FKT: Michael Loutzenheiser - Pine Mountain Trail (GA) - 2022-01-03

Route variation
One way
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
2h 54m 17s

      This attempt for the PMT FKT originally stemmed from the need to get in a solid long run prior to the mountain mist 50k coming up on the 22nd of January. Two weeks prior, I had an injury scare with my hip and quad. After not getting in a good long run that weekend, I sought to put in an 60 mile week of easy running before my next long run to ensure my hip was properly healed before the effort. This meant that I wasn’t totally peaked for the effort, but that it did make for a fantastic long run. The choice of attempting the FKT on the PMT prior to mountain mist was a no-brainer. the mileage to elevation ratios of the PMT and the mountain mist course are very similar, so it would serve as the perfect long run spot to practice pacing and nutrition before the big race. Also, Having done several training runs and hikes with friends and family on the trail, the PMT felt like a sort of backyard to me. I knew I wanted to attempt the FKT as soon as I realized it was posted as a route on the FKT website. 

      The day I chose was honestly rather random. I began looking at possible days on Friday the 31st, I didn't want to do a big long run too close to the race date, and Monday the 3rd seemed to be a day with good weather... Easy as that! The day prior to the effort we got tons of rain in LaGrange, so I was anticipating the trails being super wet and sloggy (they turned out to be fast and dry!). I slept in Monday morning, ate a big breakfast, and drove the 45 minutes to pine mountain with my mom and sister also driving up in a separate car. They dropped me off at the northern terminus then drove me down to the southern terminus. For the effort I packed a new hydration vest (a Camelbak Nano I was testing for mountain mist) with 1L of Gatorade electrolyte drink in two soft flasks (around 400 cals total), a gel (90 cals), phone, keys, headphones (which went unused), and a super light windbreaker (which also went unused). After snapping a quick photo at mile marker 0, I started off at 1:27 PM. 

      The first miles of the trail were very quick. In years past, I had done lots of out and back training runs from the PMT’s southern terminus. I knew this section of trail well, and the first 5-6 miles came very smooth and easy. For these early miles, I tried to focus on hydration and calorie intake (this was something I was looking to practice prior to mountain mist). I went through mile marker 12 in 1:25 (my watch consistently read around .2 short of the trail’s mile markers from miles 12-22). It was the first time I had really looked at my watch during the effort, and I quickly realized with how good I was feeling I would have a shot at going sub-3 hours. My excitement came to a stall however, when around mile 14 I started to chaffe and show signs of an oncoming side stitch. Knowing that both of these ailments could be day-ruiners, I spent miles 14-17 trying to slow down the pace and focus on breathing. I went through mile marker 17 in 2:03, and found a new sense of excitement and energy. My side stitch had gone away, and I felt confident I could manage 9 minute miles over the next 6 miles save some sort of catastrophe. At mile 18 I saw my mom and sister at a road crossing, and soon afterwards had my first real close call on the trail, stumbling over some leaf-covered rocks on a climb. I was lucky to save it and around mile 19 I started to really feel the effects of my pace on the descents and had a hard time climbing. The soreness began to get real, and I knew I didn’t have much left in the tank. Towards the end of mile 19 there was one climb I remember really zapping the legs, and from then on I was in total survival mode. Honestly it was a sort of pain I had never experienced in all my days trail running, but I was able to manage some slow jogging through the creek-side trail past cascade falls and up the final climbs over the last three miles. I was relieved to hit the final sign and stop my watch in 2:54:17. In my exhausted stupor I saved the file out of habit, and after walking for 30 seconds (and trying not to fall over) I realized there were two signs designating the end of the trail about 30 feet from each other. I quickly snapped a picture of my watch next to the second sign showing 4:22 pm. (2’ 55” from my start time)

      Overall I was extremely pleased with my effort. I learned a ton going into mountain mist (mainly about how less than 200 calories/hr is simply not going to be enough nutrition) and gained lots of confidence going into my first ultra. I definitely think this time can be lowered in the future by someone with better closing speed on those last miles. Perhaps in drier conditions though, as the last few miles along the creek bed can be pretty muddy and precarious with all the crossings, wet rocks, and wet bridges. Also, someone could definitely climb better than I did. I mainly opted for the “chill climbs, rip the descents strategy”, and I think it blew out my legs more than I would have liked. I could not have asked for better weather today, and in hindsight probably could have opted for lighter weight, less aggressive shoes than my trusty peregrines. (that being said, I did enjoy the extra grip and security ripping the descents). Also in hindsight, I should have taken in much more water and calories than I did. If I attempt this again, I will need to either supplement with more gel, take more than a liter of Gatorade, or attempt the route supported. Last but not least, special thanks to my mom and sister for shuttling me out to the trail, and to the trail crews and boy scouts that keep the PMT looking fantastic year-round!

P.S. If anyone wants to attempt this FKT and would like some beta, don’t hesitate to message me on Strava! I was lucky to have thru-hiked the trail with my sister early in January last year, so I was pretty well-prepped on what trail conditions would be like, where the climbs are, and how long the climbs are. I think this definitely helped a ton on my effort, and would recommend any sort of hike or run to scope out the trail going into an attempt. The PMT is not very technical, especially not on the descents, but in my experience I found the prior trail knowledge to be very valuable.