What: Georgia Death Race
When: End of March
Course: Steep single track, minor pavement and apparently some fire roads and stairs?
Getting into the Georgia Death Race was one of the highlights of my 2018 summer. The race seemed like it would be a perfect stepping stone on my way to running a 100 Mile— approximately 70 miles and a decent amount of elevation change to be challenging.
I was horrifically wrong.
Once I began laying out my training plan and doing research, I realized the race was A LOT more difficult than I had bargained for. I initially blew off the warnings from the race director as bluster. I suppose when someone repeatedly states “YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE”, it’s probably wise to pay attention. Additionally, a coach I spoke with before the event warned me that many people said this race was more difficult than a 100 Mile.
I learned my first lesson about the race before I’d even toed the line, about five months too late. Unfortunately, I was one of the unlucky folks who “died” along the course and didn’t “live” to see the finish.
For this Race Report, I’ve compiled a list of lessons learned that will hopefully help you (and me) in the future when and if you feel courageous enough to give it a shot.
#1: Visit the Course at Least 6 Months in Advance
The lottery period for Georgia Death Race opens well ahead of the actual race. I knew I had gotten in during the Summer of 2018, and I didn’t make an effort to visit the course once.
In hindsight, this was a huge mistake. I sorely misjudged the elevation grades listed on the Trail Run Project’s map and spent too much time hill training on grades which weren’t steep enough. To have been more prepared, I would’ve needed to hill train on slopes up to 30% to be ready for the climbs for intervals up to 45 minutes at a time.
#2. Practice Training on STEEP Downhills
What goes up must go down. I realized during the Hallucination 12 Hour that I’d mistakenly overlooked downhill training. Unfortunately, with two months to go before the big day, I had limited options to right this wrong.
I started running outdoors on dirt roads with grades up to 10% for my long runs where I focused on drilling the downs, instead of running on a treadmill where I pushed the ups. Ultimately, this wasn’t enough to prep for the steep grades of the course.
If I decide to tackle this race in the future (schedule and lottery permitting), I would invest in an alpine treadmill and several cinder blocks. This way, I could jack the back of the treadmill up and practice running on steep downs to build quad strength, while also drilling the steep ups.
Obviously, the best training would be to run single track trails in the Adirondacks, but these are at risk of avalanche in the winter or covered in snow and ice. Yay Upstate New York!
#3. Train Specifically for this Race
Naturally, I assumed that I had analyzed every single nugget of information on the internet well enough to know that I was training the best I could, given the circumstances for this event. And naturally, I was wrong.
Several people, including my husband (yes honey, you were right), recommended breaking down the course into sections and training specifically for those sections. I figured I was doing this well enough by training in intervals for the uphill segments… Until I realized I’d completely neglected the downhill portions of the course.
Knowing what I know now, I would return to the course to do a full run through over several days, at least four months before the race, and then develop my training plan.
#4. Continue Upper Body/HIIT Training
I did notice some of my training strategies paid off. As part of my regular fitness and mindfulness routine, I regularly practice yoga. The extra upper body and core strength helped me maintain my form while ascending the steep hills with the additional weight of a full pack. I also did the majority of my weekday training with a pack and sandbags (~10 pounds), to replicate the weight of the pack I would carry on race day.
Several months before the race I began using the stair master as part of my training. Given the option, I would swap this out for climbing on a steeper grade treadmill in order to more accurately simulate the steep climbs and descents.
#5. Continue Back to Back to Back Training
I knew this race, like many others, would involve running on tired legs. I took cues from other runners I’ve followed and incorporated back to back training. This included doing a High Intensity Interval workout on Friday, followed by a long run (25 – 40+ miles) on Saturday, followed by 2+ hours of climbing on Sunday.
During the race, I felt strong on the climbs, despite the additional grade, and noticed that I was able to consistently plug along.
#6. Dedicate More Time for Rest and Relaxation
Hear me out. My crew and I decided to drive down to Georgia (from Upstate New York) to save money and to see my mom before/after the race. We drove all night on Wednesday to arrive exhausted at her home in North Carolina on Thursday before the race. After visiting for a day and a half, we rushed to our AirBnB and subsequently to packet pickup, leaving us little to no time to prep for the race or relax.
On race day morning I woke up exhausted, slightly dreading the long day/night before me. I underestimated the amount of energy an endeavor like this would take and left myself little to no room for error.
Conclusion and Final Take-Aways
Although I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish the race, I’m happy with my performance overall. I tried to run it “smart” by dialing back in the beginning, but this meant that I was cutting it close to the cutoffs (which are pretty darn tight unless you’re a front-of-pack runner). Despite only spending one to two minutes at the first two aid stations, I arrived with less than 10 minutes to spare at Skeenah Gap.
Poor hydration, a lack of downhill training and a nagging glute issue where just a few of the factors which played into my decision to drop at Point Bravo. Ultimately, I’m confident I made the smart choice for that day given the circumstances.
I’m on the fence if I want to try this race again. While I would love to go back and crush the course, I’m not sure if I have the time to properly train to run this race injury free. Ultimately, I would need to put in between 18 to 22 hours per week for at least four months before the start to have the best chance of finishing— all other factors permitting. Before this attempt, my peak training weeks were around 15 hours or 70 miles tops.
I also felt a lot of anxiety leading up to the race. While I recognize that’s the point (random course changes, etc.), it made me question my current training A LOT and whether or not I was prepared to even toe the line (with a DNF on the record, I guess I wasn’t). I heard rumors about eliminating the safety runner for future events, which makes me feel even more uneasy as I’m scared to run/hobble through the woods at night alone.
I was impressed by how well the event was run. Although the packet pick-up process was a bit confusing (you needed to do gear check outside of the lodge BEFORE heading inside and downstairs to pick up your bib), the course was well marked. The aid stations were well stocked with plenty of options, and there were plenty of volunteers. The course was also laid out on the Trail Run Project App, which came in handy at several intersections along the way.
Here’s a link to a couple of the resources I checked out before the event, as well as a couple of other fellow runner’s opinions.
Did YOU run the Georgia Death Race? What were your thoughts? I’d love to hear more in the comments below.