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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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A Liberating Run

I ran a race yesterday that “Ages Up” – meaning that you are listed as the age that you’ll be on 12/31 of that year. It’s done always in USAT triathlons (as those are all potentially qualifying for a championship so you need to be in the same age group all year) but I always forget that this race does the same thing. It’s part of a long series of races, so they do it for the same reason, but I wasn’t expecting to see “40” on my age on my big.

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BUT I WAS SO EXCITED. I’m stupid-excited to turn 40 this year. Just like I was stupid-excited to turn 30. I don’t like many parts of getting older, obviously, but I feel like every decade gets better in my life…so why wouldn’t I celebrate it?

ANYWAY! Yesterday’s race was also interesting because I had NO way to track my speed. I haven’t run with a Garmin in ages but I usually just crank simple math while I’m running to figure out my speed and potential finish time. Yesterday – I had no access to a time piece of any sort. I wasn’t trying to PR, I just had a simple running plan, much like the one I used in my 50K 2 weeks ago. Run strong on the flats and the downhills, walk the uphills. I don’t want to tire my legs out too much, but I do want to push my runs a little bit. So…that’s what I did yesterday. I got caught in a weird cluster for a few early miles (one person was slowing down the bunch…I should write about how to avoid being that person at a later day…because I have to avoid it ALL THE TIME.) (#1 way? Don’t wear headphones. Which I never wear. Okay. I’ll save the rest for the next entry.) so there were times where I wanted to be going faster, but there were also times where I was pushing to keep up because I knew the group would slow down in a minute.

I finally broke free around mile 3.5 and just relaxed and settled into some conversation the rest of the way. I ran strong on the flats and downs, but walked the ups. I only walked the ups that were “long” or “steep” and ran as soon as it flattened out…so it was still a tiring run, but I never felt dead. I felt strong and happy the whole race. AND I had done a 3-mile warmup!

So, when I turned the corner and saw the clock said 2:04? I about died. That’s a FOURTEEN MINUTE PR. I was not expecting that at all. I felt like I killed it last year, so it was shocking to see that I felt so good and still PRd. I think it was half due to a smart race and half do to being in great shape. WHO KNOWS!

Either way – I’m not considering NOT wearing any sort of time piece at my big 50K. That feels INSANE since I’ve been so obsessed with timing pieces of it during my training. But it was so liberating and I felt so good yesterday, I’m really considering not using any sort of timepiece at all on that race day. EEK.

Anyone have any thoughts on that? I’m not a data junky, but I guess I spend a lot of time calculating my pace with just my watch – which I didn’t realize until I was without one yesterday.

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A 50K Broken Into 10 Reflections for 2015

10527539_350420378445353_3013442716947662040_nI’m running a 50K tomorrow, New Year’s Eve, and it involves 10 3-mile loops at our local cross country park. (For those of you who say, “That is only 30 miles! Not a 50K!” We do one 1-mile loop at the start before we start the 10 3-mile loops.) I’ve decided I’m going to spend each loop reflecting on something for 2015. Either a big event coming up, or changes I’d like to make, or people I’d like to do better by. I’m going to write each of these on a notecard and just grab one on each loop. Hopefully this will really get me in the right mindset for 2015 and all it has in store for me.

Here they are in no particular order.

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  1. My brother and his soon-to-be-bigger family – My nephew should arrive some time in January and my heart aches that I won’t be there to meet him. I want to think about my brother and his beautiful wife and his beautiful son(s) and try to think of ways I can try to be present for them from the other side of the country.
  2. My sister-in-law and her soon-to-be husband – We have a wedding this year! And I’m so very excited I actually cried a little when I went and saw the venue. I want to spend some time thinking how I can help and how to express my love for these very special people in our lives.
  3. Mountain Mist – This race is a few weeks away and I’ve been thinking about this race for 4 years. I want to spend some time thinking about how ready I am and how I want this race to be the beginning of a long relationship that will lead to me some day being on the 10-timer list.
  4. My First Oly – I’m doing my first Olympic Distance triathlon in 2015…July 12th to be exact. I’m terrified already so I want to spend some time thinking about what I’m going to do to get ready.
  5. My Dad – Because all of these reflections lead back to him in some way.
  6. Donnie and the Kids – They deserve the best me they can get and I know I’m better in many ways than I’ve been in the past, but there are so many ways I can still be better. I want to spend some time thinking of concrete things I’ll focus on this year that will make me a better wife and a better Mom.
  7. My Career – I love the company I work for but it’s still very small. I want to spend some time thinking about how I can use my efforts to help us grow.
  8. My Book – I would really like to make some progress on at least one of my 19 million book ideas this year. Maybe I’ll send some time thinking about which idea I’ll focus on.
  9. My Community – I’ve really tried to take more of a leadership role in several of my favorite communities so I can try to give back in some way. I want to reflect on how I can keep doing that throughout 2015.
  10. LGBTQ Youth – The story of Leelah Alcorn hit me very hard today when I read it. I need to be more active in my local organizations that support the LGBTQ youth in this area. I’ve gone to a handful of events and meetings, but I’d like to think about how I can do more. Especially now that E is off on his own and my day-to-day connections have gone with him. I felt more involved when he was here, even if it was just as a positive adult presence, but I need to do more now that I don’t have him as my anchor.

I’m actually proud how easily I came up with 10 reflections that have nothing to do with my weight or my emotional addiction to food. Every year I try to conquer that demon, and while I’ll try again this year, I’m glad that 10 more important things popped up before that one.

Let’s do this thing.

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Resources For (New? All?) Trail Runners in Huntsville

My friends and I have been leading a “No Runner Left Behind” trail group since last Spring and I’ve realized that there are a lot of resources I have/use that others could make use of. We’ve also learned that there’s a learning curve when it comes to language and reference points, so I thought: Why not try to combine all of this information into one spot? This is my attempt to do that. If you are a local trail runner and can think of anything else for me to add, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! I am starting this today but I’m certain I’ll be adding more and more as my friends share information they find useful. Also, the majority of this relates to local training groups and local races. If you are just wanting to run on your own around this area? The majority of this is unnecessary. But if you’re hoping to becoming part of the (AMAZING) community that meets regularly and you’d like to run some local trail races? This may make it a tiny bit easier.

Disclaimer: I am an expert in nothing. Except maybe eating donuts. I have just been running with new trail runners for long enough that I’ve started noticing I say a lot of the same things over and over again. There are a million trails in this town my feet haven’t even touched. This is basically: “Things Kim Talks About A Lot On Her Sunday No Runner Left Behind Trail Runs.” I’m not trying to proclaim to be an expert in anything but trying to force everyone to love trail running as much as I do.

Now! Without further ado!

Parking Lots

Basically, the main trails that local running groups most often use center around Monte Sano Mountain. Most groups separate them into “Monte Sano trails” and the “Land Trust trails”. In reality, some are within both boundaries but it’s a quick/dirty way to break it up. When group meet at the “Hiker’s Lot” inside the state park, they’re mostly focusing on the Monte Sano trails. The “Hiker’s Lot” can be found by entering the state park on Nolen (before the park opens there’s an honor box to put admission), passing the playground and the lodge, and staying to the right at the fork. The parking lot is the gravel lot right at the fork.

(You can run all of the same trails from that lot as from a parking area at a hairpin of Fearn Drive and avoid entrance fees. However, that parking area is small so large groups don’t meet there.)

If they’re meeting at the “Burritt Lot” or “Trough Springs Trailhead” (I’ve heard it called both) they’re using both Monte Sano and Land Trust trails. This parking lot is on Monte Sano Blvd. If you’re coming from Govenor’s Drive it’s on the right, shortly after the entrance to the Burritt museum.

There are also groups that meet at the “Land Trust Lot” and obviously those are using the Land Trust trails. That parking lot is found on your right coming up Bankhead Parkway. It’s probably the one most used by hikers as it’s a quick/easy way to get to some popular spots like 3 Caves.

Maps

I have 3 high res digital maps I pull up on a regular basis. Download all 3 high-res copies here. I’m hoping that serving this up from my blog hosting won’t cause me a problem, but until it does, there they are. I’ll be using the “web friendly” ones below, but download the zipped file of the high res ones if you want to use them for yourself.

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This is not very fancy and therefore is easy for me to crop and print up to carry with me on runs. However, it is missing a few trails so it’s not ideal for a real new runner. If you like to print up maps though, and don’t like to use a lot of ink, I suggest you start with this one. This one does mark some interesting points like “Pulpit Rock” on Alms House and “CCC Pipeline” that is lined with stairs between Goat and Mountain Mist. So, if you like detours to explore, this is a good map, just be aware there are trails missing.

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Full Monte Sano Map
This one is not as high res as the next one, so if you want to look at the Land Trust trails, don’t use this one. But this is a good overview, especially for races like McKay Hollow Madness 12K/25K, Mountain Mist 50K and Grand Viduta Stage Race that use trails on both sides of Monte Sano Blvd.

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Full MSSP and Land Trust Trails Map
This map is the best to use for the trails on the LTNA area as it’s the highest resolution and most detailed.

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Must Have Ap

If you carry your phone (which I highly recommend) then you should buy this app. It’s called “Maplets” and it does cost money but it’s WELL WORTH the $2.99 if you’re going to be trail running. You download any maps of the area to your phone and they’re georeferenced so you can pull them up (even without service since you downloaded them) and it will show your location on the map. This app has saved me MANY times. However, I do still carry paper maps with me because they’re quicker in general.

Local Trail Running Lingo

Death Trail – I first heard of this “trail” when I was training for my first McKay Hollow and someone said, “You need to do Death Trail, at least once.” I went home and pulled up my trusty maps and found it NO WHERE. Well, it’s what locals call the stretch of the McKay Hollow Trail that leads UP to the playground area. If you’ve been up on Monte Sano at the overlook, Death Trail leads up to that point. It’s a hand-and-foot section of the trail and if you’re doing the McKay Hollow 25K, it takes you to the finish line. It’s tough but it’s fantastic.

Rest Shelter – This is the other end of the McKay Hollow Trail that starts on the White/South Plateau loop. There is a trail marker for McKay, but there is also a “Rest Shelter” sign at that point, hence the name. It’s a tough downhill for McKay Hollow 25K, but it’s a tougher uphill at Mountain Mist 50K. There are other “Rest Shelter” signs, so don’t start exploring if you don’t see a trail sign.

3 Benches – This one is at least on the map, but unless you know where to look you won’t be able to find it. This one gets referenced a lot because it’s at and near several intersections.

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K2 – This one is still a little foreign to me as it’s not usable during hunting season which is when I run. If any local wants to download this graphic and tell me exactly where it is, that would be awesome. You go UP (I think?) during Mountain Mist 50K but down (I think?) during Viduta Stage race.
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White Loop: Marked as the South Plateau loop on the maps, but has white blaze marks on the trees, hence the name.

Blue Loop: Marked as the North Plateau loop on the maps, but has blue blaze marks on the trees.

Note about North/South loop lingo. During Dizzy Fifties 50K training season, you’ll hear people refer to “North Dizzy Loops” and “South Dizzy Loops”. And while the South Dizzy Loop does use a lot of the South Plateau Loop, they are not the same thing. Same as the North loops. This confused a lot of people this year. Just know that in October and November “North Loop” and “South Loop” may have different meanings if you’re talking to trail runners.

I am publishing this now as is, but I full expect to be making notes and adding information forever as people correct me or inform me of other good resources.