“Pinhoti 100 is a Point to Point endurance run starting at Pine Glen Campground in Choccolocco Mgt Area just northeast of Heflin AL. 100.59 miles in length with just over 14,000 ft of climb and descent with a total of 28,000 ft of elevation change. The Pinhoti Trail is some of the most beautiful trail that navigates over rocks, through creeks and over Cheaha Mountain, (2408ft) the highest point in Alabama while traversing the Talladega National Forest. Although not a first timer course many 100 mile virgins come to complete each year. Some succeed and some fail. The course is very doable for the properly trained runner. We and all the awesome volunteers are here to help you reach your goal to the finish line!”
– Pinhoti Trail Series –
I did this race last year, but I did not finish due to my ankle injury on the mile 68. It broke my heart. And this year I came back with a determination to finish this race, despite my pelvis and hamstring injury on my right, but I convinced myself to get a revenge.
Before Pinhoti, I had assured myself that I would be ready. I had done a few races that much harder than Pinhoti trail. Those races that had harsher weather like TDS in the Alps, or crazy technical course like in TNF Bear Mountain and Manitou. I had done more technical trail and hill repeat training. I did many solo run multiple times. Those training gave me confident, but probably over confident.
Also this time I had Dan to crew me, that was really made my mind in peace since Dan was an experienced runner and had done plenty ultra marathon.
Starting Line to Lake Morgan
It was early in the morning, a couple of hours before the sun rise since we had to ride a bus from the finish line to the starting line. Chang and I started a little bit closer to the front of the pack. I remembered from last year that the first couple miles would be a bottleneck. So I told Chang that we needed to be a little aggressive for the first section. So we did. After a mile or so we got out from the big line and we could run with our own pace. Chang and I kept running together for a while, we took a lead one after another. Until one point I lost him, later on he told me he took a leak and got lost. This first section was really “dangerous”. Not because the terrain was technical that could put us in danger, but it was a rolling hills that was run-able. Also it was a really cold day this morning, well it was cold the whole day and night. So I ran too fast as always, I got into Lake Morgan about 30 minutes faster than last year.
Lake Morgan to Adams Gap
So after the Lake Morgan, I started to slow down my pace. I started to hike more on the uphill and catch up my time on the flat and downhill, especially downhill. I believed Chang had passed me a couple of miles before Lake Morgan. He finished at 11 place overall. The uphill was pretty long before the Blad Rock, and I kept saving my energy for the last push to the Mt. Cheaha, as I remembered it was pretty rocky. Then suddenly I got into Blad Rock, and I was amazed I felt great, despite the cold weather. And I think I still 30 minutes ahead of my time from last year. The section after the Bald Rock was my favorite part. It was rocky, technical and straight down. Then from Silent Trail to Hubbard Creek, it was the longest section of this race, almost 7 miles in between. But also this was the most scenic section of the race. Probably about a mile or two from Silent Trail aid station, where there was a creek running on our left side, the view along this area was astounding. It just looked like a perfect painting of landscape that you would see in the museum.
When I got into Silent Trail, immediately I asked for bacon. And yes, like last year, they served bacon with grilled cheese sandwich. I went with bacon only. I also grabbed some more for on the run. I was planning to get into the Adams Gap before dark, so I tried to keep moving and not bother to take out and tested my head lamp.
Sometime after the Lake Morgan, I kept running on and off with a strong experience runner, Errol. He did the Pinhoti last year under 24. So I was trying my best to keep close with him.
After a couple of miles of the Silent Trail, Errol and a couple of guys who were also wearing Orange Mud Hydration pack, passed me. I was tailing on them since they had a really good pace and it was nice to have someone around me for a while, although I did not talk much. Unfortunately, we got caught in the dark before Adams Gap. Errol and those guys were already wearing the head lamp before they left the aid station, which I should have done it too. I pulled up my headlamp, and somehow it was not working. Then I took my back up flash light, and it was also not working. I looked up, and I barely could see those guys anymore, just the trails of the light. And somehow I went to the wrong direction which was running on the dry river that I thought was the course trail. So I tracked back, and luckily I met a group of runner and one of them had an extra flash light. So I stick with this group until got into Adams Gap.
I was getting tired and cold when I got there. But I knew I was still in good time, probably more than an hour faster than last year. I fixed my headlamp, I think it was in the lock mode. And also I found out that I did not put any battery in my back up flash light. (my first rookie mistake). Dan suggested me to change clothes and put a thicker jacket. And he asked me if I wanted to carry extra layers, and I said no, I would be ok and I just gonna changed in Porters Gap aid station where I had my drop bag. (rookie mistake #2)
Adams Gap to The Shame Land
From Adams Gap aid station to the Clairmont Gap was a pretty boring jeep trail. I remembered last year, I fell asleep multiple times in this section. But this time I did not let it happened. A coffee candy from Indonesia (Kopiko) and a couple slaps to my face did the trick. I was able to keep running till the Clairmont Gap aid station. I had stop eating hard food since I passed the Bald Rock (except bacon), and I was not able to eat my Cliff Bar too. So since then, I was depending on my Tailwind and noodle soup. I grabbed a couple of cup of noodle soup and coke, and continue my run.
The next section was another 3 mile on a jeep road before we headed back into the trail, but it was a really ugly one. I slipped and twisted my ankles more than plenty, and I tripped and fell a couple of times. Rocky trail, night run, and sleepy eyes were a bad combination on trail running, mental noted.
When I got into Chandler Spring, I could not find Dan. I grabbed some more noodle soup and coke while waiting for him. (rookie mistake #3) What I should have done was kept running and I had a drop bag anyway at the next aid station. But I was worried if I missed Dan, I would missed our timing and would not caught up with him until mile 80, because from 70-80 was a very remote and unreachable. I hung out there longer than I should and got cold. There was a crew from different runner who helped me to find Dan on the aid station radio, but we had no luck. Later on we found out that he got lost. When Dan got in, he brought me to the car, cranked up the heater, changed my clothes, and asked me to get a few minutes rest before try to get out again. After a while, I started to stop shivering, but every time we opened the door, I got shivered pretty badly again. At that moment I knew I got hypothermia, I lost my body temperature pretty bad, and I was afraid to risk it, specially on that 10 miles no rescue section.
I was pretty angry to myself how I missed managed my race.I still had 10 hours to finished sub 24 and should have continued the race, instead of waiting. I could leave a note for Dan in each aid station to meet up. I should have carried extra layers all the time, which I did in TDS, and that how I survived in the Alps.
A”should have” wont change anything. But I learned these lessons in a hard way. After a month or so, I started to appreciate my failure. This was the beauty of ultra marathon race, I would never stop learning new things, either bad or good. And I think this would make me a better runner and hopefully smarter runner in the future.