If you had told me a year ago that I would spend a Saturday running 50 unsupported miles through Huntsville on a humid day in January I would have called you a liar.
Humid in January? No way!
Running 50 miles? 50 miles ... maybe, but unsupported?!?!
Well, WE DID IT! I feel like I just got my membership passport stamped!
Mark and I made it Hunstville around 8, dropped some water at key access points along the 20 mile loop and started our day. Our packs were a bit heavy, knowing that it would be 4 to 5 hours before returning to the car.
We expected the first loop to be slow because despite the fact that we have run Huntsville plenty of times, we have never run it not during a race. During a race there are lots of markers telling you where to go ... not so much on a normal Saturday. So we carried the Rocky Raccoon course map and did route finding when necessary. We consulted the map quite a bit, and generally, we nailed it. The few times we missed turns, we re-traced our steps to get back on course, adding miles, knowing we needed the extra miles anyway (doing 50 miles on 20 mile loops).
It was humid and my legs felt sluggish at the beginning. I think running purposely slow at the beginning hurts sometimes, but it is far better than starting out too fast! Did I mention it was humid? The forecast called for rain and thunder storms, which thankfully didn't materialize, but we were still drenched thanks to the humidity.
We finished the first loop with about 23 miles according to my Garmin, which seemed right with our few wrong turns and our purposeful additional mileage to access water at the camping area near Amy's Crossing. We ended up taking a bit more water down to Amy's Crossing, re-fueled, I did a wardrobe change (my compression tights were HOT), grabbed our head lamps and we were off again.
Lap 2 was faster and slower. The beginning was faster because we knew we were going and had to consult the map a lot less. It was slower at times because around 35 miles I was feeling a bit depleted, which thankfully, with the help of a few extra calories, reversed. Parts were definitely slower in the dark and we walked more of the up hills. Yes, in my humble opinion, there are hills in Hunstville. I know that anyone who lives or races in the mountains is laughing at me right now, but for this flat lander, there is plenty of incline in Huntsville.
We managed to stay in pretty good moods all day with only once or twice each of us getting a bit quiet. Mark knows me well though and quickly tells me to "get out of my head" when I get in a funk. This is also a big sign that I need more calories. We were near the Dam aid station (or where it will be) around 35 miles into our day and I was pretty depleted. Mark stopped to reference the map and I leaned down and got a bit light headed and decided it was time for the reserve calories. PowerBar chews to the rescue. Literally not 2 miles later I was laughing and in the best mood. It is amazing what a shot of calories and caffeine can do. Such a balance between not enough and too much!
We took our diversion at Amy's Crossing and I called my husband to check in. He was at home taking care of our sick kiddos, but was supporting me as usual, even if it was from afar. I mentioned the headlamp didn't seem as strong and he suggested I change the batteries. Good call! The batteries were no where close to dying, but the fresh batteries made a huge difference.
We finished the second loop with 44 miles - 6 miles to go. It was dark and late and we needed to leave the park before 10 pm when the gates close, so we opted to run the last 6 on the road to just get it done. My good mood from miles 35- 44 had evaporated and 6 miles might as well have been 600 miles in that moment. But, I got "out of my head", started running and my legs felt good. The next 3 miles were quiet, but we re-grouped for the last 3 miles and laughed and talked it in the rest of the way.
Mentally, it was great to familiarize myself with the course, which will also help me better prepare my crew. I tried out a few new things, gear and nutrition, and found some things that worked for me, and others that didn't. Most importantly, despite the humidity and the challenges (read: extra time required) of route finding and re-fueling on a self-supported run, we managed to finish the 50 miles in 12:30. Double that and our projected finish time should be around 25 hours!
Oh, and a heads up for those who might be headed to Hunstville, the park ranger pulled me over twice! The first time, he waved me over and suggested that someone had complained a car of my description was driving too fast. Mark and I were confused becasue we had not been in the car all day except the quick trip from the Lodge to Amy's Crossing to drop water and we certainly weren't driving fast enough to cause a complaint. The second time it was as we were leaving the park and he was on his way back to close the gates, I assume. It was super dark out so I was using the extra lights I have on my Jeep to better illuminate the road. I turned them off as soon as I saw another car coming my way, but he pulled me over, with flashing lights this time, to let me know I had too many lights on. Officer Friendly even said, "Hello again". No tickets, just a nice scolding and "information sharing" both times.
Let the the taper begin!