Pinhoti 100 is a point-to-point endurance run taking place the first weekend of November every year. The course goes through the Talladega National Forest in Alabama. The race starts at the Pine Glen Campground just outside of Heflin and travels 100.59 miles with over 28,000 feet of elevation change and ends in the town of Sylacauga. For me, Pinhoti 100 represented my third 100-mile run in a 12-month period. This sequence of 100-milers started with my first 100-mile attempt at the 2013 Pinhoti 100 (28:08), then featured the 2014 Burning River 100 (24:19) in August, and concluded with this return visit to Pinhoti. This race was a true testament of just how much I have improved over the course of a year. I could not have asked for a better outcome for the day and so much came together before and during the race to make it what it was. Below is my full race recap, but if you just want to hit the high-points scroll down to the bottom.

Back at the hotel, we had a small lunch before taking off for the packet pick-up site in Sylacauga, which was about a 45-minute drive from our hotel. We had decided to skip the race briefing and dinner, because with Nicole’s food allergies she was not able to eat anything on-site last year. This had made for a late dinner and prevented us from going to sleep at an early hour. When we arrived at packet pick-up, I got my bib number and other goodies, turned in my one drop bag for Lake Morgan (mile 27.66), and caught up with a few familiar faces. On the way out, I ran into Mark Mehler, who I had met at the Chattanooga Mountain Stage Race earlier this year. Mark and a group of friends had come down from Madison, Wisconsin to make Pinhoti their first 100 mile attempt. I wished him and his friends luck, then jumped back into the car to make our way towards the hotel and Mellow Mushroom for dinner.My wife, Nicole, and I arrived in Oxford/Anniston late Thursday night and got a great nights sleep, staying in bed until late Friday morning. Having all day Friday to relax, eat well, and make final preparations for the race created a stress-free environment and proved to be helpful in keeping my mind in a positive state going into race day. After a nice large breakfast/brunch at the hotel, we decided to make our way over to Cheaha State Park and hike out to Bald Rock (2,408 ft), the highest point in Alabama. It was cold and windy on top of Cheaha Mountain, and I began to think about making some adjustments to the stack of race clothes that I had already laid out for the morning and to my two planned drop bags for the race. Not being properly prepared for the cold weather was what almost caused a DNF in 2013, so I was determined to take extra precautions to prevent this from happening again this year.

It was Halloween night, and many of the staff and customers in Mellow Mushroom were dressed in costume. The place was packed as we waited for our to-go order and it was quite humorous looking at all the costumes. At last we had our Hawaiian pizza and were headed back to the hotel to eat, relax, and go to sleep.

For some reason, I always sleep well the night before a race. The only time I woke up was when my alarm went off at 4:00 AM. Getting up three hours before a race that is longer than a half marathon is pretty typical for me and the routine is always the same. First things first is always to put some calories in me. For big races such as Pinhoti, breakfast consisted of a chocolate Ensure Complete, two Nutri-Grain bars, 16-ounces of water, and a small cup of coffee. Shuffling around the dark hotel room, I applied Skin-Glide to every area of my body that was prone to chafing, slowly got dressed, and filled my Salomon Softflasks with Tailwind Nutrition and water. Everything else for the race had already been packed up the night before, so it did not take long to get ready. Thus, I found myself laying down in bed for another 45 minutes before needing to leave. I always elect to stay closer to the start of a race, so that we do not have to rush on anything first thing in the morning. The longer that I can stay in the comfort of the hotel room and with luxuries such as a flushing toilet the better!

We left the hotel at 5:45 AM and on the drive over to the start we went past a car that was on fire. Thankfully, we noticed that everyone was out of the car and that there were several other cars of people stopped to assist. It was a bad situation no matter what, but we hoped that it was not someone headed to the race. Arriving at the start the temperature gauge in my car read 30 degrees. We decided to stay in the warmth of the car for a little while longer. Finally, it was time to get out into the elements and join the crowd of anxious runners and crew for what was going to be a long, but exciting day! Dawn slowly began to break and I stood there bundled up with extra layers on prior to the start. I was very calm and continued to positively visualize how the day was going to unfold.

As the race started, I made sure to push the pace just a little bit in the first mile to not get bottle-necked up behind too many people. Unlike the start of the Burning River 100 back in August (first 15 miles on road), Pinhoti 100 hit single-track trail within the first quarter of a mile. While it was going to be a long day and there would be plenty of opportunity to pass people, I felt it was still important to be able to fall into my own pace as early as possible. After a mile, I settled in behind a small group of five runners and stayed here until around mile 4. We chatted about where each of us were from, what races we have done, and cracked jokes about the challenges ahead. The mood was light, but the groups pace was also very sporadic. I finally elected to move around them and set off on my own. As I came into the Highrock aid station (mile 6.7), I came to a quick stop to remove a long-sleeve throwaway shirt that I had on to keep myself warm. I tossed the shirt to the ground and put my Brooks LSD windbreaker jacket and slipped my Salomon hydration pack back on. I stepped up to the aid station table to grab some snacks and a lady tapped me on my shoulder to give me the long-sleeve shirt back. I laughed, said thank you, and told her it was hers if she wanted it and took off down the trail.

 I ran much of the next 13 miles by myself, passing by several runners along the way. At the second aid station, Shoal Creek (mile 13.27), I did not even come to a stop. I did a quick check of the amount of fluids I still had on board and ran straight out the other side of the station onto the road. My goal at this point was to be on an 18-hour pace and I was dead on at 2:22 for 13.27 miles. I knew it was going to take an absolutely perfect day to break 20-hours, but I also knew that if I did not establish my pace early on, there would no way I would even be able to break 24-hours. Inevitably, at some point I would slow down and it would be about taking care of myself more than anything to get a good finish time. I kept up with my hydration (16-24 ounces every hour) and nutrition (1 gel every 45 minutes, 1 S-Cap every hour) and was surprised with just how much of the course I recognized and remembered from the year before.

Approaching the Horseblock station (mile 18.27) in 3:16, and still on an 18-hour pace, I felt really good and confident in how the day was going. Yes, still very early in the day, but I was doing everything right and was not feeling physically taxed by my effort. I was very happy with my decision to wear running tights instead of shorts, a long-sleeve shirt instead of short-sleeves, and a windbreaker jacket right from the start. Little decisions like this that go right, positively impact my mood throughout the day and keep me encouraged to keep up the effort. A quick re-fill of my water, a cup full of snacks from the aid station table, and I was on my way quickly once again, not wasting any unnecessary time.

The next section of trail between aid stations was 4.44 miles and somewhere around halfway between this I came upon fellow ultra-runner, Jonathan Faryadi, in a not so decent moment (sorry I have to share this Jonathan). I had rounded a blind turn in the trail and there he was up on the hill ahead. I yelled, ”Jonathan, what are you doing man?” As I went past he responded, ”shiiittt” and we both laughed. I quickly caught up with his friend Jeff Dean and a few minutes later Jonathan was on both our tails. We continued on as a group to Lake Morgan (mile 27.66) and along the way we shared stories about each others experiences at the 2013 Pinhoti 100. Jonathan and I both had difficulties last year and were looking for a little redemption on the course, while Jeff was back after running 20:26 and looking for more this year. Somewhere along this stretch of trail my left quad began to cramp off and on, so I focused even more on my hydration/nutrition, good running form, and took comfort in being with a group of people to share the workload with.

As we entered Lake Morgan, I explained to Jonathan and Jeff that I had a drop bag there, so I was going to take a little bit more time. They made their way in and out of the aid station rather quickly and I hoped to maybe see them again later in the day. I sorted through my drop bag to retrieve more Tailwind Nutrition, refilled all my softflasks, and re-stocked my supply of gels in my pack. The temperature had come up into the mid-40’s at this point in the day, so I elected to leave my gloves and windbreaker jacket behind. After about 5-minutes at the aid station, I was ready to go again, and then remembered that I had a chocolate Ensure Complete in my drop bag. I quickly grabbed this and started hiking back out of the aid station. I decided to hike for a few minutes while I sipped on my Ensure and sent a message to Nicole to let her know where I was at on the course. I had left Lake Morgan at a race time of 5:08, just 12 minutes off an 18-hour pace. At that moment in time I still felt really good and was surprised to learn that I had moved up to 16th place overall.

By the time I had reached the Blue Mountain aid station (mile 35.15), I was in a bad funk. The stretch of trail to get to this point from Lake Morgan was 7.5 miles long. I know from past race experiences that these long stretches between aid station always wreak havoc on me mentally. I had wished so much that I had someone along side me to tackle this section with, but I had found myself on an empty trail the entire way. I was finding it difficult to keep an even pace, my right quad had continued to sporadically cramp, and I was feeling extremely low on energy. I fell into a chair at the aid station and began to be asked questions by the volunteers. I thanked them for their concern for me and explained that I just needed a few minutes to compose myself.

The stretch had taken me close to 45-minutes longer than planned and I had now fallen back to a 20-hour pace. In my head, I knew it was still very early in the day, that I was still on a strong pace, and that low points are part of every endurance challenge, but I could not seem to shake the negative thoughts. An aid station volunteer handed me some pretzels and a banana and he re-filled my water. Just as he finished two runners came into the aid station and I immediately told myself that I was going to leave the station with them no matter what.

Climb up to Bald Rock.

Climb up to Bald Rock.

The three of us headed out hiking together on the next 5.78 miles of trail that lead up to the top of Bald Rock. As we hiked, I sent another message to Nicole to let her know that I was hurting at this point in the race. She messaged me back that I had 10.9 miles to get to her at mile 45, to which I responded ”just no energy, need to just get to #7 right now.” The other two runners began to pick up the pace and I forced myself to stay with them. Slowly but surely the negative thoughts began to subside, but I was still feeling low on energy. My original plan before the start of the day was to get up Bald Rock at whatever pace necessary, so I settled mentally with the fact that this current pace was what was necessary. Next thing I know, I looked up and there was the 0.5 mile to go sign to Bald Rock, and I thought to myself, that wasn’t near as hard as last year.

photo-7

I had planned to push through the Bald Rock aid station (mile 40.93) quickly and get down to Nicole who was waiting to see me for the first time since the start of the day at mile 45. However, with energy running low I decided in this last half mile push to the top that I needed to take care of myself once I got to the aid station. At the top of Bald Rock, I took a quick glance over my right shoulder at the breath-taking view and instantly I felt energy coming back into me. I ran down the length of the boardwalk that I had stumbled down last year and into the aid station. As I emerged from the woods into the parking lot, Nicole was standing right there to greet me! We had messaged back-n-forth after she had arrived at mile 45, and she had decided herself that she was needed more at the top of Bald Rock. It was an absolute game changer to have her there waiting for me. I explained that I did not care how long I was there, as long as I left feeling ready to be aggressive in the race again.

dsc_6115

We walked together over to the car and I realized that I managed to make up close to 15-minutes over the last 5.78 miles, up Bald Rock! At the car I began changing all my clothes that had gotten pretty wet from sweat at this point in the race. It was roughly three o’clock in the afternoon and I knew we had come close to the high temperature for the day. I elected to put on 2XU Compression Tights, Gore running tights, an Adidas Climacool long-sleeve, my heavy Salomon pullover, and Smartwool socks and a beanie. While I knew it would make me a little warm while running, for me, it was a better choice than getting too cold.  As I changed, I sipped on a Red Bull, ate a Nutri-Grain bar, and chatted with Nicole about how the day was going. I estimated that I was at the Bald Rock aid station for close to 15-minutes and in that amount of time my energy and positive outlook on the challenge at hand was restored. I left the aid station dead on a 20-hour pace and was excited that I would now have my crew and number one supporter, every 5-15 miles the rest of the way!

10405664_724165081012861_3821319373295036159_nThe stretch of trail from Bald Rock to Silent Trail (mile 45.25) is a mixed bag of extremely technical down hill, paved road, and dirt road. I pushed the pace out of the aid station to get to the technical down hill, then made my way down very cautiously with a group of runners. At the bottom of the mountain, we came back out on the road and I took advantage of the easy terrain, allowing my legs to stretch and turnover quickly. I came cruising into Silent Trail a completely different person from when I entered Bald Rock. However, I took a little more time here again to get some chicken broth in me and grab my lights for the upcoming darkness of night. Nicole and I discussed making a change of plans to crew stops to help keep my motivation up. The original plan from mile 45.25 was for her to go to mile 68.78. She decided that she was going to move on to mile 55.34 to check in with me where we knew it would be just past sunset.

Knowing that Nicole was just another 10-miles down the trail was extra motivation to push through another long 6.82 mile stretch from Silent Trail to Hubbard Creek. From there it would be just a short 3.27 miles to Adams Gap, and Nicole. In 2013, I had found the opening stretch of the 6.82 mile section to be very difficult. However, this year I was cruising through it without much effort. I could tell that my 2XU Compression Tights were helping to restore the strength and function to my legs and my right quad was no longer cramping. With about three miles to go before Hubbard Creek (mile 52.07), I caught up with a pack of four guys, and we all worked together to get to the aid station. I told the group that the next aid station was a 10612713_724165591012810_6776820422891083401_ntough one to leave, because last year they had Christmas lights, good food, and college football playing on several TVs. We all laughed and committed as a group to getting out of there as quickly as possible.

As we left Hubbard Creek, I did a quick check of time to see that I was floating between a 20 and 21 hour pace. With only about another mile of daylight left, I elected to stay with the group of guys from Hubbard Creek to Adams Gap. As darkness fell, I could tell that everyone in the group, including myself, was trying to get their bearings and get comfortable with running at night. By the time we reached Adams Gap (mile 55.34), our group of five runners had swelled to a group of 12. I had lost more time over this section, falling back to 21:30 pace, but I felt confident in where I was at and that I had made the right decision to navigate the first section of night single-track trail with a group.

I spent about 5-minutes at the Adams Gap aid station, because the inside part of my left big toe had began to rub and I wanted to take a minute to address it with some more Skin-Glide before it became a larger problem. I also drank a couple of cups of vegetable soup, ate some crackers, and took a few more sips of my Red Bull that I started drinking back at mile 40. I added a UnderArmour WindBreaker jacket to my layers and stuffed my mittens into my pack before taking off down the trail.

This next section of trail is where I began to reflect on how my 2013 race was really coming undone through this part of the course. From Adams Gap to Clairmont Gap the course follows a dirt road that is mostly across the top of a ridge. In 2013, I had refused to take on enough warm layers from Nicole back at Silent Trail and through this 4.95 mile section I not only completely froze, but my headlamp went out as well. By the time I reached Clairmont Gap in 2013, I thought my race was over. However, this year I was stronger, smarter, and already prepared for the elements. I absolutely charged through this 4.95 mile section and came into the Clairmont Gap (mile 60.29) at exactly 13-hours, just ahead of a 22-hour pace. This was over an hour faster than my time at this point in 2013, where I then proceeded to spend 90-minutes in the car trying to get warm and motivated. Now, I was absolutely stoked about the prospect of being well down the trail in that amount of time. I grabbed a cup of chicken broth and a turkey & cheese wrap from the aid station, then began hiking down the trail with a grin on my face.

Coming into mile 60 where it all came undone in 2013, not this year though!

Coming into mile 60 where it all came undone in 2013, not this year though!

The first two miles of the course from Clairmont Gap to Chandler Springs are still on a dirt road, but the road becomes a little more rocky and has a slight incline to it. For me, less manageable to run in the dark. I elected to hike the majority of this opening two miles, eating my turkey wrap, drinking my chicken broth, and thinking more about how this section was going to unfold in comparison to 2013. A few runners came running past me during these two miles, but I was not worried about it. I made the left hand turn back onto the single-track trail and began to run again at a very steady pace. The rest of the way into Chandler Springs was downhill and within the next two miles I caught and passed each runner that had past me on the dirt road. To me, this was just a sign that each person has to recognize where they are at on the course both physically and mentally. I was using my strengths of running single-track trail to my advantage and recovering on those sections of the course where footing was not so sure or it was a long incline.

Entering Chandler Springs (mile 65.44), I wasted no time on getting back out on the course. After all, Nicole was waiting for me at the next aid station, just 3.34 miles away. I had a volunteer refill a water for me, grabbed a cup of chicken broth, and I was on my way. Again, running this course in 2013 proved to be of benefit here as I hiked up the trail. I knew this section of trail started with a steep mile or so long incline before turning back down hill as we approached the next aid station, so elected to walk and put fluids and calories in me. I could tell that the temperature was starting to significantly drop (predicting lows in the high 20’s/low 30’s) on course. My core and legs were warm, but my face was taking a beating from the cold wind. I kept pulling my Buff up over my mouth to generate warm air and thaw out my face. My pace was very steady when the course allowed me to run and I entered Porters Gap (mile 68.78) at a race time of 15:10, still on a 22-hour pace.

Nicole and I quickly walked over to the car at Porters Gap where I proceeded to fill up on Tailwind, water, and gels, and finished off the rest of my Red Bull. This was the first race where I had sipped on a Red Bull over the course of 30 miles and I definitely felt that it was helping to keep my mind in the race and my energy levels up. I left the Porters Gap station just a few minutes after arriving and was back out on the trail headed towards the last series of significant climbs for the day. The opening section of trail to the base of Pinnacle Mountain is very run-able, so I moved along quickly and focused on putting more calories in my body to give me the energy for the remaining difficulties. Along this stretch of the course I realized that I was probably going to fall back from my current 22-hour pace, but I was not giving up the fight and continued to push forward.

When I reached the base of Pinnacle Mountain, I had caught up to two runners that were both attempting Pinhoti for the first time. I told them they were having a great day and encouraged them to not give up over the next 10-15 miles. ”Once you get past mile 85, the course gives you plenty of opportunities to make up time.” My strategy for this last difficult stretch was the same as the strategy for the climb up Bald Rock earlier in the day, which was to go at whatever pace was necessary to get through it.

The climb up to the Pinnacle aid station is a series of switchbacks that last year seemed to go on forever. I gazed up into the sky to see the 3/4 moon illuminating the night and joked with the two runners that ”the bright light up there was where we were headed.” They asked if I was feeling okay to which I responded, ”never better” and continued to power hike my way up the trail. They hung with me for the first couple of switchbacks, but I was finding all kinds of strength in my legs and it was motivating me to push ahead. I could see another couple runners about a quarter mile up the trail through the dark, so I decided to try to push my hiking pace to reach them before the top.

On the final switchback I caught the next group of runners and we all ran into the Pinnacle (mile 74.53) together. It was 11:54 PM (16:54 race time), so I had fallen back to about a 23-hour pace. Despite slowing down, I was still feeling good and positive about the outcome that I was headed towards. I spent about 5-minutes at the aid station eating a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich and getting my waters re-filled. In my head, I was telling myself that the next section was the last hard part and then it would get more manageable from there.

Last year, it had taken me over 20 hours to reach the Pinnacle aid station. At that point in time I was so out of it that I was not paying attention to any detail on the course and just wanted to be done. As I made my way out of the aid station this year on the dirt road, I was telling myself I was going to be on this road for the next couple of miles. Needless to say, it came as a surprise when the course took a right-hand turn a half mile down the road back onto single-track trail. I thought, maybe there had been a change in the course. I continued running through the night all by myself waiting for the course to bring me back out onto the road. The section between Pinnacle and the next aid station, Wormy’s Pulpit, was just five miles long, and both time and distance were going by quick as I ran. It wasn’t until about a mile out from Wormy’s Pulpit that I finally started to recognize landmarks and realized that, no there was not a course change, but I had reversed mile 75 to 83 in my head.

I came into Wormy’s Pulpit (mile 79.53) at 18:11, exactly a 23 hour pace, and came to the full realization that the next section ahead was the long inclined dirt road that I was dreading all day long. At the aid station, I chatted with the volunteers for a minute or two while getting down some food and Coke. Temperatures on course at this point had dropped to 30 degrees and the wind was making it feel more like 20 degrees. The volunteers were in high spirits, but you could tell that they were freezing cold and just wanted to abandon their spot around the fire for the warmth of their cars. I thanked them multiple times for being out there to help all us crazy runners reach our goals on the day, then I headed off down the dirt road.

I kept telling myself to just push up the road for a few miles, then I would be headed down the side of the mountain to Bulls Gap, to Nicole, and to the very easy last 15 miles of the course. However, the dirt road was so straight, uphill, and dark that it was a mind-bender trying to stay positive. I was all by myself and I kept looking back to see if it was worth slowing down to run with someone else, but no one was within site. I remember at 2:30 AM feeling so distraught about how long this section was taking me. I also could not remember if I was going to be looking for a left or a right turn in the trail to go down the mountain. The trail markings were every quarter mile or so, and in between each marker I got the overwhelming feeling that I was going to miss the turn or worse yet, that I was already off course. I called Nicole, which woke her up from a slumber in the car, to ask her if she could look at the course directions or ask someone how far I needed to go to get to this mythical turn off point. Then, up the road about a 100 yards came the reflection of the Pinhoti 100 sign and I breathed a sigh of relief that I made it off the road.

With that challenging dirt road now behind me, I focused on trying to run down the trail and into the next aid station. Then, my vision started to fail me. I have read horror stories of runners losing their vision in the late stages of races, usually due to being up long hours or dehydration, but this was different. I turned my headlamp off and looked to the sky, which I could clearly see was full of stars. I then turned my headlamp back on and my vision decreased again immediately. While this presented itself as a serious issue, I knew my only choice was to get to the next aid station before trying to figure out exactly what was going on. I pushed on with just my handheld flashlight shining as far down the trail ahead of me as possible, as any light directly in front of me was blinding. This meant I was not seeing as much detail in the trail and I began to stumble over every rock, root, and stick on the trail.

1527117_10203733805404713_2882540506457005369_nI managed to get down the side of the mountain and into Bulls Gap (mile 85.63) at a race time of 20:04, just 22 minutes ahead of a 24-hour pace. However, I needed to change my top layers of clothing, because I could tell they were soaking wet from sweat, and I now had to deal with whatever was going on with my vision. I found myself stumbling through the aid station to the car with Nicole, covering my eyes the whole way like the sun was shining directly onto my face. I climbed into the car to get warm and change layers, all the while drinking coke and water to try to rectify the issue. Nicole then looked at my eyes to see that they were extremely bloodshot. I thought, well that explains why I can’t see, but how do I fix it. We decided to see if anyone at the aid station had eye-drops, so I climbed out of the car and everything in my legs locked up.

Now I was standing on the side of the car not able to see and not able to move. I thought, well shit, this isn’t good at all.  I hobbled straight legged over to the aid station tent and fell into a chair. Nicole had managed to find someone with saline solution, so I tilted my head back to have drops put into my eyes. At this point, several volunteers had surrounded me and all I was thinking about was getting out of the aid station so that I could still break 24-hours. With the drops in my eyes, I jumped out of the chair ready to go. Nicole asked me if the drops had helped, to which I replied, ”absolutely, let’s go!!!”  The reality was that there really was no change in my vision.  I knew I had to get out of there, if I was going to make it to the finish in time. I began hobbling down the dirt road, again straight legged, repeating to myself over and over again, you got this, you need to run, you got this, you need to run! About 100 yards out of the aid station I broke into a full run and laughed out loud at the pain that shot up and down both legs.

It was exactly four miles from Bulls Gap to Rocky Mt. Church and I started calculating time in my head to figure out what I needed to do to still break 24-hours. While I had entered Bulls Gap at 3:04 AM, 22 minutes ahead of a 24 hour pace, I had not left until 3:40 AM, meaning that I was technically now 15 minutes behind a 24-hour finish. I had 3 hours and 20 minutes to cover 15 miles, that meant I needed to average 13:20 per mile. As I ran, I laughed out loud again at the fact that even in a fatigued, cramping, and blind state, I could still do math pretty darn well. Not being able to see actually paid great dividends over the final miles. I was still navigating by shining my handheld flashlight as far down the trail as I could, memorizing the incline/decline and surface ahead, then quickly switching off my light for 45 seconds to a minute so that my vision was halfway decent. Thankfully the final 15 miles was on dirt or paved road for all but two miles. My poor vision was actually leading me to run more than I probably would have been in a normal state as the dirt road consists of lots of little rolling hills.

I am not sure exactly what time I reached Rocky Mt. Church (mile 89.63). In fact, all I really remember was thinking, wow this aid station is a lot bigger than it was last year. By the time I had reached this station in 2013 it was daylight, just before 8:00 AM, and they had one tent, very little food, but meatballs. Oh meatballs, I remembered as I walked up to the table. I downed a couple cups of Hammer Heed, grabbed a cup full of meatballs, and once again, like I had done all day at long at previous stations, quickly started hiking down the road.

Soon after I left the aid station, I caught up with a runner and pacer that were debating whether or not it was even worth pushing the pace hard enough to still break 24-hours. As I approached them, the runner turned all the way around and shined his bright beaming headlamp directly into my face. Instantly my world went dark and I screamed out loud something, but I still cannot remember what it was to this day. The pacer proceeded to highlight to me that my headlamp was off, to which I replied, ”better off than on right now.” I wasn’t going to take the time to explain what was going on and their conversation had already swung back to debating a sub 24-hour finish. I took in a gel and got back into a running stride, yelling back to them, ”I know I didn’t work all day to give up on a sub-24 in the last 10 miles.”

It was a total of 5.58 miles from Rocky Mt. Church to the final aid station, the Watershed (mile 95.21). The majority of this section was still on the dirt road with rolling hills and I tried to stay focused on more running than walking, consuming a gel every 30 minutes, and taking in fluids. With about a mile or so to go before the Watershed aid station the course left the dirt road for a fairly wide trail. The course then cut through a grassy field that was completely iced over from the freezing cold temperatures. The next thing I know, I saw the bright light of the bonfire at the aid station ahead of me. To the amazement of the volunteers, I came running into the aid station yelling my number, and ran straight out the other side. Hello Watershed, and goodbye, I was on my way to the finish.  As I left, a volunteer yelled to me, ”you’re doing great, just two more miles of trail, then its paved road to the finish.”

My feet hit the pavement at 6:13 AM, 23:13 race time, and about three miles to go to the finish. I thought to myself that there was no way I was going to fail now! As I ran up the street, I decided I had better switch my headlamp back on so that any oncoming cars would see me. The light from my headlamp coupled with the light of the street lights took my vision down to less than 30 percent. Everything was blurry and I was just hoping that I was running on the side of the road and not straight down the middle. I could make out telephone poles and other objects that would normally be on the side, so I just hung tight to these objects and focused on still feeling a hard surface under my feet. I got into a solid routine of running hard for five minutes, then walking briskly for two minutes. I kept this up all the way to the final left hand turn in the street before entering the stadium for the finish line.

img957528As I approached the stadium gates, I remembered that I had stuffed my race number belt into my pack. It had kept riding up on my waist and getting tangled in all the warm layers that I had on. I reached into my pack as I ran, pulled out the belt, and went to clip it around my waist. Despite hearing it clip, it fell to the pavement, and I had to turn around and walk back for it. There was a lady standing at the gate and she said to me, ”I think you can just carry it in.” To which I replied, ”yeah, I think I better, it’s not the only thing that’s broken right now.” We both laughed and I walked through the gate. I was safely under 24-hours and I did not care about a extra few seconds of time, after all I was about to PR by almost four and half hours on this course. I simply stepped onto the track and walked around to the finish line.

Immediately following the race I attempted to get in the shower at the local swimming pool, but the water was not warm at all. With our hotel just 45-minutes away I could not justify putting up with anything else cold. Nicole and I slowly climbed into the car and began the drive back to the hotel. On the drive, my eyes were still bothering me, so I pulled my hat down tight over my eyes to block out as much daylight as possible and sipped on a juicebox that was sitting in the center console. By the time we reached the hotel I was feeling very nauseous from not watching the road. Sitting in the parking lot with my upper body hanging out of the car and my legs still inside, what liquid I had in me all came out. To me it was no big deal, after all, I had just run 100-miles for the first time in under 24-hours. In my mind, throwing up was such a small price to pay for the overall outcome of the race. After a few hours of sleep, some food, and a shower, my vision seemed to be restored, so I was thankful for that quick recovery.

Summary
After the race, I had posted that Pinhoti 100 was the single hardest effort I have ever put into something and it was one of the most thrilling outcomes of my life, thus far. In one year, I had gone from not knowing if I was going to finish Pinhoti 100 to breaking 24-hours the next. I’ve been asked by many, what do you think made the biggest difference from 2013 to 2014?

– For starters, I had run two 100’s coming into this year’s race and I had spent the entire year focused on running and strength training that would allow me to significantly improve at this race distance. My training mileage cycled between 30-70 miles per week throughout the year, with only a total of four weeks coming in above 60 miles. I incorporated 1-2 days per week of body weight exercises, often times cutting a run a couple miles short to free up 15-20 minutes of time for strength work. Lastly, I rested when my body told me to rest and I scaled back at whatever short-term cost was necessary for the long-term goal.

– Second, I only sat down a total of five times throughout the day and 15 of the 17 aid stations I was out of in less than five minutes. In any ultra-distance race I had entered from 2011 to 2013, I found that I was always wasting too much time at aid stations and not realizing the minutes ticking away. Even at Burning River 100 back in August 2014, where I went 24:19, I had several aid station stops of 20-30 minutes in length. These lengthy stops are not only a time killer, but they take a serious physical toll on your body. I refined my use of carrying fluids, using 16-ounces flasks instead of 8-ounce flasks. This meant less frequent fill ups of fluids, but not the heavy weight of carrying a full hydration pack. I carried more gels and snacks with me along the course, meaning less of a need to re-pack or stand at an aid station table trying to decide what to eat. When I did grab food from an aid station, I took it to go! Finally, I only stopped for a significant amount of time when there was a real issue to address such as blisters, changing clothes, and not being able to see.

– Third, having completed Pinhoti in 2013 made me realize that the course really is fair, meaning that for every difficult climb or technical section, there are just as many easy sections to run. I used visualization techniques of how I ran the course in 2013 and inputted how I was going to respond this year. Taking it conservatively up Bald Rock and Pinnacle. Pushing the effort the first 40-miles, miles 55 to 60, and the last 15 miles. These sections were all visualized and prepared for in my head. Knowing the elements were going to come into play at the start and later in the race, then laying out what was needed to combat these issues was also critical to my success.

– Fourth, Tailwind Nutrition! There really is not much more to say, but I will. Tailwind provides me with a significant and constant source of calories that was easy on my stomach. I am 6′ 2”’ and 145 pounds, so there is not much in the way of fat stores for me to burn through. I require 300-350 calories per hour to maintain the level of effort expended in an ultra-marathon. Trying to consume this amount in gels or solid foods just is not doable if I want to keep my stomach intact. During Pinhoti, I became addicted to the flavored versions of Tailwind and almost threw a tantrum when Nicole told me that all I had left was Tailwind’s Naked flavor.

– Finally, and probably most importantly, Nicole’s presence, and just purely learning not to give up. During 2013 The North Face 50 in Georgia, 2013 Pinhoti 100, and 2014 Burning River 100 at some point I thought I needed to quit. TNF 50 in Georgia came just a few stressful weeks after my store had opened its new location. My training was poor and my stress levels were extremely high from six straight weeks of 80 or more hours per week. I wanted to give up when I saw the 11-hour Western States 100 qualifying time slip past with 10-miles still to go, but Nicole’s text message of motivation pulled me through anyways to a 12:15 finish. Then I ended up at the 2013 Pinhoti 100, to keep that two year Western States lottery ticket alive. When I wanted to give up, Nicole got out of the car with me at mile 60 and hiked the next 5.15 miles through the night to get me back motivated (she does not even run, let alone hike through the woods at night). At Burning River 100, I dealt with knee pain for 90-miles. At mile 75, my knee completely locked up and I found myself standing on a dark empty trail calling Nicole to tell her, ”I quit.” She broke down what was left in the race in such a simplistic way that there was no way I could not push forward.

Finally at this years Pinhoti 100, with the help of Nicole, I had that break-through race where I not only knew I was going to finish, but that I was going to break 24-hours. When energy was low from Lake Morgan to Bald Rock, a simple message to Nicole to let her know I was in a bad spot, and she made that decision to once again help save the race. It was the first race at the ultra-distance where negative thoughts were few and far between, it was the hardest effort I have ever put out at a race, and thus it was the most rewarding outcome.

A special thank you goes out to Eagle Endurance for the making it possible to do all the races that I have done in 2014. Thank you to Tailwind Nutrition for the personal notes throughout the last six months of my Tailwind Challenge. Thank you to Dan Matena, sales rep, for the extra supply of Huma Chia Strawberry Gels. Finally, thank you to Jarrod Fritz of Defined Therapeutic Massage for not only the massages in the last couple weeks before the race, but for the Rock-Tape application that proved to make a world of difference on keeping my Achilles Tendon from bothering throughout the entire race.