Saturday, March 26, 2016
I headed up to the mountain with a neighbor and friend, Lisa, at 5:30 a.m. We arrived around 6 and found a close parking spot. The race starts at 7, so we stayed in the car and chatted for awhile. It was in the 40s, so once we got out we headed to the pavilion to stand by the fireplace!
|Pictures by Gregg Gelmis, We Run Huntsville|
I had low expectations for me in this race for a few reasons:
First, I hadn't been on the mountain since Mountain Mist 50K 2 months ago. That's right, no trail runs to train for this race!
When MM finished, I was ready to take a step back from running to focus on my overall health and nutrition. I started doing the 21 Day Fix Extreme workout videos and began eating better too. I took a couple of weeks completely off of running and then gradually added in miles until I was doing 30 miles a week. I did a 10 mile long run on roads 3 weeks ago and then a 12 mile long run last week. That was it for my long run training for this race. My shorter runs have been mostly pushing a jogging stroller with a 1.5 year old, so I think they were good training runs, but my overall weekly mileage wasn't great.
Good Prizes=More Competition
I "sized up" the competition before the race started and noticed 3 girls who looked like pretty serious competition. One had beaten me in MM and 2 others I didn't know. The race director had posted on Facebook that the first place male and female winner would get $350 in prizes. I was thinking that probably attracted some competition and noticed it to be true from the looks of things at the start of the race.
What did I have going for me?
I've won this race a few times in the past. It's a course that seems to suit me.
Strong Core, Arms, and Legs
Surely the 2 months of 21 Day Fix videos had to be doing something to make me stronger! I would test that out today.
I had a 9 month old last year and was exclusively nursing. I've just weaned my 21 month old, so I felt like I could push myself to "beat" the me from last year.
A Desire to Improve From Last Year
Last year, I finished 2nd and was passed in the last climb up Death Trail. This year, I wasn't going to let that happen.
This race is broken up into 3 segments separated by 2 Aid Stations. This is important for me to note because I am horrible at finding my way along the trails. The race director gave us clear and specific instructions to look for different colored flags for each segment of the race: RED at the start until the 25K runners separated from the 12K runners right after Aid Station 1, ORANGE after that, and finally YELLOW after Aid Station 2. As long as you kept the correctly colored flag to your right, you were doing fine. This was something that I had to be highly aware of, especially in the last few miles when I was alone. It's silly that someone like me can be so clueless on these trails, but it's the truth.
When the race began, I fell into 2nd place behind a girl from TN with a black Fleet Feet singlet on. In our first ascent after about a mile, I began walking and was passed by a girl (pink arm sleeves), putting me into 3rd place. I was trying not to push too hard in the beginning of the race in order to save for the end. I love this race, but it's a challenge to pace it properly. We headed into Stone Cuts, a favorite spot for me as we weaved in and out of the stone boulders. The weather was perfect for singlets and shorts (low 50s). The grass was just starting to green, and little purple flowers dotted the ground. It was so pretty and refreshing to see signs of spring.
I was happy to see my friend, Julia, was was volunteering at Aid Station 1 but disappointed that there wasn't any Gu available (FF team member joked "but we have Slim Jims. That's almost the same thing!"). I love the part right after this aid station where we "fall down the mountain." We pass the spot where I got engaged, and we get to run down the end of the Mountain Mist course (but we run up it during MM). It feels so freeing to just run and let gravity just pull you down!
I can't remember exactly when I passed the FF out-of-town girl, but I passed her reluctantly (I find it easier to chase than to be chased). And a little while after that, the now-first place girl (pink arm sleeves) was just stopped on the side of the trail, so I passed her. This part begins a gradual climb as we approach Aid Station 2. I ran with a guy from near Birmingham whose conversation was a nice distraction. The ditch that was washed out was very hard to navigate (something I could have improved in training on the trails). When we approached the aid station, the guy I was with told me not to linger. As we started back out on the course (I was relieved to have found a vanilla Gu!), he joked that he would trip the girls we saw as we doubled-back on the course for a small portion. Sure enough, we soon saw the girl with the pink arm bands. She wasn't but a few minutes behind us. I would have to go.
The guy I was running with passed me, and I was left alone as I ran miles 10-13. This made me incredibly nervous that I would get off-course. Each time I saw a flag in front of me, I was so happy for the confirmation that I was going the right way! Finally, I caught up to him and a couple of other guys and passed them.
I am beginning the climb at the end of the race in the picture below. I probably have 20 more minutes of climbing before the finish.
I had gotten passed last year on this climb. I told myself, "Don't let what happened last year happen again." And I kept pushing. A spectator said, "You're almost there" and I started to recognize the finish. I knew I could hold first place if I kept pushing!
Seeing the finish area and knowing I had done it felt incredible! It is such a joy to feel so spent. I know I had given it my all. It's hard to describe it, but I love this feeling. I heard cheering and people calling my name as I ran up the rocks to the finish.
I am most thankful for the coupon for new trail shoes (my current pair is too small but it's hard to justify spending money for shoes you only wear 3 times a year). The Garmin watch they gave me is so nice too, but it will take some learning to know how it works!
Below is something I hesitate to publish, but here goes. On the left is a picture from 4 months ago on my training run for MM. The right is me today. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I gradually got more and more out-of-shape over the last year. I knew running could not fix it when my marathon last fall went terribly and I felt so awful after every single run I did. So I focused on my health and let running take the backseat for awhile. Today I proved that was a good decision. I shaved 15 minutes off of my last year's time and finished feeling strong.