After my death march of a marathon at Rocket City, I was ready to just feel decent during a run, any run. So when I set off to Coldwater Mountain 9.6, my master plan was to A. not fall 100 times like during my most recent trail race and B. feel happy. Spoiler alert: I kicked that plan’s butt. I only fell once (slightly miraculous), and if I was dating running, I would have asked it to marry me at the end of this race. That’s just how much love was going on between me and running during this one.
Travel: Heading to Anniston from Birmingham, we met up at 5:30 a.m. for carpool, and we had more than enough time to pick up another runner and get to the mountain way before the race start. We definitely could have pushed our meeting time to 6:30 and made the 8:30 start. There was no traffic, and the mountain was super easy to navigate to from the interstate.
Pre-race: Check-in was easy and not crowded at all. I think Dirty Spokes held this race to around 200 entrants because of the limited parking space available at the top of the mountain. Because we were some of the first people there, we parked right by the check-in tents. Probably about ten cars could fit in the gravel lot, alongside the race tents and port-o-potties. Then the rest of the cars had to line the street heading down to the trail entrance. I’d be interested to know how far away some people had to park.
Because of our early arrival we had plenty of time to talk about the course with people in the know, visit with other Birmingham folks, and meet some of the Anniston crowd.
Coach Alex made it out to the race too. More on this later, but Alex is my new running coach. I'm looking forward to some refreshing new changes in my schedule. One bonus I've already found since joining up with him for training: group speed work!
|Lisa and Coach Alex from Resolute Running|
Look who else made it. Born to Run sandals guy.
This is another no-frills race, where you get your shirt, some Power Bar products and your bib when you check in. It makes me so happy to not have a giant stack of ads to immediately throw into recycling when I get home. And because we parked so close, we could head straight over to throw our goodies into the car.
There were four port-o-potties, plenty for the number of people there. During my 50 trips to the toilet, I had to wait a total of about 10 seconds to use the bathroom. Ahh, the perks of a small race. And they had a hand-washing station. Eating my pre-race snack usually doesn’t feel as sanitary. No wonder I’m always getting sick after races.
After they called us to the start line, it felt like four forevers before we started. Maybe I’m usually too busy rudely talking to listen to the start announcer, so I’m not used to hearing every word they say. It was a slow clock play-by-play. OK, now you have 1 minute 30 seconds. OK, now 1 minute 15 seconds. OK, now 56 seconds. But we started right on time. Kudos, race director!
Swag: The shirts at the last two Dirty Spokes races I’ve been to have been a different color depending on which size you choose, and they are now making them gender specific so I can actually wear them for working out and not just when I’m nine months pregnant.
This time it was the purple word power for the win. P.S. I really like the v-neck shirts.
At the finish of this race, they didn’t hand out medals to all the participants, but you received a medal if you placed in your age group. The top three overall for men and women also got an additional bag of goodies. Think lifetime (or at least a year) supply of Power Bar gel. And such.
If you placed in your age group, you still got a high five with your medal, which I actually prefer to anything Power Bar. Sorry, Power Bar. I’m sure millions of people all over the world love you like I can’t.
Course: This trail is set up for mountain biking, and even though I don’t really bike, I could see how all of the ups and downs would be really fun on a bike. On foot, it was still fun too, but if you visit, be prepared for lots of small dips and bumps in the path. Not super technical dips and bumps, but A LOT of them. Kind of like the trail version of speed bumps.
The start of the race was awkward and bottle-necked almost immediately. We started on the paved road leading to the trail, and we didn’t have enough time to thin out before we hit the narrow trail entrance. It was a very slow jog at the start, and I started close to the front. But I started on the left side when we were turning immediately right to get on the trail.
We maybe could have eliminated some of the bottle-necking by starting farther down the road so that the crowd has a chance to self sort before we hit the trail. Maybe next year it can be Coldwater 9.8.
Some people who knew the trail well told us before the start that it was up for the first four miles, then down for four miles, and then up to the end, and they were pretty much right on. The first two miles of up didn’t really feel too tough, maybe because of the slow pace with the bottle-necking. On miles 2-4, I started to feel the burn and hope for mercy on the downhill.
And man did the trail liberally dole out the mercy. Miles 4-8(ish) were very downhill. Sometimes downhills feel slight to me, but these were big, making it easy to just slingshot down the things.
Somewhere in this downhill portion, the curtain of trees parted and let out a pretty awesome view of the surrounding forest below the trail. Bring your camera for this one cause it’s a looker. I was too focused on not breaking my no-falling streak to take pictures, but I kind of regret that now.
And as promised, it was uphill for the last mile or so. The switchbacks made it bearable, but it felt kind of cruel after all that downhill-ness.
The course was well marked with frequent arrows and mile markers, and they taped off any additional trail entrances, making it pretty impossible to take a wrong turn.
The only water stops were in the second and ninth miles. It wasn’t a hot day, but I still think if I hadn’t brought my own handheld, that not enough water would definitely have negatively affected my race. They do tell you about the water stops on the race site, so you can plan to bring your own if you need more water. It would be nice to have one more water stop between those two, or instead of the one at the end. By the time you get to mile 9, it seems a little pointless to take a water break. I mean, a few more steps and you’re at the finish-line donut table anyway. Our guess was that they planned it that way to two-for-one the water stop with the shorter race. There was a 2.4 race that started with the 9.6 racers.
Side note: this park is slated to open up over 80 miles of trails. You will want to mark this one on your map for your ultra training.
My race: Because of the bottle-neckiness at the race start, I knew that I was going to have to put on my big girl britches and start passing people soon. If you’ve read my other trail race reports, you know that pacing on narrow trails is one of my weak points. Luckily these trails weren’t too narrow, and the pace was slow enough at the start that I felt completely comfortable making a move.
After what felt to me like a lot of passing, I caught up with some runners I knew from previous trail races, and I knew that I would be good hanging with their pace for a while. At the first water stop, I kept going, passing a few more people who were stopped.
When I got to the downhill, I knew that this is where I needed to make my big (it’s all relative) move. So I just started passing as much as I could. Eventually I caught up with Kristie, who placed first in our age group in our most recent race together. We still had quite a bit of downhill left at that point, and I probably should have tried to pass here, to take advantage of the downs. Because I’m so short with decent (meaning not injured) knees, the downhills are a really great place for me to get in some faster splits, but I wanted to play it a little conservative since I hadn’t really run much since the marathon. I knew hanging with Kristie would be a good bet for pacing myself. Even though I wore my watch, I didn't look at my pace at all during the race -- on purpose so that I would have fun and use my gut instead of my watch to make decisions.
I still had some hope that I could make a move during the last half mile if I stayed close enough to Kristie.
Well, you know what they say about hindsight. As soon as we bottomed out and started our final uphill climb, I fell, and it was a big one, even for me. I still have scabs and bruises on my hip and knee. Road rash! The dirt was pretty packed with some loose gravel on top, so when I treated the ground like a slip-n-slide, it wasn’t as forgiving as some other trails. Ouch. I ran for about a half mile before I even noticed that a giant leaf (the size of my face) was stuck in my compression sock. The drag on that thing alone probably slowed me down 10 seconds over the last mile.
My goal went from making a move to maintaining my position to the end. Haley, another fast momma I met at this race, was just behind us on the trail, and at one point she yelled out that she could see me. Ahhh, she was coming for me, and it lit a fire under me to keep moving and not laze it out (which I do too often) on that last climb.
|Lisa, Haley, Kristie|
I finished out with no more falls and a time of 1:23:41, fifth woman overall and second in my age group.
My gear: I tried out some new shoes for this race, the New Balance WT1010.
I loved the balance of solid grip, low drop, and cushion in these shoes. Last I checked in on trail shoes I was deciding between these shoes and the New Balance WT110. The other shoe seemed to fit more snugly in the heel when I tried them on in the store, but when I readjusted the laces for the 1010s the heel fit plenty snug, which is what I wanted.
The laces are pretty darn long, so it took a little lace tying experimentation to get them just right. On the advice of one of my Alabama Outdoors teammates, I tied them like normal, then took all of the laces and knotted them over each other again. Then I tucked any extra shoelace into the crossed laces on the front of the shoe.
They also have ample room in the toe box. Downhills were not a problem at all for my toes. No smashing or jamming against the front of the shoe.
Because these shoes don’t come with a traditional liner, I experienced some blistering under my big toe, an unusual place for me to blister. If you are sensitive to blistering, you can remedy this by adding your own insert, just something to protect your toes from the shoe seams.
I loved the lightness of these on the trail. I never felt any extra drag from my shoes, but they gripped the trails like a champ.
In my current trail rotation, I already have some Salomon XR Missions which are really beefy higher-drop shoes with heavy duty cushion, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have the New Balance Minimus 10, that are very minimal without a rock plate and not much cushion. These New Balance WT1010s are the perfect marriage of a lower profile shoe that still has enough beef (rock plate and cushion) to protect you from the trail. In other words, exactly what I was looking for. I want to feel the trail, but I don’t want my feet to get overly bruised by rocks and roots.
And I don’t want to trip. I’m not sure if this is something I can always blame on a shoe (though I will try), but I was able to stay significantly more upright in these shoes. Bonus.
Overall: Cost is $30 to register. Small, organized race with a well-marked course. Plus four miles of downhill to make you feel like a rockstar. With the slated opening of over 80 miles of trails, hopefully we can look to Coldwater for upcoming longer trail races.