Pinhoti 100 Race Report

Pinhoti 100-Mile Trail Race
I’m a man who really “gets into” his clothes.

Put me in a button-down and khakis, and I’ll command a room preaching web development, Internet marketing and social networking like I know what I’m talking about.

Throw a vintage Falcons jersey on me, and I can hang in the Georgia Dome with the loudest and proudest of screaming football fans.

A pair of surf trunks, a hat-backwards and flip-flops? well, shoots, that’s just me being me.

But when I put on those running shorts… that same ol’ tattered pair of cheap-ass, Champion brand running shorts that I bought at Target in 2007, I feel ready to rip through those woods like an angry lion.

Add a couple of handheld water bottles, my hat slanted back, and a pair of rugged trail shoes and get out of the way because in my mind, kids, I’m about to tear sh!t up!

“Woo-Hoo”-ing from the back

I started the Pinhoti 100 from the very back of the back. I purposely wanted to be the very last runner across the starting line with a goal of trying to see how far I could move up the pack throughout the 100-mile race.

Start of the Pinhoti 100
Chillin’ in orange, back-of-the-pack ::: photo by: Vikena Yutz

Standing there, waiting to start, I was bubbling and bursting at the seams. I couldn’t wait to get started. The Pinhoti promised everything I love about trail running – heaps and loads of tough climbing, fun hills to bomb, and lots of rocky, gnarly single-track with rugged terrain.

Now throw in some stunning fall colors, the occasional time-friendly hard-packed jeep roads, and lots of aid stations and it’s easy to see why I was antsy to get started, right?

Yep, that was me screaming “WOO HOO” at the top of my lungs before the start of the race.

…and after aid station one.

…and multiple times during the nasty climb to the 75-mile aid station.

…and at the finish, and…

Lord of the Flies Pinhoti

I tried my best to start out really, really slowly.

Being one of those inexperienced numb-skulls who goes out too fast and ends up death-marching the last 25 miles, I really wanted to take the advice of the veterans and at least TRY going out easier and building throughout the race.

Didn’t work.

Before I even got 5 miles in, I became aggravated and broke away from a 12-person pack with “Three-kids”-Tony Gonzalez.

And while trying to chase down Tony, instantly took a nasty fall, tearing a dime-sized chunk of flesh from my hand.

Maaaan, it bled like crazy, but I didn’t realize it until I felt sticky hands against my bottles.

Bloody hands at Pinhoti
Photo by: David Grant

“geeez, that’s a lot of blood”

And because I was constantly wiping the sweat off my face, I was simultaneously smearing blood all over it as well.

I rolled into the the first aid station at mile 6.7 with peeps pointing cameras at me like the paparazzi. The blood was all over my face, and especially near my eyes, at first causing people to think the source of the blood was my face.

For a second, I was scared…

…but I just grabbed some PB&J, gels, and bolted the heck outta’ there.

Blood on the Pinhoti
stuffing my bloody face ::: photo by: Spurgeon

Just as the RD Promised

This early part of the day was trail perfection. I do enjoy running roads, and shorter, faster stuff, and even the “round-and-round” timed events – but there really is no comparison for the pure, unadulterated joy of ripping through rugged trails, in 50-ish degree temperatures, with bright sunny skies all the while feeling strong, fast and free.

There just isn’t.

It’s primal, I think.

Of course, because it’s “me”, and because the Fall leaves had surprises waiting for each footfall, I busted my butt a thousand times, bottles a’flyin’ and cuss words a’flowin’, but that just makes it all the more raw.

Here’s a trail karma lesson for ya:

Never comment how “easy” a particular section of trail feels. The trails are always listenin’, and just when your misguided brain has you feeling like Karl Meltzer Jr., that trail will jump up and bite you and slam you to the ground – HARD – just to remind you that you’re in “their house” and you better show some respect.

No wonder the deer are so quiet.

Tornadoes did all this?

Yikes, I heard that we’d be running through some intense tornado blow-down but WOW. Much of this area seemed almost like new trail had been cut around all the freshly fallen, big ol’ trees. Short, steep climbs, up and around gnarly tree stumps and matted mounds of damp, high grass eventually took us to some summits that appeared to be completely clear cut.

It was cool …and creepy at the same time.

But it wasn’t long before we dipped back into the yellow, red and green forest, spending hours running along thin, cambered leaf-covered ridges, and cool trickling streams. It was really interesting how the temperature would change from damp, cool and humid in the deep forest flats, and hot as Hell on the open ridges.

The forest continued keeping this fresh, interesting mix and at only 20-ish miles in, I couldn’t have felt better.

Gettin’ some GUTS

Woo Hoo, people I know!

I should’a known it was the leaders of our awesome GUTS trail running group when I heard, “RUN UP THE HILL!”

Yep, Sally Brooking was going to make sure nobody, including me, took the easy way up to the aid station. Not at her aid station. She wanted us running those hills. Good ol’ GUTS.

GUTS aid station
Coming into the GUTS aid station ::: photo by: David Ray

I had a snack (Moon Pie, yum.) and talked a bit with Janice, Sally, DRay and others, but opted to continue moving on down the trail as I knew a couple of local boys were comin’ to chase me down.

About 78 miles still to go – but all’s well in the wheelhouse.

Making the Way to Cheaha Mountain

The stretch from miles 22-35 seemed very long for me. This mileage period tends to be my early meltdown point. I think it’s probably the sweet spot where my brain starts to recognize that I’m getting tired and tries to get me to stop running - The mental chess match begins.

But my saving grace during this stretch was the beauty of the terrain.

First of which, being damp, soggy trail running along small creeks, followed by a very long climb out to a small-but-cozy aid station, just before the ascent to Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama.

That Bald Rock trail, while extremely tricky, rocky and rugged, was some of my favorite kind of trail – straight up, big loose moss-covered ankle-twisting rocks that turn corners and just keep on goin’ up up up.

My least favorite? running 1/4 mile across a Boardwalk getting crazy stares from the 300-lb tourists sporting Auburn University sweatshirts and telling me, “damn boy, yo’ face sho’ is messed up”

{sigh}

…or better yet, the old lady, who, just before the aid station, sticks out her walker and says, “jump!” – she looked 90 and I never expected that in a million years, so …I jumped.

and it hurt.

Blue Hell

Yep, the infamous Blue Hell.

But at least I had Lane Vogel to descend it with me.

Christian Griffith and Lane Vogel at Pinhoti 100
photo by: Vikena Yutz

It sucks when we have to run up it at the end of the Cheaha 50K, and it really sucks when we have to run down it with 40 miles on tired legs and joints. Todd, the race director, would not have liked hearing the names I was calling him as we descended this beast. The leaf “bits” covering the big, cambered rocks made them slick as ice and Lane Vogel and I busted a number of times making that descent.

After one of my especially interesting and entertaining falls, Lane says, “there ya go, dude, just slide on down the mountain”

another {sigh}.

Who Wants to be Alone in the Woods at Night?

Not me.

And not, Lane …nor our new buddy “Darren”.

Darren caught up to us after we climbed down Blue Hell, and the three of us headed into the night, headlamps a’blarin’, mouths a’yappin’ as the sun finally set behind the mountains for the remainder of the night.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Night running on rugged mountain trails is always a challenge.

The fatigue from running for 12 hours is starting to wear ya down, your headlamp starts creating funky shadows, and at least for me, visions of that sweet little wife, all cozy in that big ol’ warm house, start creeping into your head.

Lane says, “I can’t wait to see my wife.”

“Dude, it’s too early to start that sh!t”, I bellow.

And with that, the three of us plodded on into the darkness…

What’s said on the Trail, Stays on the Trail

We had some funny conversations between miles 45-65. Good, healthy “man stuff” and I really enjoyed spending time with these dudes as we laughed and talked it up – anything to keep our minds off the growing fatigue and muscle pain.

Lane started really hurting on the gravel fire roads to nowhere and I started to wonder if he was starting to pay the piper for trying to run back-to-back hundred milers; and by the time we got off those roads and started navigating some very technical, scraggly single-track, we were all starting to come apart a little.

There’s a stretch of trail, about 3 miles long, from the time runners leave the “roads to nowhere”, until reaching the mile 65 aid station, that is just brutal. The trail is tough to follow, pine-needle-covered and full of sneaky rocks – plus, you start seeing these far-off city lights and your brain wants to believe they are aid stations.

They aren’t.

I Believe They Call It Pinnacle

Oh my God. Forget about Cheaha, this climb was waaaay worse.

Darren and I had lost Lane and found ourselves starting to sweat the clock a little. I had ultra-brain at this point so my attempt at time calculations were laughable; but, taking my advice anyway, we pushed like crazy across each and every switchback on that climb to Pinnacle.

I’m not being dramatic when I say this climb was one of the most brutal, painful and frustrating climbs I can ever remember in a race.

75 miles on the legs, constantly going up, then turning for yet ANOTHER switch-back. Then, the trail would take you AWAY from where you were headed, and finally bring you back again – over and over.

You could see the aid station waaaaaay up at the top of the mountain which was even more demoralizing because you knew you had to keep climbing and climbing to get there – and of course – being the comical characters that they were, the aid station crew was whopping and yelling at us as they saw our slowly ascending headlamps for as long as 45 minutes.

It was Hell. (but I loved it)

More GUTS Angels

The aid station at the top of Pinnacle was “the bomb!”

GUTS members were frying up egg sandwiches, grilled cheese and handing out Pop-Tarts. They were so attentive with helping us to discover our needs as we were complete zombies upon our arrival.

David Ray, a GUTS mile-75 aid station volunteer, summed it perfectly on his blog:

One thing that became quickly obvious was the difficulty some runners would have with the mental processing. One would stop and stare at the aid station table uncomprehendingly, not seeming to realize what he needed or wanted.
The helpful thing for that is suggesting all the options to each runner, giving him a chance to think a little better and forcing him to choose. “Like some coffee, hot chocolate, or soup for something hot to drink? How bout some coke? Need any vaseline, desitin, band-aids, baby wipes? Care to brush your teeth? Would you like to sit here or over by the fire?”
Once the script got fixed in your head, you could play it back for each runner. And you’d see the light bulb go off when you mentioned something they needed but didn’t realize it until you asked.
Most of the time. A few runners just stared at us like we were speaking some unknown language. That was pretty interesting.

One thing that became quickly obvious was the difficulty some runners would have with the mental processing. One would stop and stare at the aid station table uncomprehendingly, not seeming to realize what he needed or wanted.

The helpful thing for that is suggesting all the options to each runner, giving him a chance to think a little better and forcing him to choose. “Like some coffee, hot chocolate, or soup for something hot to drink? How bout some coke? Need any Vaseline, desitin, band-aids, baby wipes? Care to brush your teeth? Would you like to sit here or over by the fire?”

Once the script got fixed in your head, you could play it back for each runner. And you’d see the light bulb go off when you mentioned something they needed but didn’t realize it until you asked.

Most of the time. A few runners just stared at us like we were speaking some unknown language. That was pretty interesting.”

These dudes and ladies took great care of us and I love ‘em for it, BUT…

They lied to us.

The stretch from 75 to 80 miles WAS ABSOLUTELY NOT DOWNHILL!

Ya, Ya, Ya Youngrens in the Da House

Miles 75-85 were really tough for Darren and I.

I worried incessantly about the time clock and ensuring that I was going to be able finish with plenty of time – but not Darren, he was more calm and collected about the time, but he was starting to fatigue on the climbs.

Running together with Darren was helpful for us both because we could feed off of each other’s strengths – he was fast and breezy downhills, where I was forced to push to stay with him, but I could charge the climbs with lots of drive and help motivate Darren to keep up through these uphill sections.

Win-win.

And when we finally busted out of that gnarly, rocky forest at mile 85, there’s Robert and Kathy Youngren, along with new friend Josh Kennedy, and they were blaring ol’ skool techno and had the place jumping.

A HUGE pick-me-up and it was a blessing seeing their smiling faces.

It was truly a highlight for my race to get to see these two – we all have ultra heroes and I admire these two runners for both their accomplishments and their attitudes.

I was still a little freaked out about the time, but the Youngrens calmed me down, gave me some hot soup and a sandwich, and sent me on my way to get that buckle.

Only 15 miles to go…

Just Gettin’ It Done!

I didn’t have much left.

My bestest buddy Victor Zamudio and his runner Philip Sustar came up behind me, passed me on by, and continued running towards the finish, but I just couldn’t hang at that moment. I knew Darren was right behind, and sure enough I heard him hootin’ and yellin’, so I held back and waited for him since I had already run almost 50 miles with the kid.

Miles 85-95 are good because you can make up a lot of time on those jeep roads, but bad because, well… they’re jeep roads.

Darren and I didn’t say much along these roads. We just marched on.

We’d run all the flats and downhills, but walk the uphills.

I began to look for, and be appreciative of, the uphills so I could power-walk instead of run.

I was spiraling downward physically, but still hangin’ tough mentally, and I think Darren was doing the best he could too, but we were both ready to wrap this up and lie down somewhere nice and comfy with a big brass finisher’s buckle.

“I’m not stopping, 64 out!”

Just before the mile 95 aid station, Darren started to have some climbing issues, but I could already smell the barn so I took off.

This is ALWAYS what happens to me. Five miles from the finish, I always seem to wake up and move like it’s mile 9 instead of 95; plus, even though I had like 3.5 hours to go five miles, for some reason I was still sweating the time.

Then, to make it worse, just before arriving at the last aid station, mile 95, I come to find out “Three-kids”-Tony is hot on my trail.

“Damn!”

I didn’t even stop at the last aid station. I ran through yelling, “I don’t want to stop …number 64 out!”, and all I could hear were the volunteers barking out instructions to me as I ran on down the trail, doing my best to prevent Three-kids from catching my butt.

26:51:06 and a Fine Finisher Photo with the Race Director

The last section of trail was tricky, muddy and tough, but I ran through it hard. I passed a guy that I leaped-frogged with a couple of times, but I knew he’d catch me again once we got to the road.

He did.

And those last couple of miles along a rural Alabama road were the longest miles of my life.

I shuffled on down that road asking neighbors, “hey – how far is the high school from here?”

“ah, man, you almost there… just around that corner…”

But the corner was so far away, it was like a mirage.

One older lady sitting on her porch yells out to me, “how far all y’all runnin’?”

“100 miles”

“come on…”, she replied as if I was putting her on.

“no really, we started in Heflin and ran up and over Cheaha”, I explained.

“no you didn’t“, and with that, she went in the house.

…and left me to shuffle on into the stadium, taking a half lap around the track and crossing the finish line in 26:51

There was my buddy Vic’tah – good ol’ Vic’tah – holding a phone with my wife ready to congratulate me. A quick hello/goodbye/I love you and it was off to find a chair and secure that finisher’s buckle.

Another hundo, in the books.

Happy to be finished with the Pinhoti 100
photo by: Amanda Tichacek

Post race thoughts

I loved the Pinhoti 100. The race was everything I had hoped it would be and much, much more.

But, make no mistake IT’S TOUGH. Somewhere around a third of the runners dropped out or were pulled from the race, so it’s probably a good idea to make sure you’re trained and ready for this one.

If you love beautiful fall colors, challenging terrain, hella’ nice people and a solid race director who knows his stuff – this is the race for you.

…but, I still hate the song “Sweet Home Alabama…” {wink, wink}

At the finish line with buckle and Pinhoti 100 RD Todd Henderson
Race Director Todd Henderson is one cool dude. Thanks Todd!

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Comments

Hey Christian,
Found your site a month ago and its brilliant – seriously good motivation. I had spent the last week trying to find the right first 100 miler for me and found your great Pinhoti experience. Only got 14 months to cram in as many races before head home to NZ so have to be picky huh : )

Running Pinhoti this year as first 100 miler. Zero marathons, 1 50 miler and now Pinhoti100. If you see some guy finish at 29:59 that will hopefully me. Any quicker than that then I have trained too much. :)

Greg

“Jump”. hehe…that’s just funny. Mean, but funny.

Great run and good report.
And bonus points for not getting lost. Man, it’s dark out there at night, and (IMHO) those trails sure could use some more signage. :)

Loved the report. It sure looked to me like Mike Tyson kicked your ass out on the trail. But then again, you did still have both ears when you finished!!! Great job as usual. I wish I could have run with you but volunteer duties called.

Good job. Sounds like a lot of falling. I noticed a lot of leaves on the trail from pictures last year. Sounds like you finished pretty strong.

Nice run my man. You were freaking delirius at 85 miles. I guess you were worried about being under 30 hours. I see that wasn’t a problem by any means. I know it is always nice to add another piece of hardware to the collection. I’m sure I’ll bump into you at Mtn. Mist. Till then wild man.

Great Job! Especially since it was sort of last minute.
Ran Pinhoti last year and really hoped to this year but the stars didn’t line up. It is a tough course, your report was accurate, the trails span the spectrum of description and the colors are brilliant. Glad you did so well. See ya at MM.

“Jump”. hehe…that’s just funny. Mean, but funny.

Great run and good report.
And bonus points for not getting lost. Man, it’s dark out there at night, and (IMHO) those trails sure could use some more signage. :)

A Beast and a Monster! Sub-24 is right around the corner, son! Making me PROUD!

You’re so fun to read and I’m inspired. I am going to sign up for the Cheaha 50k right this second before I get over it!

What an accomplishment! Congrats! Darren is my twin brother. I think he (like all ultra runners) is insane, but I’m so glad you were partners in insanity and he was able to finish his first 100-miler. Enjoyed the read!!!

Wow, congratulations on an awesome race and a great report! Those pictures with the bloody face were fantastic, make you look like the kickbutt runner we all know you are.

Great run man. So glad you appreciated the old school techno! We were going with the whole 80′s music thing (because our aid-station is in the 80′s mile range, get it?) but after 7-8 hours of it we’d gotten kind of sick of it (exhausted our playlist) so I threw on whatever music I had with me (I’m a big fan of electronic music BTW). Sorry about that Mongo comment, but your picture under “stuffing my bloody face” totally reminded me of that dude from Blazing Saddles! ha! Guess we’ll see you at Mountain Mist if not sooner. You know I might have to give this race a shot sometime, it is in my backyard afterall?

You … are … da … man! You just set a PR in the hundo, AND in report writing! That’s one heckuva great read! Kudos on a race well run! BTW – the Pinhoti buckle is so dang good lookin’, I’m guessing it is going to be your buckle of choice for those special occasions when you have to look your best. ;)

Great report! I knew you couldn’t pass up some sweet Alabama single track right out your back door!

You look good, you have lost that baby fat finally. Maybe it is the cross training, maybe the 100 milers too. You need to work on getting out of being so inhibited!

Great reading as usual.

:) )

G

Congratulations! Darren is my cousin and inspires me to run. I just ran my first marathon in denver thanks to his encouragement. Glad to hear you helped each other out.

Another great one! Man, I was glad to see you looking good at mile 75. We really thought it was downhill from there. That’s what Robert told us. :)

And, dude, you were good at the finish. I was looking at you and Lane and Tony and Philip and Smithson, thinking “I can do this.”

I want one of those damn buckles.

Awesome report, man! You still looked awesome when you blew by me at mile 68. Congrats on a solid finish, and keep on truckin…

Duuude, look how skinny you are!

Grrrrreat report man! Congrats on the finish (and for the kickass war wound on your hand). I’m impressed, I have yet to have a bloody crash that early on in one of my races :) Plenty of time for that!

~Paige

Wow man, just wanted to say truly amazing and inspiring….

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