FKT: TJ Pitts - Benton MacKaye Trail (GA, TN) - 2020-10-10

Athletes
Gender category
Male
Route variation
Standard route
Multi-sport
No
Style
Self-supported
Start date
Finish date
Total time
5d 18h 42m 0s
Report

 

BMT FKT Round 2
All the horrors of my first attempt are detailed in the blog above. I may have failed in 2018 but I
learned a lot of lessons the hard way and it helped me tremendously on this attempt. Having an
awesome weather window is the only way I'd ever take another crack at it. I'd obviously need
my body to perform well for close to 6 days as well. Since the attempt in 2018, i constantly had
a string of injuries but mainly i was almost always fatigued and couldn’t seem to find my normal
pop. I did all kinds of blood tests and hair test analysis to try and figure this issue out. I
eventually went on custom supplements and trained more off HR, which led me back to slowly
training halfway normal by the end of 2019. Then I cut the last inch of my finger off at work and
had a compound fracture as well, After surgically rebuilding it and waiting 2 or 3 weeks, I slowly
started hiking/jogging around, careful not to fall and smash the metal pin that anchored my bone
together. A few months after this injury, I then had a small operation to close off multiple veins
not feeding blood back to the heart properly. Varicose veins run in my family. During all the
down time, I made the decision to move to the west side of Denver so i could live and play in big
mountains year round. This was towards the beginning of June and training instantly ramped
up. Its easy to train when all you want to do is explore every summit and ridge trail within a 100
miles of where you live. Most weeks I spent 20-25 hours climbing every pass, ridge and 14er I
could find. I started to gain confidence back in my legs and their ability. I started back dreaming
about the BMT FKT. I listened to a podcast with Stringbean and Buzz talking about his recent
Long Trail FKT and by the time it ended ,I was dead set on my fall plans. I kept envisioning
doing the route self supported though. I tried in 2018 with full support. The thought of being out
there alone, running from supply box to supply box , got me fired up more than anything. The
only problem was I didn't have any thru hiking or fast packing experience. Honestly looking at
100 mile races now, they really pamper you and racers still complain about the distance in
between aid stations and the types of hot food that’ll be served. I started following String Bean
and guys like Joey Campanelli. The things these guys had done self supported and
unsupported blew my mind. I realized then,there was so much I could learn from these guys,
they are successful ultra runners but also very efficient, with very little wasted energy on 2,000-
3,000 mile long trails. They’re always multitasking while steadily moving forward and eating up
ground. 1 piece of gear would serve multiple purposes to keep weight at a minimum. I started
doing back to back long runs with a 10-14 pound pack and sleeping out in the backcountry of
Co. I kept my wrappers to get an idea of how many calories I was consuming every day. I
focused on being smooth and efficient and knowing where every little thing was in my pack.
Smooth is fast and consistent hours of this led to the miles adding up. I knew the beginning of
October brought a full moon and almost equal day/night hours. I was hoping a cold front would
blow in and I could take a crack at it before all the leaves covered the trail. As the October 4 th
weekend got closer, the weather looked perfect. If it held, I'd definitely be jumping on an
airplane soon.
Oct 1st I flew into Atlanta but not after missing my first flight due to the traffic from an accident. I
told myself this was the first of many issues i'd have to work through and there was no reason to
look at it as bad luck, just figure out a solution and keep moving forward. My sister Jessi picked
me up and we went straight to the grocery store. I picked up all my trail food and returned to her
house. I spent the entire next day weighing out calories and packing each ammo box. I'd have 1
drop box at the end of each day, every 50 miles or so. I also put a pair of shorts, T-shirt and
socks in each drop. Battery packs and foot care products were left in each one as well. Me and
Sarah spent probably 12 hours driving the route northbound, stringing ammo boxes up in trees.
Hopefully the black bears wouldn't be able to reach them and leave me dead in the water. In
retrospect I should have probably spent two days doing this or just started earlier.

I arrived at the hostel around 11 pm and decided to push the start time back to 6 am for a little
more sleep. I maybe slept 2 or 3 hours by the time my alarm clock sounded, I'd just have to deal
with it and hope it didn't affect the run too much.
DAY 1
By the time I was completely ready to start it was getting close to 6:15 AM. Sarah hugged me
and wished me well as I started all the GPS trackers. I turned around , looked across the bridge
at Big Creek and took my first few running steps toward Springer. I'm back in the shit now I
thought. It's a little concerning when you realize you have 300 miles ahead of you, no crew, no
one following along just in case you bail,nothing. You got one mission daily, cover a big chunk
of mileage and hit that ammo box. Day 1 includes nearly 58 miles, 13,500 foot of vertical gain
and you run right through the Great Smoky Mountains national park. It consists of one big
mountain climb and descent after another. You must cross 100 streams on day one. I just hiked
strong and ran gentle , trying not to blow my legs out early. I was running pretty similar splits
from 2018 and just settled into a real good grove for probably 50 miles. The last 8 miles I found
myself crossing stream after stream in the dark and running through creek beds full of rock. It
was tiring trying to cross streams without soaking your feet and then you'd end up in thick brush
and have to bushwhack back to the trail. I finally hit the service road that leads down to the
tunnel. Once making the paved road from Bryson City, I ran about a mile until I hit my first drop
box. I could see the tunnel from where I stashed my gear. Apparently the tunnels some kind of
high school hang out, I was going to have guests. I was eating my dinner (rice and tuna) when I
saw the first set of headlamps walking toward me. I was too tired to care and started putting on
my sleeping gear and laying the bag out. As I laid down and set my alarm clock for 4:30 am , I
heard some kid in the distance say “man im tripping balls” , that made me chuckle. I slept
cowboy style on a mat and got maybe 2-3 hours of sleep with the kids walking back and forth.
Day 2
I woke up and loaded the pack back down. I cold soaked my oatmeal and started hiking toward
the tunnel. You follow the lake shore trail for nearly 35 miles before hitting Fontana Dam and
leaving the Smokies. I seen probably 7 black bears on this section of trail. Once reaching the
dam I made up my instant potatoes and got set up for the final push to Tapoco lodge. A hiker
told me it took him 6 hours to make the trip from Fontana village to the lodge ( 11 miles ) due to
the over growth. I remembered this section having lots of blow downs in 2018 as well. I hit this
section on a mission , knowing pizza and peanut butter pie awaited me at the lodge. I felt great
and covered the section in under 3 hours , despite some briars and the vertical gain. I ran to the
front door of the lodge, arriving around 9pm. While checking in , I became so light headed and
weak I had to sit down. I picked up my food and was shown to my cabin. After minutes of
arriving , I couldn’t eat and was too weak to even shower. I laid in the floor and started puking
Into the trash can. I’ve never thrown up during any ultra race. I couldn’t believe my body had did
a 180 so quick. After 3 hours of more throwing up and being to weak to shower , my left hand
started going numb. Wow , am I about to have a heart attack I thought? I was so concerned with
the way I felt, I made the decision to call a ambulance. Once the EMTs arrived , I got into the
back of the ambulance where they checked my Heart rate , blood O2 levels and blood sugar
level. The EMT assured me I wasn’t having a heart attack so I decided to go back in and sleep it
off. At this point I was 99.9% convinced the FKT attempt was over. I slept maybe 4 hours and
after waking, didn’t feel to bad. I ate a big breakfast and by 8:30 am decided I had to get back
on the trail. If I felt really bad on the first climb I’d turn back to the lodge and figure out a rental
car. Luckily my body made a turn for the best and I kept pushing forward.

Day 3
I didn’t push the pace to hard because I was really concerned I’d get nauseous or as weak as
the night before. The miles ticked by and luckily I had a ammo box with in 42 miles of the lodge.
I knew I’d have a late finish but at least I was back moving toward Springer Mt. How bad do you
want it ? I kept asking myself this question. The honest answer , I was willing to end up in the
emergency room before I’d quit again. I was all in. The sun setting and the sound of a mad
Timber rattler Snapped me back to reality. I gave him all the room he wanted and kept pushing
into the dark. I was headed right for the heart of darkness, a nick name given to the section of
trail near Sandy gap due to how remote it is. I reached Sandy gap around midnight and went
through my normal routine of dinner , foot care , setting up sleep pad and getting calories ready
for the next day. Right about the time I drifted off to sleep a owl directly over the top of me,
made the loudest hoot I’d ever heard , I nearly rolled off the mountain it scared me so bad.
Day 4
Day 4 broke me in 2018. It was also going to be the hottest day of my trip this year. I switched
shoes that morning and after 10 miles I knew that was a mistake. I should have put on a more
max cushioned shoe but didn’t. The pads of both my forefeet were killing me. The tendon from
my left shin to the top of my left foot was also very inflamed and swelling. No shoe change for
another 88 miles....damn. Got to make due. I hit the John Muir trail section along the Hiawassee
river and was cooking. I soaked my head and hat multiple times to stay cool. As I neared the
bridge, I hoped the burger shop was still open but no luck. It had closed due to COVID. It was
going to be cold soaked ramen noodles. I crossed another really wide river that soaked my feet ,
this definitely wouldn’t help the blisters I’d acquired toward the end of day 2. Knowing I was only
7 miles from where I dropped in 2018, I found a second wind and started running hard again. I
hit McFarland rd with a little smile on my face but knew I had nearly 14 miles still to go. Within a
mile of Thunder Rock campground , I was pretty sure I’d need a nap just to make it to the end of
day 4. I decided to keep pushing forward , once hitting the camp ground I sat down on the curb
and worked on my tired , blistered feet. I had a 3 mile uphill climb to hit the ammo box, this
might have been the slowest 3 mile stretch of the entire run. After walking back and forth in the
woods for 5 minutes I finally found my box. Another 12-1 am finish.
Day 5
I knew day 5 was technically my shortest day. The plan was to cover this 37 mile stretch ,
shower , eat and sleep and then start really early on a final day push. The first 20 miles had a lot
of climbing and my splits were very slow. I was tired , hurting , and just couldn’t seem to move
any faster. Eventually my vision got so bad I decided to try a nap. I slept for 15 minutes right in
the middle of the trail. This was definitely the right call. After getting up and having a instant
coffee, I got back in a better rhythm. I put on music and knew the next 15 miles coming up fairly
well. I started doing math and realized my day 2 issues had me running tighter on time then I’d
like. I started back hammering the climbs and running all the descents and flats. I couldn’t let
this slip away. I had to start pouring it all out. On the last descent my right quad nearly locked
up. 235 miles had put a beating on it and now there was a huge painful knot forming. I couldn’t
run more then 10 feet without the quad getting worse. I hiked the last 4 miles in and tried to give
it a break. YES! I had made the cabin. I showered, ate a frozen pizza and started preparing for
the final day. I was in bed by 10pm.
Day 6

I woke up at 1:30 am and knew I wasn’t going back to sleep. I got up and had a big breakfast
and worked on taping up all my problem areas. Both my feet were destroyed and now my right
quad was a real issue. I just needed everything to function for another 52 miles. I was back on
the trail by 3:45 am. I was stoked to be this close and made quick work of the first 9 miles . I
noticed the wind picking up on the ridge line headed to fall branch falls. I knew this meant the
rain was on the way , I just didn’t know how long until it hit me. Right before the sun came up , I
laid down and took another 15 min nap. As I made it to the road at the bottom of the falls, I
noticed my buddies truck. I hit the road and started jogging , he looked out the window and just
nodded his head, I pointed at him and kept moving forward. I think Josh was as excited about
seeing me getting this thing done as I was. We’d both invested a lot of time into logistics and
trail work with the hopes of me one day making a return to gain some vengeance. And here it
was , day 6 , if I just stayed steady I’d have it in the bag. I marched on. The last day has over
13,000 ft of vertical gain and I was noticing it. I made the swinging bridge and knew I had less
then 17 miles to the finish. I was getting emotional thinking about finishing but still knew it was
hours away. I hiked up the mountains as hard as I could. It became dark and the wind picked up
. Next came the rain. Roughly 10 miles to go. I pushed for 3 forks. When I arrived I seen Sarah
standing there cheering me on , it seemed like weeks ago that she saw me off at Big Creek
campground. I was so tired , I crawled up under a lifted Jeep and slept 2 minutes. I still got wet
just crawling under it , at this point I didn’t care. Ok 6 miles to Springer , let’s get this thing done.
The rain came down harder. It gave me flash backs to all the rain in 2018. It was as if the trail
was angry and didn’t approve of this changing of the guard. It felt like I was operating outside
the matrix and this couldn’t be real. I checked my watch again, 3 miles to go. I thought please
don’t let a widow maker blow out of a tree and hit me now. This ending felt epic , foggy, raining
and wind whipping through the trees. I thought back on the journey and decided to enjoy every
last mile of it. 2 miles to go and I see maybe 10 head lamps , it’s all family and friends at the
final road crossing cheering me on. This really lights me up and I pour out everything I got left
on them final 2 miles. I reflect on the last 6 days and all the emotions start pouring out of me. I
touch the Benton Mackaye memorial and tell him thanks for all the work he did. I run just a little
more down the trail and see Joshs head lamp and I know my time in the woods is over. I hit the
southern terminus and can’t believe I just pulled off my biggest running goal. I spend nearly a
hour in the parking lot telling stories and celebrating with family and friends. Super
grateful. South bound Self Supported And overall FKT of the Benton Mackaye Trail. Oct 4-10th
5 days 18 hours 42 minutes.