Georgia Death Race Recap: The DNF Adventure


[ spoiler alert: we didn’t make it to the finish line. and, we don’t have a coveted railroad spike. but, we do have an adventure to tell, and 64 or 65.7 or some crazy number of ISH miles under our feet. ]

| preface | 

After running something called the d e a t h race once, one would probably assume, your cup would be full [like, overflowing full], but for some reason, ours was not quite there. During the final miles of GDR 2016, I affirmatively declared that I would never EVER…EVER run this race again, and then a few weeks later, a sign up reminder was put on the calendar, months went by and then one August morning, we anxiously awaited sign up in our Las Vegas hotel room.

Maybe if I reread the recap, I would have thought twice before I frantically tried to get my registration to go through [How could this many people possibly want to run this race…? The world is a crazy place.]. Or maybe I wouldn’t have changed my mind at all. There is something appealing about this level of suffering. Either way, there is no use contemplating what might have been - we ran, we adventured, and we don’t need to go back….for another couple of years.

We ran all winter long for race day. 

ALL winter…

| race day | 

Georgia Death Race is a point to point race - it’s 68, or 74, or 68ish miles - I don’t know for sure [and, every watch will tell you something different], but I can tell you [for sure] that any of the aforementioned numbers of miles is far, like really freakin’ far. But, it’s possible, even with 40,000 feet of elevation change.

So, if you are ready to dive into this adventure, be forewarned, the recap is almost as long as the race itself. Okay, I kid, but it’s pretty long [and, I’d like to think, pretty amusing too]. 

Race day morning came extra early - too early for even the best of morning people. The alarm went off at 12:15 AM, a short two hours after bedtime. And, you can bet those two hours never reached deep sleep, it was more like laying in bed with your eyes closed. So after a quick wake up shower, I ran downstairs [this is the only point of time that I would run downstairs in the most beautiful mountain home over the course of the weekend] for breakfast [bagel with peanut butter washed down with Ionic Supreme] prepared by Jesse. And, this year, we were joined by the best of friends. To their advantage, they had no idea what was coming [except for what I told them].

At 2:00 AM, we got in the car to make the drive to Vogel State Park. Jesse promptly fell back to sleep and I remembered just how far we would adventure in the upcoming hours. Remember, it is an hour plus drive to the start line from the finish line. Arrival at Vogel was easy - we checked in, added our railroad spike to our packs [wrapped in bubble wrap — always prepared], used the restrooms, sat in the warm car, applied all the Trail Toes to every spot suceptable to chaffing on our body [ultra running is glamorous - I bet you never knew that your butt crack could chaff until you ran too many miles :)], and 10 minutes before the race start [that’s 4:50 AM], we turned on our headlamps and headed to the start line.

Group of participants at the Georgia Death Race

And, with that, we were off. By off, we began the day, we still had 70+ miles to run. So, if you are expecting lightening fast speed, read the recap of the elites. They made it to Amicalola in sub 12 hours [in other words, they were one full marathon ahead of me….]. Here, visualize a turtle, a fast turtle, but a turtle. We followed Sean [Run Bum, RD], in his truck, to the single track trail, where we would fall into a single file line of lights and began the first of many ups.

Mile 0 - 21.5: Maybe it was best that many of these miles could not really be seen. It was dark, it was foggy, and, it was cold [not winter training cold, but cold enough]. And, I was sweating, like I had the worst case of the flu or it was the hottest day of the year. But, I was not only sweating [to death - appropriate exagerattion], I was freezing. This is never a good combonation for a race that reminds you that you still have 50 miles to go on your way out of the aid station at Mile 21.5. Yes, in fact, my body was proudly saying, “WTF” as I forced it to run and climb on close to no sleep [for the last two days]. But, despite losing every last drop of sodium in my body, I kept my head in check, focused on Jesse’s footsteps, and soaked up the beauty of those mountains. I didn’t even cry…

Mile 21.5: It was at this point that I had a heart-to-heart with my body [it defiantly took it a few more miles to listen] and ate all the things. I never eat all of the things - the chicken broth, the salt with potatoes [not a mistake — the amount of salt in my little snack bag of potatoes is likely more salt than I consume in a whole month], the potato chips. I ate it all, without one word of complaint, maybe a face of disgust, but not one complaint. ONLY 50 MILES TO GO!

Jesse and Crystal running the Georgia Death Race

Mile 21.5 - 28: You know that defiance…? It continued up and down the mountain and I swear part of me was left on that final climb on my way to 28. For someone who loves climbing, I will tell you that the best way to describe the early elevation change of this race is in two words - soul sucking. But, don’t be too thrown off, it’s a love/hate relationship here. I LOVE this half of the course. And, while we made it to the top of the world several times in that 7 mile stretch, I felt far less than on top of the world, but somehow still managed to climb up and up, run when we could, and follow right behind Jesse [a few steps behind, but right behind] to make it into checkpoint after checkpoint hours ahead of schedule.

Mile 28 Point Bravo [Drop Bin 1]: I agreed to pickle juice. Yup, pickle juice. And, two shots of chicken broth. If you know me at all, you will know I would only agree to such things in life or death situations. This was closer to death than life. By, the lovely salt markings on my face, neck and Lulu pants, I was probably looking my best. We changed socks, reapplied Trail Toes, stocked our packs with more food and since we were not looking for a volunteer position at the Aid Station, the kind volunteer reminded us, that it was time to go.

Crystal running the Georgia Death Race

Mile 28 - 41: Somewhere within these miles I came back to life. Surprise! This is my favorite part of the course. We climbed. I smiled. I ate all of my food. I drank all of the hot liquid in my water bottles [yuck!]. The sun was shining. I haven’t felt such temperatures since last summer. I stopped to pet some really cute puppies/dogs [every course should have a few fur babies throughout]. We ran across the suspension bridge [and, stopped to take a picture]. We found our good friend, Ryan, on every uphill and promptly lost him on most downhills [he follows in Killian’s steps on the downhill, and well..I do not]. We ran, right on pace, to a 21 hour finish. At Mile 41, we found our favorite Aid Station — Why? They had ice! Yes, ice. Which meant a cold drink. A - MAZ - ING. With ice in our bottles, we were off AND running [yes, running, at 41 miles in…].

Crystal and Jess on a bridge while running the Georgia Death Race

Mile 41 - 47: This is where the course starts to transform — transform from the most beautiful single track trails to the dirtiest, rockiest, meanest fire and back country roads you have ever met. Don’t believe me? Sign up for the race [or enter the lottery - this kind of suffering is in high demand these days]. In theory, this should be the easy part. I’ll just go ahead and tell you, it’s not. But, in daylight, and with the right company, it’s still a whole lot of fun. And, for the girl that was earlier running ghost-like, and close to death, I was feeling pretty wonderful [like a few steps ahead wonderful]. I set the pace, I calculated our next points, and reminded Jesse and Ryan of what we needed to do. And, because our segway was still in product development […conversations get real weird after running all day], what we had to do, was going to be by foot. Unfortunately, you need your feet for a trail running race, even when the trails become non-existant [well, close to non-existent] in the second half. And, when your feet start to fall apart, a few other things [like a plan], start to fall apart too. Running became walking/running. And, at Mile 47, Jesse [and, Ryan] stopped to fix their feet. I ate Ramen [the best stuff on earth, chemicals and all :)], pulled out my headlamp [it would be dark by the next aid station], and paced back and forth while foot doctoring occured [I can’t slow down or stop mid-race]. A few minutes later, still on schedule, we were off, like the same kind of off that started the race, but the turtle is now tired.

Mile 47 - 54: Keep in mind, that we left Mile 47 with plenty of time to spare. We needed to be to Jake Bull and on our way by 9:00 PM. The miles between 47 and 54 can be divided into two parts — the downhill, gravel laced, dirt road that can only be countered by moon shoes [I should have taken my advice from last year and invested], or small memory foam mattresses placed in our path as we made our way to our drop bins [I told you, conversation gets really weird as the miles go on.]. The road elicited a walk or shuffle at best, the trails induced a heartrate spiking run [until I was kindly reminded to slow down by my better half]. He didn’t have to say it, he would run if he could, but I knew the burning on his heels was getting into his head more than he would ever admit to me at that point in the race. Cue PTSD - last year wasn’t pretty. So we ran, shuffled, hiked, and received my best scenic tour through the wetlands where Jesse and Ryan somehow decided I would be sacrificed to the wild boars when they presented. I feel sorry for the trail of people following at our pacing — the conversation was, well, really freakin’ weird.

The horizon at sunset at the Georgia Death Race

Mile 54 Jake Bull [Drop Bin 2]: I think it was 9:36 PM. And, that’s not 9:00 PM and on our way. But, we still had time…IF and only IF, we could manage to run. You see, it wasn’t until Mile 47 that we ever fell out of pace. But, anything goes on race day. ANYTHING. And, we were about to live last years race all over again. Now, if you know anything about last years race, you know this means we were in for a really good time. I mean, the kind of good time, that you absolutely know why you paid good money for this and didn’t opt for a beach vacation when you turned 31.

Mile 54 - 64 or 65.7 or 66 [who really knows]: While the amazing volunteers at Mile 54 tried to tell me that this next section of trail would be close to a walk in the park, I told them otherwise. This section included the most remotely Southern town and the longest death march up a switchbackin’ road where I almost froze to death last year. [And, then you still had 8 - 10 miles to go, inclusive of 600 stairs, the most technical trail on the whole course, and a downhill that you were confident your legs could not withstand]. The only perk to this year, it wasn’t Antartica on that mountain. But, here is where it really started to fall apart…again. I am not sure it ever quite sunk in to Jesse’s head that we risked not making it in time. At the risk of assumption, I am quite sure that after last year and his fire walking adventure, he thought nothing could quite possibly be worse [or, slower]. But, I will tell you what’s worse — feet on fire + being tired and a counterpart that had slowed paces far too much to pull it together to drag them through the world of hurt.

11.7 Mile Death March: At one point, Jesse asked me if we were going to climb the mountain soon. The fact that he did not realize that the non-stop climbing switchbacks we had been doing for the last hour or so was in fact the climb should have said it all. Here is where the walk-shuffle-trip over the rock-sway back and forth-hate myself pattern set in. These miles were painfully slow [figuratively and literally]. Here is where I knew we were not moving on at the next aid station. Here is where I knew I would have a whole lot of people to explain a DNF too. Here is where I knew that even at the lowest of lows, you have to fight. Because when you are hurting, like you never felt hurt before, it’s just your reminder that you are strong AF. Here is where I also knew that we did not fail, that we did not give up on eachother, and that we had no real reason to be disappointed. We weren’t moving on, whenever we got there, but that was not the only thing that mattered on April Fool's Day [awesome joke right…?]. I was seeing stars [no not the beautiful night stars] and Jesse was trying to take a nap on the trail, and our only option was to keep moving forward, together. That’s all that mattered, we had to move forward. And, we did. Slowly - the 3 mile an hour kind of slow, but we moved. And, then we finally saw “it” —headlamps facing us in the distance. We had made it….until the shadows spoke, and directed us 1.5 miles up to the aid station. And, this is where I broke, this is the first time I cried all day. A mere 1.5 miles, that’s another 45 minutes of suffering, at best. On we went, at one point we held hands, and I had my second heart to heart of the day — pleading with my body to not faint [fun fact: I sometimes faint!]. We made that final climb into the Aid Station. We were not moving on, we would end the day with a DNF. And, a warm car [thank you volunteers], so I would not die, post race. [Sean, didn’t really mean it when he said, “you may die.”] That would not be the best of endings to a really amazing day, now would it…?

Crystal and Jesse at the Georgia Death Race


| post race |

But, as the story goes, there is always a happy ending. And, race day is much more than a finish line, really sore legs, and chaffing in places that are not G-rated. Because at the end of a really long adventure, there is always a hot shower waiting, and this year, there was even the most beautiful mountain home [adorned with all the stairs] for post-race relaxing too.

Okay, there was a little more than that— there was this…

Of course I would have LOVED to climb the 600 stairs, climbed down the steps made for a giant, and followed the longest switchbackin' trail ever to the the river and finish line at Amicalola Park - but, race day had other plans and, for that, I have to be thankful.

Crystal and Jesse at the Georgia Death Race

Because for the first time, in longer than I would like to admit, I felt like “us.” We ran together, we supported and pushed, and in the dead silence, on the longest of climbs, I knew I was loved. Life has been nothing short of easy during our transition over the last year and this race was no different. But, mishaps, shortcomings, and all - we were reminded of why we do what we do, and even at the hardest, most raw and vulnerable moments, we are not alone. THIS, not the finish line, is what this race was about for me. It was another amazing adventure and an affirmation of why we fell in love over a whole lot of miles in the first place many years ago.

Now we owe a few thank yous and big hugs...

Sean - You orchestrate a race of death and make everyone out there find out just what they are made of. You said it best when you reminded us that you feel the most alive when closest to death.

Volunteers - You are hands down the best. Thank you for the prompt attention, ICE, gourmet cuisine and reminding us to get moving. Oh, and to the man that was willing to touch Jesse’s feet at Mile 54, you deserve much more credit than you got.

Fellow Racers - Thank you for the moments spent on the trail, words of encouragement, smiling through the pain and putting yourself out there to embrace the suck.

Friends [Square World and Real Life] - You held a special place in my heart out there. Your sweet words, undying support and motivation crossed my mind so often. Thank you for letting me channel your drive, passion and heart.

And, finally, thank you, Jesse. Thank you for sticking by me, for helping me remove sweaty layers, for resting post-race in the hammock and for being my day-to-day support. And, while I can’t thank you enough for these crazy adventures, I am 100% okay with a beach vacation for 32.

You will see us back in Georgia, not next year, but in a few years.

Now, if you have read this far, you may want to take a few of the lessons learned [we always learn, we may not always listen, but we always learn]:

Even if you love your shoes [thank you, Topo Athletic], invest in moon shoes [do not ignore your advice from last year].

Safety runners are allowed for a reason, find a good one. Remember, you do not get to the finish line alone.

“You may die” is actually closer to the truth than you may actually think pre-race. Don’t worry, you’ll understand why before Mile 20.

Always travel with an extra day to spare. Sleep is so necessary if you want to be on foot for 20 something hours or close to 20 something hours. You cannot sleep on course :)

And, I learned this one last year, but it’s worth repeating…

I have the most amazing life adventure partner in the world [I already knew this, but it’s an important lesson – not everyone can experience these feats together].

Thanks for reading this ultrarunning storybook. You are now ready for Georgia Death Race too :)

So, until the next adventure [100 miles with the Endurance Society in Vermont  — 8 weeks and counting], XO. -C