We were in Birmingham for XC camp. I needed a long run and also needed some trail practice. I also chose this race b/c I've done races by the RD before, and they are always well-organized and put together nicely. The elevation map looked rough, but I still need practice run/hiking on trails in preparation of the 50 miler.
The course was double loop; so they offered a 9 mile option, too. The above elevation chart is for the one loop.
The day before the race, the RD sent out an email explaining that part of the course leading to the bottom of a waterfall had been washed out due to recent hard rains. To help us out, there was a rope. I'm not a complete scaredy cat; however I had my reservations about this. Oh well, I was already registered; so it was happening.
Considering I was at the end of 5 days with a large group of high schoolers, I was sleeping pretty well. I was also at the end of a 20-25% cutback week. I was feeling pretty good pre-race. I had coffee, banana, and Stinger Waffle about an hour and half before the race.
I started off very conservatively. I knew the course would be tough, and I wanted to be smart. The first few miles were very run-able. I only tripped once, but saved it before I hit the ground. I was running with a small group, and even met a girl that just graduated from the same college I did. I had to hike the portion right before the aid station. It was too steep and rocky.
The aid station at the top had anything you would want while running. I used the flat, gravel portion to take my Huma gel and refill my bottle. I had been running right at an hour.
The next portion was probably my favorite. It was a gradual decline on a packed gravel/dirt path. My legs appreciated the break from climbing. And then I came to the rope. When I first saw the drop, that's exactly what happened to my heart- it dropped. My immediate thought was, "there is NO way!" However, I was running by this super great guy named Mike that talked me through the whole thing and even grabbed my hand a few times to help me down. Y'all. It. Was. Nuts. I started facing out, sliding down gradually sideways, while holding the rope. My feet slipped out from me once, but thanks to the rope, I didn't die. (Slight exaggeration here, but falling would've caused serious injury.) After I slipped, I switched to a repelling strategy and had more luck with that. I made it to the bottom with only some bruises. Of course, then there was a massive log to climb over. I was shaking so badly that my legs would hardly work. The next mile or so was still un-run-able, as we went up slippery rocks and rock steps. The course was constantly up and down for the rest of the loop, but it was nothing too serious. I made a deal with myself to run the parts that I could and walk the parts that I couldn't. I focused on hiking strongly, as I think that's something I will need to do in the 50.
I finished the first loop right at 2 hours. I filled my bottle and took another gel at the aid station. the majority of the people stopped after 9. (They were smart.) At this point, I basically dropped every person I was running with before and tried to do my best on the first few miles. I knew I could run them quickly, and it would be my only chance to actually run before the rocks, hills, and absolute crap out there. LOL. I also powered through the hiking portion. Before I knew it, I was at the top aid station again, where they told me I was 3rd female. This time I drank a little Coke. (It's SOOOO good!) and powered on. I was under 3 hours; so I was totally negative splitting the whole race, which was a huge confidence booster. I powered on back to the rope where I took a different strategy. I got into a crab walk position, and basically slid down on my butt (while holding the rope). It was totally messy; I bruised the heck out of my arms, but it was a lot less scary and faster than the first time I went down. Next thing I knew, I was back on my way. I went back to my hiking/running strategy and checked my watch to confirm, that yes, I would be negative splitting the course. It was just a matter of by how much.
Until there were no more blue flags. A few people asked me how I ran off course, and I honestly have no clue. I was watching the blue flags, and all of a sudden they were gone. I tried to look ahead and behind with none to be found. The tricky thing was that I was on a trail. See, at this state park, many trails are weaved together. So, I was in my trail zone, running along and went on the wrong path. I stopped for a minute and tried to look for people. I saw two ladies hiking and asked them if they knew what trail (color) we were on. They weren't too sure, but thought orange or red. (I was supposed to be on blue and green.) I almost cut through the trail to the main road, but I told myself to continue this a little longer and just see if I could get back on track. The trail was pretty run-able, and after 20 minutes I saw someone running. I called out to her, and she looked up and directed me on how to get to her. I was then able to get back on the race course. I was so mad. I was mad at myself for not paying attention. I got too confident and missed my directions. I zoned out and didn't pay attention. GRRR. I was also totally out of water, and it was noon in July in Alabama.
I finished in 4:23, 6th female. The RD estimated that I ran at least 2 miles off course, maybe as much as 4. I wasn't wearing a GPS; so we will never know.
It pains me to say, but I'm not going to be able to wear the Launches in the 50 miler. I felt a TON of rocks through the soles of my shoes. My feet were bruised even post-race.
And I am so sore. Onward and upward, friends!