Red Top Rumble – My First Trail Race

Red Top Rumble – My First Trail Race

The last time I put a number on to race was at the London Marathon in April last year (I had the Memorial Day 5k and PTS Allatoona Sprint Triathlon as fillers, but I didn’t train for them. Just showed up and suffered). While it was an experience that could not be topped, after that race I was demoralized, frustrated and a bit burnt out trying to chase goals and juggle life. It took me a long time to get that fire back and then a little longer to figure out goals and plan to get there. With that long a period, I stared at race morning of Red Top Rumble almost like a newbie agonizing over what to wear (surely I’m not the only one who spends hours on trying to decide!) and the weather (come on, we’ve all done that!). 

Red Top Rumble

The Red Top Rumble is a 11.5 mile trail race at Red Top Mountain State Park, about 25-30min from home and I was lucky to have Barbara to carpool with and hang out with before the race.  I had missed the thrill of pinning a race number and so many awesome people to meet and hug and catch up with – the MARC crew, the NoBoundaries gang, friends from the Tri world, speedy Amy and even unexpectedly running into my old colleague Julie. 

Red Top Rumble was very well organized with a family feel. Indeed, it felt like everyone knew everyone else there! They had a ton of raffles at the end (the numbers before and after me won, not me though) and food. Aid stations manned by my 5am buddies Joy and Laura were well stocked with lots of goodies including chips and fat M & Ms.  

Run Steady. Run your Race.

I lost sight of most of the crowd within half a mile of the start and as I was pulling further back from Barbara and the awesome walking lady, I wanted to try to keep up so I wouldn’t be alone. But pushing from the very start of the race before I settled in is also not my “style”. So I ran my race and my pace and was rewarded when I caught up at aid station 3.

Red Top Rumble
The lone runner that I saw from about mile 2 to aid station 3.

Looking at the Red Top Rumble race results, I can see a lot of people who were in earlier time frame photos mid race showing up nearer my time in the results. But there was no death march for me at the end of this race. 

Red Top Rumble
With no other runner in sight, nothing else to do but bemoan the receding water at the lake.

 Learn to read the course markers. And listen to the RD before the race!

I should’ve known that course markings on the trail isn’t the same as roads. The trails for most part were wide enough for 2 to run abreast and so I was merrily running along when I came across a blue tape blocking the trail.

“Why is this in my way?”, I thought as I climbed over it and went along the trail.

A bit ahead I saw the walking lady but she was to my far left and as I was trying to see how far I had before I could catch her, I noticed the trail veering to the right and going down while she was to my left and going up!

Turns out that the blue tape was put across the trail to stop racers from taking that path and there were little blue flags to indicate the right path to take. Oops!

Red Top Rumble
Those blue tapes – follow them but don’t cross them aka use a bit of common sense when trail racing. Photo: Samantha Taylor Photography

And then there was the time when I was only half a mile from the finish and saw a similar blue tape and little blue flags with a volunteer standing a little ways down. And I promptly went down the wrong path!!!! The volunteer kept calling out “this way” and I kept going “that way”, carefully trying not to slip or loose footing in the path that wasn’t the path!

Sigh. Only me!

You. Shall . Not . Pass !
You. Shall . Not . Pass! This one we had to cross over – the blue tag is on the side of the trail and not across.

Just one mile. Just one mile.

I’ll admit it – the 11.5 miles on trails to be completed in 2hrs 45min intimidated me. Actually, it scared the bejesus out of me! Past couple of years, I’ve had to write to the Red Top Rumble Race Director that I wasn’t going to be able to run and they could give my spot to anyone else on the waiting list (although last year it was not due to lack of training; in fact I was well trained but had ill-planned a hike up the Appalachian Approach Trail the day before). Having trained for the Red Top Rumble specifically this year, I was determined to atleast show up and give it my best.

While the Red Top Rumble started off with rolling trails, the trails weren’t all easy. After aid station 3 and a great boostup by Laura there, was this loop with steep hills (or so it felt), steep enough to give me discomfort in my back when I walked up them and long enough to attempt to mess with my head. 

Red Top Rumble
Decently steady splits over the elevation.

My mantra became – just one mile. Finish the mile I’m in before looking ahead at how many more miles. And I kept going – cursing every up, and trying to take advantage of the downs. I was very surprised by the fact that I was able to run down the hills/flats even after all those hills, I had energy and a lot of oomph. And I strung together a whole bunch of “just one mile” to the finish!

Can you see the bottom of the trail where we climbed up from? Yeah, neither can I. Photo: Laura at Aid Station 3 and 4.
Can you see the bottom of the trail where we climbed up from? Neither can I.
Photo: Laura at Aid Station 3 and 4.

I might not be last after all !

Knowing my ever constant slow pace, I’m always prepared to come last in a race. I had trained and the goal was to finish and to be the best “me” I could be on that day. 

And when I lost sight of everyone in that first mile, I didn’t have any delusions on what my placement could be – I just wanted to finish, and finish as close to the time limit of 2hrs 45min as advertised (The first few finishers crossed me heading back with only a mile left of the 11.5 miles when I had gotten through just 3.x miles – I enjoyed seeing the beauty of the winners as they fly by. And getting a thumbs up or good job from all three of the top finishers, including the incredibly fast George Darden, was a bonus.) 

To my surprise, I started passing people in the last 2 miles or so. Catching up to the back of the pack at aid station 3 was a huge boost, but passing the first person a bit later and dropping them, gave me a feeling like never before.

ME, passing people!!!! What just happened??

The last mile or so to go and still smiling!
Across the road is the path to the last mile finish. Photo: Joy at Aid Station 2, 5.

And I continued to push to the finish. I walked when I had to up the steeper hills or downs where I wasn’t sure of my footing, ran the flats and downs and the “easy” hills, all through to the end. The reward – the finish line and finishing up ahead of 10 other people!

Red Top Rumble
Slow and at the bottom, but not the very bottom. I passed 7 of those 10 finishers in the last 2 miles – thanks to running steady and no death march.
Red Top Rumble
Best Feeling Ever – to finish my first trail race AND not be the last finisher.

Georgia Sports Chiropractors had set up a recovery station with these awesome Normatec boots that they allowed me to try on even as they were packing up. The person who set me up was the guy who won the Red Top Rumble. No big deal, right? Win a trail race in insane time and get down to regular business!

Recovery in style with Normatec boots!
Myself, Megan and Barbara recovering in style with Normatec boots thanks to Georgia Sports Chiropractor Photo: Laura after getting me settled with a much needed cup of hot chocolate

The whole Red Top Rumble experience has made me excited about my other races this year, leading up to The Marine Corps Marathon in October. But I am not going to sign up for a ton of races either (unless someone wants to sponsor me to run. lol.). With time off of racing and time spending my weekend around the family schedule instead of obsessing over long runs, I have much better support from my family. 

So while Miss. FauxRunner prepares to take on her first 5k of the year next weekend, I shall be content to get back into the training grind until the Georgia Publix Half Marathon in March. 


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  • Chaitali Shah

    Great job and it sounds like the strategy of starting steady and sticking to your pace paid off! This looks like a beautiful but tough race. And I didn’t realize you were planning on doing Marine Corps this year. We usually try to go down there and cheer every year 🙂

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