Pinhoti 100

(Nov. 5th to Nov. 6th)

The Night Before

2016 brought great weather and all of Huntsville’s ultra running community to Pinhoti.  Since my first time at Pinhoti, I’ve seen a few Huntsville runners show up at the race start for Pinhoti.  However, this year was one for the books.  It was a Huntsville ultra running party.  It made the race more exciting than usual.  Wonda enjoyed it as well.  She knew more folks than normal which gave her plenty of people to talk to while I was running.

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This year we tried something different.  We stayed in the Bald Rock Lodge Hotel.  It was nice.  The lodge had a good buffet which was perfect for a pre-race meal.  I slept as good as any other night before a 100-mile race.  Same old routine waking 3 or 4 times throughout the night to take a piss.  Jeff Morgan was also staying in the same hotel.  He followed us to the start line.  Jeff was helping out one of our running buddies, Ed Johnson.  Ed was more than ready for the race but seemed a bit concerned.  Jeff was looking forward to being part of things.  He was going to crew for Ed and he had planned to pace the last 32 miles from Porters gap.

Pinhoti Elevation Profile

Pinhoti Elevation Profile

The Start

We arrived at the campground in plenty of time to walk from the car down to the starting line.  All the HSV runners and their crew were hanging around waiting for the fun to begin.  This year I felt good.  I felt pretty good about the weeks leading up to the race.  I had logged some decent miles in preparation after the heat and humidity had eased up.  The thing about a 100-mile race is that you never really know what’s going to happen.  A runner can’t fake it.  You need to be prepared or you will suffer.  You need to be healthy or you will suffer.  And, to spice things up a bit, the smallest mistake made during the race can become a show stopper.  This is probably true for elite runners as well but I know it’s true for average runners.

Pinhoti Aid Station Chart

Pinhoti Aid Station Chart

This year the course was beautiful and the trails were awesome.  I started the race this year with a few goals.  Every year I have goals but this year I was hoping to follow through better than previous years.  The first goal this year was to take it easy for the first 20-25 miles.  I wanted to keep my pace between 12:30 and 13:30.  I did a pretty good job sticking to my goal.  Going out slow is always a goal but this year I had another goal.  My second goal was to eat.  Eat well, especially for the first 50 miles of the race.  In previous races, I have had the same issue in almost every race after the mid-point of the race.  I get an upset stomach that reduces me to a walk and that ultimately causes me to run out of energy.  I’ve tried a variety of things to combat this issue.  Last year, 2015, I ran the entire race on just Tailwind.  It “almost” worked.  What I’m starting to learn, is that eating regularly from the very beginning of the race is key for me to keep my stomach stable.  I don’t know why this is the case.  I have a few theories but that’s all they are at this point.

Let’s get this Party Started

I wish I could give an aid station by station write up of the race.  I just don’t have the memory to do this.  When I run a race, I enjoy it so much that time flies for me.  Hours become minutes and minutes become seconds or disappear entirely.  I don’t know if I’m the only person who does stuff like this but I’ll think about work or other things for hours.  Usually, those hours are gone.  The only things that stand out as memories in my mind are usually bad things.  So, when I leave out details, then it means that section was mostly smooth sailing.  With that said, let’s jump straight to aid station #3.  (Horsebock, I20).  Except for the 2nd Pinhoti that I’ve run, I have always felt great at mile 18 (AS #3).

One might think this is a good thing but usually, it’s not.  With Pinhoti, you can destroy your race on the 1st 18 miles.  I know that sounds crazy, but it’s so runnable that if you’re not careful, you’ll expend so much energy during the first 18 to 25 miles at Pinhoti that you will suffer for the last 75 miles.  Ha, you say.  Well, if you want to suffer for 50 miles, ignore this warning.  After running this race four times, I’m certain that Pinhoti 100 performance is based on the first 20 to 25 miles of the course. Of course, if you’re elite, maybe that’s not the case, but I’m betting it is the case just on a different speed scale.

Mile 18 is always a welcomed aid station.  Wonda and others are there.  Wonda has become an awesome crew chief.  She does all the right things to keep me healthy and motivated.  I love her and the girls and how they support me on these races.  This aid station always brings a chance to catch up on my hydration and chow down on some good food.  Like I mentioned earlier, I almost alway feel good and I’m looking forward to the next 10 miles.  Lake Morgan (Aid station #5) is always a welcomed site.

It has some super runnable trails getting to it.  The aid station is always a sight for sore eyes.  It’s usually warm to me at this point regardless of the weather.  I’m always in need of hydration regardless of the temps.  Not sure why, but I always get behind on my hydration on the stretch between mile 18 and mile 28.  I personally think that it’s due to the course being so runnable.  When you pick up the pace, it’s easy to burn more of everything.  (hydration, electrolytes, and nutrition) It always happens during this stretch.   I always leave Lake Morgan feeling refreshed and motivated about the next section.  All the aid stations have great volunteers and this one is no different.

Mile 18

Mile 18

Suffer Fest Every Year!

The next stretch has been the same every year.  Suffer fest!  It boils down to a few reasons.  I’m always trying to get to mile 5o before 12 hours.  Also, this section is in the heat of the day.  If you read any of my posts, you know that I struggle with dehydration and this is the section I have to proactively do the right things to ensure I don’t blow my race.  I have to drink extra starting at Lake Morgan and I have to continue drinking extra all the way until I get to mile 55.  If not, I’m walking a lot after mile 75.

Cheaha Mountain

The Blue Mtn aid (station #6) was supported this year.  It’s at the bottom of the mountain that takes you to the top of the Cheaha mountain.  The stretch up to the Blue Mtn aid station is long and I always arrive at it feeling like shit.  The only thing I can figure is that a 7.5 mile stretch at that point of the day on runnable trails is not good for me.  I just don’t have the discipline to hold back and drink enough extra to prevent the suffering.  I’ve now done this four years in a row.  Maybe next year I’ll do something different.  The aid station this year was great.  The volunteers were great and they were a breath of fresh air to get me moving up to the top of Bald Rock.  The section from AS #6 up to the top of Bald Rock aid station #7 always seems short to me.  I don’t know if it’s because I know what is waiting for me at Bald Rock or if it’s the fact that I’m completing the longest climb of the course.  If I have a crew, they are always set up and waiting for me at Bald Rock.  If I don’t have a crew I know I’ll have a drop bag waiting for me and I almost always see someone I know.

This year I knew my family and some friends were waiting for me so I was really looking forward to seeing them.  My feet were not in bad shape but I had planned on changing into some fresh shoes.  The shoes I started the race in had 300 plus miles on them and I’ve found that older shoes compress faster than newer shoes.  I wear Altra Olympus 2.0.  I’ve gone through so many of these shoes I did something at this aid station that some may find odd.  I changed into a brand new pair Altra Olympus 2.0.  I had put them on and walked around in them but I hadn’t run in them yet.  Also, I applied plenty of vaseline to my feet and socks.

At the start of the race.

At the start of the race.

 This has become a normal part of my routine.  It doesn’t matter if it’s wet out or not.  The vaseline is necessary for me because I sweat so much.  The sweat runs down my legs and I get wet socks and shoes in almost all weather conditions.  The vaseline really helps me keep blisters away.  My crew did great.  I ate, changed some clothes and shoes and took a short break.  This year, James Falcon needed to run 50-60 miles on the weekend of the race to get ready for his Katy Trail run, so he started running with me at Bald Rock.  It was great having a pacer for 60 miles.

My crew... Jeri, September, Wonda and Jenny

My crew… Jeri, September, Wonda and Jenny

Details? I’m Running and Running.

So, the level of detail of my race is going to get much less.  My explanation for this is ultra-brain.  Details start merging together after mile 50.  Leaving Bald Rock I felt pretty good.  Having someone to talk to after 10 hours of running was refreshing.  Of course, I had chatted a bit with some other runners up to this point, but those conversations were all short.  The next aid station that I look forward to after Bald Rock is Hubbard Creek (aid station #9).  This aid station always has so much food.  We rolled through the aid station just before dark.  I don’t recall what I ate but I definitely ate something.  James was doing great at reminding me to eat and keeping my aid station stops short.  The only aid stations I spent to much time at was the aid stations that my crew was at.  The aid stations between Adams Gap aid station #10 and the finish are a blur.  Between passing through them after dark and the temps dropping the mode of operation is very survival like.  If I stay at the aid station longer than just a few minutes, I’ll start shivering.  So, the process is the same each time.  I roll into the aid station, get my water bottles filled, get some food and always thank the aid station volunteers.  Sometimes, I warm myself for just a few seconds if they have a fire pit or heater.  But, time starts moving faster at the end of the race, I know I have to be careful to not loose track of it.  I try to check my watch when I arrive and monitor it while in the aid station.  Usually, 3-5 minutes is my cut off depending on what all I need to do and how cold it is.  I met my crew at Adams Gap (aid station #10) and got refreshed again.  The food that stood out the best is the potato soup Wonda was keeping warm for us.  It was a huge success.  I loaded it up with Himalayan salt when she made it.  It turned out to be perfect for the late night aid stations.

It’s Getting Real

After Adams Gap, the race gets REAL.  Not that the first 55 miles of the run haven’t been real but, exhaustion, darkness and cold weather start taking its toll on the best of us.  The course from mile 55 to mile 68 is mostly easy running.  The details escape me.  Mile 68 or Porters Gap (aid station

#13) is the aid station the race director tells everyone to drop if they think they can’t make it to Bulls Gap or mile 85.  He tells the runners this because aid station #14 and #15 are very difficult for him to get runners out of if they drop.  I could be wrong, but I think runners have to walk to mile 85 or mile 68 if they drop.  Unless it’s an emergency, there isn’t any transport out.  When you look at the elevation profile you might think that the stretch from mile 68 to mile 75 is difficult.  If you’ve been training on elevation any at all, you’ll be fine in this section.  I think this section is where James and I some took a wrong turn.  Don’t ask how I got lost on a course I’ve run three times before.  It happened.  I guess we were chatting and just wasn’t paying attention.  We went off course for maybe 5 minutes.  I knew when we came to an intersection and there weren’t any markings, we were lost.  Todd Henderson does a great job marking

Just a Little Lost

Todd Henderson does a great job marking his races.  Of course, we had to backtrack to the place we went off the trail and then when we got back to the course, we went the wrong way.  Thank goodness, we bumped into fellow Huntsville runner Keven Mack running in our direction.  We said hi and turned around and picked up the pace to make up the lost time.  This kind of stuff happens and you have to just roll with it.

Mile 55 I think.

Mile 55 I think.

The section that you’ll likely remember after the race will be the stretch from mile 75 to mile 85.  The midpoint on this stretch you’ll visit Wormys’ Pulpit.  This aid station was great this year.

Heading out

Heading out

The volunteers are always great and they have some good chow and usually some kind of heat if they can.  You need the heat up there.  For some reason, this aid station makes me feel like I’m temporarily in the movie Apocalypse Now.  One year I fully expect the volunteers to be butchering a cow when I run through the aid station.  The stretch from Wormys to Bulls Gap tests your mental fortitude.  It’s a good thing that you can’t really drop during this section.  It’s mostly runnable.  You can count on the wind blowing during this stretch.  If the temps are moderate then perhaps that’s a good thing, but if it’s cold or cold and wet, you better be ready on this section.  My local running club, HTC Huntsville Track Club, runs the Bull’s Gap aid station.  They do a great job.  I’m always very happy to see them.  Usually, I’m freezing my bottom off and I take a few minutes to warm up before leaving out.  Because the stretch leading into the aid station feels endless, I’m usually battling an upset stomach as well at this point.    HTC always helps me get my mojo back and I leave Bulls Gap ready to finish the race.  The remaining miles of the race after Bulls Gap is easy running.  The trick is to be in a state mentally and physically to run.

Mile 85...Questioning my sanity. :)

Mile 85…Questioning my sanity. 🙂

Gravel Road Section

Everything from mile 42 to mile 85 this year was as good as it’s ever been due to my pacer James Falcon.  James has a good bit of experience and he did a first class job keeping me hydrated and fueled.  So, as soon as I got over my stomach being upset after Bulls Gap, I had some energy.  James and I ran most all of the remaining 12-13 miles at a decent pace.  We caught up and passed a few others who had passed us earlier.  This year the aid stations were different on this final stretch.  One was just a water station and the other was in a different location on the course then I remember.  No problems with me though.  I had my mind set on beating my time from the previous year and I was close so I just focused on keeping pace.

We finally came out on the pavement.  Every year I let the pavement mentally beat me.  Even though I just have a few miles remaining, I let the pavement section kick my ass.  This year, I didn’t.  James and I ran the entire time on the pavement.

I ended up beating my previous years time by 6 minutes. WooHoo!  25 hours and 39 minutes.

James and I finishing Pinhoti 100

James and I finishing Pinhoti 100

Gear:

Food:

  • Home made potato soup
  • Home made grilled cheese
  • Peanut butter pretzel bites
  • Coconut water
  • Tailwind nutrition
  • Pinhoti aid station fare when it looked good.

My Strava data from the race:

Part 1

Part 2