June 1, 2014

Memorial Day Trail Race 2014: Hills Bells

If this was your first trail race (which it was for some) and you loved it (which they swore they did), you are meant to run trails. The Memorial Day Trail Race gives you the extremes of trail running, meaning you're mostly going straight up or straight down. If you make it through that yo-yo of a course and are still in love, you are to trails like chocolate is to peanut butter, specifically in a Reese's Cup format. 

Thanks, Dean T., for this trail's elevation profile.

I knew it was going to be a little of an off day (queue my excuses dialogue) when I somehow missed the exit on my drive to Oak Mountain. My husband was out of town for the weekend, so I scheduled a baby sitter to come over and help with the kids during the race. She got there nice and early, which I had arranged because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't late to the race. So much for extra time gained by advanced planning. I managed to waste it all by driving ten miles past the exit.

Starting line huddle.

When I got there, I had about ten minutes to hit the toilets, always a pre-race must, and run over (I'm counting that as my warm-up jog) to pick up my bib. Because the lines were long for the restroom, I took it to the woods instead. This is way of the trails. 

Starting line panorama. 

At least I had my shoes on. I recall people lining up to start the Run for Kids 12-Hour, and I still hadn't decided which shoes to strap on my feet. So I wasn't totally unprepared at the start. 

Pre-race. When it still felt easy to be happy.

But before I even had time to mill through the crowd and chat with a handful of people, it was time to start. Off to the woods we went. I felt good on the first loop, promising myself not to push too hard on the uphills, so 50% of the race (see chart above). 

This course is two 6-mile loops, so you know what you're getting into the second time around. There are definitely portions of this course that don't even look like an actual trail. 

Thanks, Ima B., for these trail pics!

Take a left ahead -- up the boulders.

This one takes some scrambling for sure. 

This is a race that teaches you that hiking uphill can be as/more challenging than running. On the second time around, I could start to feel the effects of the heat. I was having trouble catching my breath and just feeling slightly light headed on the climbs. At yoga class the day before, we had used some mantras during class that I started to use at the race. They were something about loving the world and sending out peace to the universe, but those quickly got tossed out the mantra window when all I could think about was my breathing struggle. So I changed my mantra to reflect that. Every inhale I said "big lungs," as if by saying that I could force them to expand to meet my increased oxygen demands. On every exhale, I said "efficient heart." At the time I was sure that this mantra would help trick my body into working the way that I wanted it to. Turns out that it takes more than mantras to expand your lung capacity, but it did give me something to focus on the last half of the race.

In the struggle zone near the finish line. Picture by David Christy Photography.

Finish time 2:28, 5th female, 20th overall.

Pretending that I feel like smiling. Picture by David Christy Photography.

So I learned that I still need to work on acclimating to the heat, or I've learned that I just don't excel in running in the heat. Also, after some very basic Google research, I've concluded that you are more susceptible to episodes of heat stroke and heat exhaustion after experiencing it once. Here's a good read that includes that idea. That is what I would have assumed, but I'm hoping that through training, I can overcome some of that. Study of one about to commence.

But I recovered completely normally after the race, no lingering out-of-it-ness.

Bob and me post race. Picture by David Christy Photography.

The rest of my weekend alone with the four kids ended a lot like I felt in the second loop of this race: wanting to be passed out on the ground.

Passed out on the grass from fun: actual event of the weekend.

To do before this race: hill repeats. As many as you can eat for breakfast, and it still might not be enough.

Overview: Do this race if you are looking for a hilly trail challenge before the deep heat of summer sets in. Refer to Hotter 'n Hell if you want the full heat challenge that Alabama summers can provide.