|Running past the goat pens. Did you know Red Mountain Park uses these goats to clear underbrush and invasive species?! How cute is that?|
This race was the fifth annual early-January Resolution Run sponsored by the Birmingham Track Club for the benefit of Red Mountain Park, a free 1200-acre park on a high mountain ridge outside of Birmingham, Alabama. It has 14+ miles of trails (with volunteers building new ones all the time), massive off-leash dog parks, a climbing wall, ziplines, picnic areas, and some awesome historic archaeological sites from the early-20th-century coal mining era. If you haven't gone yet, GO!
The race was only $20 for the "long" option I ran, and there were 5k and 10k courses offered, as well (although I heard rumors that both of those ran a bit long...the 10k was over 7 miles!). There was also a one-mile fun run...yes, an actual one-mile run on singletrack trails! Children and dogs were welcomed for all events. Basically, the race was designed to fund Red Mountain Park, and to let all us crazy runners start the New Year off in proper fashion.
|I tried to be incognito in my shorts and socks at the check-in tent, but several of my friends were already warming up.|
Of course, I was not going to miss this one. I rolled out of bed around 6:00 for the 7:30 start, and got to the park just before 7:00. I had a banana with a few heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter for my breakfast...having some extra fat on a cold day is something I have been doing since I lived in Colorado. I really think it helps you stay warm. I chased that with probably too much black coffee while I drove.
I decided (probably stupidly) to run in shorts and knee-high compression socks, a buff and heavy wool hat on my head, gloves, and a variety of layers to mix and match on my upper body. It was FREEZING at check-in...probably about 30 degrees. Yes, stop laughing and realize that just two weeks prior I had been running in a bra top while the temperatures neared 80 degrees. I wasn't ready!
Oh, also I wore my new-ish trail shoes, the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger, which I am enjoying even though they have a pretty low arch and drop for an unrepentant heel striker like myself. I hung around in all my layers, and posed for some pictures with my running buddies.
|Tanya was in the middle of removing her track pants, haha.|
|What am I doing? A photo booth? (Nikki, Alicia, Darnell, me, Tanya)|
|Most of the trail races around here are a straight up sausage party.|
I reluctantly stashed my down vest and water in the car, put my key and a caffeinated Clif gel in my pocket, and lined up to start. The first half mile was a long stretch on a power line easement with fat, rolling hills. This steered the race crowd away from the main park entrance, where ordinary Saturday traffic was starting to pick up. The easement isn't a "trail" per se, just a cleared area with some gravel and small access roads. The low spots were flooded, and I immediately stepped in a massive and unavoidable puddle, soaking my left shoe and sock. "At least I got that out of the way early on," I thought. The crowd thinned out and the route turned into steeper singletrack. The race just flew by.
|These are trail splits, so the GAP ("grade adjusted pace") is probably more informative.|
Looking for solid footing, selecting a route, and running gracefully and efficiently on trails really occupy your mind and drown out the little voice that constantly asks "are we there yet??!" Despite rumors to the contrary, I found 99.9% of this course to be "runnable" and didn't really do any walking. I kept an eye on my heart rate, and didn't let it get out of control during the first few miles of climbing.
In mile four (the slow 12:45 split), I stopped for a bit at an aid station, where I popped open my gel, drank a cup of water, and dropped my fleece jacket. The volunteers were worried they wouldn't be able to return my jacket, and I told them to throw it away if they didn't catch me after. (I bought the jacket as a cheapo throwaway SEVEN races ago, and it always manages to find me again.) I kept the opened gel in my hand and sort of took sips (well, frozen chunks) of gel for the rest of the race.
By this time, the crowd thinned out and I ran near a few guys who were friendly but not talkative. We made the climb up to the radio tower and I dropped them. For a large part of miles six and seven, we were on very narrow singletrack winding up a ravine face. We were running upstream against the people on the 10k course, and many of them were worried or unsure about their footing. I greeted each person and moved aside when I could. Everyone seemed so happy to be out running, which really made my day.
I should mention that for the ENTIRE race, my feet were so cold they were completely numb. My wet left foot was frozen up to the calf. It was so odd trying to find trail footing without that nice feeling of being in contact with the ground! The course turned into some mellow ridge top roads, so I was able to speed up. Near the end of mile nine, we reached the bottom of Red Mountain and the pens where they keep the vegetation control goats. I saw the park photographer and his assistant sort of camped out and waiting for runners. They told me I was the second or third woman and cheered for me, which was cool.
|Trying to smooth out my RBF (running bitch face) for the benefit of the park photographer.|
Very close to the end -- like maybe partway through mile ten? -- there was another mile-long section of technical singletrack that I wasn't expecting. It was a nice way to occupy my mind and stay in the moment. During the last two miles, I just focused on passing as many people as I could. I managed to pass nine people, but that included a guy who stopped to pee and two women finishing the 10k who stopped to take a selfie haha.
No one was near me when I turned onto the final stretch. I saw the race clock said 2:14:something, so I ran it out to finish under 2:15.
|I guess I don't touch the ground very much when I'm running, because like 90% of my race photos are this silly "flying" pose. Weeeeeee! Also, do I look less angry than usual? I think so.|
The race tshirt was very nice...a long-sleeved tech shirt, which is kind of rare. The post-race scene was also very cool, with free coffee, pastries, beer, barbeque sandwiches, and fruit. I grabbed water, beer, and coffee, and stood around juggling my three beverages like someone at a cocktail party. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was close to ODing on caffeine and needed to pour out the coffee. Then, it wasn't much longer until I realized that I was way too cold for beer, and gave mine away. I watched my friends finish, then hit the road with my teeth chattering.
Back home, I sat in a hot bath and watched my feet turn from white to purple to red. Painful! I definitely felt like I had run farther than thirteen miles. I felt more like I had finished a twenty-mile road run, actually. Even my upper body and abs were sore, which just goes to show how important it is to work on upper body strength, core stability, and balance if you want to run trails more efficiently.
Okay, I'll stop rambling because that's all there really is to say about this race. You can view my watch data here on Strava, if you are so inclined. Honestly, I had so much fun that I wish there were a race like this every single weekend.
Everyone have a great day, and thanks for reading!