Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Georgia Death Race: Friendship and Pain in the Georgia Mountains


The Golden Ticket Race

Thanks to Dylan Armajani I received an actual golden ticket. So for the curious; there was no actual golden ticket per se. Dylan just made one himself. Well actually he bought one on Amazon when he purchased this $12 Wonka costume but he left it at home so he made this one. Bethany Patterson may have had two ultra running legends as her crew (What up, AJW and Dr. Horton?) but I had Dylan aka Papa Trail! There is no one on the planet who knows how to crew me better than Dylan. I am not the most organized person but we work well as a team and each time we learn how to do something better. Let's face it. Crewing isn't really always all that fun. Sometimes it's boring. I would say running is the easier job. So thank you, Dylan for the countless times you have crewed.  

Counter clockwise from top left: Viaduct 100, Oil Creek 100, IAU 24 Hour World Championships, NJ One Day

So much has happened since my last post after the Barkley Fall Classic.  I ran Oil Creek 100 in October and Brazos Bend 100 in December. Both well organized, unique, 100 milers that I would actual consider repeating. They deserve posts of their own but life just did it's thing and time slipped away. In order to hold your attention and not let too much of YOUR life slip away while reading this blog, I will stick to my at experience at Georgia Death Race. If you want to hear more about the race after reading this enlightening blog you can check out Bethany and I live (previously recorded duh) on Ginger Runner.


Some Memorable Moments


  • Well to start... there were snakes!  At the pre-race meeting there were snakes.
  • Who brought these snakes? An army ranger who had the most insane stories and told us to be on the look out for guys in ranger school who would be trekking through the woods with all their gear and most likely have not slept in days.
  • One of the most memorable moments was actually seeing two of those guys. One in particular I will never forget. He had what I now understand is a 1000 yard stare. He looked right at me yet through me and I could feel his exhaustion. We both uttered encouraging words to each other as we passed, him coming up the hill and me going down. Suddenly, my pack didn't feel so heavy.
  • Seeing Mary Lou Corino is always a highlight. One that doesn't happen quite enough. She lives in Canada but oddly enough I have seen her in places like NJ, Italy and now Georgia. She has also been known to run long distances across the state of TN or sometimes just in circles.
Mary Lou Corino
  • I finally, met Katie DeSplinter and Dom Grossman in person.  They were my favorite internet people and now they are some of my favorite real life people. You can read Katie's masterfully written blog on Georgia Death Race by clicking on the word PANDA. Katie, please don't bother reading further or is it farther? You can join a support group with my boyfriend Ryan who can't bear to read my poorly, structured narratives.  He has won awards in English. :)
    Look at our cute matching VaporAiress packs. #cockatoo
  • Speaking of favorite people, these two ladies take the cake; Bethany Patterson and Jenn Benna. 
Me, Jenn and Bethany.



THE HUNT FOR THE GOLDEN TICKET

And now to the start line. Sean Blanton, the RD, gave an inspiring speech from the top of his truck about how he almost died on Everest. I have a tiny obsession with all things Everest yet have no desire to go myself. So much respect.


Georgia Death Race boasts 40,000 feet a of elevation change. It is run point to point from Vogel State Park to Amicalola State Park in northern Georgia for a distance of 72 miles. To top it all off, this year for the first time, it is a Golden Ticket Race which means top two men and women earn a coveted spot in the Western States 100.

Finally that moment arrives, when you start a race you have been preparing for for months. It is nothing but pure relief. Right from the beginning i ran close with Jenn and Bethany.  We all had the same idea,that the first half shouldn't feel like an all out race. We ran where we could and hiked where it was necessary.  We pretty much ran near each other for the first 35ish miles. During that time we came up with some pretty ridiculous scenarios; my favorite being we all tied for second place and finished holding hands just hoping maybe the WS board would accept us all. Later AJW assured us that would never happen. They would not give away three 2nd place golden tickets.  This was all just to pass the time. We all knew when it came down to it, it was a race and we all just wanted a ticket to the 'big dance."  

Sarah Woerner, who we didn't know that much about, was almost 30 minutes up on us at mile 28. This was the first spot to see crew and all 3 of us were in and out.  Bethany, as I mentioned, was crewed by AJW and David Horton. Jenn was crewed by her husband, JB Benna, who was also filming as he is known to do. I think it had taken us almost 7 hours to go 28 miles so at that point it was still early. I was in awe that Sarah was able to put 30 minutes on us in a section that tough. I skeptical yet terrified that she may be able to hold that lead. I just knew I had to catch her if I wanted that ticket. And believe me I wanted it. By the time Bethany, Jenn and I reach the second and final crew aid station at mile 47 we will have split up.  Bethany running ahead and gaining on Sarah. Jenn will struggle with a debilitating quad injury and will push on a bit farther than she ever should. But that's what we do. Stubborn, just like a good ultra runner. You can read about Jenn's race and more about what went down in her words by clicking SPACE BLANKET PICNIC. I will forever treasure those 30 or 40  miles we ran together.  The first half was more like Georgia Friendship Race rather than Death.  

On to the Death part.....

TO THE DEATH

Pulling into mile 47, my second and final spot to see Dylan, I knew I had to make it count. Dylan and I had discussed how important this spot was so we had a check list of things to run through.  Eating was an issue at this point and trying to choke down the noodles he had waiting for me proved more difficult than I was hoping. Dylan loaded up my Nathan VaporAiress with all the goodies I would need to help me get the job done. I had been using Tailwind in bottles and a bladder with water up to that point but since the temps were soon to drop we opted to swap out the bladder and just use the Exo Shot and one SpeedDraw Flask.  I changed into a dry shirt, chugged some water and headed out at a quick pace as AJW screamed, "LEAVE BEFORE SHE GETS HERE!"  He was, I assume, referring to Jenn who was in rough shape at that point. I did not know what condition she was in at this time, however, so the rest of the race I figured there was a chance she was just behind be.  

The remainder of my trek through the Georgia wilderness went by like a dream. I had found that "flow" I had been searching for that I experienced once before on a chilly, November night at NJ One Day. I just ran thinking about only one thing. Although everything hurt appropriately, I felt strong and confident I could catch Sarah. I had learned she was just 10 minutes up when I left Winding Stair at 47 miles. I knew Bethany would over take her because she is a strong finisher.  I tried to maintain a "cautiously aggressive pace."  It was still a long way and I feared I would get in trouble with my stomach. I was already not capable of swallowing solid food. So I mostly survived on tiny bits of gel a little at a time and coke and chips (the only "food groups" I can ever stomach late in a race). Because I was able to fuel consistently well during the first half of the race, I was able to survive on less in the second half. Surviving on way less was not part of the race nutrition strategy my coach, Michele, and I went over before hand. But the fact that I sent her a proposed nutrition plan at all was a first. This game is all about constantly adapting and improving. Without Michele's guidance, I really don't think I would have a golden ticket right now.

Despite popular belief, I do not prefer roads. However, I have to admit the road section was one of my favorite parts of the race. It was quiet country road and the sun was beginning to set. I ran past a field of cows who silently watched me float by (maybe it was more like lumbering at this point). I was really moving or so it felt...only the cows know the truth. I was on a mission and I was hoping to soon catch a glimpse of Sarah.  That moment finally came shortly after I made a right onto a dirt forest road. A road which would begin to climb for miles just as I ran by Sarah. Read more about Sarah's race HERE. I wanted to slow down and chat with her but I couldn't. I was feeling too good and I knew Bethany was still ahead of me.  I continued up the hill as long as I could until it got so dark I needed my Halo Fire headlamp.  I needed light not to see the terrain, which was well enough lit by the moonlight, but to make sure I didn't miss a flag in case one indicated a turn off.  I was so scared to screw something up at this point like getting lost or falling badly. I could not believe i was finally in a golden ticket spot. i just had to maintain.   


Running up that hill seemed like forever. At some point on this road I see JB and Dom once again and at that point knew I must be getting close. They had been out all day shooting video and would appear out of nowhere along the course.  I could hear hooting and hollering deep in the woods long before I ever saw the glow of the aid station at Nimblewill. That meant 9 miles to the finish. Just 9 miles and the golden ticket was mine regardless of whether I passed Bethany or not.  But of course I want to catch Bethany, so one last hard effort it has to be given.  The inviting and attentive volunteers helped me fill up my exo shot with coke and I downed some chips and sprinted off into the night.

LAUGHING IN THE DARK

This last part was mostly downhill. My quads were holding up. All the training and prep I had done were enabling me to run consistently well up and down the hills.  Michele had designed the perfect plan for me to be able to do this. Typically these types of climbs would just trash my legs.  As always, I did what she suggested and reaped the benefits.  Finally, I came out into a parking lot and see JB and Dom again.  They point me across the parking lot and to a super technical rocky downhill.  CRAP! I know this was Bethany's strong suit and my feet were really hurting. I did the best I could. I picked my way down and finally heard Dylan's voice in the dark.  David Horton was with him too.  Dylan yelled something about Western States and I turned to yell something back and went flying hard to the ground.  My left calf instantly cramped and I yelled, got back up and started running like hell.  "Don't f$^cked this up now" was my new mantra. 

I knew there was one more big climb; a paved steep pathway up the waterfall which led to a set of 175 stairs.  No problem. I knew how many stairs because the ominous sign was there to warn tourists that this was a "strenuous" climb and that there were in fact 175 stairs. I did lots of stair sessions in training and I knew how long it would take me to climb 175 stairs. Not long at all.  Back on the pathway.  The next sign I come to leads up to what the sign promises are "425 Stairs". I stand at the base of the stairs and throw my head back and just laugh.  Out loud in the dark. All alone. Laughing at Sean Blanton's sick sense of humor. I begin to climb. Just one foot in front of the other, very steady but with purpose. I sway a bit.  Lack of calories and I'm on metal grated stairs.  Eventually I reached the top and then it was another bone-crushing downhill.  I knew I was almost there. Back onto a trail and soon I hear yelling and see lights. I didn't see any headlamps behind me. I was about to cross the creek to the finish in second place! The golden ticket was mine! Carefully I waded across the creek, climbed onto the bank and crossed in 14:42. 2nd place female and 9th overall.  

Bethany had finished 12 minutes before me and despite feeling like she was going to puke had waited for me at the finish. You can read Bethany's first ever blog entry on Georgia Death Race by clicking on BEASTCOAST.  I took out the dirty old railroad spike each runner had to carry the whole distance and threw it in the open coffin Sean had waiting. In return, I got another dirty, old spike but this one was engraved with "Georgia Death Race". This spike was for someone I had been thinking of along the way. I will tell you in a minute.  Afterwards, Bethany, David Horton, AJW, Dylan and I sat around and chatted. Eventually, Bethany excused herself to go puke next to a tree and then eventually I as well.  Hey! No guts, no glory! RIGHT?! 
Photo by Dominic Grossman
So that's it. My golden ticket story. Team TROT for life.  I am proud to be a part of such a diverse group of athletes.  On my feet, as always, Trail Toes (use code MAGGATRON) and Feetures.  Once again no blisters. In fact, that was the best my feet ever looked after a race. Thanks to Tailwind for the delicious flavors and my sweet new tech shirt.  Had it not been cloudy, I would have sported my Julbo Access.  They are by far the best pair of sunglasses I have ever put on my face.  Nathan, you have me geared to the ears. Also I love my job which happens to be the new marketing coordinator for Nathan.  And if you still haven't had enough of me, check out this Nathan blog about my race :) Thanks to all my good buddies who cheered me on from where ever they were in the world that weekend. I think about all of you at some point while I'm running these long races.  One person I kept in mind was my buddy Joe Delano's daughter (also named Dylan).  Joe was supposed to run GDR as well but little Dylan was in the ICU. She has glycogen storage disease, which I had never even heard of until a week before Georgia Death Race.  Her body can't regulate its blood sugar and she has horrible seizures. She also had trouble breathing. She spent two weeks in an induced coma while they tried to keep her blood sugar and breathing regulated. There is no cure and it is something she has to live with for now.  Some friends of Joe have set up a research fund for a cure. The link is here



This "Georgia Death Race" railroad spike is for Dylan Delano. #SEEYOUINSQUAW

11 comments:

  1. Awesome report Maggie and Congrats on #headingtosquaw!

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    1. Thanks, Bryan! Some Tammany in future ;)

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  2. Loved it!
    Great reading and huge congratulations again! :)
    #jealousswede

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    1. Next year if you don't get in by lottery come to the US and stay with me and run a golden ticket race!

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  3. Thanks for sharing your report, Maggie! I can't wait to your badass self in person soon. Fan girl! Team TROT for life. :)

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    1. My boyfriend just told me he spent all day thinking about the quesadilla story.

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    1. You are making me blush. Thanks, cover girl!

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  5. Nice work Maggie! You will kick ass at WS100. Is Ryan invited?

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  6. Congratulations. What a great testament to your training to have it all come together this way. Thank you for such a detailed recap, too. I've yet to see an ultra, in Georgia, that doesn't look horrific. ;)

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