Hot Day at Oak Mountain 50k

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Fun trail in the spring sunshine makes for a wonderful day.

March 19, 2011

Birmingham, Alabama

This was definitely going to be an interesting day.  First, it was the weekend after Three Days, which made three racing weekends in a row – Old Pueblo 50 Mile, Three Days of Syllamo stage race (93 miles total) and this one, a 50k.

Second, the forecast here in Birmingham was unusually hot – sunny and a high of 81F.  We hadn’t been exposed to these temperatures yet and after battling dehydration all last weekend, I took it seriously.

Third, add to my lingering hip injury a couple of cracked ribs from Three Days.  Thankfully, I was learning ways to deal with the hip and the rib pain sat up high near the collarbone.  I’d run one day during the week to see if I could at least run + walk this 50k, which I could.  The ribs hurt to run but ached more consistently after a run, which I could deal with.  At any rate, skipping this beautiful course on a sunny spring day would have felt much worse.

Jo Lena Pace and Lori Ladd getting ready for the start.

Randy Saxon at the start, coming off a nice 100-mile finish at Umstead the previous weekend.

The Day Begins

Like starting at Three Days, the day ahead remained a big unknown until Scott Parker, the race director gave the start and I took those first steps.

The first steps felt good enough to be cautiously optimistic.  I arranged my form the best I could for my hips, found a way to breathe “around” the ribs to minimize pain, and settled into my two favorite race mantras: “run your own race” and “run comfortable.”

All I needed to do now was drink, monitor pace, and pay attention to the course markings.  My hand bottle held water and at the sight of the first aid station – unmanned – I finished it off and stopped to refill while others ran by.  It was cool now, but passing up fluids would cost later in the day.

Ribs or no, I felt like running fast today so I was already running somewhat alone and kept an eye on the markings until I passed the spot I turned wrong last year.  The course crosses itself a couple of times and is one of the few I’ve never been able to visualize on paper, so I thank Scott for marking it well enough that I can simply follow directions.  From here on out, navigation was easy.

The course is fun to run fast and it’s beautiful.  Scott routes us past Peavine falls and along grassy ridgelines and tumbling creeks.  Some early flowers were already out – rue anemones, spring beauties, yellow start grass, and an unusual white saxifrage.

Early on, beside a creek.

Trail runner amusement park ride.

Ah, the spillway in the morning sun, always pretty.

The main attraction, Peavine Falls (yes, we run across in front of it).

In the sunshine during the hot part of the day.

I kept the pace fast but quickly started tasted salt on my lips and noticed salt patterns forming on my top.  I had forgotten electrolyte capsules but knew the manned aid stations would have Gatorade, thank goodness.


The day kept heating up and though it felt great to run fast for a change, the higher the temperature rose, the harder it was to hold pace.  In hindsight, I should have started with Gatorade instead of water in my bottle because about halfway through, lower leg muscles started slightly to cramp.  It’s hard to catch up on lost electrolytes with water or even perfectly-balanced Gatorade.  I needed extra salt.

Until then, I relaxed the muscles as best I could and tried a GU (it couldn’t hurt) but stayed right on the edge of strong muscle cramps.  On the way, I pondered the situation.  The next aid station was unmanned and the course some distance lay between that and the second pass through the Peavine Aid Station where I could maybe find some salt.  I’d just have to hang on and do my best.  Why on earth hadn’t I packed my e-caps??

The two-mile uphill on rocky jeep road past the halfway point gave a welcome excuse to walk out the cramps.  Trees shaded the road as it climbed next to a creek but my head pounded, face stayed a little flushed and leg muscles kept wanting to cramp.   Just as I began to get discouraged, I saw it among the rocks and dirt….a bright, white ecap someone ahead must have dropped.

This is what it feels like on the jeep road - sweaty, hot, and tired.

It arrived, just when I needed it – wasn’t that a sign?  Shouldn’t I take it?  It looked clean.   What could a little dirt hurt?  Just that one would get rid of this cramping and then I could run fast!  Why not – what would it hurt??

It took only a second to see it and pass it by, but it felt like minutes.  Some shred of self-preservation won by arguing I didn’t know where that e-cap had been.  And somehow, knowing I wasn’t that desperate got me through the unmanned aid station and on to Peavine Falls for some extra Gatorade.

Heading to the unmanned aid station.

Al Dimicco, one very welcome smiling face at the Peavine Aid Station. Thank you for working!!!

From Peavine, it’s about six more miles, mostly downhill.  Normally, I love this but this year I struggled and took unheard of walk breaks, one even with the finish in hearing distance.  The finish line was a welcome sight.

Rewards of Race Well Run

It may not have been my best race but it felt deeply satisfying and I ended up third female.  Pretty gratifying when I’d won the race, what seems like a lifetime ago on a different course configuration.  Today, I was tired, content, and covered in so much stiff salt that I hosed off, changed and joined the party to wait for Rob.  And that was enough.

One of the best payoffs of finishing faster today was plenty of time to socialize.  I got to talk with Naresh Kumar, Sally Brooking, Marty Coleman, Bruce Tanksley, Diane Taylor, Cindy Ralston, Jo Lena Pace and Jeff Bryan, Mike Montgomery, Leonard Martin, Hideki Kino, Al Dimicco, and plenty of others, and spend the sunshiny spring afternoon getting to know CeCe Morris and first-time trail runner Elizabeth Goodwin, who amazingly enough, finished the race in better shape than most of us, without a water bottle!

At the End of the Day

Some days it feels great to take it easy and look around, but somedays it feels good to be celebrate being alive, run like you’re yelling it at the tops of your lungs, and feel it in every cell.  Whatever makes you happy that day, do it, and it will be a day perfectly spent.

Randy Saxon and Lori Ladd crossing the finish line.

Randy McFarland captures the feeling of finishing.

Marty Coleman and Sally Brooking (first female!).

Jo Lena pace cooling off at the finish.

Scott Parker, the RD, and fellow Tennessean Mike Montgomery.

Naresh Kumar finishing like it's nothing.

Belinda Young, happy to finish.

Cooling down with ice.

Cold water hits the spot.

Washing off with the hose. That's COLD water.

Sonia Steely, my trail company from last year and sweeper this year.

Yes, they ran today. Very fast.

Rob and Cece finish.

No one should look this good after finishing today. Cece Morris and Elizabeth Goodwin.

Mike Montgomery and Rob.

Andy Colee finishes yet another ultra. Amazing person.

The Three Wise Men.

Pretty Cindy Ralston, always lovely to be around.

CeCe and Elizabeth. Still can't believe Elizabeth finished without a water bottle.

Scott Parker, the esteemed RD who sacrifices his time to hold this party for us.

Jo Lena Pace and Diane Taylor closing down the party.

Jo Lena Pace and Jeff Bryan, what a good-looking couple.

Not ready for the day to end. It's been another good one.

2 Responses to “Hot Day at Oak Mountain 50k”

  1. Al Di micco says:

    Susan – I totally loved this post. Big surprise to see my mug there. You really captured the mood of the day with heat, but especially with your perserverance to finish. Hope to see you again soon and that you’re feeling better. Keep up the great writing.

  2. Elizabeth Goodwin says:

    Not the proud owner of a water bottle yet but I did learn my lesson!!!
    Just ran the Big Sur Marathon last weekend. It was beautiful. I suppose if I can’t do a trail run Big Sur is not a bad substitute.
    Thank you for your wonderful blog.

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