Pinhoti Trail: Day 1 - By Eric

Posted by posted by Eric Charette

A few days before the start of the Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run, I attended a Cotton Row Run volunteer meeting. While there, Craig Armstrong wished me well on the impending adventure and we had a quiet conversation while Fleet Feet owner Suzanne Taylor was at the front of the room leading the meeting. During the brief chat, I mentioned that the first day of the run would be all about the training that we had put in over the previous few months. I had known all along that while it would not be easy, the double marathon on the first day would be familiar territory for me as I had run that far at MMTR in November and at Delano Park in March. The pace at these races was much faster than our projected time on day 1, but at least I knew how it would feel after that many miles on my feet. It would be the miles of the days to ensue that would be unfamiliar territory for me.

Rob Youngren has captured many of the turn by turn details on his day 1 blog and they very accurately capture the finer points. Instead of repeating this in my words, I thought that I would take you through the personal highs and lows that I experienced during the day.

High Point #1

Pressing start on my GPS watch atop Flagg Mountain at 6:00 am sharp was a great feeling. All of the training and preparation that we had put forth in the past year toward this effort was finally coming to fruition. We were taking the first steps of a long voyage that would culminate 335 miles and 7 days later. Departing Flagg Mountain was a pretty intense high.

Low Point #1

After the first few miles on the gravel road, we had been on the road section and had already met our crew 7 times in the first 14 miles. This meant frequent stops that broke up our 10 minute pace average. Somewhere after crossing Highway 231, we began to incorporate regular walk breaks into our running schedule. My knees and joints were starting to ache a little as I really had been logging most of my miles on the trails with just a single 25 mile run from Rob's to Mooresville on the morning of the 10 miler (race) in which I struggled. Running on the road over long distances has never been my forte and it is possible that this first low was more mental than anything else, but I was starting to hurt a little and we were a few hours into the run. We would rotate running for 8 to 10 minutes followed by a two minute walk and we were religious on this rotation through 20 miles.

Low Point #2

After nearly missing an unmarked turn, we spotted Josh's truck along County Road 511. I ate my first solid food of the day which was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I had made the previous night and rolled into a small snack sized sandwich bag. We were about 3 and a half hours into the run. From the training runs that we did, I knew that it was about this point where I would struggle, but had built confidence that it was just a temporary low and when I pushed through it, I would emerge stronger on the other side. We walked the entire hill climb which dropped our average from 10:15 pace down to about 11 minute miles. After starting to run again on the top of the hill, we made it down to the bottom where there was stream crossing under the highway. I had Rob go on, and I made my way down to the stream where I could soak my knees. Three weeks prior, I had developed severe left knee pain while on a long run with Joey Butler out at Sipsey Wilderness. That day I was icing my knee in the streams every mile for the last 8 miles and it a half dozen physical therapy sessions would follow to ease the pain of runner's knee. Having to ice my knee after the first 20 miles was very concerning and the second low point for the day.

High Point #2

Finally turning off of the paved road and onto the gravel at County Road 231 was a nice change of pace, but it was taking off my road shoes at mile 22 and putting on my inov-8 roclite 295's to begin the Rebecca Mountain trail session was a very good feeling. We had made great time to this point but there was something emotionally uplifting about grabbing my new Ultimate Hydration pack and setting foot into the woods. We had a very long section ahead of us on a brand new trail that was blazed but barely traveled ahead of us, but the relaxed pace was welcome.

High Point #3

After just a few miles of bushwhacking along the new blazed Pinhoti trail on Rebecca Mountain, we were welcomed to a nice surprise. Josh had somehow made his way into the woods up a barely passable forest service road and was waiting for us with a bag of freshly sliced oranges. I thus coined him as our soccer mom while later conversing with Rob. Regardless, breaking up this long section where we thought that we were running un-aided was a great emotional lift that lifted our spirits.

Low Point #3

Atop Rebecca Mountain we were following along with Josh's notes from his exploration of this section a few weeks prior. He mentioned two communication towers that we would pass by. The lead in to the second tower was the steepest road I have ever climbed. My GPS maxed out at 45% grade, which meant that for every foot forward, we were facing a foot up. This climb was at the 31 mark and I commented on how this would be a cruel finish to a 50km race.

Low Point #4

For quite some time after a short rest on the concrete road entrance to the climb from hell, we ran on a rocky trail that paralleled a jeep road. Being nearly 7 hours into the run, we complained to deaf ears about those who would build a technical trail in the woods just feet from a perfectly fine road. Our pace was slowing as the trail winded to and fro while the road ran straight along splitting the forest. Any other day we would be complaining to have to run on a two-rut road, but the fun factor on our adventure for the day was starting to go down.

High Point #4

In what seemed like a never ending death march on Horn Mountain, we could begin to hear some music in the distance. Knowing that we had not seen a single human being along the trail thus far, we realized that Josh must have made his way into the woods along the forest service road. We were indeed correct and Josh was waiting for us! We were able to shed our heavy packs and back to hand bottles which made for much easier running. We were also able to refuel with some Boost, string cheese and oatmeal creme pies, a staple that would fuel me for the days to follow. Seeing Josh in the middle of this otherwise long and unsupported section was almost like an oasis that came true.

Low Point #5

At the top of the Pinnacles (GUTS fried-egg sandwich aid station at Pinhoti 100) we surprised Josh and his son Matthew by covering the previous section so quickly. They emerged from the top of a rock bluff shirtless. I later joked with Rob how it was very 'Lord of the Flies-esque'. While this was funny, the 24 switch backs to the bottom was not fun whatsoever. It was bothering my knees to run downhill and having to pound away was not fun. Plus the bugs were starting to come out and I was convinced that my Honey Stinger gel was attracting them. I wasn't able to make very good time through here despite the elevation drop and I felt like I was holing Rob back slightly.

High Point #5

I was really starting to hurt late in the day and my feet were barking very loudly. Josh had mentioned that there was a stream in a few miles that we could soak in and clean up before reaching Porter's gap. I made it my mission to stay strong and focused until that point where I could get into the water and ice my joints. When we got there, we took off our shoes and got into the water above the peter-line. It was so refreshing that I didn't want to dry off and put my shoes back on! But it would be getting dark soon and we still had another 4 miles to go before the end of day 1.

Low Point #6

Just past the 50 mile and 12 hour mark, Rob made the comment that the fun-factor had dropped down again as we were tired and ready to be done. I was focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and walking it in, but Rob pushed forward and had us at a jogging pace. I agreed that the 'suck-o-meter' had gone from 'sucks not so bad' to 'totally sucks' very quickly. Despite being a low point, we did joke that we should have t-shirts made later on with an adjustable dial for the degree of how much the current run sucked; it would be a great seller with ultrarunners.

High Point #6

Coming out of the forest and seeing Josh at Porter's Gap was a great feeling. After 12 hours and 48 minutes of running, walking, trekking and just moving forward we had finally arrived. We had covered just over 52 miles on our first day and it didn't hurt too bad.

What I will remember most about the day was that I had some early pain in my knees but I fought through it. I will remember how Rob was crazy nervous for the first few hours. I will remember that I only had to take 6 Tylenol to ward off my pains. I will remember how seeing our crew at unknown times was a pleasant surprise. I will remember the smile on my face at Porter's Gap as we had completed the first day of our journey.

I will remember that throughout the course of a half-day of running that there were many highs and lows, making it a roller-coaster of a day.

End Time: 6:49:12
Total Time Running: 12 hours 49 minutes 12 seconds
Total Distance: 52.3 miles
Elevation Change: 5,313' of elevation climb and 5,440' of elevation drop for 10,753' of elevation change.

PTAR Day 1 part 1 (GPS A):  3,123' of elevation climb and 3,047' of elevation drop

PTAR Day 1 part 2 (GPS B):  2,190' of elevation climb and 2,393' of elevation drop