On the evening after day 2, I was feeling quite stiff. I was definitely walking funny and started to worry about how I would feel for day 3. When I woke up the next morning, my legs felt remarkably good, but I was definitely sleepy and my mind felt a little fuzzy as well. When I showed up at the race venue on the final morning, all of us racers were looking visibly fatigued, and most confessed that they had way more than their standard one or two cups of coffee.
(Photo taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville – HA! Look at my face. I definitely look tired...)
Following suit from the previous two days, all of the racers crowded in to hear a few pre race announcements and then were set off on the run. This day’s course was ~14 miles and took place on a lot of the trails we ran for the McKay Hollow 25k. The race directors said that the first day was the hardest, but my friends and I all agreed– the third day was totally going to be the hardest.
(Photo taken by Amanda’s husband, Alex – here we are heading off the road and on to the trail!)
We set off on the road for about a half mile, and then turned on to The Bucca Family trail, which is single track but nice and easy with not a lot of rocks or roots to step over. My running buddies and I settled into our train-formation (with Colleen in the front, and me, Kim, and Amanda taking turns at each position in the back) and stayed on Bucca for the first few miles. We all joked that we were already feeling that mind fatigue that usually happens late in a race– you know, that feeling where you’re far into a challenging race and you suddenly lose the ability to comprehend higher thought like doing math in your head? We were only 2 miles in and we were already having trouble trying to calculate things like what our pace should be and how many miles we had to go.
Surprisingly, once we got going, all my stiffness seemed to dissipate and it wasn’t hard to get into a groove. We stopped at the first aid station just short of mile 3 and I had my usual cup of Coke and hunk of a granola bar. After that, we were heading for our first big descent of the day. I took the first step on the down hill and immediately said, “My LEGS, YOU GUYS” and all of my running buddies groaned in agreement. Running on flat surfaces was no problem, but going down technical trails on tired legs is HARD! I ran as fast as my legs would allow, which wasn’t very fast, and had a hard time keeping my feet away from precarious rocks and roots. Eventually, we made it down (not without our fair share of ankle rolls), and set off on to Flat Rock trail.
It was nice and flat, but not for long– after just a little while we began our first climb for the day up Warpath Ridge. We have gone up this trail many, many times, but that didn’t make it any easier! We huffed and puffed our way up, knowing that there would be an aid station at the top. After a short stop at the aid station, we took Rest Shelter trail back down into the hollow. On the way down the technical and rocky descent, we discussed things like having children, how to get fulfillment in life, and religion. Talking about hard-hitting issues is apparently the way we keep our minds off of how tired our bodies are… Whatever works, right? After descending Rest Shelter, we were on the McKay Hollow trail in an area known as the “slush mile.” Turns out the slush mile wasn’t very slushy! I can’t speak for my running partners, but I was definitely happy about that. I had some pretty mean blisters that developed after day 2, and I knew that being spared from having wet feet would keep them from getting any worse on day 3!
For me, the big theme of the day ended up being my total inability to quickly run down hill on my tired legs. Eventually we were on a technical downhill section called K2. It was covered in poofy piles of dead leaves, which made it hard to know where to step. We even passed a fast guy on this area that had rolled his ankle and had decided to hobble back to the nearest aid station rather than trying to finish on a bum ankle. That’s the thing about our trails– out of town people often come to race here and are extremely surprised by the terrain. When you aren’t used to running on very difficult surfaces, one fall could really freak you out!
We went down K2, up Powerlines, and then ended up on a trail called Arrowhead. We all knew that this was the section we were dreading the most. We have run this a lot because it’s part of the McKay Hollow course, but we have only gone DOWN IT. Today we were going up… and it was a mile long. We started off slowly, knowing that we were in this hill for the long haul… and that’s when they came. THE HORSE FLIES. We were all plagued by big, loud, AGGRESSIVE flies buzzing around our heads and trying to get into our hair and ears. “GO AWAY FLIES,” my friend Kim yelled, “I MIGHT SMELL DEAD, BUT I’M NOT DEAD YET!” We ended up running a lot more of this uphill than we normally would have just so we could get away from the stupid flies.
We finally emerged to the top, our watches telling us we were around mile 11.5, and were greeted with an aid station. At the beginning of the day, we were told that the last aid station would only have water as it was kind of in the middle of no where and it would be hard to get all the other supplies down to the location. I was kind of sad to hear that because I knew that I’d really miss my Coke and granola bar energy boost near the end of the race. So, imagine my surprise when we stepped up to the table and there was COKE. AND GRANOLA BARS! It was like manna from heaven. I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing.
Now the end was in sight. All that was left was a descent down Natural Well trial and the final climb up Death trail to the finish line. Easier said than done. Natural Well is one of those sections that is covered with rocks and big boulders. As my friend Kim said in her race report, there was a LOT of very un-graceful butt scooting off of the larger rocks. On fresh legs we would normally just jump off the ledges and go on our merry way, but we were up to ~40 miles for the weekend at this point and there was NO JUMPING HAPPENING. We finally made it down Natural Well and soon enough it was time. Time for pain. Time for the end.
Death trail is one of those ascents that seems to last forever. It probably isn’t that bad on its own, but it only ever seems to come up at the END of very challenging races, so it has gained a pretty infamous reputation among the trail running community here. We all assumed our power hiking positions and set off for the long climb. We counted our progress by passing landmarks on each switch back– first was super hero rock (a rock that sticks out over the ledge and is perfect for super hero-like photo ops), the columns (two rock columns on the side of the trail), and finally, Beyonce’s Booty (a rock with a large dip in it that looks like a chair). We rounded the last switch back and heard a loud burst of cheering– WE WERE ALMOST THERE! When we got to the part where people could actually see us, we started running again, slowly trotting our way up to the top of the trail.
(Photo taken by our friend Casey Fritz)
When we finally made it out of Death Trail, we saw a huge crowd of people, but NO FINISH LINE. What the heck? We all muttered a few curses under our breath and followed the last remaining arrows. An earth day celebration was happening at the park and all of the attendees looked at us confused– I guess I would probably do the same thing if I saw four dirty wild women running around aimlessly too. FINALLY we saw the finish line and powered towards it. We crossed the finish line with a little over 14 miles in a time of 4:17:23. AND WE DID IT! Three days of running on some of the most difficult trails around.
(Photo stolen from my friend Kim – from the left is Colleen, me, Kim, and Amanda, our awesome running team!)
After grabbing something to eat, we sat down for the awards ceremony– on day 1 I was sitting at 3rd in my age group, but had heard that they were only giving first place awards, so I wasn’t sure if I’d actually be receiving an award since I hadn’t been paying attention to the results for days 2 and 3. I was enjoying watching all of my friends receive their awesome wooden plaques, when I heard my name being called for first place in my age group! WHAT?! Yeah. I was a little surprised. And completely thrilled.
I am so insanely proud to be among the people who participated in the inaugural running of the Grand Viduta Stage Races, and more importantly, I am so proud to have had such amazing, warrior-woman friends run it with. Without these women I would have never considered doing an event like this, and I am so thankful for their friendship. Now that it’s all over, I’m a little sad. Can’t I just quit my job and run in the woods with my friends every day?? No? Okay… I guess I’ll just have to wait until next year 🙂