Monday, November 30, 2015

Rain And Pain: Guest Post By Ron Moore

Rain and Pain - Pinhoti 100 Race Report - 7-8 Nov 2015
"Friction is a Bitch."
-Physicist Ron Moore.

Don't Forget to honor Ron Moore for his efforts by donating to his fund destined to the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation.

How is he HAPPY?
Running 100 miles was not done on a whim.  I ran my first ultra (50K) in 2010, but it’s only in the past 2 years that I have really become an ultramarathoner.  Running a 100 was just the next step in the insanity.  When putting together my 2015 race calendar, I added Pinhoti to the list based on recommendations from a few of my trail running friends - not an easy 100 as a first one, but a good challenge at an established, well organized event.
The Pinhoti 100 is (normally) a point-to-point race in the Talladega National Forest in northern Alabama - from Heflin to Sylacauga.  Over 85 miles of the course is single-track trail, 11 miles of dirt/gravel forest service roads, and about 4 miles of asphalt mostly at the end.  There are 18 aid stations along the way, 5 of which are “drop bag” locations.  For those unfamiliar with the term, a “drop bag” is a bag (hopefully waterproof) that a racer prepares in advance with items that they may want during the race - extra shirt, hat, shoes, special food, batteries for a headlamp,  The race organizers then deliver those bags and “drop” them at the designated location(s) along the course.  After the runners come through, support crews pick up their runner’s bags or the race staff bring all the bags back to the finish line.  It is an incredible logistical challenge to organize such a race and coordinate all of the volunteers needed to pull it off successfully.

Bags of Joy!
I traveled to the race with a friend who was also running, her husband (and crew), and her pacer (another friend).  Originally, Patty and at least one of my daughters were going to come and serve as my crew, but two weeks before the race, Anna made the middle school hoops team and they had a tournament on race weekend.  No big deal - I was prepared to go without support, but it is nice to see a familiar face or two along the way.
Due to the rather rainy forecast, the race organizers and forest rangers pre-emptively changed the start location since it would have been difficult to get the race vehicles to the start on the dirt roads.  So, we would start at aid station #2, run back to aid station #1, and then turn around and run the rest of the course as planned.  In addition, road conditions led to three of the aid stations becoming unstaffed with jugs of water left for the runners to help themselves.
The rain?  Yeah, it rained a little.  It was heavy enough to wake us up at 1 am in the hotel.  Fortunately we got back to sleep quickly for our 5:15 rise time.  It was only a 15 minute drive to the start thanks to the change of location - plenty of time for a shower, McDonald’s drive-through, and pre-race porta-john visit(s).  A nice downpour started as we lined up 10 minutes before the start, so I was glad I brought a cheap poncho to wear just for that reason.  At 7 am, we were off.  There were nearly 260 people signed up - race was full with a wait-list, and it seemed like everyone was there.  The single track trail began less than ¼ mile after the start - that led to a lot of congestion, but that helped me from going out too quickly.  Gradually I got into a good position and rhythm, and after slogging through the crowd again after the turn-around, I got back to aid station #2 - less than 2.5 hours for 13 miles - good.  It was still raining off and on, but the trail was in pretty good shape overall.

More than 250 runners!
The first 40 miles were very runnable.  I was running very comfortably, right where I wanted to be.  Still raining, more on than off.  I changed shirts at the 27 mile bag drop to put on the PSU alum shirt

Excellent use of the Alumni Singlet.

As we started the climb up Mt. Cheaha (the highest point in Alabama), the rain started coming down harder and we got into the low cloud deck.  The terrain became rather rocky near the summit, but it wasn’t too bad - just more slippery.  It was really pissing down as we had to run across a 500 meter long boardwalk to reach the parking lot for the next aid station and bag drop. Still on track - just over 8 hours for 40 miles. The rain and clouds completely obscured what is apparently a fantastic view.  As I changed my shirt and hat, I huddled under a tarp that another runner’s crew had set up over the bed of their truck.  Ultrarunners, their crews, and the race volunteers are great people - always willing to help.
At that aid station, my friend from Knoxville came in as I was changing gear.  Her pacer joined her there, and they left a little before I did.  I caught with up with them after a short stretch of road, and we started down the steepest bit of the whole race - lots of big rocks and flowing water thanks to the rain (it’s called Blue Hell because of the blue blazes marking the trail).  That kind of terrain is tough for me - treacherous and slow going, but thankfully I stayed in one piece.  A relatively flat section of road afterward was very welcoming - and so was the soup at the next aid station.  After that, it was back into the forest on single track trail.
Did I mention it was raining much of the time?  Anyway, the memory starts getting a little fuzzy here.  Somewhere between 45 and 50 miles, it was dark enough to need my headlamp.  The trail was becoming more difficult and rolling with plenty of rocky sections and low-lying areas with soggy ground and creeks/run-offs - I lost count of the water crossings, but only 1 or 2 were knee deep.  At the 55 mile bag drop, it was pissing down rain (again) - I vaguely recall eating some warm soup and chips.  I changed shirts, picked up my trekking poles, and got fresh batteries for the headlamp.  The next section was all dirt/gravel road, but it was so foggy that I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me.  I passed a few people, but I couldn’t tell they were there until I was nearly on top of them and the light from their headlamp reflected back toward me in a faint glow.  It was rather surreal.
At this point I should mention the food at the aid stations. Some of the volunteers go all out on what they prepare - it can be incredible.  Other than the usual oranges, bananas, PB&J, chips, pretzels, dixie cups of Coke, candy, and Ramen, I also enjoyed chicken quesadillas, a chick pea mash in a pita, potato soup (a few times), warm beignets with powdered sugar (How the hell was that guy making them in the middle of the forest?), grilled cheese and bacon.  Believe me, there’s nothing like a warm grilled cheese and soup late in a race - much better than the Gu Roctane gels I was squeezing in between stations.  The volunteers are the lifeblood of races.
The 75 mile aid station is at the top of an extended climb - plenty of switchbacks.  That station is well-known for setting up a speaker blaring really loud music.  I’m not sure how long before I reached the top that I started hearing the music down below - an hour?  As you traverse the switchbacks, you approach and then move away from the music several times - it was hysterically frustrating at times. They had really good potato soup there.  Bacon, too.  They thought I was a genius when I asked them to crumble some bacon onto the soup.  Maybe they were sleep-deprived.  Maybe I was a sleep-deprived.
After that aid station, we were essentially on top a ridge for quite a while.  It was raining.  It was windy.  It was chilly.  I was starting to slow down.  I was noticing the chafing in my crotch.  I was so happy at about 82 miles when the trail turned back into the woods and started down the mountain where the wind was blocked by the trees.  At the bottom was the 85 mile aid station and last bag drop where I changed shirts again, dropped the trekking poles, and switched to the larger clown-sized shoes.  (I needed them.)
It was difficult to start running again after that aid station.  Guess what?  It started raining hard again.  Ugh.  Thankfully the 89 mile aid station had a nice fire burning and I could warm up my hands.  After some soup and goodies, I started down the dirt road again.  I realized that I just could not run any longer, so I started walking/wobbling it in.  Daylight started to break around 6 am.  I think I heard some turkeys in the woods nearby.
When I reached the 95 mile aid station, I ate a fantastic fudgy brownie.  (Anything I would have eaten would have been fantastic.)  I also grabbed some vaseline to relube what needed it.  I knew I had some chafing, but I wasn’t expecting what I saw when I pulled back my shorts and tights.  A volunteer heard me say “Wow, I’m bleeding.”  She came over to check on me and gasped.  She got a baby wipe to clean my upper, inner thighs to make sure “that you still have skin there”.  I did - it was just blood and ooze leaking out what was now apparent to be my rather *swollen* upper, inner thighs.  I never realized that could happen like that.  No wonder it was hard to run with that extra slapping going on.  In addition, I realized that I had actually *worn holes* into my compression shorts - 4 inch wide holes.  Now, I had lubed up with body glide before and during the race.  I was also liberal with vaseline, desitin, or whatever product they had at earlier aid stations.  I can only guess that all the rain loosened up the compression shorts a bit and caused the rubbing to begin.  Friction is a bitch.  But wait, there’s more to the story.  That aid station volunteer said - “We’ve got to get those tights off of you.”  Fine, sounds like a good idea.  After 95 miles, I wasn’t exactly limber enough to disrobe efficiently, so she got a pair of scissors.  Before getting up close and personal to my crotch with sharpened metal, we introduced ourselves.  (Her name was Mercy.)  Hold back the sack (my job), pull shorts away from skin, snip, snip, snip, grab the shorts from the front, pull up, around and out, bada boom, bada bing, throw ‘em in the trash, scrub liberally with hand sanitizer.  Amazing -  you gotta love volunteers who go the extra mile.  You know what else she said?  “Believe it or not, that’s not the oddest thing I’ve done at an aid station.”
OK, still 5 more miles to go.  No way I could run.  I kept up the bow-legged waddle along the roads to the finish at the Sylacauga High School track.  The rain had actually stopped for those last few miles, but the breeze made it rather chilly.  I was starting to shiver a bit, so I called my friends to ask them to bring me a jacket.  They had started driving around anyway to figure out where I was since I was much later than expected.
In the end, I waddled across the finish line in 26:34:57.  (The video is amusing.)    I think it rained for 20 of the hours I was on trail - sometimes light, sometimes hard.  Mentally, I was just fine.  Physically, the biggest problem by far was the chafing.  My feet were swollen, but that was expected.  Fitness-wise, I was definitely in shape to go sub-24 as I had hoped - when I was running, I was very comfortable.  My legs were never really sore, and I resumed running a week after the race.  Stretching the healing chafed skin was excruciating over the first day or three after the race.  Based on a recommendation, I am now trying a different pair of compression shorts.  This was my first, but not my last 100 miler.

The Prize. A belt buckle...
Chafed and relieved.

Finally, thanks to those who donated to the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation.  I am thrilled to say that nearly $5000 was donated as part of my effort for this race.  It was well worth the pain.

For the glory,

Ron Moore

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