Race #3 of 4 for the the Grand Slam: DONE!! And what a blast it was!
(Our group of remaining Grand Slammers! I’m in the front wrapped in a blanket because it was COLD! Photo by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
The race takes place at the Huntsville Cross Country Park. The park has 1, 2, and 3 mile trails laid out (generally used for high school XC races), and for the 50k you do the 1 mile once in the beginning, and then the 3 mile loop ten times for a total of 31 miles.
So most everyone brings a chair and sets up their own personal aid station right along side the well stocked race provided aid, which is another perk of the loops, you’re never more than 3 miles away from food, water, and a bathroom!
It sounds maddening, I know, TEN THREE MILE LOOPS! But honestly, it isn’t so bad. First you run in the flat grassy area around a big field, then on to the dirt trails with some rolling hills, then through a gravel road section, then down the big hill, through a flat, leafy, soggy, muddy section, then turn around and come back from there. The trails are varied but easily runnable (there were a few slick, muddy spots but overall very easy conditions), there’s plenty of rolling hills and one BIG hill to keep things interesting, and best of all, you’re NEVER alone out there because there are always people either ahead of or behind you. One of the best things about this race is how social it is, and I really enjoyed getting to cheer for and even cheered on by the speed demons I normally never get to see.
Just before the race began most of the runners were grouped underneath the big heated tent– it was so nice to stay warm! The weather was cold and windy, which is okay for running, but not so nice for standing around in. I was wearing a jacket with a pink stripe, pink gloves, pink-ish pants, and my shoes had pink details on them. Admittedly, a lot of pink, but it was totally accidental. I think all my other trail runners know that little to no color coordination goes into your outfit choice– most of us show up looking like we got dressed in the dark… because most of us actually DID get dressed in the dark. A couple of ladies near me were talking about how much they hated pink and would NEVER be caught dead wearing it at a race, and then pointed at me and said, “Like THAT” Insert my embarrassed face here. I felt like I was in high school again. I promptly excused myself from the tent because I felt super awkward… thankfully I could easily put the shame of my pink-ness behind me, because it was almost time for the race to start! No time to think about the color of your clothes when you’re about to run 31 miles!
(Me and Dianna, just ahead of me, running around the start/finish and aid area where the lap counters keep track of all your loops. Photo by Christy Scott, race director!)
I placed myself in the pack of the pack and within minutes we were OFF! The first 1 mile loop zoomed by and I found myself in step with a friend name Dianna. She is normally a MUCH faster runner than me, but today she was trying to run slow and steady until the halfway point. I welcomed the company and enjoyed getting to spend the miles with someone I don’t normally get to chat with so much. When the faster runners would run by, often they would call out words of encouragement, which really made you want to keep running hard. If the fast people say I’m doing good right now, I better keep doing what I’m doing!! Ha… After each loop I drank some Skratch water and ate a few chews or a Honey Stinger waffle from my personal aid stash. I decided not to carry a bottle or pack on the run since the aid was so accessible and I don’t like being weighed down if I don’t have to be.
When you’re running so far, it can be dangerous to think about the amount of miles left or go or even the time. I never allowed myself to look at my watch and instead just kept track of my loops, if I knew how many miles or time I had left to go, I knew I would get overwhelmed. Every time we came back to that big hill I would think, “Only X more times left up this stupid hill!” It made the distance seem much more doable. My biggest issue with racing this year has been nausea; after about 15-20 miles, I start to get so nauseated that I don’t want to eat any more, and therefore I end up with really low blood sugar and zero fuel in the tank. Everyone I’ve talked to so far has seemed to think that the nausea comes from not eating enough in the first place, so I really tried to stay on top of it at this race.
(Hi my name is Chelsea and I have REALLY LONG ARMS!! Photo by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
Near the end of loop #4 my legs started to feel a little funny and my back started aching BADLY out of no where. I tried to ignore it and focus on the happy, it wasn’t so bad that it slowed me down yet. During loop #5 my calves were cramping so badly I could barely walk, let alone run. I ran maybe 20% of that 5th loop, but most of it was a very slow hobble. It was AWFUL! I must have looked awful as well, because nearly every time someone passed by me they would ask, “Are you okay??” I was miserable but I refused to let my mind go to the dark place. I kept repeating in my mind, “This will feel better soon. This is not the end of your race. All you need is some sodium.” At at my swing by the aid area that time, I busted out my trusty bag of sea salt. I dipped a few potato chips in the salt and ate those (nasty, but it did the trick), and also drank lots of Skratch water. My friend Colisa also gave me some advil for my back pain and a back rub while I ate– is she an angel or what?! Who gives a back rub to a sweaty runner?? Only a really good friend. 🙂
Almost immediately after the salty potato chips I felt like a new woman. Time to tackle loop #6! After that I really committed to eating A LOT. I ate so much at this race it is almost embarrassing, but honestly, it made a world of difference. From loop #6 on I felt like I was CRUSHING IT– and while I was tired, I still felt strong enough to push up the hills (not the big hill though, no one runs the big hill, ha!). One funny thing about this race was that every time I came around to the aid area it seemed like there was a sad song playing on the loud speaker. First was Desperado. Then “Say something I’m giving up on you…” Seriously?! And then?! FRIGGIN ADELE! COME ON!! Ha… I eventually yelled at the lap counters that I was tired of all the gloomy music and I was going to need them to play something HAPPIER next time I came around. Around this time my family also showed up to cheer me on– my mom, step dad, Scotty, his sister, and his parents all came to cheer for me, so even despite the sad music, I was feeling good 😉
(My mom and dad in law, after the race, they made me an awesome sign!!)
After loop 6 I realized that they had boiled potatoes at the aid station. I WAS IN HEAVEN! To anyone who hasn’t done an ultra, this will sound very strange, but that boiled potato was the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. I took a few small chunks of the potato, rolled them around in my salt bag, and this became my food for the rest of the race, and I ate some at every aid stop. Carbs and sodium, LIFE SAVER! Time for loop 7. At this point I had given myself set walking breaks on the course. From the corner on that spot of the trail to the post up ahead, from the tree on the ground to that big rock… Doing it like this kept me moving at a good pace and didn’t let me walk too long. On one of my walk breaks David, who has done 100 mile races, was behind me and also walking. I called out, “YOU aren’t supposed to walk up hills!” (because he’s a much better, faster, crazier runner than me) and he replied, “If you aren’t walking during a race like this, you’re doing it wrong!”
(Photo by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
Near the end of loop 7 I was starting to feel a little lonely and wanted someone to talk to. Just at the right time, I heard my dear friend Kim’s voice. She had just gotten off work and come to run with me, running out on the trail until she found me. HOORAY!!!! She joined me for the tail end of my 7th loop and the last two loops of the day as well. I was so happy to see her and she was so encouraging, she kept saying how good I was doing and how impressed she was with how I was still able to run up some of the smaller hills… she basically made me feel like a rock star, which is the exact kind of motivation I thrive on.
Another potato, some more Skratch water, and a little Coke– time to tackle the final two loops! I explained to Kim where my walking breaks were and she trotted alongside me and encouraged me on. I knew I was going to be behind my goal (7 hours), because of the terrible 5th loop, but I still felt like I was making decent time. It was nice to have Kim with me and even though I was getting tired, I was still feeling good and happy. Those potatoes really were magical y’all. This late in the race, going down the big hill was just as hard as coming up it. It is STEEP and it hurt everything to run down it, although calling it a run is not exactly accurate, more like a controlled forward fall. I was starting to get excited though… only one loop left after this!!
(Me and my father in law, little runners in the distance!! Photo by Kim)
We came into the aid station and my family was cheering loudly. I think they could see a big difference in me at this race vs. the 50k I did just a few weeks ago in November. All smiles this time! I tried to rush through eating and drinking so I could finish as close to my goal as possible. As we were heading out my father in law, John, jogged up beside me and Kim, “Is it okay if I join you?” I am one lucky girl– I had not one, but two people escorting me on my final lap!
The last loop was slower, but still strong. My walk breaks lasted a little longer but I was still doing mostly running. During the last time up the big hill I huffed and puffed, thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t have to go up it again any time soon.
TIME TO FINISH!! Kim took a shortcut back to the finish area so she could take my picture, and John ran me in. I was PUMPED!! And somehow still had a little left to give, I sped up (marginally, I mean I HAD just run for 31 miles) and powered through the finish line, with a giant smile on my face.
Final finish time: 7:20:42. A HUGE PR!
There were some not so great moments of this race– but overall it was AWESOME and I am so proud of myself. I pushed hard, didn’t let myself get negative, and managed to smile nearly the whole time. I finally found a nutrition strategy that works, and I am left feeling significantly less nervous about the last (and hardest) race in the Grand Slam, Mountain Mist 50k.