May 7, 2013

Trail Running Festival 5K at Ruffner Mountain

The Trail Running Festival at Ruffner Mountain is, first off, a great deal. You can run a 5K, 10K, 15K or 8 hours for only $30. I can barely get half a tank of gas for $30, which means that maybe I should just run, literally, more of my errands.

Back to this race. I had a super busy day scheduled with the twins turning four years old and partying it up at the park with them. Think squirt guns and lots of kids rolling in dirt and cake -- it was the best kind of fun to have at a park, very far from any area that I am responsible for mopping. We kept our fingers crossed all day long that the rain would hold for the party. The only logical conclusion is that crossing your fingers works because it didn't rain, our house was spared being mobbed by tiny people, and everyone (aka me) was happy about that.

That also meant that we had a rain-free day for racing, which was especially helpful for the superstars who ran for eight hours. The weather was in the 60s at the race start, so it was a pretty ideal day for a short race, not as great for the people running 30-40 miles.

In case you are like me and are new to time races, here's how it works. Basically they run as far as they can in eight hours. I think they had a few different routes (like the 5K, 10K and 15K) they could choose from, and every time they crossed back by the finish line, they would check in and tell them which distance they ran. Whoever gets the most miles for the day wins.

Because of my family obligations that day, I needed to run the shortest distance and scram immediately after the finish, so I opted for the 5K. Short and fun, and my one goal was to not stop running.

Getting there: Even though Ruffner Mountain is in my town, this was my first time running there. I got directions from a friend, and I'm glad I did because my GPS was not taking me to the same spot as far as I could tell. Once you get close, there are signs that point you in the right direction. We parked along the street leading up to the race start and walked up a short hill. My only advice here is to maybe carpool with someone who has already been there. That way you can save parking spots (there are some) and not get lost.

Pre-race: I got there early that day so that I could volunteer. Vanessa Stroud, the race director (check out her book), is also one of my Alabama Outdoors teammates. She's very, extremely, and awesomely organized, so helping out that morning was easy. We checked people in and helped them with their race packets. It was fun to meet all the people I'd be running with before the race.

Source: Resolute Running

I also got to meet one of the ladies who ran Mercedes with me. When I say ran with me, I mean that she was a stranger who I ran behind and with whom I tried to keep up. You know how some people become your goal people during a race. Like, if I can just keep this random person in my sights, I'll feel good about this race. At mile 18 or so, I was really hoping that I could hang with her, but she was running so strong that I just couldn't keep up. She ended up finishing about five minutes ahead of me (I think!). If you're reading this, my Mercedes friend, feel free to make any corrections to my loose interpretation of events. Honestly, I have a hard time remembering where I put my phone two seconds ago, so February is like a foggy forgotten city to me. But it is clear in my mind that she kept me fighting during a portion of that race, and I'm so glad she was there!

Some of my Resolute Running training pals were there too. Every time I turn around these two are at the trails again, which I'm pretty sure means they are converted. If you could get baptized into trail running, they would be getting dunked soon.

Vann, Lisa, Becca

And our rogi (like yogi, but for running) was there. Why do I always look like a goofy ten year old next to him in pictures? Alex, could you at least take a little courtesy bend at the knee next time we take a picture together? Or I'll find a stool.

Lisa and Coach Alex

The 8-hour crew gathered around early to get their instructions from Vanessa, who is the tiny lady in the white shirt standing against the wall. They were starting at 7 a.m. versus the 8 a.m. start for the shorter distances.

The course: The 5K, 10K and 15K started together, and of the 600+ feet of elevation gain in the 5K, almost 200 of them were the very start of the race. Basically I lost my breath on that first hill and never really caught it again. 

The course was fun with lots of twisting and turning and ups and downs on single track. We ran through a little rock quarry that looked like the perfect place for a family picnic. As always, I had my poison ivy radar on, and it was getting some heavy readings on the trails, but so far so good. I wore my tall socks to help lower my chances of getting any on my legs. 

Source: David Christy Photography

There was one water stop for the 5K, but we passed by it twice. I don't recall stopping at all so I can't even begin to tell you what was available.

This course measured 4.1 on my Garmin, but I will say that once it hit 3.5, I just knew I had gone the wrong direction so I turned around and tried to find another way back. Not my brightest move. Eventually I got back on the trail and to the finish line. If they do the same course next year, just know that it is closer to 4 miles than 3.1, so don't freak out when your watch goes way over 3.1 and the end is nowhere in sight. 

My race: I really just wanted to run this as fast and as hard as I could and without walking. Based on my oblique soreness (I'm guessing from the twists and turns, especially on the downhill) the next day, I know I pushed it out on the course, which is always a good feeling. If I'm not sore the day after a big race, I know that I need to push harder next time. 

From the start of the race, I took off and didn't look back. I have a horrible sense of direction, so the fact that I was in the front of the group was slightly unnerving. Not really bad, but it did require me to pay more attention to what I was doing instead of just looking at the shoes of the person in front of me. What can I say -- I like to follow.

Everything was going according to plan until I looked down at my Garmin, and it read 3.5 or so for my distance. Wait, isn't this race only supposed to be 3.1 miles?! And that's when things went cuckoo. Like I said above, I just knew I had done something wrong, so that's when I pulled the whole, let's see if we get off this clearly marked path and figure out how to really get back. With getting off course and then back on again, I had no idea what happened while I was off course, so it kind of brought my eager race spirits down. You can see the huge dip in my speed, when I was like, forget it. I'm going to walk these hills if I want to. And that's exactly what happened. True story. 

So I didn't really reach my goal of not walking at all, but I did cross the finish in first place overall for the 5K. I was so excited that I made this face. Well, not really, this was earlier in the race, but I wish I had saved that face for the finish line.

Source: David Christy Photography

Swag: I loved the shirts for this race! If you are in a race where they are giving out these North Face shirts, be aware that they run a little small. This size medium measures the same as the Brooks small that I got at this race. The color of these shirts is perfect, and I love the simple design on the front. They are also light, as in not too thick and good for the muggy summer air that will eventually be gagging us all summer long here in Birmingham.

For the distance winners, they gave out wooden plaques that match the shirt's design, which is actually the park's logo. 

One of my favorite ideas from this race is how they pinned the bib to the outside of the race packet with your extra safety pins hooked in for you. So smart, and it makes packet pickup so easy.

Such a smart idea!

Overview: If you haven't run these trails yet, you have to check them out. They are tough but not impossible. This race is well organized, and there are some great little hikes to take your kids on after the race if they want to come watch you finish and then go for a picnic. For the price, you cannot beat this race, and all proceeds go to help upkeep the trails!

Have you ever run a trail 5K? It's a lot harder to give it everything like 5Ks require when you're out on the trails.

Have you been lost during a race before? Looking back, it's funny, but at the time, I'll admit that I was just a smidge freaked out that I would totally screw up the shortest trail distance possible. And that would be lame.