Monday, November 5, 2012

Pinhoti 100 Race Report. (A lack of tenacity.)

Running a 100 mile ultramarathon is not a feat of the individual. Regardless of what one may think, 100 mile ultramarathons are a team sport. Whether or not runners use a crew, pacers, drop bags, etcetera, finishing a 100 mile run is an accomplishment  of an amazing team of volunteers, runners, family, and friends whom stay up day and night and even spend months in advance preparing to facilitate the 15 to 30 hour journey of 100 mile runners. I often say the reason I love the sport is because of the community that surrounds it, and it is that community which succeeds when THEY enable each runner to cross the finish line.

This past Saturday I attempted to run 100 miles on the Pinhoti trail in Southeastern Alabama. The race is a mountainous 100 mile race involving over 16,000 feet of climbing on mostly singletrack hiking trail. I have run the race before and finished strong two years ago at the event after overcoming a rough patch near the halfway point of the run. My wife was my pacer during that run and with her help I continued to run through my rough patch and eventually recovered from nausea. I  came back in to good form for the last 35 miles and ran strong finishing third. With the help of someone to run with me and help me "get my stomach back" I was successful. During my first 100 miler at Mohican I was also paced by my wife who didn't let me quit and pushed me through some rough times when I felt deathly. Even though I had broken my ankle she knew her job was to push me forward regardless. At mile 90 of my first 100 race in 2008 at Mohican she had a Physical Therapist tape my broken ankle and we walked the last 10 miles to finish. It was with the help of others I completed my goals.

The week leading up to Pinhoti I felt good things were in store. My energy levels were fully recovered and I was well rested. I felt better than I had felt in months. I had DNF'd early at the UROC 100K nearly a month prior to allow for more recovery and I was feeling strong again and ready to run long. My mileage had been low over the last month to recover and also because I was focused on being a dad as my daughter, Denali, was born exactly 4 weeks prior to the Pinhoti 100. I needed to run lower mileage to recover and it worked because I was running strong in training and feeling good. I was mentally ready to conquer the Pinhoti 100 even though the last 6 weeks held the lowest mileage I had run in over a year and a half. I was confident even with the low miles I still had a good base to work with. Given that my training had been reduced and I hadn't slept much because I was focused on Denali over the past month I knew that I had to alter my goals going into this years Pinhoti 100. I simply wanted to run a even paced methodical race in which I ran extremely conservative in the first 50 and my nutrition held strong. I wasn't concerned with a podium finish and I didn't really care about overall placement. I just wanted to run a wise race in which I didn't fall apart for a decent finish. Given what I just said, I was still aiming for a top 5 finish and a time of 19 hours, which is 1 hour 40 mins better than 2 years ago...

I barely made it to the starting line in time and without much ado in the morning I was off for my 5th 100 mile finish. I started off letting the rabbits run out in front and found myself passing people near mile 20. I was holding a top ten placement and continued to pass people most of the morning and afternoon. From miles 1 to 50 I ate perfectly and drank as scheduled but it kept getting hotter. I kept using restraint and ran slow on the climbs and ran as conservatively as possible. I tried SO hard to do everything right and stick to my plan of running a nice and strong race, not looking for a performance of a lifetime but just run a good 100 mile run. I was at ease and playing my cards right. My legs felt good and they never faltered. My energy levels however, waned throughout the day. Each mile seemed like many, and there were no highs to balance the lows. The humidity soared to nearly 100% and although the temps were only in the 80's, I had been running in 40 degree temps over the past month. My head swelled and my body was covered in salt. On the biggest climbs I ran as slowly as possible to leave gas in the tank for a strong finish.

Coming in to Adam's Gap at mile 55, I did not rest as I had two years ago. I forged on accepting a minute of walking as recovery instead of stopping and hoped to finally have a high to balance the lack of energy but it never came. Every mile I became more dizzy and I was not able to eat. I was miserable. It was all I could do just to make it to the next aid station. The prospect of running 40 more miles seemed impossible, but I could run 5 more to the next aid station.

Near mile 60 I started to try to force food down even though I was nauseous and dizzy and my energy levels still waned and lessened. My legs still felt OK but I was shot mentally. Each step was agony and I was extremely tired. I knew finishing this race would be one of the hardest things I had ever done. (With the exception of finishing that first 100 miler at Mohican in 2008 with a broken ankle.)

I mustered all the courage and stamina, and more importantly, all the positive energy I had to leave the aid station at mile 65 and ran to the next aid station at mile 69, Porter's Gap. I ran with a professional mountain bike/adventure racer who had broken his toe and I tried to use his grit as inspiration.

At mile 69 the aid station called Porter's Gap resides. Porter's Gap is a milestone because once you leave Porter's Gap you don't see your crew again until 18 miles later at Bulls Gap, which means you'd better be ready to run 18 more miles leaving Porter's Gap.

When I reached Porter's Gap I faltered. I sat down. I thought about Umstead and how I would already be done if I was running 100 there. The Pinhoti 100 is not for the faint of heart. The course is challenging like no other. It's in a whole other league. Running down in to Porter's Gap several runners passed me and I became discouraged. I thought about my goal to just feel good and run strong regardless of placement and how I didn't feel good at all and I had done everything in my power to still feel good. I felt like I had failed at my goal and examined DNF'ing as an option. I discussed this with my crew who tried to persuade me to continue. I began to justify a DNF however I was not injured and so I should  have pressed on. I never should have stopped and sat at Porter's Gap, and I definitely should not have thought about if I could have made it the 18 miles to Bull's Gap to see my crew again. I should have pressed on, relentless, but I failed.

Was it pride? Was I concerned that I wouldn't be top ten if I continued on? Was it heat exhaustion and dehydration? My head was swimming and I felt nauseous, but I wouldn't have been in medical jeopardy had I continued, it just would have a been a long lonely mountainous rocky rooty slog though the forest in the dark, but so what? I don't want to admit that as those runners passed me heading into Porter's Gap I thought about sliding further down in the top ten... but I did.

DNF'ing is the greatest failure in this story.

There is nothing respectable about what I did out there. Sure, I stopped being miserable and got to go to bed by 10pm, but I let myself down and failed to serve a greater purpose of maybe motivating someone to push through hard times. The going got rough and I quit. I said out loud at Porter's Gap several times, I DON'T WANT TO QUIT, I DON'T WANT TO DNF, but I couldn't summon the energy. I could not force myself to stand up. The thought of one more step was torture mentally NOT physically.

I went many years without ever DNF'ing a race. There are definitely instances where a DNF is the smart thing to do, the RIGHT thing to do, even the respectable thing to do. UROC this year would be an example of that. I am glad I did it there but this was different at Pinhoti. I was recovered and well with nothing other than maybe a bruised ego to lose.  I can withstand any amount of physical pain, but on that night, I was weak mentally and bailed after almost 70 miles and 14 hours. I've pushed through all kinds of mental and physical adversity but I lost the battle that night. After trying everything under the sky to regain my energy levels and escape the dizziness with no success, I called it a day. I quit.


Like I said, dropping at UROC was necessary. I was fried physically and needed to recover and that happened. The lower miles which allowed my subsequent recovery left my endurance a little short heading into Pinhoti where I faltered mentally. I could have pushed a much higher pain threshold if I was running a shorter race and done well since I was recovered. I was however, running a 100 on one of the toughest 100 mile courses in the country. My lower mileage weeks over the past month were possibly catching up to me, or maybe it was the heat, I don't know. I know I could have run a strong marathon or 50 miler, but not 100, not that day. I couldn't smart my way though a 100. and just "will" all these things to happen. My legs were great but I was in the bag due whatever was zapping me, heat or whatever it was.

The good news is I'll be running again this week and I got in a good training run at Pinhoti, nearly 70 miles on technical terrain with tons of climbing.

It meant a lot to get messages from friends regarding my DNF at Pinhoti this year, but here are the facts: I quit. I failed. I inspired no one, and did no good. I am learning from it. I am moving forward. I try to learn something from every race and this one threw me for a loop. I have never been in this situation before and it got the best of me.

You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. It WON'T happen again. I won't be that weak next time.

Surround yourself with a great crew. Use a pacer. Push until you can't push any more, (barring injury), and then  push some more. When you try to quit, allow awesome crew members and pacers to grab you by the shoulders and literally shove you back out on the course. Be an example, and inspire others with tenacity, grit, and greatness. Do not be weak.

And yeah, as for me I'll heed my own advice, and use this once again as a learning opportunity; a chance to grow as a runner and mature. I'm not down, just calling it out for what it is, not scared of the truth as it stared back at me. I'll be back for more. I'll be racing Hellgate 100K in December, but now I also need to come back for vengeance on the 100 mile distance, at another mountain 100 miler, not an easy one either.

During the race I wore:

Pearl Izumi Compression Shorts with ZERO Chaffing
Montrail Mountain Masochist with ZERO foot issues.
Swiftwick Socks
Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp / Petzyl Tikka XP2 Headlamp

Upcoming Blog Post: Hoka One One Bondi B Review.


  1. Hey Troy,
    My name is Luke Coop and I ran the 2012 Pinhoti. You do not know me personally but I read your report and just wanted you to know something ....
    You may not have finished yesterday, but I can tell from your report that it is EXACTLY people just like you that inspire me. You are such an encouragment and blessing to so many people. What you said about it being volunteers, crew, etc. being the enablers of success is dead on the money. Yesterday was my finish 100 mile finish ... and I just wanted to let you know that you have helped others without even knowing it.

    See you on the trails,

  2. Thanks Luke! That means a lot.

    Most important, Congrats on your finish! Great job on a tough day! I don't know the final numbers but I heard the finish rate was almost at only 50% Be proud!

  3. Thanks so much, Troy!
    Yea, 192 starters and 107 finishers, so 56% finish rate.
    Again, thank YOU.

  4. Congrats on the new addition to your family, Troy. Looks like you won the baby race, mine came on October 18.

  5. troy, i don't think by not finishing your didn't inspire anyone. You've gone through a lot in the last month with the birth of your first child. You have had a lot of adjustments lately. Not only are you a phenomonal runner and athlete, but you also excel as a father, husband, and nurse. I don't know of anyone else that wears so many hats with such success. So keep on doing what you're doing - inspiring people!

  6. Troy- voluntary DNF's certainly suck. I had mine at Old Dominion last year, mile 75, 13 hrs. It happens. It shouldn't, but it does. So learn from it and move forward, like I'm sure you're doing. Besides, we gotta figure out where we can race each other next year! Enjoy the rest.

  7. I've learned a lot about priorities in life since I became a father 3+ years ago. Spending time with your wife and daughter is something you will never regret! Don't get too down on yourself and remember what is truly important in life. Good luck, I'm sure you will be back to your dominate self soon enough!