On December 2, 2012, I attempted the most physically and mentally challenging endurance run of my life… The Pine Mountain 40 put on by the Georgia Ultarunning & Trailrunning Society.
Jason, a 3 time Pine Mountain finisher, by far has the best description of the race I have ever read. So good I had to share……..
“Even for well-rested runners with fresh legs, the Pine Mountain 40 Mile Trail Run is a beatdown. To use a familiar ultrarunning comparison, running this particular race is like being pecked to death by baby ducks. The Pine Mountain course takes place on mild-elevation rolling hill terrain that does not feature any major notable obstacles, and runners do not face any steep mountain climbs, treacherous river crossings, or drastic temperatures. Instead, the 40 miles of this course are home to countless minor aggravations that gradually accumulate to the point where motivation and fortitude are reduced to a frazzled exhaustion. It is the little things that kill, and any small rock that catches the toe of a trail shoe, any tree root that is hidden underneath a pile of leaves, or any unstable slick stepping stone on a short creek crossing might be the final straw that causes a smiling runner to throw his or her hands up in exasperation and explode into profanity.”
Jason’s detailed blog post were the extent of my research leading up to this race. I knew it was going to be a huge challenge but I must have mentally blocked that from my prefrontal cortex ( portion of brain responsible for logic and reasoning)- issue #1. The Pine Mountain 40 was a great way to end a very busy fall running season (3 fulls & 1 half marathon), and to celebrate Laura’s ( #BRF’s -best running friend & 50 States partner ) 40th birthday! 40 for 40! It was so cute and catchy I could not turn her down.
In 2012, Laura and I traveled together to completed the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge, The Blue Ridge Relay, Wineglass Marathon, and Richmond, VA Marathon. We had checked off three states in 2012 so the opportunity to cross off a 4th (GA) was very enticing. With Laura’s famous quote, that seems to fuel all of our running registrations, “We will be trained” we committed to our first ultra marathon….without a lot of thought (prefrontal cortex issue #2)
Ten days prior to the big event I came down with a horrible upper respiratory infection. I battled through it and in hind sight should have gone to the doctor. The lingering cough, that left and returned few days prior to the race, later caused me some major issues on race day. Being the hard headed (red head trait), determined individual that I am I was not going to let some pesky sickness stop my quest for 40 miles (prefrontal cortex issues #3).
We road tripped down to Pine Mountain, GA, a 8hr trek from Raleigh. Laura rented us an awesome cabin just a few miles from the start. We arrived in Pine Mountain, a very quaint and friendly place, just in time for the annual Christmas parade. We thought it was a great welcome! We stocked up on supplies at the local grocery and then headed to our cabin to relax by the fire and await our 7 am Sunday start.
One of the best decisions made (outside of inviting Dan and PJ:)), was inviting David! David an accomplished ultra runner cyclist, and world traveler signed up to be the official “ultra virgins” pacer!
At 7:00am, in 50 degree temps, we hit the trail for our 40 mile adventure. We started towards the back of the pack hoping the other 150 or so runners would clear a path through the ankle deep leaves. The first section of the trail was a great stretch of running with minimal obstacles. I did not feel particularly well and was winded early. I hoped this was nerves and would pass. Initially, I welcomed the frequent walk breaks up the inclines but soon found I was much more comfortable running.
We made it to the 1st aid station (Fox Den Cove- 5.9 miles). I was thrilled to see and briefly speak to fellow “tweep” Kristin , whom was one of the unfortunate runners to be stung by the un-expectant swarm of yellow jackets. Fortunately, we missed that early torture. We topped off our water and kept rolling.
The following 9 miles were sheer mental torture. I am typically a sickly optimistic person but the negative thoughts of DNF(did not finish) were running ramp-id in my head. I have NEVER battled this nor ever considered dropping from a race. My breathing was labored and the uphill hikes were proving to be my biggest challenge. They took everything I had. I would have paid big money for a pulley system to drag my ass up the hill sides. David, so kind, slowed his pace to stick with me and offer his ever helpful coaching and mental support.
My struggles, both mentally and physically continued, as I lagged behind and eventually caught up with concerned trail mates David and Laura at the 3rd aid station (Dowell Knob-14.3 miles). My words were few and Laura knew me well enough to know I was struggling. As Laura expressed her concerned that I was going to end up with Pneumonia, one of the jovial GUTS volunteers chimed in “Hell, it is way cooler to say you got pneumonia running an ultra than just laying on the couch” Oddly enough, I had to agree with this wise volunteer. It was at this moment, I knew I was among fellow “bad asses” and I was going to give it all I had. When ” all I had” was gone that would be the end of my race. I am a huge proponent of “run your own race” so I encouraged Laura and David to go on without me.
With my much improved mental attitude, I pushed on. I convinced myself to “live in the moment” and try to enjoy the sights and serenity the trail had to offer (despite the ever present pesky rocks, roots and inclines). The day was nearly perfect despite the climbing temps. The 70 degree temps were unwelcome but better than rain. As I made it toward the 4th aid station (Rocky Point – 17.8 miles) I noticed my fingers were beginning to swell like sausages. This was un nerving as this has never happened. I had been hydrating with nuun, taking electrolyte tablets, and fueling with my cliff bars, and pretzels but obviously with the heat it was not enough. At the aid station, another wonderful GUTS volunteer told me to load up with some salt and suggested the bake potato pieces dipped in salt. Yum, those were the best cold bake potato pieces I had ever eaten in my entire life. I swished them down with some Coke like “cola”…ahhh best Cola I have ever had and I was off.
I was feeling better, not optimal, but enough to keep going. I reached the first time cut off at aid station #5 (TV Tower- 22.82 miles) with time to spare (not much but it was time) . At this point, I knew I was close to 26.2 miles, a familiar mileage accomplished many times. I was determined at minimum to reach 26.2 and claim my Georgia marathon! My spirits lifted and I found energy from my new “line of sight marathon goal”. and the fellow runners. Just when I thought I was alone, and possibly the last person on the trail someone would appear. After long stretches of solitude, just seeing another person was a welcome sight. David, from Woodstock, GA, was so kind stopping with me when I found myself dizzy and just offering a smile, when times got tough. We did not exchange a lot of conversation but were a support system.
Amy M., Atlanta, seemed to appear out of nowhere. This was Amy’s 3rd Pine Mountain 40 and she was running on a double sprained ankle. Can you say “BAD ASS!”. I cannot even imagine. Amy and I shared the portion of the trail with the seemingly endless creek crossings. I am happy to report we both stayed dry! Amy’s determination to run through an injury inspired me to keep pushing. Thanks Amy!
At aid station #6 ( Rocky Point- 24.2 miles) David and I were told we made up some time. That was great news.! We had 60 minutes to cover 3.52 to reach aid station #7 (Dowell Knob 28.4 miles). This was doable and I was confident I could cover the additional 12 miles after the next aid station to finish. At this point I was not concerned with the 10.5 hour cut off. I just wanted to run across the finsh line…no matter the time..
As I approached aid station #7 (Dowell Knob 28.4 miles) I noticed a male runner who had been ahead of me sit down…I thought odd perhaps he is quitting As I approached the food table, the kind GUTS volunteer informed David and I we had missed the time cut off by 12 minutes. Uggggg how did this happen? I was shocked. I had just found my rhythm and clearly lost track of time. I had long given up on my Garmin that could not keep up with the terrain and lost at least 30 minutes of time. Ironically, the same volunteer who made the funny comment about me coming down with pneumonia Is the guy who told me I could not go on. I was stunned, I knew I could make the last 12 miles and now I couldn’t. My race was over BUT I had more to give.
My first comment was “Dang, this is my first ultra, I would have at least liked to have made it to 30 miles” they laughed at me and said ” Congratulations! You are an ultra runner!” I know anything over 26.2 is considered ultra distance but there was something psychological about hitting the 30 mile mark. I considered hiking up to the trail head to get in my final two miles but I risked my ride back to the finish and it was a little crazy. Finally, I embraced it…I didn’t have to run anymore…so I treated myself to some M&M’s! Ahhhh they were good!
There was comfort in numbers, as I sat with my fellow “pulled” runners waiting for the remaining runners. I was happy to see Amy approach. I had not seen her for some time and was wondering if her ankle had gotten the best of her. Next was Paige, from Atlanta, and then Rhonda a fellow Raleigh-“ite” and the Co- Race director for the Umstead 100. Rhonda and I had passed each other several times throughout the day. She was struggling with an injury and bad cramping but kept pushing! It wasn’t until we were “pulled” that we made the Raleigh connection. Rhonda, with all her ultra wisdom, educated me that that I did not have a DNF, I did not quit, I was pulled due to time cut offs! This was comforting as I was trying to process what had just happened. Her next question to me was ” Why did you chose this race for your first ultra?” Prefrontal Cortex issue #1….enough said!
I am at peace with my Pine Mountain 40 attempt! I did
not give into the negative mental tourture! I did not quit! I gave it what I had in my that day!
Pine Mountain 40 is the hardest most mentally and physically taxing thing I have done outside of two natural child births. They say that God erases the pain memory of child birth so women will have more than one child. God clearly must do the same for ultras! On the way home, I was planning my “ultra redemption” race with my sister, fellow ultra runner Amy! –(wait listed- Mangum Track Club Fat Ass 50k) I’ll be back!
Thanks GUTs for an awesome ultra experience!
See ya on the trail!
“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”
Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner