I’ve always known and said that trail running is all about adaptations, adjustments, flexibility. This past weekend definitely put these skills to test. The weekend was going to be a weekend full of kick ass trail racing. Saturday was Black Warrior and Sunday was Dry Creek. My plan was to head down to Alabama early in the afternoon on Friday so I could get there with plenty of time to get myself together for the 50K the next day. As for Black Warrior, I knew I was WAY under-trained and that conditions were usually muddy, but I thought I could really get a good time out there. And then Dry Creek – our crew put in a ton of work to put on a killer race, and I couldn’t wait for it all to come to fruition. Well, to paraphrase Woody Allen, “if you want Mother Nature to laugh, tell her your plans”. After dropping off race packets at NRC West, Gyps and I headed down south. As soon as we hit Alabama – ICE, ICE, BABY. We drove through an “ice storm” for about 10 minutes before coming to a complete and utter standstill. In four hours, we moved 10 yards. 10. Freaking. Yards. I was going completely crazy. Instead of getting to the hotel at 4, Gyps and I pulled in at 9:00pm. Mom met me, and of course, I was starving so we walked to the only restaurant near by – Logan’s Steakhouse. Perfect for a vegetarian. We got there, and CLOSED. People were still inside so we banged on the door and begged them to feed me. While I’m usually careful about what I eat the night before a race, at this point I would’ve shoved just about anything into my mouth. Logan’s folks were awesome – they brought every veggie side they had in their kitchen to me for FREE. I’ve never been so happy for side dishes. Saturday was race day. Early morning wake up call, quick breakfast, and I was out the door. Jeff and Scott were coming from Nashville that morning. I talked to Jeff who said I-65 was shut down, and they were traversing Bama back roads. Jeff was concerned that they wouldn’t make it in time for the race to start but said he’d pick me up at mile 12 aid station if he had to. #TrueBlueFriend
I got to the race site, and it was clear that a lot of people weren’t going to be racing. Many people couldn’t get there. Oh well – as Hunter says, you can only race who shows up. As we were headed to the start line, Scott and Jeff coming flying into the parking lot on two wheels, jump out to get their bibs, and were ready to run with a few minutes to spare. The race started with a couple road miles uphill before taking us into the woods and onto horse trails. I was feeling really good. Jeff and I were moving a good, steady pace. We were surprised at how pretty some sections of the trails were. It was pretty chilly when we started, and with the ice from the night before, rock formations had some very beautiful icicles. Before I knew it, Jeff and I were at the first aid station around mile 6 or so. We had been running alone since we got off the road. As we were leaving the aid station, both of us wearing our Nashville Running Company gear, one of the volunteers yelled “Enjoy your day together.” We laughed about this throughout the day.
Jeff led for the next section (and really for the remainder of the race). I was still feeling really great. We were on pace for a pretty good time; in fact, CR was possible in contention. Miles 6-12 (ish) were more of the same. A few rolling hills, horse trails, frozen mud, a few rocks.The next aid station soon popped into view. I downed some Pepsi, chewed some Honey Stinger chews, and we were on our way.
I was still feeling good for another mile or two and then BAM! Under-training hit, and it hit hard.
It was also right about then that we got to the biggest climb of the day, save for the first two miles. Jeff’s advice, “Just keep it steady.” We finally hit the mud we had heard about too. Luckily, it wasn’t long before we rolled into the 3rd aid station. More Pepsi, more Honey Stinger chews, and then we were off. Mile 17ish, and all mud broke loose. I couldn’t get traction to save my life. We slipped and slid all over the trail, a trend that would remain for another 10 miles.
Mud. Is. Exhausting. My legs were becoming heavier with each and every slide. I was also becoming quieter by the moment. Jeff was super patient and super encouraging– another trend that would last throughout. I knew that CR was no where near reachable but that we could still break 5:00. I kept thinking, “just make it to the next aid station.” Our watches were about a mile or so ahead of the course markings but finally the mile 22 aid station came into view. I could tell part of my problem was nutrition-related so I scarfed down a pb&j– the first time I’ve ever eaten anything at an AS. I usually stick to what I know/bring because I’m scared of GI issues, but I didn’t care. I drank more Pepsi and finally trudged on. This was the longest section in between aid stations, and again, nothing but mud. We had slowed greatly — because of the mud and because of my tiring legs. Jeff can run all day, every day at the same pace and probably in just about in condition. My body wasn’t having it. One foot in front of the other (or rather one foot sliding out from underneath and then in front of the other). At one point, I felt like curling up in a ball in the mud on the side of the trail. Even though 6 miles doesn’t sound like much, this section took forever. There were a few climbs that felt pretty substantial here. Again, I was so grateful to be following Jeff. We trudged through mud, mud, and more mud.
Finally, we saw the tents of the final aid station. We knew the rest of the course was on the road and down hill. Our strategy was to really turn it on here and ward off any last minute surge from runners behind us. Even though we couldn’t see anyone, this would be the place where a move could be made. Also, we had 24 minutes to break 5:00. We got out of the aid station as quickly as possible. We were running at a good clip, but I could tell Jeff wanted to go. I also didn’t want anyone to catch him after he had stayed with me for 29 miles. I told him to take off. I was still able to stay within about 100 yards of him the rest of the way. Although we were promised a down hill finish, there were a few little hills. Regardless, we made it to the finish with about two and a half minutes to spare. Jeff was 3rd male overall, and I was 1st female. I can honestly say my legs had nothing else left in them.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad I race was over. I’m glad for the experience, happy with the PR, and thankful for Jeff, but damn, that was a rough day. I’m also all in, fully committed and motivated to get my ass in shape. 15 weeks until Idaho . . .
As for Dry Creek, that’ll be a whole other post so stay tuned.