|Ready to go at 7:30am|
Four weeks ago, I attempted the Mountain Mist 50k in Huntsville. I had a good case of the flu weeks one and two before the race, but I was already entered, felt like I was recovered enough, and it was only a 50k. Unfortunately, I was not recovered enough and dropped out of a 50k for only the second time in my life at mile 20. The other time was at Catawba in 2007, and it also involved coming back from an illness too soon. I spent the week after Mountain Mist exhausted again, but otherwise felt okay. My plan was to run a hard run two weeks after Mountain Mist (two weeks before this race) to ensure I was fully recovered before entering this race. So, two weeks ago, I ran a 17-mile tempo run in a solid time and effort. When I went to the website to sign up for this race, I found out it was filled. Instead I entered and put my name on the waiting list. Four days later, I was notified that I was in the race. Now I had a week and a half to finish my preparation.
|Crowd of runners is gathering|
I spent Thursday and Friday this week assisting on the annual inspection of my airplane in LaFayette, Georgia. Nathan picked me up from there at 5:00pm, and we drove down to Anniston, Alabama for dinner and a night in a Super 8 motel. Dinner was at an Olive Garden, and both of us thoroughly enjoyed our meals. In the morning, it is just a short 30 minute drive to the start at Porter’s Gap on the Pinhoti Trail in the Talladega Forest.
The race is scheduled to start at 7:30am. We arrive at the start around 6:30am, and I get my race number. At 7:20am, I complete my final pre-race activities and am ready to run. What I didn’t know was that the buses that take the majority of the runners to the start from the finish area are not here yet. When I realize this, Nathan and I head back to his car to keep warm. The buses finally arrive about 8:05, and the race director announces that the race will start at 8:30am.
|To the top of Alabama|
Mile 3.3 38:12 (11:35 avg./mile) Chandler Springs
The early pace is conservative for me as I really want to finish this race in good shape. The trail is rather congested during the first two miles, but when we get to the aid station, things have spread out decently. A few of the people that needed to pass during the first two miles are seen later on as they slow down, and I pass them back. Nathan didn’t go to this aid station, and I don’t even pause. I pass a couple of people as I continue on the course after the aid station.
Mile 8.5 1:01:53 (11:54 avg./mile) Clairmont Gap
I maintain a conservative pace so far with the difficult sections coming up next. About a mile or so from the aid station, I meet Caitlin, who is my daughter’s house mate. Caitlin is graduating this spring from UAH with a degree in Chemical Engineering. I stay ahead of her for now, and I privately decide to myself to finish ahead of her. We knew of each other before now, but we had never talked. We chat the last mile into the aid station. At the aid station, I point Caitlin out to Nathan, who had met her at the Mountain Mist last month while I was struggling and dropping out of the race. I drink some chocolate milk and a little bit of Conquest before taking half of a bagel to eat on the trail. The weather is warming up quickly from the 50s it was at the start. The high temperature today will reach 67 degrees.
Mile 14.9 1:26:39 (13:32 avg./mile) Adams Gap
This section is the place that this race course gets serious. This 6.5 mile stretch includes some rather technical trail with plenty of rocks. It is tiring and slow progressing through one rock garden after another. My ankles hold up pretty well, but I test my right ankle once before I get to the aid station. While my pace is slower than before, my effort is probably higher. At the aid station, there is a short out and back, so I see that Caitlin is just a minute or so behind me. At the aid station, I drink plenty of Conquest and grab another half of a bagel to eat on the trail. We also switch out my Camelbak for a full one.
Mile 18.4 51:27 (14:42 avg./mile) Hubbard Creek
I continue to press the pass, hoping that each surge will leave Caitlin behind me for good. However, each time I let up on the pace a little, it is not too much later that I see her coming up on me again. At one point on this section, she passes me, but then as we get to the aid station, I am right behind her again. I grab another quick drink of Conquest and push out of the aid station ahead of her.
Mile 25.3 1:26:35 (12:33 avg./mile) Silent Trail
During this section, I start passing a few runners. I also tweak my right ankle again—nothing too serious, but I definitely know I need to be careful. One of the runners I pass is Michelle Belcher. When I pass her, I thought she looked like she was fading, but then she decides to keep up with me. This is good as I have another runner to keep pace with and hopefully keep me pushing. We end up talking most of the second half of this section. Although we are maintaining a good pace, Caitlin is never far beyond. We cross two streams on this section that has a water level around mid-calf. It is refreshing in some ways, but each time I hit the water my right hamstring starts cramping. I pretty much ignore it and just let it work itself out. The pain is solid. I just need to ensure it doesn’t get worse. Ordinarily I would have backed off the pace, but if I do that I will get passed by Caitlin. When we finally pop out onto to a dirt road, the aid station is right there. Nathan says I am making great time, and I tell him that it is killing me trying to stay ahead of Caitlin. I drink some more Conquest as I am sweating profusely, and then I drink a cup of Coke for the kick to the finish.
|Keeping pace with Michelle|
into the last aid station
Mile 27.9 33:35 (12:55 avg./mile) Lake Cheaha
Michelle and I run this road section all of the way into the state park and to the aid station beside the lake. We don’t see anything of Caitlin this whole section, so maybe she has finally slowed down. While I am drinking another cup of Coke at the aid station, Nathan spots her coming into the park. I take off for the final 3+ miles with Michelle with me.
Mile 31.1 46:35 (14:33 avg./mile) FINISH – Bald Rock
On the brutal final climb, Michelle and I pass a couple of guys. I am committed to relentless forward progress. My hamstring is cramping quite often, but at this point it is just mind over matter. As we complete the final climb and start the remaining 1.5 miles on top of the mountain, Michelle takes off. I don’t have much of an answer for her surge, and I am mainly focused staying in front of Caitlin. I keep my eye on maintaining my momentum and when I think I am finally close to the finish, I take one more walk break. In a few seconds, Caitlin is right behind me again and we only have a quarter of a mile left. I say hello to her and then surge towards the finish. The finish line is back on a paved road in front of a lodge. There are vehicles trying to get in and leave. I pay little attention to the vehicles. Dodging cars and trucks, my only goal is to get across the line.
Official Finishing Time 6:44:56
78th out of 276 entrants (20th of M40-49)
The final results show that I edged out Caitlin by only 29 seconds—less than one second per mile. What a race! This is a really fun, beautiful, point-to-point course. I just wish it wasn’t so exhausting for my legs. I guess my legs cramping was just a result of the hard effort and the warm weather. The legs are mostly fine after I finish, though. This time is four minutes slower than two years ago. Then the weather was a little cooler, and we didn’t have the hour delay at the start.
I eat a couple of pieces of pizza and drink a beer while chatting with Nathan and Martha. It is a beautiful day and now I have Martha, who drove down to meet me, to drive me home. Since this race went well, I have entered the Indiana Trail 100 on April 30. I have to redeem myself after last year’s monsoon DNF at 67 miles. Until then…
Never stop running,Darin
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