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Placeholder Race Report

I want to take the time to write a real race report, but we didn’t get home until 5pm yesterday and we had a sitter coming at 6 so we could go enjoy the post-race celebration shindig. And this morning? I have a No Runner Left Behind trail running group! That I’ll be sweeping :)

But until I do a full race report, know this: Yesterday was the hardest race I’ve ever done, but also the most wonderful. This whole season has been a lesson in what my body can do and how I can be in charge of my own headspace. I was in more pain at several points yesterday than I’ve ever been, but my headspace was never bad. I was always happy to be there. Happy to keep running. Or walking. Or, at one point, rolling out of the creek bed I had collapsed in so that another runner could pass.

This was my face at the finish line. It looks TERRIBLE. But I promise you, those were tears of joy. I cried for joy several times yesterday. Let’s hope my face didn’t always look like this or else everyone who saw me probably thought I was dying. (And don’t get me wrong, I was hurting in various ways all day. But the tears were always for joy.)

More to come!

As always...amazing photos taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville.

The Dirtiest Support Group You’ll Ever Find.

So. My big race is tomorrow…Mountain Mist 50K. Not the longest I’ve ever run…time or distance…but the hardest race I’ll have ever run. This is the only race I’ve done that I’ve had to qualify for…the only race that has challenging time limits…the only race that I have several places along the course where I can recount tales of people having been injured. I witnessed front-of-the-pack, skilled runners quit last year at mile 17. Granted, they weren’t locals, but one said, “I thought Alabama was flat.”

The funny thing is, to us locals? Those of us who run the trails regularly? We say that the course starts to get fun at miles 17.

BECAUSE IT DOES.

But I don’t want to talk about the race, exactly.

Instead, I want to talk about my running friends.

I run around the mountains here in Huntsville, with the most fantastic group of people. Not all of them are even racing tomorrow. That’s kinda the awesome part. Trail runs can be pieced together in such a way that people training for 12Ks can run with people training for 100-milers. Seriously. One of our groups recently had someone training for a 12K, and someone training for a 100-miler.

And I owe the fact that I’m even toeing the start line tomorrow to EVERY SINGLE ONE of those people. Everyone who met me for a trail run in the last 3 months will be with me in my heart tomorrow. Some of them will even be with me on the course, but all of them will be in my heart. I get so overcome with gratitude when I run with these people that I sometimes want to hug them for no real reason.

But I don’t. Because that would be weird.

Before my Dad died, I was the epitome of a home body. My social anxieties kept me from really desiring to mingle with any new group in any way. Joining a boot camp helped break me of the STRANGER DANGER! part of my social anxieties, but running made me kinda like meeting new people.

I mean – I still run the risk of making a total ass out myself. And often still perform my trademark trick of talking about stupidly personal things when I’m uncomfortable…Hi! Nice to meet you! Can we talk about my boob sweat?

But here’s the thing about trail running, and maybe running in general, but especially trail running. You can’t hide behind any pretenses out there, running through the woods. There’s no makeup or nice clothes. No one knows your job or how much money you make. No one knows if you have kids or even if you’re married. You just show up and start running through the trees. Everyone, even the most graceful and athletic, is going to fall sometimes. Most everyone has to walk through some parts. No one has the luxury of a clean bathroom if they have to relieve themselves. Everyone ends up covered in mud.

All of these things are equalizers. And because they’re there, you would be amazed at the variety of people you become friends with on a trail run. And these people now know more about me than some of my family. They especially know more about my digestive system, since we all like to talk about our poop issues while we’re running. When I was getting a menstrual cycle, they knew about that too, but my ablation took away that fun topic. (I’m sure my friends miss me talking about THAT every week.)

I just feel so much love for my trail running friends, that I sometimes wonder where I’d be without them. Those runs through the woods every weekend give me so much energy for my week. They bring me so much joy. Seeing those faces early in the morning, preparing to run through streams or mud or climb over rocks, those excited faces have picked me up when I’ve fallen time and time again – literally and figuratively – and I’ll be eternally grateful for all of them.

But especially for my Grand Slammers. The Grand Slam is the Dizzy 50s 50K, the Rocket City Marathon, and the Recover From The Holidays 50K…THEN Mountain Mist tomorrow. The last race is the hardest. WHEN we all finish (Not IF…) we’ll get special Grand Slam jackets that none of us will take off. Ever.

But these Grand Slammers? We have done it together. We have this closed Facebook group where we’ve been able to talk all season, and if it weren’t for that page I’m not sure I would have made it this far. Just people to commiserate with throughout this journey has been AMAZING. These are my friends from the battlefield. We’ve suffered through muscle cramps and tightened IT bands, twisted ankles and sore backs, hip pain and knee pain…we’ve made it through 10 weeks as we cram in 3 50Ks and 1 marathon together. When I see those faces at packet pickup or on training runs or even just on race day itself, it gives me strength. We’ve suffered through it TOGETHER. Each face reminds me that we can do it. We’ve put the miles in, we know the courses, the hay is in the barn now. Now…we just do it.

(By the way, I do not stand by the “hay is in the barn” metaphor. People use it all the time but if the hay is in the barn, YOU ARE DONE! And while my training is done, I still have 31 miles to run tomorrow. I still have to move a bunch more hay, people!)

(Sorry about that tangent. Where was I?)

Anyway! I love my friends! I developed my social anxieties around 1999 and for the next 10 years I kinda avoided any situation where I could make new friends. And now here we are, I can’t even begin to list all of the people I call friends now. I can’t even begin to list the ones who will be there tomorrow…whether on the course or cheering or volunteering…I will be surrounded by people who I owe debts of gratitude that I’ll never be able to repay.

So…I dedicate every mile I run tomorrow to them. My trail-running friends. Whether you’ve run 4 miles with me, or 400, you are in my heart at the start line tomorrow. And you’ll play a key part in getting me to the finish.

Thank you.

As always...amazing photos taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville.

As always…amazing photos taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville.

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Race Sabotaging: Something That Actually Happens.

I was talking to a friend the morning of Donnie’s Ironman and she was telling me about her friend that was racing that day. Chattanooga was his second attempt because his first attempt had been in Louisville (maybe the year before?) but he didn’t finish because someone sabotaged the race by throwing oil and tacks on the bike course and he busted up his bike and tires in a wreck.

Uh. THEY DID WHAT?

And then, later that day? Thankfully…after I had seen Donnie complete one full loop of the bike course…I saw this: Chattanooga Ironman bike course sabotaged with tacks and oil. I was fairly certain he would be fine since he had already done the loop once, but man…my heart raced until he got off his bike. And we found out later that we did know people taken out by the sabotage, which SUCKS. Imagine spending 5 months and at least 700 dollars (AT LEAST, the whole adventure counting travel and lodge cost us probably $2,000) on a goal and not being able to finish because of some angry asshat or stupid teenager.

That’s the two people most likely to do this: Angry people affected by the traffic annoyance and teenagers who think it’s hilarious.

It sucks though because the small community (Chickamauga, GA) that we hung out in watching the cyclists? LOVED having us there. We came with LOTS of money to spend while we waited. And the cycling courses are planned with minimal traffic disturbance as possible, and it’s all done fairly early on a Sunday, so to risk causing injury or even death (have you seen bike races? These guys ride fast and close to each other. One person goes down? Several are going down at high speeds.) just because you can’t get somewhere as fast as you want on a Sunday morning seems RIDICULOUS. But, obviously it happens. Often, sadly.

But here’s another facet of race sabotage, one that affects ME. Last year, during our inaugural stage race weekend (3 back-to-back days of trail running – one of the best race experiences of my life) someone thought it would be hilarious to move the trail markers on the 2nd day. Now, for someone like me, this wasn’t a disaster. I had studied those maps and trained on those trails so I could almost do it unguided, but to normal people who don’t obsess over maps like I do? Without a trail marker, you’re just lost in the woods. And my family worked an aid table that day and said that there were some stressed early runners that came through.

And I just found out yesterday that – not only had the markers been removed – but when the race director went to try to salvage and replace them? They were covered in vinegar and roundup. So it was a straight up MALICIOUS attack. And there is NO reason. These are markers that are only up for 2 weeks, max. Most trail races put them up the Saturday before the race and take them down the Saturday after. The races have the approval of the parks to do this and they are not in ANYONE’S way. Yet still…STILL…they get removed.

I was shocked that weekend to find out that had happened. SHOCKED. But I found out yesterday? It basically happens at EVERY trail race here.

One of the volunteers (and perfect attendance racers, I might add) posted that he discovered yesterday that a huge chunk of the Mountain Mist 50K markers for this weekend were removed. This is basically MY Ironman. I’ve been thinking about this race since December of 2011…I spent 2 years not really thinking I’d ever be fast enough to even try, but then I’ve spent the last 12+ months basically running those trails and getting fast enough to make the cutoffs. It’s been my OBSESSION for the last year. And now, some asshat wants to sabotage my attempts by removing the markers. And the guy said they were tangled up together in a pile up trail, so it was hard to even salvage them to put them back out.

And then? Another Race Director chimed in with a similar story from the 15K I did a few weeks ago.

Basically, it seems, every trail race faces this kind of issue.

I always obsessively train on the actual course for local trail races. For most of them, I could do the course WITHOUT markers on race day. But this one Saturday is 31 miles, and the first half is trails I’ve done a million times so I didn’t actually focus on that half of the course. I know what trails it uses, but I don’t necessarily know what order they go in, so without markers on race day? I’d be screwed. I’d be okay on the back half, but not the front half.

(I’ll be memorizing it now, by the way.)

Luckily, there are tons of racers and volunteers who think of this race as their baby and don’t want anything or anyone to screw it up, so they keep an eye on things and fix problems as they arise. And the same with our other local trail races, we have a hugely smart and supportive community here. Unless it happens in the hours before the race starts, which it did at the stage race, most of the time they’re able to discover it…BUT THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO. (And, of course, they had markers put out that day before my group got anywhere, it was just the early/fast people who had problems.) Race directors should not have to re-do work. People should not be assholes. Simple as that.

So…when you do a trail race (because everyone should do one, trail running brings me so much joy I want the rest of the world to try it at least once) thank all of the volunteers and race directors. There’s a very good chance that some of them had to come out and replace markers taken down during the week because the world is full of giant jerkfaces.

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Trail Running, Scary Emails, and Prayers for Groins…The Usual.

My friend Chelsea and I organize a “No Runner Left Behind” trail running group on Sundays locally and this week? We had, like a million people show up. Okay, maybe not a million, but it felt like it.

Here is a picture of our group running through the woods.

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Do you see all the color specks in the trees? How cool is that! In reality I’m guessing we had 30 people? But I may be off because – as I’ve told you recently – I’m awful with guessing numbers. It might have been 100 people, or it could have been 10. Let’s say it was something between 10 and 100. Either way? A LOT OF PEOPLE CAME TO OUR LITTLE GROUP!

It’s really fun to introduce people to trail running. The first time I tried to join one of these groups – it didn’t go that well. It was okay, but I overheard some snarky commentary about people who “think they’re trail runners” and it took a lot to try not to cry and I never joined another group as a newbie since.

Last Spring, Chelsea and I were training for a local trail race with another friend and we thought: Hey. We should invite other people! Because we knew there were a lot of people like us, casual runners intimidated by the fast groups. And so the NRLB Sunday Group was formed. Some weeks we have 7 people, some weeks we have 7 million.

Either way? It’s always my favorite run of the week. It’s relaxed, it’s fun, and it’s trail running for the sake of trail running. Not for time or speed or intensity, just because we all like running in the woods.

And speaking of trail running…remember my big 50K that I’ve been training for since 2011? We got our “last minute” email last night. Check out the second paragraph.

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That paragraph makes me SO EXCITED if you can believe it! It know it sounds terrifying, but I’ve run those trails so many times now that the description actually makes me say, “HELL YEAH!” more than anything.

Let’s just not discuss the fact that I’m nursing a REALLY bad groin strain right now that seems to be worse this morning than it was last night.

I’ll be resting for the next 5 days. Not one run until Mountain Mist. Please send my groin healing thoughts.

(It would be really funny if my religious friends could actually put my groin on your prayer list. I mean, I’m kinda joking..but kinda not. I need all the help I can get and it hurts bad this morning.)

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Some Tricks To Being A Slower Runner On A Single Track Trail Race

I mentioned that I was part of a weird congested train of runners for several miles at my trail race on Saturday. By the time the huge group of people leap frogged around the person at the front of the train (Who was wearing headphones, I’ll get to that in a second), we were probably close to mile 3 which is a long time to be that congested. The problem is, it’s hard to pass people on a “single track” trail. That’s what “single track” means – it’s basically wide enough for one person. And, unless you’re the winner of the race, someone’s probably going to want to pass you at some point. And even the winner might get passed once as we all have different times we want to surge ahead.

My point? Everyone needs to know how to pass and be passed if needed. Unless you are trying to win and really don’t want people passing you, but then – obviously – none of this applies to you.

See…if you’re highly competitive, you might not worry about the rest of the racers so much…you’re running your own race. But, that means you’re probably in a different “race pack” to begin with where you’re surrounded by other aggressive runners who have no problem just whizzing around people on the trails. But I’m a COMPLETER, not a COMPETER, and in my race pack we’re all athletes, but not necessarily out to whip around everyone in front of us. So, if you’re an average runner out to enjoy a trail race for the exercise and the experience and not necessarily the type of person that’s going to be just zig-zagging around the slower runners in front of you without a care for anything but keeping your pace? You’re probably in a different race pack than I am and this stuff is not as important.

But – if you think you’ll be a middle-of-the-pack type of runner, or slower, here are some tips to keep from causing huge traffic jams.

YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO HEAR.

And the #1 way to make sure you can hear? DO NOT WEAR HEADPHONES. Or, at least only put ONE bud in. Especially in the winter when we’re all wearing head wraps to stay warm anyway, adding headphones to the mix? Just makes you deaf.

Trail runners are so nice. Seriously. I love this community. I’ve only had one really shitty experience and it was early on, and I’ve been doing this for 4 seasons now…so one bad experiences is AWESOME. Overall? They’re all wonderful people. And no one really wants to loudly yell, “I NEED BY ON YOUR LEFT!” As a matter of fact, most of them try to avoid pointing out they’re passing you all together. They try to just find a spot to get around you. So, you need to be able to hear them behind you so maybe you can save them the trouble and say, “Do you need by?” Most trail runners will not hover on your heals if they’re okay behind you. If you’re setting a good pace, they’ll stay a little further back. If they’re on your heals and you can hear them there? They probably want by. If you don’t want them to pass you? You might want to speed up. If you like your pace? They’re going to want around you. Ideally they’ll say, “I’m going to pass on your right,” or “On your left!” depending on which way they think is the safest way around you. (On bikes you always pass on the left, but sometimes on a trail that’s not safe so it’s good to tell them which side you’re choosing.) But, sometimes they just are waiting for a good time to sneak around you. Either way? You need to be able to hear them.

I am certain I heard at least two people vocally warn the guy they were going to pass him on Saturday and he didn’t indicate he heard them in any way. As a matter of fact, he hopped to the left around a puddle about 1 second after someone said, “On your left.” So, I don’t think he was hearing people warn him, which probably made everyone in the pack nervous about passing him which slowed the leap-frogging down. If someone says, “On your left!” to me, I’ll say, “Thanks!” or sometimes I’ll even scoot to the other edge if I can. I always want them to know I hear them so they don’t have to worry about me jumping the wrong direction when they’re trying to pass me.

Either way? I need to be able to hear. AT ALL TIMES. Whether it’s footsteps behind me or verbal announcements.

UNDERSTAND: NOT EVERYONE TAKES WALK BREAKS

A lot of trail runners power walk/hike up the steep hills. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but this was my method on Saturday. But, especially early on when I could hear crowds behind me, I knew I’d be slowing down my pack every time I took a walk break. SO! Every time I did, I called an audible. “I’m walking up this hill! Feel free to pass me!” I would even try to give people space on my left to pass since it was SO early and the crowd was SO thick. Now, a lot of those people passing me, I passed later…that’s something you just accept on a trail race. We all have different strengths so you do a lot of leap-frogging. But that’s okay! Just be aware, if there’s anyone behind you on a single-track race when you decide to walk? YOU DON’T HAVE BREAK LIGHTS. Therefore, you need to let them know you’re stopping AND that you’re aware they’re coming around you.

UNDERSTAND: SOME PEOPLE RUN THE DOWNHILLS

Trail running is terrifying when you first start because these rocky downhills covered in roots and limbs seem like a death trap. It took me a long time and taking a lot of advice to feel comfortable running a lot of the downhills. And if it’s a new downhill? I’m still SUPER cautious so if I were to do an out-of-town race, I’d probably go really slow on the downhills. So, especially if you hit a downhill early in a race when it’s still congested? Be aware that a lot of people may want to fly down that hill and if you’re not one of them? It’s frustrating and a little dangerous to be blocking their path. I have stood to the side and let 10 people pass me before, because I had no desire to be the front end of a gravity-powered pile-up. And you standing off the trail for 10 seconds while 10 people pass you is going to keep you from being the engine on a 10 person train. I’ve done this SO MANY TIMES.

But – I’m also really good on some downhills. Or at least “really good” by the “middle of the pack” standards. So! Saturday I had a goal. To find a faster pack to hang with until after the first major downhill. I didn’t want to walk that first downhill because it’s a long one and I could bank good time if I took it fast. Since I’m slow on the uphills, banking time on the downhills really helps. So, I flew around people the first mile I might not have normally passed, just so I could get with a good strong pack going down Sinks. And it worked BEAUTIFULLY. I stayed in the middle of this strong, fast-moving pack all the way down the mountain. It was one of the best early-in-a-race downhill experiences I’ve ever had. Since I’m slower, I start in the back often, but that screws me if there’s an early downhill.

Now, of course all of those people had to pass me later, but I like to think – because of the reasons above – I made that easy as pie.

EVERYTHING IS BETTER AFTER THE CROWD THINS OUT

The truth is – no one likes the crowds in the early mile(s) of a trail race. Many race directors plan the first mile(s) intentionally to give the pack time to thin out. Once you can’t hear anyone on your heals, and once you’re not constantly try to decide if you should pass the person in front of you, you’re free to run your own race. One that crowd FINALLY thinned out around the guy with the headphones? I relaxed into my zone much easier. Trail racing is tough because no one runs a consistent pace the whole thing. Person A might be your perfect pace on a flat stretch, but then they speed up more than you do on the downhills, or they slow down more than you do on the uphills. I’m a strong walker, but I’m short, so there are some people I can pass even as I’m walking uphill, but others who get trapped behind me and my slow legs, even if they’re walking!

The point? You want the crowd to thin out as quick as possible so anything you can do to help that, whether it’s stepping out of your comfort zone to yell at the guy with the headphones, “I AM PASSING YOU ON YOUR LEFT!” or whether it’s stepping off trail for 5 seconds to let the people flying down the hill behind you get past, it kinda takes a village to get everyone in the right place early on in the race. And that village needs to be aware of all of the other villagers. It also helps if all of the villagers are kind. Which, in my experience, most in my middle-of-the-pack are. (Honestly, I’m probably more back-of-the-pack, but let’s not worry about that right now!)

ONE STORY ABOUT THE AWESOMENESS OF TRAIL RUNNERS

I help with a No Runner Left Behind trail running group on Sundays. This Sunday there was an icy/dangerous crossing at the very end of our run and by the time the back of the group got there (Probably a good 30 minutes behind the lead) there were still two fast guys waiting there to make sure everyone got across okay. That was AWESOME. I wanted to hug them both but I didn’t because that would be weird.

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