Monday, January 29, 2018

The 2018 Fleet Feet ~ HTC Grand Slam of Huntsville

31.69 miles on November 18, 2017


Warm. Cloudy. Breezy.

Those were the conditions on Monte Sano Mountain at the 14th Annual Dizzy Fifties 50K: the first race of The Fleet Feet/ HTC Grand Slam of Huntsville (GSoH).

I published a race report three years ago introducing the series found here.

This year's Dizzy Fifties 50K (only) no longer offered the sparsely entered 40 and 50 mile distances of past years, and it introduced a new course.

My GARMIN Forerunner 910XT Dizzy Fifties 50K Data

The new course used many of the same trails used in past races, but this year they were run in different directions and instead of returning to the start-finish pavilion 6 times during the race, we returned only twice before finishing.

2017-18 Finisher Awards
The three 10.5 miles loops retained the hilly northern loop and flat southern loop and had one aid station at the halfway point. Owen Bradley from Birmingham, AL won the race with at time of 4:33:57 followed by Alex Clark, Timothy Pitt, and Will Crisp.

2017 Dizzy Fifties 50K Race Results

Dizzy is a guaranteed sell-out nowadays. You gotta be ready at the end of July to sign up August 1st or you'll be on the wait list. The race is better than ever with new RD Ryan Chaffin. The leaves are beautiful on the mountain and everyone is ready for the fall racing season to get under way, especially the Grand Slammers.

I published a report two years ago with pictures of the trails and leaves on a sunny day found here.

Huntsville Grand Slammers @ Dizzy Fifties
We take a Grand Slam photo before every race and I made it into three of them this year. I'm not sure if a picture was taken at the Rocket City Marathon. There is also a Facebook page for the Huntsville Grand Slam that we use to keep each other encouraged and to celebrate our finishes.

I have finished 3 Grand Slams (2013-14, 2016-17, 2017-18).

When we sign up for the Grand Slam and each individual race, and after finishing them all, we receive our Grand Slam finishers jacket at Mountain Mist.

This year, YoungSu Hoy made a very special gift for each finisher (pic at bottom).

The second race of the GSoH is the Rocket City Marathon.


The only distance in the GSoH less than 31 miles and the only road race is the long standing Rocket City Marathon (RCM). A "flat and fast" course, the RCM held on the second Saturday in December surpasses one thousand entrants perennially. Quite an impressive number for a marathon distance only race. No other distances are offered.

26.2 miles on December 9, 2017
2017 Rocket City Marathon Data

The milder temperatures of early December are inviting, though it can be warm or even frigid depending on the year. The RCM has had a number of different courses over its 40+ year history. I have run RCM six of the last seven years and my wife, Laura, ran it the year I did not (2013) in an impressive time of 3:50:29.

Huntsville, AL is a great running city thanks to so many volunteers, race directors, and especially, the Huntsville Track Club of which we are proud members.

I finished this year's RCM thirty minutes slower than last year. I finished an average of one hour slower in the 3 50Ks, because I only ran the races this year. I did not run at all between any of the races. Not something I recommend or would ever do again, but a nice memory for a one and done.

Racing experience and mental strength can take you a long way.

This year's RCM welcomed world class marathon and ultra distance runner Mike Wardian to Huntsville for the first time. He spoke at the annual Spaghetti Dinner the night before the race and finished fourth overall. He said he had a great time with us, and we look forward to seeing him again.

This year's Rocket City Marathon was won by Mike Deren of Louisville, KY with a time of 2:24:15 a 5:30/mile pace for 26.2 miles! It's easy to assume that the RCM is our last local race of the year, but we squeeze in one more race on New Year's Eve every year called Recover From The Holidays 50K.


Did I Mention It Was Cold? 

FREEZING cold and joyful is how I describe the 2017 Really Freezing Hard 50K. Only the determined even showed up much less finished. And those volunteers! Such an encouragement.

Were it not for pride and being signed up for the Grand Slam, I wonder if I myself wouldn't have found an excuse. Running 31 miles on the last day of the year is a great way to feel good about the entire year, so that's a big part of it for me.

Ultra running is about community. We run, but being around some of the best people in the world is what keeps us coming back. We suffer together toward a common goal and encourage each other to finish no matter what our various times may be.

RFH50K is run around John Hunt Running Park in Huntsville, AL behind the Huntsville Tennis Center. A one mile loop begins the race and then we count down ten 3 mile loops for a total of 31 miles.

31.17 miles on New Year's Eve
My GARMIN Data: Recover From The Holidays 50K

This year was the final year for beloved race directors Tony and Christy Scott. They did a great job over the last few years building this race into a local sellout at an unbelievable $15 race entry fee.

Tents are set up with heaters, chairs and tables inside and a large buffet table outside rejuvenates runners at the three mile turnaround with many volunteers making it a special day for everyone.

I've run this race 5 years in a row.

New Year's Eve would not be the same with RFH.

No better way to end a year.

The fourth and final leg of the Fleet Feet - HTC Grand Slam of Huntsville is the much anticipated ultra trail race classic: Mountain Mist.


The first half of Mountain Mist (MM) made me the most nervous not having trained between races. The other three races do not have hard cut off times, nor are they as technical as MM. Efficiency is not as viable a strategy at MM, as it is as other races, and I did not know if my ego would get me into trouble with this one.

We Be Slammin' @ Monte Sano Lodge for MM
As the race went on, I relaxed more and more, mainly because I was making the cut off times. I ran mostly alone and never got into a crowded spot during the race which limited any frustration.

My RELIVE Video of 2018 Mountain Mist Trail Run

If there's a FOMO race it's Mountain Mist. Each year is unique, because the conditions are never the same.

Meeting in the big and cozy Monte Sano Lodge is always a treat with everyone sitting around talking and anticipating the start. Running on Monte Sano is a privilege that everyone seems to enjoy and talk about year after year.

I made the first hard cutoff by around 15 minutes, the next soft one by 10 minutes and the big one at the top of Waterline by 30 minutes, so while the first two were tolerable, the last one put me at ease that all I needed to do was run 6 miles in 2.5 hours. Not guaranteed on a technical course like MM, but if all went well, I would be okay.

Unique hand-painted stone by YoungSu Hoy
This year's race saw the return of Trough Springs Trail which I'd never run, but enjoyed as a break from Arrowhead. I swear I saw Dave Grohl out there walking.

Overall, the race seemed to pass quickly for some reason I can only attribute to being relaxed, having fun and possibly hallucinations.

My first goal was to finish and my second was to finish under eight hours. I had to hurry after I reached the plateau, but I managed to squeeze in at 7:59:05 on the big clock. A small victory, but one to celebrate nonetheless. It was great to see Chad Woods and Jay Crosby at the finish.

Had I finished in 8:29:59, I would be happy. Getting my painted stone and finisher's jacket was all that mattered.

31.13 miles on January 27, 2018
The official grand total of miles in the Fleet Feet ~ HTC Grand Slam of Huntsville is 119.2 over four races. Running these races in the fall and winter make them very appealing because of the mild/cold temperatures which are more comfortable to run in, and because they are great training for a spring 100 miler.

Running season in Alabama is just getting started (since it never ends) and The Phillip Parker Black Warrior 50K, Mount Cheaha 50K, and Lake Martin 100 miler are just around the corner.

It is the Golden Age of Ultrarunning, and I am so happy to be a part of it!


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