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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Georgia Death Race

At 6:45 I woke to the familiar beep of my Suunto.  I had slept well that night with no trouble falling asleep, and as I got out of bed I was excited of the day ahead.  Mom fried up a couple eggs for breakfast which I enjoyed with an avocado.  We were staying in a cabin at Vogel State Park where the race started, so it was only a short walk to check-in in the morning and to pick up our railroad spike, which we all carried along the run.  I headed to the start line a few minutes before 8, just in time to hear Sean "Run Bum" Blanton's pre-race speech before we took off into the hills.  I wasn't sure what to expect from the race as I hadn't raced since Bighorn in June, but race morning found me calm and confident.
An easy walk the day before
The pace was pretty comfortable on the initial one mile climb and couple mile descent that followed. Once we hit the long climb up to Coosa Bald, we started to pick up the pace a little and ended up climbing pretty hard all the way to the top.  As we started the climb, Michael Owen, Brian Rusiecki, and I started to pull away from the field and by the top of the climb it was just Brian and I with Michael perhaps a minute behind.  After cresting Coosa, I started rolling on the downhill and quickly pulled away from Brian.

As I made my way down the Duncan Ridge trail, I focused on running fast on the downhills, and staying efficient on the climbs, whether this be running or hiking.  I moved well for the first 20 miles of the race and soon turned down the short out and back section to Skeenah Gap.  The trail descended around 800 feet in 1.25 miles which went by fast on the descent but was a little slower coming back up.  I started passing runners on the way back up and figured that Caleb Denton was about 6 minutes back and Michael Owen and Brian Rusiecki were about 11 minutes back.  This was a pretty solid lead at that point, but I focused on running the climb well and trying to put on a little more time before I reached Point Bravo at mile 28.  Ultimately, I race to see how well I can do, but I'm a competitive guy so I knew that I needed to build a lead on the Duncan Ridge if I wanted to win the race.

I went through the Point Bravo aid station pretty fast with the help of my stellar crew and soon was alone again on the trails.  Only a minute after I left Point Bravo I thought I heard cheering.  Coming into Point Bravo was one of two small mental lows, so in the back of my mind I think I was worried about losing time to the field.  Anyhow, this gave me a good boost and I ended up climbing strong over Tooni Mountain and descended quickly down to the Swinging Bridge.

At this point, I was pretty sure that whatever cheering I heard wasn't for another runner.  Still, I focused on climbing strong over the next few miles, knowing the more runnable sections of gravel road later on would be tough to maintain a lead on.  The next 4 or 5 miles of trail climbed up along a ridge, occasionally rolling down the backside of a knob before continuing the ascent.

I rolled into the next aid station feeling much stronger than at Point Bravo and tried to make my stay as short as possible.  To this point I'd been drinking exclusively water, but I ended up filling up with Gatorade at the aid station.  This ended up being a good move as I drank perhaps 5-6 bottles of gatorade the rest of the day.

The next section of trail was largely rolling so I knew I needed so stay focused and run strong.  This section went fairly well as I moved along at a good pace and managed to sort out my electrolytes.  I got behind a little early on, which is why the gatorade tasted so good, so I really focused on taking care on myself during this section.  The section rolled along and soon I reached the big meadow where we turned off on the Benton Mackaye Trail and headed onto gravel roads.  There was short steeper descent down from the meadow for a half mile, so I pushed hard on this section know there would be many places for me to pick up time for a while.

I rolled into the next aid station filled up with some gatorade and took off onto 5 miles or gravel road.  The road rolled along winding across the hillside and I made fairly good time.  I was happy how well I was running, knowing this would be one of my weakest sections.  I also focused on getting my electrolytes dialed in as I still could feel I didn't have the right balance.  I figured I was low on electrolytes, but I didn't want to make the mistake of getting too much.  To make sure I actually need salt, I bit and S-cap in half and sucked on in with some water.  It was salty, but the salt tasted good so I soon washed it down with some gatorade.  I kept rolling along and made sure that I ate one more gel before the aid station.  A couple times earlier, I felt a little low on energy, but eating a gel soon helped so I knew I need to keep eating and have a steady supply of energy.  Soon I rolled into Winding Stair Gap, met my crew, and headed out.

I wasn't feeling great at this point, but I tried to run hard down the initial road descent to give me some confidence.  This section went well for little while, but soon the road began to level off and we turned onto some rolling trail.  This was the second section of the race that I had a mental low, but managed to keep pushing down to the Jake Bull aid station.  I moved through Jake Bull fairly quickly and soon was on the last 18 mile stretch to the finish.

Starting down the East Ridge Trail
At this point, I finally started to feel the finish.  I was hoping to feel the pull after leaving Winding Stair but that section was a struggle.  I continued on some rolling trail, but was running everything strong now and soon popped out on a gravel road.  This turned onto the one significant section of paved road on the course which rolled along for 3 miles.  I made good time here and continued to run strong on the rolling gravel road that followed.  I knew Run Bum had said that the actual climb up to the last aid station was 3 miles long, so I waited until I was sure I was climbing before I allowed myself to think I was 3 miles from the aid station.  The climb was a long grind, but all runnable, so I ran.  I remembered this section from coming down it last year(reverse route), but didn't really know any landmarks.  Eventually I reached the aid station after a solid climb and made my way out as fast as I could.

From here we climbed up an old road which soon leveled off.  I felt strong on this climb and made sure to force down one more gel before I started the descent.  The road soon leveled off and there began to descend.  As I continued along, the road became progressively more maintained, but I felt confident I was running strong enough that anyone behind me would have trouble catching up.  As the road continued I focused on just making it to the lodge at Amicalola and then worrying about the last few miles.  The course turned off the road and I followed the marking along a trail that led up to the lodge and the top of the east ridge trail.
Starting the last climb

Climbing up the stairs along Amicalola Falls
I saw Dad and Jacob here and they gave me a cheer as I went by which gave me a pretty big boost.  I headed down the east ridge trail and soon was at the bottom.  Mom was waiting here and gave me some encouragement as I began the climb back up Amicalola Falls.  I knew there first half was a paved path so I committed to running all of this section.  I passed a few people out for the day, but maintained my focus on pushing hard on up the switchbacks.  Then I hit the step and it was time to hike.  I took them on two at a time and made my way up pretty quickly.  The steps were going well until about halfway up and then I started to feel tired.  Still, I knew I was only a couple hundred vertical feet from the top, so I put my head down and powered up the last few flights.  Dad and Jacob were here and gave me a cheer as I went by.  Then I ran down the road for a quarter mile and turned off onto the west ridge trail.  The trail was little technical but not too bad so I ran down this section pretty well.  At this point I knew the race was almost done so I was starting so soak up the day and enjoy the last few minutes.  Soon the trail came down along the creek, and I could see the finish.  I splashed through the creek (using the bridge was deemed to easy by Run Bum) and was done.
A mile from the finish

No need for a bridge
Soaking it all, beneath a beautiful sunset
As always, I owe a huge thank you to my family for crewing for me and to all the volunteers who made the day possible.  Additionally, thanks to all the people who wished me the best and were cheering for me on race day.  Also, a big thanks to Salomon for providing me with great gear to run in, and to Injinji for great socks that kept my feet happy all day long.
The men's podium
The recovery begins!