|The Coveted Inaugural 2011 Georgia Jewel 100 Mile Finisher's Award Belt Buckle.|
On Thursday, I started my logistical planning for the Georgia Jewel 100. I'm not ready physically, so I'm hoping a good logistics job will take me just a little further down the course and closer to the finish line. I purchased three 35L Outdoor Products Dry Bags from Walmart for under 10 bucks each to use as my drop bags. The race handbook asks runners to use small bags, so I decided against using the Home Depot buckets I used for my first 100 mile attempt at the Pinhoti 100:-)
The dry bags are fantastic. They keep all of your stuff dry, they are durable and you can make them smaller due to their roll top seal. I also picked up some Vivarin 200mg caffeine tablets to provide a much needed jolt during the late night part of the race. When you select the image below, you can see the lists that describe the contents I packed for each drop bag location.
|Drop bag inventory lists|
After reading "Fixing Your Feet" by John Vonhof for the second time, I decided to get a pedicure as well to rid myself of any excess calluses. I decided to follow up that with my own additional treatment at home. Hopefully, proper trimming of my toe nails and reducing any calluses will also help me mitigate the problems I've been having with heel and other blisters during my last two ultra races. I also prepared three Ziploc bags to use as Blister Kits to be placed in each of my drop bags, each containing basically the same basic components (scissors, tape, Benzoin, alcohol wipes, tissue, vaseline). As it turned out, there is another lesson learned in regards to my blister kits as well, but more about that later.
I took off work early on Friday, so I could spend a little more time making sure I packed everything I would need. At 2PM CST, I loaded up my trusty old Jeep Cherokee (225,000 miles and still going) with all my gear and headed towards Dalton, Georgia. I wanted to get there in time to attend the pre-race briefing at 5:30PM EST, which I barely did. Margaret Curcio was there handling the race check-in for the 100 miler. As always, she had some encouraging words for me. She must have read the panic and anxiety in my face;-) Thanks, Margaret. After receiving my race packet from her, I was directed to an adjacent room where I had to deposit my 3 drop bags for the race. By the time I finished up, the pre-race briefing was about to start.
I saw a couple of familiar faces at the briefing. Everyone looked like they longed here but me. My last long run was a DNF at the H9 50 miler after just 35 miles four weeks earlier. Why did I even come here? I knew I wasn't ready. Oh, I remember, I had told a bunch of folks that I was going to do this, so there was no backing out anymore. And I had paid for this already, so I might as well give it my best try. To make matters worse, I decided last Saturday to do the All-You-Can-Eat Century Bike Ride (109 miles) as a prelude to the Georgia Jewel 100. I had been on a bicycle a total of 10 times since adulthood, but two hundreds in one week sounded like a cool challenge to me. What the heck, since I wasn't really what I would consider properly trained, I figured that I might as well go out big.
After listening to the introductions and receiving some final information regarding the race location and start times, I decided to buy a pasta dinner ticket, so I could fill up with some carbs before leaving for my hotel.
When I arrived at my motel, I was expecting something pretty bad. I had gotten a really good deal for two nights on Hotwire.com. My expectations were fully met. When I stepped on to the second floor, I was worried that the staircase and the entire second floor would collapse. The entire structure appeared to be in disrepair, paint chipping off, concrete crumbling, rusty steel showing. When I got to my room, the bathroom was pretty bad, let's just leave it at that. Well, at least I didn't have to worry about messing with the deadbolt on my door. Why, you ask? Well, it had been removed. I was fully expecting to wake up in the middle of the night with someone standing at the end of my bed asking for money...or drugs.
Thankfully, it was a short night. I think I managed to get close to 5 hours of sleep. The alarm on my Crackberry went off at 2:30AM. By 3 AM I was showered, dressed and leaving my room, never ever to return to this place;-) On a positive note, the lady manning the front desk over night was kind enough to brew some coffee and that almost made up for any other inconveniences.
I arrived at the Dalton Convention Center at 3:15AM and was checked in 5 minutes later. Armed with one of my headlamps, two handheld bottles, Moeben sleeves, a hat, a short sleeve tech shirt and shorts and my Blackberry tucked into an old SPIbelt, I was finally rearing to go. I had somehow gotten some level of confidence back. I don't know why, it just happened. It was probably related to the fact that I started to feel much more comfortable and relaxed as I was seeing old friends again and meeting new ones as well. This must have been the third or fourth race that I saw Dan Burstein at, and boy was I glad he was at the Georgia Jewel. I also reconnected with Ronnie Hines, who I'd met at the H9 50 miler last month and who introduced me to Enoch Lee, another fellow expatriate now living and working in Alabama.
We all huddled around one of the bonfires the volunteers had set up for us talking about races past in anticipation of what this race would bring. After all, this was an inaugural event and none of us really knew at all what to expect. It actually seemed like I "knew" more about the actual course profile than the other guys, as I remember both Dan and Ronnie saying that the course was really only tough in the early stage and that it would be much easier later on....right! However, knowing that this course was going up and down all the way didn't really seem to register with me when I went through its elevation profile, over and over again the week prior. I guess I didn't pay close enough attention to the actual elevation changes. As we all found out soon after, we were in for a tough one. Dan and I pictured below just before the start of the race, anxious for sure, but with no idea of what lie ahead.
|2 unsuspecting souls at the start of the inaugural Georgia Jewel 100.|
Dan, Ronnie, Enoch and I continued to run together and before we knew it, an hour had ticked by. After about 5 miles, we crossed Hurricane Valley before we climbed and crested our next mountain, Hurricane Mountain, at mile 6. Our train of runners was moving and we all just continued to chat away. That's probably the reason we ended up taking a wrong turn just 6.5. miles into the race. And it was a nice downhill run, too. We only started to wonder, when two other runners came up in the opposite direction, wondering if they took a wrong turn. Somehow, that did not seem plausible. We all thought for sure there wasn't a turn we could have missed. The other runners continued to track back up the hill while Dan, Enoch and I continued down the trail, only to realize that Ronnie had chosen to turn around as well to find the turn we supposedly missed.
|Our "train" of runners (Dan, Enoch and myself with Ronnie taking the pic) somewhere along the course.|
Once we were back on track, we peaked yet another mountain, Middle Mountain around mile 7ish. By this time, we already had 8 miles or so in the books. Time continued to tick by quickly. After running along the Middle Mountain ride line, we entered the first unmanned water stop after 10 miles, refilled our bottles and packs and continued on. I actually took a chocolate croissant that was one of the food choices at this station and it tasted like heaven. This unmanned station was at an FS road intersection and we took a right turn heading into a valley and crossing a small creek multiple times along the way. However, we never got our feet wet at this point as we were able to use rocks to jump across. Shortly after, we started to climb again until we reached the top of Mill Creek Mountain around mile 13. The next section was seemed extremely rocky and curvy as we made our way along the mountain ridgeline for almost 3 miles before heading downhill towards the first manned aid station.
At mile 17, we entered the first manned aid station where we also had access to our first drop bag. Once again, Margaret was there with her familiar encouraging words, handing us our drop bags. By now we had plenty of daylight and I took off my headlamp, dropped it in my bag and grabbed and downed an Ensure. I also borrowed some Trislide spray from Dan as I was already starting to have some chafing issues. This was not something I was used to. Until now, some Bodyglide at the start of a race had always been enough. Unfortunately, this situation did not improve at all and I continued to use Vaseline as much as possible to reduce the pain. We went in and out of SNAKE CREEK GAP, crossing Road 136 before continuing on the single track trail. Our average pace still hovered around 16 minute miles, which was faster than I had expected or planned.
We immediately started climbing for about a mile until we reached the top of Horn Mountain. From there, we continued on its ridgeline before we slowly descended towards mile 23 and the POCKET ROAD aid station. At this point, we had almost completed the marathon distance, but it still felt like we had barely been out there. After this aid station, there would not be access to water for about 8 miles, so we made sure to fill up our containers before moving on. At this point, our group of 4 runners had managed to stay together for more than 6 hours. I was still having fun. Ronnie's dad was going to be crewing for Ronnie and without hesitating, Ronnie offered to have his dad crew for all of us as long as we stayed together...very very cool! Ronnie also let us know that there would be pizza waiting for us at mile 33 and that just made my day. What else could one ask for;-)
After leaving the aid station, we made our way to and along a ridgeline, until we turned right onto a Fire Service road, passing the 50 miler turnaround point (a chair with a strange looking scarecrow and a sign-in log). We continued running the circumference of John's Mountain on rolling trails until we descended to the bottom of it near a creek crossing. If I remember correctly, we managed to keep our feet dry at this crossing somewhere between the last and next manned aid station there was one unmanned water stop between miles 25 and 31. I was so focused on making the EAST ARMUCHEE TRAIL HEAD aid station at mile 33 and enjoy some pizza, I really didn't pay attention to much else.
I also had my second drop bag placed at this aid station and it was time to change into some clean socks, a dry shirt and hat before moving on. My feet were still feeling fine, but I started to develop a hot spot on my right heel. As a preventative measure, I placed some tape on my heel after applying some Benzoin (courtesy of Dan Burstein) in hopes that this would prevent further deterioration of my feet. It did not. I also continued to apply Vaseline to slow the chafing progression. This effort took longer than expected, but I did manage to grab that slice of pizza that Ronnie's dad so graciously provided to all of us. Soon after, all 4 of us continued on our way to the next aid station approximately 5.5 miles down the trail.
We continued running on roads for about 1 mile until we hit the Pinhoti trail again. Here,we had to cross one serious stream. I don't know how, but both Ronnie and I managed to hop across some rocks to arrive at the other side with dry feet. I think the fact that I had just taped my feet really motivated me to make it across with dry feet. Dan tried but failed and Enoch just opted to run through and to change socks on the other side. I knew that there was no way that I would have the ability to do this on our way back in the middle of the night. Shortly after this crossing, the trail merged into single track trail taking us uphill and onto a ridge until we headed back down towards West Armuchee Road. After continuing for a short distance we turned onto Narrows Road, where we would run for quite a while. The next aid station appeared to be much further down the road then the instructions stated. We just kept going and going from course marker to course marker with no sign of the aid station. And as everything else on this course, this road section wasn't flat either. Eventually, it turned into a jeep road as we continued on looking for the aid station. By this time, both Enoch and I had run out of water. Finally, Enoch signaled that he had spotted the long awaited aid station. He had charged ahead eager to get some water.
We arrived at NARROWS TRAIL HEAD aid station ready to get some food and rink. I think I gulped down 4-5 small cups of Coke. My feet continued to get worse, but I was still able to run without any problem. The chafing continued to get worse as well, but as long as I was running, it didn't bother me too much. At this point, we had covered about 42 miles and we were still moving well. Our average pace was still around 16 minutes 20 seconds. Leaving the aid station, we immediately entered the Narrow Head trail before continuing on a gravel road followed by a Fire Service road. As soon as we hit single track trail, we started to climb towards another ridge. This section felt really, really difficult. It was a fairly narrow and fairly steep climb. Once we reached the ridge, we continued running it for a little while until turning right onto another gravel road. We stayed on this gravel road for well over an hour. It was what I would call a rolling hills section.
At mile 50, we arrived at a little gate and the last unmanned aid station before the turnaround point. During these last 5 miles, we saw quite a few folks running the opposite direction on their way back. At this time, there were about 27 runners ahead of us. After refilling our bottles and packs and getting some input about what we were about to encounter, we continued on. About a mile and a half or so down the gravel road, we had to take a sharp right turn and I thought I was staring at a wall. I will never forget the look on all of our faces as we realized where we had to go and what it would take to get there.
|The first of multiple Powerline obstacles we had to climb straight up.|
Enoch charged ahead and Ronnie, Dan and I just tried to make sure we wouldn't fall. Dan had the proper comment when he said that this section made the Georgia Jewel "Epic!". It was an epic experience indeed and we were only half way done. My Garmin showed 53 miles when we finally arrived at the MACK WHITE GAP TRAIL HEAD aid station. Ronnies dad was waiting there for us and handed each one of us a nice cheeseburger. It was heaven, thanks again! I went straight to my drop bag to grab my big headlamp, a fresh shirt, socks and a fleece (to wrap around my waist just in case). I also taped my left heel at this point as a hot spot had developed there as well. At this point, we had been moving for over 16 hours and we were still running together. From here on out, I was in the home stretch and it was all downhill trails from here....yeah, right!
|Me coming up on one of the powerline climbs.|
|Me climbing down the final powerline hill.|
I can honestly say that I wouldn't have gone on had it not been for "Dan The Man". Thanks again, buddy. The miles ticked by slower and slower and when we reached the creek crossing shortly before the EAST ARMUCHEE TRAIL HEAD, I just ran right through it. I figured I'd just put on dry socks at the aid station. Dan managed to hop across the creek on the rocks we used earlier, this time only submerging one foot in the process. The next section was a road section leading us back to the Armuchee aid station and it was completely quite and dark. We actually turned off our headlamps for a moment to just stare at the stars. It was pretty amazing and definitely took my mind off the fact that we still had 30 something miles to go.
At this point, Dan and I were more or less reduced to a walk. It was all about continuing to put one foot in front of the other and to continue to do that through the night. We kept telling ourselves that we would get a second wind once the sun came up. And so we continued through the night, from aid station to aid station until we reached the SNAKE CREEK GAP aid station, were we would have access to our drop bag for the last time. This was what I referred to as the final stretch. Slightly over a half marathon to go, the sun was up, I was ready to get this done. At this point, my feet felt like they had been tenderized with a meat cleaver. Everything on them was hurting, not just the blisters. I ate some Ramen noodles and we left the aid station knowing that there were only 17 miles to go.
These final 17 miles were the toughest, yet. At this point, I'd also like to thank Rob Apple, whom I met at the Snake Creek Gap aid station and who's vast ultra running experience, advise and encouraging words really help me continue on during these last miles. Rob was running along with another runner (Michael Montgomery) but was never to busy to talk to us and to keep us going. Thanks Rob! I hope to see you guys on the trails again, soon.
When we reached the final unmanned water station, we refilled our bottles one last time and I gulped down 3-4 cups of water. We had 10 miles to go with no additional water source and by this time, the sun was starting to warm us up and we were moving very slowly. I would need all the water I could get. Regardless of this effort, I did run out with about 3 miles to go. Fortunately, we finally got to the end of the single track trail and what felt like a 8 mile rock garden shortly after I ran out of water. With just 2 miles to go, we were met by some volunteers and crew, who kindly shared a cup of water with us. Now we we just had about three quarters of gravel road left before we would hit the final 1.3 mile homestretch, a road leading back to the start and finish area by the Dalton Visitor's Center. I suddenly was running again. It actually felt like flying, but I'm sure it was probably more like a 15 minute mile.
As I was passing the finish area before turning right into the parking lot, I started to hear volunteers and fellow runners cheering at the finish line. I got choked up, which always feels just a little embarrassing, but I just can't help it. Thankfully, I was able to suppress that emotion and by the time I crossed the finish line with raised arms, I was all smiles. When all was said and done, I had completed a total of 105 miles with over 30,000 feet of elevation change (15,000 feet elevation gain/ 15,000 feet elevation loss). Not bad at all.
First, I would like to thank the RD Karen Pearson and her crew of volunteers (Margeret Curcio and all the others, whose names I don't know) for putting on such an excellent event. Next, I'd like to thank Ronnie and especially his dad for offering his help and acting as our crew for much of the race.The same thanks goes to Enoch for running with us for such a long time, only leaving us to stay warm;-) Finally, I'd like to thank Dan for hanging in there with me and enabling me to finish this race. It is always difficult to finish a 100 miles race, but this one was definitely the toughest ultra I ever experienced. Thanks Dan for making the 34 hours go by faster. Congratulations to everyone who attempted this race, finish or not! You know you'll be back next year, because the finisher's buckle is just too sweet!