Let me guess, you signed up for the Georgia Death Race lottery figuring that the chances of making it in were slim to none. Then you get the news you’ve been dreading for over a month… you’re in. Now the reality of the situation hits you and the words from Sean at Run Bum truly set in, “you will die.” While you probably won’t die, you will be facing a finishing rate of 50% (including those that take the early start), unpredictable weather (it could rain, snow, or be 80 degrees), and a brutal course designed to break you both physically and mentally. So where to start.
Where to Start
As with most challenging races, the decisions made months and days before the race will often be the determining factor in how (or if) you finish. Even top athletes preach the art of preparation and tell of the downfalls of a bad pre-race meal or unprepared crew. For every race I put together a plan based on what the event requires starting the following.
- Training Schedule
Start with the race date and work backwards. Three weeks before should be you long run and work from there on how you are going to build up your miles.
- Race Nutrition
The downfall of many a racer, nutrition can make or break your day. Start planning what nutrition you are going to plan on having race day (listen to your body no the internet) and start training with it from day one. Practice makes perfect with nutrition, so you need to find out what works for you.
If you are using a safety runner (which I recommended if you are not a top 5 athlete) start looking early and make sure to have a backup. My initial safety runner injured his ankle during training and my back up also suffered an injury but luckily for me, managed to be ready for race day. You will also have two crew access points during the race and having a few friends and maybe even a treat waiting for you around mile 40 will do wonders for the soul.
If you’re not from Georgia or a neighboring state, you’re probably going to need flights and even if you are you are from GA you’re still going to need hotels and transportation to the start and from the finish. Remember this is a point to point race, meaning the start is 75ish miles from the finish. There is a shuttle that runs from the finish to the start the morning of the race which departs from Amicololala falls at 2:30am (you need to be there earlier) or you have the option of getting to the start yourself. Blairsville is 15 minutes from Vogul state park (the start of the race) if you want that extra sleep.
- Mental Preparation
This is going to sound corny, but you must trust the process. My long run week was only 18 miles in a 16lb weighted vest, I got no sleep the night before the GDR, and I had never run more than 32 miles (on a flat course)… So believe me, if you follow your training plan (or for better results follow mine here haha) trust in the hours and work you put in. The mind wants to stop when the body has given about 60%, so know that going in and don’t stop moving!
- Pre-Race Check List
Start on this on day one and keep adding until the day of your race. This will include your nutrition, gear list, post race etc. Put it in a word doc, spread sheet, on a napkin, or where ever just keep a running list of things you need and make sure they are call checked off before the race. I labeled everything making it easy for my crew and I to make things as smooth as possible for crew stops and bag drops.
From Plan to Action
The toughest thing about training for the Georgia Death Race is the time of year the event is held. If Sean (the RD) keeps up his most recent tradition of running on/near his birthday you can expect an early April start. This means training in the rainy and freezing months of December, January, February, and March. I personally chose to minimize my time outside with functional strength training inside, weighted hikes, and brutal lunge sessions outside that were far more “time” effective during the cold months. So a few tips to get you motivated and out your plan into action.
- Find a Training Partner
Find someone, anyone that is willing to train with you. This could (and probably should) be your safety runner but anyone motivated will do in a pinch.
- Schedule Your Workouts
It doesn’t matter who you have writing your programming if you don’t follow through with it. Write out your programming on a calendar and hit the big goals. Make sure to test your gear, nutrition, and bag drops. You’ll have off days (possibly weeks) but don’t let that faze you, hit your major goals and it will pay dividends.
- Join the GDR Facebook Group
Besides the racers there are a lot of volunteers (AKA former and future racers) in there. If you have questions about don’t be afraid to ask them. I promise for every asshole response (most likely from Run Bum) you will get a lot of helpful advice.
- Suck it up Butter Cup and Get Out There!
Self-explanatory I hope…
Are you ready? For most racers this will be the question you face while shivering at the starting line. It’s a question you won’t know the answer to until hours into the race, so try not to live in “what if’s.” I could go into nutritional tips, don’t do this or don’t do that’s, and a lot of detail but this isn’t a race review. This is to prepare you to survive one of the hardest races in the USA so I’m going to give you the survival tips needed to finish the Georgia Death Race.
- The Start (Coosa Backcountry to the Duncan Ridge Trail to Skeenah Gap)
While this may be the teeth of the Georgia Death Race don’t let utters of “it gets easier” or “just make it though the Duncan Ridge” get your hopes up. This is a fools errand, the start is much harder than the finish but taking into account the wear on your legs and ever decreasing quality of running surface you must pace yourself. I started the race out of Vogul at an up-tempo walk (see training notes) and eating. This let the trail thin out and an hour later I was using those that were ahead of me that were starting to slow as targets to be picked off one by one on the mountain.
- Duncan Ridge (Skeenah Gap) through the First Half of the Benton Mackaey (Winding Stair)
I can’t count the number of times I heard “it gets easier after the Duncan Ridge Trail…”. I’m here to tell you this is a lie, some of the longest climbs come after Point Bravo and were totally unexpected to me. This was partly my fault, I trained from Point Bravo to ________ (reverse race direction), and while returning saw a family including 6+ small (under 8_ children) making the hike to the swing bridge. WTF, That is no kids hike… such false hope! Coming out past the bridge the small group I had been running with was greeted by a friendly face telling us “great job! But I wouldn’t want to be climbing what you’re going up.” Again a rude awakening and something you should be prepared for! This is where a friend I met training on the course got pulled. I’ve never told him this but I saw his flaws weeks in advance and should have gave him fare warning. I know if I would have said something it would have sounded vain but in hind sight he DNF’ed and maybe I could have helped (would have, could have).
- Continuing the Mackaey to AT Approach (Nimblewell)
Congrats, you’ve made it through the hardest part of the race and hopefully you have luxury of picking up a safety runner (unless your planning on the podium of course) and for me was a blur. I met Ian and we started making up miles on the one extended piece of the course. Enjoy this moment but keep your head on a swivel, any mistake out here and you are hours from help. Sean (RunBum) will put the fear of Nimblewell in you from the first moment you follow him on Facebook. But if you trained for the elevation the hill is actually too steep of a grade and we felt we made up some time here… and by this point the uphill was starting to feel better than the downhill anyway.
- The Finish (Nimbelewell) to Glory AKA Amicalola Falls (The AT Approach)
STAY FOCUSED! Looking at the elevation of the course this section doesn’t raise any red flags but don’t be fooled. The AT Approach is known as being the most technical (unofficial) part of the AT looking to break your ankle every other step when it light out so good luck at night. I’m not sure what future courses will hold but in 2018 the Amicalola Falls down hill approach was just evil. It’s not a trail, it was a spill way of boulders leading you down the course to the backside of the finish line… but you’re not done yet. Now it’s time for the signature of this race, a last push stair climb back up the falls with the sound and feel of the fall pushing you up the final climb.
- The Start (Coosa Backcountry to the Duncan Ridge Trail to Skeenah Gap)