So far this year I have run a marathon (details here), the Bear Blaster 50k+ and a 12 hour race for 37 miles, seven days apart (details here and here), My most recent race exploit proved to be the most difficult and challenging 50k race I have ever ran, the Double Top/ Double Tap 100 ultramarathon. The Double Top 100 mile/100k and 50k race was held in Chatsworth Georgia within the boundary of Fort Mountain State Park on a mix of hiking and biking trails, entailing numerous steep climbs and descents and extreme technical running terrain.
The Double Tap sub-moniker for the race is derived from the movie Zombieland where one of the rules is to always double tap or shoot a zombie twice. The race’s double tap involves two out and back runs down the Pinhoti connector trail, just outside of the park.The remainder of the course is set up as a figure 8 loop, composed of an inner and outer loop.
I opted to go with an early start time as I knew this course would prove challenging, starting at 5 A.M. instead of 7 A.M. The one factor I did not consider with this early start time would be the effect of running in down pouring rain in the dark for two hours. As I started my race I moved along the course enjoying the early easy section consisting of gradual and steady down hill running. Eventually this route emptied out into the lower campground area, then shot us runners back up to the to p of the mountain via the Gahutti trails. The first two hours of the race went slowly, the dark and deluge of rain made the rocky trail slippery and challenging to traverse by headlamp. I have spent many hours running in the dark by headlamp but this proved extremely challenging as the trail got slippery and challenging to traverse. By the end of two hours I had barely covered five miles, two miles slower than my worst running race time… I knew it was going to be a very long day.
Eventually I came out at the top of the mountain and I mentally prepared myself for what the race course had in store for me next. I was familiar with the course ahead of time and knew the remaining twenty five miles would be more difficult than the five miles I just finished. These trails would be steep and the footing would be unsure due to fields of loose boulders covered in slippery moss. Of course I signed up for this race knowing I would be challenged by this course.
I pushed on and enjoyed the downhill jaunt from the 302 to the 301 trails. I knew at the end of this downhill section would be the worst climb for the day, a three-quarter mile climb up a thousand feet of elevation with an average grading around twenty five percent. I had gone down this a few times and it proved challenging, just never climbed it before. As I started my climb up I got to chatting with a volunteer that had been out running and checking up on runners on the trail. We chatted and worked our way up the steep incline. Before I knew it, he looked at me and patted me on the back ” We made it up, congratulations”. I had not realized that we had just finished the toughest climb of the day as I was so engrossed in our discussion. One major climb done, several more to go.
By this time I should have realized it would be a long day. At each aid station I found myself staying longer than I usually would this early in a race. I just needed some rest, the trail to this point had beat up on my legs and psyche and while I had only ran about eleven to twelve miles, I was exhausted and hungry. At eleven miles I felt like I usually do when I get above twenty seven miles. I continued to push on towards the Pinhoti connector trail where I would get my first ‘tap’. This trail runs from the park down to the Pinhoti trail, a trail that runs from within Alabama up into the North Georgia mountains. This section basically involved performing an out and back run along the connector trail, with the turn around point indicated by a sign.
Eventually I climbed back up the main mountain and started the shortened second loop. The day continued to push on and I kept moving up one mountain then descending. I ran extremely slow as the rocks shifted and moved under foot, keeping me guessing about the best location to plant my feet. I eventually made my way back to the connector trail, completing my second ‘tap’. Then I pushed off and down the long technical down hill trail that would lead to the last and final mountain climb for the day, a mile and a half climb over 1,159 feet of elevation gain. I had run this section earlier to finish the first loop, but running it as the last two miles of the race proved to be torture. My legs and body were dead tired from climbing mountains then trying to run on technical trail immediately after. But I pushed myself up the mountain and to the finish line knowing that soon my race would be complete. After a bit over fifteen hours I finally jogged past the virtual finish line and collapsed into a provided chair while clutching my finisher pint glass in my hands.
This race is notorious for its difficulty at any distance. I wanted to challenge myself and this race gave me that challenge. To put my fifteen hours in perspective this race had numerous ‘did not finishes’ at all levels and the finish times ranges from eight hours to thirteen, not including my fifteen. Many of the other runners had thought about quitting with six miles left to go, a rarity in ultra running races. In reflection, starting early was a good idea, but three hours later it stopped raining. The runners starting at 7 A.M. had very little rain to contend with and probably had an advantage time and weather wise. While this was my slowest 50k ran so far, I am extremely pleased with my overall finish. I know I will be training on these trails for other future races.
After cooling down a bit, my friend and I went into town to get Pizza. We ended up ordering two medium (16 inch) pizzas and the manager tossed in large salads with huge chunks of Feta cheese. We sat and traded stories of the day and reflected on the epic nature of the race we just completed. Before I knew it I had eaten an entire salad and my whole pizza, leaving just a skeletal pile of crusts on my plate.
This weekend and this race truly were epic in scale and proportion, just like my end of race day appetite.
Til next time.