Sunday, March 20, 2016

Race Report - 2016 Georgia Death Race 68M

Huntsville ultra runners were well represented at this year's GDR.
I had run the Georgia Death Race for the first time last year and really had no intention of running it again. After all, why would you want to suffer the same way more than once:-) However, I changed my mind after I decided to sign up for the Cruel Jewel 100 Miler as my goal race for the year. What better way to get ready then to run part of the course during the GDR. In addition, the course was reversed this year to reflect the direction it was originally intended to be run in, but had to be changed last year due to heavy rainfalls. This would mean an entirely different race experience. The weather was also going to be much better than last year, when fog and 24 hour downpours made it impossible to enjoy any of the scenery. On top of all of that, we had 10 Huntsville runners sign up for this thing, including most of my regular training crew. How could I turn that down:-)

I was lucky to catch a ride and stay with Paul Morris at the Amicalola Falls State Park Lodge the night before and after the race. We left home for Amicalola Falls around noon on Friday in order to make packet pickup and the pre-race briefing at 5:30PM. Thankfully, our trip was uneventful and we made it to Amicalola Falls with a little time to spare. We checked in to our hotel room before heading to race HQ downstairs for our mandatory gear check and race bib pickup. Most of the 200+ runners and crew had already arrived and there was definitely pre-race excitement in the air.

About 2/3 into Sean's pre-race briefing, we realized that it was only mandatory for new participants, so we decided to get an early start at the dinner buffet of the lodge restaurant. I am glad I did, because while I enjoyed the motivational talk from a seasoned Army Ranger, I was glad to miss his giant "pet" snakes. The pictures posted on FB after the fact were more than enough entertainment for me. While I do enjoy the great outdoors, snakes are my least favorite thing:-)

Paul and I joined Jerry and his family, filled our bellies and headed back to our room to finish up getting our gear ready fort the next morning. I found that it takes me less and less time to get ready before a race and that's not always a good thing. This time around, I failed to bring any gloves, because I didn't think I would need them or that I would be out there long enough to need them. WILL I EVER LEARN, duh! Paula and I joked about the reasons of why we do this stuff and then it was lights out.

Another quick pic before we were off.
Since Paul and I stayed at the finish, we needed to get up early (4:30AM) to taker his car down to the visitor's center to catch the shuttle (school) bus ride to the starting line at Vogel State Park. We arrived at the starting line with plenty of time to check in, collect our "blank" railroad spikes and stuff them in our packs. I had brought some bubble wrap and tape to wrap the spike before stashing it between my mandatory gear inside my pack. The bubble wrap was actually a pretty good idea. Within a few minutes, we managed to gather most of the Huntsville runners for another pre-race photo opp. I fully expected to run the first part of the race with my training buddies just like last year, but you never knew how things played out in a race.

Amazing scenery in the mountains of Northern Georgia.
As we started our first gradual climb right after the start of the race, it became clear that most of the Huntsville crew took a much more conservative approach than the other runners. Thankfully, this proved to be the right move for most of us. While we started way back in the field, almost all of us finished in the top half or higher.

With a backdrop like this, I had to post two pics.
In the early stages of the race, we all fell in line with different sections of the "trains" that had formed. I am not a big fan of being stuck in any trains as it does not allow me to run at the pace that I am comfortable with. It does help when you are trying to make sure not to go out too fast too early, but it also forces you to run/walk someone else's pace. David Holliday and I slowly worked our way past a  few trains that had formed until we created some separation between us and a few of the groups behind us, allowing us to run "our" pace. As a result, I also lost sight of our other Huntsville runners, but I fully expected to see them again later in the race, which we did.

Scary to realize that Cruel Jewel 100 serves up the Duncan Ridge Trail twice.
The early miles were uneventful as we climbed and descended the infamous Duncan Ridge Trail and its relentless ups and downs. I stayed conservative, hiking the ups and running the downs and flats without pushing. Nonetheless, 3-4 hours into the run I started the feel the effects of the elevation profile, but it wasn't the climbs that took their early toll, it was the steep descends that had started to wear on my quads. While David and I also got separated a couple of times, we would always end up together again somehow during the first half of the race, but once we got off the Ducan Ridge Trail, we ended up running together for good right around the 34 mile mark. I was standing in the middle of the trail, frustrated once again by my Garmin Fenix 3 which had stopped recording distance and was only tracking time at this point. That's when David came up behind me and after a short chat we continued on, this time me following David. It would stay this way for the next 10 or so hours and I think we both were pretty glad we didn't have to finish this thing alone, me probably a little more than David.

I'm not sure if David had any finish time goals, but I certainly did (even though GDR was not a goal race for me). Once that goal was out of reach, I really struggled mentally to keep it together for the remainder of the race with DNF crossing my mind more than once. If it wasn't for David, I am pretty sure I would have collected a DNF of the day. It is funny how you can convince yourself in the moment that a DNF is the right choice. I've already got a finisher's spike from last year, this is just a training run, 50 miles is good enough for the day, and on and on. It's not always easy to come out of that downward spiral to finish a race like this one, so I was and am very thankful David decided to stick it out with me instead of charging ahead.

I resorted to my usual method for long distance events of breaking the race down by aid stations. Rather than contemplating the entire race distance, I would only focus on making my way to the next AS. This always worked and today was no different. I had a bit of an issue with blurred vision about 2-3 miles before we made it to Jake Bull and our drop bags. This gave me yet another reason to collect a DNF. While I did know that runners could not drop at Jake Bull aid station, I now had a "medical emergency", so obviously they had to consider letting me drop. I guess I didn't look sick enough, because the AS volunteer let me know in very clear terms that dropping was not an option. I had a few choice words for him, but instead I chose to shut down, take a mental breather and start working on getting myself ready for the rest of the race. I was glad that I decided to change shoes, socks, shirt and hat. I had developed a couple of hotspots and this shoe change definitely prevented me from ending up with blisters. My Altra Lone Peaks and Olympus got me to the finish line blister free once again, even with all of the ups and downs associated with 72 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation gain.

Of course, once we made it through Jake Bull aid station at mile 53 or 54, we would only have 2 more aid stations, but they would be 9 miles apart from each other. In his brilliance, David came up with the ingenious idea of creating "phantom" aid stations at the half way points, i.e. 4.5 miles after each aid station. It helped us to mentally break down the distance into smaller distances. It also allowed us to complain about the poor service at these "phantom" aid stations. Ahh, the ultra brain works in mysterious and deranged ways.

As we came closer and closer to Amicalola Falls, it became clear that I would finish and it was now just time to put your head down and giterdun. Of course, we still had that "minor" task of making our way down to near the finish line only to be sent back up the Amicalola waterfalls before dropping down for the final time and crossing the creek to receive our, well earned, high fives from Sean and to drop our blank spikes in the coffin in exchange for a shiny new engraved finisher spike.

in less than two months, I will return to this place to conquer the Duncan Ridge Trail for the final two times as part of the Cruel Jewel 100. the Georgia Death Race was  great training for the Cruel Jewel...and then some. If you do consider running the GDR, be sure to remember that it absolutely does run like a 100 miler and be prepared. It is an awesome event that will most definitely challenge you in the most extreme way possible, both mentally and physically, so when you finally do cross the finish line, you will know that you have achieved something that isn't guaranteed just by toeing the line of the Georgia Death Race.

Thanks again to Sean, Sean's twisted mind, Susan and their awesome crew of volunteers for putting on another memorable event.

Finisher's photo from the comfort of a warm hotel bed:-)

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