This is a bit of a crossover post between two of my primary interests, veganism and trail running. I'm hopeful my friends in both circles find some entertainment here, and I'm interested in your feedback whether I should continue with posts like these or just shut up and focus on the eats. Please reach out if you'd like to hear more stories like this from myself or other local vegans. With that said, here is my race report for the 2017 Georgia Death Race.
Last year, along with a group of other possibly insane Chattanooga trail runners, I signed up for the 2016 Georgia Death Race. I trained fairly extensively (by my standards), but with a stroke of bad luck I ended up getting the flu two days before the event. I had enough in me to show up and hang around a few hours to watch my friends go through mile 28, but after that, I had to pack things up and spend a few days in bed. So obviously when it came time for 2017 registration, I was first in line at ultrasignup.com to seek my redemption
The evening before race day I picked up my bib, attended the race meeting, and checked in all of my gear. The race director required a list of mandatory items that we had to carry with us at all times including a rain jacket, thermal top, whistle, headlamp, spare batteries, space blanket, and of course an old, rusty railroad spike. More on that later. I met up with my fellow Chattanoogans to exchange high fives, then went back to my room to scarf down some Cashew jackfruit BBQ and mac 'n cheese I had smuggled down to the Amicalola Lodge. Once stuffed, I settled in to sleep around 9pm.
The Start: Always pass Floridians early
On race morning I awoke at 2:30 so Channon could drive my buddy Jeremiah and me to the start that was a little over an hour away. We had our last pre-race check in and began the run at 5am. The climbs started almost immediately, but the adrenaline from the start and the desire to get a decent position helped propel me to a respectable place in the middle of the field. My strategy for races with any type of elevation is to eavesdrop on conversations within the first few miles and ensure I'm always in front of anyone who says they're from Florida. Chances are they have no idea what they're getting themselves into out there in the mountains.
Early Miles: The HR Alarm Guy
Things got technical after a few miles in the dark. I was thankful I got those beach folk behind me so I didn't have to wait on them to daintily skip across rocks and roots. I was in a groove, then came the beeping. It sounded like the alarm from the sweet Timex I had in middle school. Just when I thought it was constant, it would stop. And just when I thought it had stopped for good, it started back up. There was about 20 minutes of this before I realized what had happened. A guy just ahead of me set his watch to alert him anytime his heart rate was too high. This was not the race to employ that strategy. He thankfully got away from me, so he either ran ahead or was driven insane by the beeps and is huddled in a space blanket somewhere. The sun began to rise, and the real climbing began.
ROLLER COASTER of terrain (and emotion)
Almost out of the gate we had to tackle a 2000ft+ climb, but the worst of the climbing was all those seemingly tiny ups and downs between White Oak and Skeenah Gap in the elevation profile above. Every little spine seemed endless, and at points you could reach out and touch the ground in front of you as you went up. The only positive thing about finally dipping down into Skeenah then coming back out was that it was the only out-and-back section of the course, so I finally had the chance to see a few friendly faces as we passed one another.
Planning: Who needs it?
Here's where I might catch some flack from my fellow health conscious vegans. No, I didn't partake in the bacon or the cheese quesadillas at the aid stations. And no, I didn't chug a gallon of milk Ron Burgundy style. I stayed completely animal free as usual, but I lost all hope of eating healthy once I hit Point Bravo (mile 28). All of my nutritional planning was shot, as everything I'd packed from bars to chews to Tailwind to trail mix looked like garbage for the remainder of the day. My strategy at every aid station thereafter was threefold: 1) Fill up a bottle with Coke and drink it immediately. 2) Fill the bottle back up with Gatorade (which typically disgusts me) for the trail. 3) Grab PB&Js and chips and eat as many as I could while walking away.
Shook me all night long
The only aid station where I could potentially meet Channon and the kids was Winding Stair, but unfortunately I made it there about five minutes before them and we didn't cross paths. I hit my last drop bag at Jake Bull, but out of everything I packed the only thing I actually grabbed was my Primal Vegan Jerky. I threw on my headlamp, re-examined the elevation ahead (pictured), and set out into the sunset. Forest roads turned to paved roads for a few miles, and in the distance I heard music and cowbells. I found this a bit strange as I knew there was no aid station coming up. Cresting a hill I saw it... Channon and the kids blasting AC/DC in a church parking lot, cheering on runners in the middle of nowhere. This definitely gave me the biggest smile of my day and the boost I needed to make it through the next several miles to my last aid station.
The last major climb was nothing but a cruel joke. It wasn't steep, but it went on forever through awful forest roads. You could see headlamps winding around in front of you at all times, constantly reminding you that you still had a long way to go. The worst part was the expected aid station at the top was just two guys with some water, letting us all know the REAL aid station was pushed back another 1.5miles. I imagine the majority of the race's tears and curse words were witnessed by those two water dudes.
Time to end this Thing
I finally hit the last aid station which was all decked out with Christmas lights and lasers (not pictured unfortunately). I scarfed down my Coke, PB&J, and chip combo and actually started running. This was odd, because the last several miles had been all power hiking. I guess knowing it was almost done gave me an unexpected boost that I wasn't about to waste. I was able to power thru the next 7-8 miles catching up to my good friends Jeremiah and Nick near the end. The final middle-finger from the race director was to come in at the top of Amicalola falls, take a sketchy trail down, climb back up the 600+ stairs to the top AGAIN, then come back down to the finish. This was obviously miserable, and I almost fell on the last steep downhill near the finish, but I managed to cross the creek, drop off my rusty railroad spike in the finish-line coffin, and complete the race in 20 hours and 36 minutes. My primary goal was to finish, but my sub-goal was to come in under 21hrs to get a lottery ticket for entry into Western States. I was thrilled to accomplish both, but even more excited to get back to the lodge, sleep, and wake up to Cashew donuts for breakfast.
As an ultra runner and a vegan those are two words I hear quite often, and perhaps reasonably so. "Why run until your toenails fall off?" "How do you keep moving for so long?" "Why don't you eat bacon?" "How did you give up cheese?" Let me be the first to tell you that I am nothing special. Anyone can be an ultra athlete and anyone can be a vegan. I was a pudgy dude that participated in 0.0 sports growing up. At one point I lived off of Checkers 2-for-1 chicken sandwiches and drank 2-liters of Mountain Dew daily. The only thing in the way of living the life you want to live is yourself. Refuse to be content, relish a challenge, act on your values. The rewards of doing so far surpass the ease of getting by.
Start Time: 5:00 AM April 1st
End Time: 1:36 AM April 2nd
Finishing Time: 20:36:38
Mileage: Somewhere between 71-75mi
Elevation: 17,000ish feet of gain
Racers Registered: 308
Racers Started: 278 (90%)
Racers Finished Under Cutoff: 181 (59%)
The Crew: My Chattanooga trail running bros that are always eager to share the trail and their support with their slower, sandal-wearing, hippie friend. A truly inspiring group of men.
My Parents: You know I'm nuts and love me anyway. Thank you for always supporting me in my wild endeavors.
Aida & Jonas: I take inspiration from your silliness, and I hope to inspire you with mine.
Channon: You put up with my pre-race anxiety and my post-race whining. You find me at every aid station you can, even ones that don't exist. I love you, and I couldn't achieve anything without you by my side.
And ALWAYS finish up a race by eating a Mojo Burrito