When Pisgah Productions announced the Inaugural Pisgah Running Adventure Race I knew I had to do it. Winter was spent in eager anticipation. Many great runs were had and Yuri and I were as ready as we could ever be when the race rolled around on Sunday morning.
After a fitful night of sleep morning broke clear and cool in the mountains and I woke up feeling fresh, chipper and ready for another day of playing in Pisgah. The start was much like PMBAR's of years past except there were no bikes. A lot of nervous energy and milling about was augmented by the uncertainty of just what to expect. The unknown factor was kicked up a notch when two yellow school buses pulled into the parking lot. What does this mean? Where is he taking us?
Either you are on the bus or you are off the bus and I am on the bus. Evidently most people don't know how to properly load a bus (back to front) so we squeezed through the other racers and settled in the back where we belong. Alex Ransom, who lost his partner and was racing solo and unofficial, settled in with us for the bus ride up to the Pink Beds where we would be starting the day's journey. Eric passed out the passports and gave everyone a few minutes to look at them before yelling go at 9:30. I didn't need to look too hard and let Yuri do the pondering while I checked out the scene.
Go! And just like that we are off across Pink Beds trail. Just like for PMBAR the day before our route was dictated by the shortest distance with the least climbing. As an added bonus for not having silly mountain bikes with us bushwhacking and non system trails were allowed. There were six checkpoints with two mandatory and you only had to get three. Any additional checkpoints would mean a two hour bonus per checkpoint. Game on.
Alex had raced PMBAR Saturday as well (and got all 7 cps) and is cool so we offered for him to run with us. Our goal was to get as many checkpoints as possible for which our strategy was slow and steady. Out on Yellow Gap Rd. teams were running hard, fast and flying past us. Guess they didn't ride yesterday was all we could think as they passed us. Going slow at the start of a race can be frustrating but that discipline often pays off in the end.
We went straight for the high point of the day and our first checkpoint at Good Enough Gap on Laurel Mtn. trail. I was surprised that everyone seemed to know about Cairns trail and also how easy it was to get to the checkpoint. A quick turn and burn back to Pilot Cove Loop where some of the local wildlife was out cheering us on.
Barnabas and crew were still holding down the checkpoint on the rock and still had the bb gun and the tequila. Since we were more out to merely survive the day instead of out racing, once again we stopped and hung out with them for a few minutes. They were nice people with a really big bottle of tequila. With a tear in his eye and serious tone Yuri asked if I thought it would be a bad idea if he had two shots to which I assured him it didn't matter to me how many shots he had as long as we kept running.
And run we did. A whole lot of flat gravel took us down to the Gauging Station. From there we had to get to Wolf Ford and instead of taking South Mills River trail we took an alternate route. This move was shear brilliance and we were in and out of the checkpoint and back up to Buckhorn Gap in record time passing several teams and making time on several others still in front of us.
On the quick out and back to the Clawhammer Mtn. CP, Pisgah Nation members Four Trunks and Action Jackson passed us coming down. If we were just minutes behind this fast team I wondered what that might mean about how the actual race was playing out. Wondering wouldn't change anything and there was nothing to do other than keep running on down to the Avery Creek CP. We had our cruise control set and our routine down. Yuri was usually in the lead with Alex behind him and me trailing on the flats. We were traveling very light and it was very hot out which meant water was our biggest concern. We were dipping bottles often and drinking as much as we could stomach it still didn't seem like enough.
Park Baker was at the Avery checkpoint and after an in depth conversation about the role of bears in Eastern religions over a bag of probar energy chews we were on our way to our final checkpoint at the bottom of the Coontree Loop. This mindfuck was perhaps the crux of the race and we had to do it in under two hours or it would be for nothing. I knew we would make it but the climb up took way longer than it should have so for the first time of the day I took the lead for the return climb and gave it everything I had. The heat was brutal but water was bountiful and the end was in sight. Oddly enough we only saw one other team on this out and back. Either we were really far back or not many other teams were going for this one.
Yuri and Alex both passed me on the way back down to the road and by the time we started up Pressley Cove I was feeling very bad. I could feel my brain cooking inside my head. My stomach was bloated with too much water, bleach and electrolytes but yet I was still dying of thirst. All I could think about was a gigantic fountain drink of Sprite with lots of ice. A sofa and air conditioning. No more running. No more woods. No more Pisgah.
I started to get really lightheaded and the world started spinning and I knew for the first time of the day I had to stop running. I had to make it to the stream but couldn't. The world came crashing down around me. I told Yuri what was happening and we all stopped. We were just a few meager miles from the finish and here I was coming down with heat stroke. If I didn't get cool fast we stood a real chance at not making it down the mountain to the finish. In what might be his best idea ever Yuri finally instructed me to dump water on my head.
I did and it worked. I was able to stand up and continue shuffling my way up the mountain. We stopped again at the stream where we took our only real break of the day. I was still very hot and kept submerging my head to help cool me down. After a couple of minutes we were up and on our way down Black to the finish.
At the bottom I suggested that we sprint and finish in style. Almost nine hours after starting we crossed the finish line together and once we did I just stopped running and collapsed. My muscles were cramping and I spent several minutes rolling around in the gravel while everyone looked on. Eric and Cam announced that our clearing of the course was good enough for second place which eased the pain a little.
It was a very laid back scene at the finish. A stark contrast to the previous day's pmbar but reminiscent of pmbar from the early days. PRAR is going to be every bit as big for runners as PMBAR is for mountain bikers so mark your calendars for next year - it is never too early to start training!