Editor’s note: This is the conclusion 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, a 2009 Nevada Union graduate, enlisted in the Navy in 2012 with the intent of becoming a Navy SEAL. He decided that 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.
So, we headed off again. Draper was slowing down quite a bit, and I would run and wait for a few seconds. The guys that I was continuing to pass throughout the run then told me that if I wanted to finish the race I needed to run smart.
I figured out what they had meant and when Draper and I hit the bottom of the hill, I just kept running, I was going up terrain that seemed just like my friend Quinn Hall’s backyard coming out of the Auburn Canyon.
It was steep and there were a lot of switchbacks. I was now around mile 73., I was hurting by now, and with no hill training, this thing was killing me!
I remembered Quinn told me to call him for phone support. I did and he did not answer, so I called my mom and she answered and motivated me for several minutes until I could hear the partying dot of the aid station at the top of the hill. I hung up the phone and ran on in. I had arrived with 40 minutes to the cut-off time.
I refueled again, and Draper came on up about seven minutes behind me. I gave her a big hug and made sure she got the nutrition she needed. We sat by the fire eating for a few minutes, and she said she was feeling like she was going to vomit. The volunteer told us we were now at mile 76 and had less than a marathon to run to the finish. I was ready to go and told her I would hopefully see her again soon. I told the volunteer to watch out for her. I started running again, four miles to go to the next aid station, I was on the fire road, then got on single track again. I had had enough single track. I was so tired of dodging rocks, stumps and roots. I stubbed my toe about three times, and just kept following the markers on the trail, which were getting hard to find. I reached a few points where I was trying to figure out if I was still on the trail or not, looking for markers. They did not mark this part of the trail very well. I found some more markers and kept speed-walking along, hoping I was going the right way. I kept thinking to my self throughout this portion, “failure is not and option.” I had already decided that I would bring honor to my family by completing this journey, and my thoughts turned to the Australians, who have a thing called a a “walk about” that turns a boy into a man. This was my walk about. I thought about the Navy SEALs, my family and friends, my brothers, and I just kept going.
As I reached mile 80, I came to the next aid station and got a potato and soup. There was an older guy about to start walking to the next one, and I decided to join him. We started walking to the next aid station and talked. his name was Chris; he reminded me of my close friend Chris Cope, and how he asked me, “How do you train and do a 100-mile race?” I had only trained for about a month. Because I was on a field training exercise, (FTX). I thought, I don’t know, you just do it. Which was what my mom always said about the Ironman triathlons that my mom and I had done together. As we walked along, Chris told me that his brother had just become the new commanding officer of an aircraft carrier. His family had a lot of history with being in the military, Air Force and Navy, especially. However, he was never in the military. As we walked along, he said he needed to relieve himself behind the tree and told me to just continue on and he would meet up with me later in the race.
As I walk on another mile, I came to realize that at the pace I was walking, I would not make the next cut off time, so I started jogging.
I kept running on the fire road and the sun started to come on up. I had finally answered my question of what it would be like to run all day, all night and into the next day. My answer to that is, it feels like it takes forever when you’re in the progress of it, but once you look back at how it was, it seems like a blur.
I followed the trail markers off the fire road and back on to more single track trail. However, I was a bit happier this time because it was finally daylight, and I could see much better again. I continued running and got to the next aid station five minutes before the cut-off time. The support crew was there waiting and so was Draper’s mom. She had asked me where Draper was, and I told her that I had left her at the top of that last big hill. The support crew told me I did not have much time to make it from that aid station to the next, so they pointed in a direction and I started off running with some more food in my hands, a fruit bowl and a few gels.
I had run the wrong direction and realized it after .07 of a mile, I turned around and ran back past the aid station and back on course. I knew I only had four miles to go to make it from that aid station to the next. It was 7:25 a.m., and I needed to be the next aid station by 8:43 a.m. I was determined to make up time, and I would not let myself fail at making it to the next one especially with being 85 miles into the race.
Somehow I managed to hold a 10-minute-mile pace on my way there. I just thought about the SEALs and doing a timed four-mile run on the beach and having to do it in 32 minutes during Hell Week.
I dropped a gear and just ran. When I was about three miles to that aid station, my GPS watch died. I would now rely on the time of day and my pace. I made it to the next aid station at 8:10 a.m. I was finally at mile 89. I had six miles to go to the last aid station. I grabbed some potato soup and filled my camelback again and took off. By now I figured it was a good time to turn on my cell phone. I turned on my phone and just as I did, my mom called. I told her I was at mile 93.
I ran and walked all the way to the next station at mile 95. The support crew was already there waiting. I got the food that I needed and took off for the last five miles to the finish.
I continued to walk and run all the way, the fellow runners that were there with me and the pacers said we had another three miles of trail, then two miles of road.
I was so happy to see the road, we kept running for three minutes and walking one.
The people along the road said we were almost to the high school track. I came around the last corner to see a wire fence. I recognized it from videos of people doing the race in the past. I ran all the way from there onto the track, where I saw the finish.
I was so incredibly happy to be there, I ran in and put up my arms, nearly crying, but too exhausted to do so.
I turned around and looked at the clock, I finished in 28 hours and 51 minutes.
So, that’s what is was like to run 100.59 miles.
“I had finally answered my question of what it would be like to run all day, all night and into the next day again. My answer to that is, it feels like it takes forever when you’re in the progress of it, but once you look back at how it was it seems like a blur. “