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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Inaugural Double Top 100: Race Preview

Coming down the Pinhoti trail into the Cohutta Overlook.
More and more, there are a growing number of ultra-distance events popping up around the country and its nice to see that is also the case here in Georgia. And it's also good to see more races beyond the 50K distance too. This weekend is the inaugural Double Top 100 in North Georgia. A 100K and 100-miler race that takes place mostly on the Pinhoti trail in the Cohutta Mountains. In the words of Perry Sebastian, the race director...

This is a beautiful course with amazing scenery and unique flora. You will run by numerous inspirational overlooks, traverse the rolling switchbacks of Turkey Mountain, between the Double Top Mountains, pass by scenic overlook at headwaters of Bear Creek, and run the ridgeline encircling Cashes Valley. The course leaves Ft Mountain State Park and follows the northern section of the Pinhoti Trail until it joins the Benton Mackaye Trail. Runners opting for the shorter run (100k) will turn around and return down the Pinhoti Trail. The 100 mile runners will be treated to the vistas of Flat Top Mountain, Fowler Mountain, and Bear Den Mountains before turning around near Bushy Head Gap to return to Ft Mountain. Runners will be given 34 hours to complete the course.

I signed up for the 100K and I'm really looking forward to it. Since Harbison 50K in January, I have been able to maintain a good weekly mileage and have had quality long training runs, including a preview run in late January on the course of the Double Top itself.

I drove up to Fort Mountain Park near Chatworth, GA with my friend, Rox and there we met several other future race mates also looking to get some miles on the new race course. Fort Mountain is the start of the race and is also the site of a wonderful Fall trail marathon called, Mystery Mountain Marathon ( a must-do, put it on your calendar!) Perry couldn't be there, but his right hand person, Vikena Yutz and volunteer-extraordinaire, Tom Wilson, were there to get us situated and going. Kena ran with us and Tom met us along the way at the designated future aid station locations along the course. Some of us were running 20 or so and others, myself included, were looking to get in about 40 miles that day.

I think you can appreciate the grade of the
Pinhoti Connector from this photo.
This is looking up with the runners
coming down the trail.
The original course runs about 5-6 miles in the park before heading out of it, but for today's preview run, we only did about 3-4 in the park and then Kena led us out of the main park entrance immediately onto the Pinhoti Connector. This little trail is a seldom traveled, very unmanicured trail that goes down in a steep grade. All of us were flying down this hill, when it dawned on most of us that this "fun" downhill trail will be a death march climb for the 100K runners, and especially the 100-mile runners, as all runners will hit it with about 5 miles left in the race. It's about a mile and a half from the entrance of the park to the bottom of the Pinhoti Connector where it hits the first aid station (or last if returning), and that's gonna be a long one when finishing.

Anyway, Tom and his big smile welcomed us and we were all still more or less together. Once off the Pinhoti Connector, we hit a forest road for a while and then hit a series of creeks that will be early on in the race, about 8 or 9 miles into the race. When we crossed these little streams back in January, they were pretty shallow even though a couple of them were about shin deep. It's been a little bit of a rainy week here in Georgia this week with more to come tomorrow and race day, so it's going to be impossible not to cross those creeks without getting at least ankle deep in water. I'm sure my Smartwool socks will hold up.

Cohutta Overlook. I'm afraid the view isn't gonna be much
better on race day either, but on a clear day it is spectacular.
After the creeks, you are on single track for a while, then forest road up near Tatum Mountain towards the Cohutta Overlook off Highway 52. Rox and I were running with another GUTS buddy, John, and we actually took a bit of a detour, but we managed to get where we needed to be and meet up again with Tom at the overlook. After the overlook, there's a bit of asphalt along highway 52 that we'll have to run on race day for about a half mile and then we get on the Pinhoti trail and it is single track all through and over Turkey Mountain and its windy switchbacks from there. At the bottom of Turkey Mountain is aid stop number three, Three Forks. After that is another 1.5 mile or so of forest road before getting back on more single track up to the Double Top aid station. This is where we turned around for the preview run and headed back. Beyond this point is where the more serious climbing is for the course. There's about a 2,000' difference between Three Forks aid station (mile 14.3) and the Cohutta Corner after the ‘Usti-Yona aid station (mile 24.4) with tons of ups and downs in between. It'll be smart to be conservative for the first half and get through this stretch feeling good. Then enjoy the descending on the return. Always being weary of that Pinhoti Connector at the end. Perry estimates there is about 10,000-11,000 feet of elevation gain/loss on the 100K course.

John and Tom
On the preview run, we turned around at the Double Top aid station and only ran back to the Cohutta Overlook. Ending the run at about 28-29 miles for the day. We were running out of daylight and half the group had turned back much earlier. leaving me, Dan, Kena and Kia to get the additional miles in. even though we cut it short, the preview run gave me a good perspective for what to expect on the course, which was runnable single track despite some of the climbing and except for the Pinhoti Connector and more forest road than expected. The lack of real technical terrain will be a bonus and should allow for some decent times on the run.

I think Perry's intention for the future is to get more of the race on single track, but much of that I understand is still pending permission from the various authorities along the way. The 100 milers will get to "enjoy" some additional climbing and they will also end up on the Benton McKaye trail for a good stretch before their turn around point at Hudson Gap.

Weather forecast for Saturday is rain and highs in the 60's with low's Saturday night in the mid-30's. Dressing for this will be a challenge as it is expected to be some what balmy and warm at the start in the high 50's. Luckily, I don't mind the rain when it's not too cold, and hopefully it will blow through by the end of the afternoon and for the last bit of daylight I will enjoy on the course.

There's a little over 80 runners signed up split up pretty evenly between the 100K and the 100 miler. It's gonna be a bit lonely at times on the course, but at least we'll be able to see each other after the turn around point.

I'm hoping to cover the course in around 14-15 hours, but you can never know what to expect. Check back here early next week for a full report and if you're up for it, send me a tweet during the day on Saturday. I'll have my iphone with me and every time it chimes, I'll know some one out there is virtually cheering me on.

Course maps: 100K Map 1 100K Map 2
100K Course Point Chart


  1. Javi, great summary of the event. I am in the 100k with you and have the expected completion time. My goal is 6 hours to 50k and then allow for a slower return. Am curious about the climbs and the technical side of the course. How do you compare the single track to the Stump Jump or Stage Race courses? Appreciate your taking the time to do a course preview. I will see you in the morning at the start and I am sure throughout the day on the course.

  2. Hi Mike, The 20-ish mile stretch of the course that I covered was not very technical at all except for the Pinhoti Connector and only because it's not a well-traveled littltrail and there were downed trees. Much of the Pinhoti Trail that we will run on is also used frequently by mountain bikers and they have smoothed out much of that single track. Between that and the miles on forest roads we'll cover, footing is really good for the most part. Now what the course lacks in technical terrain, it makes up for in elevation change. Perry claims there's about 10K'-11K' in elevation gain/loss. Basically, it's like running up and down Stone Mountain like 14-15 times. Good news is that there'll be more descending on the way back, sort of. I'm not too concerned about the course, as I am the weather. It's going to fluctuate with warm and wet at the start to cold and clammy at the end. It'll be a challenge to dress for it and it's definitely a good idea to take advantage of the drop bag at the Double Top aid station. See you in the morning, Mike!!

  3. Javi, thanks for constant push from 23-52. I think seeing you coming down the road behind kept me on my toes and running for daylight. Still a little ticked about that last turn coming back up the mountain, lost about 10 minutes screwing around there. See you at the next event. I am in the for The Jewel on April 7, am hoping to shave some time off Double Top. Nasty, nasty climb from 19-24. Again, it was good running with you, see at the next one.

  4. Mike, You staying in front of me for all of those miles gave me incentive to "keep you on your toes". Ha, ha! Good running with ya too and, who knows, maybe we'll get to do it again soon. Good luck at Jewel!