XTERRA Monte Sano 15k Race Recap (11 January 2014)

If I was going to write a short recap I would probably just use the words water, mud, and 1400+ feet of elevation gain. But y’all all know that I like to ramble. So sit back folks, and let me tell you a tale of the time I spent 9 miles running through muddy creeks.

The race was at Monte Sano State Park. We showed up a little early to pick up our packets, and just before 8am we all gathered in the starting area. The weather was nice– 60 degrees at the start. However, it had been raining ALL NIGHT LONG. Not just light rain either, it was pouring down in a storm loud enough to wake us a few times throughout the night. Naturally, this left us fretting over the potential course issues.

At 8am sharp, the race began– no more time to worry about what the trails were going to be like, it was time to just suck it up and DO IT.

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(All photos, except for my crappy cell phone photos at the end, taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)

The first bit of the race kept to the plateau. The trails were relatively flat and, on a good day, not very technical. Today, however, as soon as we exited the starting area and entered the race course, we were greeted with a gigantic puddle where the trail used to be. The crowd slowed as people tried to find a way around the puddle, with the more experienced trail runners just pushing through and heading straight into it. I decided to follow their lead and was made immediately aware of the fact that my shoes were not tied tight enough– the mud at the bottom of the water threatened to suck my shoes off with every step, and ended up succeeding once. Little did I know that this would be pretty much what the entire race would be like. To quote one of my running friend’s race recap,

“And where there wasn’t water? There was mud. SO MUCH MUD. And you couldn’t really tell what was the “good” mud to step in and what wasn’t. Some of it was slippery and you would just glide, some sucked onto your shoes and tried to take them off. Some splattered on your legs. It covered the spectrum of the rainbow too, yellow mud, red mud, brown mud, and gray mud. Gray was the worst.”

Soon enough we were making our way off the plateau and down onto Sinks Trail, where we would follow a steep descent, and shortly after, the first big climb. As mentioned before, where the trails weren’t covered in water, they were packed with mud– I am not exaggerating in the slightest. I would say maybe 10% of the entire course was made up of trails that were in good condition; there were some parts where the water came all the way up to my KNEES, and the mud was everywhere. I ran what I could of the descent, but slowed to a walk on some of the steeper parts– there was no way I was going to slip and possibly hurt myself this early in the race! At the first long hill climb, I did what I refer to as “power hiking” to make it up. It seemed to be just as fast as my uphill run, and expended far less energy. After making to to the top, and descending once again, we ran through the Stone Cuts, the natural rock tunnel I mentioned in last week’s post, and I enjoyed hearing those who had never run this route before ooo and ahh at the beauty of the area.

After that we remained on a mostly flat trail– not without it’s little ups and downs, but nothing compared to the 2 remaining big climbs. The water covering the ground was icy cold, and it seemed like every time I began to regain feeling in my toes, we had to run through more water. I noticed a lot of runners ahead of me attempting to go around the watery parts, which ended up just making them bigger, damaging the trail more. I followed the advice of my more seasoned trail running friends– just grit your teeth and run through it!

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Scotty (blue singlet and bib on his shorts) was powering through the race like a complete beast, unsurprisingly. As I was running I couldn’t stop thinking about him, wondering how his race was going, and worrying how he was fairing in the less than ideal conditions. I was running right being one of my running friends who also races with her faster husband, and she mentioned she does the exact same thing. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but thinking about Scotty sure did keep my mind off of how wet and tired I was, so I’ll call it a plus.

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After a while, the trail curved around and I knew the second (and worst) of the three climbs was coming up. I ripped open a pack of chews and slowly ate two or three, while drinking from my hydration pack. This was the first time I raced with my Nathan pack, and it was awesome– I barely even noticed it was there, and it was so nice to not have to hold a water bottle the whole time!

As the trail began to ascend again, I assumed my power hiking position. Having run through this course the week before, I knew there was no point in trying to run this part. Normally walking up a hill feels like a break, but this one left me huffing and puffing all the way to the top. It was here that I had my only fall– I was using my hands to get good purchase on a steep, rocky bit and misjudged my footing. My foot slipped off of the edge of the trail, and I thought I was going to be falling down a cliff for a split second. Thankfully I was fine, other than almost soiling my tights, and the adrenaline rush left my heart racing for several minutes. Once I made it to the top, I was so winded that I considered continuing my walk for a bit… but through the trees I could see the 5 mile aid station, and knowing that was there pushed me back into a run.

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We wound through the woods again, slowly making our way back to the starting point. At this point I had gotten quite a good lead on several of the people that were behind me, so it was quiet and peaceful. There were several spots where I just wanted to stop and take in all the beauty. My favorite spot was probably where we got to cross through a creek with a waterfall in sight– I paused for a moment to enjoy it, but for not too long, this was a race, after all!

Soon enough it was time for the final climb, meaning there were only ~2 miles remaining! Even though I had only run 7 miles, I was dead tired (but still happy). Last week when we ran this section, it was entirely iced over. This time, the ice was still there, but not nearly as bad. Yet again I had to use my hands to steady myself on the slick rocks. I could hear a volunteer cheering for me at the top, and I chuckled at how ridiculous I probably looked. Soon enough, I reached the top– finally I was back on the plateau! No more hills, thank goodness! I followed the trail back to the finish, without another runner in sight.

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When I crossed the finish line, I could hear them already doing the awards ceremony. My final finish time was 2:23:18 (SLOWER THAN MY HALF PR FOR A 15k– if that gives you an indicator of how difficult this race was). I began searching for Scotty when I heard my name being called– I won 3rd place in my age group! Turns out there were only 7 people in my age group, so not very competitive, but hey, a win is a win! 🙂

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All in all, the race was ridiculously fun. One of the hardest I’ve ever done, one of the slowest I’ve done, but also one of the best. Honestly, I wasn’t feeling very excited about the prospect of spending 9 miles trudging through nastiness when the race started, but I quickly realized that the difference between a good race and a bad race on this day was solely my mental attitude. After I changed my thoughts from “OH GOSH THIS IS GOING TO SUCK” to “This is like being a little kid again! WHEE! MUD!!” I had the time of my life.

10/10, would adventure again. 🙂

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