Fast forward a few months and my friend Holly mentions that she signed up for Pinhoti 100. I offered to pace her - she suggested running together, but I wasn't convinced. While following Western States 100 online in June, I realized I still wanted to try to get in and would need another qualifier (woohoo, 2 tickets - so you're saying there's a chance?!). A quick look at the calendar and Pinhoti was looking more appealing. Although the race was full, they've instituted a waitlist (thank you, Todd!) which moves quickly and in not much time at all, I went from #21 to being on the entrants list. With that, I was committed to running 100 miles with Holly.
Depending on one's perspective, 100 miles is either a really long way or not that far, according to Karl Meltzer. Regardless, so much can, and does, happen over that distance. More than one person suggested running together was not a good idea - what would we do when one person felt bad? What if we needed to run different paces? I can honestly say, I didn't doubt for a second that Holly and I would run the whole way and finish together. I know running with someone can go badly - but I knew it wouldn't with us. This would be our third race together and I had run other races with friends that were so much more enjoyable than running alone. Don't get me wrong - I love solo training miles, but the company and energy running together during a race is special.
|Race prep - labeling and filling drop bags
|Delicious sweet potato pie thanks to Kyle
Holly and I have different work schedules, different family commitments, different weekend plans, different training schedules. It proves there is no one "right way" to train for ultras. Anyone can run an ultra if they're determined and committed. We drew inspiration from an article written by Joe Uhan on the 3Cs for peak performance - our mantra was "Composure, Confidence, Compete." This would be key at many times throughout the race. In addition, we wanted to run sub-24. We would be thrilled with 23:59 - not an easy task, but we believed it was possible with a little help from our crew. Ultrarunning is a team sport. We relied on our stellar and experienced crew of Richard and Marie, who also crewed me last year. Marie volunteered before I could ask her - Holly and I were incredibly grateful for her experience, encouragement and willingness to follow us through Talladega Forest. I don't think a better crew team exists!
|The always lovely Marie. Photo: Richard
Composure: this was important before the race even started with a few delays getting out of Atlanta and of course, traffic. But eventually we made it to packet pickup, ate at Mellow Mushroom as tradition dictates, re-packed and enjoyed a restful night of sleep before a 7am start time. It was chilly, but as soon as the gun went off, we warmed up. Unless you're in the top 10, there is no way to avoid the conga line that is the start of Pinhoti. There's a mad dash 100 yards through the parking lot to the single track. We stopped. And walked. And stopped. And walked. And shuffled. It's not how fast you run the first mile but how slow you run the last mile. 4 miles in we were still pretty tightly packed AND I was having issues with my contact lenses. It was a bit challenging to remain composed seeing double and feeling slightly claustrophobic. Holly ran around a couple of groups of people - I followed and overheard someone saying "I wouldn't be running uphill right now," which I hoped wouldn't come back to haunt us. Finally, we found some space, caught our breath and settled into at a comfortable rhythm 5 or 6 miles in. We continued running with our good friend Alex and the miles flew by easily. We saw our crew for the first time at Aid Station #2 about 13 miles in (Richard even had an egg mcmuffin for us!) and again at AS #3 around mile 18 before a long break between crew access points.
We kept running composed towards Bald Rock / Cheaha State Park. On paper it's a long climb, but with Holly's company, we felt fine. Karl was even along the course cheering runners on - I resisted stopping to ask him to sign my shoes.
|So much energy! I love the feeling of running off the boardwalk and seeing so many friends at Cheaha State Park. Photo: Richard.
|Our friend Lauren and 2nd pace female!
Confidence: Holly and I (aka "the Ollies") arrived at AS#7 Bald Rock / Cheaha State Park (mile 41) with huge smiles feeling fantastic. Our other goal was to be the happiest runners into each AS - so far we were meeting that goal! So many friends and spectators cheered, gave us hugs and high 5s as we ran off the boardwalk towards our patiently waiting crew. I was trying not to dwell on time - my goal was to be out of this AS by 4:00pm to stay on track for our 23:59 time goal. We grabbed food, drinks, lights and were out by 3:50pm. We left confidently towards Silent Trail, carefully getting down "blue hell" before the trail turned runnable again.
|"So let me tell you how it's going to go down..."
We focused on being confident in our ability to get this done together. Throughout the day and through the night, we took turns being the "line leader" - Holly was so strong! I tethered myself to her and vice versa. Silent Trail is one of my favorite sections of the course - beautiful stream with rocks and waterfalls. So happy to run this section in daylight! Once the sun set, it got dark quickly. It seemed like it took forever, but eventually we heard loud music and arrived at the party aid station, aka AS #10 Adams Gap.
|Holly and I running into her namesake gap.
|I love these two! Photo: Richard
It felt like we cruised up the gravel road and we both continued to feel great. My confidence was briefly shaken by a dimming headlight and the realization that all of my backup plans failed (something to improve next time!) - but all was saved when we arrived at AS #13 Porter's Gap at mile 68 and Marie lent me her headlamp. It may have been a blessing in disguise - I was so worried I had needlessly lost us time that we pushed it on the climb up to the Pinnacle AS (my other favorite section of this race). Yes, there are lots of switchbacks, but we just focused on running - Holly was determined! I think we ran nearly 75% of that climb!! Amazing feeling. At the false summit at AS #14, we grabbed some warm food and continued out of there quickly. And reflected that the top 2 or 3 guys were already done. Our legs didn't feel like they had 75 miles in them but I didn't know how long that would last. In my previous 100s, this is the time when the wheels start to fall off (and fall off badly) - I did my best to remain confident we would keep moving forward strongly. We were also both feeling awake through the tedious sections - I was thrilled not to have to fight sleep monsters like I usually do (the Starbucks doubleshots worked!).
Compete: On the course map, AS #16 Bull's Gap (the second to last AS) is approximately 15 miles from the finish. If that was accurate, I thought we needed 3hrs 30min to reach the finish line. Approaching the AS, Holly and I thought we had a slim chance and decided to make this a quick stop - changing shoes and brushing our teeth were "wants" not "needs." We got the minimum we needed and ran out as quickly as we could with 3hrs 10min to reach the finish in under 24 hours, with mostly gravel roads to the finish. I've only ever seen Bull's Gap at or after sunrise - seeing it in the dark was a new experience. We slowly but steadily passed a few runners - everyone was encouraging but it was getting harder to start running between uphill walk breaks.
We reached AS #17 Watershed at 5:35am and they told us we had 7.5 miles to go - Holly and I decided our new goal was to finish by 24:30 and not get passed. Based on the previous section, we didn't think we could cover 7.5mi in an hour and 25 minutes. We were a little bummed, but still focused and determined. The route from here meanders a bit through fields, past loud dogs, and then spits runners out on asphalt to the finish. We turned and saw a sign that read "2 miles to go." Holly looked at her watch, which read 6:37am, looked at me and said "let's do this!" I have no idea how, but we started running hard or it felt that way (could we run 2-ish miles in 23min with 98mi in our legs?!). We ran as hard as we could and didn't walk a step - we knew about the false stadiums before reaching the final one. When we saw the bright stadium lights, we were thrilled - but still not sure about the race clock. Running around the track, Holly saw the clock first - we picked it up, I shed a few tears in disbelief and happiness and we crossed the line in 23:59. Our goal. Sub-24. To top it off, Holly and I had tied for 3rd female / 1st master's. Our friend Evan finished 2nd male and our friend Lauren was 2nd female. Not a bad day for GUTS runners. :-)
Reflecting back...: I am SO PROUD of Holly and I for running 100 miles together. It was about as flawless of a race as I can imagine - very few minor lows that didn't last long, no stomach issues, no blisters so large they could be named. Holly never complained - not once. I know 100 milers are not always fun and every mile of even a good 100 miler is not fun - but I never expected it to go this well. We ran consistently from start to finish. There is absolutely no doubt that I could not have done that without Holly. Richard, Marie, Keith and dozens of other volunteers made this the best 100 mile experience yet.
|Holly doesn't even look tired!