Monday, September 26, 2016

Race Report: GEORGIA JEWEL 100 (DNF, 87 Miles)

Bitter & Sweet at the same time.
Bitter-sweet to title this post.

I did not finish what I started, nor get my coveted buckle, but it's hard to feel down about the hardest thing you've ever done. 

I ran 87 miles in 26 hours and 45 minutes on the Pinhoti Trail in my home state of Georgia. The high temperature was 91 degrees.

Congratulations to the finishers of the 2016 Georgia Jewel 100 mile footrace.

All six of them: a 75% Did-Not-Finish (DNF) rate. It was that hard. 

While running to the 51.8 mile turnaround,  I was greeted by the eventual 100 mile winner, Steven Carr (Huntsville, AL), making his way back.

Keown Falls Observation Deck
He said: "I'm spent..." And he still had a 45 mile night-time wilderness run ahead of him.

The Georgia Jewel 100, 50 & 35 mile races occurred the same weekend as IRONMAN Chattanooga which was 30 minutes to the north.

That event had a 25% DNF rate and a 15% DNS rate.

Over 1,100 people who signed up did not reach the finish line. I can relate.

As Georgia Jewel 50 MILE finisher Udo Bill Wooten said, "You can't spell Pinhoti without the word hot!"

Sixty-one runners finished the 50 miler. Ninety-one signed up. A 33% DNF/DNS rate.

The 35 mile race had a 26% unfinished business rate.

In spite of the heat and the toll that it took upon us, The 2016 Georgia Jewel was an awesome event.


The Baker Family
The latest edition welcomed first time, but in no-way-novice, race directors Jenny Baker and Franklin Baker: A true race directing team who put on a first class event.

There were no major flaws in this race that I saw.

Without the heat, these races would have had many more finishers, but not more positive energy.

In spite of the difficult conditions, or maybe because of them, the 2016 Georgia Jewel birthed an explosion of additional running family members connecting us to participants from previous years.

The legacy of the 2016 Georgia Jewel will not be the heat, it will be the galvanizing together of a regional running community in the midst of it.

My Georgia Jewel story started back in August.

The RDs organized an 18 mile group run complete with shuttle bus to a trail head from which we ran back to our cars awaiting us with ice cold cokes and potato chips. Not the small bags either. I'm talking your very own 10.25 oz. bag of salt & vinegar Lay's, baby!

That is, if you make it back: One runner dislocated his hip and needed paramedics to hike in and carry him out. He handled his situation like a trooper, but his unfortunate circumstance led to one of my own: getting lost.

My Dug Gap Battle Rd. Buddy
Having never run on these trails before, Lauren "Barkley Fall Classic 50K Finisher" Goderwis and I didn't make a wrong turn, we just didn't make the right one. We kept going straight...

Through spider webs and mud with no footprints (where there should have been with runners ahead of us), passed big snails which were pretty cool, and a lot of mountain descent when it should have been mountain ridge.

Undeterred by these face-slapping "Hey Idiot, Turn Around!" circumstances that each of us announced to the other as we ran, we end up at a trail head near Hurricane Rd. near the set of the movie Deliverance.

A shirtless but very tattooed 'gentlemen' grunted as we walked passed the last of his possessions being overgrown by grass and weeds. I had plenty of pepper spray, but very little stranger-profiling ability.

Lauren provided that. She said that she had always heard that when lost, choose a house with mowed grass. Who knew? Not me. I guess girls just know stuff like that. Anyway, we not only find a yard with mowed grass, the man was actually on his lawnmower cutting it!

How lucky can you get?

He tells us to go up here and take a left, then go down a bit and take a right to get back to the Convention Center. The left and right take us to Dug Gap Battle Road which is hilly and curvy without much shoulder to walk on in places. Lauren and I became "Battle Buddies" watching out for each other switching sides of the road saying, "Car back!" and leg-muscling our way to the top.

We ended up with over 20 miles on our very memorable run.

My Safety Runner: Jordan
This woke me up to the challenge of the Georgia Jewel. Had this not happened, I doubt that I would have even made it to 87 miles.

One of, if not the, main reason I made it as far as I did was because of my safety runner: Jordan Paul. Jordan did everything right and nothing wrong. He came fully prepared and made my final 36 miles possible.

He had pace charts and encouraging words.

He always knew how far it was to the next aid station and what time we needed to be there. He always knew where we were on the course and how much ahead of schedule we were. He set goals to bank time just in case.

He filled my water and got me food at every aid station all while running 36 miles in the dark on wilderness trails and having been up 24+ hours himself.

We were ahead of schedule by an hour and three minutes at 75 miles.

It was an honor to run with such a person of character.

THANKS, Jordan. I know what a high quality safety runner is now.


One of the amenities of the race was the host hotel. The Hilton Garden Inn welcomed runners with professional service, late check-out on race day (which is great for 2 hour naps!), a 3 a.m. breakfast for 100 mile racers, and a 4:30 a.m. breakfast for 50 & 35 mile runners. It had an indoor pool and very spacious rooms.

Jonathan and I at 26 miles
Before and after our pre-race meeting led by RD Jenny with intermittent pings from self-professed RD assistant & hubby Franklin, 50 mile finisher Jonathan Spry and his wife Emily and I ate supper. Twice.

We ate our first supper at Chik-Fil-A and our second was pizza and Panera Bread take-out 2 hours later. I liked Jonathan's meal scheduling: "We can eat now, and then go..."

Priorities are important.

During the race, I met Jonathan on the north side of John's Mountain, the highest climb of many climbs during the race. I snapped a few pics before we headed off in opposite directions. 

The part of the Pinhoti Trail that we ran was in the Chattahoochee National Forest. It can be best described as wilderness with manned aid stations about every ten miles. Unmanned water stations every five. 50 miles out, 50 miles back for me. The 50 milers start at my turnaround, and the 35 milers start at a third trail head. There were multiple times that I did not see anyone for over an hour.
Pinhoti Trail
We run/walk up one mountain side, cross the ridge including ups and downs, and then down the other side. The trails are winding and rocky. Do this about 4 or 5 times over the course.

Flat sections are interspersed, but mostly you're running up or down though never really that steep. The views are amazing. You feel the mountain breeze up top and hop across creeks at the bottom.

There is pain. Dull pain. Pains that come and go, but that also reach a threshold they never pass. Once you realize it won't get any worse, then you can tolerate it.

The kind of pain that ended my race was different. It was not a strength issue, mentally or physically, as far as I can tell. My muscles were not "give out" as they say, nor did I lose my focus. The pain from skin chaffing kept increasing to a point that I could not continue.
I ran with chaffing pain for over 50 miles before succumbing to it.

Believe me, I wanted that buckle!

I put anti-friction cream on at aid stations and felt mild nausea it stung so badly.

Running the dark trails with just our headlamps, I would steel my mind and grunt when Jordan said I needed to run despising the pain, but eventually it spread to places of sensitivity that shut me down.

The constant stinging of an open wound.

Let's put it this way...

I think Jerry Lee Lewis ran a hundred miles before he wrote his most famous song.

Goodness Gracious! 

Having resigned myself to quitting, and constantly holding my running shorts away from my skin, the walk to Snake Creek Gap aid station was the longest walk of my life. I thought it was one mile, it was four. When I thought we were on the descent to the bottom, it would rise again. I paid for quitting before I ever left the woods.

Jordan knew where we were. It was me in denial. I'm sure it was hard for a competitor like him to bear, but he never showed it.

Daddy and His Babies
Many lessons are learned after success and failure.

100 mile belt buckles symbolize the amazing accomplishment of running 100 miles. I earned two of them over the last eleven months. A third one was not meant to be.

What not earning this one has taught me is best summed up in this quote by J. Don Walters:

"Genuine leadership is of only one type: supportive. It leads people, it does not drive them; it involves them, it does not coerce them. It never loses sight of the most important principle governing any project involving human beings, namely: that people are more important than things."

I left the 2016 Georgia Jewel with something far more valuable than a belt buckle. I realized how great my life is and how many supportive friends and family members I have.

I have jewels in my life given to me by God.

Perhaps, I needed to see that more clearly.

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