(All photos with a We Run Huntsville watermark are credited to Gregg Gelmis of WRH – in this photo is Amanda, Kim (my training buddies), me, and Colleen, who has also ended up in our same pace range. I can’t stop chuckling at how much I tower over them, I’m so tall!)
Another great day at the stage races! Today’s route was the longest, and it also had the shortest cut off time– 4.5 hours. Because it was the longest in length and had the shortest time limit, Kim, Amanda, and I were slightly worried about making it in time, but were assured by the race director that we wouldn’t be removed from the race as long as we were making constant forward progress.
Just like yesterday, we heard a few announcements about the course, and shortly after 7:30 we were on the move! The first mile or so was on a gravel road that wound through the camping area of the state park. After that, we headed off the plateau and down Cold Springs trail. There was one short out and back section at the beginning, so the fast folks kept zooming on by us. I still don’t understand how they run so fast on this terrain…
After the Cool Springs out and back, we were on one of my favorite trails to run, Mountain Mist! I was feeling surprisingly good for having run 13 difficult miles the day before, but we continued to keep our pace conservative, knowing that there was still plenty to come. I feel like I nailed down a good nutrition strategy the day before, so I stuck with it: a honey stinger gel every 35-45 minutes, a small cup of Coke and a chunk of a granola bar at each aid station, and 3 parts water 1 part Gatorade in my pack. It wasn’t unbearably hot, but the humidity was high, and I could feel the salt accumulating on my skin early. I think the frequent gels and Gatorade added in my pack really helped to keep me nice and full of electrolytes, and I didn’t experience any cramping or unusually high levels of fatigue.
We followed finished Mountain Mist, took the Bucca connector, and then took Rest Shelter back up to the plateau. Our strategy to keep from getting too gassed was to automatically power-hike any of the bigger hills. After making it up Rest Shelter, we were back on the top of the mountain, and we followed Fire Tower trail to the second aid station. More Coke for me! Yum! I never drink Cokes, but at races I crave them… I started to really look forward to my Coke stops today, for sure.
After the aid stop, we followed another steep descent down the mountain. I am normally pretty comfortable on the rocky down hills, and I’ve gotten pretty sure footed thanks to our extensive training in this area. Today, however, we all moved a little more carefully down the descents because our tired legs weren’t responding as quickly as they usually do. We all definitely had almost falls today, and several ankle turns, but nothing too major.
We made our way to Keith and Logan trail, and I started to feel quite tired. This part of the trail either wasn’t as shady or there wasn’t as much wind, because we all started to feel quite toasty. We made it through the last aid station, and were down to only a few more miles! Thankfully the last section of the course seemed a lot cooler and I didn’t feel like I was roasting alive as much. Eventually we made it back to Cool Springs, and had to go back UP the way we came down. Oh man.
Thankfully I made it back up Cool Springs without dying, and we were back to the top. We circled back through the camping area on the gravel road (which was miserable as there was absolutely NO shade and running on the gravel felt so hard after running on the soft dirt for so long), and then popped back onto the trail. We all wondered if the course would actually be 16 miles as it was advertized, and knew that unless there was some super secret loop thrown in there was no way we’d be getting all the way to 16. We saw the timing clock in the distance and powered on to it. Sure enough, we were right– we all ended up with only a little over 15 miles on our watches, but none of us were upset about it. 15 miles… 16 miles… close enough 🙂
We finished with a time of 3:50:13 (15:00 min/mi), giving us 40 minutes to spare before the cut off time. We were all worried for nothing!
My legs are definitely feeling it– my quads are SO SORE from all the hills, but thanks to us keeping the pace nice and easy I still feel confident about making it through the final day. Now it’s time for me to get a good night’s sleep. 14 miles in the morning, and then I get my MEDAL! 🙂