|Larry is clearing some fallen branches from the trail entrance we visited the day before the race.|
|From here to the Top of Alabama, with a couple deviations, is 31 miles.|
|Don't let this nice soft trail fool you - it only lasted a couple of miles!|
|All ready to go the morning of the race. Well, I did have a top and sleeves.|
|My pace chart for 6:30 finish time.|
|And this is what it looks like on profile.|
and next screaming from the woods song "Sweet home, Alabama". That was a "go". The nice soft trail single-track us for couple of miles and slowly became more technical with hidden rocks. The small run-off's of water started immediately, and I didn't bother to protect my feet at all - the combination of Drymax trail socks and Sprotiva Crosslights is the best possible for wet feet, draining super-fast and keeping all protected somehow. We single-filed and latched into a pace that felt just right.
The fog came down and for 3 hrs or so we ran in it, and I hoped for it to break down so I could see some views - they were promising to be wonderful with spooky forest around and some "feeling" of mountains surrounding.
Photos below courtesy of Brooke Nicholls Nelson
The course marking was immaculate, with small red flagging always on the right side of the trail in the ground, since you should be keeping your eyes low. We rolled a bit and at the end of mile 3 popped on some dirt road a touch, came through first aid, rolled out for next 5-plus miles...and before even getting to the second AS I felt odd of sorts. First just off, then a twinge of cramp in my right calf. Weird...I don't cramp. I mean, seriously, unless I fall late in the race, then I can get a Charlie, but not just out of the blue at mile 10, you know. And I felt like slowing down in general was a good idea. I got down on myself, having bunches (literally) of people getting by me, and tried to figure out why I am so off, tired kind of. Even hiking up steep sections, my specialty, was more difficult than it should be. At mile 13.8 (Garmin is no joke) I tripped over a rock and planted - luckily on a flat rock - a bit downside the slope, with a bite-valve of my bladder flying down the side into the woods, hitting the knee and my hand. First real Charlie came quick, and as I tried to simultaneously tend to it and grab a streaming water tube close and search for the valve, I thought: uh-oh. Got up, shook off, slowed down even more (it was really technical here, rocks, wet, covered with moss, random sticking out and moving too). Exactly 0.2M later I came onto a group of guys over a man on the ground - with shattered patella. Put my fall into perspective and made me even more careful. The testament of how bad the trail was is that the man's injury happened 0.6M out of an AS, paramedics came and weren't able to carry him out and had to call air-lift. Yeah, stay on your feet, girl...
As I kept thinking about poor guy and trying to figure out may be I am not drinking enough (never raced with bladder in 10 years), I started sucking water in, and at mile ~15 AS grabbed a cup of coke. Somehow I also managed to shame myself into positive thinking. I kept repeating Larry's words from before the race: "It's going to be a great day". That, and the fact that I got some ultra-running related news the day before that first of all turned my spring season to a new meaning and a goal and excitement and just simply incredibly sweet feel too. I had to reason to beat myself down, no way. I had to adjust my day.
Next section went awesome. I still felt mild cramping accumulating in my both calves, but not coming strong yet, just there. At the same time I was generally feeling better and stronger and smoother, and hoping may be I was right, it's all about not hydrating properly, and I am turning around, plenty of time, piece of cake, not my first time running, you know. Smile came to me, and just like that, the sun started peaking up and lifting the fog. The trail was great, running through some low streams, crossing over a wooden bridge, on some rock-steps, next to beautiful waterfalls. There is nowhere I rather be than there right then...
First serious creek crossing came right after mile 18 AS, and I waded in cold refreshing water trying to keep my balance...and while at it, seizing both of my calves in rock-hard cramps. I held on, even though I very stupidly crossed below the big rocks in higher water and stronger stream (instead of above 2 feet up, yeah, I know, brain damage).
Next biggest one, thigh-deep, with a rope tied-up across and a female photographer on the other side, was fun...and more debilitating. Both legs went into Charlie Horse so hard, calves and quads same time, as I held onto rope with two hands, trying not to fall into the water all the way and protect my i-Pod. I screamed and apologized to a woman, and she smiled as she'd seen plenty of that. I half-set in the water a step away from the ground, collecting my bearings and waiting for the rock-hard ready-to hammer professional nails legs to be able to lift up.
Photos below courtesy of Brooke Nicholls Nelson
I stumbled, finally, on the other side, and hobbled to a short out-n-back to the AS. I still didn't need anything, had a potato chip just because and half-ran out.
The next section was very beautiful, rolling gently up and down, and I Frankenstein-ran it practically all. Yes, I felt strong, finally, somehow, but my legs felt that "verge of cramping bad" and actually cramping from time to time in shots on every uneven step and stiff. I needed the to last, but my attitude was great, the views around awesome, and I began passing a guy or few here and there. OK, we got it, honey.
There was one more "serious" creek crossing around mile 24, albeit no rope, and I took sweet time walking across trying not to freeze into "holes" while cramp waves hit and let go. Two guys on the other side (waiting for their friend) mentioned at least I didn't submerge. Come to find out later, Larry was the one that did:)
The ugly section of dirt road and then even black-top asphalt road that was flat to slight incline wasn't as welcome as I hoped to make time on - but I ran (eh, shuffled with straight legs, not pushing off my toes in fear) a good 80% of it, and yes, caught on a couple more groups of struggles. Never mind, girl, keep on shuffling.
We heard of last section, we read reports, and I used to live on East Coast where I hiked and backpacked aplenty. I knew, after AS at mile 28 we have a seriously crazy climbs which would use arms over rocks and roots, and the whole thing is up, and 1200 feet of it is squeezed in 0.5 miles. Yep, I just couldn't quite picture it, I am bad with numbers. At first, I even ran into an incline, then power-hiked first 3-4 minutes - and then all seized. Right as the climb begun. I screamed, grabbing one calf, as another went off. Damn it! Every time I tried to lift a leg - which I had to, no way around - the rock-Charlie would get worse - it kind of never let off, if you can imagine it, it was accelerating in pain and hardness and my swearing was non-stop. Twice I slammed my fist on the rock out of frustration and anger, because overall my body felt fine, but I could NOT, physically, lift a leg, I had to couple times resort to almost pulling up by arms, and when my quads were shooting cramps and pain, then my hamstrings, my feet, my butt muscles (!!), shins, top of my feet, then the inner thigh went so hard it was like a bunch of nerves we pulled out from the groin down (imagine me standing holding my thigh inside and having a distorted face)...3 guys came up on me. First tried to offer advice ("Salt?" - "Honey, this is my 86th ultra, if you think I haven't done something I should have" - I snapped). Second was a kid Eddie whom I ran with on and off since mile 13 (he was a bit scared seeing me screaming bloody mercy - and yes, I even yelled a prayer twice for the trail section to be over), and 3rd, Drew, had his own cramps he was dealing with. Somehow scaring Eddie and seeing Drew in pain made me feel better - at least the mind wondered off the fear "What the heck comes next when there is no way further to escalate the pain? Is my heart muscle going to cramp too? Is the leg muscle going to explode?" I know, it sounds funny now, but I really had no idea how much more painful it could get.
|Not doing the justice.|
|Larry coming into last AS at mile 28, before Blue Hell climb.|
Photo courtesy of Apryl Swafford - AS volunteer
|Larry rounding the corner. All finish photos courtesy of Hayley H. Long|
|My honey finishing strong!|
|I see the finish line!|
|Sweet baby Jesus!|
A side note - another awesome race in the middle of the country, kind of unknown to main stream yet fully filled fast, and having absolutely incredible local runners who are super-fast! Just amazing people and athletes!Such talent hiding there and not caring what the "country's ultra community" thinks. They ARE community. The food at the finish line was great too.
|Wow, that was quite a race!|
My good friend and a co-worker Marta came to me today and said: "I read on FB short description how it went. I didn't understand a word - was it good or not - but regardless, what I did understand is that you enjoyed it, and I am somewhat jealous of you having this thing, this insanity, you can reach to, submerge into, find you happy place regardless...".
It's my happy place, indeed.