Two months have passed since my last race. I finally healed from my bout with ITBS, brought on by overuse and improper recovery from the Rouge Orleans ultramarathon. I’ve been able to resume my normal training and have been able to put in a good bit of mileage on the trails, which is by far my favorite place to run. I signed up for the XTERRA Oak Mountain trail marathon several months ago, with the intention of making it a family camping event. As one thing led to another with multiple family and school activities, I ended up going to Birmingham alone for the race.
The race takes place in the Oak Mountain state park, just south of Birmingham in Pelham, Alabama. The park is beautiful, and I arrived at about 2:30 Saturday afternoon as the XTERRA off road triathlon was taking place. I picked up my packet, then checked into my campsite and set up my tent.
By 4:00, I was off on a mission to find a lot of different craft beer not available in Louisiana to bring home for myself and several friends. I hit Highland Package Store near the UAB campus and hit the jackpot. I left with 2 cases of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale as well as several other offerings from Terrapin, Great Divide, Green Flash, Founders, Boulevard, Avery, SweetWater, Tallgrass and local favorite Good People. I also managed to snag a couple bottles of Bell’s Hopslam.
By that point, I needed to grab dinner, so I quickly found a highly recommend ale house, The J. Clyde. I was impressed from the moment I set foot inside. The draft beer selection was unlike anything here in Baton Rouge. It was nothing but craft beer and quality imports. I started with a cask version of Terrapin’s Monk’s Revenge. I then had a Great Divide 18th Anniversary Wood Aged IPA along with dinner, a fantastic burger topped with a fried green tomato.
After dinner, I headed back to the park to take it easy and get some rest. After all, I did have a marathon to run the next day. I climbed in my sleeping bag shortly before 10, and had a good night’s sleep.
Morning light arrived at 5:45, so I got up and quickly broke camp, got dressed and packed up. I ate 2 Clif Mono bars and drank a Boost shake to ensure I had enough calories to start. I followed that with a couple of electrolyte capsules and a Vespa supplement. All that I had left to do was to wait for the start. The map showed a 3 loop course with a 5K loop, a 17 mile loop around the park and a 10K loop.
At 8AM we were off. There was about a half mile of asphalt to the trailhead and I purposely took it extra slow and not get caught up in racing that section. I settled in behind a talkative group at about a 9 minute pace, and before I knew it the first loop was done.
Again I had a half mile asphalt stretch back to the trailhead to start the long loop, which I remembered from last year’s race. I knew there would be a challenging steep uphill section around mile 5, and my memory was correct. We climbed close to 350 feet in less than a quarter mile. But it was beautiful to look down at where I had been. I was still holding steady at a 9 minute pace or so, but knew that I would slow down considerably soon enough. Miles 9 to 11 were a steady uphill climb of 1,000 feet on a wide, but somewhat rocky trail. I walked several of the steeper sections knowing that it would conserve valuable energy. Miles 11 to 13 were relatively flat, but on the same rocky trail. It made for slow going as opposed to the well groomed dirt trails earlier in the race.
I made it a point to take an electrolyte capsule every 30 minutes, a Crank e-Gel every 45 minutes and refill my bottle with water at every aid station, which were about 2 1/2 miles apart. I also dumped cold water on my head at each one, which was refreshing on a warm day.
Shortly after the halfway point we began to descend on the most technical section of the trail. There were lots of rocks and the steep downhill made for some treacherous running. I was all alone now, as some had passed me and others fell back. The descent continued, but the trail became more groomed and it was really peaceful out there by myself. I still felt well and was holding a nice pace. Before I knew it, I emerged from the woods at mile 20 and knew the last stretch was here. The 10K loop began on the same section as the 5K portion, but then veered off. I started to catch upnto other runners who looked to be struggling, while I felt pretty good. Not long after passing one of those runners, a rogue rock tripped me and I tumbled to the ground, scraping my hand and popping my last gel pack, which was of course in the same shorts pocket as my car key.
I had about 2 1/2 miles to go, but I was starting to struggle. I noticed my breathing was short and choppy and I was getting hot. I still passed a few more runners, but I was ready to finish. The last section just seemed to drag on forever. Finally I emerged and neared the finish line. I had passed 9 runners in that last section, and my 4:09 finish was good enough for 22nd place overall. I beat my 2011 time by 8 minutes and this course was over a mile longer than last year’s. Though happy to be finished, I felt surprisingly good. No post race cramps or overly stiff legs. I celebrated my accomplishment with a Tallgrass Velvet Rooster, got some clean clothes on and headed out for some well deserved pizza before my 6 hour drive back to Baton Rouge.
Despite the long drive home, my legs felt fine that evening and the next day. No stiff quads going downstairs is an accomplishment the day after a marathon. I was really pleased with this race and I head into the Leadville trail marathon on June 30th with some confidence that I truly am over my injuries. One day I will go back and run at Oak Mountain for fun while camping for a few days. It truly is a beautiful place with some fantastic trails. If you’re ever in the area, it’s a can’t miss.