When I am closest to death I am the most alive…

GDR finisher award

…that was the motto of the Georgia Death Race. This past Saturday (03/16) Marc Griffin and I were lucky to be part of the inaugural Georgia Death Race (GDR). A point-to-point race in the north Georgian mountains (from Vogel State Park to Amicalola Falls State Park), supposedly 60mi long, and approximately 15,000 ft of elevation gain. (As we found out later it was about 65mi long but who counts…).


Sunrise after the first 3hrs

On Saturday at 4am about 182 runners toed at the start. Race director, Sean Blanton aka Run Bum, gave a quick speech and off we went into the 60F warm night. Since this was an inaugural event and (as we know) weather in the mountains can sometimes be unpredictable we had a list of mandatory gear to carry throughout the race. Thermal top, waterproof rain jacket, gloves, hat, headlamp, food ration, 22oz water can get heavy after many miles, especially if you don’t use them. Day temps were above 70 and felt pretty hot in the sun.

Switchbacks? What is that?

Having had mere mediocre training weeks before, and solid 2 weeks of taper prior the race I wasn’t looking for record pace. This was my first time in the Georgia mountains, I just wanted to enjoy the race and fellowship on the trail. So I tried to keep a relaxed pace throughout. That wasn’t all to difficult as there is 11,000 ft elevation gain in the first 38mi. Also switchbacks don’t seem very common there, many trails went straight up the mountain. Ugh! The other 22+3mi were on mostly rolling gravel roads.

The race went pretty good for me, I kept up to par with nutrition and hydration and enjoyed breathtaking views the ups and downs had to offer. Despite the gnarling terrain everybody was
in good spirits, and up for chats as one would expect in a trail race. I ended up running the last 12 mi or so with a new trail friend, Lee Shane. This was great since my legs were fried after the early mountain miles so it was easier to trade walking in favor of running. Lee and I took turns motivating each other to keep shuffling and finished after 15:22hrs.

Final mile during sunset

It was surely one of the hardest races I have done. The elevation, high temperatures and pounding on the gravel/hard packed dirt roads tax your legs. I’d say its like Hellgate 100k condensed to the first 38 GDR miles, followed by 25 mi of Mountain Masochist.


Run Bum’s motivators along the trial

Georgia Death Race, I now know why it’s called this, I felt like death hit me with a baseball bat by the time I finished the race.  It seems the State of Georgia does not believe in switch backs.  I went into the race thinking that it can’t be as hard as the race director is making it out to be.  I was also thinking that there is no way it could be harder than Hellgate….boy I was wrong!

We started the day with the biggest climb of the race that lasted about the first 5-7 miles.  Then the pain started, for the next 31 or so miles we went straight up and straight down each mountain we came to.  The climbs were approximately one mile in length but they were steep, and the descents were just as steep and knee pounding, and they came one right after another, no flat in-between.

After the first 38 miles of all single track it turned into fire and service roads for the remainder of the race.  The word is next year he found more trails to connect and the course will be changed a little to get more trail near the end of the race.  Either way these dirt and gravel roads were a blessing.  You could finally relax and well by this time mostly walk, but at least it wasn’t as steep.

Run Bum’s motivators teases along the trial

The final mile was another adventure, you lost 1500 feet in less than a mile, yes this hurt quite a bit.  Lastly the race was said to be 60 miles but the lady I finished with had 65.4.  This wasn’t really a big deal except during the heat of the day it got up to 80 degrees and I ran out of water between aid stations thinking it was only 6 miles but it felt more like 8 or 9.  I ended up finding a stream and drank from it and cooled down.

Cut off times this year were 28 hours but I see next year it will be 24 hours, which gives you plenty of time.  Over all it was a great race, especially for the first year.   I am sure lessons were learned and things will be a little different next year.  I would recommend this race but make sure you train for relentless STEEP hills.

Hanging bridge along the way

Lots of streams and rivers on the course

Sunset finish

7 thoughts on “When I am closest to death I am the most alive…

  1. Emil Gazda

    Nice race description! Congrats on your finish. May I use some of your pictures for my personal FB GDR album? My cell died from the constant search for signal and I have none.

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