Never in a million years did I think I would be writing a race report about a 57-mile trail run on a hot June day let alone the Georgia Loo female supported FKT, but here we go.
The last time I was at Woody Gap (last June) I was running with my friends Eli and Andrew, two very accomplished runners. After the run, I noticed I had a new Strava follower, a guy named Ben Mercer. First thing I thought of was why would Ben Mercer follow me. I had only known of him after my friend Evan had mentioned how his friend Ben broke the Georgia Loop FKT, one of the hardest runs in Georgia. After exchanging kudos and comments on Strava, we are now happily married (Thanks to Eli who officiated and yes, we got married on the anniversary of Ben’s Georgia Loop FKT, days before we had to shelter in place).
Ben and I decided we would do the Georgia Loop last weekend as we had been to the trails a few times post shelter in place - if we had learned anything from this year it is not to put anything off because who knows what tomorrow will bring. I knew the weather would be brutal, but June 6th is national trail day and D-Day (my grandfather stormed Normandy) so the day was very meaningful to me. I was coming off a hard training cycle for the Georgia Death Race (thanks to Ben for coaching me) so I was mostly familiar with the Loop plus with Ben by my side and his amazing parents crewing I knew I was in good hands.
We started at Woody Gap at around 5am and boy the weather was sticky and muggy! We eased into a rhythm and as we passed by Preacher’s Rock, I said a little prayer and was proud of what I was doing no matter what happened and just kept smiling. We first met Ben’s parents at Wolfpen Gap 10 miles into our run, where they had a buffet of snacks. I hit the lottery with in-laws as they are the most selfless and sweetest people. We stocked up a lot as the next time we saw them would be highway 60 which was 20 miles away. As we were approaching Coosa Bald, we saw Ben’s friend Charles who was doing a self-supported 100 miler (incredible). We were so happy to see him and only wish that his badass girlfriend Cecilia was there (the Quad Queen of Coosa). As we were heading along to Mulkey Gap, the Duncan Ridge Trail was super overgrown between no GDR, Cruel Jewel, shelter in place, as well as just summertime. We bushwhacked nonstop and I took a stumble a mile from Mulkey Gap. I was hoping to go without falling but what can you do. My left knee got cut (or should I say recut after a spill at Kennesaw last week) and my right shin was pretty banged up – I got the best shiner but knew I had to keep moving forward. After making our way past Mulkey Gap towards Fish Gap we made sure to take the Old DRT to honor the route and not cut any corners by taking the new DRT. Once we got past Rhodes, Ben’s parents dropped us a 2-liter bottle of water and a can of Coke to which we came across a family and the father happened to work for Coke (amazing product placement). After refilling we made our way passed Licklog and Walla and of course I took another spill half a mile downhill to Highway 60. It wasn’t too bad but still very annoying. After refueling and having the most wonderful peanut butter and jelly as well as potatoes we carried on to Swinging Bridge. By this time, it was getting HOT! We crossed Swinging Bridge and it was a zoo! I started yelling for people to get out of the way as it was an emergency and just got looks but what was I supposed to do, I was a girl on a mission. After that we slowly made our way past Bryce Gap and No Name Gap, we were just dying to see the sound of music field and know we were close to Long Branch Falls where Ben’s parents would be waiting. Arrive at Long Branch, we knew we were 15 miles out. A couple weeks ago we ran that section to Coopers Gap so I knew I was getting close and could smell the barn. Luckily for us, there weren’t too many day hikers as we headed towards Horse Gap (the next time we would see Ben’s parents). Crossing Hightower Gap, we saw Ben’s parents zooming by and just smiled. After Horse Gap I slowly went up and down Cooper’s Gap as it is by far the rockiest part especially the downhills and didn’t want to jeopardize anything. After crossing Cooper’s Gap, I was now in unchartered territory as I had never run on that side of the AT and just relied on knowing we were single digit miles away and trusted Ben with all my heart. It was a struggle and one of the hardest parts as we made our way through Devil’s Kitchen. I was feeling fatigued and lightheaded, so I just kept pounding electrolyte tabs, food and whatever I could stomach. We made it to Gooch Gap which was the last time we would see Ben’s parents til the finish. We didn’t stop long just grabbed headlamps just in case. However, because my watch had died, I had no idea the time or how many miles we had gone so I was freaking out that we wouldn’t make it in time for the FKT. As a result I was a girl on a mission as we rounded the turns and headed straight to the finish where Ben’s parents set up a toilet paper finish line (how appropriate) and I burst into tears after seeing that we did it in 14:49, over an hour off the women’s FKT!.
I couldn’t have done it without the unyielding love and support of my husband and love of my life, Ben along with his parents who are total rock stars. I don’t know how we can ever repay them for all that they have done for us.
Special thanks to Eli for bringing Ben and I together and always being with us in spirit, inspiring us each day. Also special thanks to Kacy Seynders one of my closest friends and PT extraordinaire (go see her for anything!!) for calming me down after I was nervous about doing the run because of soreness in my hips/back, something I injured last year from overtraining.
Side note, because of the joys of GPS watches on the trails and Strava, the gpx file didn’t upload correctly as some of the splits were off and it says we were a mile off even though we completed the full circle. Given the photos (and time the photos were taken) and geotags (not to mention witnesses) I hope this still counts as an FKT. Also I set the DRT supported FKT at 8:37
Wolfpen Gap – 2:37
Highway 60 – 7:34
Long Branch Falls – 10:34
Horse Gap – 12:13
Gooch Gap – 13:59
Woody Gap - 14:49