By this point, you’re read all about my current training cycle and I chase down that ultramarathon goal. This past weekend was an important final step: my first tune up race. It’s the chance to get my feet in the dirt and grind it out with the best of them. This important first race gives me an idea how I’m performing on race days, gives me a chance to dial in my nutrition, and time to tweak my training plan before the big race.
Today you’re getting my full race report for the Birmingham Ultra and Trail Society (BUTS) Bearly Ultra, the 13.5 mile Heavy Half course.
Easy peasy. It was a single tent at the race start and I had my swag and bib number in under two minutes. Remember, ultras are low population events and this one was limited to 50 participants per event (ultra or half).
It was a small crowd milling around at the entrance to the park. Not much fanfare, as expected. We got a few notes from the course director on what the trail markers would look like but that was about it.
Weather: It was about 40F at the start which is really the borderline for a lot of my gear. If you followed the thread on Twitter then you know I elected to drop my windbreak with 10 minutes until race start. In the sun I was warm with a tank top and long sleeved shirt. However, later in the race, after some hills climbs that got me sweating, I was chilled to the bone on the ridge crossing because of the wind. My rule of thumb is to mentally add 20 degrees to the thermometer for what it will feel like running. (e.g. – 40F would feel like 60F once running, 70F feels like 90F) That said, it doesn’t factor in things like wind and shade. I was very lucky it stayed sunny the whole time or I think I would have had real hypothermia issues.
Trail conditions: Because it was sunny and dry the days before the race the trail condition was perfect. Little to no mud, not creek crossings, and Red Mountain Park is meticulously groomed and maintained.
Terrain: *deep inhale* Screw this course! Ok, that said, any problems with the terrain are 100% my fault. The race director had created a good, challenging course and its on me for not doing enough hill work in my training spin up. About 1600’ of the course’s total 1800’ of climb come in the first 6 miles. The first mile ends in a climb nearly to the highest elevation and it goes on from there. Miles two through seven are very technical climbs and descents. Its slow going up and if you’re clumsy like me, you’re taking your time to pick your way back down the hills too. I averaged 16 and 17 minute miles in some areas.
Again, if you read the Twitter thread, you saw my frustration here. In normal year there is a water only station around mile 3 then a full aid station you cross at mile 6 and (supposedly) mile 9. This year they skipped the water only stop and asked everyone to carry sufficient water. The milage for the second stop at the only aid station was way off, listed at mile 9 but I crossed it at mile 11. I was so frustrated that I ended up blowing past it the second time without stopping for more than a quick “thank you” to the volunteers. It was a slim selection too as everything had to be pre-packaged for safety. I relied on my own supplies.
Did I hit the Pain Cave?
Yes. Absolutely. Miles two through six where miserable with those hills but I came out of it around the time I hit the aid station at mile 9. There were a few points where I wasn’t super “up” but nothing like the hilly sections.
I didn’t think about how much I dislike eating when I’m cold. I should have been putting down a snack about every 2-2.5 miles. Over the course of 13.12 miles, I only got 2.5 snacks in when I should have consumed at least twice that. I burned 1700+ calories and only put in 500 and I felt the deficit by the end. I am glad I had what I carried since nothing at the air station looked good (boiled potatoes, bananas, and water) but I should have eaten more and carried something with a little protein in it.
The other impact of the cold was that I did not want to drink my water. It was cold, I was cold, and I had a hard time making myself drop ambient temperature was directly into my core when I was already cold. I saw the impact of that later in the race when my heartrate was jacked up through the roof (165-180bpm) even when I was running an easy pace on a gentle downhill. Be smart kids, drink your water!
No crew for this race, it was too short and limited access due to COVID.
The finish line:
Minimal. I flashed my numbers and they recorded me complete, I snagged my cool mug, and headed to my car for the long drive home.
3:09:12 which means I came up short on my goal of being sub-3:00.
I was not ready for the hills but this was a good kick in the rump and will keep my humble and realistic about Mississippi 50 in March. While I feel like the hills kicked my rear end, a day later, I don’t feel terrible. I don’t feel that I need to tweak either my training plan or nutrition before MS50. MS50 is a much flatter course, with minimal hills that match what I have down here in the Panhandle so adding hills would be unnecessary.
The Gear List:
I’m going to start adding gear lists to all my runs so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. Some affiliate links, most aren’t.
Mask: Under Armour Adult Sports Mask – required to run. Must wear item for check in, race start, and going through aid stations. I wore this around my hotel but wore my 2020 MS50 neck gaiter for the run. Should have worn the UA mask.
Top: Nike Women’s Dri-Fit Element Long Sleeve Running Top – This one is a good top (45-55F) or middle layer (<45F). Plus, thumb holes and it covers half my hand.
Tank top: Nike tank top. Designed to indoor workouts like weight lifting but does well running too. Great as an only layer (>60F) but does well as a base layer too (<60F).
Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good.” I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tore my back up after 5 miles. I had some gnarly chaffing there and will need to look at other options in the future.
Tights: Curve ‘n’ Combat Boots Empowered Black (V1) – As with my bra, its not desired as running gear but it fits me well and does the job. These are designed as weightlifting tights and the dimensions are for a woman with thick legs. Like, babe you are squatting 225lbs as a warm up and the squat boots/thighs are strong and the waist is small! They fit me perfectly but if you have a more traditional runner’s body then they may be too baggy or slip while you run.
Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes. I did not lace my right shoe tight enough and have a small blister to show for my slipping around inside the shoe.
Shoes: Altra Olympus Trail Shoe – These have the thickest soles of my trail shoes and for the technical climbs, I should have sacrifices some comfort for trail feel and gone with my slightly thinner Lone Peaks.
Gaiter: Altra Trailer Gaiter – Designed specifically for Altra trail shoes and fits well (will not work on other shoes!). Kept out the sand pit I slogged through around mile 3 of each loop.
Gloves: Cheap ($1) knit cotton gloves bought from either Michaels or Hobby Lobby a few years back. I highly recommend finding a very cheap cotton glove to carry. Expensive bougie gloves are great but get lost so often… buy the cheap ones and they’ll never disappear on you.
Hat: Brooks and probably some type of dry fit? It was a gift from my wonderful spouse so I have no idea where he purchased it. Wears well and kept my head warm.
Vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 – This is my “new to me” but “older model” vest I got on sale for half price. There’s a new version but I’m glad I gambled on buying this one as it’s been a real champ. Lots of easily accessible pockets, good bottle holders, and the bladder holding set up keeps it from rattling around or slipping its loops like my other vest. Not as easy to access the bladder for refills once it’s on but I didn’t need a refill this race so it hasn’t impacted me yet.
Liquid Salt/Carbs: Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder – purchased with coupons on the Gatorade website which is good because I don’t love it. It’s not as strong a flavor as regular Gatorade and it does well for replacing salt/carbs quickly but… I dunno, maybe I’m too picky, I don’t love it. But, I’m kind of a cheapskate and won’t buy anything new until I finish this container.
Snacks: Both the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) and the Honey Stinger Organic Waffle. For the cold, this wasn’t a great pairing. The waffle was stiff and hard to chew from cold and since the chews are caffeinated, they aren’t a good “only” option. I supplemented with snacks from the aid station during this race. But for a race in more normal temps, they work really well for me.
GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Held up like a champ, no issues and seemed to give a good, if horrifying, read out for my climb data.
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