Race InfoLocation: Vogel State Park to Amicalola Falls State Park, GA
Date: April 1st-2nd 2017
Distances: 68ish miles (more like 75ish)
I signed up for this race the morning after my first 100 attempt. It was a friend's idea and I tagged along too not sure if either of us were truely ready for a race of this magnitude. The race registration opened in August, and I spent most of the fall season ignoring this race.
In December I paced my first half marathon in Islamorada, Florida. I knew after my winter getaway to the Keys was over I would have to start getting serious with my training. I wrote a blog post covering my training build up to GDR which can be found here.
I made the trip into a mini vacation bringing along my boyfriend and dog. We drove from Columbus starting Thursday after work and arrived Friday afternoon.
I needed this to be a cheap trip and opted to camp at Amicalola Falls State Park. Friday-Monday camping costed me $110.
I debated back and forth on whether or not to bring my dog on this trip. Pros would include not having to pay for doggy daycare/boarding, but the cons were much greater. I worried that she might bark at strange noises all night and keep me up. Going sleepless into GDR could make for a long and miserable race. After going back and forth on it for months I decided that I would sleep in the car if there were any issues. After all, I wanted to make sure she could keep my boyfriend entertained while I ran for 24 hours.
Luckily, everything went smoothly and my dog was a natural at camping. We tried to get her used to the tent at home by setting it up inside and giving her plenty of treats inside it. Ultimately I believe this made a big difference.
I don't regret camping but Sunday and Monday after the race I struggled to get around. Mainly in and out of the tent. The bathrooms/showers were down a long hill from our campsite, that journey was miserable. My legs made it over a few thousand of feet of elevation change during the race (40,000 to be exact), but couldn't manage maybe 50 feet of elevation change the day after.
Pre-Race Packet Pick Up
There were two packet-pick up times of 5:30pm and 7pm the night before the race. Both times included manadtory pre-race instructions/safety information. All of this was online well in advance, but I guess they wanted to be absolutely sure everyone knew. There was also a time to ask questions at the end.
We arrived at the lodge at 5:15 to find no parking. I ran in and my boyfriend set out to circle the parking lot in search of a spot. Inside a long line to packet pick up awaited. A few days ago I read an email or some sort of information from Run Bum saying not to arrive early. I thought I was following instructions showing up at 5:25, but tons of people were already there. So many that they closed the first race instructions meeting and told me and many others that we had to wait until 7pm.
This threw off everything. My plan was to go to the meeting, eat dinner, and be in bed by 7:30 trying to fall asleep. That was clearly out the window now. Frustrating. Wakeup was at 1am to make the shuttle. I tried to shake it off as nothing could be done, but if I were to run this race again I would show up much earier to ensure I made it into the first meeting.
Now I had time to kill and since I already went through mandatory gear check I just hung out and enjoyed the scenery. Also I met up with some other friends who were running it.
The meeting was about 30 minutes long. I didn't feel like I obtained any new information but it did heighten my nerves. I thought I was ready for this race but did I actually know? It was too late to change my mind anyways.
Run Bum made a joke about runners not showing up race day morning because of the Lodge's all you can eat seafood dinner. I knew the Lodge had a buffet and that's what I was planning to eat. I thought he was kidding.
Well, Run Bum wasn't kidding. Seafood was exactly what was featured in the buffet. At this point I was already behind schedule and didn't want to drive 20+ miles into town to get other food. I settled for seafood. I ate crab soup, fried shrimp, crab salad, and cod. There was also sides in a salad bar, mashed potatoes, steamed vegatables and dessert.
I stuffed my face and caught a picture of the sunset before rushing out to get to bed.
I slept well but woke up 5 minutes before my alarm went off stressing that I'd miss the start of my race. Well at least I was wide awake… It was 1:20 am and I had to be at the Vistors Center by 2am to catch a shuttle.
I tried to load a bus that didn't have many runners in it so I could sleep against the window. Nope. The bus driver asked me to move to Bus #2. Window seats completely full. I sat down next to another runner and tried to sleep without falling on her. It felt like I was in the middle seat on an airplane.
After getting off of the shuttle at Vogel State Park you had to pick up your railroad spike. Then I hunted for a bathroom. In all races I have been to, this was the first one that had no line for the women's bathroom while the men's line wrapped around the building. Score. I met Matt and his crew, my running buddies for GDR.
Before I knew it the race was off. It was pitch dark and we started climbing almost immediately. Matt and I locked in a solid pace realizing there was a long way to go.
We climbed for a little over a mile before hitting a road and a nice downhill section. Next up was almost 5 miles of climb to the highest point on the course at mile 8ish. This climb was long and the weather showed no mercy. The winds whipped and only grew stronger as we climbed. A mile from the top a cold mist started. I put my hands in the pockets of my raincoat to try to shield them from the wind. This small segment of weather was easily the worst part of this race for me. I worried what was to come once night settled again.
Once we reached the top a steep downhill took us into the first aid station. This aid station didn't have much food, but I grabbed handfulls of chocolate chip cookies and was off. The next segment was a couple of big climbs with several smaller climbs. We locked in with a large group of runners for most of the way until the next aid station.
The next segment to Skennah Gap was perhaps the hardest in terms of relentless up and down. I found it hard to catch my breath as you were always going up a tough climb or trying to take advantage of a downhill. The result was a bit of misery and the first sign of doubt for the day.
Luckily the Skennah Gap aid station lifted my spirits and gave me new energy. This aid station had a complete breakfast with french toast, eggs, bacon, potatoes, and more. Fruit included strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, and grapes. Normal aid station fair was also present - classic sandwiches and chips. I couldn't stop eating fruit and breakfast food.
It also featured a birthday card for Run Bum that runners could sign. Leading up to the race I got at least biweekly reminders over Facebook or email that I was going to die. So, I signed the birthday card with, "I'm still alive, I hope this ruins your birthday." It's the little things in races that make you feel like you're still in control.
Leaving this aid station I was close to hitting 1/3 of the course done. Which was crazy because I think it took me 6.5 hours to get to this point. The good news was that this time there was only 2 big climbs to get to the next aid station with lots of downhill. But this section was HOT. My training involved 0 runs over the temperature of 50. Now it was in the upper 70s and rising fast.
Pulling into Point Bravo I was still feeling ok, but could feel my legs beginning to feel heavy. This section had drop bags, but I didn't pack any. No crew, no drop bags. This may have been a stupid decision, but I still had 50 miles to find out.
One runner at this aid station looked extremely dehydrated. Despite the heat he sat shivering in a long sleeve shirt. I took note, chugged some tailwind and queued for a refill.
Leaving this aid station we had a couple more aid stations to get through before we hit mile 47. Mile 47 was your last chance to drop until the finish, and we were picking up a pacer.
The miles ticked by. At the Long Creek aid station, the final one before Winding Stair at mile 47, I found an amazing sushi treat. They were basic but unique consisting of raspberries or blueberries and chocolate chips. They might have had coconut in them too. The homemade treat was much appreciated.
After this we had a long time on a gravel road until the next aid station. There wasn't much elevation change but I could feel myself slowing down. At mile 46.5 I had a sudden, sharp pain in the side of my right foot. I looked around for a thorn or stick but clearly I was on a dirt road, not a trail. I pulled my shoe and sock off only to find a blister that had popped. Sweat and dirt must have entered my skin causing it to sting. The only thing odd about this was that I hadn't even felt this blister until it popped. All of my pain had been focused on another much larger blister growing on my left foot. I guess the right foot was tired of being ignored.
I hobbled a 1/2 mile to Winding Stair. I asked if there was any band aids or blister pads. None were there but I was offered duct tape. This was better than rubbing against my dirty sock and held for the rest of the race.
I ate crackers and a whole avocado. Avocados have never tasted as good as they did at this point. My body likely needed the fat too.
I reunited with Matt after getting my foot taken care of and we were off with the addition of his pacer. There were only two aid stations left at this point. Matt's pacer was pushing us down the road out of that aid station. The combination of increased speed along with 47 miles under my belt was making me feel tired. A couple miles after Winding Stair it got dark and was time to bring out my headlamp agan.
Fortunately Matt's pacer was talking a bunch because both Matt and I were saying less and less as the miles dragged on. At the Jake Bull aid station I accidentally dropped one of my potatoes into the salt bowl. As it fell it bounced, making all sides of the potato covered in salt. Now, instead of having a potato that was lightly salted on one side, I had a potato that was caked in salt. Tired and not wanting to waste food, I shoved the entire thing in my mouth. I didn't even try to wipe the salt off.
As we left the aid station my stomach felt bad. That salt hit me like a rock. I thought I was going to throw up but didn't want to slow down. I moved behind both Matt and his pacer and gave them the heads up that I might throw up. Honestly I wish I did because the next mile or two was tough.
I thought I had memorized the elevation map for this race, and until this point I had been pretty spot on. Suddenly, we started climbing up a gravel road. "Surely this won't last long," I thought. "There are no major climbs left!" Well… about 10 minutes later we were still climbing.
I started cursing under my breath. I knew I would finish at this point but I wasn't expecting a 5 mile climb. It was brutal. Just as the finish was becoming a reality, this hill crushed all positive thoughts. It kept going and going, and I just watched our pacer full of energy. I was dead. This was miserable.
Upon reaching the top there was more bad news, because we were still over a mile from the next aid station. At least this stretch was mostly flat with some downhill.
We reached the final aid station and only had 6ish miles to go. Matt was stopping to get his feet taped, and after eating all I wanted to eat I decided to get my left foot taped up too. The extremely nice volunteer taped up my large blister. My left heel had been bothering me as well. I thought earlier in the race that I reinjured my heel. After my first 50 miler I had to go to physical therapy for several months because of a haglund's deformity that caused a bursitis. Good news came from the volunteer who informed me that my heel was all bloody and asked if I wanted him to tape that up as well. Great news that I didn't have another bursitis!
Leaving this aid station I was in much better spirits. I knew I had one last climb up the stairs by Amicalola Falls. The stretch of trail to get there was surpisingly technical. Most steps caused pain as I landed on sore feet and rocks jammed into blisters.
I was dreading the stairs up Amicalola Falls. There was a gradual uphill to get to the stairs which was tough. The paved trail had drop offs on both sides with plenty of twists and turns. I tried to stay focused and not fall off the side of the trail.
Once I got to the stairs I was relieved to discover that although my legs were sore, the stairs felt easy. I must have been using different muscle groups up until this point because I was feeling ok. After hitting the top of the stairs there was a downhill stretch on a road that I tried to run. The pounding killed my legs. However, it was brief, and I entered a trail to take back down to the finish line.
I was running by myself and kept thinking I was losing my way. I kept stopping myself because I got worried I was off course. The flags kept coming though. Eventually I got to a stream crossing with the finish line on the other side. The bridge was closed off and I was confused. Across the bridge Run Bum and others were yelling at me to go through the water and I stood there for a bit before I processed their words. Then I was done!
Final Time: 22:57:43
Prior to the race 21 hours was quoted as the qualifier for Western States 100. 2 days later this changed to 23 hours as the GDR course had become longer and harder. Although I thought I had no shot of making it in, surprises do happen! I am still in utter disblief that I earned a ticket for Western States. I guess my career as an ultrarunner isn't over yet!