Remember back when I said we had a chance to move to New Hampshire with Donnie’s company but we decided to turn it down and hope he found a job here? One of the many reasons we didn’t want to move is things like the Golden to Death Half Marathon.
Basically, a local running friend (I’ll withhold names because nobody wants their name associated on a blog where I spent years talking about my reproductive nightmares) decided it would be fun to try to run from a neighborhood in South Huntsville to the top of Monte Sano State Park. He figured out a good route that would combine road, powerline cuts, and trails and targeted the half marathon distance when piecing it all together. Then? He invited the rest of the community, and gave it a name. And of course, because we’re all whackjobs desperate for a new challenge, we all agreed.
So, on Saturday morning, about 25 runners started at Grissom High School and made their way up to Monte Sano. I’m referencing these exact points so anyone local can read it and say, “WHAT?” Because, y’all, what we did was damn impressive.
We didn’t take the direct route to the top of the mountain because we wanted A) the half marathon distance and B) to be safe and respectful of the areas we were going through. So! We started out weaving around very familiar roads in South Huntsville. Nothing new, some roads even on the (now old) marathon course. Those first 5 miles were a good easy run leading up to 8 miles of INSANITY basically. Of the 2300′ feet total elevation gain we got on the run? Maybe 100-200 was from that first 5 miles.
Then we hit our first challenge, we traipsed through the backyard of a nice homeowner who had actually given us permission to do just that, and we hit the powerline cuts up the mountain. As far as powerline cuts go, these were quite rough. Lots of giant rocks and foliage to fight, and SO VERY STEEP. We got to a point where another road intersected and someone in our group had placed a cooler of aid for us. (Conveniently, there was a porta-potty there too. Thankfully I didn’t need it.)
Then, we got a tiny bit of reprieve as the powerline cut went down a bit. However, this is only a reprieve if your destination is down, since I knew we still had to go UP to reach our finish line, going down was not as joyful. But, I still enjoyed it and eventually ran a bit of it once I felt more sure on my feet. But, the down didn’t last long before we started the long leg UP UP UP the powerline cut. It was TOUGH and EXHAUSTING but the perk was, whenever you turned around and looked behind you? You got a BEAUTIFUL view of the land we left behind, which is what you see here on my selfie to the left. GORGEOUS.
We finally made it to the top and we were supposed to continue off onto a connecting road but we had all been challenged to go off course and make it close enough to the top where we could actually see the other side. This part was not at all “trail” or even “powerline cut” – it was just bushwhacking of sorts. It was just a short climb but there were tons of briars and some tricky steps/rocks and I found myself thinkingg…This better be worth it! IT WAS! This is the selfie I took of the view on the OTHER side of the mountain. It was beautiful and well-worth my calves being sliced by briars.
We made our way back down and hit a short route through a really nice neighborhood. If any of those people had stepped out their front door to find a constant flow of people coming out of the woods, they might have been a bit concerned. After a small bit of road and a small bit of trails, we made our way to another aid drop. I’ll say this, our group really came together in providing aid. I brought 90oz of fluids and several supplements and sandwiches because I wasn’t sure there would be enough aid and having run out before it is now my WORST NIGHTMARE. But, several runners just brought hand-held water bottles and they did FINE. It was great to see how well-supported this was.
Next came the only part of the course anyone had any complaints about. We had to take a small trip along a curvy road (Monte Sano Blvd for you locals) to get to the next turn off onto the Monte Sano State Park trails. The curves of the road are so that you’re actually safer running WITH traffic (you normally run against) so that you aren’t on the wrong side of a blind curve. It was a bit scary for me – who is high-anxiety around cars anyway, even if I’m driving! I mainly walked so I could stay in the grass/weeds on the side of the road instead of running in the road.
Once we finally got to the Trough Springs Hikers Parking lot I felt like I was home! I got some oranges (another great aid stop!) and hit the trails I know so well. It was gorgeous running through the trails this time of year because I usually see them bare in the winter. It was almost foreign to me, it looked so different! Even in two weeks since the stage race things looked different! Luckily, the horseflies weren’t bad like they were two weeks ago and we never saw one snake. This meant I got to enjoy the beauty of trails in the Spring without the misery of the bugs and snakes.
About mile 10-11 I started really feeling zapped. I was probably walking more than I normally would have and stopped at every stream I could to stand in the cold water for a bit to sooth my feet. We finally made it to Death Trail (the end) and I couldn’t BELIEVE how different that trail looked even after just two more weeks of Spring. I don’t think the beauty is enough to get me out in the summer and risk seeing snakes regularly, but I’m glad I’ve gotten out a bit this Spring to see everything look so very different. I think Death Trail was the most shocking because you can’t see anything behind you now, when normally you can see the rest of the group on the zig-zags up or down the hill.
Anyway! We came to our finish at the top of McKay Hollow/Death Trail and completed our 13.5 mile/2300+ ft run for the day! Then we all gathered for a picnic on the mountain with our family and friends who couldn’t make the run. It was a GREAT day. The organizer even gave us sticker which I will gladly put on my next bullet journal!
That’s why we couldn’t leave this community. We had an extremely well supported and HIGHLY challenging road/trail run that wasn’t sponsored or timed and there were no registration fees. I love it!