Category Archives: Cheaper Than Therapy

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The Mother’s Day I Became An Athlete.

Nyoka got in the car and IMMEDIATELY said, “I’m not really happy with the Mother’s Day gift I made you. We had to use the words ‘Smart,’ ‘Beautiful,’ and ‘Hardworking’ – but I wanted to use the word ‘ATHLETIC.'”

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She doesn’t realize how much that ONE sentence means to me. If someone had told me 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years ago that my daughter would be frustrated that she couldn’t use the word “ATHLETIC” when describing me? I would have laughed in their face. Hell, even this morning it might have shocked me because – even though I know I run a lot of miles now stay fit, I don’t ever think of myself as athletic. I always describe myself just the opposite: “Me? I don’t really have any natural athletic ability.” But my daughter…the girl who sees me every day…she was mad because she was limited in her word choice describing her Mom. Which word did she want? ATHLETIC.

ATHLETIC.

ATHLETIC.

ME!

But then, I dug into the present and it got even better.

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First? “Ewok and Her family are very important to her.”

HA! For those of you who don’t know, Ewok was given to me by my Dad for my 10th birthday. He was very instrumental in helping me cope with grief after my Dad died, and he still is out and about in the house for periodic cuddling needs. When the tornadoes came last week? There were three things in the basement/garage with us: Important files, External harddrive, and my Ewok. E even commented about it in a picture I posted. So, I love that she put Ewok…even BEFORE family…on the list of things that are important to me.

I also love this part: “She loves to run but doesn’t like to Swim & Bike.” HA! It’s my multisport credo! I suffer through the cycling and the swimming JUST so I can get to the running part!

But the best part? “I like to run with my Mom.”

She thinks I’m an athlete. She likes to run with me.

This is why I run.

Happy Mother’s Day to Me.

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#TeamDonnie

How To Spectate A Triathlon

Oh, man. Sorry I vanished for several days. We spent all weekend at a nearby lake so Donnie could participate in a triathlon festival. (6 races in TWO days!) And then yesterday I was playing “catch-up” on life and work but it didn’t go well because I’m still barely functioning at 80% on my BEST day thanks to allergies. WILL THEY EVER GIVE ME A BREAK?!?!

ANYWAY! Today I’m putting all of the lessons learned from this weekend and 3 triathlon seasons prior into one blog post to help any newbies out there NOT take four years to build up this knowledge!

How To Spectate A Triathlon

Triathlons are more fun to spectate than foot races because – most of the time – you can stay in ONE SPOT and still see TONS of action. Therefore – it’s often best to stay there for the whole event with your athlete so you can see them do everything. However, it’s not as easy as just being there. Here are some valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years.

#TeamDonnie
#TeamDonnie
  • If you can, arrive WITH your athlete. This may seem like a HUGE page to get there early, especially if they’re not going to actually get in the water and start the race until later in the event. BUT STILL…going with your athlete means they don’t have to drive themselves home, which is helpful to them. It also means you don’t have to part too far from the event. Having your car easily accessible will mean you don’t have to drag everything around with you all day. The later your arrive, the worse your parking spot will be.
  • Bring seating. I suggest those campground chairs that travel in bags, but throw a beach blanket in the car if you have one because sometimes that’s actually better and you don’t want to HAVE to carry around chairs if you don’t need. But always bring SOMETHING to put your butt in BESIDES the ground.
  • Bring snacks. Even if the triathlon is a Sprint event (a short one) you will be there awhile including early arrival (to set up transition) and possibility of late start (triathletes all start their race at different times) and you’ll be surprised how hungry you get watching people exercise.
  • Sunscreen! You will also be surprised how sunburned you can get.
  • Bug spray. Because of the need for a source of water for these events, the prevalence for mosquitos is strong.
  • First aid kit. This is especially true if you have kids with you because they’ll be running around like maniacs betweens sightings of their athlete, but it’s also true for any adults because, well, some of us are clumsy and fall down a lot.
  • Put thought into your spectating spot(s). Near transition is a given because it means you’ll see your athlete AT LEAST twice (once when they transition from swim-to-bike, and once from bike-to-run), but most of the times the START and the FINISH is near transition too. SO! If you’re smart, you can stay in one place for the whole event. All of the athletes will be asking about the Run and Bike ins/outs so you just make sure you get that same information. It’s best if you can see them LEAVE transition because cheering them onto their next event is better then cheering them into transition. But, be aware of where the FINISH is so AS SOON as they’re out on their run, you can relocate if necessary.
  • Change of clothes! For the kids, obviously. Hopefully you won’t need one. I forgot that key element this weekend: HUGE MISTAKE.
  • Take a lot of pictures. You have NO IDEA how much your athlete will love this!

I hope this helps you have many successful events as a spectator! Let me know if you have any other tips!

One Final Note: This triathlon festival this weekend had one Olympic Distance Triathlon (I learned you can call those “Olys” this weekend. I’m a cool kid now.) and then 5 other events. One of them was a single rider time trial meaning you get on your bike and race the clock. They send riders out every 30 seconds or so, so there is SOME competitive motivation, but mostly you’re racing the clock and results are read out later. WELL…look at how they started this thing! HOW COOL IS THAT?

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Grand Viduta Stage Race: Weekend Race Report

GVSR_Logo_J-process-s450x396Short Version: 43 very difficult miles with beautiful weather in three days. It went as good as I could have dreamed and I can’t wait to do it again.

And now for the long version.

Preface: My training buddies and I did this together so a lot of my report will be using the word we. Please don’t think I’ve had a schizophrenic breakdown.

We had one main strategy going into this weekend: Take it easy and have fun. Pacing yourself for three days of racing is not something any of us knew how to do, so we decided erring on the side of caution would be our best bet. We wanted to make sure we finished day one feeling FANTASTIC so that day two and three would not be so daunting. We wanted to stay together the whole weekend because running for three days and 43 miles alone sounded DREADFUL. We wanted to end the weekend with a desire to come back next year.

(SPOILER ALERT: We can’t wait until next year.)

As always – all photos were taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville. If you want to check out the three days of BEAUTIFUL scenery you should check out his whole album of photos here.

Day One: It’s All About The Waterline

I’ll be honest. The first day was the one I was looking forward to the most. It was the set of trails that were the newest to me, and therefore the most exciting. But also, there’s a lot of history on those trails, as a lot of them are where the old railroad used to be that went up the mountain to a huge hotel that no longer exists. Since our race logo revolves around the train and that railroad, I thought Day One would hold the most significance. We had the blessing of perfect weather as the temps were moderate and the skies were clear.

I had Donnie drop me off at the parking lot where the race was to start at 6:30am. The excitement was already palpable as most of my running peeps had never embarked on a three day stage race before. My two friends that I trained with and I decided we’d demonstrate how serious we were taking this by wearing matching shirts every day. I think people thought we were joking when we told them we did actually plan it. (After the third day? They realized we were NOT joking.) We all got our bib numbers (we were to get new bibs every day), gathered around for the pre-race instructions, and started off on our journey.

My allergies were my biggest problem and my first three miles were very difficult. I haven’t been sleeping well so I felt like I just couldn’t get going. I was the caboose on our train and it was a struggle to keep up. About 30 minutes into the run one, of my peeps suggested some nutrition. Even though I had my normal pre-race breakfast, and some great pre-race mashed fruit, I thought she might be right. I popped open a salted caramel gu (my new favorite fuel) which also has caffeine, and sucked that baby down. She was right. It was EXACTLY what I needed. I felt better the entire rest of the day.

We weren’t worried about the cutoff time on Day One. It was 13 miles in 5 hours. It was being touted as the Hardest Day even though it was the shortest distance. We knew it would be hard because it had the steepest climb of the weekend: Waterline. That climb was somewhere in the middle and by the time we got to that, we were still feeling really good. It hadn’t gotten too hot, we were all hanging in there energy-wise, and we were pleasantly surprised to find they had put ropes there for the race day. We had never climbed Waterline with the benefit of ropes before. SCORE!

Of course, we were the tail-end of the 50-racer group, so the ropes were quite slack and therefore useless. No big deal, however, as we had trained on that climb enough to each have our own strategy for conquering it.

The rest of the run was relatively uneventful. There was a lot of proclaiming about the beauty of it all, none of us are used to running when there’s actual vegetation covering the forest floor. It never go too hot. I didn’t take any during-race salt, only took the one pre-race tablet and that was it. I stuck with water in my pack but got powerade at the aid stations for the added electrolytes. The aid stations were perfectly located and well-stocked. Donnie was working the one at mile 8 and that was a WONDERFUL pick-me-up.

As always – all photos were taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville. If you want to check out the three days of BEAUTIFUL scenery you should check out his whole album of photos here.

When we started rolling in towards the finish-line we were all actually shocked because we felt GREAT. We had taken it easy enough that we all felt like we could have run more miles, no problem. My one friend and I are in the same age-group so we intentionally crossed together, even though we knew there were plenty ahead of us to take the prize. Overall? Great day. Great run. Only mild issues early on and felt great at the finish line.

(One way to gauge trail difficulty is to look at the elite racers and compare their road pace with their trail pace. Day One’s winner did it in a hair under 2 hours, but his 13.1 road time is about 1:20. That means the course made an elite runner slow down about 3-minutes per mile, which is a big drop in speed which is a good demonstration of the difficulty.)

Day Two: Most Miles, Shortest Cuttoff.

As always – all photos were taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville. If you want to check out the three days of BEAUTIFUL scenery you should check out his whole album of photos here.

Going in to Day Two our biggest concern was the cuttoff time. We knew the trails would be “easier” but the distance was longer (16 miles) and we only had 4:30 to complete it. It took us about 3:40 to do the 13 miles the day before, so we weren’t panicked about finishing on time, but we were more concerned than we were about Day One.

Before the race started, I was hit with a HUGE allergy attack. I could not stop sneezing and could NOT clear my sinuses no matter how often I blew my nose. I started panicking a bit because, not being able to breath through my nose seemed like an awful way to start the race. I packed some napkins from the Post-Race Food Table and headed out. Again, the first few miles were ROUGH. My voice was off too, as the cough and sneezing had taken a toll on my throat. I sounded sick. I took my Gu as the race started on Day Two, hoping that the push of caffeine would help.

One funny note: We started out the race that day in the camp site portion of the park. THere were tons of people getting up for the morning after camping and I don’t think they knew what to make of our group. Trail runners are usually decked out in neon as they were running gear and running gear is often bright. We make for a weird vision if you’ve never seen a group of trail runners. Especially at 7:30am outside your tent. It was very entertaining.

After about 2-3 miles, my sinuses cleared up (thank GOD) and all started going well again. The trails from Day Two were not too new for me. There were two stretches of trails that were unfamiliar to me, but nothing major. And they connected trails I knew well, so it wasn’t too foreign. The one main difference from Day Two is the temperature was higher and we were getting more direct sun. Trail running is often shadier, and it was definitely not as direct as sun on the road, but the skies were clear and that side of the mountain was at a more direct sun angle than the day before. I took my pre-race salt but also took salt pills two other times during the race.

We started Saturday much faster than we started Friday. This was mostly due to the trails being easier. One of our early miles was actually under 11 minutes which was good since this was the day we were worried the most about the cuttoff time. We banked some good time on the easy trails which helped us when we were walking the harder trails later in the day.

I was doing something different with my salt this time, I was biting into the capsules a bit before swallowing. I’ve had problems in the past with my stomach getting upset after taking a salt tablet, so Donnie suggested I do that to make sure to aid in the breaking of the capsule. I think that might have been the key to why the didn’t bother me this time.

Another difference in Day Two, I didn’t eat any of the “real” food in my pack. I usually pack peanut butter flatbread because I like real food on long runs, but Saturday I just wanted Gus. It was weird, I had never wanted that kind of fuel before, but those things just hit the spot. I think it was the caffeine I was loving from them.

Saturday was also when we noticed that 3 of the 4 of our group were doing a good job of taking turns having alternating downswings. This worked out well because we would rotate our running order in the pack and it the members feeling good could help encourage or make sure the one feeling crappy was getting what they needed: Salt, Fuel, Fluids etc. You can’t really plan your downswing on a race, but if you can not ALL have them at the same time, it works out better.

Donnie and the kids were working an Aid Station about the halfway point of the day again. It was AWESOME to see them and they were taking it VERY seriously. They each were manning one cooler and filled our bottles and packs for us. It was great. I highly recommend having our family volunteer at your race, seeing their faces gives you a great boost.

Saturday was also the day some in our group learned the joy of a properly time cup of Coke. I’m not a Coke drinker but it really hit the spot for some in our group (although it wasn’t quite flat enough and caused some burping) and gave them the pep they needed to finish off the race.

The one bad thing about Saturday was someone stole some of our course markings. We actually got a little stressed and slowed down to discuss the course a bit once we noticed we hadn’t seen flags in awhile. Luckily, we knew those trails, and we kinda remembered the course map, so we never fully went into panic mode. Evidently others that day weren’t so lucky and did panic a bit more.

We did a bit more doubling up on trails on Day Two than any other day. I didn’t mind it too much, but it’s never exciting to revisit a trail. That’s the only downside to running local races, because if you were not local? You probably didn’t even notice that the trail we climbed up at the end was the one we ran down earlier.

There was a small bit of road running we had to do towards the end of Day Two and none of our legs liked that. Luckily, and before we really started to hurt from it, we headed back on the trails for one last bit of unfamiliar scenery for me. I’ve never been on the chunk of trail that took us to the finish line which was interesting because I didn’t exactly know when to expect to see the finish line. We crossed just a hair under four hours and definitely were feeling tired. Not too tired so that Day Three seemed impossible, but we definitely were starting to feel the effects of the 29 miles we had already logged.

Day Three: Powerline, K2, Warpath…OH MY!

As always – all photos were taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville. If you want to check out the three days of BEAUTIFUL scenery you should check out his whole album of photos here.

Even though the race directors were saying Day One was the hardest, we were more worried about Day Three. We knew there’d be TONS of elevation gain and we’d be on REALLY tired legs. It was 14 miles but we had one LONG (1-mile) climb I was worried about, as we typically hit that 1-mile stretch of trails going down since that’s how it’s run in the 25K we train for in the late winter. We had never gone up it before. We were also a bit worried about the mud as we knew the trails on Sunday to be some of the sloppiest on the mountain.

I started day three with a little more pep than the previous days, actually hit my downswing later on Day Three. Overall, the day was the hottest of the three. I was taking salt regularly and still feeling really zapped. There were several challenging chunks of trails we were worried about, some going down, some going up, and they all hit us pretty hard. We were just feeling tired as a group and were definitely feeling the downswings more often than the previous two days.

I think the course was mapped out well, though, because I was most worried about K2 (down) and Powerline (up) and Warpath (up) but all of those were in the first half of the day. This was probably key as, once we went down Rest Shelter and headed out for the last 6ish miles of the weekend? My mood dropped substantially. I was just tired and ready to be done. If the course had been switched and the front half been in the back? It would have been a lot uglier of a finish.

I think the hardest part was the 1-mile climb UP Arrowhead. The climb is not steep at all, but it’s just so LONG and we knew the aid station was at the top which made us count the steps uphill even more. Also? This was the first time all weekend I felt one of the negatives of running in trails warmer weather: BUGS. The horseflies would not leave me alone. I joked that it was because I smelled so bad they thought I was dead. I have never been SO HAPPY to be at the top of a trail in my ENTIRE LIFE.

Once we got to that aid stating we knew we had 2-3 miles left. One tough climb down and one HELLA climb up. We knew we’d be ending the day on Death Trail, a climb we know very well.

Going down the techinical part of Natural Well was tricky as we all had very tired legs and there was a lot of sitting on big rocks and sliding down because we weren’t sure our legs could handle the jumps or stretches to climb down a more athletic way. We had hit the 40-mile over the weekend mark at this point, we were zapped. But we made it down Natural Well and enjoyed the last bit of runnable trails before hitting Death Trail. Once we got to the base of Death Trail we knew we were almost home. All of our GPSes hit the 14-mile mark early on Death Trail so we figured the finish line would be right at the top. We celebrated passing each of the named points on Death Trail: Superhero Rock, The Columns, Beyonce’s Butt and then got a burst of energy when we heard the cheering at the top.

TWO semi-unfortunate things happened right at the finish.

1) We realized all of the cheering was not for us when we heard them yelling, “GO DADDY!” We laughed and told the guy finishing with us, “Man! We though all of those voices were cheering for US for a minute there! They’re all for you!”

2) The finish line was NOT at the top of Death Trail.

They diverted us around the top of the trail a bit for some final running before leading us in to the finish. We all might have cursed a little bit during that last bit, “WHY ARE THEY MAKING US RUN MORE?” It was actually kind of funny because there was an Earth Day festival going on up there and we’re running around these people looking desperately for the finish line and when we finally saw it there was an audible sigh of relief from our group. THANK GOD, WE ARE FINALLY DONE.

The Wrap Up

All in all? It was definitely one of the most fun weekends of my life. I owe this to several things:

  1. An awesome running team that stayed together every mile. Seriously. I could not have done this alone. Or, I could have done it, but it would have SUCKED.
  2. An excellent running community of fun friends. Not only was my foursome that I ran with the whole weekend simply AWESOME, but we had tons of other friends running there every day. We saw them before and after and we laughed and just had a great time. I could not have asked to go to battle with a better group of 50’ish people. There were also several friend who popped in for 1 or 2 days of the weekend and that was great too. I was just happy to be surrounded by so much awesome this weekend.
  3. Perfect weather. We could NOT have asked for better weather for a 3-day race weekend. Not too hot, clear skies, dry trails.
  4. A well-planned race with well-planned and challenging courses. The trails were not boring and there was PLENTY of support. They had to deal with the challenge of idiots stealing our trail markers on Saturday, but they handled it well and only a few people were inconvenienced because of it.

I’m proud to be a Charter Member of the Grand Viduta Stage Race. I hope I can do it every year.

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48 Hours To Get My Sh!t Together.

In 48 hours I start my first ever stage race that will culminate in three days of trail running and 43 miles of some of the toughest trails on Monte Sano. I decided to prep for this by A) Gaining 10lbs and B) Giving up sleeping.

I’m imagining Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman talking to those snobby saleswomen after her successful shopping spree and saying, “Big mistake. HUGE.” But, instead of holding up bags of expensive clothes, I’m talking to my reflection (who has bags under her sleep-deprived eyes) and I’m holding up trash bags filled with empty ice cream containers, Cadbury Creme Egg wrappers, and Krispy Kreme donut boxes.

Big mistake, Kim. HUGE.

6 Donuts In 10 Minutes. DO I WIN SOMETHING?
6 Donuts In 10 Minutes. DO I WIN SOMETHING?

I first heard about “stage races” when I did my first trail marathon in May 2012. The course I did that day was used being discussed a lot by participants because it was also going to be seen during the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race. Three days of back-to-back-to-back trail racing. People evidently camp for the event or even stay in a type of hostel Chattanooga has. I thought the entire experience sounded like SO MUCH FUN. Three days of trail racing? Camping? Two of my favorite things.

The problem was/is – it was/is in June. I truly love Chattanooga, and I love the on trail race I did there, but I hate running long distances in the summer and I really hate snakes and poison ivy. So, I kinda pushed the idea to the back of my head. There turns out to be one in September in Birmingham which is a better time of year, but I’m not sure if I could talk anyone into doing it with me. And the thing about that kind of race is – you really need company if you’re like me. It eases the anxiety of getting lost and it makes the three days not feel as lonely. I still considered it as an option, but since I knew runners my pace who had done it and felt REALLY along, I put it on the back burner as well.

BUT THEN! Several months ago the rumor started spreading that there was going to be a stage race HERE on MY mountain! The second I saw the signup page and confirmed we had no conflicts, I rented a cabin on the mountain for the family. We’ve been looking for an excuse to staycate there for awhile, and this seemed like a good one. BUT – I didn’t sign up for the race yet because it wasn’t being officially promoted and no one I knew was up for committing yet.

Fast forward several months and some friends and I start training for our favorite local trail race – McKay Hollow 25K – and the time on the trails gives us time to discuss the stage race and before I knew it? SEVERAL of my running friends were up for it. Two in particular – the same two who help me on the Sunday trail runs. We decided we’d sign up, promise to stay together to make sure no one gets lost or sees a snake, and we’d just have a GRAND OLE TIME. So…BAM! We all signed up. GRAND OLE TIMES COMING OUR WAY!

It starts in 48 hours.

In 48 hours I will be expected to run 43 miles over the course of THREE days on ALL of the toughest trails on our mountain. Seriously. You talk to any trail runner and ask what THEY think the toughest trail is? And it will be run on one of those three days. And it starts at 7:30 Friday morning.

A lot of my favorite trail running peeps will be out there and I’m certain we’ll have fun…BUT…the problem is this: I’ve not had a good night’s sleep in seven days and I’ve put on 10lbs in four weeks.

You know how I often say, “I eat my feelings.” Well, this is very true, but this time I’m eating Donnie’s feelings. Basically, 4+ weeks ago he found out his company was relocating, and for the next week while we had NO IDEA what that meant for him, and then the next week when he had to decide whether or not to move, and then the two weeks since we decided to stay when he is now trying to find a job to take after the company moves in June…ALL while he’s taking one college class and training for an Ironman…HE IS VERY STRESSED. He was up until 1am last night. He has finals next week. He’s doing two-a-day workouts meaning some days he’s exercising more than 4 hours. ALL on top of college and hunting for a job.

SO…of course I can’t really whine about any anxiety I’m feeling because – you know – he’s getting it full force. So, to be strong for him and to TRY to cope with my own anxiety, I’ve taken to eating the worst diet in the world over the last 8 weeks. You name it? I’ve done it. A pint of ice cream for lunch: four times. An entire pizza. Bags of potato chips, fast food drive thru meals, milkshakes, french fries…EASTER CANDY. I’ve been cramming it all in my face and the result is I put on 8lbs that I worked SO HARD to finally lose. And of COURSE that makes me MORE stressed which makes me eat MORE.

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AND THEN…as Donnie starts to feel a little better this week, school is almost over, job prospects are out there, and I get my annual ALLERGY ATTACK FROM HELL.

I’ve basically not slept for more than 90 minutes at a time for a week. Last night, I woke up around 11:30 and went back to sleep around 1:30am. I’m taking all of the medicine I can and some of it helps some things, but not others. But I’m still too miserable to really get consistent sleep. And the thing that makes me eat my feelings the MOST? It’s not stress, it’s not anxiety, its not sadness or anger…It’s EXHAUSTION. When I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open, but I have stuff that needs to be done, I eat ALL of the food to try to wake myself up.

That, my friends, is how you gain 10lbs in 4 weeks when you REALLY don’t need that extra weight on your joints for a weekend where you have to run 43 EXTREMELY difficult miles over the course of 3 days.

Big mistake, Kim. HUGE.

SO…I have 48 hours to get my shit together. I’m not going to lose 10lbs in 48 hours, but I can try to clean out my system a bit. I’m going to drink water constantly to try to flush out some of the shit I’ve ingested, and I’m going to try to eat as clean as possible. Even though I’m exhausted, I’m going to try to get back to drinking my ONE 16 ounce Diet Coke a day (I’ve about tripled that to cope with the inability to stay awake this week) and NO BEER at all. I’m going to try, try, TRY to get some sleep. It’s really hard, but I do think maybe I’m wrapping up this allergy fest. The congestion is waning (a little bit) and I think the cough might be waning as well (hopefully) so I’m going to do my best to get some sleep over the next two nights. Of course, one of those nights is in a cabin so! We’ll see how well THAT goes!

There won’t be internet on the mountain, but I will have my phone and will update through Instagram if you want to follow me there. I will come home every day at least once because I’ll need to get my epsom baths in, and the kids have school on Friday, and we need to get groceries for a cookout on Saturday, and we need to feed our cats. That’s the nice thing about staycating, you can still rely on the comforts of home if you need to. So! Hopefully I’ll post updates, but if you want to keep up with the stage race, Instagram is your best bet. We race Fri, Sat, and Sun mornings at 7:30am. We’ll do a total of 43 miles over the weekend. It should be FUN if the rain holds off for us.

Wish me luck. I can’t undo 4 weeks of insanity in 48 hours, but I can maybe at least get my body in the mood to NOT GIVE OUT ON ME. Because right now? It’s just all about survival.

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32.6 Miles Of Awesome.

I know I brag about our running community here ENDLESSLY. But MAN…if this weekend wasn’t the PERFECT example of how amazing it is to be a cyclist or a runner in this town, I don’t know what is.

I knew this year that I’d be doing the Heel & Crank Duathlon again. I wanted to redeem myself from last year. I knew when it was – I penciled it on on my “upcoming races” bullet journal page as soon as the date was announced. However, due to our race budget, I was just waiting for an ideal time to register. And then, several months ago, it was announced that Fleet Feet would put on a BRAND NEW half marathon! It would be centered around our research park and our fancy outdoor shopping center. Sounded great! But then it only took about 5 seconds for a lot of us to realize Oh, man. That’s the day AFTER Heel & Crank. I remember even seeing a similar sentiment from the H&C race director. Excitement over the new half marathon (Our other one is in the Fall) but disappointment that it was the day after his race. I joined a few voices that day saying to him, “Eh. I’ll probably do both.”

And I was serious. I like to support good races in my community. I knew it was still technically in my season, before I passed off the racing baton to Donnie. I knew I’d be helping with the 13.1 training program so I’d need to help with the new half marathon, but I wanted to do the duathlon so…I’d just do both. No big deal. It might be kinda fun in a crazy kind of way.

Well, the race directors joked about it that day – making it some sort of bonus challenge to do both. And then…what do you know…a month or so later they announced the plan. The 32.6 challenge! Do the Heel & Crank on Saturday (3 mile run, 13.5 mile ride, 3 mile run) and then the Bridge Street Half Marathon on Sunday (13.1 mile run) and you’d get a mug with BOTH race logos on it. FOR FREE.

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It turned out to be a good experiment in how little it takes to motivate people in our community to do something really insane. Because I think – all told – there were over 100 people who signed up for the 32.6 challenge. Guys? There were only 400 in the Heel & Crank! And I know a BUNCH of those people aren’t normally cyclists, but signed up for the challenge because…well…everyone else is doing it! And we get a mug!

A duathlon is a hard race to put on. You have transition areas and chip timing. You have bike courses you have to clean and running courses you have to stock with aid. And this duathlon Saturday? Did SO MUCH MORE. They had pancakes for breakfast. They had live music. The volunteers all had bright yellow shirts that said “VOLUNTEER” on them. They had people helping in transition and people announcing names across the finish line. Tons of things that aren’t necessary but make an event like that VERY first-timer friendly. This year the race director even tossed the USAT certification so he could allow recumbent bikes. He also put in a fat-tire category to encourage regular cyclists who don’t have road bikes to sign up. He did EVERYTHING in his power to make it as welcoming to newbies, but as challenging to competitors, as possible. And there were volunteers out the wazoo. And…AND…he raised money for a local charity supporting ALS! Great day. Great race. In one hundred MILLION different ways. (Here is my race report.)

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And then! The Bridge Street half was an inaugural event with 1500 participants. That’s HUGE for a first time race in a city this size. And there were TONS of bells and whistles. There were free green cups with the race logo at the Coke Table after the race. The medals were gorgeous the volunteers got great sweatshirts. There were balloon arches and GU given out on the race course. There were official race pacers (I filled in at the last minute for an injured friend) and cheer squads on the course. I’m not a professional racer by any means, but for an inaugural race? I was BEYOND impressed.

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So…basically we had two big races for a community our size requiring HUGE support teams back-to-back this weekend. Both races went above and beyond what you have to do to make it a good race. They made them excellent races. And then – at their own cost – they made extra prizes for people who did both to try to prevent people having to choose one over the other. If you wanted to do both? You had an excuse…FREE AWESOME MUG!

I’m just blown away. This weekend was just the perfect example of the awesomeness that is this athletic community. These race directors and their teams of volunteers are masters at making races beginner-friendly, but also challenging enough to draw the competitors in the city. They do more than what they have to do, no one has to make pancakes for their participants. No one has to provide live music as entertainment. No one has to give out free plastic cups with the race logo on them. No one has to give their volunteers special shirts. But they do ALL of that because the extras are what make people come back to races. Either as volunteers or as participants. The extras are what get participants encouraging their friends and family to sign up the next year.

AND THEN! After both of the races our We Run Huntsville Facebook page was just SWARMED with participants talking about how awesome the races were and how well they were run and how great the volunteers were…it’s just amazing. There were even volunteers posting about how much fun it was to help with the races! Basically it was one SUPER GIANT LOVE FEST all thanks to two wonderful races.

I know I was running in a group of at least 5 people yesterday who were all discussing how excited we were to get our 32.6 mug after the race. Several did their first bike race on Saturday in that duathlon JUST for the mug. And we all agreed we’d do it again next year.

To me? That’s the most telling part. When your racers and your volunteers BOTH say they’ll be back. And when some from both races hope they do the 32.6 challenge again next year so that NEXT YEAR, they can join the crazies. That says a lot right there.

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Well done, Huntsville…Well done.

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