(All photos taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
15 degrees. That’s how cold it was at the race start. It had actually gotten COLDER since I woke up. All the racers huddled in the pavilion at the state park, there were two fireplaces going and we were all smashed together near them trying to stay warm. Mom and Alvin came to volunteer, and I was so happy to have them there. Scott stayed at home, unwilling to spend several hours standing around in that kind of cold and I DON’T BLAME HIM, but it was nice to have my parents there cheering me on.
Just before 8:00, we reluctantly left the warmth of the fireplace and headed to the race start area. It started right on time, and I ran a bit faster than my race pace to get myself in a good position to avoid the traffic that can happen with lots of people trying to run on the same trail at once.
We followed a few of the easier trails at the beginning, Firetower, North Plateau, South Plateau, and then took our descent down on Sinks. Everything on my body was cold, my face already felt raw, and my hands and feet were achingly numb. My friend Amanda reminded me that we would feel warmed up soon, and I silently hoped for the feeling to return to my extremities sooner rather than later. My numb feet were hard to run over the technical ground on, and I kept stubbing my right toe on rocks and roots! We passed Three benches, and soon started on the first of three power-hike worthy climbs.
I ran about 1/3 of the ascent, and then assumed power hiking position. I STINK at the steep uphills, and usually this is where fall back from the group on training runs. We topped out and started through Stone Cuts— a tunnel-like rock formation that is always fun to explore. I was very happy to see that there wasn’t any ice inside! It is kind of dark and hard to see in there, so having ice underfoot would have been scary.
We winded further and further into the woods, and eventually I thawed out completely. Nestled in the hollow of the mountain, we were shielded from the wind and I was able to feel my hands and toes again. I was actually very comfortable and felt happy that my clothing choice ended up being perfect. The trail continued and I got into a good rhythm. I was being closely followed by a few folks; each time there was a downhill, I would fly down and end up farther ahead of them. When we came to an uphill, my pace would slow and they caught up. After a while of this, one of the guys called out that I was “great on the downhills!” That made me feel good, since I have always felt like I was pretty decent at them for a turtle girl.
I finally looked down at my watch for the first time and was shocked to see I was at mile 4 already! No wonder my stomach was growling. I sucked down a Gu and struggled to get water out of my hydration pack. The bite valve was basically an ice cube and the tube was full of frozen water as well. I rerouted the tube to run under my arm in hopes that it would warm it enough for me to be able to get some water out of it. I kept on trucking steadily, knowing that the second big climb was coming soon.
Up, up, up Warpath we went. I actually felt pretty good on this climb, better than usual at least. It didn’t take too long to make it to the top, mile 5, where the aid station was located. I guzzled down a cup of Gatorade and headed back down on the trail. We were now on Mountain Mist, one of my favorite sections. On one side of us was a rock wall covered in gorgeous icicles, and on the other the ground sloped down further into the hollow.
I was starting to feel pretty fatigued at this point. This was my first hard effort race in a long time, and I was having some weird lower abdomen discomfort. I wasn’t quite sure what is was, either cramps from my lady parts or just general GI issues. It wasn’t too bad to slow me down too much, I continued to happily trot through the trees, just feeling thankful to be out there. I passed another guy that was walking on a downhill section, and he too commented on my skills and called me a mountain goat, hehe!
(No, I haven’t gained twenty pounds… I am wearing like six layers of clothing. It’s obviously very flattering.)
I checked my watch for the second time just at the 7 mile mark. Only two more to go! I saw that I was on pace to beat my time from last year, so I pushed on. I crossed over to the last section, and mentally prepared myself for the last climb. I knew this one would be tricky, as it tends to get completely covered in ice when it is cold and is also fairly technical and rocky.
(Photo stolen from my friend Eric, check out that ice!)
Luckily the race planners had anticipated this issue and planned a little detour to go around the ice. It was pretty steep as it was off trail, and my tied legs protested. Finally I made it to the top, and only the last .3 was left. I could hear people at the finish line before I could see it, and through the woods I heard my mom’s cheers. Hearing her voice was wonderful— I didn’t realize until that moment just how exhausted I was. I rounded the corner to the finish line and plodded my way towards it. YAY! I WAS DONE! I crossed over and immediately sat down on the stairs of the pavilion. My friend Paul pulled me to my feet and wisely reminded me that I shouldn’t stop so abruptly. He handed me a cup of water and urged me to walk around a little.
I finished in 2:18:48 (by my watch, official results aren’t posted yet), which is a good bit faster than last year’s time of 2:23:18, so I am very happy with myself! Over all the race was a BLAST! It was wonderfully organized, I enjoyed the course, as always, and the ice wasn’t so bad that it made it hard to run anywhere other than the last bit. Other than the minor abdomen discomfort, I felt amazing and was truly happy to be back at a trail race again. The woods, it’s my happy place. First race of the year: big success :)
(Elevation chart, you can see where the three big hills are!)
(Course map taken from dirtyspokes.com)