(Day 3 uniform, HI VIZ yellow!)
On day 3, I woke up much less excited about running in the woods. While standing around waiting to collect our day 3 bibs, all of the runners were much more subdued and definitely seemed to be dragging. Not only that, but the exhaustion-sillies had definitely set in. While standing and listening to the RD make some pre-race announcements, he said something about knowing where a certain thing is and Kim, bent over to tie her shoes, said quietly, “In my BUTT…” She lost it. I lost it. We laughed so hard we cried. Yep. Definitely really, really tired.
(Photo by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
Today’s stage started with a short jaunt on the road before cutting off onto the trail. Ouch, ouch, ouch– my legs were protesting with every step. Everything on my body was stiff, including weird places like my shoulders and wrists. Worst of all was my ankles, it felt like they were fused and no longer capable of movement.
(Photo by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
We turned on to the trail path and continued to slowly trot. SURVIVAL MODE– that’s what today was going to be all about! Finally my legs began to loosen up, but running still felt hard; we were on a very easy, non-technical trail, but somehow it seemed to be uphill in every direction and me and both of my race partners were d r a g g i n g. The first mile went by and we were barely still at a 12 minute mile. We knew we needed to bank time while we could, however, because this stage was arguably the most difficult one, and since we were running on such tired legs, we knew there would be a LOT of power hiking later in the day. So we ran while we could, even though it felt rough, ha.
The first aid station was only a few miles into the race, and we were warned to stock up now, because the aid would be futher spread out today and it was going to be HOT outside. I crammed three Powerbar chunks in my mouth all at once and washed them down with Coke. Mmmmm, race food! Colleen had a small supply of salt pills and shared one with me– I am so thankful I had that, because I really think it helped to fight off excessive muscle fatigue and potential cramping later in the day. Next we headed off the plateau and down towards K2. My legs were SHREDDED and I felt like I could barely control my steps down the steep hills, especially on K2! That trail is on private land and doesn’t get as much traffic, so the ground was covered in leaves and treacherous tripping hazards. My baby giraffe legs certainly weren’t helping! As I rolled my ankle three or four times on the decent, I reminded myself to just be thankful we didn’t have to go UP it, which is much, much, MUCH worse (they don’t call it K2 for nothing!).
(Photo taken by Kim)
After the tough downhill, we were now on Powerlines. We slowly ascended back up and watched as the view got better and better, green everywhere! I had a major love/hate moment with this section. We were no longer under the trees, so the sun was beating down on us. I felt like a fried egg on a sidewalk. SO HOT! Occasionally though, we would get a blast of cold wind, and that was absolute bliss. We powerhiked up and up and up and got our first taste of mud for the day– it was the sticky, heavy kind that accumulates to the bottom of your shoe and turns your feet into cinderblocks. Suddenly we heard a voice calling from behind, “HEY GUYS! I think it’s this way!” We looked behind us and another racer was calling us back; in our misery under the beating sun, we completely missed the race markers and went about half a mile off course. We were SOOOOO thankful that someone had seen us and called us back, otherwise we would have had MUCH more back tracking to do. We first assumed that we missed it because the turn wasn’t well marked, but when we made it back to the area there was not one, not two, but THREE arrows spray painted on the ground AND multiple bright orange flags. Wow. I guess the sun was frying our brains so much that we completely failed to notice anything other than how hot it was, ha.
(Photo by David Collins, CHUG CHUG CHUG!)
Now we were heading back towards the trails we are more familiar with, and knew that another big climb was coming– Warpath Ridge. Thankfully we knew the aid station would be at the top, so the thought of more delicious Powerbars pushed me onwards. After stuffing our faces at the aid station once again, we set off towards Rest Shelter. With the aid station workers to our backs, I set off in a slow run. Kim gestured towards me and said, “What is THIS about??” I laughed hard and replied, “PEOPLE ARE WATCHING!” You have to at least appear to be running a little… ha!
Down Rest Shelter we went, again dealing with hard to control legs. We all remarked how we felt completely uncoordinated and out of rhythm. Not only were we running on tired legs, but the heat and humidity was making everything seem 10 times more difficult than it probably should have been. We made it to the bottom and were now in the slush mile. Oh boy. From this point on in the race, it was MUD CITY. The ground was so thick and slushy that it felt like we were trying to run through peanut butter. Ack! We slipped and slided and generally probably looked like drunk people from afar. I personally enjoyed the surprised groans from Kim and Colleen when they stepped in an unexpectedly deep spot. Nothing like the feeling of mud squishing between your toes… Slush mile took forever. We heard a “Woo!” in the distance and joked, “God? Is that you?” Turns out it was Gregg Gelmis, perched above a small creek crossing ready to take our photos. I personally took the cold water as an opportunity to cool off…
(Photo by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
Ha! It was so refreshing, I didn’t want to leave! Luckily a little farther down the trail, we crossed a much deeper creek. All of us took a turn to wade down in the waist deep water. SO NICE!!!!! It was icy cold, but it felt sooooo good on my tired legs.
(Photos taken by Kim, how do you like my Ariel pose???)
Now we were heading out on Arrowhead. We knew we had a couple miles on flat(ish) trail, then about a solid mile of slow ascent, and THEN we would be nearly done, with only Death Trail to conquer. Arrowhead was a slop fest. We were running 3-5 inch deep mud puddles for so long that we started to be surprised when there WASN’T mud. This terrain was tough on our already tired legs, and fighting with the sludge to keep our shoes on was expending nearly all of our energy. After what seemed like an eternity, it was time to turn the corner and head up… up… up, for a solid mile. I had been dreading this part the entire race, not because of the uphills, but because this is where we were relentlessly attacked by horseflies last year. THANKFULLY Kim thought to bring deet wipes– we paused to rub the wipes all over our exposed skin, making sure to get a little around our ears and neck since that’s where the flies seemed to dive bomb. I tied the wipe into my pony tail like a bow, NO BUGS WERE GOING TO GET ME NOW!
Up Arrowhead we ran as much as we could, but also did a lot of walking. So tired. SO TIRED! I was ready to see that final aid station and be homeward bound. Despite the exhaustion, everyone on our little team remained happy. The power of good company! I know I would have been so depressed if I hadn’t had Colleen and Kim to keep my spirits up. The final aid station came in to view and we cheered– WE MADE IT! Only 2.5 miles left to go, but the biggest challenge awaited…
(Photo by David Collins)
Now we were heading down Natural Well and towards Death Trail. I saw some hikers in the distance sitting off to the side, enjoying the day. “Beware of scary trail monsters,” I called out, “You might smell us before you see us…” The hikers laughed and wished us luck. We were sooooo very close to the finish! I kind of zoned out and just willed my legs to keep moving me forward.
Finally it was time to climb out of the hollow… DEATH TRAIL! I assumed power hiking position and slowly moved myself forward. I’m not going to lie, I DID entertain the thought of finding a nice big rock to sit on and wait for a helicopter rescue team to find me. Kim and Colleen never stopped though, so I didn’t either. We slowly passed all of our personal landmarks that we’ve identified over many times climbing the trail– the poles, super hero rock, and last, Beyonce’s booty. Once you stop hearing the creek near the bottom of the trail and start hearing the waterfall that sits at the top, you know you’re getting close. Sure enough, I heard my mom’s voice cut through the sounds of the water and I looked up– there was my family waiting for me and cheering me on. I did my best to wave at them and keep moving.
We emerged from the side of the waterfall and stumbled on– we still had about a quarter of a mile until the finish line. There must have been some event for artists going on, because as we ran through the park, we were surrounded by people with easels and canvases. “PAINT US INTO YOUR NATURE PAINTINGS” I said, and several of them chuckled… most just looked at us like we were crazy though. It’s okay, we probably are.
Finally the finish line was in sight. We crossed with our friends cheering us on, and it was finished– GRAND VIDUTA STAGE RACES: CONQUERED!
For finishing Viduta, Mckay Hollow 25k in March, and the XTERRA 15k in January, we got special TRAIL BOSS awards– see? All the craziness does pay off… 🙂
I’m a little sad it’s over. I’m already counting down the days until next year…