The nice thing about this past weekend's run the Double Top 100 just outside of Dalton, GA, is that it was less than an hour away driving, saving us the expense and hassle of a plane trip, rental car, and motel room. We drove up late Friday afternoon for the packet pickup and race briefing. We ended up parking the RV near the start getting to bed quite early. The forecast had been for a 100% chance of severe thunderstorms through the night with 1-2 inches of rain. It rained a lot but had mostly stopped by around 3am or so. We certainly heard a lot of thunder but it wasn't too crazy and certainly less severe than we were expecting. During the day we heard about how bad things had been to the north with tornados and loss of life. Here in GA we got lucky and avoided rain completely during the run though it was quite foggy early in the run.
I had another tough stretch of work going in to this run with almost 90 hours of work in the 8 days leading up to Thursday morning. It sounds crazy and I would never have thought I'd say this but, I'm looking forward to the stretch where we have a run every weekend because it seems like it will be easier just running rather than working a bunch and running every other weekend. I'm sure after 5 weeks straight I might change my tune but that's how it feels now. Liz was also a bit beat down going into this one after her last minute decision to run the LOST 118 the previous weekend. Liz says she's going to write something up for her runs but hasn't come up with the goods yet. If she does I'll post it here. The short story is that she had a great run and won the women's race handily without much damage. She says she ran very slow and very steady throughout the race enjoying the trip immensely. On now to Double Top.
When I first heard about this run it was described as starting at Fort Mt State Park then to the Pinhoti Trail which goes north and ends at the Benton Mackaye Trail where we would turn right and follow the BMT to the turnaround. I thought "How cool!" I know both of these trails well and they contain some primo singletrack trail running. I hadn't run from Fort Mt to the Pinhoti but I knew all the rest so I had this picture in my mind of where the run went. I carried this picture in my mind right through Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the race route had been changed and nothing had been said about this at the race briefing. The original race website and the facebook page both still have a description of the race passing by the Gennett Poplar which is where myself and 4 others (including Liz) realized we were off course. 4.7 miles off course to be exact. With about a 1200 foot climb included in those miles.
John Dove saved our race and the beer is on me next time, John! John was out on the trails riding his mountain bike and was coming back down the Pinhoti Trail meeting us at the Poplar. He told us we were off course and I said "But this is the Pinhoti!" He said yeah but you're still off course. A close examination of the race map, which had been given us at packet pickup, showed the truth - we were WAY off course. So back it was. Crap. Here's how it happened.... We had been running on the Pinhoti Trail since about mile 5 or so of the race and had just passed the Double Top aid station at just over 21 miles where we headed up a forest service road for about one tenth of a mile. At this point the Pinhoti turns to the right off the FS road and heads up into the woods. There was some flagging on the road past this turn but that was the extent of the marking. I (and many others) never even looked up the road, thinking that we continued on the Pinhoti. A simple piece of paper or sign on the gate warning us off would have saved us this detour but there was nothing.
I appreciate the work of the RD's Perry Sebastian and Vikena Yutz giving us the opportunity to do this run but would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed in the quality of both the course marking and apparent amount of thought that went into the race briefing. According to a couple of aid station workers almost every runner got off course at some point and did extra miles. This was the first year for this race and certain hiccups are to be expected but more care should have been taken. Liz and I ended up running the entire course plus our 9.4 mile detour and extra climbing. Two of our fellow detourees I know dropped and one runner, Jenn from WV, who was ahead of us going back, may or may not have dropped (I don't know because the results have not been posted yet.) Another two runners that I talked to continued on the Pinhoti past the Poplar all the way up until they were back on course at the "top of the Pinhoti" aid station. They never did go back so effectively did not complete the course. I'm sure there are many other stories of bonus miles.
I'll stop griping now and go on with the report of the run. After getting back on course we had a long steep climb up a gravel road in perfect weather. The sky had mostly cleared and the temps were very pleasant. Liz and I ran together back to the gravel road and Liz decided to continue straight up without any aid despite the detour and the fact that it was only .1 miles backtracking. There was a man from the aid station there with his truck who offered to fill my bottle for me. I asked if he had any food but he said he didn't but offered a ride back to the aid station. I took the ride to the aid station where I chowed down and filled my bottle with water and my pocket with gels. He gave me a ride back to the junction and I started up the hill. I caught Liz at the next aid station and we proceeded for the most part together all the way to mile 80 or so.
As the day waned, there remained a thin cover of clouds and the wind was relatively calm. This was welcome as the forecast called for clearing skies and strong winds through the night which meant cold conditions. We thought maybe the weather system had stalled for a bit and we would get a break tonight. We were running south on a ridge of the BMT as the sun set and what a sunset it was!! There was a layer of clouds to the west which stopped just before the horizon so there was just a sun-sized gap. As the sun hit this gap it was a giant orange ball of fire which turned all the trees a deep orange. It was one of those magical times in the woods which don't come all that often but remained burned into your memory. At this point it was still pleasant and fairly calm. As the night wore on though, the skies would clear and the temps drop while the wind picked up.
We hit the turnaround which was mile 51.8 or so just about 10 minutes before the cutoff. There had been mention of extending the cutoffs due to the detour but it looked like we would be okay. A quick fuel up and we were on our way back. A good feeling for sure. At the turnaround the weather was still pretty pleasant so I decided not to bring a thermal shirt but just continued on with what I had been carrying all day which was shorts, a thin tech shirt, moeben sleeves, gloves, and a rain jacket. From the turn there was a 3 or so mile section to the next aid station and then a long 10 mile section with only two water drops while traversing a remote section of the BMT. At the end of this section was the next drop bag. We loaded up on food including a yummy grilled cheese sandwich and headed into the wilderness. And I more than Liz proceeded to freeze my a** off. The skies had cleared and the wind come up. It was soon at or below freezing and it seemed like there was no escape from the wind. This section includes lots of ups and downs on single track that was rocky in places. I was way cold and despite running well I could not generate enough heat to warm up even on the uphills. I was miserable and would have been quickly incapacitated by the cold if I had been unable to keep moving.
We did finally reach the next aid station where I had a thermal shirt, warmer gloves and a stocking cap rather than running cap. We continued on running a long gravel road high on a ridge exposed to the wind and cold. Despite the extra clothing I was still cold as was Liz. All we could do was persevere, continuing on, knowing that it would end ... eventually. Of course the aid station folks could have given us a ride out but if you know Liz and I you know the likelihood of that happening! We had been running to the west with the cold north wind hitting us from the right and even after we had turned south away from the wind it was still hammering us! We could not get away from the wind. Finally we reached the Double Top aid station again as the sky was brightening with the coming day. We sat here and I changed shoes from my now favorite MT101's into some road shoes for a break. I did about 90 miles in the 101's and they performed great, even on the rocky gravel roads. While we were sitting the aid station guy (the same one that gave me a ride Sat afternoon!) fired up a giant kerosene heater/blower. It felt so good to have that hot air blasting us rather than the cold wind. Unfortunately we had to leave it and probably felt even colder after all the heat. But the sun was rising and the air did get warmer.
I soon pulled ahead of Liz and and ended up finishing about an hour ahead of her. My race time was about 32:16 and hers about 33:13. We steadily gained time on the cutoffs as we came back to finish. We both feel very beat up after this one. We're both still walking like Fred Sanford today on Tuesday afternoon. We have the Graveyard 100 coming this weekend which should be a fun time as long as our bodies can recover some. This race starts at the beginning of hwy 12 on the outer banks of NC and continues to the end so staying on course shouldn't be a problem. Not to mention that the outer banks islands are very narrow. If we get off course we'll get wet!
One thing that stands out from this past weekend's run is the volunteers. A huge shout out to the volunteers!!!! There were folks there who opened and closed their aid stations with no relief and did it all with a smile and a great attitude. We runners are so lucky to have these folks out there giving up their weekend to stand out in the cold and wind filling bottles and making pb&j sandwiches for grumpy runners. Thank you specifically all the volunteers from Double Top but thanks also to anyone who reads this who helps out at these runs. You really are special. After this year is over I'm going to spend less money on race entries and more time helping at aid stations.
Thanks also to Perry and Vikena. My report was critical I know but I do appreciate all that you did and hope that what happened this year works to make future runnings of the race all that much better. Maybe next year I'll personally make and hang the 'Do Not Enter' sign where we went wrong and help out with the course marking rather than criticizing it. We musn't forget that this is all for fun. It really is just a game. And it's all good.
Race count: Liz (6) Scott (4)