Pinhoti 100, 2013

A Point to Point Trail run starting in Heflin AL on the unmolested Pinhoti single track trail. Runners will make their way over the highest point in Alabama while navigation over rocks, through creeks and across beautiful ridge lines of the Talladega National Forest. The course will consist of 81 miles of single track, 17 miles of jeep road and 4 miles of pavement and will finish on the rubberized track in the Sylacauga High School Football Stadium.

The race started when the day was really young, too young actually, I was yawning and nodding my head in the car drive to the starting point. I was lucky that I got a ride to the starting line with Dan Hernandez and Bren Tompkins. Bren was Dan ‘s crew, pacer, and our very own paparazzi. Dan was the devil who brought up this idea.
Originally, I didn’t even plan to have a race longer then 50k in 2013, I thought maybe a 50 miles (I did Baker trail 50 miles in July). So the idea of running 100 miles was pretty random. At first, I did make plenty excuses to Dan, to not running this race. I was thinking that I didn’t have enough time to train, I was not sure I am ready for that distance, I wanted to see how I do in the 50 miles race and on and on and on, one excuse after another. Then I looked back at those excuses, “Hummm really, am I that guy, who just make excuses?“ And boom, I did sign up.

Starting line to Highrock, FS531 (6.7 miles)
So the starting line was somewhere deep in the park. It was 6 in the morning and it was pretty dark, which I needed to use a headlamp if I didn’t want to trip myself. I started with some bad ass runners from Savannah, Dan, Lara Zoeller, and Tim Waz. My initial plan was to run slow and easy, enjoy the scenery and if I got lucky, I could get sub 24.
Dan and I started from the rear. It was really a slow-moving line, sometime as slow as walking. For a good couple of miles I hang back with Dan, and we did exchange stories from our Kilimanjaro trip to the future Easter Island trip.
Time goes by pretty quick, when the sun was up, I could see there was a heck of line in front of us. Then my devil thought started kicking in, I could not hold my cool to hang back and not walking on the down hill anymore. So I told Dan a good luck and will see him at the finish line, then I started running passing a few runners from the trail shoulder.
For a good amount of time I was running by myself and enjoying the scenery. Then I passed more runners and start talking about stuffs. This part is a pretty much a single trail with a few switch back and small rolling hills.

Highrock, FS531 to Shoal Creek, Hwy 78 (13.27 miles)
After taking my first breakfast in the aid station, I kept moving as soon as I can while my legs are still fresh. And I just change my mind about my plan, I was thinking to cover as much ground as I could while I have the day light, yet at the same time try to run easy and efficient.
From here till the next aid station was still an easy run on the single trail with a few small hills, I think we crossed a few streams. I was running with a few runners for a quite sometimes, and we were continuously entertained by the beautiful sceneries. I remember I pass a hill and I got out from a tree line, and there was a gorgeous sight of the landscape on my right side, I stopped a second just to digest the scenery, and I said to myself “This why I love trail running”.
When I got into the aid station, I immediately get a peanut butter and jam sandwiches on my both hands. And ate while I started keep moving again. In this aid station, I met with Bren and also Dan’s Moai statue, I spent a few seconds to get a photos with The Moai.
Oh the best thing in this race was the volunteer, they were such a wonderful people, they were so helpful and always greet us with their warm smiles.

Shoal Creek, Hwy 78 to Horseblock, I20 Overpass (18.27 miles)
From the aid station, while I kept munching my sandwiches, I started to run thru a jeep road for a short amount of time and started get back into the trail.
This section was a single trail again but some of them are covered by leaves. Tho, there were a few cute runnable hills. Somewhere in between those hills, I saw a runner, who I thought I recognized his shoes. So I shouted “Tim Waz”, and it was him, he s a strong runner with a few strikes of silver hair that reminds me of a superhero from fantastic four. Tim is also a race director for Lowcountry Ultra series.
After a few miles, I got into the aid station, Bren was already there again and asked me if I need anything else.

Horseblock, I20 Overpass to Hwy 431 (22.71 miles)
After I refilled my water flask with Nuun, grabbed more sandwiches and orange slices, my journey continue. The trail continued with a single trail covered by leaves and small hills here and there. About 2-3 miles away from the aid station, I saw another runner that I thought I recognized. And it was Lara Zoeller, she s a strong runner who is an Altra ambassador. I think it was 4 of us running together till we hit the aid station. I forgot the other runners name, sorry guys I have a short memory syndrome with names. I do remember one of the runner, he was a runner from Birmingham, who is a single father, has double jobs, and still manage to train for 100 miles race. Actually we ran together a good 30 miles or so. He s such an inspiration that make me wanted to keep up with him.
After crossing a street, then a short (a bit) steep uphill, there we were in the Hwy 31. They were playing such a good jam that I was dancing around when I got closer into the aid station.

Hwy 431 to Lake Morgan (27.66 miles)
I grabbed more sandwiches and oranges, the runner from Birmingham and I continued with our journey.
After a few miles, my hamstrings and plantar fascitis started acting up, I thought that I might have pushed it too hard. So I couldn’t keep up with this mysterious runner from Birmingham, and I asked him to go ahead and would see him at the finish line.
Just before I got into the Lake Morgan aid station, there s a switch back which also was an in and out route to the aid station. I was that close to missed it, thank you to a Samaritan who pointed me to the correct direction.
The amount of the crowds at the aid station was crazy. I felt the whole town was there and cheering for us. And everyone wanted to help me and asked me if I needed anything. Oh off course Bren is already there again.

Lake Morgan to Blue Mtn, CC Rd (34.56 miles)
I remember when I got into Lake Morgan, it was probably sometime around 11 in the morning and I could feel the sun was start heating up the air. So I decided to change into no sleeves shirt and refill my water bottle with Nuun, fill up my 3rd Salomon soft flask as a back up.
After I took a piece of banana slice, sandwiches and orange slices, I head back to the trail. This part either a bit more rough or I might start getting tired. This was the longest stretch between aid station.
But as the time goes by, suddenly I was in the aid station. I did not know how they brought the whole aid station goodies into this spot, since it s in the middle of the hills and also I think it a pretty deep in the forest. (I could be wrong, tired mind always play trick on me)

Blue Mtn, CC Rd to Bald Rock (40.94  miles)
This section probably was the first steep uphill trail on this race. Right after the aid station there was warm up slope for my legs. This section started with a dirt trail over a rolling hills. Then for the last couple miles, there where the fun part begin. Rocky up hills and with some small boulder rocks on the last stretch. Though it s pretty tough and technical, but when I look behind, there was a carpet of green, yellow, orange, red and brown from the forest behind me.
Suddenly there was somebody who was calling my name, and there was Bren with his paparazzi camera on the viewing platform. And it just hit me that I was that close to Bald Rock aid station. So I speed up my hike and got into the wooden planks bridge before we get into the aid station area. Again, when I got into the aid station, it felt like the whole town was there to greet me with their warm smiles. I continue walked to the aid station and drop bag area. I retrieved my drop bag to change my shirt since the temperature was getting colder for using sleeveless shirt. Then a great thing happened,  the volunteer gave me a bowl of warm chilli beans. I think that was the best meal of my life. Better yet, the second great thing happened, Alex Zoeller, Lara’s husband came to me and give some words of encouragement. At that moment, I think I really believed that I could tackle this race and this s not as bad as I expected.

Bald Rock to Silent Trail (45.25 miles)
Before I continue with my run, I called Thomas Gifford, my awesome pacer, telling him that I got into Bald Rock, and I was pretty early on my initial schedule. Then I grabbed extra sandwiches and continue my run.
The run started with a jeep trail thru the parking lot and kept going for probably about a mile. It really amazed me that everyone along the jeep road were always cheering at us, stranger runners.
It was kinda funny, before I went to the race, me and my friends in New York made a joke about me running across Alabama. We thought that I needed to wear helmet and kevlar, just in case I accidentally trespassing someone backyard, or, if I was mistakenly as an animal in the forest . But in reality, every one on the course were so nice and warm to us. No one even make fun of my accent 😀
I finished my sandwiches right at the time I got back to the trail. The trail was start going downhill and it was pretty rocky. And I started to get excited, since this s where the fun begun. Although I still needed to be careful since I didn’t want to overwhelming my legs and injured myself like I did in Bear Mountain 50k, also I still have more than halfway to go. In one point, I missed a trail mark that should direct me to turn right. I went all the way down to this crazy boulder downhill. Suddenly there was someone yelling, “Runner! Runner! This way”. And there was my angel who safe my day from running down all the way to Tennessee or Kentucky. Then the trail got into more civilized mode and more runnable. A few miles from there, we started to run just above the river. Then after a few minutes, there was a bridge that facing directly to the river valley. It was just a few hours before the sundown, so it was really a golden hour if I may say. Actually I was staring at it for a good few minutes, it hypnotized me, like looking into a virtual painting, so surreal.
Then I started move again, too bad good things doesn’t last forever, even better, my foot started to feel uncomfortable from pounding on the rocks. I really couldn’t wait to get into Adams Gap to change my shoes that have rock plate protection.
At the Silent Trail aid station, I saw Alex Zoeller and Lara’s brother (forgot his name), who’s preparing to pace her. I talked with them for a few minutes, while I was munching the chicken noodle soup.

Silent Trail to Hubbard Creek (52.07 miles )
Although, as much as I like to talk with them, I still have a long way to go. So I continued again with my journey. I think at this point, it was a little bit blur, either I was tired or I was just amazed with the scenery. I ran in the middle of forest with brown, orange,  and yellow trees with a golden atmosphere from the sun settings down.
Suddenly I got into the aid station, where I change my clothes into the long sleeves that I ve been keeping it in my running vest compartment. Oh they had grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon. They were so good.

Hubbard Creek To Adams Gap (55.34 miles)
Then I moved along down the trail, about a mile from the Hubbard Creek, the light started to disappear and I started to run with head lamp. I feel the darkness was eating up my energy. I couldn’t see the scenery anymore, all I could see was a white circle from my headlamp. I felt I couldn’t wait to have Thomas to pace me.
Out of no where, I heard noises, like the sound of people cheering for runners. But after I ran about a couple of miles of switch backs, I still did not see the source of the cheering. I thought I was hallucinating.
When I got into the Adams Gap, it was like a rave party. I think they had a line of people on the both side of the trail to welcome use with cheers and encouragement, and most of them were wearing glow in the dark bracelet or necklace. They have tents with any kind of food you could ask. Flashlight moving around here and there like there was a saber-light war between the jedi. While I was waiting for my drop bag, I got another chicken noodle soup. I really wished I had a crew, it took me 15 minutes to find my socks and I was frustrating with how much time I had wasted. Luckily the crews from other runners started to come for my help, and the MIA socks were found. God bless you people.

Adams Gap To Clairmont Gap (60.29 miles)
From Adams Gap to the Clairmont Gap was pretty much a jeep road trail. It was a pitch dark, all I could see was my white circle light from headlamp, other runners reflective clothing or their headlamp. A few times, I was dropping my eyes. I was so damn sleepy. I think in some point I was bending my body on my knees and fell asleep. I remember that I got awaken by other runners who passed me.
Time felt moving so slow before I saw lights from the aid station, and there was Thomas was waiting for me restlessly. I told him that I fell asleep on the run. He made me staring a bright light for a moment to wake me up. It did work. My eyes stopped drowsy.

Clairmont Gap to Chandler Springs (65.44 miles)
It was so much better to have someone running with me. I did not need to talk to my inner brain anymore. I could just follow Thomas foot steps, less task on my tired brain. Thomas was doing such a great job like keep check on my fuel and hydration intake. We started to catch up with a bunch of runners and ran with them till we got into the next aid station. And there were Thomas parents, waiting for us and greeted us with their smile. They were so nice that was asking what do I need, they got me a bowl of chili beans and soup.

Photo by Thomas Gifford

Photo by Thomas Gifford

Chandler Springs to Porters Gap (68.78 miles)
And we were off to go. This part was pretty flat, we started with a pretty good pace. And suddenly I felt discomfort on my left ankle. We started to walk and run to see if the discomfort would go away. And after a mile my nightmare begun. I couldn’t move my ankle, every time I made a step with it, I felt so much pain. I barely walked and it was the longest 2 miles in my life. I think in some point Lara and Alex (it was so dark, but I think it was them) passed me and asking me if I was ok. I said that I would catch up with them.
When we got to the aid station, Thomas’ mother was checking on my ankle, she s a doctor. She said it was swollen and a bit warm. I was thinking just to wrapped it. But thanks God that Thomas gave me a second thought. The next aid station would be another 6 miles and uphill, which actually it was the second highest peak in the course, and on the other hand I was barely walked on the last 2 miles.
So we decided this is the end of my run, I did DNF. My heart was broken into pieces, since I was so sure that I got this race, actually a few hours before, I was so sure I could do sub 24.

Finish Line
The next day I woke up still using my running apparel, and got a couple voicemail from Dan and Bren. Apparently many runners did not make it too. They said they were going to be at the finish line to greeting the finisher. So I took a shower and drove back to the finish line with Thomas. Dan and Karen did DNF since they were upset from not getting bacon in the aid station, and a few minutes short from the cut off time. I think Tim Waz got lost at night and missed the cut off too. But Lara did finish, slightly after 24 hours. That make our day, at least my day, I knew that I should have been at that finish line. I have un-finished business! Hope I could get the same BIB #.


CheckPoint Mileage Time In Time Out Elapsed Pace Pace for Section Place
Start 0 –:– 06:00am –:– –:– –:–
AS1 – Highrock, FS531 6.7 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
AS2 – Shoal Creek 13.27 08:52am –:– 02:52:00 12:57 12:57 93
AS3 – Horseblock 18.27 09:51am –:– 03:51:00 12:38 11:48 74
AS4 – Hwy 431 22.7 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
AS5 – Lake Morgan 27.66 11:43am –:– 05:43:00 12:24 11:55 55
AS6 – Blue Mtn 34.56 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
AS7 – Bald Rock 40.94 02:42pm –:– 08:42:00 12:45 13:28 62
AS8 – Silent Trail 45.25 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
AS9 – Hubbard Creek 52.07 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
AS10 – Adams Gap 55.34 07:11pm –:– 13:11:00 14:17 18:40 83
AS11 – Clairmont Gap 60.29 08:46pm –:– 14:46:00 14:41 19:11 97


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