Going into the Georgia Death Race: Brace Yourself

by Milestone Sports athlete, Jackie Merritt

In the last couple of weeks approaching a big race, there always comes that moment when, in a flurry of panic, I question myself and my training…Am I truly ready?

All I think about are those workouts that didn’t go so well, or all the other stuff I maybe should have done that maybe I didn’t think to do. If I have learned anything in my years of race prep, it is get these thoughts out of mind. With just a few days to go, I am trying to focus on all the things in training that went really well. I had many, many more great workouts than I did poor ones and I worked my butt off over the past 4 months to get to the fitness and state of readiness I am in.

Focusing on the positives, and even putting them down on paper like this blog, boosts my confidence going into the Georgia Death Race this weekend, a race with 40,000+ feet of elevation change over 70+ miles.

Georgia Death Race elevation profile

For every uncertainty that I have going into this race, I am countering by putting trust into myself and my training…

  • Do I have the fitness to survive? I raced two “training” mountain ultramarathon races in the past few months as tests of my fitness. In both of them I bested my expected finishing times (including cutting time on the same course by over ten minutes at Mt Mitchell Challenge). I am in better mountain running fitness now than I have ever been.
  • Are my legs ready for the “death grade” climbing and downhill? Every week I did weighted squats and lunges up and down ramps till my quad and hip muscles shook with fatigue, and then I went for a run on wobbly legs. I didn’t fall apart. My legs can handle this.
  • Am I ready for all those hundreds of stairs at the end of the race? When I had to travel for work conferences and couldn’t find elevation for weekend long runs, I ran up and down 30 flights of stairs 10 times over in a musty dimly lit hotel stairwell on top of that flat long run. I can handle stairs. 

  • Do I have the stamina to stay out there for 15 plus hours or however long it takes in those mountains? I woke up at 5am with legs stiff and sore and still got myself outside to get in the miles when it felt like the last thing I wanted to do was run. I worked hard to improve my Pod gait metrics and sustain my core strength and form, even on the runs when I felt the worst. I have the strength and fortitude to push through when things are rough.
  • Do I have the grit that this race is going to take? I was out there training on cold days, hot days, rainy days and in the snow. I did track workouts, hill workouts and tempo runs where I pushed myself till I was nauseous and my mouth tasted like blood, and then I pushed some more. I’m not the fastest runner, but I’ve got grit.
  • Am I ready for what this course is going to bring? I made the effort to get out to the race course (see picture below) and ran the hardest sections numerous times, practiced the gear, the footwear, the nutrition. I know what’s coming. I am ready for this.

People often ask if I have any “secret” last minute prep. In truth, there is really no one food, stretch, exercise or “shake-out” run that you can do in the days before the race that’s going to make the race. I just try to make sure that I am going in well-rested and not doing or eating anything crazy.

The best thing I include in my pre-race ritual is this: brace yourself. I brace myself for that moment when my legs and my lungs are screaming at me to slow down or stop and I need to ask myself how badly I want this. I mentally rehearse that moment and how I will somehow reach deep inside myself and find that extra gear to power through. I have found that is the best thing I can ever do for myself in the days leading up to race day.

A 70+ mile race with 40,000+ feet of elevation change = a long time to be out there. No matter how prepared you are, anything can happen to anyone. Regardless of the outcome, my goal is to put it all on the line and leave everything out there on race day. I hope that I can achieve a result that is a reflection of the hard work and training I put in. If my career working with individuals with persistent neurologic disabilities has taught me one thing, it is no matter how ugly, never take a mile for granted.

After all, if you never take a mile for granted, every run will be the best run of your life.

Happy trails!

Bonus! List of stuff that I am required to carry at all times during the Georgia Death Race:

  • 1 weather proof jacket
  • 1 thermal top
  • 1 warm hat (beanie or buff)
  • 1 whistle
  • 1 working headlamp with extra batteries
  • 1 capacity to carry water (minimum 22 oz)
  • 1 space blanket
  • 1 railroad spike

Live GDR race tacking here!

Author: Jackie Merritt

Jackie is an accomplished ultra-runner and a sponsored athlete for Milestone Sports. She has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and a PhD in Biomechanics. She lives and trains in Atlanta with her husband Jeff and the Yeti Trail Runners. When not running, Jackie works as a PT and research scientist at Emory University School of Medicine. Jackie also runs for Saucony and NATHAN Sports.