Race Report - 2010 McKay Hollow Madness Trail Half Marathon

3/28/2010 10:31:00 AM

What a day. Where to begin? So I woke up at 4 AM and couldn't quite figure out what day it was or what I was supposed to be doing. Oh yeah, sleep, at least until 5:30 AM. Well, well, I ended up twisting and turning for an hour until I decided to get up and make coffee. I checked the weather again and the forecast was still fantastic, 70 degrees. Imagine my surprise when I left the house at 6 AM only to realize that I had to de-ice my windshield. Apparently, it was gonna be in the low 40s for most of the morning. I arrived at Monte Sano State Park picnic area and starting line at 6:30 AM with plenty of time to find a great parking spot and to relax in the car for a few minutes. It was still cold out and I was wearing shorts, a short sleeve tech shirt and a wind breaker to block the cold wind during the early miles of the race. I figured I could dump the wind breaker at one of the 2 aid stations. This is the fourth time this race has been held and RD Blake Thompson did a great job. The race reached its maximum capacity of 200 runners for the first time and way before race day. Word of mouth travels fast and for good reason. This was one of the most fun and most challenging races I have ever done.


No, I am not wearing calf compression sleeves in the pic above. This was by far the muddiest race I have ever done.
Only a few runners (including me) had lined up at about 2 minutes before the official race start at 7 AM. RD Blake Thompson shouted across the parking lot asking if people were aware that the race was about to start. Looking at the crowd, you really couldn't tell as they were very slowly assembling at the starting line. This was a very relaxed atmosphere and I actually liked it. I took this opportunity to line up a little further to the front of the field than usual. Partially a sign of confidence I've gained over the last few months, partially because I wanted to make sure to be able to run my pace. Never having run this race before, I read that the course was mostly single track trails and I wanted to make sure that I would be able to run my own pace. I started in the second row and the runners took off once Blake gave the signal. For the first quarter mile, I was part of the leading pack. After that, everything was back to normal and I settled in the front half of the midpack. It was my plan to maintain a sub 10 minute pace for as much of the race as possible, targeting a 2:20 to 2:30 finishing time. That meant crashing the downhills and trying not to lose too much time on the uphills. While I've run almost all of the trail sections before, I have never done them as part of this race course, so I wasn't sure about the difficulty of this race or how the uphills and downhills were spread out and how serious they were. But the unexpected and unknown factor is what made it fun. As we came down the "Barricade Road" a quarter mile into the race, I started to lengthen my stride, trying to take advantage of every downhill possible, no matter how early in the race. After a little less than another quarter mile on this road, we turned right onto the Sinks Trail for our first trail descend. I was feeling good. No aches or pains. I also realized very quickly that this would be a very muddy race. After this initial descend into a trail intersection and straight onto another trail section with a first mile pace of 7:24, we began to climb with some actual climbing with our hands and feet. As a result, my second mile was much slower at 10:45, reflecting the time required for the actual climbing. After that, I settled into a nice pace only fluctuating lightly between 9:40 and 10:30 pace depending on the difficulty of the sections. After about 5.5 miles, I reached the first aid station just in time to refill my water bottle and to drop off my wind breaker and my beanie. I had taken off my wind breaker about 5 minutes earlier and continued to struggle with tying it around my waist or bundling it up and holding it in my right hand since my left was already occupied holding my handheld water bottle. That meant no hand free to catch or break my falls. Luckily, I entered the aid station before any of that was required. Taking off the wind breaker and fiddling around with it caused me to lose a group I had been running with for the previous three miles and I was determined to catch up with them as soon as I left the aid station. Unfortunately, as soon as I left the aid station, I noticed an equipment malfunction. At first, I thought my shoes had come untied under my gaiters, but I quickly realized that one of the gaiters itself was the problem. The strap securing the gaiter on my right shoe had ripped and I quickly pulled the strap to avoid it continuously whipping me across the legs. Now it was "catch up" time. Shortly after the aid station, there was another descend and I decided to pick up the pace to catch up with the group. I managed to catch one of the guys and then another two. It was around that time that I noticed the sign "Slush Mile". My mind started going in circles. If this was going to be slush mile, what was all that mud I dealt with up to this point? How bad would this section be? Anyway, I chose just to go right through the middle. Enough with trying to avoid every puddle, creek and mud bath. My reward, a consistent pace through this entire section. However, it was in this section that I had another memorable "equipment malfunction". As I was using my right hand to grab hold of yet another tree at a sharp trail turn to slingshot myself around the bend, I found myself wondering where my right hand glove had gone after I let go of the tree. A quick glance back at the tree revealed the glove hanging there, like a Christmas ornament. A short pointed branch had literally ripped the glove off my hand as I was swinging around the corner and letting go of the tree. I quickly recovered the glove and continued on my way, wondering what else would happen. Shortly after, I started to think about the second aid station. Not because I needed aid but because it would mark 2/3 of the race complete. I was also eager to see S.O.B. ditch. While I had heard this endearing term before and had run Mountain Mist as well, I was not sure what ditch it was referring to. The section towards aid station 2 was also the only out & back section of the race. When I turned onto this section, it was a rather rocky and wet section with a slight descend towards the aid station. For the first time, I saw runners coming in the opposite direction. I immediately picked up the pace thinking that I must be really close to the aid station. Well, this section was slightly longer than I anticipated. When I finally reached the aid station, I realized that the S.O.B ditch was the washed out section requiring some climbing on all fours. I had been here before so I was able to cross it comfortably on the way to the aid station. However, I somehow managed to make a slight navigational error on the way back requiring me to REALLY climb across a couple of trees. I'm still not sure how I managed to get lost on a washed out section no wider than 10 feet. I must have looked ridiculous climbing over fallen trees when all I had to do is stay to the left and return the same way I came over much easier terrain. Anyway, now I had to deal with a slight ascend back up this technical section of the trail. I say technical because there really wasn't much of a trampled path. Instead, you had to constantly navigate streams of muddy water and rocks. Oh how fun trail running can be. After about a quarter mile, I was passed for only the second or third time since mile 1. And I need to give this kid (#45, I believe) credit where credit is due. Miles 10 and 11 flew by literally and figuratively, as I held on and stayed with him while having some interesting small talk along the way. Without him, my pace would have been much much slower through this section. He also filled me in on some of his own experiences in this race in the past and the things that happen when you don't pay attention. Apparently, someone broke his leg right in front of him at last year's race. That story really made me refocus immediately to ensure proper footing, or so I thought. No more than two minutes later did I experience my very first wipe out on any trail run. While I was barely able to catch myself with my left hand (or rather my water bottle) and my right hand, a small broken off tree, sharply pointing straight up about three feet from the ground only missed vital organs by less than half an inch. No, I am not talking about my heart. Running at this unusually fast pace on technical terrain at this stage in the race caused me to trip while avoiding a deep mud section on the trail. Man, was I thankful that I escaped unscathed. I continued to hang with this young gun for 2 miles until he left me in the dust at the first uphill section that followed. It was at this point that I also realized that they named the wrong section slush mile. The section around mile 12 or 13 had to be the muddiest mile I have ever encountered on any trail race. And that includes the horse trail sections of Black Warrior after a downpour. Anyway, after fighting my way through this section basically alone without anyone in sight, I realized I had only about a mile left to go. Great, I thought, if I really pushed hard for just a mile, I might get close to a 2:20 finish. That would be awesome. Well, well, that's when I met Eric Charette, one of the top finishers, who I assume had come down the trail from the finish line to provide some words of encouragement and support to some fellow runners. However, I wished his words of encouragement had not been "You have about 3/4 of a mile left....all uphill...straight up a waterfall". I wasn't sure I heard him right. Did he say that I was almost there and that there was a refreshing waterfall along the way? After I replayed his words in my mind a few times while starting to climb, I realized that my interpretation was more wishful thinking than reality. It was indeed three quarters of a mile straight up alongside a waterfall. What a finish to an exciting race. Needless to say, my 2:20 finish was way...way out the window, but I still managed a 2:33 finish time that I am very happy about.
Thanks again to RD Blake Thompson and his staff of volunteers for yet another great running event in Huntsville. Unfortunately, I missed the post race party this year, but I will be sure to grab a beer at next year's post race event.

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4 comments

  1. love your writing. i ran this race, and i'm a writer, so i thoroughly enjoyed your account of the experience! thanks!!!

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  2. I started running in January...and will take on this beast this March. I run the plateaus daily, but I've only ventured off the top for a few leisurely hikes. Serious training starts in January. Thanks for a GREAT recap. I'm already looking forward to that post-race beer! :D

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  3. I had to come back again to re-read this recap. I don't have any idea what to expect since I haven't actually seen every part of the course yet, but I'm seriously excited about this race. I really can not wait.

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