Wow you guys, what a wonderful morning I had! I don’t think we could have possibly had a better start to the stage races.
(All photos in this post are credited to Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
After a 5am wake up call and my usual pre-run oatmeal, Scott dropped me off at the race venue about an hour before it was scheduled to begin. I chatted with friends and felt super excited about taking on this challenge; after taking several days off after my dismal fail at the Bridge Street Half, my legs were feeling fresh and ready to run!
Just before the start of the race we heard some announcements about the course. We were warned that this day was the shortest of the stages but it was also going to be the hardest as far as the terrain goes. Luckily my training buddies, Kim and Amanda, and me had spent LOTS of time on these trails in training and were very familiar with what it’s like to run here. Just after 7:30am, we were OFF! There were about 45 or so racers and we all spread out easily once we hit the trail. The first few miles were fairly flat and runnable. I was in between Amanda and Kim (and yes, we planned our matching shirts on purpose!), and the miles just flew by while we chatted about everything under the sun. The hardest part of these trails were the rocks– lots of the ground was pretty much just exposed limestone, and it was wet and extremely slippery. No one in my group fell down though, so there’s something to be said for taking it slow… 🙂
Around mile 2.5 we headed down Waterline trail for the first big descent, and kept the pace pretty conservative knowing that this was the first day of three. Although we had trained on these trails, it felt like we were experiencing them for the first time! Everything looked so different now that the trees and ground foliage were green again, and every mile or so one of us remarked about how pretty it was.
We made it to the halfway point and it was time for the hardest part of the day– the ascent back UP Waterline trail. Waterline follows an old pipe up a steep part of the mountain, crosses you over a waterfall, leads you up two legit hand over foot rock wall climbs, and then a VERY STEEP ascent to the top of the trail. To me, it is one of the hardest climbs in the trail system there. Luckily, there was a guide rope strung on some trees to help us up the climbing areas, in our practice runs we basically grabbed on to trees and rocks and prayed to God that we wouldn’t fall backwards and die.
(This is our friend Lindsey. You can really see how ridiculous the climb is in this picture!)
Everyone has their own technique for the rock walls on water line– mine includes hoisting myself up with a tree and then turning around and backing my behind up to the ledge. I figure that my big butt is my center of gravity and if I can get that in the right place, everything else will follow. We made it up the climbing section, and then it was time for the straight up hike to the top. Needless to say, I power hiked this section. About halfway through I was about 86% certain that my heart was going to burst out of my chest at any moment, but miraculously I crested the top unscathed.
After nearly dying on Waterline, we were treated with some downhill running. I think it was around this time that we started discussing what our running team name should be. Some named bounced around were, “Team I Will if You Will,” “Team We Don’t Take Ourselves Too Seriously” “The Racing Team for The Rest of Us,” and “Team I Need Less Crazy Friends.” Whatever the topic of conversation was, we were laughing almost constantly. Before I knew it, we were passing through the last aid station! Time really does fly when you’re having fun.
The last couple of miles were on the old Railroad Bed trail. It was covered in softball sized rocks that slipped and turned when you stepped on them. We tip-toed our way through and wondered how the fast folks fly through this stuff– they must be magic, or maybe we just haven’t mastered the art of running on ground that’s constantly rolling out from under our feet yet! Magic is the more probable explanation, I think.
Through the trees we started to hear cheers and yelling– were we already done? None of us could believe how quickly it went by, and sure enough as we rounded the corner we saw the finish line!
We crossed the finish line with an (unofficial) time of 3:36:25 (16:38 min/mi) with huge smiles on our faces, and still felt surprised that the first stage was over already! Thanks to us playing it smart, we all felt good, not too tired and DEFINITELY ready for 30 more miles this weekend! 🙂