leigh on ahead so she could possibly get a finish line photo for me leaving me to finish the last 1/4 mile myself. I saw the runner ahead of me turn off the road and immediately enter the finish chute with clapping and cheering at the finish line. When I turned off the road and saw that finish line in front of me, I was overcome with joy. All the pain and suffering i had experience over the past day and a half on the trail didn’t matter one bit. I was finishing! I had just run a hundred mile race! I crossed the finish line and was told to wait because they had a special something for me. The race director, Karen, handed me my buckle as well as a white cardboard box. She told me that I was 3rd overall for the women and that the white box had my placing award. I was absolutely shocked! 6 women started the race and I saw 3 ahead of me at the 52 mile turnaround with one following behind which I later learned had dropped. I honestly had never even thought it was possible to place and therefore it came as a complete shock when she handed me that award. I found a chair at the finish and sat there watching the last few runners filter in before the cutoff. Leigh congratulated me again before heading to her car and driving home. I continued to sit there for quite a while before making my way to my own car for a much needed nap. And that sleep felt GOOOOOOODDDDDDD.
My official time was 34:32:39 and I placed 26th out of 29 finishers overall in this VERY difficult and grueling race.
A HUGE thank you to my pacers at this race; Trena Chellino, Anne Blanton, and Leigh Chestnutt. Without them I would surely have died, or at least never have finished. I would also like to thank the race directors, Karen and Jeremy Pearson, for putting on such a wonderful event. And lastly but most certainly not least, I would like to thank all the volunteers who gave so much of their time and energy to make this race succeed. From aid station volunteers to ham radio operators to course markers and sweepers, you all are invaluable and very much appreciated.