Pinhoti 100, Pinhoti trail, 100-mile race recap, trail running, ultra running, Alabama trail running, how to run 100 miles, Talladega National Forest, Bald Rock, Cheaha State Park
100 Miler Training,  Race Reports,  Running,  Trail Running,  Ultra Training

Pinhoti 100 Race Recap

After a slight delay, here it is—my Pinhoti 100 race recap. I honestly struggled to write this one, and not just because I’ve been flying high on painkillers from my wisdom teeth removal. How do you put one of the best days of your life into words? How do you string enough coherent thoughts together to make people understand even a tiny fraction of what you felt? I tried to write many times after the race, and all I came up with was “AHHHHHHHHHH!”

For those of you short on time (or attention span), here’s the gist of it: 100 miles. 28.5 hours. 28k ft. elevation change. Rain. Mud. Cold. Fun. Pain. Friends. Buckle. Best race ever.

If you want to read on, I suggest taking a bathroom break, grabbing food and coffee, and kissing your loved ones before continuing. Settle in—it’ll be a long ride.

The Crew

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Team #PartyInABox

Man, I don’t know what to say other than my crew was a huge reason why I finished feeling so strong. Team #PartyInABox was exactly that—a group of friends having a party, who just happened to also be crewing me for 28 hours in the pouring rain and cold.

Just as in Run For Kids, my sister, Natalie, and her boyfriend, Blaine, drove down from New Jersey to be a part of the fun. I can’t put into words what it meant for me to have them there. Not just anyone travels over 1,000 miles to spend a weekend in the woods with no sleep. They’re my favorite.

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Heavy rain can’t keep the smiles off our faces

A good crew is like a NASCAR pit crew—every person has a job and is 100% focused on you. Which is so weird to get used to! I’m not one for having people wait on me hand and foot. But it was actually incredible. One person would refill my hydration bladder while two others were changing my socks while at least one other person was feeding me.

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Sock change and foot massage at Mile 68

Because I always had my phone on me, I used it to my advantage and texted my crew when I was nearing an aid station with instructions on what I’d need when I got there. It worked out well—they were always ready with everything and got me in and out as quickly as possible.

The Course

Oh, Pinhoti 100. On a good day the course is a strugglefest full of rocky, technical terrain and a hell of a lot of elevation change. Throw in rain, disintegrating trails, and fog, and it’s a crapshoot whether you’ll make it out unscathed.

Race morning dawned with the promised rain, but luckily no storms. I choked down some pizza and water (breakfast of champions!), braided my hair, pinned on my bib, and off we went from our hotel in Oxford to the new starting line at Aid Station 2. I was strangely calm through all of this, as if I were going on a short training run instead of the biggest race of my life.

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Nat and Blaine made me listen to Let It Go to get pumped for the race

All the runners and crews were milling about the starting area, collectively groaning as the heavens opened up. One runner was sitting in the grass playing an ocarina-esque instrument (bonus points if you get the reference), making the scene even more surreal. Was I actually about to run 100 miles, or was this some strange dream? I lined up with other BUTS runners, the race started unceremoniously, and off we went down the road.

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My smile started at Mile 0 and didn’t leave my face until I fell asleep Sunday afternoon. Photo credit

The first 13 miles were now an out-and-back due to the weather-related course changes. I knew from talking to experienced Pinhoti runners to get a good start position to avoid being caught in the bottleneck and conga line that would occur the moment we got onto the narrow single track. I stuck close to Vanessa, Jeremy, and Andon—all Pinhoti veterans who had offered me endless encouragement and advice leading up to the race.

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Definition of a trail race bottleneck

The course was narrow and offered little room for error—one misstep and you’d slide off the trail and down the mountain. Which of course I did, only being saved from doom when Vanessa caught me by my hydration vest. And then it got even trickier as the leaders started to pass us heading back to Aid Station 2 and we had to step off the trail to let them pass.

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Misty morning on the Pinhoti

But it was so pretty. So pretty! You could see the hills of Talladega National Forest, mist was rising off the trees, and fall colors were in full display. I ran along soaking it all in and trying to process what I was about to do. Without freaking the fuck out, because I still had 90 miles to run.

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The hills of Talladega National Forest

I got back to Aid Station 2 feeling strong and energized. My crew had me in and out within a few minutes, and I was off to tackle the upcoming challenges.

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Running back into Aid Station 2. Photo Credit

Miles 13-41 actually went by rather quickly, which feels funny to say since it’s such a long distance on a normal day. This part of the course was more pretty Pinhoti single track—rugged and rooty, with a few cascading waterfalls. The creek crossings were frequent and had enough of a current to whisk a tired runner into the Gulf. Resistance to not looking like a waterlogged rat was futile.

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Shoulda brought my bathing suit
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Taken by Welsh runner, Guy, moments before the runner in front had to grab me before I got swept away

As I like to do, I struck up conversations with other runners along this stretch to make friends and pass the time. I had a blast talking to Rhea, a runner from Louisiana who had just been in Birmingham to run (and win!) the Crusher Ridge 42k. We were cruising along chatting and I felt great until Rhea mentioned something about hitting Bald Rock before sunset, which was way ahead of my goal. Realizing that I was running too fast, I bid Rhea farewell and walked a while to get back to my goal pace. Boo to losing a trail friend, yay to sticking to my race plan!

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Waterfall selfie

I felt like I did well at aid stations—I stopped and changed my socks at Aid Station 3, but otherwise stuck to my plan of getting in, getting what I needed, and getting out quickly.

Because of the deluge, two of the aid stations became unmanned water stops. Which didn’t bother me one bit—I was carrying extra Tailwind on me and could just dump it into my water and keep moving. I did loiter for a bit at the Lake Morgan Aid Station, because it was run by BUTS and my pacer Mary and her husband Michael were there. Michael encouraged me to slow it down even more, so I used that as an excuse to stand around and eat all their M&Ms.

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BUTS at Lake Morgan

Miles 35-41 were where I softly bumped into The Wall for the first time. After leaving unmanned Aid Station 6, I was all on my own without another runner in sight. Which I generally don’t mind! Until I started the climb up to Bald Rock. And it got foggy. And dark. And rock garden-y. It was a total repeat of the end of Georgia Jewel 50! Which had also put me into a funk. My headlamp wasn’t doing a whole lot of good, so the going was slow and slippery.

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A glimpse of the “trail” leading to Bald Rock before it got too dark to see

I started to text/whine to my crew, who properly responded with selfies. Toward the top I ran into two other runners who didn’t have their headlamps yet, so we banded together and I led the way to the famed Bald Rock boardwalk. We reached Bald Rock and its inky black views and had to skirt a gigantic boulder on a very narrow and slippery rock with a long drop to our right. I was so focused on not falling to my death that I ran headfirst into the boulder, knocking my hat and headlamp into a puddle. Hooray for clumsiness! But at the end of the boardwalk were my crew and dry clothes and I was over an hour ahead of my goal pace, so all was right with the world.

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Friendly faces waiting for me on the Bald Rock boardwalk
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Mile 40 cheers. Photo credit

After a wardrobe change in the car (it is not easy to put tights onto wet, swollen legs), I picked up my pacer Drew and we headed toward Blue Hell. At this point it was so dark and foggy that we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us—my crew used their cars to guide us down the road and back onto the trail. Blue Hell was as tough as I had expected, but not fatal. Drew and I picked our way down the mountain at an elderly snail’s pace. Most of the time I didn’t even bother risking my legs and scooted down the rocks on my ass and hands. Below, we could see headlamps bobbing and hear shrieks as runners slid and fell off the trail. Not unnerving at all. But we arrived at the bottom unscathed and ran at a good clip down fire roads toward the Silent Trail Aid Station.

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Wardrobe change in a warm, dry car

Miles 45-55 were with Sally, my #1 trail running girl. Honestly, I’m not sure this part of the race even happened if not for our selfie and my vague recollections of things along the course. These 10 miles flew by in an instant! I remember some gnarly creek crossings, some slippery rock stairs with a railing (hooray for not plummeting to my death), and runners wearing trash bags and making loud swishing sounds. We talked about Trader Joe’s food and who knows what else, hit Hubbard Creek Aid Station with their delicious vegan goodies, and suddenly Sally’s time pacing me was up. Sad day. But that’s the sign of a good pacer—one who makes the miles magically disappear.

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For better or worse, Sally has totally upped her selfie and trail texting game – I’m a bad influence

Ah, miles 55-85. The part of Pinhoti that separates the women from the girls, the trail runners from the wannabes. The part that will leave you sitting on a rock whimpering (true story—I saw it happen). This was the section I paced with Greg two years ago, so I was very familiar with the suck that lay ahead. I had recruited Beau to pace this section, because he’s a fun, experienced ultra runner who won’t take any shit or whining.

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Locked and loaded and ready to tackle the night at Adam’s Gap

The first couple of miles were a gradual uphill on fire road—a nice walking break for me but an anticlimactic start for a pacer. We were both happy to get back running on single track! Beau did a great job sticking with me and telling me stories on fire roads, then taking the lead and pushing the pace (or so it felt) on trails. It was as if an invisible rope was tied between us and I was running just to keep up with him. I had zero concept of time and pace, which was why having pacers was so important to me. Beau kept track of cutoff times, and all I had to do was put my body into cruise control and follow along.

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Posing with Headless Helen, my dad’s contribution to Pinhoti

The monster of Pinhoti lies between miles 68-85, waiting to eat haggard runners and spit their bones off Horn Mountain. I took a little extra time at Porters Gap, knowing I wouldn’t see my crew again until morning. Then, Beau and I set off to the BUTS party at Pinnacle. The climb going up to Pinnacle is the hardest of the race—it starts slow and gradual, then careens you uphill and onto a never-ending set of switchbacks that make you question your life choices.

My plan was to take this section at a conservative pace, zone out, and embrace the suck. Which worked until the first steep climb knocked me flat on my ass. I’m talking blood pounding in my ears, legs screaming, stomach threatening to hurl its contents at my feet. I moaned to Beau that I was going to puke and die (or something along those lines), and he came to my rescue with some Rolaids and a good story or two until I was back amongst the living. After that I put on my big girl panties and rode the switchbacks, watching and hearing the Pinnacle Christmas lights and thumping party music fade in and out of my line of vision and hearing like a sick tease.

For those of you unfamiliar with the race, Pinnacle is an aid station at mile 74—an oasis at the top of a mountain in the middle of the night full of good food and friendly faces. Climbing out of the woods and being bathed in the Christmas lights is like being enveloped in a warm hug from your most favorite person. It was a mental milestone for me—I knew if I made it to Pinnacle, I’d finish the race. After some great food, a shot of whiskey, and tons of hugs and high-fives, Beau and I got on our way to do just that.

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Probably my favorite photo from Pinhoti

The bad thing about Pinnacle (“Pinnacle”) is that it’s a false summit, a sick fucking mind game. The trail only continues to climb from there, only now you’re navigating slippery rock gardens and a biting wind and driving rain. I remembered this part well from two years ago—this is where a lot of runners hit The Wall and struggled. Since running 100 miles is all a mental game, I had prepared for this section. Or so I thought. The next 10 miles weren’t spectacular for me either—my vision kept blurring from the cold and rain and exhaustion, and I kept running off the trail and shouting for Beau to come and rescue me. What a good sport. He’d also gently nudge me to run when I would slow down to a walk. If I snapped, “Not yet!” he’d walk for a beat and then run anyway, making me chase after him.

After miles of biting wind and endless fire roads, the sun rose, marking another milestone of my race. I had survived the night! The daylight was a welcome sight, even though it only illuminated this godforsaken stretch of road. I was pumped to hit the single track, see my crew again, and get my buckle.

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Beau at sunrise being all, “Hurry the hell up, woman! We have people to pass and buckles to get!”
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Hello, Mile 85!

Popping out of the woods and into Bulls Gap was such an exhilarating feeling! Only 15 “easy” miles until I was done. I was absolutely giddy with excitement and exhaustion at this point—I bounced around talking to friends who were crewing other BUTS runners and complimented Sonia on her nice Lululemon shirt! If I were another runner not doing so well at the aid station, I would have hated me with a fiery passion.

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Reunited with my crew and ready to finish the race

I shed some layers, changed my socks (I was wearing Blaine’s at this point since I had run out of my own dry socks), stuffed my pockets with chips and espresso beans, shoved pirogies into my face, and went off with Olivia!

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I actually shouted, “The food of my people!” Also, note my overflowing pockets of food

Or, off…I…went…Those 15 “easy” miles were on rolling fire roads, which I immediately realized did not feel so hot after 85 miles of running. I couldn’t force my legs to run at the pace I felt like I could have been running. I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t that tired, I just did.not.want.to.run. Olivia was incredible (and patient)—she kept ahead of me at a good pace, chattering away with interesting enough stories that I had to keep up to hear her!

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I want to be Olivia when I grow up

She had also just run this part of the course in preparation for pacing, so she talked me through every twist and turn and hill. This part of the course wasn’t as pretty as the trail, but it was still rural and scenic, with leaves blowing all around us and rolling fields lining the road. I just couldn’t get my body to move. I think we lost a lot of time on this stretch, though at the time I didn’t care because I knew I’d finish ahead of the cutoff. I did get a nice burst of energy when we “blew” past a struggling runner from California who told us that he had vastly underestimated Alabama trails. Damn straight, buddy boy! We may not have elevation and mountains, but we have gnarly trails that will make you cry for your mommy.

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Running past Lake Howard

Because of the rain, the mile 95 aid station was closed to cars, so we weren’t sure Mary, my final pacer, would make it. But as Olivia and I trudged up the hill toward the music, my entire crew was standing at the top cheering and waiting to give me that final push to the finish line. I sat down for the last time to re-lube my feet and eat those famous Cici’s brownies Vanessa had told me about. Looking back, I could have grabbed Mary and breezed through this aid station. But I needed that mental break. And the brownies.

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Mmmmmm, brownies and sheer exhaustion

Mary had arguably the hardest job pacing me those final 5 miles. I’m pretty sure I didn’t say too much other than how tired I was and how much my feet hurt. She entertained me with stories about pacing Michael to the finish of his first Pinhoti and encouraged me to run for small stretches at a time.

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The ever-patient Mary

Pinhoti isn’t an easy course. The 28,000 feet of elevation change is nothing to sneeze at in Alabama. But that doesn’t even hold a candle to the final 3 miles being on a flat, straight stretch of road leading to the stadium. I swear—this road was like a fucking optical illusion where you run and run but never get any closer to the finish. Again, I lost a lot of time here walking when I could have been running. C’est la vie.

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The Road to Nowhere

The saving grace of this part of the course was seeing my people along the way. Around mile 97, Howard Greg and Sonia pulled up with another car behind them. Sonia said something about having a surprise, then the other car’s doors popped open and Darnell, Rachel, and Nikki ran out. Y’all. I was in total shock. We all started to ugly cry right there in the middle of the road. It was one of my favorite parts of the race.

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The best friends ever

After more miles of miserable asphalt, my crew came out to run the final stretch to the stadium with me. Before that moment, finishing the race still felt like a dream that I would wake up from. But running into the stadium flanked by my friends and family, who had just spent 28 cold, wet, miserable hours helping me, made it hit home. I had done it.

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Rounding the final turn to the stadium

When I hit the stadium track, I took off like a bat out of hell. Suddenly, nothing hurt—all I could feel was this insane amount of excitement and emotion coursing through my body. After years of dreaming and months of training, the finish line was right there in front of me. I ran through cheering and crying and of course jumping, then fell into the arms of my people.

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No words

The Aftermath

I felt like a million bucks immediately after crossing the finish line. Hell, I even reenacted my signature leap for extra photo ops. I sat down inside to beer and a breakfast feast, amid hugs and congratulations coming from all over. And then my body figured out what I had just done. And it screamed “WTF woman!” and shut down. Uncontrollable shaking, dry heaving, muscles cramping, the works. Luckily, Darnell, Nikki, Rachel, and Jenny jumped into action and nursed me back to the land of the living. I’m telling you—if you can find friends who will stand outside your bathroom stall while you’re slowly dying, hold tight to them. They’re good people.

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Massaging my smelly, sweaty, sore muscles

The next few days were surprisingly pleasant. On Monday, I was already hobbling around quickly. By Thursday, I was cycling and doing yoga. And then on Friday I got my wisdom teeth out and my world came to a grinding halt, but that’s a story for a different day.

The Food

I stuck with my tried-and-true plan of using Tailwind and then supplementing with whatever looked good at aid stations. I used a 1.5L HydraPack bladder and always had 400 calories of Tailwind in it. I ran with ziplock bags full of Cheetos, Doritos, and chocolate-covered espresso beans to get me through the overnight hours. At aid stations, I feasted on quesadillas, grilled cheese, soup, brownies, etc. Let me tell you—aid station volunteers are absolutely the best. They kept us fed around the clock with delicious hot food, despite the pouring rain.

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I love my food and soda

At mile 40 I started taking Tums and ibuprofen every few hours to help combat muscle soreness and stomach acid. I didn’t feel bad, but I had heard from multiple 100 veterans to take these as a preventative so that I wouldn’t feel bad. And it seemed to work well! The few times my stomach started revolting I would just take some Rolaids or Tums and it would help. I am so, so happy that my nutrition was on point and I never suffered.

The Gear

Again going with the rule of nothing new on race day, I stuck with my favorite pieces of clothing. Under Armor shorts and Athleta tank for the day, and Brooks’ new fall line for the cold night. Rather than going with a lightweight raincoat, I grabbed my North Face Thermoball puffy to get me through the night. Great decision! It was waterproof despite the constant downpour, and I never felt that biting wind at the top of the mountains. After hearing so many stories of runners getting hypothermic at Pinhoti, I’m even more pleased with my spur-of-the-moment decision.

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The jacket that saved my race

For shoes, I only wore my Brooks Cascadias—perfect for draining and slippery conditions! My fav always.

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My Brooks Cascadias have never let me down

The one new piece of gear I had was a Salomon Slab 12Set vest. This thing is so incredible that it will get its own review soon. But trust me, it is worth every single penny, and then some. Don’t be stupid and skimp on something as important as a hydration pack or vest. You’ll hate yourself in the middle of a race.

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I swear – this vest can hold everything plus the kitchen sink

The Future

Two weeks later and it still hasn’t hit me that this is all over. I still feel like I should have something to be training for, looking forward to. I feel empty in a way. Which I hear is normal. You put your heart and soul into something for such a long time, and in one short weekend it’s all over.

Will I do another 100? Hell fucking yes! I feel like my strong performance means that there’s only room for improvement from here. While I still don’t really have that fire to run faster, I do want to do harder 100s and keep searching for my limit.

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Because I want more of these

So that’s my story, if you’ve made it this far without going cross-eyed. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

“Thank you” doesn’t feel adequate, but thank you to everyone who played a role in my race—whether it was offering advice, being out there with me, sending messages, or following along online. Your support means the world to me.

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Finish line celebration

Did I really smile for all 100 miles? Yes. I’ll teach you my secrets in an upcoming post.

Fin. For now.

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