The RD altered the course this year to try to minimize the congestion that always occurs very early in the race when 300 - 400 runners are funneled down the 1st big hill that's on single track. The 1st 2 years I ran this I used a quick early pace to avoid the heaviest traffic but ended up running a forced pace afterwards just to keep from getting run over! This year the course was re-routed so that a couple miles of fairly flat road/trail were shifted to just after the start to help spread out the field.
Well, the field had indeed spread out after 3 miles, but a new problem arose. As soon as everyone headed down the 1st hill of years past, everyone came to a standstill. Why? Because Alabama has had its' share of cold weather -- one of the streams crossing the trail had turned into ice. It took almost 4 minutes to go inch by inch just to get to the ice. Had I known I would be standing around that long, I would've ran the 1st 3 miles alot slower (the line behind me was not near as long as the one in front). One fellow couldn't wait & took a butt slide down the steep hillside to bypass everyone.
The course was the driest I've seen it, so other than the ice crossings, the course was fast. Surprisingly though, this year the winning time was 27 minutes slower than last year when a record was set in the mud. Besides the course alteration at the start, there was one other change at mile 24 -- the course felt longer but my Garmin said it was about the same. This years' winner, Scott Breeden, had won Louisville's Lovin' the Hills 50k in record fashion in 2013 after finishing 2nd at Mountain Mist a few weeks earlier.
The 1st half of the course is the fastest & least technical. I always use the 17 mile aid station as the halfway point of this race timewise. Last year I averaged 12 min/mile to this point. This year it was 13 min/mile -- it was slower, but felt good & was really enjoying myself. I had used the same race prep (diet & belt tightening) as before at Tecumseh & up to that point it was working great. However, the long rocky technical downhills at miles 19 & 27 were tough. The large step downs on the boulders about did me in. Most runners jump down them, but for me it was an awkward ballet with the stiff back brace.
After the last tortuous downhill, it was a struggle to continue. I was hurting and had no energy. There was Powerade at all the aid stations but it was watered down quite a bit -- I missed my sweet Gatorade. I ate some pb&j quarters & potato chips - my favorites, but apparently I did not eat near enough. After I dragged myself across the finish line, I headed straight for the hot pizza. They have pizza delivered regularly & it's kept in ovens til needed -- it's great! What Christmas turkey I was able to burn off during the race, I gained back & more with pizza (I think I ate a whole pizza!). I believe I've found the limit to the special pre-race diet I'm using & need to make some adjustments (eat more) for longer races.
Next up on Saturday is Louisville's Lovin' the Hills 50k. This race is about as local as it gets -- I can see the course from my front porch. Earlier today I flagged the 1st leg for the race, about 6 miles. I had planned on more but wasn't expecting the 5" of snow last night. Felt like I needed snowshoes in the deeper areas. Looking ahead at the forecast for the rest of the week, it doesn't look like the snow will be going away anytime soon. If anything, any melting will freeze over & the course will be solid ice! Looking forward to the challenge.