“Sometimes you’ve gotta do a race like that which puts you in your place.” – PRO Race Team teammate.
He was referring to my running of the Hotter N Hell race in Pelham, AL. Now, if you’re thinking “Wait, didn’t you say in previous posts that you were doing the 18 mile?” you would be correct. But coming off of a stressful, and at times frustrating, week of training on campus, and significantly less sleep than I was used to, I opted for the One Loop option instead.
Considering on Friday night I questioned if I actually wanted to go and do this, I think it was a good choice.
When I arrived at Oak Mountain State Park, temps and the dew point were already in the 70s. And would only get warmer once the sun came out. There was some hope that rain from Hurricane Barry would drift over, but that never happened.
My first surprise of the race came immediately at the start. As we were approaching the start time of 7:30, the race director walked over to the start, and with no warning, fired a shotgun into the air. That was the start.
*Here is where I’d like to note something. My Garmin said I got 8 miles and about 1500ft of gain. The race advertises 9 Miles and about 2500ft of gain. Since the loop is in a somewhat remote state park, with lots of steep hills, and in the woods. I’m going to assume the race’s statistics are more accurate than my watch. Still, for the post, I’ll be referencing my watch splits, since it’s all I have.*
The race took us on a winding road for about a half mile, before darting into the woods. Turns out, single track in Alabama is a little different than the Midwest. Obviously, with different soil comes a different running surface, as these trails were almost like sand.
Almost immediately, I could tell me legs had no power in them. I did my best to relax on the first couple miles as we gradually climbed up the side of the first mountain. I came through the first two miles in 8:54 and 8:52 respectively.
While the first two miles were slight uphills, Mile 3 was very uphill. Having looked at the course map ahead of time (which ultimately didn’t really help) I figured more steep hills were to come, and took this section conservatively. I worked my way past a few more runners, and came through in a 11:47, not bad for a mile in which Garmin says I gained 332ft.
Mile 4 continued out uphill trend, but felt more tame compared to the previous mile. It did have our first steep (like 15% grade steep) hill of the day. It also featured the one on course Aid Station at the top of the mountain. I filled up with water, had one of my SIS gels, grabbed a pickle, and went on my way. I was averaging about 9:50 at this point, which felt good for churning up the mountain.
The next section was technical downhill, and you all know how much I love my technical downhill. I cruised past a couple runners, both of whom made a note about my downhill speed.
The start of Mile 6 began at the lowest point of the course, and also began the lowest point of the race (for me). We began climbing almost a half mile long hill. According to Strava, the “flattest” part of the hill was a 6% grade while the steepest was 48%. Not a joke.
“But Ben, what goes up has to come down, so you could crush the downhill.”
We did go down, but on a hill with an average downhill grade of 32%. The race had a rope set up so you didn’t go careening down into the rocks.
Speaking of rocks. That was the next section. Jagged rocks on the river bed, jagged rocks on the hills, jagged rocks on the flats. This was one of the few instances ever in trail racing for me where I had to use all four limbs to traverse the climb. Another 20something % grade awaited at this point.
After laying down a 20:16 mile, I was cooked. It was hot, and I was exhausted. The last couple miles were a net downhill, but still featured plenty of climbing. And while they were more runable, I was smoked.
I shuffled into the finish and was never more thankful to be done with a race. My body was basically pure sweat and dirt at this point and I had enough of that course. I could not imagine going back out for another round.
All in all, I pumped out a 1:35 which was somehow good enough for 25 overall.
This was simply put, a brutal race. I’m glad I did it, because how many times do you get to run a trail race, in Alabama, in the summer? But it was also a confidence crusher being so depleted after only 9 miles.