Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part story that chronicles Frank Piner’s attempt to complete a 100-mile run in Alabama known as the Pinhoti Endurance Run. Piner enlisted in the Navy in 2012 with the intent of becoming a Navy SEAL. He decided a 100-mile run would give him a taste of what training and mental toughness would be needed to be successful as a SEAL. He searched for the most difficult 100-mile run he could sign up for, and the 2013 Pinhoti 100 in Alabama’s Talladega Forest was it. This is his story.
It’s early in the morning, about 3:45 a.m., the alarm goes off and I wake up, get some water and put on the clothes I’ve set out the night prior for my long run. All dressed and ready to go, I get in the car with my fellow runner and my driver and head to the start of the race.
Heflin, Ala., about 30 minutes from my hotel. The road FS 500, a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. There’s about 250 other people there competing in the race. We park about 3/10 of a mile from the starting line and walk on down, camelback on, head lamp, wind breaker. All good to go.
Two of the guys that I am gonna start running with have to use the restroom, we sign in by the start and I wait for them.
It’s now 6 a.m. and there’s a loud voice over the mic that yells ‘ready, set, go!.’
Over 225 people set off on their quest to finish a 100-mile run by the next day at noon. My friends get out of the restroom and here we go right behind the big pack at 6:03 a.m.
After about 3/10 of fire road we hit the single track. In the dark, and behind people we jog and walk along, wishing I could pass people but due to the single track trail there was not enough room unless they move over. After about a mile into the race, we all came to a stop, about 100 yards up was the first river crossing. I made it past that without getting wet because it was so small.
Continuing along with the run, I found some people that were running in sandals. I thought they were kind of crazy for running in sandals but apparently that is considered barefoot running.
Going along there were a lot of people in the way that we had to get around. By now I was running with my buddy Svenson. I was going to be running as far as I possibly could with him. I was going to be using his support crew for mine as well.
Due to being behind people going so slow in the beginning, we barely got to the first aid station in time. The cut off time for the first one was 8 a.m. and we have got there at 7:55 a.m. We were now 6.7 miles into the run and I grabbed what I needed and we took off running again, trying to make up for some lost time.
As we were running along, I kept tripping over rocks and roots. I really had to watch each step along the way which made it hard to take in the beautiful scenery along the way. Some of my thoughts then were, “This is what my dad meant when he said he really hated trail running because it was so hard to see the scenery when you had to watch your footsteps all the way to avoid getting an injury from a twisted ankle.”
We were finally cruising along around mile 13, going downhill like we were on a roller coaster just gliding along at about a 10-minute-mile pace. I had been taking in so much water along the way I had to pee nearly every two hours.
As we were running I was thinking about what it was going to be like to be going up that really steep hill around mile 47.
Check back Thursday for the next stage of Piner’s attempt to tame the Pinhoti Endurance Run.