Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Southern States 200 (Race Recap)

Mill Creek, GA to Mount Cheaha, AL
Friday, April 12 to Tuesday, April 16
200+ mile attempt #8
Weather - Humid and warm

Preface
This was a later addition to my race schedule. Initially, I was to be running a race called the "Krazy Train 200" in Kansas. Last November, I heard that the race probably wasn't going forward. I reached out to the race director and she confirmed that cancellation was likely. Once I got my refund I used the funds for this race instead.

For the first time I was attempting the 200 mile distance completely solo. I had known in advance that Ben would not be able to go as he doesn't have the PTO and I never bothered to find pacers or ask anyone else to go with me.

Race Day
My alarm was set for 5:30. Everything was basically ready to go, but I needed to do some last minute things, eat and load up the car. I forced myself to eat about 2/3 of my breakfast bowl and got all my bags in the car. I was right on time getting to Bald Rock Lodge. Maybe 8-9 of us were going to be taking a passenger van to the start line. I loaded my bags in the back and settled in one of the front seats for the 2.5 hour drive to the start line.

I started my hydration plan by drinking my canned Starbucks, finishing my Dr. Pepper from the night before and a bottle of water with LMNT. We stopped once along the way so we could all use the bathroom. The drive went by quickly with us talking about all things running related. I had received a message the night before that there was NO cell service at the start, so I was also texting with Ben and reminding him that he was going to need to be signing me up for Arizona Monster 300 as registration was supposed to be opening when the race started. 

I also wanted to pick up some re-releases of CVG shorts and luckily I still had service when those went live. Sure enough, cell service died about 10 minutes before we arrived at the start. The second the bus stopped I jumped off so I could use the bathroom. I couldn't believe had badly I needed to pee and was grateful we had stopped once on the drive. Went back to the bus and grabbed my drop bags and left in their designated locations. 
Photo: Pete Schreiner
I wasn't happy about being at the start with no phone service more than 90 minutes before we started, but there wasn't anything I could do about that. I checked in and got my bib and swag - a short sleeve tee, a long sleeve tee and a nice, big, colorfully logoed dry bag. Headed outside to do my gear check and get my SPOT Tracker. And then.... nothing to do. I sat on a rock and ate the sandwich I had picked up at Publix. 
Photo: Pete Schreiner
Used the bathroom. I noticed a guy talking on his phone in the parking lot of the cafe next door and figured I would try to call Ben. It worked! I had enough service for a quick phone call so I could let him know there was in fact, no texting, and that we had safely arrived and I would be starting soon. Wandered around and asked someone to get a picture of me at the start line:
About 25 minutes before we were supposed to start the race director, David, called us all inside for a pre-race talk. There was nothing new to hear, just a reminder of what the course markings would look like (mostly blue pin flags, all with reflectors after the first aid station at mile 16) and some directional signs. He indicated we would be doing a group photo before starting, so I ran over to the bathroom first, then grabbed my pack and poles for the picture.
Photo: Alex Morrow
The countdown started and the gun (an actual gun) went off right at noon.

Start/Mill Creek to Snake Creek (Miles 0 to 16.2)

This was a very small event. The week leading up to the race I believe we had 39 people on the start roster. There were at least two people that didn't start. 
Photo: Pete Schreiner
The first few miles of the race were on the road and I was running an easy 12mm(ish) pace. I was already in the back. Having done a few of these, my initial goal was to run the first mile and then start on intervals as needed. The only other person I knew here was Jameelah, and she was behind me. I never saw her after we started.
Two goats chilling on the side of the road

I actually had to google what this sign meant because I have never seen it. Fun fact - one of the first results was a link to reddit - and pretty sure it referred to this exact sign as it was outside Dalton, GA

We stayed on the road for a few miles before seeing the volunteer that directed us on to a gravel "road" for a short period of time until we got onto the trail.
After the previous evening's storms it was humid and hot. And unfortunately for ME, this was going to be the "cool" day. I ran very briefly with a guy who said he had seen my posts in the Facebook groups and his wife had been the one that messaged me about there not being any cell service.
The trail was at least pretty shaded, which kept the heat down a bit. It reminded me an awful lot of the trails I ran during Chattanooga 100 (which makes sense, because we weren't all that far from where that race was).

One of the required gear items was a bottle with a filter. I actually had to use it this first section! At 16 miles this was one of the longer ones without aid and when we got to a stream around mile 10 I went ahead and filled up. I ended up drinking all of it.

The Pinhoti tin sign (Pinhoti is "Creek for the turkey's home)
Finally arrived at the first aid station, Sand Creek, which we had seen from the road when we were driving to the start. It took about 8 minutes to drive and 4 hours and 19 minutes for me to run, haha. I had planned on doing a quick screenshot upon entering/leaving aid stations so I could see how I did on time, but didn't remember at many of them. The first aid station was blasting the Proclaimer's "I Would Walk 500 Miles" when I arrived, followed by a Van Halen song. They had a whiteboard with menu options and I was psyched to see walking taco on there - so I ordered one. I filled my flasks and probably grabbed other food to go, but I don't remember what. According to my screenshots, my stop was about 11 minutes and probably one of the shortest of the race.

Snake Creek to John's Mountain (Miles 16.2 to 25.9)

We crossed the street and headed back onto the trail.
I think this may have been my favorite part of the course. It had been warm but I knew that nightfall was right around the corner. The trail was really pretty and had surprisingly drained pretty well from all the rain the previous day. I took lots of pictures in this section and I did not see any other runners the whole time.




This section reminded me of Cruel Jewel with all the leafy green bushes
Arrived at a section by a cute pond where a guy was fishing and there was some non-technical double track. I did a lot of running in this section.


I saw a guy ahead of me that was just walking on this road section. It was pretty exciting to see someone else as I had not seen anyone for many hours.
I passed him on the road and then we had a nice groomed trail for a very short time - so pretty!
Trail morphed back into the steeper and more technical. I took some more pictures as the trail looked different than before. I was still ahead of the other guy.
Trail had become a little more technical and rocky. It was starting to remind me of other trails races I have been in before - maybe War Hammer and the big rocky cliffs were reminiscent of Burning River.


Turned a corner and there was this pretty "waterfall" area. 
There was one that we walked under and it was pretty neat!
This section was fairly steep and we even had to go up some windy steps to get to the summit. The section still had a little ways to go before we got to the aid station. Finally a bit above the clouds and there were still blue skies to be seen.



Photo: Pete Schreiner
Photo: Pete Schreiner
Photo: Pete Schreiner
Photo: Pete Schreiner
Finally to the aid station. This was actually one of the few that was not a drop bag location (or it is where I would have left my Kogalla, as I didn't actually need the light until I left here). Had a burger here, and thankfully the photographer was there to capture it for me.
Photo: Pete Schreiner
Photo: Pete Schreiner
This was supposed to be the coldest night of the race and it still felt warm to me. I decided that even though I still felt ok that I would put my Airshed on while I had my pack off. I think I had a burger at this stop. Aid station time - 18 minutes.
Photo: Pete Schreiner
John's Mountain to Dry Creek (Miles 25.9 to 39.1)

Gorgeous sunset as I was heading out (on my own). I think there may have been other runners at the aid station, but I left alone going into the first night on the trail. I had planned my caffeine like my last few 100s because I intentionally wanted to stay up the first night until I would be able to get to the first sleep station. 
I don't remember a lot of this section.

Decided I needed to do my best at getting a full outfit picture since there weren't any any course photographers and I had no one with me take any. Wearing my CVG 5" panda shorts (which were a hit).
I was glad that I had put on my Airshed as the sun went down, along with the temperatures.


Once the sun set I put in some music. Spotify has this "new" feature where you can smart shuffle and the first batch of music was probably 8-9 Taylor Swift songs. At some point I checked to see if I had accidentally set up a TS playlist, but no. In that stretch my headlamp caught some glowing eyes that looked like they belonged to a semi-large animal. I remember saying "You look big, what are you??" Turns out it was an opossum! He was playing dead in full "hiss" mode, but he was standing up so almost looked like a stuffed animal. Anyway, he was cute. 
Shortly after that was one of the first unavoidable water crossings. Spoiler, I didn't pay too much attention to the detailed segment descriptions and I don't think I realized that we would have so many of these.
After seeing the opossum, I pulled out my phone to see if I would have enough phone service to call Ben. With the two hour time difference I managed to get him on the phone and there was actually enough service for us to talk for a bit. Arrived at the next aid station, which would would be the last full aid for over 20 miles, the longest section of the race. I was glad it was on the first night while I was still relatively alert.
I had plans to put on my R1 and grab some food. I think I had broth here (the broth at all the aid stations at this race was SO good. I am not  normally a broth person, but it was hot and flavorful and kinda spicy, delicious). Had some other food (grilled cheese?) but I can't remember what. Chris, the guy I had been sitting next to on the shuttle to the start was gearing up to leave the aid station and we decided to head out together, after he had fashioned a mylar dress from his emergency bivvy. Aid station stop - 27  minutes.

Dry Creek to the Narrows to Mack White Gap (Miles 39.1 to 51.5 to 59.8)

I was grateful to be heading out with someone else going into the night. I had taken my first (and second?) dose of caffeine and I was awake, but I appreciated the company. We had a decent amount of climbing to get out of the aid station and another runner, Doug, caught up to us. I remember having some cramping in my thighs and started to mildly panic at how/why everything could be feeling this bad so early in the race. There were multiple times that the guys got ahead of me and I would just toss in music and try to catch up. I did manage to catch up to Chris after having a flatter section where I was able to get some running in. I saw an adorable turtle on the side of the trail.
There was one water drop before hitting the full aid station. When Chris and I approached we saw Doug lying next to the table in the grass. Chris said he was going to stop and rest also, and I said I was going to continue on. My caffeine game was on point and I was wide awake and wanted to keep going. The next section wasn't that technical and there was some descent, so I was able to run a bit more. I did get hungry in this section and took off my pack to get some extra calories out of the back. I dropped my buff that I had between my tracker and my back and had to go back for it, but luckily I realized pretty quick. 

Sun started to come up and I did get passed by Doug in this section - which did not surprise me as he is a very strong hiker. 


We didn't actually have to go up/down this, and for that I was grateful
We would see these signs occasionally when we were approaching a road crossing. I was so happy to be at the aid station, and there were actually a few runners there when I arrived. The night/distance had been long and I was hungry! They made me a delicious breakfast burrito - I briefly talked to Tanya, who I wouldn't see again the rest of the race, and gave her some rock tape for a blister. She headed out well before me. Aid station time - 21 minutes.

Mack White Gap to High Point GA (Miles 59.8 to 69.3)

I was starting to have a chink in my armor. I had seemingly nailed my caffeine game, but I was definitely shaken by how hard the hills had been in the early miles. This was all seemingly confirmed when I left the aid station and immediately had to climb a fairly long climb. I got passed by a few runners, and not too far up the trail another runner seemingly appeared out of nowhere and also passed me (at least I think this was that section). 

I spent some time in this section talking to Ben asking him what his suggestions were for the intense thigh cramping I was having. It was not normal fatigue I get when hiking and I was definitely worried about it. Basically we decided I needed more potassium and that was really going to be most easily found in disgusting bananas, so I had that to look forward to.

In other news, the trail was still pretty and what I was *actually* looking forward to was the next aid station! I was going to try to take a nap since it was a sleep station, and I also had a change of clothes. I was still awake and moving ok, just really wanted to close my eyes and be off my feet for a bit. 



There was one point where I thought I got off course and looking at Gaia it seemed there were two parallel trails so I backtracked a minute to find the flag because I didn't want to risk it. There was finally some downhill single track into the aid station, and I remember wondering the whole last mile if the aid station was located near a doggy daycare because I swear all I could hear was dogs. I arrived at the aid station and it was daylight and warm outside. The aid station was hopping, with a decent number of people and family and kids. I had some food and decided to change into my new clothes before trying to lie down and sleep. It was going to be warm in the tent, but all I was really hoping for was an hour and 15 minutes. Unfortunately, sleep eluded me and I gave up after 40-45 minutes. I think the biggest problem is that the aid station being in a tent allowed the flies to go in, every time I thought I might doze off, one would land on me, so I finally got under one of the sleeping bags, but then I was too hot so I gave up. I got up and I believe I ate more food before heading out. I was looking forward to making up some time in the next section as it was flatter (with a decent amount of pavement) and I was actually wearing my road shoes. Aid station time - approximately 1.5 hours.

High Point GA to Big Tex (Miles 69.3 to 81.2)

Definitely was warmer on day 2. Seemed like a lie that it wasn't even 70 degrees though.
Leaving the aid station and I knew that we had just a little bit of single track before we would be dumped onto what the race guide said would be double-track rail trail. It was definitely warm in this section, but I felt rested and ran a bit here.
Second outfit of the race - sloth CVG shorts!

I was looking forward to making up some time on the less technical trails. 
Ahead I actually saw another runner, and from the profile, I knew it was Katie, the redhead that had hiked so well earlier in the day. When I finally came up on her, she was using poles and I could tell she was struggling a bit.
I stayed with her a bit, getting to know her. It was her first 200 mile race and she had completed one 100 mile race. Her husband was there crewing her and she was definitely "in her head" with trying to comprehend the distance into "50 mile days." I cautioned her against thinking too much about the big picture.
At some point nearer the aid station, Dan caught up with us. We all stayed relatively close together until we neared the aid station. 
There was thankfully a port-o-potty on the trail, so I stopped and used that before heading to the aid station. There was a giant dog there (that apparently was a loose/stray, but very friendly) and he kept drooling all over our stuff. I had hoped to have french toast here, but ended up having some pulled pork and yet another burger.
I was in great spirits when I found out that there was a gas station on the course and I was excited at the prospect of a beer and a Dr. Pepper. Dan and I left fairly close together. Unsure of aid station time - this was about the time I forgot to start keeping track. 

Big Tex to Cave Spring (Miles 81.2 to 97.2)

This section would begin the paved section, which I'll admit, I thought was going to be bike paths or something? I had glanced at the photos of the course but didn't really realize what we would be running on.
We had about 3 miles on the side of a road with a very small shoulder. This section didn't have a ton of traffic so I didn't worry about it and figured this was the connector to the "town" we would be running in. I was wrong.

So I see Dan ahead of me, and the gas station. Even though I had wanted to stop, I had forgotten to pull my wallet out at the aid station, so I had to unpack inside the gas station to buy my drinks. The cashier kept asking me "what are you doing? why are you out running?" 

Finally I would see the highway we had to cross, which wasn't that big of a deal because there was a middle lane to stop in, but I actually managed to get all the way across without issue. I could still see Dan ahead of me, but figured I wouldn't be able to catch up. We turned onto the other highway, and this is where stuff got really sketchy.

We were facing traffic and with Dan just in eyesight ahead of me, I could see when a car would be approaching because he would jump off the road onto the grassy shoulder. I will tell you that it seemed like people were intentionally driving towards me! I got on the phone with Ben and told him I wanted to keep him on the phone in case I got hit. These drivers gave us ZERO space - it was NOT fun. 

As the sun started to set I was actually looking forward to putting on my headlamp because I thought for sure that would aid in people actually giving us room - I was wrong. Didn't make a bit of difference.


At some point Zach (? I don't think that is actually his name and if he reads this or if anyone knows his real name, I will correct it) drove by and asked if I needed anything and I asked when the aid station was and he said that I would be turning by the Dollar General. Getting off the busy road and I pulled up tracking to see where everyone was and... I was marked a DNF? Huh. Well obviously this was a mistake and I would work it out at the aid station. Either way, I was REALLY glad to be getting off the main road - but this new road was where all the loose dogs started to chase runners. There were a few that were really aggressive and I was definitely worried about getting bit. Thankfully I arrived in Cave Spring without further incident. 
We trekked all the way through town to get to the aid station. Upon arrival I check in and am met with "we heard you DNF'd" and sure enough, I was marked as such on their check in/out sheet. This was when things got weird. Like... heard from who? I don't have a crew and I certainly didn't tell anyone I was dropping - in fact, I was in a pretty great mood most of the race. So this was confusing. 
Photo: Pete Schreiner
Rest had to happen, so I had a piece of leftover grilled Domino's Pizza and it was SO good. I laid down and believe I rested for maybe 45 minutes. It wasn't super wonderful rest, but it was better than nothing. 

After I got up I changed into a different pair of trail shoes, ate another piece of pizza, had some broth and a half a beer before heading out. 

Cave Spring to Old Jackson Chapel (Miles 97.2 to 105.5)

Leaving the aid station was one of the more confusing of the race. Even with the volunteer telling me where to go - I didn't "get" it. We had to go out, by some building I couldn't tell what it was in the dark, over a bridge and then alongside some grass before getting back out onto the sidewalk. Weird.

I was on the side of the road for a few miles before crossing the road and making a u-turn to get back on the Pinhoti trail. 

I don't remember much of this section either. I had some music in and the trees really reminded me of the section of Cruel Jewel that I had paced Ben on. Very "woody woods" versus the sections we had been on earlier. 

This wasn't a very long section and I was really looking forward to the aid station. Had more water crossings here - including a section of trail that was completely flooded. Since I never bother with trying to find a way around I just trudged through. 

The last section I kept hearing "something big" in the woods but never saw anything. I also heard a bird that reminded me of the sound an acoustic guitar makes if you pluck a string. Arrived at the aid station and mentioned to them that I was not a DNF. They indicated that this was a remote and minimal aid station and they wouldn't be able to do anything. They made me some bacon and I can't remember what else. I was contemplating a short nap when another runner came in. I wish I could remember his name, but I can't. He was younger and newer to running and I asked if would mind heading out together - I really was looking forward to having some company. 

Old Jackson Chapel to High Point AL (Miles 105.5 to 118.3)

We headed out together in the dark. Dark didn't last long and the miles clicked with the conversation. We finally had the transition from Georgia into Alabama. This is one of the few races I have done that takes place in multiple states and I thought the signage and flags were neat.
It was interesting to me how much more technical the trail seemed from here - and seemingly the only thing that had changed was the state we were in. There were a ton of rocks and I honestly did not love this section. 
At some point me and the other guy got separated - he was a very strong hiker and was moving really well over the technical terrain. I sat down for a minute to shut my eyes and off he went. 
Seeing this sign led me to believe we had less than 8 miles to the aid station - woo!!
Certainly didn't expect to come across this!
My trail friend was sitting there having a snack and joined me as we continued down. This was a really weird section of long jeep/ATV trails that were crazy rutted and the trail just crossed over it in more gradual switchbacks. 



So at some point we were chatting and missed a flag going up - we continued on towards more jeep road stuff with puddles. Not seeing a marker for a bit we pulled up the map and realized we were off course. Thankfully, it wasn't by a ton, but we had to go back through all the mud pits and of course I managed to slip and fall in the mud. I ended up pretty covered in mud - and not happy about it!!

My trail friend ended up getting a little ahead of me between me trying to clean mud off and navigating all sorts of ridiculousness. 
Finally we had about a mile of more tame trails and I was able to jog down to the road.
Where the heck is this aid station?? We had to run along the road a bit.
Finally arrive at the aid station. I can't remember much of anything other than I was going to have to sleep here. I took off my shoes and the same crew member that had told me where to turn by the Dollar General offered to clean up my feet and massage them while I ate. He even loaned me his crocs so I could walk around the aid station without having to put my shoes back on. My trail friend was continuing on, and I went to take a nap and thankfully got some sleep.

High Point AL to Low Point (Miles 118.3 to 126.1)

I have NO idea what this section was. None. 

Low Point to Hill Top Blue (Miles 126.1 to 139.6)

I remember being at this aid station that was at the end of a dirt road section. I was there the same time as Chris and Dan and another runner was there heading out when I arrived. I was eating and trying to get out quickly when the conversation turned to ticks and someone spotted one my leg. WTF!! Ok, well there was for SURE not going to be any trail naps, wtf.

I headed out and the first half mile was on the Chief Ladiga Trail, even saw a few bikes!


Finally was entering a cell phone dark zone. I was still showing up as a DNF at all the aid stations and last time I checked the SPOT still had me as a DNF also. We started the climb and I lost Dan almost immediately after he passed me. At some point Chris caught up to me and we stayed together for a bit until we got to the top of a technical trail and I finally was able to get Ben on the phone for a few minutes. The trail was technical and it was tough to navigate in the dark. 



I *think* I remember this weird grass bridge area where I lost track of Chris and Dan and I felt like I was climbing up some really steep climbs on very narrow trails with drop offs. It seemed like this section would never end. Finally I got dropped onto a dirt road. I sat down for a few seconds and I think I got rid of a layer (or maybe added one?) and decided I was going to be done with my poles for a bit. I did some run walking here because finally it was something not technical. We had been told there would be a place to filter water here, but the road didn't directly bypass water, so I kept going and figured I'd be fine until aid. At some point Dan's crew passed me on the road and I hoped it wouldn't be long before we got to aid. I couldn't believe it when I actually saw headlamps ahead of me!! I actually caught up to Chris and Dan at the aid station.

I knew this was not a sleep station, but I really needed to get some sleep. I found the volunteer, Jonathan, and explained to him the predicament. This guy was awesome, he put two camp chairs together for me gave me a big sleeping bag. I put in headphones, listening to Pink Floyd, pulled my hat down and passed out for over an hour. Exactly what I needed to get me through the night.

Hill Top Blue to Coleman Lake (Miles 139.6 to 154.2)

Chris and I headed out together, with the understanding that Dan was going to have a much longer rest. I don't remember much about this section either. 

Things happened. There were trails. We thought this section would be longer than what it was, and when we compared the Gaia map and the description in the race guide it didn't make sense. Chris was sure it would be shorter than what we thought.

When we started seeing these fun signs we knew we had to be somewhat close to the aid station.

Woooooooo
Arrived at the aid station and had plans to have a small, quick snack, change clothes and nap. Can't remember now, but I think we planned at least an hour, maybe 90 minutes? Don't remember what I ate before I slept, but I think it was breakfast of some kind.

Once again, I was able to sleep, which was a relief. 

Coleman Lake to Highrock (Miles 154.2 to 168.7)

Getting out of the aid station took a bit longer than we hoped, but we got more food and we finally were able to break the race down into just a few more segments!
"Only" 46 miles to go!!!
Not sure what we were looking at here, we had a water crossing, I think I ate an uncrustable, which was weird, but I know I had one at some point in the race and it was the very first one I'd ever eaten in my life (since I am not a PB&J fan).
HOT HOT HOT.
Although we had started out together, I vaguely remember getting separated in this area. I was REALLY tired here and didn't find my nap sufficient. I still didn't want to lie down on the trail between the fear of snakes and ticks. 

I was definitely starting to sleepwalk and I told Chris I was going to sit just for a few minutes and to go on ahead. I remembered something Ben had said about finding a table at the campground (which according to Chris is the starting area of the Pinhoti 100) - I did just that and laid down for maybe 10 minutes. It did the trick - at least enough to get through the rest of the section. I even managed to catch up to Chris at some point.


This section seemed really really really long. We had a big river crossing with a trail shelter and some hikers said it was less than a mile to the aid station. Definitely seemed longer than that. I had some food, probably another burger, and even a delicious beer!! One of the gals that was crewing for another runner even gave me a plate of local peanut butter chocolate fudge - which was a delicious and fun surprise. 

Highrock to Fay's Blowdown (Miles 168.7 to 180.3)

Starting to tick down miles and Chris made the move to head out of the aid station while I was stuffing my face - I hightailed it out of there to catch up. Pinhoti historically had a 30 hour cutoff and only recently changed to 31. As technical and narrow as these trails were, I was even more impressed with people that finish it! While there were some sections that were tame and runnable, there were still a lot of rocky areas and narrow trails with drop offs. 
We even had a fun train crossing.

I actually had some cell service for the first time in a bit and I talked to Ben for a while. We were hoping to get to the aid station before dark, and based on our watches we both thought that would happen. It was disappointing when we had to pull our lights out. Even more disappointing when we saw some people just off the side of the trail and we thought it was the aid station. Nope, just random people who said "there is a table with snacks" a mile up. UGH. I'll admit I was a little upset when we finally got there. Even more so when a volunteer from the previous aid station was there joked that we had gone the wrong way on the trail and were back at Highrock! She was kidding, of course, but I was like, WAIT, are you serious?? lol

Then, the drop bag that I had there where I was hoping to drop all my excess gear wasn't there! (I'd find out later that since I had been marked as a DNF that my drop bags had been pulled - I used them so sparingly that I didn't even notice early ones were also gone). Had some food and then planned what we hoped would be our last sleep before the end of the race - I think an hour? Maybe a little longer.

Fay's Blowdown to Lost Gulch (Miles 180.3 to 192)

Huge milestone to be heading to the very last aid station!!! We had broken this up into 4 miles, 5 miles and then 2 miles. EVERYTHING SEEMED TO LAST SOOOO MUCH LONGER. Supposedly there were waterfalls in this area? Don't remember seeing that. Chris kept not recognizing the trail even though he had done Pinhoti twice (although all this would have been stuff he would have seen in the daylight). This section may have been when the race stopped being super enjoyable for me. Fatigue was setting in and I was over it.

Many hours later we came to a fork in the road - we would have to do an out and back to go to the last aid station, which made me sad - would rather have just continued on to the finish. Even though the aid station was in the middle of nowhere, I still got a freshly made burger. There was another runner there (Mike?) as well. Chris and I ate some food, shut our eyes for about five minutes and said - let's get this shit done! Proof of life photo at the aid station.
Photo: Alex Morrow

Lost Gulch to Finish at Bald Rock Lodge (Miles 192-201)

Probably minutes after leaving the aid station I was already tired. Kept trucking along for a bit and then finally told Chris I really needed to stop and close my eyes for a minute. He asked if he should stick with me or if I minded if he continued - I said go ahead. I set my alarm for 6 minutes and after 4 felt ok enough to continue on. Grabbed my poles and thought " I could've sworn I was going uphill when I stopped and oh, that tree looks familiar" - I pulled out my map and was going the wrong way. Thankfully I had checked early and hadn't gotten far. Then I was rage awake. I ran where I could, but I got reckless. I kept catching my toe on roots and rocks hidden under the leaves. I almost cried when I saw Chris ahead of me and realized I was back on track.

As soon as my brain thought "you're safe" now, I immediately got tired. Chris had said we would turn off the main trail to head up to Cheaha and that all the climbing we were doing was to prepare for the steeper climb. As the sun started to come up I was tired, but the biggest problem is I could not stop yawning. I bet I yawned for at least 45 minutes. I couldn't fully keep my eyes on the trail and Chris pulled away again. 

Suddenly, the yawning was over and I had my 100th wind of the race. I thought maybe I'll run some of this trail. And I did. I did a run walk and then at some point I saw Chris ahead of me on a switchback across a valley. I thought - I wonder if I can catch up to him? And then I did! 

Since I had the route loaded on my watch I was able to switch to see how many miles I had left - I couldn't believe it when it said something like 2.8?! YAY!

I ran up that hill, feeling the best I had in days. When I saw this sign, I knew I was close.
Based on the runner guide, I was expecting to have to run on the boardwalk, but ended up just running adjacent to it. Pretty much the strongest I have felt at the end of a race - especially one with such a big climb at the end! Got some pictures taken at the finish - and thankfully one of the volunteers brought me a beer.

Official time - 93:52:42
Garmin time - 93:53:44
Garmin distance - 205.63 miles
Elevation gain - 28,681'
Run time - 8:00:18 (seemed a lot longer)
Walk time - 66:49:55
Idle time - 19:03:31 (seemingly very efficient, compared to my last 200)
Fastest mile - 12:17, mile 1
Slowest mile - 2:14:13, Fay's Blowdown roughly mile 182

I sat for a bit with a few other finishers and volunteers, including David the race director. Had another beer and ate an egg sandwich. I did still have to drive to Oxford, so I collected all my drop bags to walk them to my car:
Photo: Pete Schreiner
Thoughts:
  • Really great, especially for an inaugural.
  • Price was right at $999 with good swag (long sleeve tech, short sleeve poly blend and custom dry bag), plus a rad buckle
  • Honestly the best stocked aid stations of any race I've ever attended. I can honestly say that I may even be sick of burgers for a while after having over a half dozen of them in one race - all freshly made with love and condiments!
  • Volunteers and other runners' crews were over the top awesome. As a crewless runner I never felt I was not being helped - I could not believe all the kindness shown. You all are amazing and no amount of "thank yous" will be enough.
  • Will I run again? No, but only because I am a "one and done" for 200s. I do wish I was closer and could volunteer for this event, hopefully I can spread the word for others that are better situated. 
Gear:
  • Pack - Ultraspire Zygos 5.0. I got a couple additional cord locks and they made ALL the difference. It used to irritate me so much that the chest straps didn't stay tight - not a problem this time! I didn't use a bladder so didn't have that irritation either. I used two 600 ml bottles, plus the Katadyn filter bottle and a smaller 300 ml bottle that I use to mix my caffeine.
  • Leki Ultratrail FX One poles. I didn't use as much as other 200s - completely put away for at least 40 miles of the race, but glad to have them. Only used the gloves for a few miles because they irritate me, but I was getting tired at one point I was worried I would fling them into oblivion. I did use the OR sun gloves though and no sunburned hands - woo.
  • Sea to Summit inflatable pillow - although most sleep stations had something I could use so I didn't have to use each time, face mask & ear plugs (although I switched to just using my headphones by the end).
  • Hat - Tahoe 200 hat and my Bula fleece lined for night.
  • Shoes - Topo Mtn Runner, Ultraventure 2s (x2) and Topo Phantom for the 2 flat/road sections and Topo Gaiters.
  • Socks - Zensah crew and a pair of Smartwool.
  • Zensah high neck sports bra - same one the whole race, no chafing.
  • Clothing - YMX sun shirts as bottom layer, top layers were Rabbit tees. Bottoms were 5" CVG shorts. Never wore pants. At night top layers were Patagonia Airshed Pro and Patagonia R1 (still best layer ever).
  • No jacket worn at all, Smartwool mittens for maybe an hour the first night, that's it.
  • Random gear - LMNT (raspberry only), Ignite BHB + caffeine
  • Kogalla RA and Petzl headlamp
  • Buffs - came in handy to put under the SPOT tracker too - fun fact, NO BLOODY NOSE THIS TIME!! That's usually a big reason I have buffs.
  • Jaybird Vista headphones
  • Garmin Fenix 7S
  • Goodr sunglasses
  • Chamois buttr, Blistex
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste - used every night
  • Gum
  • Face wipes
  • Bug spray (should've used more) and sunscreen.

Will add more if I remember.

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