The Georgia Death Race

The Georgia Death Race runs from Vogel State Park to Amicalola Falls State park. It’s a 74ish mile point-to-point course with about 16,000 feet of vertical gain and loss. Each runner is given a railroad spike to carry through the duration of the race… a burden which becomes increasingly cumbersome with time and distance. After runners cross the finish line, they throw their spike into a wooden coffin to symbolize the release of their burden, and are given their finisher’s award: another railroad spike that’s engraved with “The Georgia Death Race.” Lest we forget.

The race begins at 5am with high winds, rain, thunder, lightning, and mud- my personal favorite as I love running in bad weather. The fist half of the race is where most of the climbing is. There are no switchbacks and it’s all peak to gap, peak to gap. So it’s very easy to get carried away and run hard the first half, which is usually non-conducive to a  successful second half.

This was my 3rd time at GDR. I usually like to race this one hard, but this year decided to take a completely different approach. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself to finish with a certain time or maintain a pace. I was purely there to enjoy a course I love and to celebrate how far I’ve come over the years in life and in ultra-running. This was a gift to myself. My only focus was to run with a full heart, eat, drink electrolytes, and minimize my time spent at 0 mph. Success in all of the above. However, I [unexpectedly] threw a monkey wrench in the mix and did not sleep at all the night before the race, so this journey began having been awake for 21 hours at the start.

Miles 20-30 were very difficult. Sleep deprivation kicked in full swing. I was having mild hallucinations, falling asleep while running/hiking, and stumbling around the trail like I was drunk. Some dead, rolled up leaves blowing through the mountains looked like toads while others in trees looked like dream catchers. I knew if I kept going and properly hydrated, took electrolytes, and ate that this would get better. Sure enough I kept moving, and it did.

I made it a deliberate point to not look at my watch or phone, not to focus on what place I was in, not to focus on how far the next aid station was, nor how much further I had to go. I wanted to stay present through the entire race and solely focus on moving forward and feeling good. I ran my own race, and I was committed to not getting caught up with what other runners were doing around me.

I made it to the mile 43 aid station feeling completely exhausted from lack of sleep. But after that point the course is comparatively runnable through the end. I was able to catch about 50+ people in the last 20 or so miles as I ran my way to the finish line. The last 4 miles of the race were brutal. You drop down 1,000 feet on super technical rocky terrain, see the finish line (and run past it) then climb another 1,000 feet up a set of stairs along a giant waterfall only to descend another 1,000 feet towards the finish line. When you get to the finish line there is a small foot bridge that you could cross over the creek, but no. The race ropes off the bridge and participants must soak themselves crossing the creek, to at last cross the finish line 10 feet later. Throw the nail in the coffin, and boom- race complete. I officially became a 3-time finisher with a time of 22 hours and 47 minutes. Much slower than anticipated, but with not a care in the world (or sleep) I was happy.

This race was a huge success for me. Eliminating the pressures of pace and performance was alleviating. I was the most hydrated I’ve ever been at a race and spent the shortest time at aid stations, despite the day’s record temps in GDR history. All the volunteers and HAM radio operators were absolutely amazing. The Race Directors at Run Bum races put on some of the best organized events in the southeast.

I used Salty Britches for all my anti-chafing needs. No blisters. No chafing, and only one application needed. I wore the Hoka Mafate Speed 4, Balega socks, Salomon advanced skin 12 set for hydration pack, 1.5 liters of water at all times, and 500 mL bottle of Gatorade. I took Hammer Endurolyte salt pills, ate solid foods like avocado wraps, PBJ wraps, quesadillas, bacon, donuts, ramen and broth, and gels in between solid foods.

My legs are sore, and my heart is full. I am truly grateful to experience such a high quality race and just purely enjoy it because it’s something I love to do. Also, removing pressure to perform helped me reallocate my dedication to the races I truly want to excel. Next up is “The MidState Mile Last Person Standing” in Franklin, TN in June. Game on.

-Eric Kienle