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Trail runners to tackle 100 miles through forest Saturday

Gordon Harvey

Gordon Harvey of Jacksonville competes in a trail run in this submitted photo. A 100-mile race through the Talladega National Forest is planned for Saturday.

An endurance race set to begin in the Talladega National Forest this weekend will take runners on a grueling, 100-mile scenic course that will end at Sylacauga High School.

Adam Dasinger, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Talladega National Forest that is helping with the run, said more than 230 runners have registered for the 12th annual Pinhoti 100, which begins at 7 a.m. Saturday.   

Dasinger said the race will begin at the Pine Glen Campground in the Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area just northeast of Heflin. Runners will actually run on the Pinhoti Trail for 84 miles of the race; the rest of the course will include forest service roads and 4 miles of pavement, according to Dasinger.

He said runners will use the Pinhoti Trail until they get to Mount Cheaha, where the course will include Cheaha State Park trails and the Chinnabee Silent Trail before rejoining the Pinhoti. 

Dasinger said there will be 28 stations along the route to aid participants as they arrive. Runners — who have 30 hours to finish the race —  have to pass each station by a particular time or risk being disqualified, Dasinger said.

Dasinger said that one aid station will be at the Heflin Spur trailhead at the parking lot on Forest Road 500 near U.S. 78. That station will be sponsored by the city of Heflin, Heflin Main Street and the Friends of the Talladega National Forest. Dasinger expects at least 100 people there Saturday morning to encourage the runners. 

Support groups to man other stations are coming in from all over the country according to Dasinger. 

Dasinger said he watched the race last year as an observer and characterized it as well organized and high energy. 

Gordon Harvey of Jacksonville plans to run his first Pinhoti 100 this weekend. Harvey, a 52-year-old veteran trail runner, finished a 100-mile trail run two years ago at Lake Martin and said the experience is unlike any other.

“It’s every fear, every hope, every problem, every piece of joy you can imagine. There are moments where you can’t believe you’re doing something so crazy. There are moments when you feel sick and tired because you don’t sleep for 30 hours. You just want to lay down in the dirt and sleep,” Harvey said on Thursday. 

“There are moments where you feel like you’re on top of the world, it’s like a lifetime over a 30-hour period,” said Harvey.

Harvey said the body will do what the mind lets it do.

“So the 100-mile race is really a battle in the mind to convince yourself that you can do this,” Harvey said. 

Harvey said the Pinhoti Trail is where a lot of people begin trail running.

“It’s like our backyard. It’s beautiful, it’s pretty. It’s about the prettiest trail you can run,” he said.

All finishers of the century run will receive a Western-style belt buckle according to Harvey. The practice of awarding belt buckles for 100-mile endurance runs dates to 1973, when a man named Gordon Ainsleigh participated in a 100-mile horse race where buckles were awarded, only Ainsleigh ran without a horse.

Tanya Maloney, Heflin’s economic developer and director of Heflin Main Street, said that the program welcomes families and friends to Heflin.

“With all the work we have been doing over the past year bringing attention to the trail and the Heflin Spur, Heflin Main Street felt it was an important opportunity to support those people that are out there supporting the trail,’ Maloney said.

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.