October 6, 2013

Birmingham Stage Race 2013: three days, three mountains, 53 miles

These three races scared the compression gear off of me when I saw them on the race schedule. So quick overview: three days, three races, three mountains, 53 miles. Even though the 53 miles of trails were split over three days, it still felt daunting that I would have to intentionally wake up three mornings in a row for racing. If you are like me, one day of racing is exhausting, with the full-throttle adrenaline and bathroom visits alone, but then you add the actual running into that. Holy salomons, it's a lot of activity.

Just so you know, I almost didn't write about this, but you have to know. Or you might want to skip to the next paragraph. So I have a, ahem, friend who said that they get the nervous runs before races. TMI, right?! Now imagine if that was every day for three days in a row. Forget water loss during the race sweating, the nervous dumps alone are going to cause significant dehydration. I'm sorry, but my friend really thought you should know. Always prepared. Which I always want to say in Russian. Vsegda gotov!

Registration: In case you live in the area, you can sign up for this entire series of races all at once, which I totally recommend. First, you save money doing that, always a nice bonus. Second, I love these race directors so much. Like so much that I want to adopt them and/or pay them to come spread their sunshine-y niceness at my house every morning for breakfast. They're a husband-wife team of awesomeness who are out there because they love it. Like seriously love it. Plus it really feels like they love us, which is weird because the only thing we've ever done for them is give them sweaty hugs and forget to say thank you as we fumble around aid stations with delirious race brain.

Stage 1: Moss Rock Preserve, 16 miles

Before this race, I had only been to Moss Rock Preserve one time with my brother, which ended like this.


We got lost and had to escape through the middle school sports complex. Before The Great Escape, we had run for about two hours and covered maybe 5 miles. We just kept hitting "dead ends" and weren't sure how to make all the little trails connect into something fit for a longer run. 

Turns out that David Tosch, race director/trail master, will not be stopped by a "dead end." We took some routes that I didn't know existed. In fact, they did not exist before this race. We scaled boulders, jumped trees, skipped over rocks, got lost on pine-straw hidden trails, hiked power line trails, and sailed across creeks. You know it's going to be a fun race when within the first mile, the race director has attached a rope to help you climb something. 

Birmingham crew on day one.

We made two loops to get in our mileage, and by the end I was weary. Within the last mile, I tripped and face planted twice because my legs were so exhausted, and that was with me "saving my energy" for day two and three. On the first nose dive, both calves cramped simultaneously as I ate dirt. I had to crawl on my hands and knees to work out the cramps before I could even partially stand up. Then it was a slow, crooked trot until the cramp worked itself out. 

Before (and possibly the cause of) the cramping. Photo by mruns.com.

Somehow, after I finished the race, I saw people emerging from the woods who were definitely faster than me during the race, and I never passed them. Turns out that following directions was a big determining factor in this race. Several of the runners got lost, and I was one of them for a few minutes on the first loop. The place I got lost had loads of pine straw covering the trail -- so much so that I couldn't see where the trail led. I just slowly walked around in circles until I could find the next flag. It was mentally defeating to have people catching up to you because you couldn't figure out the directions, but it was better than getting lost solo. 

Going out for another loop, hoping not to get lost. Photo by mruns.com.

Moss Rock wins the award for most technical course by far. Was it the hilliest? No. Was it the hardest? Yes. For me. My legs were just worn out by all the jumping, scaling, tripping, and sliding through the obstacle course of a race. Who needs Tough Mudders when you have Moss Rock? 

Race chain. Photo by mruns.com.

My time: 3:07, 11th overall, 1st lady.

Stage 2: Red Mountain, 17 miles



This course was trail heaven for our legs and ankles that had gotten really beat up at Moss Rock the day before. There was still some single track, but not enough to kill you off. Plus the hills were fairly mild, compared to the first and last day. We were also joined by a fresh crew of people who have a life on weekdays (i.e. they did not run the Friday morning race).

I was praying that my compression shorts, ice bath, compression socks, tart cherry juice and voodoo herbs did the trick of healing my body overnight. If you look closely in this pic (below), you can still see the lines from my compression shorts that I wore all day and night. My legs didn't start out overly sore, but they were definitely fatigued from Moss Rock.

Downing some pre-race energy juice. Photo by David Christy.

My husband was out of town for the weekend, so my friends helped out with the two older kids while Amory visited his family in Kentucky with the twins. Shout out to Mary and Diane who made running through the weekend possible. Thank you so much!!!

Woohoo for friends! Photo by David Christy.

I can't think of a single part of this course that I didn't like. We started an hour earlier than the day before, and the 8 a.m. go time made a positive weather difference. The temps were low and felt refreshing compared to our recent blazing fall temps.


The course was a double loop that headed up to an overlook of Birmingham that you have seen in many a blog pic here because it is a spot we run to on our weekly Red Mtn. runs. It was nice running trails that I know and not fearing that I would get lost. And even if I did, I knew how to get back on track. That's an unusual feeling for me because I chronically have no clue where I am going, even when I have been on trails dozens of times. 


The most challenging part of the course was the second half of the loop that takes you off the wide dirt roads onto single track. Even though there are some significant ups and downs on the single track, the better part of it is runnable and even fun. Weird that running is sometimes fun. 

There was one aid station for the race at the halfway point, so I was glad I had my pack for fluids, even though I didn't stop to fill it up. I had to keep reminding myself to eat and drink because the cooler weather gives you a false sense of hydration, especially after so many months of training in the heat. 

I barely ate any real (meaning solid) food during these three races. I stuck to Hammer gels, Shot Bloks, Heed, water, and flat coke. I also filled up my pack every morning with Ignite Naturals powder and water. Ignite is a healthier version of Gatorade made from real foods, and they do not use artificial sweeteners even though their powder has a great taste and is low calorie. Not that calorie count matters during a stage race, but for everyday use, it's interesting to note. I wouldn't have minded more calories for the stage race, but I used Ignite because I wanted the electrolytes in a more natural form. 

Thankful to see the aid station. Photo by mruns.com.

After I lost my chain of people during the first loop, music became my race mentor. My favorite song from this race was Die Antwoord's Enter The Ninja. If you haven't ever listened to them, warning: it will be some of the funkiest, spookiest, most ninja-est South African rap you have heard, ever. 


For the spookiest part, check out this video. Be prepared to be disturbed if you click that link. 

Oh, right, running. Back to that.

I wanted to catch up with the guy in front of me on my way to the finish line, but I knew it would be stupid to push too hard with one really big day of racing left.

But as a happy consolation prize, my kids were at the finish line to run it in with me.


And now for my favorite picture from a race, ever. Kids can be pretty cool.


Worst mistake of day two: wearing that racerback tank. Still sporting some nice burn marks on my back from the Camelbak vs. skin. Even though I body glided up that morning, my back still took a beating.

My time: 3:05, 13th overall, 2nd lady.

Stage 3: Oak Mountain, 20 miles

This was the morning that I woke up from dreaming all night that my legs were too sore to move and that I was battling attack cobras (why cobras? I don't know) with an ax from the tip of a sinking ship. So, yeah, dreams are a reflection of real life.

My legs didn't want to wake up that third day, but I forced them. I knew that just making it to the start line would get them going again.

All the racers at the start. Photo by mruns.com.

By day three, we were feeling like a little family. Especially in the way that your family sees you at your worst. We were all just trying to survive, except for the few (I'm talking to you, Ryan!) who were looking all too fresh, perky, and happy because they were only running one day. Or if you are Olivia, who can run three days and still look perky.

Me and Olivia, my Resolute Running teammate and ultra queen.

So here's the shock of this race for me. Even though my legs woke up tired and sore, they felt better during this race than the other two. I didn't have a single cramp or significant fall for the entire 20 miles, which is kind of a miracle for me.



I tried to hang on with Debbie, the girl who won the day before, as long as I could, but she was just too much of a warrior on the inclines for me to hang with her. I lost sight of her and everyone else about halfway into the race, so I had a 10-mile solo journey. Here's a secret: I like people and hanging around them. Classic extrovert. But there is something really special about turning inward for parts of a long trail run. It's like you're giving your soul a big hug and a back rub, and as much as I love running with friends, I realize that I need that solo time every once in a while to recharge my inner ninja. 

At one point when I was hiking up Shackleford Point Trail, I got pretty loopy from the oxygen debt. I was most likely talking to myself, and I was definitely trying to catch lizards to be my friends for the remainder of the race. I would swipe at the air around them with my fumbly, tired hands, attempting to catch them. My feeble attempts would have been too slow and awkward to catch an injured sloth, but in my oxygen-deprived mind, it was worth a shot. 

Also, I celebrated the summit of Shackleford about five different times, arms raised and chest open to the wind, feeling victorious, only to turn around and realize that I was not actually at the top yet. Again. You can never celebrate life too much on a trail run, especially when you are by yourself and no one can see your repeated goofiness.

At the (actual) top, I saw a hiker walking in the opposite direction and asked him if he was a mirage. He never answered that question (although he did offer some other perfunctory greeting), so I'm just going to assume that confirms he was, in fact, not real. 

Yeah, it got weird up there. But the last few miles were all downhill, and I have never felt more happy about running in my life. No exaggeration. I knew I was almost to the end, and running felt easy and pure and free. Downhills have that effect. 


I even felt good enough to do toe touches without cramping at the finish line. Seriously, I can't even do toe touches on a normal day, so I don't know what was up with that. Post-stage-race endorphins in full effect there.



My time: 4:12, 11th overall, 2nd lady.

Even though the runner-mom-rockstar Debbie beat me on day two and three, I still got awarded first overall for the three-day race because she didn't run day one.

Mindy, Lisa, Sally -- the top three ladies. Photo by mruns.com.

And here are the top three dudes. Special shout out to my runner buddy Michael, who finally decided to race something instead of just chilling out with us slower folks.

Travis, Michael, Jake.

Best thing I wore: double bras every day to store things in between without chaffing my lady chest regions. Maybe I need to buy this bra with a pocket I saw the other day on The Clymb. Also, I washed my lucky Swiftwick socks every day to wear again. It might help to buy another pair eventually. Plus I was really digging the Oiselle rogas (my shorts) every day. They are light and airy, stretchy galore, and don't chafe -- triple threat.

Best food: I loved the challenge of trying to recover three days in a row, and I ate like a champ, keeping it clean every day with eggs, quinoa, salsa, spinach, fruit shakes, sweet potatoes, and my magic oatmeal. So the best part was hitting up the burger joint after the last race. Get in my mouth, you glutenous, beefy, cheese wad from heaven.


What I would do different next time: make sure my husband wasn't going out of town the weekend of the stage race. Mom duty does not leave time for much needed post-race naps. But it was Amory's grandma's 90th birthday, so that trumps racing any day. How many 90 year olds do you know? And how many of them are on Facebook? Yup, she is. As if she wasn't rad enough without being on Facebook, but that just intensifies the rad-ness.

Most surprising element: how great my legs felt on and after day three. My legs were almost not even sore at all. I guess over the three days, my body worked out the lactic acid or got more efficient at removing it quickly. I didn't run this week because I tweaked my foot a little during the last few miles of the last day, and I wanted to give it time to fully heal. But if it wasn't for that, I could have easily started running on Monday. That was shocking to me!