(All photos credited to Gregg Gelmis of WeRunHuntsville.com)
Let me say this first, just in case you have stumbled upon my blog looking for info on Tick Ridge: THIS RACE IS AWESOME. If you live in the southeast (or anywhere!), you should seriously consider participating in this event next year. I give it 10/10 on everything— organization, course, swag, volunteers, food, every single thing about it was great. Now let’s dive into another one of my overly wordy race racaps 🙂
The race was located in a small town area of Tennessee that is about a 45 minute drive from me. I decided to hitch a ride with my friend, Meghan, in order to save myself the stress of navigating (random Chelsea fact: I am a self declared bad driver and if I have the option of NOT driving myself somewhere, I will always take it). Shout out to Meghan for being awesome and giving me a ride!! 🙂 We arrived about 45 minutes before the race and were pleased to find that the weather was MUCH warmer than last year.There was a big, heated tent set up as well as a couple smaller bonfires to keep everyone warm. We huddled in groups around the fire pits and did the usual pre-race chatting. I kept saying the same thing over and over again, I just didn’t want to get lost like I did last year!!
We stood around the fire until literally the last second— we heard the gun shot and took off, and I settled into my usual place near the back of the pack. The trails used in the race are not what I would consider typical in a trail race. To me, it felt more like the world’s longest cross country course, ha. That isn’t a complaint though— the soft, grassy ground and double-wide path was very easy to run on and felt almost luxurious compared to the kind of trails I’m used to. No rocks or roots to jump over, it was smooth sailing nearly the whole way! The course seemed very clearly marked as well, I never felt unsure about where I was going. We ran along a small pond, through the woods for a bit, and then not even a full mile in we hit the first monster hill. One key feature of this race— ELEVATION GAIN LIKE CRAZY Y’ALL. It was constantly up and down, I think there were maybe two miles the entire time where it was mostly flat.
We continued to follow the path up and down, up and down… gradually the crowd was thinning out. We came to a bit of a traffic jam on a section that went through a wooded area. There was a big bunch of people attempting to tip toe their way around a mud puddle. I took one look at the crowd and thought, “AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT” and cut to the front of the line and splashed straight through the muddy water. I mean, it is a race after all…
While it was early in the race and I still had my wits about me, I kept reminding myself to look up and around and appreciate the gorgeous land we were running over. The sprawling fields and constantly rolling hills were completely gorgeous, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was in the high 30s and very clear. With all the intense hill climbing, I was burning up in my jacket, buff, and gloves. At the first aid station around mile 3, I dumped them all in the gear drop box, grabbed a cup of Coke, and went on my way. My fueling strategy for this race and most long distance races was to eat a gel every 45 minutes or so, and to take a cup of Coke at each of the incredibly well stocked aid stations (they seriously had everything you could possibly want!). This seems to fuel me very well and has carried me through LOTS of tough races.
I started the race planning to stick with Meghan, but I ended up feeling incredible. I was in the zone and at the 5 mile mark I looked up and didn’t see her anywhere— oops! The hills were never ceasing, some of them tougher than others. I relied on the trusty powerhike to get up up the long ones, and even though I usually felt like my respiratory system was going to explode by the time I reached the top, I always immediately forced myself back into a run as soon as the incline was over. It was hard to do every single time, especially later in the race, but it ended being a great move for my time overall. Worth it! On some of the steeper hills, as my butt and hamstrings were crying out for help, I turned around and walked up the hill backwards for a minute or so. It actually ended up helping a lot, but it did earn me some laughs from people who caught me doing it. “Does that help?” a lady behind me called out, “It keeps my butt from feeling like it’s going to fall off, so yeah!” She got a kick out of that.
Around mile 7 or so I saw my friend Brian. He is typically faster than me and I don’t think I have ever passed or finished before him in a race. I said hey to him and mused out loud that for me to be catching up to him, he was either having a terrible race, or I was having a fantastic race, ha. We decided it was probably a little bit of both. The miles were going by so quickly, and I was surprised to still be feeling so good. After seeing Brian and realizing that I was doing better than I thought, I started to really focus. Each time I saw someone running in the distance ahead of me, I imagined an invisible fishing line stretching between us and I attempted to slowly reel them in. This worked really well and I ended up passing several other racers.
Before I knew it, I had only 5 miles left. WHAT? Where had the time gone? I was loving every single second of the course, and still feeling awesome. My pace was great and I knew that I’d be setting a major PR for the 25k distance (then again, my only other 25k is on a much more technical course, but still!). Best of all— I hadn’t gotten lost!!! Haha 🙂 Around mile 12 I passed the last aid station, took TWO cups of coke (so thirsty) and a small handful of potato chips. There were only a few hills left, and I was excited to cross the finish line. The final bit of the course seemed a little bit more what I typically train on. We entered the woods and there was some mud, rocks, and roots to navigate over— I felt like I was at home 🙂 I noticed an ancient looking graveyard along side the path, and took a second to check it out. The dates on the stones were from the late 1700s and early 1800s— true Tennessee pioneers!
Suddenly at mile 13 a wave of exhaustion hit me. It was so sudden— I wondered if something was wrong with me and felt a little scared. I had been tailing a guy in a yellow shirt for a couple miles, so I tried to ignore how I felt and kept my focus on him. FINALLY I caught up to him, and it was my friend Benj’s dad, Bob! Bob and I almost always seem to find each other at these kinds of races. Up until this point in the race, I was doing a good job of crushing the downhills. The flat surface made it really easy to quickly run down them. At times, it didn’t feel like a run as much as it felt like a controlled fall, ha. Just lean forward and hope your legs keep up! The final few downhills were tough, my legs were exhausted and it was hard work keeping them in check on the descents. I gingerly tip toed my way down the last one and knew I was almost home free. SO TIRED! I was also starting to feel the beginning of some abdominal stress. Uh oh.
I continued to truck on. In the last mile my stomach was cramping badly and I slowed to a walk. A guy ran up beside me and said, “You’re Chelsea right? We’re going to run this in together.” What motivation! Exactly what I needed. He was suffering through bad leg cramps, and through both of our pain we carried each other to the finish.
“100 meters to go!” my running buddy said, and we powered on through to the finish. My time: 3:45:46, 14:32 min/mi. YEAH!!!! I was THRILLED.
Check out that elevation y’all. I wasn’t kidding when I said constant up and down! I am soooo proud of my performance at this race. It is nearly an HOUR faster than my other 25k race time, and I felt so STRONG throughout it. For my longest distance race since my surgery— I couldn’t have asked for a better return.
After the race I sat down around a fire with some of my trail buddies and drank two more cans of coke. The food tables were well stocked with several varieties of chili, cornbread, and dessert. There was also beer, hot coffee, and hot chocolate! Yum! Unfortunately my stomach was sour and none of the deliciousness sounded good to me at the time, so liquid calories were my best bet.
Again— Tick Ridge = phenomenal race. I will return again and again.