(All photos credited to Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville – the handsome dude on the right of this one is David, who we are running the 12 hour relay with next month)
That morning we were all up bright and early to make our way to the race location. The course had a 25k and a 10k that both ran over several families’ land, going through pastures, farm fields, and the woods. It was cold, and we all huddled around the fire pits to stay warm.
After some pre-race announcements, the gun shot rang out and we all took off. Not even a half mile in we were greeted with our first hill– holy cow. I knew this course was going to be hilly, but just looking at an elevation chart alone couldn’t prepare me for the ridiculousness that was ahead. Here’s the elevation chart I snagged from a friend’s Garmin data:
Essentially, the entire race was a constant up and down. Thanks to our frequent trail running, I am fairly accustomed to running hills… but overall I think this race had more total elevation gain than anything I have ever run. The actual terrain, however, was much easier than the technical stuff I’m used to, as it was mostly on wide, flat 4-wheeler paths. There were a few muddy sections, but over all it was completely runnable. I looked at the more intense hills as chances to walk and enjoy the scenery. It was seriously, intensely beautiful– fields of tall grass and corn sprawled out around us, and climbing all of the hills provided some amazing views. Shortly after starting, small snow flurries began to fall and it made me feel like I was running in some kind of Nike commercial or something– how much more picturesque could it get?!
(“Where’d all this snow come from?” Gregg asked me as I passed by, I just shrugged and tried to keep the flurries out of my eyes)
Near the 4 mile mark I started to feel worried– shouldn’t I have split off from the 10k course by now? I couldn’t remember any obvious turning point, so I just kept on my way. I made it to an aid station and saw signs that pointed each race in different directions. I was relieved that I hadn’t missed the split… and then I saw the sign marking this aid station as mile 8 for the 25k…. according to my watch I was only at 5 miles. CRAP. I asked an aid station volunteer and apparently there was another split further up the course that I missed. Now, I do not normally cuss, and I can probably count on one hand the amount of times a curse word has come out of my mouth… but y’all, I was so angry that a WHOLE BUNCH of them almost came flying out (they didn’t, but BOY was I thinking them). My options were to trek back to the first split, or just continue on my way. Apparently this same thing happened to several other runners, including my mom and Amanda (who I’ve been training with for McKay the past few weekends). They arrived at the aid station shortly after I did, and together we decided to just continue on. Back tracking would take too long, and we didn’t even know where the darn split was anyway!
From that point on my mood was sour. I tried to cheer up and enjoy the beauty of my surroundings, but I was so frustrated that THIS would be the way I get my first DNF– a stupid navigating mistake on my part. After a few miles the elite runners started to catch up to us (they had taken the correct way and were just now getting to our mile marker). We got some funny looks, and one guy even said, “Are y’all lost?” because CLEARLY we could not possibly be beating him. Ha… Those interactions provided some laughs and helped to lighten my mood a little.
Eventually, after climbing and descending SEVERAL more hills, we made our way back to the finish line. I finished with 11 miles on my watch just as the 10k sweeper was crossing the finish line. Many of my friends were by the finishing area and were surprised to see me come through so early. Having to tell person after person that I got lost and didn’t finish the whole course was a little disheartening, but hearing from several of my other friends that the same thing happened to them made me feel a little better– we all joked that rather than giving us DNFs, the race director should just place us all in a new 11 mile race category.
Overall, although my participation in this race was kind of a fail, it was a good time. The trails were awesome, there well stocked aid stations with all of my favorite long run snacks, there was venison chili and beer at the finish line, and our race swag included awesome sweat shirts with the race logo on them.
Lesson learned for next year– be OBSESSIVE about looking for course splits.