|My single decent race photo, for reasons that will become obvious later in this post.|
Last time I raced at Oak Mountain, it was in delightful early spring weather, I was in marathon shape, and I won second overall female. This race was a bit different, in that I am still coming back from a spring injury that required about six weeks of physical therapy and rehab. (You can go ahead and skip the rest of this paragraph if that kind of thing bores or bums you out, sorry!) Although the injury itself was progressive, the moment I realized I was well and truly hurt came on March 21. The next week, I managed two miles total, a lot of swimming, and a referral to an orthopedic sports clinic. I started PT on May 4. After that, I was pretty much on the treadmill for some short and flat runs, in the pool, working PT like it was my second job, and taking some tentative weekly "test runs" on outdoor routes. On May 16, I finally had a decent eight-mile outdoor run at a snail's pace and decided I would start building mileage back up. All of that takes me to...
After I sat out (and volunteered at) my club's famous Statute2Statue 15k, I decided that I would do whatever it took to be able to run Peavine Falls from start to finish without pain. Seven weeks out, I decided to just work on building total weekly mileage, do everything my PT told me to, and listen to my body. That's it. The seven weeks before the race looked like this:
Week 1: 12 miles (4 treadmill, 8 outdoor), 2 weight training sessions
Week 2: 21.9 miles (4.2 treadmill, 17.7 outdoor), 1 weight training session, cycling class
Week 3: 25.3 miles (5 treadmill, 20.3 outdoor), 1 weight training session
Week 4: 23.5 miles (5 treadmill, 18.5 outdoor), 1 weight trainins session, cycling class
Week 5: 26.9 miles (all outdoor), cycling class
Week 6: 24.6 miles (all outdoor), 3 weight training sessions, cycling class
Week 7: 25 miles (9.2 treadmill, 15.8 outdoor), 1 weight training session after the race
I see the greatest improvements in my pace when I focus on building mileage, especially in the form of longer aerobic runs. And I found myself in a place where I desperately needed to rebuild aerobic capacity. So that's all I focused on. My longest "long" run prior to the race was 11.6 miles on June 20. I didn't go into the race expecting to race hard, win my age group, or even appear reasonably fit to the other runners around me. My goals were to 1) run as much of the race as possible, 2) at or close to a 9:15 pace, 3) with my hip intact, and 4) be prepared to shut it down at the first sign of pain.
The race is run primarily on the old gravel road up to the Peavine Falls overlook on Oak Mountain. It starts at the Dogwood Picnic Pavilion, which has a lot of parking, a large playground, a covered patio, and bathrooms. As with most of the Birmingham Track Club-sponsored events, there is race day registration, and a huge number of people show up and register at the last minute. The race starts at 7:00am, and runners head directly up the winding Peavine Falls Road, which is older asphalt and pea gravel.
|Plan view from Strava.|
The steepest section begins about 1.2 miles in, and there is an aid station 1.8 miles from the start. The turnaround point is at 3.7 miles, where there is a second aid station and runners are directed down the same way they came up. At about mile 6.5, the course turns onto a section of singletrack trail that covers some rolling terrain back to the pavilion.
|Elevation profile, my pace superimposed.|
You can view my race on Strava if you'd like. I finished in 1:15:16, which was good enough for 28/178 women and 5th in my age group. It's probably apparent that this race was poorly attended by women in the 30+ age groups.
The night before the race, one of my track club buddies texted me and said he had decided to run the race, and had managed to snag a bib from another (female) runner. We made loose plans to meet near the start and look for a few other friends. As I debated whether to wear a full shimmel or just a bra top, I saw the rainy weather forecast for the first time. I left my house around 5:45 to drive the 20 miles to Oak Mountain. The moment I pulled out of my garage, I knew the weather was going to be a problem.
As I drove over Red Mountain, there was a torrential downpour and I had to pull over under an overpass. My phone started alarming with a National Weather Service advisory for all-day flash flooding in the area. I just kept driving and hoping for the best. By the time I parked, it had turned into a steady, light rain. I found my friends and said my hellos while we waited for the start. There was some debate about where we should line up, as this is a gun-timed race with no starting mat. We found a compromise about four rows back and I started up my music. The weather was looking wet but decent as the gun went off.
|Photo from MRuns.com|
1) 8:41 (+16 feet)
2) 10:09 (+287 feet)
3) 9:54 (+141 feet)
4) 9:18 (-38 feet)
5) 9:06 (-2 feet)
6) 8:10 (-248 feet)
7) 9:07 (-101 feet)
8) 10:12 (-54 feet)
For the first mile, I ran a comfortable pace with my friends and didn't check my watch. Once the climb started, I found my own pace and worked to maintain a very steady and controlled stride. I ran past the first aid station just as the rain started to pick up. Once my watch said 2.2 miles, I really started to feel the incline.
Then, just past mile three, another downpour began. The sky was black, and it was like buckets of water were being dumped over our heads. At that same moment, I saw the very fastest guys hit the turnaround point and start bombing back down toward us. The rain had become so completely ridiculous by that point that I felt actual jealousy that they were able to run away from the heavier rain at the top of the mountain while I had to run deeper and deeper into the storm.
I finally saw the top, along with the track club photographer who snapped the photo at the top of this post. Apparently, I was still running with a smile on my face, and I believe that is an excellent representation of some major flaws in my character. My shoes were full of rainwater, my shorts had become plastered to my body in an extremely revealing manner, and my headphones were shorting out. At the turnaround, I reached into the baggie of candy corn I was carrying in my front pocket and found just a plastic pouch full of syrupy orange rainwater and grit. After slowing only long enough to chug a cup of Powerade, I took off back down the hill. I quickly developed some additional goals for the race: 5) don't get hit by lightning, 6) don't slip and fall, and 7) don't let that woman in the Hokas pass me.
|Survival: a visual representation with heart rate data.|
I went into this race having read some blogs and Strava comments about the fact that Peavine Falls is a major cardiovascular challenge. A few of my Strava buddies have logged their highest recorded heart rates during this race. Once I downloaded my watch data, I was pleased to see that my heart spent the front half of the race in Burn The Bitch Down mode (a/k/a 183-190 BPM). I can't say it felt amazing, but I feel like I was able to stay relaxed and in control. I still had enough juice left to regain my composure and head back down the hill.
The rain actually let up a bit as I started back down. From the turnaround to the trailhead, I ran a comfortable-hard pace. The decline of the road was begging me to take the turns wide, get sloppy, overstride, or slow down. I ran the inside of all the turns and used my upper body strength to control my running form. Every time someone tried to pass me, I just pushed a little harder and used the downgrade to pull me ahead. I passed about ten people this way and felt comfortable the whole time.
|Taken near the end by Suman at MRuns.com|
Once we hit the beginning of the trail, the rain had reached flash flood levels once again. There was immediately a huge backlog of people unprepared for running on the flooded singletrack who were trying to get their footing in the comparatively dark woods. I fixed my eyes on the ground and carefully made my way around all of them until I was running comfortably behind some guys who were moving swiftly and steadily down the trail. My eyes were completely filled with water, and I fell against a tree on a tight turn. In some places, the trail was flooded to ankle or midcalf level. I saw lightning ground strikes above and below me. By the time I saw the opening at the trailhead, I was just clipping along. I say all of this for the express purpose of telling you that it was the most fun I have ever had during a race.
I crossed the finish with 1:15:16 on the clock, 1:15:05 by my watch. I hung around long enough to see the official results and my place on the race monitors, eat a banana, and regain my composure. I watched a few of my track club friends cross the finish line, and we all chatted about how insane the weather had become. The storm passed over, but the staging area was flooded and washed out, and volunteers were scrambling to protect the generators and power supply cables.
I traded my shoes for some dry sport sandals in the back of my car and drove home sitting on a beach towel. I arrived to find my own building had flooded, shorting out the central electrical system that powers the elevators and hot water heaters. So I ended my morning with seven flights of stairs and a cold shower. Yay?
Overall, this race had a lot of lessons to teach me. I love trail running and I need to get back into it. I am a lot stronger now than I was six months ago, especially on hills, and I want to keep up with the weight training and cross training. So far, slowly building mileage and running "how I feel" has been a good strategy for regaining fitness. Most of all, I am so thankful to be running strong and pain free again.
As a final note, this race has my new favorite race tshirt. It's cotton, gender specific, and a gorgeous blue color. The front is just the elevation/distance profile for the race. Love it.
|Taken as I am writing this post.|