Welcome! The intent of Anecdotes from the Trail is to share my experiences while trail running or racing (occasionally on the road too.) And to feature other trail runners and their accomplishments. You may see the occasional gear review or even contest. Please visit from time to time. Happy trails!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I'm a Trail Casualty: Georgia Death Race 03.16.13

Dave, me, Dustin, Brack and Drew before the start of the Georgia Death Race
I'm a trail casualty of the Georgia Death Race. There I've said it. I dropped out at mile 25. Done. Fork stuck in my back. In hind sight, I'm good with it, just like I was fine with the decision during the race despite my buddy, Brack's demands to keep going. Truth is, I knew when I signed up that it was totally unrealistic to truly be ready for this race in time. But I admit that I got caught up in the hype of the race and I wanted to be a part of its inaugural edition. With 60-ish miles on some of the toughest terrain in North Georgia, it was hard to not pay attention. I interviewed Sean "Run Bum" Blanton back in October and even got more excited about the race.

I can list three reasons why I ended up "trail kill" this past weekend: 1) I somehow managed to do well at the Mt. Mist 50K despite very low mileage going into that race. While I know that a 50K can't compare to a 100K, I obviously developed a false sense of confidence that if I could wing the first, I could at least make an attempt at the latter only six weeks later. Not! 2) I started off way too fast. It was exciting to be on the course in the dark with almost 200 fellow trail running buddies on some of the most challenging trails in Georgia. I paid for it in 25 not so short miles. It took me over seven and a half hours to cover the distance, but I lost the most time in the second half of the distance. I should have been more conservative. 3) It's simply hard as shit. I've run the Duncan Ridge Trail before. I know how tough it is (which is why I was so intrigued by this race), but I did not respect it and I paid for it. Hence, the drop at mile 25.

Despite everything, it was a great day for trail running. Let me rewind and share how it went for me up until leaving the race at Point Bravo (mile 25).

Brack, Drew, Dustin and Dave picked me up at work on Friday afternoon and we headed up to Vogel State Park. About ten miles from the park, we got stuck in traffic. Unfortunately, a female cyclist from Cumming, GA was coming down the road from Neels Gap and was ht by a car. It shut down the road for several hours while authorities investigated the accident scene. In the meantime, we were late along with several others for the scheduled 7pm obligatory race meeting. We arrived in the park around 7:45pm, checked in with our mandatory gear, picked up bibs, listen to Sean's instructions and then immediately headed off to the cabin to get some sleep.

Wake up call was for 2:45am, but most of us didn't sleep very much. We ate, got dressed, double checked our gear and went down to check in for the race start. 182 runners were all amped and ready to get started. Everyone was anxiously awaiting the start and supporting each other with best wishes for an awesome day. We lined up on the park road while Sean shared a few prepared words, "It was the worse of times. It was the best of times..." and I honestly don't recall much else. All I know is that at 4:03am, we were off. The first mile of the race was relatively flat at first with just a slight incline once on single track trail. The line of headlamps in the dark made for an entertaining visual. Brack and Drew went out ahead of me and I soon lost Justin and Dave behind me. When we reached highway 180 and crossed it, we hit a long descent that I think had many of us, myself included, go out a bit fast. I've run or hiked the Coosa Backcountry trail many times, but this was my first time running on it in the dark.

We crossed a creek, then a forest road before starting the long climb up to Coosa Bald. When the climbing started that's when the crowd started breaking up and thinning out. About half way up, it was just me another runner that I would end up running with on and off over the next 18 miles although I never got his name. The wind started to pick up as we neared the top, but luckily the temps were not cold at all. In fact, the temps were perfect in the 40's and sky over head was clear. A much better scene than the one a couple of weeks earlier just a few miles away during the Double Top 100 where snow ended up shutting that race down.

When we reached the top of Coosa Bald and got on the Duncan Ridge Trail about 7 miles into the race, it was only a mile to go until the first aid station. I have to admit that going into the race, I was concerned about how well the aid stations would be manned and stocked. Inaugural races can have their hiccups, but I'm happy to report that the Georgia Death Race had well stocked aid stations and plenty of volunteers.

I grabbed something to eat and took off down the trail. About a mile or so down the trail, I saw two headlamps coming at me. It ended up being Brack and Drew and they both ran by me unknowingly. They doubted the trail because they hadn't seen a ribbon marker for a few yards. I heard them but I didn't have a chance to stop them before they were out of sight. I shrugged my shoulders and kept going. While its true that there had been a lack of markers on this section, the fact is that there is no other possible trail. The one we were on was the only option. I stuck with this thought and was soon rewarded with a ribbon marker to secure my confidence. I was running well through this section of the Duncan Ridge Trail. Perhaps too well.

The trail wound its way up onto the ridge and I had to make my way through a tight double back where  I was running on a muddy, slippery trail with a sharp drop to my right. I focused on keeping my headlamp on the trail and putting one foot in front of the other while trying not to think of potentially slipping and dropping off to no where next to me. I got through this section and soon caught up to another runner, someone I knew from other races, Dave Carter. We ran together for a little ways and went over two Duncan Ridge Trail summits together before I pulled ahead on my own. The skies were starting to brighten and I eventually started descending into Mulky Gap and the next aid station at mile 13-ish of the course.

After refueling at Mulky Gap, I left the aid station and made my way straight up the trail on a long ascent. The sun was coming out. As I made my way, I was recalling the last time I was on this section of trail while sweeping the Duncan Ridge Trail 50K back in November. I ended up not finishing the job then due to an injured ankle. Not a good memory. This section between Mulky Gap and Fish Gap is pretty tough, but nothing compared to the trail after Fish Gap. About three miles after leaving the last aid station, the crazy, steep climbing really began. Brack and Drew who had past me in the opposite direction a couple of hours earlier had caught up to me and run slightly ahead although I managed to keep them within sight for a few miles.

Of course, the photo doesn't
do this climb justice.
While we all tackled the tough little Duncan Ridge summits together, we started seeing signs on the trees that at first I didn't realize were left behind by Sean, the race director. The first sign I noticed said, "Don't feed the bears or the axe murderers." Shortly after that and on one of the climbs, I came on to a sign that read, "You're almost done with the climbing. You got this!", only to then find another sign just a few yards ahead that read something like, "Not a chance. It keeps going and going." Need less to say, the only thing more inspirational would have been to have Sean standing at the top of each summit just laughing at us. The three or four miles between Fish Gap and the drop down to Skeenah Gap are hard...really hard. It's not easy to put into words. There's no reprieve at any point. You are either going straight up or you are going quad-busting downhill. I kept hoping that the next aid station would come soon, but little did I realize that it would preempt one of the toughest climbs of the day.

Where the Duncan Ridge Trail meets up with the Benton McKaye trail, the combined trail continues westward and the Benton McKaye goes northward. The race took us down the Benton McKaye to Skeenah Gap before turning around at the aid station at the bottom and climbing bak up to continue westward bound. Heading down to the aid station, I ran into those runners that were ahead of me and heaing back up to the ridge. I saw John Dove and he was shaking his head. He let me know that it was about a mile straight down, approximately 800 feet to the aid station. Something to look forward to. As I went down the trail, my legs were definitely feeling the earlier climbs and descents. I was ready to get something to eat and catch my breath. I arrived at the aid station and took my time refilling my pack bladder and grabbing something to eat. Ashley (@AshRuns100s) was managing the aid station with other volunteers. Someone asked her how much farther to the next aid station. She said over six which didn't match what was earlier reported. Because this aid station was supposed to be at 20 miles of the course, but if she was right that would put Point Bravo at mile 26. Not a big difference, but not encouraging either.

I left the aid station and started the climb back. It sucked. It took what ever I had left, chewed it up and spit it out. Once I arrived back to the ridge, I just wanted to get to Point Bravo and see how I felt. Although the thought of dropping started to creep into my head. The miles between Skeenah Gap and Point Bravo at highway 80 took forever, but probably not as long for me as it was for two other runners that both passed me in the opposite direction. Both grumbling under their breath about missing the turn down to Skeenah Gap, but not realizing it until a few miles down the trail.  I felt bad for them both.

The last couple of climbs on the way to Point Bravo are not as steep as the earlier ones before Skeenah Gap, but that doesn't make them easy. I finally started a final descent and I could hear the traffic on the road below. Normally, I would have picked up my pace encouraged by the noise below, but my legs were shot. Down and down I went, and I could only think about getting my pack off and stopping. I finally made it to the bottom and crossed a short wooden bridge where I could see the Point Bravo aid station and all the family and friends of other runners. My dad and brother had come up to crew for me the rest of the day, but they were surprised when I told them that I was done. Of course, they supported my decision. Brack and Drew who had both gone ahead of me earlier were at the aid station and I was surprised to see them. I let them know that I was dropping out. Drew just patted my back and as mentioned earlier, Brack tried to encourage me to keep going. I probably could have gone on for a bit more, but it would have been avoiding the unavoidable and I knew what was yet to come. Besides, it would be another 15 miles or so before I could meet up with my dad and my brother. I made the right decision.

Looking back, it was still a great day on an incredible trail. I was bummed to miss out on my buddy Aaron's bacon stop at mile 47. The guy cooked like 7 lbs. of bacon and it was gone apparently. Next year's race is on March 14-15 and who knows, maybe I'll come back for redemption. I have to keep my eye on the prize this year with TransRockies in August and possibly Pinhoti 100 in November first. I take my hat off to Sean and all the volunteers. The race seemed to go smoothly, at least from what I experienced. I did hear later that the course was a bit long. Maybe Horton Miles are now Blanton Miles.

Drew ended up dropping out at mile 40. Brack finished with 18:30 (even after spending like an hour and a half at the mile 47 aid station) and Dave and Dustin also finished but around 20:45. I'm glad that those guys earned their Georgia Death Race spikes.

Georgia Death Race finisher's spike. I'll have to earn mine another time.

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