Keith and I decided to drive to my parents this year to save money. (Tickets are super high this time of year.) I noticed a few weeks back a trail race in Birmingham scheduled for yesterday. It fit perfectly that we could drive to B'ham Friday night, race Saturday morning; then continue the drive Saturday afternoon.
Not sure of the weather in your part of the country, but we had some sort of freak-ish heat wave come through towards the end of the week that meant temps in the upper 60s with 95% humidity for the race. Being that I just raced a 50K two weeks ago, and I'm the key training weeks for the 50 miler, this marathon (27 miler) would just be a training run. My goals would be to work on nutrition and my footing on the trails. (You know, like drinking water and not puking and not busting my face.)
I knew the race would be inaugural, small and low-key, which actually worried me a little bit. Small trail races for me often involve getting lost or running alone, but the event was cheap and fit into my schedule perfectly. I did end up running alone, but the course was very well marked and nicely manned. Aid stations were perfectly placed, and volunteers were super accommodating. Well done for an inaugural event! Holy hills. Holy holy hills. I'm not sure why I didn't better mentally prepare myself for these. I've never run a flat race in Birmingham, and even though this was not Oak Mountain (XTERRA), it was bound to be a doozy. 6,600 ft of elevation changes, which meant nothing to me when I read it on the race website, but it sure does now! The race was 3 x 9 mile loop.
The race started, and I ran the first 4-ish miles with a group of about 5 people, 3 ladies and 2 men. The men and one lady were doing the half, and the other two ladies were doing the full. Those first 3 miles were the roughest of the course. I'm glad I was able to run with them. I watched their footing closely, and took note of where to step, how to navigate the roots, etc. These are things that I'm slowly getting the hang of with trail running. There were also some really steep incline portions that the group walked up, and I took note of that, too. I was running with a really nice lady named Debbie who had done a 100 miler and LOTS of 50s. She kind of hinted at me that I was starting too hard. I didn't really think so, but I played it conservatively just in case. (My 2nd loop was the slowest; so she was incorrect about me starting too fast.) The roots and terrain broke for a mile and a half, and I was able to run more freely. This part was a packed dirt road, but pretty steep. I basically left the group in the dust at this point. I knew it was a risk, but their pace was ridiculously slow for me, and I wanted to run my own race, even if that meant blowing up. After the long dirt incline, the trails got rough again. I caught up to 3 men and tried to follow their footing. I found that they were quite fearless and leaped over a lot of things. I couldn't stay with them, just muddled along behind. We had a steep set of wooden stairs that led up to this ridge line thing, and then we went back down them. The guys dusted me here, and I was back in No Man's Land. I exited that portion of the trail and started on what they called the Jeep Road. I recognized the Jeep Road from the start; so I knew I was approaching the start, which was also the end of the loop. I looked at my watch at it had only been 1:15. I thought I was in pretty good shape and making decent time. Um, and then I started running the Jeep Road and the thing was STEEP and took FOREVER to get to the end. I finished the first loop in 1:26.
I told Keith it was going to be a VERY long day, that the trails were rough. He said I was first female in the marathon (which I already knew from the aid station). I ran the 2nd loop chasing a man in Santa socks. I would catch him on the packed dirt parts, and he would ditch me on the technical areas. I said a few words to Santa socks, mostly about his shoes because he point blank asked me if my feet were hurting. He was wearing Hokas, and I was wearing my Grits. And YES, my feet were hurting because I had hit about one hundred rock thingies and slid about one hundred times. My response to him, "No, not at all. I'm just being cautious." LOL, then later in the race, he twisted his ankle on basically NOTHING, which happens when you are wearing high heels for running (HOKAS). So... then at the aid station on the 2nd loop, I really thought I was bonking. I was SO thirsty. Temps were warm and the air was think with humidity. I decided to drink some Mtn. Dew. Yep, full calorie, sugar-filled soda. My brain was telling me NO. It told me to wait for my Perpeteum bottle, just to get water now. But somehow, I could not stop my hand from taking that little cup and drinking the sweet goodness. Kind of weird actually, because I don't even LIKE Mtn. Dew. I've told you all about overcoming my Diet Coke addiction, but I have never had a problem with Mtn. Dew, nor do I even think it tastes good. It did Saturday, oh boy, it hit the spot. And I did NOT puke it up. Amazing. I chased Santa socks off and on the entire loop, and we managed to finish it together at 3:03. And yes, people, that is slower than my marathon PR. Nice, huh? I contemplated dropping out here. Keith was there, and I knew we would be really rushed to check out of our hotel on time. I was really not liking the trails and roots and hills. I told him that I kind of wanted to drop out. I stood there for a minute with him looking at me with this odd look on his face. He asked, "Why would you drop out of a race you are winning? It's only 9 more mile."
Yeah. Only. So, off I went back to chasing Santa socks. The aid station came on quick this time, and I was SURE I had bonked. And this time, I had zero will power. I was hurting so bad. I wouldn't drank anything and everything. At that point in my misery, I wanted a... BEER. Yes, people, I drank a beer out there.
This beer drinking... it's so STUPID. And because this is my blog, I will say what i want, but I do think people that stop for buffet during races are ridiculous. Yes, ridiculous. The idea that I was actually trying to win this thing and stopped for an alcoholic beverage is so beyond stupid that I don't even have any answers or excuses for myself. But, at that point in my misery, my hand reached for that small cup of beer and I pounded it like never before. And then I asked for another. And there were comments about being "bad ass" and whatever, but I pounded that 2nd cup and went on my merry way. I'm not sure if it was the beer or what, but I felt somewhat renewed. I had done quite a bit of walking prior to that aid station, but after my beers, I managed to run fairly hard until the next portion of technical trails. It was on this packed dirt part that I passed Santa Socks. I had some very threatening burps, but nothing came up. I sped walked the next technical loop with the stairs. It began raining. I tried to stay positive. I wanted to run the final Jeep Road part; so I thought not overworking this portion of the trail would help me do that.
I finally started on the Jeep Road and it felt miserable. My feet and legs were throbbing; the wind picked up, and the rain was driving down. I passed two people that were doing the relay. I looked back for Santa Socks, determined for him to not catch me. Up, up, up, up, and up some more until finally, I saw the white tent. I heard people yelling my name. I knew it wasn't Keith; he's fairly quiet and usually just stands right next to the finish with his camera. And DONE. 4:34:XX.
1st female, 4th overall.
We couldn't hang around much due to having to get back to the hotel. I grabbed some paper towels to clean up, and spoke to the RD. I told him about having to leave early, and he gave me my award (sizable gift card to local sporting goods store). I chatted with the women's winner of the half marathon, and then we left.
Okay, this is probably going to be totally TMI, but oh well. I think I have found the reasoning behind my stomach issues and non-stomach issues. Whenever I am sick during races it is directly linked to "female times." Yeah, I didn't even really realize it until the past few weeks since I've been using a fertility phone app. (Ok, that's a totally different subject, but whatev.) Through my trials and errors of nutrition, THAT is the only common link, even though I'm not sure what the science behind it is.
Mentally, I stayed tough , especially since I ran alone, but my attitude really got poopy out there. I said a million cuss words in my head, and swore to myself that after the 50 I was DONE with trail running forever. I even considered NOT continuing my goal of the 50 miler.
I need do get back to doing core work. I can tell in trail running that having a strong upper body really helps power you. (It does in road running, too, but I think even more so on the trails.) I did really well during XC season because I did it with my kids, but since that ended and my mileage has gotten so high, I have slipped on that aspect of my training.
And despite some pretty poopy messages I sent my coach, YES, the 50 miler is still in the words. 6 weeks away!!!!!! Eeek!
Run Happy, friends!
That last loop, OMG, misery.