Double Top 100: LOST

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..ahh, and somehow LOST makes its way to my blogosphere again today.

Yes, in a word, the inaugural Double Top 100 can be summed up for me as “lost”. I was lost physically, mentally, emotionally, and every other-ally I can think of. I want to retrace my steps for you, and take you along on my little mini-journey. It wasn’t too terribly exciting, and I didn’t learn anything spectacular. But I always try to take something from every experience thrown my way. So buckle up for the real recap:

Double Top 100 was a 100 mile and 100k race set in beautiful Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth, Georgia. The course mainly followed the rugged and scenic Pinhoti Trail, and had quite the elevation chart- boasting well over 17k of leg devastation. The 100 mile race started at 4:30 am. This was to be my 4th 100 mile finish, and I was looking forward to another buckle..

10 pm, the night before the big event, Daniel and I sat in a local hotel room watching the news as massive supercell storms and tornadoes smashed through the surrounding areas. I know many were wondering right along with us if the race was even going to take place. We eventually fell asleep with the rain pouring, thunder crashing, and doubts clouding our mind of what tomorrow held. But 2:45 came, and with it – our blaring alarms. Outside the rain was only slightly pouring, so we geared up and headed out towards the mountains. Due to the heavy fog, wind, and rain, we had to drive slowly up the windy mountain road to reach the start. We rolled into the parking lot a minute before the “GO!” and I had to scramble and sprint to catch up with the others. Nice way to start a 100, Ash..

The first few miles of this course were brutal. I had two headlamps, but they did me no good. The winds were fierce, and demoralizing. Due to the fog and pitch blackness of 4:30am, nobody could see the markings extremely well, and unfortunately many got very turned around from the get-go. I was running with the front pack initially, but after watching them take a wrong turn, I decided I needed to slow down, and just stay by myself to pay attention to the course. After a little while of running all alone on a mountain trail in the cold darkness, I started to think about what I was doing and got all freaked out about bears and such, and quickly decided to find another group to run with. Yeah.. that solo stuff lasted all of 10 minutes. When did I become such a wimp? I latched onto the next group of front-to-middle packers and hung with them for the next few miles… and then they got off course too. dang… really?

It started to become obvious that the weather had created lots of problems. The course was marked with white and blue striped ribbons hung from trees. However, a lot of the ribbon was blow into the trees, and tangled from the night of storms. Also several big trees had blown down over the trails. Having to crawl through those took a lot of focus and likely distracted many of us from seeing markings. As a result, I spent the entire first hour feeling unsure of racing the event. I was feeling discouraged that many people were already getting lost. The trail was hard to navigate through the fog. I was alone, and I didn’t have any friends to talk to. I started to think “Why am I doing this again?” And honestly, that didn’t surprise me. You know, normally I have such a solid and steady resolve when I do a 100…an unshakable confidence and a raw passion to be in the woods. I never really got that at Double Top. I thought about that as I crawled through another blown down tree and just stopped for a second. I asked God to give me some encouragement, and before I finished that tiny plea I heard, “Hey Ashley!” …..Umm..Who the heck just said my name??

“Richard Trice?? What the heck are you doing here, man!That was quick! Thanks Big Man! I was surprised and thankful to see a familiar face. Since I’ve been off Facebook for well over a year, and pretty much out of the loop, I had no idea Richard was going to be at Double Top. So it was fun to catch up with an old ultra friend. Richard introduced me to his buddy, Martin. And together we all blazed through the first aid station, where I gave Daniel a kiss but forgot to fill up my water bottle (oops), and we were off again. Martin had just tackled a 100k in Nicaragua two weeks prior, so we all had some good running stories to swap. There we were running along enjoying our merry selves- running single track in the wet dark and what not- when the first point of real confusion stopped us in our tracks. In front of us was a fast flowing deep creek, and the resulting conversation went a little somethin’ like this:

Did you know anything about a creek crossing this early?” Rich said.

“….Nahh man… did you??” I replied.

“F***!!!!!” Martin responded.

Crap. So we began to look around for a different trail, or something we might have missed. We were all pretty sure we weren’t supposed to cross a creek. But after looking and searching for another option- the creek was our best bet. So 7 miles in, freezing cold, we ran through the creek. After we crossed we saw some white and blue ribbon…All right, guess we’ve headed the right way? It dawned on us, after we crossed several more rushing creeks, that these most likely weren’t there before the several inches of rainfall the night before….duh. Richard, Martin, and myself continued to trudge up the next few miles of mountain. None of us were really feeling that great, and the climbs were huge. So we were griping some, and trying to distract ourselves with ultra chat some, etc etc. until finally we reached the top of a mountain.

At this point, I decided to pull away from the guys and start racing the downs on the wide gravel road ahead of me. I popped in my headphones and put it on cruise control. I pounded the heck out of the next 15 minutes or so with intentions of starting to gain ground on the lead female. I was running and running hard when BAM— out pops some dude with a race number running towards me.

“Where the heck did you come from???” I asked.

“I don’t think this is the right way. I just ran to the road and I don’t see the course markings anywhere. No arrows.. no signs.. nothing.” He shouted back.

“You sure, man? Lets just go double check.” I responded, feeling quite confident he had to be wrong. He shrugged and we ran together back in the direction he came from. We reached the road, and sure enough… NOTHING. We pulled out our maps and tried to figure out what went wrong. Unfortunately, the maps were not very detailed, and we couldn’t tell which road or trail we might have been on. Then we heard voices, and out popped three more runners.

“Guys this isn’t the right way, we gotta turn around.” I yelled.

“No, this is right…” they argued…. just like I had.

…and then 3 MORE runners made it to the road too!

Everyone looked around and agreed there were no course markings and no obvious route, so we must have missed something. We all poured over the map, and none of us could figure out where we went wrong. So we ran a ways back in the original direction we all came from. Eventually we spotted some flagging in the trees signaling a hidden turnoff behind a gate. That gate had ribbon all over it, but somehow we all must have missed it, or assumed it was just reassurance we were going in the right direction. I have no idea. But we got back on the right trail. I was feeling pretty bummed that I was now THAT much more behind the lead.

My phone rang and it snapped me out of my train of thought. Daniel called to say, “Are you lost? Richard and Martin came through here asking if you already made it to the aid station. They thought you and some others might have missed a turn.” Grr. I couldn’t believe they’d already reached the aid station. How much time did I waste trying to find the right route?? I continued to slaughter the next couple of miles in hopes of getting back on pace while thinking to myself….I got off course.. so what. Its a long race, I can make up for it in the last half.. I hit the next aid station and was greeted by lots of nice volunteers.. Thanks guys!… I refueled, took some caffeine, and decided to pound out the trail again. I was not going to let the minor detours destroy my mental game. I looked forward to the next portion of single track. I planned to run it fast because it was all downhill switchbacks. I was wearing my Goat Head Gear spikes, and they were like a dream on the muddy trails.. seriously- like Ferrari on the autobahn type of thing. Excellent traction. I reached the next aid station surprisingly fast, and was determined to make up ground from then on out. Amber called, and laughed with me via phone over the next couple of miles. The Pinhoti was beautiful, and I really started to enjoy myself. It’s going to be a great day… I thought.

The 21 mile aid station is where it all changed. I cruised in and fueled up for the next 5 miles. I heard they were going to be tough, but I was ready to start surging. I usually start to kick my game up after 20 miles of warming up, and today wasn’t going to be any different, especially considering I had more like 24 on my legs at this point. I left the AS, saw the sign for the pinhoti, and took off. I was about a mile down the trail when Brad, a runner from Indiana (who would eventually become a trail friend), approached me from the other direction. Are you kidding me? Not again..

“I don’t think this is the right way.” Brad said, “I don’t see any ribbons!”

“You sure dude?” I asked, “Where would we have missed the turnoff?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think this is right.” So Brad and I walked around a bit and searched for an alternate route, when another couple of people ran up behind us.

“This is the right way!” the runners said while pointing over at a tree, “There’s the blaze for the Pinhoti! RD said they didn’t mark some more obvious portions of the course. So this is right. We’re supposed to stay on the Pinhoti.”

And while we were looking at our maps again, a super fast 100k guy came flying past us and sprinted on down the trail. Brad and I looked at each other, and for some reason, I had a gut feeling he was right. But we broke eye contact, indicative of that we both had decided to ignore instinct and press forward with the others.

With several people all together, I felt confident to run the trail hard again. I slipped in my headphones and started rockin out to some Crash Kings,

…and boy was I sippin on my sunshine. I was crushing the mountain- singletrack was gorgeous, and I was absolutely loved it. Over an hour went by. I knew I should be seeing Daniel any minute, and I was so pumped to be really feeling the race now. I knew he would be happy that I was happy. He normally texts me motivational things every 30 minutes or so, and I noticed I hadn’t gotten any texts. …Ahh my phone has no service… duh. I kept running faster thinking I’d be there soon.

And that’s when I heard the words that changed the race, a biker started screaming at me from far away “Whoa whoa whoa you’re wayyyy off course!!”

HAPPY FEELINGS GONE

What the…who the heck are you?

“Girl, you’re way off course. I mean WAY off course.” he shouted again.

“What are you talking about. Who are you?” I asked, since I couldn’t see behind the helmet and shades.

“I’m John Dove.”

….oh John Dove as in Ultrarunner Extraordinaire John Dove… Crap. Dude knows his trails.

“But I’m close to the aid station. I’m on the Pinhoti. I don’t get what you’re talking about. Seriously. Is the aid station not right down the trail?”

“No…I’m really sorry… but you’re WAY out the way, I mean WAY WAY WAY off the course. You gotta climb back up that mountain a few miles back to the aid station.”

Okay, you may be ultrarunner superstar, but you ain’t right, brother. Now move while I go to my aid station!!!! — is what I was really thinking.

“Okay lets get out the map.” I retorted instead. Then Brad came up behind me, shortly followed by Jen, Liz, and Scott a minute later.

“See!” I said, “We’re all on the right trail. They’re all doing the race, too.”

“Nahh, I’m real sorry you guys but you aren’t going the right way. I mean, if you don’t believe me, you can go on in that direction but it isn’t going to get you anywhere. Let me show you on the map.”

And then John proceeded to point out to all of us that we were HERE and not THERE, and that THERE was a heck of a long time back THAT way, etc etc.. and daggumitt, John Dove was right after all. Sorry for doubting ya, John!!!

Apparently a whole slew of us had taken the Pinhoti trail, but we weren’t supposed to. We were supposed to have taken the gravel road at the 21 mile aid station all the way to the next aid station, and never get on the Pinhoti at all. When the realization kicked in, all of us just looked like we were going to throw up. And honestly, I kind of wanted to. I thought maybe I should just plop down and have a power gel picnic, then maybe run the remainder of the Pinhoti until my heart was content, ..but then I remembered that I didn’t have any cell service, and the world might possibly worry about my disappearance.. maybe..

I watched the rest of the LOST crowd enthusiastically run back up the freakin mountain, while I kicked my feet in the rear… suddenly hating life and all things ultra and what not.

I seriously cannot believe this. How did this happen? Why did this happen to so many of us?

I started to move my feet a bit more and caught up to Liz Bauer. Liz was really really beat up over the getting lost thing. Especially considering she had just done LOST 118 ( which ironically has nothing to do with being lost, and everything to do with running 118 miles) the week before, as well as several other hundreds leading up to the event.. I’m not sure about the details on that, because I’m not into everyone’s ultra business, but I know she was beat.

I didn’t know what to say, and all I had to offer was, You wanna split a snickers?”

“Really??” she asked.

“Sure, grab it out of my pack.” We spent the next mile or so munching on our snickers and talking about how demoralized we were. And then Liz took off to run faster. I watched her go and had absolutely zero interest in running fast with her.

Strange.

And this is where the mental lostness came in.

Why don’t I want to run with her? Why is this detour beating me up so much? Where is my competitive drive? Why don’t I care? Normally, if I’m in a race setting, I’m going to race it come Hell or high water. That’s just how I am. I train hard as nails, I thrive outdoors, and under adverse situations and conditions. I take pride in being able to come from the back and pull out a finish or win. But after the detour, I just didn’t even give a flip. All I wanted to do at that point was just try to find some fun in all of this. I started to snap pictures, but quickly grew tired of that too.

...lovely views looking back on them..

Trying to snap out of my funk, I caught up with Brad, and started talking to him a bit, “How are you planning on handling this detour, man? You gonna stick this out?”

“I don’t know..” he said, “I’m not sure if we can make the cut offs now. We have to be at the 52 mile turnaround at 9 pm. It’s already 2, and we have to go back to the 21 mile aid station.”

I could tell Brad was as down and discouraged as I was. I wanted to offer some kind of words of encouragement, but I had none. I was down too. I hated this. I really did. I’m usually so chipper and fun, but I had no ounce of that bubbly Ashley stuff in my brain. Yet, Brad and I stuck together, and trudged back up the mountain all the way back to the 21 mile aid station.. feeling less than enthusiastic. When we got back from our 3 hour tour, I could tell both of us were doubting our ability to tackle the next 79 official miles with all we had been through, but we are ultra runners of course so we had to try. We checked in with the 21 mile aid station, where we learned that many others had gotten lost. We felt a little relieved that we weren’t the only group to get lost, but it didn’t fix anything. Brad and I started walking up the REAL 5 mile mountain trail to the next aid station… nothing but ginormous climb to add to our hours of mental defeat.

And here is where we have the emotional lostness..

I had no idea how to handle the situation. I just felt confused. I just walked next to Brad, neither of us said a word because it was just one of those moments where you don’t have to say anything at all.. you just know. I was extremely disappointed at how the past 11 hours had turned out, and that I only had credit for 21 official miles. I got a little angry, and pulled away from Brad so I could listen to some rock and just kinda rage it out in my brain. So.. I tried that, and enjoyed some Rise Against and old Linkin Park for a moment

..and that didn’t really work either…no pump, no “Yeah time to smoke this thing.” no nothing. I couldn’t get angry or fueled by rage even when I tried. So, I just stopped for a minute and looked out at the view beside me… Man. What’s my problem? So yeah the race has sucked. Big deal. Enjoy the day, Ash.

…and while I thoroughly wanted to enjoy the day. I just couldn’t. I was not happy. I wasn’t appreciating the mountains. I wasn’t snapping out of my mental mess, and I wasn’t moving any faster.

A 100k guy came flying down the mountain next to me, and said, “Take a right turn up there- I got lost for 5 miles!” …pshhh I know the feeling buddy.

“Thanks, man.” I said, as I watched in envy while he pounded out the down. Man what the heck. I should be running hard too. I train my butt off, I’m spitting out 6:45’s and faster on my long tempo runs, I don’t need to be walking up this freaking mountain feelin’ all sorry for myself. I need to shut up and get my butt moving! Put the game face back on, Ashley. Stop bein a friggn pansy.

and with all that personal smack talkin’, I’d like to say I started sprinting up the mountain with a vengeance with Gonna Fly Now blasting from my iPod, but that just didn’t happen. Nope. Not all 100 mile stories end pretty. Instead, I plopped down on the side of the dusty gravel road, called Daniel, and told him to pick me the heck up. “Don’t try to talk me out of this. I’m done.”…….”All right babe. Be there in a sec.”

But “a sec” took awhile, and I found out why as Daniel pulled up carting other 100 mile hopefuls that had decided to drop due to being lost and off course much of the day.

…that car did NOT smell good. *That’s Brad next to me up front- the detour destroyed him mentally, too.

We drove back down to the 21 mile aid station where the guys grabbed their drop bags, and we thanked the volunteers. It was there we found out that the 100k speedster that had flown past us hours ago headed down the wrong trail as well was out there lost for a long long time without fuel or aid. He was in bad shape, angry, and went home. I felt really sorry for him. I don’t know his name, but he had been running in 2nd place, and was racing really hard.. too bad. I really felt for him.

So my new friends: Brad, Ali, Ed, and myself all piled into the tiny mustang and talked about the craziness of the day. We were all really disappointed with the outcome, and wished somehow we could just get a redo. We made it back to the start, all said our goodbyes, and that was that.

I settled down into the passenger seat, propped my disgusting feet up onto the dashboard, and just looked out the window, depressingly, as Daniel drove back home. I still felt lost. I didn’t want to talk about anything, and I didn’t know what to say about it if I did talk. I was so confused about the entire day: the course, my emotions, my thoughts. I was simply just lost.

I spent the night, and the next day, sleeping and moping and thinking and moping some more..

I finally posted something random on my blog trying to make sense of the weekend. But nothing made sense still.. It wasn’t until a good conversation with my dear friend, Amber, that I finally found some peace. Of course that didn’t come until AFTER this little tidbit –

Haha, yes I wanted to punch things and eat chocolate. But after that, Amber gave me a call and let me hash all of it out.

I explained to Amber that I felt like ultrarunning was becoming too much of a “follower sport”, and as a result I felt like a clone and not an individual. I also explained that I didn’t get any deep feelings, or any competitive feelings during the race and I wondered why. I vented about not being too bothered that my 100 was ruined, and that I wasn’t really feeling regret over anything. I was wondering if I lost interest in ultrarunning. I just felt disappointment and emptiness. I was confused and I couldn’t put much of my thoughts into words. But Amber knew how to respond, as she always does…

“You’re searching for adventure and peace that you can only find when you leave the unnecessary and the excess behind. Races aren’t meeting that need in you, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop racing. You have sponsors, and people invested in you, and potential to excel more in the sport. Just because it’s becoming more mainstream doesn’t mean it has to threaten your individuality. Just continue to be yourself, and do what you do. And look forward to our trip to the canyon, because it’s adventures like that that really mean something special.”

Amber was right.. I was hoping Double Top 100 would snap me out of a seriously huge life rut that I’ve been sinking in for the past several months. But I was looking in the wrong place. Double Top was just a race. Just a fun run, and nothing more. It didn’t have to be something deep. It didn’t have to be something epic. It didn’t have to be a win. It was just meant to be a 100 mile run, and that’s all. And while it didn’t turn into a 100 mile run for me and many others, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t memorable. I made some new friends, I still ran almost 45 miles on gorgeous trails, and I learned something like I always do…

Ultrarunning is just a sport like any other sport. And while I have had some incredible life changing journeys during these ultras- they are not all always going to be that way. They’re not my savior.. definitely not something that has to define me completely. And while I may still be LOST and searching for some things in my life, I finally found that I’m not going to find what I’m looking for out on a race course. Life is life. Running is running. And running as often as I do makes it easy for the two to be intertwined, but it doesn’t always need to be that way. So LOST or not lost, Double Top was a genuine experience.….I’ll take that, and I’ll be happy with it.

What I got out of it was that I didnt need to get anything out of it. I have many more adventures coming my way for the rest of my life, and all I can do is just hang on for the ride, and keep running, growing, and learning along the way.

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14 thoughts on “Double Top 100: LOST

  1. Amber says:

    See, you DID make sense of it, therefore, the race served a purpose. Great, entertaining write up. Not that I would anticipate anything less! And……thanks for the kind words. That is good juju!

    Like

  2. Paul says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I guess sometimes the journey has more for us than actually finishing. Look forward to reading more about your experiences in races!

    Like

  3. Cumulonimbus says:

    First off, your writing is magnificent, and that’s my American side. One of my all time favorite qoutes can be brilliantly plugged here: “You learn a lot more from losing” -Coach O’reilly. In this case, you lost due to the fact that you didn’t have the tools to finish the job. My students have a spotless record of always being prepared, no matter the circumstances. The real lesson to be learned is that you need my tutelage. You have my number. Cheers!

    Like

  4. Primitive Athletic Training says:

    Don’t let that race experience bring you down, Baby. You did the best you could with the situation. I think that going a few HOURS off course (and up a mountain) and not getting credit for any of it would be so frustrating that anybody in their right mind wouldn’t want to continue. Obviously several other people felt the same way; judging by all of the grown men who were slammed into my Mustang. You did the smart thing and saved your body for the next one. I’m still proud of you! Love you!

    Like

  5. Jason Rogers says:

    Great report, Ashley! I’ve been climbing out of burnout since my Pinhoti DNF, so I know what you mean about that sinking feeling. As a friend told me, though, “We should not let one run define us.” You’re a big inspiration, and I’m looking forward to running with you at some races soon.

    Like

    • Ashley Ringo Walsh says:

      Thank you Jason! And how ironic, I was just thinking about you this morning. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had this same feeling. I’m looking forward to some nice sunny weather and hopefully getting back into the running groove. Hope to see you soon:)

      Like

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