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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.

Full Briartech Map
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.

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4 Saturdays Until Mountain Mist

mmistskeletonI started trail running before Christmas 2011. Since my trail season starts in the Fall and ends in the Spring, this is my fourth trail running season. If you’re a trail runner in the Rocket City you can’t help but think about our most renowned local trail race: Mountain Mist 50K. So, FOUR trail seasons I’ve been thinking about that race…and this year I’m finally on board to do it. And I have four more Saturdays left to train.

The first time I ever heard anyone talk about this race was when one of my 13.1 mentors with the Fleet Feet half marathon program was seeking counsel from a coach about the race. She was reminding the coach of her Dizzy Fifties 50K time and was expressing concern about making the cutoffs of Mountain Mist.

(If any of my trail running buddies read that last sentence they would say, “So that explains her obsession with cutoff times…”.)

Cutoff times have always been a concern of mine and I check for them at every race I consider because I avoid them like the plague. I chose my first trail marathon because it had no cutoff time. (It now does, for the record. I like to think my 6:30 finish had something to do with that change.) So, since that was my first reference to the MM50K…discussing cutoff times? I never even considered doing it that year. Not to mention it was a 50K and I hadn’t braved that distance yet. The race day that year was freezing and there had just been a rain so the trails were covered in ice. I remember looking at the pictures the next day on Facebook and having one thought: HELL NO.

Fast forward to Trail Season #2 which was the first season I attempted a 50K. During that Dizzy Fifties 50K I passed a guy from Tennessee who said that he had registered for Mountain Mist 50K, but that they weren’t going to honor his registration until he had a qualifying race. That needed to be a sub 4:40 marathon or one completed 50K. He had signed up for Dizzy to get that 50K since he felt the 4:40 marathon was too far out of reach. He said they told him, “And, keep in mind, if you can’t finish Dizzy Fifties in under 7 hours, you’re going to struggle making cutoff points along the course of MM50K.” So, that was my lesson about speed in MM50K: If I ever wanted to do it, I needed a 4:40 marathon or 7 hour Dizzy. That year my marathon PR was 5:07ish and my Dizzy time was 7:40ish. It was no where on my radar that year…I just didn’t think there was any way I’d be fast enough.

Trail Season #3 rolled around last year and registration for Mountain Mist opened and closed in one day, long before my first marathon or my Dizzy 50K that year. Several people asked me why I didn’t sign up, “There’s no way I’d make the cutoffs. My Dizzy time was 7:40 and my best marathon was 5:07.” Those spots in that race were so cherished I didn’t want to take one up without confidence I could make the cutoffs. Well…as my season progressed I learned something: I had gotten much faster. I did my first Dizzy in under 7 hours (6:48 to be exact) and I PR’d Rocket City Marathon with a 4:38. And all I could think was…DAMMIT. Why didn’t I sign up for Mountain Mist?

I spent a lot of last season “training” for MM50K with my friends who were planning on running it. They were concerned about the cutoff times so I soaked up all of their conversations about it and I poured over trail maps. I made it my goal to do it in 2015, the year I turned 40. But I started training last year, learning the trails and building up confidence on them. There were TONS of runners who had to back out of the race and several of them contacted me about taking their spot. However, last year they did it a little differently. They allowed 100 extra people to sign up knowing those 100 wouldn’t show up on race day…so there was no waiting list. No way I could do the race. I volunteered to work packet pickup that morning and y’all? I brought all of my trail running gear JUST IN CASE someone said to me, “Go ahead.” That’s how much I wanted to run that race last year.

I sat at the finish line for 3 hours cheering my friends on and it just gave me SO MUCH motivation for this year that by the time that race was over, I knew it would be my focus.

And it has been. I signed up for the local “Grand Slam” this year which is 3 50Ks and 1 road marathon. The last race of the series MM50K, so I’ve had to do some training for the other races before I could 100% focus on MM50K, but we are 4 Saturdays away now, and my focus is entirely on that race.

The first cutoff that day is at mile 16.9 and the cutoff time is 4:15. Now, I’ve run enough of these trails now and have timed myself on many of the key portions to know that if I get to that cutoff close to 4:15, I would have to run that back half at my best pace to make the rest of the cutoffs. And I have no desire to have to push it on the back half since that is the hardest half BY FAR. So, my goal is to hit the first cutoff in under 4 hours, ideally in 3:45. I’d love to hit the LAST cutoff at the 25 mile mark in under 6 hours even though I have 6:30.

Basically I’ve reverse engineered my own cutoff times based on how fast or how slow I’ve done certain parts of the course during training. Today I’m doing almost the entire front half of the course and if I want to make my 3:45 goal, I need to average 13:20 minutes per mile. That basically means I need to spend no more than 202 minutes of run time today. (I clock run time as we wait at intersections to regroup. It’s not a perfect reflection of race day, but it gives me an idea.) Last week I did the back half and those run times are what I used to engineer my goal times for the cutoff stations.

To say I’m obsessing about this race would be the understatement of the year. I eat/sleep/drink this race and talk about it to everyone everywhere, every chance I get. And I only have 4 more Saturdays to train.

The main kink in my training is that I have a 50K on 12/31…in the middle of the week…so it kinda thwarts my ability to do full-on-tough training runs the weekend before or the weekend after. That’s why I did the back half last week. I hope to do it again next week, but I’ll be taking it a lot easier since I’ll be 3 days off of a 50K.

But – either way – I’ll be spending the next 28 days prepping for this race that I feel like I’ve been training for since Fall 2011. It will be the culmination of my grand slam and it will finally make feel like a full-fledge Huntsville trail runner. Some people look at this as a One-And-Done type of event…but not me. I feel like this race and I have become best friends over the last four trail season, really getting to know each other. I love this race and I haven’t even toed the start line yet. If I can make it to the finish line this year? It’ll be back again as many years as they’ll have me.

Four more weekends until the Mist. Bring it on, baby.

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Why Does This Keep Surprising Me?

My friends and I decided to do a lunchtime Christmas Eve trail two days ago…and leading up to it I knew the trails would be messy, but I hoped the rain would stop for our actual run. We gathered up and headed out and it was about 45, which is chilly, but y’all…the trails were WAY more than “messy”. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re running in dry creek beds until after a good rain. The first half mile I barely took one dry step and it was still a little raining and I hadn’t warmed up yet and I seriously thought: I’m going to get my friend we’re meeting at the other trail to just take me up to my car. She won’t want to get out in this and I don’t want to do the 6.5 miles we’re supposed to do I’m wet and cold, and I’m just going to get colder and wetter.

IMG_3926But then…I just never got colder, and eventually I warmed up a bit, and suddenly? I was having the time of my life. There was so much water EVERYWHERE that it was basically like running through a creek then entire 6.5 miles. Just when you got a stretch of dry trail, you would come to a creek crossing that is normally a trickle of water but that day? Full waterfall down the mountain! I crossed some creeks where the water came just below my knees! And I never got colder. A lot of that is due to good gear: wool socks and trails shoes that drain well. And then a lot of it is just that you stay warm when you’re running. SCIENCE!

Either way, the misery never hit and I just had one of the best runs of my life. Not necessarily regarding time, because there are a lot of sections with giant slippery rocks that I had to take slow in the rain, but just the experience as a whole. We had a great group, splashing around on the trails was just so therapeutic, and OH MY GOODNESS…it was just BEAUTIFUL out there. The waterfalls in every creek bed were just breathtaking. Especially when you’ve run those trails a million times and never seen it like that. They were like all new trails to me again!

We have a local running group on Facebook called “We Run Huntsville” and someone visiting town from Birmingham found our run posted and joined us. He asked me to share out the pictures I took so he could make his Birmingham trail running friends jealous! HA!

All in all a great day and a reminder of one of the grandest lessons of running that STILL surprises me on a regular basis: You can actually feel better as your run progresses. There are so many different ways that the first mile can suck, especially as you get older and it starts taking you more miles to warm up. But sometimes…you can actually start to feel BETTER as the run goes on. When I started running I assumed that first mile would be my highest point, and the more miles I ran, the worse I would feel. But I’ve run marathons where mile 4 was harder than mile 22. I’ve done 50Ks where I considered quitting at mile 8 but ended up PR’ing feeling amazing. You just never know. Last year at my 12-hour run I felt like I was getting blisters at mile 15 due to my own stupid mistake. I rectified the mistake and did 37 more miles and never got a blister. I’ve had back issues that have faded away or knee issues that have loosened up.

Sometimes…all it takes is powering through and waiting it out. Sometimes the sun comes up. Sometimes the scenery changes. Sometimes that hip stops bothering you. Sometimes that snack hits the spot and your energy surges. Sometimes you see a friend that gives you the boost of umpf! you needed.

And I still constantly forget this. I still waste valuable energy considering how I’m going to quit in the middle of a run. “Who’s going to take me to my car? Who can I call? Where can I find some ibuprofen and a beer?” But then…some time later I find myself going,

“Wait. Hmmm….I’m feeling better. Why do I always forget that can happen? 4 years in and I still think when I feel crappy the day is over…and it still never is.”

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I drank beer at mile 23. (A Race Report.)

Edited to add – I’m tired. Wes woke up 5 times last night. This report is full of spelling/grammar errors I noticed after I published. Blame my kid.

The Good

RUN LOCAL
I highly recommend running local races because the support you see/feel on the course is unmatchable by ANYTHING ELSE. I didn’t have anyone there specifically cheering for me like I did in 2012…but I had friends there cheering for THEIR family and seeing their faces was FANTASTIC. I also had tons of friend working aid stations and cheer teams and even my sister-in-law who was calling split times. Local races are just ALWAYS the best – especially if you’re active in your running community. It’s just hard not to see at least ONE person you know and you can never believe the boost that gives you.

DRINK BEER
I’ve read about the importance of giving your daughter the talk about not taking open drinks from strangers. Yet…what did I do at mile 23 Saturday? I TOOK A BEER FROM A STRANGER. And it was fantastic. There was a “Cold Beer” sign at miles 7 but I felt that might have been too early…but at mile 23? I was ALL OVER IT. I was torn between thinking it was the BEST thing I had ever tasted (BEER! On a marathon!) and thinking it was the worst (Cheap beer! I’m a beer snob! And it’s a little flat!) but I ended up siding on BEST! EVER! and will most definitely do that again if it’s offered on the home stretch like it was.

ENJOY THE SIGHTS
The new course had tons of great sights. I’ve been hearing mixed reviews on which half people liked the best. The coolest stuff (the Space and Rocket Center) was on the back half…but the gorgeous neighborhoods/houses and most of the crowds were on the front half. I’m not sure where I fall. I love the historic/Twickenham district in our town and I really love the crowds so I think I liked the first half best of all. The day was overcast so I almost wish they had the lights on at the Botanical Gardens, that would have been nice. Overall there was DEFINITELY more “to see” on this course…I’m sure there was anything super-noteworthy on the old course.

ALL RACES SHOULD REVOLVE AROUND ARENAS
The start line by the arena gave us a warm waiting area with bathrooms that weren’t even that crowded. Usually you see lines at port-o-potties but here there were indoor/nice bathrooms and there weren’t even any lines 20 minutes before race start! And then the finish line was inside too, so family and friends had a place to wait sheltered from the elements.

TAKE SOME PICTURES
My marathon selfie challenge was a great success…until my phone died. BUT! For 14’ish miles there were tons of people and sights to take pictures of/with and it kept me quite entertained. I actually had to stop myself from taking more. There were tons of good signs and beautiful houses that first half, but I did have a race to run so I tried to keep it to 2 pictures/mile. I thought about sharing some of my favorite pictures here but my blog gets WAY more “stranger” traffic than my Instagram does because people end up here googling about Bullet Journals. So! To protect those people who don’t want their faces plastered on my blog…just go here to see the pictures I took before my phone died.

The Bad

STUPID BATTERIES
At mile 16 my phone died and I missed taking pictures of the Space and Rocket Center and some great costumes (The Grim Reaper was a split timer!) and some fun signs. I also missed selfies with tons of friends. I spent that back half being really sad about not being able to document the rest of the race.

STUPID ROADS
I don’t know if that loss of my entertainment started my downfall, or if my body just hates road runs, but I started getting the SAME cramps around the SAME point as at 7 Bridges. Around mile 19 or so I started getting those quad twinges which is an alarm for…MAYDAY! MAYDAY! FULL CRAMP AROUND THE CORNER!

It’s basically this weird “zone” where you’re feeling pain, but not a full-fledged cramp, but you know if you make the wrong move (like bending your knee) you could trigger a full-fledged cramp and then you’re going to be on the side of the road crying in pain. And this NEVER happens to me on the trails. NEVER.

SO! For the last 6+ miles I ended up doing this routine of run a bit…feel the pain…walk straight-legged until it loosened up. Then run a bit…feel the pain…walk straight-legged until it loosened up. Now, luckily my “walk” was still relatively fast (although NOT AT ALL SEXY) and my run was decent so I kept a moderate overall pace…but still IT WAS UGLY. And my selfie distraction was gone.

STUPID TEARS
I did the same thing I did at 7 Bridges…I pushed it the last mile+ because I just wanted to be DONE but I was hurting SO BAD that when I crossed the finish line it took everything out of me not to start sobbing. I sobbed at 7 Bridges but no one knew me there…here? Here I was surrounded by some of my favorite people and I did NOT want them to see me cry. I found a hiding place to stretch and fight back tears, and then I found Donnie and Nikki and I said, “I want to go home,” because I had NO desire for my friends to see my cry like a baby. I didn’t eat any food. I didn’t drink any water or beer. I didn’t take any pictures. I didn’t do anything but cross the finish line, do a quick stretch, and get the HELL OUT OF THERE.

I hate that, though, because the finish line was cool. And I didn’t get to take time to enjoy.

The Final Verdict

If my body becomes more receptive to roads? I’ll do this race again. But I think I’d like to play more of a supportive role in the future so I can be there for other people, but not be pounding the pavement myself. That may be my last road marathon for awhile. The trails just make my body so much happier. But overall? Great race. Great sights on the course. Great logistics at the start/finish. And just a great city with a great running community. We’re the best. I promise.