LOVE HARDER , EAT BETTER & EXPLORE FURTHER
72ish Miles of Gorgeous Single-Track, Hellish Climbs, Rolling Fire Road and Sizzling Sun - 5th Female, 15 hours and 40 minutes. A solid way to cap off my first year on the ultra scene.
Friday afternoon - after using precious vacation to sleep in and pack carefully - we packed the car and headed to Amicalola Falls, GA for gear check, packet pick-up and the pre-race meeting. No matter how fast we drove and how few pit stops [i.e. Liz nervous peeing every 30 minutes] it seemed like we were only LOSING time. Intending to be there by 5:00 PM to record an interview with Ryan Ploeckelman for East Coast Trail and Ultra Podcast. We made it just time. Hopped in line for gear check and spent some time chatting with the always awesome Franklin Baker, Nate Holland, Jeremiah Lackey and some other lovely Rock/Creek peeps. Gear check went smooth [except that time when Liz, Luke and gear check lady couldn’t get my head lamp working…] and we caught up with the Merritts and AJW to check out the gorgeous views and grab dinner in Dahlonega.
Luke and I crashed with Jackie [future Golden Ticket winner ☺], Jeff, Alexa, Matt, Matt [also running GDR] and Mattie at the Sunrise Cabins near Vogel State Park [the race starting point] - P.S. these are gorgeous, well-kept cabins that I will definitely be planning another training weekend at. Needless to say it was a full, smelly, jittery house. Between anxious crew members, buzzing racers and of course poodle puppy Bernie, getting everyone to sleep was not the easiest job. #beastcoast tattoos on, RockTape applied, and alarms set for 3:15 AM and we were out.
Race Morning - Miles 0-21 - “We are here to have FUN”
After I wrapped my blank railroad spike in my thermal shirt and caught up with all my favorite people it was time to head to the starting area, i.e. the road in front of the visitors’ center. A few encouraging words from Sean “Run Bum” Blanton and we were off! I knew the quick start on the road would prevent an epic conga line that would start as the climbs came on so I went out quick keeping up with the lead female crew. I stuck with a crew of gentlemen for a bit (who I quickly led on a wrong turn…) before catching up with Jackie to start the Dragon Spine climbing. Doing this section in the dark was a lot different than our training run on a cool March morning. I never really ended up alone in this section of never-ending hills and we all started to freeze a bit as we ran through some clouds and rain. I was still cruising the downhills and pushing the climbs feeling great - knowing I’d be strong here. I spent most of the next 20 miles heading towards Skeenah Gap jockeying with Jackie, where racers with a >73% Ultrasignup Rank [I knew those numbers would be used for something someday!] got to see their crew. I was SO happy to take the long downhill towards Luke and [surprise!] Jenny Baker. These angels quickly refilled my pack, stuffed me with food and coke and sent me on my way.
Miles 22 - 47 - When Everything Felt Great
Somehow in this section the stars aligned. My climb/hike was still strong, I was still running the downhills and flats and eating like a CHAMP. For those who don’t know me - I used to struggle very hard with eating on the run, spending a lot of time off trail if you catch my drift. I only made one pit stop, refilled with water and Coke at aid stations and kept moving, eventually ending up in 2nd place for a bit behind Aliza Lapierre and then 3rd when Jackie came back from a rough spot. The views were gorgeous and I felt ALIVE. Single track here was very enjoyable until we hit the dreaded fire road - for a while I enjoyed this section and the lack of roots and rocks, until the steady climbing to Winding Stair [our final, crewed aid station] began. This was an on and off hike/jog and I could feel my legs starting to get heavy. I was quite happy to see Jackie come flying by - I knew she had this locked up and she looked strong and determined.
Finally getting into Winding Stair, sunburned and fading, I got a second wind getting to see Luke, a smear of sunscreen, a cold towel from Jeff, and more pretzels and Coke. I was a bit sad knowing with my pace and place I couldn’t take Luke with me as my safety runner [Top 5 Male and Female cannot take Safety Runners for the last 20-something miles]. I knew I could still run so I took off, Pam Smith passed me at this point as well - alright 4th place ain’t bad and I knew there was some more single track to come.
Miles 47 - 63 - When Things Got Slow
Yup things got slow. With some recent ITBS catching up to me, and only a year’s worth of ultrarunning experience, heading towards the 100k distance started to suck ass. I was absolutely determined to stay positive, smiling, and keeping some mantras going “Today I get to run”, “This is my race to finish”, and other hits such as “Fuck Sean this is stupid” and “Shit, are we still going uphill”. On the road to Nimblewill Gap we passed some good ole hillbillies [and a kid playing with a fishing pole with no line?]. Alondra Moody passed me flying and put me solidly in 5th place. Now I was run/walking scared. I wanted that Top 5 finish, I wanted to be Sub-16:00. So I kept moving. As much as I could jog, I jogged and my patented aggressive Mall Walk was still pretty solid.
Heading up towards the last aid station, I let out a few sobs, pounded two Oreos and some Coke and got out of dodge before the wonderful volunteers convinced me they could tape up my IT Band and I could sit for a bit - I wanted to be done. What sucked next was a wonderful downhill section that I could not run for the life of me, it was completely demoralizing.
Miles 63 - Finish - When Things Got Slower
I accepted that this was going to be a test at this point. Keep my head down and walk as fast as my legs would let me. My climb was still strong but I just couldn’t run without being in a lot of pain - oh well, there’s only one way to the finish. Sean added about 4 miles of rolling single track on the “Hike In” trail to Amicalola State Park. On any other day this would have been a lovely trail run, I’d love to go back; at the time it sucked balls knowing I was only losing more and more time. After a bit of road and some more trail as the sun started to sink, I knew I was closing back in on the Visitor Center. I could hear the shouts and children playing, my pulse throbbing and my breath catching. I finished off a nasty switchback section and popped out of the woods to see Luke and Alexa shouting for me. What they thought were laughs were actually a few racking sobs as they said I only had two miles left. Two miles, more mall walking and 650 stairs to top out the Amicalola Falls.
The stairs were actually my favorite part of this race. I found some sick spiritual pleasure in climbing those stairs - it was the only motion that didn’t hurt, the grated steps were an easy focal point and the noise of the falls cleared my head. Topped out and headed onto some pavement and the last trail trek to the finish. Crossing the cold creek with sore feet is a great finish - even though I completely brained myself on a low branch. High-fived the Grim Reaper himself and fell into Luke’s arms completely spent.
I don't have any finish line pictures (yet? Maybe someone was out there?). I’m not sure yet if I want to go back and make a play for a Golden Ticket next year - but I do know I want to get stronger and fix the issues I start having after 50 miles or so. Not sure if a 100 is a goal for me yet, but I do have a solid summer of training and racing yet with a few more insights into what happens the longer you go…
Special shoutout to some of my favorite companies - Honeystinger (scarfed Pomegranate Chews all day), Saucony (Peregrine 7s for life), Milestone Pod (letting me run GPSless, because who needs to know how slow they're going....) and Muir Energy (Cashew Vanilla was that something extra early in the morning).
Luke Hough & Liz Canty
Liz Canty and Luke Hough. Co-habitants who like to run, race, explore and drink much too expensive beer. Read along through the awesome, the sweaty, the daily life and the occasional bickering over which running shoes are the best…