Last weekend a few friends and I traveled 3 hours from Nashville to Dalton, GA for the Georgia Jewel Training Run. Only one of us is running the actual race, the rest of us were just checking out the trail. I’ve been trying to explore different trails in our area and this was a great way to go on a long run with a large group of people in an unknown place.
We all met in a parking lot and the race directors shuttled us to the starting location. This was a point to point run of approximately 17 miles on the Pinhoti trail and the last 17 miles of the official race course. I had not researched this trail at all and knew nothing aside from the fact it was in Georgia so I wasn’t sure what to expect. As we all gathered for a pre-run talk, the RD handed out waivers for us to sign and proceeded to tell a story. She told us that we would be running through what was known as “the rock garden” and that this was to be done with caution. During last year’s training run a man was severely injured. I can’t recall the specific details but they included a broken femur, a wilderness rescue by helicopter and trees that needed to be cut down to extract him. At this point I imagined a field of large boulders like one of the many I had slowly picked my way through in Colorado many years earlier. I imagined rocks that shifted as you walked that would catch your ankle with enough force to break a femur. Regardless to say I took her warning seriously and was looking forward to seeing this massive rock garden.
At that point we all squeezed into 2 vans and they drove us up a winding road to the Snake Creek Gap trailhead. We were told to follow the Pinhoti Trail markers (a turkey foot) until we reached the end, turn right, turn right and run 2 miles down the highway back to our cars. There would be one aid station at 7 miles. These would be the easiest miles on the trail so if we thought the first 7 were bad we should probably get a ride back to our cars at that point. I was wondering what the heck I had signed up for and my expectations were set for a difficult and treacherous 17 mile run. I was excited.
We all started slowly up a long climb of switchbacks. We resigned ourselves to what would certainly be a hard run and Brittani and I settled into a nice pace. Within the first mile or so, we realized we were running along with a man who was comfortably keeping pace with us and he and Brittani had a long conversation that I mostly listened to but participated very little in. I was honestly “talked out” from talking nonstop on the 3 hour drive there and 2 nights of no sleep and waking up early so I had little to say but enjoyed the distraction of their conversation, the sound of my breathing, and the rhythmic sloshing of the water in my pack.
Chris told us that this was his longest run since January when he had a pulmonary embolism and that he had been on blood thinners ever since due to a clot. His son was also doing the training run but he was very fast and was far ahead. It was a hot day and a humid one too. I had forgotten my bandanna and was really missing it. I had no way to wipe my brow and sweat kept getting in my eyes. After the first long hill up, I recall nice rolling hills and ridge lines with very few views. There were a few creek crossings but nothing of significance. Because we were making such good time and the trail wasn’t spectacular I did not take many photographs.
We made it the aid station in good spirits and feeling great overall. I hadn’t made much of a dent in the water in my pack so I didn’t top off at the aid station with water; however, I did fill up my extra water bottle with Tailwind to ensure I had plenty of electrolytes. Chris and Brittani both refilled at that point and we saw Chris take an electrolyte pill. He had been sweating a lot and had salt all over him and visible on his socks. He told the RD he was feeling great and was planning to run the rest of the trail with us. Apparently his original plan was to turn back at mile 5 since he was just coming back from his aneurism but the conversation and company encouraged him to keep moving.
As we left the aid station we were told we’d have 2-3 miles of nice runnable hills followed by 5 miles of rock garden and then the paved road to end the run. We ran a few miles, not sure because I somewhat lost track, and at some point Chris called ahead to Brittani and I and told us to go on without him. He couldn’t catch his breath and wanted to rest before continuing. In most circumstances I am sure we would have kept going. Everyone needs to go their pace and we had no commitment to stay together BUT this man had just told us his medical history so quite honestly we were nervous to hear him say he was short of breath at that moment. We had not sped up and were not on a difficult section of trail so we didn’t see a legitimate reason for him to suddenly be so winded. And we were about to head up a hill. Brittani and I looked at each other and agreed we did not want to leave him alone at this point. We had him rest a few minutes and then encouraged him to slowly climb the hill with us. He struggled up the hill with short rapid breath and unsteady legs. He urged us multiple times to leave him but all I could think about was him hitting his head on a rock if he took a fall in the rock garden (which we were nearly at) or having a heart attack. At the top of the hill we discovered he was out of water and had no cell phone. I’ll be honest. I had some internal struggle here. On the one hand I was running with Brittani. This was her long training run for a race. She was making great time and we felt great and I felt an obligation not to let her down. On the other hand, there was a stranger who probably just needed to rest and he’d be able to struggle his way out like anyone else. This last year I have been trying to listen more to the little nagging voice in my head that tells me right from wrong and follow that voice instead of what my mind tells me to do and that voice told me to stick with Chris. In the past I pretty much ran my own race, oblivious to what other people were thinking or feeling. In general I don’t think you should feel obliged to stay with someone just because they are tired or slower than you but in this situation I honestly was worried his life might be on the line (as dramatic as that sounds). My mind wanted to get the faster time on my watch and I hated myself for thinking that.
At this point, one of our other friends had caught up to us and the three of us decided to call the RD (thank God she gave us her number and our phones worked). We gave her the information, asked her to send Chris’s son in with water to help his dad get out. At this point he was laying on the ground in the middle of the trail somewhat delirious. We each gave him 1/2 of what was left in our hydration packs and let him rest and cool down. After what might have been 30-40 minutes he started to sound more coherent and his breathing had normalized so we decided to walk with him for a bit. Thankfully he was able to walk a mile or two and somewhere in the rock garden we saw his son sprinting to his father with concern on his face and water in his hand. This is where we parted ways and ran the remainder of the trail. After everything I had imagined the rock garden to be, I was somewhat disappointed that instead of bouldering for miles it was actually a path that had a lot of rocks. This did make the running more difficult because it was hard to get a rhythm going but it was so much less than my own imagination. We were low on water so I’m glad it was less technical than I thought it would be.
All in all a great trip. I was able to do what I thought was right, run in a new location, make new friends and create memories with current friends. Even at 43 years old I am learning about myself and shaping and fine-tuning who I am. This year is about the journey and deciding who I want to be from this point on.
#trailrunner #betruetoyou #Pinhoti #georgiajewel #50ktraining #ultradirtbag #huma