The numbers vary with the telling, but this year's Georgia Death Race (GDR) allegedly offered 37,000' of elevation change (translating to a little over 18,000' of climb,) 68-miles of mostly trails and some forest service roads (a little pavement toward the end) and a lot of pain and suffering. Sean "Run Bum" Blanton is perfectly "cast" as the race director for an event with "death" in the name as he blends a sense of sadism with dry humor. I think deep, deep, deep down a small part of Sean wants people to enjoy the race, but for the most part, he wants you to be cussing him.
|All this for one race???|
You have two drop bag opportunities--miles 28 and 52, plus you can send a bag to the finish. I put a white shirt in my first bag, figuring I'd be in the sun most of the day, and a darker shirt in the second bag, along with socks and some lightweight trail shoes--kind of like minimalist shoes. Both bags had gels, Stinger Waffles, etc... The finish bag had a near-complete change of clothes and a towel to wipe the grime off with.
|Be it ever so humble...|
At check-in, we were required to show proof that we had our required gear and were informed there would be random checks at aid stations--like "show me your mittens." I passed inspection, and was allowed to get my bib and $10 shuttle ticket (to bring me back to Vogel after the race.) We got a white tech shirt for showing up and they were selling some of Sean's "Do Epic Sh*t" merchandise. This is his version of "Life is Good" and I believe his personal mantra. There was a mandatory pre-race meeting that went over some of the basics and offered an opportunity for questions. He mostly repeated what he had emphasized in the e-mails.
I went back to the tent after the meeting, planning to turn in early since I'd need to wake up at 4:00 a.m. While the tent did an admirable job of providing shelter, fabric walls do little to drown out the sounds of kids from a church group who have discovered the fun to be had in a state park bathroom...I probably ultimately fell asleep around 11:30 p.m.
|This is the lake by the start (as seen in the daylight.)|
The first, short hill is a warm-up for what's to come. Immediately after descending it, you face a climb from mile 3 to 7 that gains around 2,100' (or just over 500' per mile.) By this point, the headlamps visible along the trail had already thinned out considerably, replaced by the lights of nearby cities. Mile 7 peaks out at about 4,250' and is the highest point on the course. Views were mostly limited to city lights since it was still over an hour until sunrise, but you could see the silhouette of nearby mountains in the pre-dawn light. The first aid station appears after a brief downhill. I really remember very little about this station other than filling my bottle (it was dark, after all.) I assume they had the standard fare. I quickly downed a gel and took off.
Miles 8 through 21 were fairly uneventful as we ran up and down the ridgeline, slowly descending until a drastic drop would take us down to the mile 21 aid station. I messed up in this stretch and forgot to refill my bottle at mile 13.5. It wasn't overly warm yet, but the aid stations were spaced pretty far apart. I think a volunteer even asked me about my bottle but, feeling the weight of the camera in the water bottle pouch, I thought it was full. After some potato chips and a PB&J segment, I started the climb...
Sean issued a challenge to see who could collect the most trash along the course. On this section, I took him up on the challenge started collecting. Over the course of a few miles, I had acquired: a McDonalds Super-Size styrofoam cup, two 16-oz glass Coke bottles, various wrappers, a deflated mylar balloon, and 1/2 of a boot sole. Not having anything to put this trash in, I was definitely overburdened and could barely manage to carry it all, plus my bottle. I surely carried these things for several miles until I finally ran across a volunteer who was shooting video. I asked about leaving the trash with them, knowing I couldn't carry it any longer. They graciously said that was fine and told me it was 1.5 miles down to the aid station. When I learned how far I had to go, I knew I would not have been able to carry it that much longer and was glad to be relieved of the burden.
|One of the few chances to get an unobstructed view.|
When I made it back up to the video camera person, they directed me down another way and I thanked them again for letting me leave the trash with them--let them collect the $100 prize! This stretch would take us to our drop bags at mile 28 and was largely downhill. As bad as I felt and as methodically as I made my descents on the technical single-track trail, I wasn't getting passed. I certainly wasn't burning up the course, but typically there are some people who got caught back mid-pack early who are just now making their way through everyone, but it hadn't happened to me yet. I had taken my second S-cap by now and was feeling a bit better after having consumed a lot of water at the mile 21 aid station.
|The Toccoa River Bridge|
Despite the arduous climb to reach the mile 32.7 aid station, you can see that more climbing lay ahead. It loomed over me as I tried to gulp down some Coke and a banana. Like many of the other climbs along this course, there was a notable lack of switchbacks. Many of these brought me to the "hands on knees" method of climbing. Still, after finding myself running and walking alone for the last seven miles, I began to gain on someone. He'd stay ahead for a bit, but eventually I'd catch up and ran together for a while. His name was John and he was close to my height but a lot "thicker." He had legs like tree trunks, but moved at a pretty good clip. We went back and forth a bit, each choosing walk breaks at different times. Even when we weren't talking, it was good to have someone else out there pulling or pushing me along. We met some Boy Scouts around mile 40 who made sure we didn't miss our turn and told us that the next aid station was about a mile ahead. When we reached the aid station, it was primarily manned by two scouts, though the troop leaders were also there. The scouts seemed a tad unsure what to do (Sean had warned us that this was their first time working an aid station) but tried their best to help. Hopefully, they earned their Aid Station merit badge. I walked out a little earlier and heard John giving them a cheeseburger he had been carrying and no longer wanted. One of the scout master's went with us a little bit, encouraging us and noting that he had run some marathons in Mexico City--I guess he just was trying to say he understood how we felt. When we had gotten about a mile away from the aid station, I asked John what time it was as I had hoped to make mile 40 by 3:00 p.m. (ten hours) to make my 17 hour goal. He said that we hit that aid station at about 2:00, so I was--much to my surprise--ahead of my goal. But, self-doubt had me already doing the math on when I'd finish if I had to walk it in from here. My 17 hour goal was based a little on the course's similarity to Pitchell, but mostly because that's when the first shuttle would leave to take me back to Vogel State Park, and my tent. The next shuttle would be three hours later and I wasn't sure I'd want to wait that long.
|Representing Pisgah Nation earlier in the race...|
|John's just ahead of me near the mile 52 aid station.|
|Blurry-Cam view of the last aid station|
I stayed, out of necessity, at this finish area longer than I had after any race and actually enjoyed sitting in the sheltered area and talking to the other runners. I was tired, but it was nice getting to know some others and connecting over a shared experience.
|Please place these on my grave Mr. Run Bum...|
Postscript: I checked with Sean on some stats. There were 164 starters and 111 finishers, if you include the two sweeps. So 53 dropped for a finish rate of only about 68%.