After finding glimpses of my soul on the Georgia Death Race (GDR) course in 2019. CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO to see the official 2019 GDR race recap. I was truly convinced that 2020 would be the year that I got the monkey off my back and earned my long sought after finish. Mike V had unfortunately struck out on the GDR lottery, but I was fortunate enough to bypass lady luck. At the required gear check of GDR 2019, the staff gave you a cloth wristband as a was to verify your passing status. When I ended up failing the race, I kept the band on as a constant reminder of unfinished business. It helped get me going for 5am lifts, it helped ease the pain of long runs, it helped warm me for ice bath recoveries, it was a singular point of focus to help guide me during my preparation. It also became the key for me to bypass the GDR lottery. I made a few social media posts showing off my motivator and the team at RunBumRaces took notice. They invited me to bypass the lottery and pay for my slot if I was committed to not only training hard for a finish, but I also had to keep that band as a constant reminder all the way up to the race start. DEAL!!!!! It got even sweeter when fellow running buddy and fitness success story, Steve Kline, notified me that he had been selected in the GDR lottery. I went to work and started training. All things were looking up for a 2020 rematch.....
.....and then COVID-19 became a thing only weeks before the 2020 GDR was set to start. Before I tell you what that means for my 2020 GDR reunion/rematch, it is important that you know what I had signed up for. Even if you read the previous GDR post, it doesn't really tell you about the race. So here is what I was getting my body and brain ready for:
The Georgia Death race is "a 72ish mile 'march' through the north Georgia mountains...It is a point to point ultra-marathon with close to 28,000 feet of elevation change (approximately 14k feet of vertical gain)" per the official GDR website. Other notable details are: starts in Vogel State Park, finishes in Amicalola Falls State Park, begins as 5a, the first 8.5 miles includes 3500 ft of gain including the 3.8 mile trudge up Coosa Bald (the 10th highest peak in Georgia), has an awesome swinging bridge, includes roughly 9 aid stations, and miles and miles of single track trails in the untamed mountains. You have 24 hours to complete the full course along with cutoffs at each aid station. You are permitted crew but can only access them at the start, twice along the course, and at the end. You are permitted a "safety" runner, aka someone to keep your broken body and hallucinating mind from falling of the cliffs, for the final marathon distance. The race is limited to roughly 300 brave souls through a random lottery draw. Roughly 40-60% finish on any given year. You also have to perform at least 8 hours of volunteerism to qualify. GDR is also a Western States qualifier if you finish sub 23hrs. There is a mandatory gear list that includes head lamp with spare batteries, windproof jacket, warm hat/beanie, water bottles/bladder, space blanket, whistle, AND you have to carry a 1.5lb rusty railroad spike from start to finish. Ready to sign up now?
The hardest part for me has always been the downhills. Going up involves energy and strength, going down is like a semi going down the mountains; if you ride the brakes then they will wear out but if you go too fast you will crash. My knees turn to glue. No one is fast going uphill, but you can't be too slow going downhill. You lose time going up so you have to catch it back on the downs. When you burn out your brakes, then you lose the ability to catch times on the down. I have been in that place many times.
So back to 2020. I decided to make 3 major changes in my training leading up to the race. First, I started long distance biking instead of too many long distance runs (Thanks TriDot training!). This allowed for less wear and tear on my legs and added strength/stamina to quads and hamstrings while still being able to get in long 4+ hr sessions. I had done weight lifting in all 3 prior attempts, but this time I added in daily weighted squats and deadlifts along with a lot of single sided work like step ups and Bulgarian split squats. This was done in an effort to help strengthen the supporting muscles and tendons around the knee since there wasn't any way for me to simulate running downhill in flat Indiana. The last big training change I had as adding in a lot of jump roping. Since I prefer to run in a pretty minimal shoe that has a zero drop, my calves take a beating. By adding in daily jump rope sessions, I helped then get ready for the thousands of steps coming at GDR.
I felt good but still not at my peak. In the month leading up to GDR, it is unlikely to improve your fitness much but you can recover in an effort to be 100% at the starting line. Steve was also having a solid training block. We both appeared ready to go. We rented a cabin near the start line at Cabins at Highland Falls and included both an extra day before the race so that we wouldn't be stressed or fatigued from travel and an extra day at the end to recover and enjoy our planned victories. Our wives were coming as pit crew and my friend Jenna G was going to come safety run (really a ploy to convert her to a trail runner from doing road marathons). We were all set to meet the devil in the Georgia mountains on March 28, 2020....then the world got taken over by the novel Coronavirus.
All things were still a go right up until the end even though the world was trying to process best course of actions for this virus. This was a small event, in the middle of the woods, surely we could satisfy new terms like "social distancing" and "limit the spread." The couple of weeks were hectic and stressful. My business, Change Fitness, was closed by the Governor of Indiana due to virus concerns. But the race was still planning to forge ahead. States were starting to have travel restrictions and quarantine protocols, but Georgia was holding strong as being open. I needed GDR even more since my life and work was at a standstill. March 12th we were still all systems GO! Then on March 15th, the reaper showed up early and the race was canceled before it started. I was GUTTED :( While rumors of postponing until the fall circulated, I went numb. This was the year. 2019 ended so well. 2020 just went up in flames. I was broken hearted to miss my redemption story. I was even more worried about what was coming up for my life and business. The virus just got real....
The next several months were a blur. My training had basically stopped and my business was struggling. The whole world seemed to have shut down so I shut down along with it. Between needing to be available to watch my boys and trying to create value for my clients (I hate doing Zoom fitness classes), I had an abundance of time that I couldn't use. I wasn't motivated since I couldn't meet up with friends to run trails. GDR had been rescheduled for November 7th, but all the momentum from 2019 had been crushed by this pandemic that had taken over the word. I gained weight, lost fitness, and worst of all I had lost motivation.
On July 5th I stepped on the scale and it laughed back at me with 205.4lbs and 20% body fat. The heaviest I have been in my life. It was not a good heavy. I had had enough. Luckily at that time my friend and mentor, Johnny Waitte, had posted something about a 24hr productivity challenge. Basically you had to run 1 mile every hour on the hour. (Super cool video about it and the guy that we got the idea from HERE) The most interesting part was that for the rest of the remaining time in the hour, you had to crush your to do list. Things that had lingered and were taking up too much energy and brain space. This was just the sort of the kick in the pants I needed. I crushed that 24 hours my completing all 26.2 miles as well as more tasks than I had completed in the previous months combined. I was motivated again and ready to kick butt. I knew my body wasn't ready for high volume training so I focused on my nutrition. I adopted intermittent fasting rules, set my goal macros, tracking my food daily, and stayed about -300 calorie deficit per day for 30 days.
In 30 days I lost about 18lbs. I felt better, was managing food a lot better (I will always be a sugar junkie but I was able to keep clear while I had bigger goals) thanks a lot to Herculean Meal Prep (here is a 10% off COUPON if you want to try it), and I was ready to start progressing with my fitness. I honed back in on my running and long distance biking. My business was also able to open back up so I was firing on all cylinders (plus the kids were going back to school!). After another 30 day cycle, I was down another -5lbs even though I had increased my intake to account for my training. I had added back in strength training and was feeling great. Reuniting with the trails and with friends was great for my soul. My oldest son also started running Cross Country so we trained together. He had found that his nemesis on the basketball court was also a better runner. Dom wasn't having it so he chose to get up at 4:45am twice a week with me and Steve to lift weights. He also came to my gym to train 2 hours every week. Seeing his drive fueled me and in turn fueled him. I started thinking about GDR again and committed back to my plan to beat it in 2020 (thank goodness I had forgotten about the 2021 deferral option offered earlier because it would have given me an excuse to punt my goals). Even though I was dominating what I could control, I would find out very soon that I wasn't in control and GDR would try to trip me up again before I would even get to the start line....
In the end, this next section had little outcome on my results. But at the time, these last minute GDR changes rocked my world. I felt strong. I felt GDR was cheating and trying to trip me up. Here are a few bullets of changes and how they affected me:
1- October 2021 Registration: The lottery was gone for 2021, but registration would be BEFORE we actually had the opportunity to race 2020. Doesn't seem like much, but I was left with the conflict that if I didn't register now then if I failed 2020, I would not be able to come back. Rumors of course changes made this even worse. I was planning on settling my score this year so I didn't want to register for 2021. I ultimately settled on letting registration pass (and it filled up). I was second guessing this decision a lot, but it was done and over.
2- Race course changes: There were already inherent changes since GDR was typically held in March. Being ran in November meant that leaves would hide all the ankle bombing rocks, the temperature would vary more in potential highs and lows (the last time I was in Georgia on the same week there was a frost advisory at World's Toughest Mudder. Ask Steve.), trails would be overgrown with thorns and vegetation, bears would likely be more active since it was the final push before hibernation. BUT THE ACTUAL COURSE WAS STILL PLANNED TO BE THE SAME ROUTE......until it wasn't. Permitting, logistics, site capacities, and covid restrictions made the old course impossible so a new one was planned. At first I was worried that a finish on a new course would leave me questioning if it was the same. Then it came out that it would be about 5 miles shorter. Then it was leaked that even though it was shorter, it would include MORE vertical climb (approx 18k feet). Then is was revealed that the new course would be an out and back on the first half of the original GDR course. Yes the same half that had crushed me 3 times. And it would get 2 chances to break my spirit in a single day. Self doubt and questioning how I would feel with a finish seem silly now, but at the time it had a strong grip on me. (BONUS: Mike V had registered for 2021 which helped my head a lot. I could be his safety runner, even though he doesn't need it, and could finally see the last half of this course. Now I could put my sights on finishing 2020 and still enjoying all that GDR had to offer in 2021).
3- Safety runners were eliminated: Covid made big groups hard, so the call had to be made to trim the field by eliminating safety runners. It was a big deal for my personal race, but it did mean my safety blanket was getting ripped away. Jenna G had trained a lot with me and had spent hours on the trail in early hours helping me prep. She was planning on hanging with us at the cabin to help plan. She was another support system for my wife as crew since there would be long hours of sitting and waiting during the race. I look forward to sharing moments of triumph. GDR smiled and took my safety blanket away. It would be just me in those late hours of the night.
4- Later start time: This seems like a win, but those that know me, know that I prefer mornings. I thrive in the mornings. The late start meant that I would still be up early. In the past, I elected to get lodging at the start line to get as much as sleep as possible. Now it didn't matter. I STRUGGLE from 11p-2a. Yes I know everyone gets tired, but years of endurance racing revealed that my body like to shut down. I have been asleep walking (Agoge), about fell off a cliff because I was battling sleep walking (WTM), and fell asleep leaning against a mountain side (hilarious mountain cat story from SISU Iron). At those events, I learned if I could push hard to get ahead then I cold clear a 15-20 min block to take a nap. If I could nap, then the sleepiness was disappear. Aggressive time hacks at GDR meant this wasn't possible. And now there was more race after 11p than had been previously.
Nothing major, but collectively they felt like GDR was trying to even up the score with my newfound fitness results. It was attacking me mentally even before I toed the start line. And as we got close to the race, a tropical storm wreaked havoc and blew several large trees down on the trail. Freaking GDR......
I hate to do this, but this post has gotten long and we haven't even hit race day. So just like Covid did to my pursuits of GDR redemption, I'm going to suspend things here and you will have to wait a few more days for the final update later this week :)
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