Saturday, March 26, 2011

McKay Hollow Madness 25K Unofficial 2011 Race (Saturday Morning Edition)

The challenge in running is not to aim to do the things no one else has done, but to keep doing the things anyone could do---but most never will.

--Joe Henderson

Do you like doing things that aren't easy?  Do you like doing things that are scary or even unsafe?  When you really want something, are you willing to sacrifice comfort in order to get it?  As I woke up on Saturday, March 26th, little did I know that I would be forced to answer these very questions about myself.  This isn't just any old race report! 

On Friday night, I readied all of the things I would need for the race on Saturday--trail shoes, running belt, clothes, race number, and towels for the rain we were all expecting.   My fuel ended up consisting of a small baggie of jelly beans since I was out of my usual Sportsbeans.  I ate all of my favorite colors already (white and pink), so I was left with the ones below:

Good running fuel

I woke up to my alarm clock around 5:15 a.m. and then lay in bed for awhile wondering why I'd set it so early.  Thunder was shaking the house.  Lightning was lighting up our bedroom as if we'd left the lamps on.  A part of me wanted to just roll over and go back to bed, but I decided to check my email and then head up to the Monte Sano State Park to see for sure if the race was being held or not.  I sure didn't want to be known as the runner who stayed in her bed since she thought the race was cancelled when it wasn't.  The radar was showing a 70% chance of rain, and I heard it start as I was getting ready to go.  It looked pretty bleak, as seen below.

Not looking good
I saw cars--lots of them--when I arrived at the parking lot, so I figured this was a very good sign.  I was over thirty minutes early, but I wanted to see what the news was, so I battled the rain to get a spot inside the picnic pavilion.  Once I was inside, my friend Dana spotted me and gave me the report: We had to have 30 minutes without any lightning or thunder in order to start the race.  Blake (the race director) got up to make an announcement and thunder boomed in the background as if on cue.  Things weren't looking good.

I chatted and speculated with several friends while waiting on more news.  John Christy, our local "famous" climatologist (oh, I hope I got that right) talked with me about the conditions and mentioned how few races had ever been cancelled due to weather in Huntsville.  I chatted with my friends Kathy, Anne, Julia, and others while we waited.  Finally, Blake got up around 7:45 and said, "I hate to be the bearer of bad news..."  He went on to say that the race was indeed cancelled but that there would be a "training run" tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. and that we could pick up our shirts as we left.  Many people were still in good spirits, talking about how they'd hit a coffee shop now instead of running.  I'm sure they were at least a tad relieved that they didn't have to run in the rain. 

The decision
I stood in the T-shirt line and weighed my options.  Of course, I could always go back home and run nothing.  I could do the distance later today if the rain stopped.  But I'd come all the way up here.  Rick was at home watching the children, and I was on a much-deserved break.  I needed a long run today to wrap up my training for my marathon in two weeks.  Running the training run on Sunday morning wasn't an option for me since I had church.  And I just plain love the trails and wanted to run on them.

There is one more reason that I decided to run, and I'd be holding out on you if I didn't reveal it too.  It is summed up in the quote on my blog home page: "The challenge in running is not to aim to do the things no one else has done, but to keep doing the things anyone could do---but most never will." This run had suddenly become much more than just a race; it became a way to do something challenging and risky and just plain fun.  And something that most people would never even try to do!  Sure I expected to get cold, and sure I'd wish I'd have an aid station out there.  But I wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could do it in these tough conditions.  I wanted to prove what I was made of.

The run
After mulling all of these things over, I was glad to hear that there would be some people running today after all.  I talked with my friend Linda, whose kind words of encouragement under her nice, dry umbrella convinced me that I could do it.  I uttered a quick, "Okay, I'm in!" while trying my best to sound brave and tough.  I made a speedy trip to the bathroom and to car car to drop some things off, called Rick on my cell phone to explain the (good) news, and quickly caught up to the small group waiting for me.   

The group I set off with was a few girls that I knew only a bit--Cheryl (?) from Fleet Feet, Casey Fritz, Christy Scott, Clarissa, and a guy I had never met before who introduced himself as Jay.  There was another group of guys--Shane, Eric C., and James who had started before us to run the course unofficially too.  My group started off with some good friendly conversation.  Christy Scott told Jay that he was running with the top three women from last year.  He commented that that was good because if he ran faster maybe the water would shake off of his socks and his feet would stay dry!  With fun conversation, I barely noticed the chilly (50 degree) weather and the cold rain pelting me.  Luckily I'd thought to wear a hat and to keep my long-sleeved shirt on too.  

I wasn't trying to run fast, only to run fast enough so that I'd warm up a little bit.  I was soon in the front of the group but tried holding back a little so that I could keep the company.  Jay was new to this distance on the trails and thought the section we ran through the Stone Cut boulders was pretty interesting.  Around the second mile, the lightning got pretty bad, and I started to wonder if this was such a good idea after all.  That feeling passed and we rather quickly finished the first 5 miles.  1/3rd done!  I chatted with Jay for the second 3rd of the course.  I enjoyed seeing the new section that they added right before the second aid station.  It had one of the biggest fallen trees I'd ever had to navigate!  My cold hands stung after I used them to grab the tree's bark to swing over it.  The heavy rain caused the creek beds to be fuller than usual so there were plenty of waterfalls to run through, and I loved that part.  I thought, "How many people get to experience a rainstorm this way?"  

A little after the turnaround on Monte Sano Boulevard,  I spotted a man carrying an umbrella and a child with another child next to him.  The child on the ground had an unmistakable orange jacket that I could barely see through all the fog.  Could it be?  It was Rick and our children!  Wow, what an unexpected and happy surprise it was to see them!  I have a dedicated, loving, and supportive husband who's willing to come out with both kids in the a rainstorm to cheer me on!  The children were both wearing their rain boots but were still wet.  Actually, as I got closer, I saw that they were both crying!  My daughter had just fallen and was cold, and my son had gotten a cut from his umbrella when a piece of the metal supports came off unexpectedly.  When I saw the blood, a huge part of me just wanted to stay with him and help them make it back to the car.  I later learned that the first group of runners had been surprised to see them out in the rain ("We're spectators!" Rick had told them quite matter-of-factly) and that the children had been having a great time until right before I came.  After a quick kiss for each child and a promise of a Care Bears DVD for the car trip home, I continued on.

This sums up my brief visit with them. Can you tell they're both crying? One's cold and one's hurt!
You can even see the blood on my son's right ear if you look closely.
The last 5 miles were nice because Christy Scott joined us.  The other girls had not planned to do the whole course and had headed back, so I was really glad she caught us and wasn't alone up there.  We chatted about her 100 milers (she's done two) and about the really tough uphill.  I opened the jelly beans and enjoyed the only aid I had on the course (little did I know that when I packed them!).  The last mile had that huge climb, so the going was slow.  We finally saw what we thought was the finish and stopped our watches at 3:19.  High fives were given all around.  Christy later saw the new finish and we jogged under that and headed for the cars. 

After the run
Priority number one was a hot shower, followed quickly by two pieces of pizza and a bunch of macaroni.  My family and I enjoyed a movie at the dollar theater and the free post race party at the Furniture Factory.  The cookie cake that I missed terribly at the finish line was waiting for us at the party.  It was a sweet reward for the effort I put forth on the trails that day.
Yet something all the more sweeter was how I proved myself---to me and to my three special spectators.


  1. What an awesome story!!! I love it. I think it is so great that Rick came out there with the kids. That picture cracked me up!

    Congrats on such a GREAT adventure! I am so impressed that you ran in that. I don't mind rain, but the lightning freaks me out when I'm out there in it. You go girl!!!

  2. WOW you are awesome! Way to go!

  3. a memorable experience for sure!

  4. I LOVE IT!!! What a great story! It was too bad both kids had a mishap just before you got there--but what a great thing to have them there!! I have to pout just a little bit that you finished almost a full hour faster than I did on Monday...but I'm going to hold on to the excuse that I was taking pictures! Of course, you did it in the RAIN and LIGHTNING!! What a great memory! I'm even more impressed by you now! least I have one more year to train!