Saturday, March 24, 2012

Race Report - 2012 McKay Hollow Madness 25K Trail Run

One of the coolest finisher´s shirts out there.
It was that time of year again, the middle of March, when there isn't just a 10% chance of rain, but a guarantee of it. Why, you ask? Because it's the week leading up the the McKay Hollow Madness 25K Trail Run and you're not going to have this race without the proper amount of rain to guarantee the mud fest that is "the Madness". But why was it called Madness? That's easy, because it's a lung burnin', quad bustin', hamstring shreddin' and mud slingin' type of a race and this year was to be NO different. In short, it's one of the most fun times one could have while trail running on Monte Sano mountain in Huntsville, Alabama, IF you're into that sorta thing and from the registration numbers this year, a whole lotta people were into this kinda thing.

Don't get me wrong, if you're looking for a "Tough Mudder" or "Warrior Dash" or "Viking Race" type of event, this was definitely not it. I'm not trying to take anything away from those events. They're great fun and they present their own challenges, but they are also generally flat and short. Neither was true for "the Madness". This thing had participants climbing a total of 2300 feet over 25 kilometers (or about 15.5 miles for the metrically challenged folks). And as a special treat, runners got to climb 700 of those feet over the last mile from the lowest point of the race course to its highest point at the finish. In short, it was one awesome race!

To add to the uniqueness of the event, runners had to "earn" their race shirts. It's not really a finisher's shirt, you just had to make it across the finish line to receive it and it's well worth it. The actual design of the shirt warranted two pics (front image above and back image below) just because it's that cool. There was pizza and cake and soda and beer at the finish line, but overall, it's pretty low key which was probably another reason that it continued to gain popularity.There were no age group awards, which didn't mean there wasn't plenty of trash talking before the race (you know who you are and if you don't "I was talking to you Cary Long";-)

Even the back of the shirt is worthy of a pic;-)
The race started just after 7AM and while I tried to keep a faster than originally planned pace for the first mile or two, it wasn't quite fast enough to avoid getting caught in the congo line that formed once we hit single track trails (note to self: next year, sprint the first mile to avoid the congo line only to get passed by everyone later on when you're completely exhausted from the mindless push early on). My plan was to keep a PR pace early on and to see how I felt after the early miles. I was still struggling to recover from a few tough races over the last 5 weeks and if I needed to, I was going to back off as needed. As it turned out, I didn't need to back off too much.

I was able to maintain a 9:30 minute per mile pace for most of the race with the exception of the climbs and the really muddy sections peppered throughout the race course. Overall, the race went as well as I could have expected. My pace was almost 30 seconds per mile faster than 2 years ago and if I get just a little stronger on the climb another PR is definitely possible again next year.

I am smiling...I´m just too busy watching my step.

Throughout the race, I kept excellent company. I stayed just behind Jason Shattuck for most of the race and I even had a brief chat with Cary Long early on in the race before I made him eat my dust (you know i'm just kiddn', Cary. I had to get in a couple of jabs for your MM50K comments;-). For the rest of the race, I pretty much focused on the trails ahead and on my breathing. There was lots of mud....and then there was some more. I'm still wondering how Eric Charette finished second overall with barely a splatter of mud on him. He must have been in Brandon Mader's wind (read: mud) tunnel. What a performance from Eric while being seriously sick with a stomach virus.

When I finally ran out of gas during the final climb to the finish, I realized that a sub 2:30 finish was out of the question, but I continued to push anyway. During my last training run on this particular section a few weeks ago, Jason smoked me and I didn't want that to happen again. I crossed the finish line after 2 hours and 39 minutes, completely exhausted and thankful for the familiar friendly faces and helping hands at the finish. A couple of Cokes and slices of pizza later, I felt whole again.


Thanks to RD Blake Thompson for putting on another great version of "the Madness" and thanks to all of the awesome volunteers. One of these years, I'll actually be able to part-take in the after party as well;-)

This ¨little¨ trail race packs a punch (read: elevation gain), especially the final climb.

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