Coach Will: The Wade Mountain Marathon & Half Marathon
What’s not to like about fall? I love that cool crisp air, constant crunching of the leaves under foot and the beautiful colors. Fall is my favorite time of year hands-down. As a coach, it’s a time of year when the “I told you so’s” finally happen. Months and months of hard work and preparation through the hot, soupy, summer finally pay off. As a runner, I almost instantly see a 20-30 second per mile improvement in just about every run. It is truly a great time of year to enjoy the sport that we love so much.
Back in college, I was always looking for new and exciting places to run. Growing up in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, I was limited to neighborhood streets as part of the mass suburban sprawl that had taken over. We had SOME trail options but not many that were easily accessible to the north side of the metroplex. Upon landing in Huntsville in the fall of 2006, I was awestruck at the endless possibilities of trails. Monte Sano alone has 30+ miles of trails, enough to keep the 60+ mile per week runner happy. Running for UAH, we typically met at “the mountain” known to most as Monte Sano, three to four times per week. Over a couple of years and thousands of miles later, I was looking for other training options to keep things interesting and add in the rotation of weekly running spots. After doing a few Google searches I found that the Land Trust of North Alabama, had another nature preserve on the north side of town. I decided to venture out to Wade Mountain on a Sunday morning for my usual staple- an easy 10-miler. What I discovered left me chomping at the bit.
Wade Mountain Nature Preserve is a gorgeous 843-acre piece of land only 10 minutes north of downtown Huntsville, AL. There are 2 park entrances from Spragins Hollow Rd NW (the main trail head) and also off Pulaski Pike NW. Due to the proximity of most of the trails, I typically go the Spragins Hollow entrance. On that winter Sunday morning in 2009, there was a light rain. It was cool, but not cold as I headed out. The first thing I noticed on my run was how the topography looked much different than Monte Sano. As I headed down what I now know is Rock Wall > Harris > Devils Race Track > Piney Loop, I realized how the different rock formations, open areas, even the single track trail itself was all different than Monte Sano. Even though the two parks are only about 5-10 miles apart from one another, I really did feel like I was in a different part of the state. As runners, we all look for variety and are constantly looking for new places to run. That Sunday morning back in 2009, I found a new staple that I continue to enjoy today.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years about the Huntsville running community is that most trail runners hit up Monte Sano and Blevins Gap, but then the number of runners tends to drop at the other nature preserves in the area. One of the challenges with areas that don’t get as much foot traffic is that the vegetation on the trails tends to creep up on the trails during the summer time. The higher traffic trails are often wider and smoother due to all the foot and bike traffic. After running at Wade for a couple of years, I noticed that during the summer, the trails became more difficult to navigate. So naturally I went back to my default Monte Sano runs during the summer months. Unfortunately not going out to Wade left me with less variety to my weekly runs. All of that was to change a few years later.
In 2015 I sat down with my friends Brandon Mader and Sean Allan to discuss the idea of putting on a trail race at Wade Mountain. The area was simply too beautiful for runners to not know about. Wade Mountain is closer to many runners who live in North Huntsville and areas like Harvest, Meridianville etc. but yet these runners continued to drive to Monte Sano every weekend. I concluded that this was most likely due to two things. Firstly, many runners don’t know about Wade’s trails. Secondly, if they visited during the high growth season, the trails are quite tight and less enjoyable to run on. Constantly navigating weeds and branches and sticks makes for a less enjoyable run for most people. We know the answer to fighting back the vegetation is more foot traffic so we have to 1) educate people about the resources close to them and 2) get folks on the trails so that there is less maintenance to do by the Land Trust staff. Similar to those high traffic trails at Monte Sano, if we could create enough foot traffic and interest in this area, the runners and bikers would end up naturally fighting back the brush just by hiking, running, and biking the trails as they do elsewhere. So we took this idea to the Land Trust and from there, the Wade Mountain Marathon and Half Marathon was born. (Visit the race page here: http://www.runninglane.com/runs/wade)
Once we decided on a date, we knew there would be a lot of work to do. It was going to take a lot of blood, sweat, and hopefully not too many tears to get the trails ready for an event like the Wade Mountain Marathon and Half. Working closely with the Land Trust, we began clearing vegetation. After several weekends fighting back poison ivy, fallen trees, and loose rocks, the trails were finally ready. The 2016 event was off and for the first time in the history of the nature preserve, runners from all over, including runners from other states, got to enjoy Wade Mountain glory.
Nearly 100 runners participated in the first year of the event. As running nerds, we (RunningLane) love to hang out and spend time with other runners. We wanted to create a unique experience that would feel like a festival or party. After the race, we grill out for everyone and have a grand time as we cheer on runners as they come through. There are several aid stations throughout the course. These aid stations are stocked with GU, pretzels, M&M’s, fruit, water, and Gatorade. Participants also receive a hoodie sweatshirt, which is unique from other races. There is nothing better than wearing a sweatshirt on a cold morning run or hike. Later in the day, the marathon finishers will continue to stream in. We have the ability to stream football games on the flat screen TVs, so we tend to get questions like “What’s the score!?” and “How’s my team doing!?”. The camaraderie is really unmatched at a race like this. Sure people want to run fast, possibly win an award, but everybody supports each other. That’s one of the unique things about trail runners- the sense of community. Everybody wants each other to do well. It’s something rarely seen, especially having been exposed to both high school and collegiate cross country and track. It is a beautiful thing.
This year’s race is capped at 110 participants. We are super excited to welcome back Wesley Ormond, the 2nd overall finisher from last year. A few other top guys will include Craig Smith, Brian Smith and Russ Dixon. On the women’s side, Youngsu Hoy, Emily Kennedy and Lindsey Hardesty will be the top returners. In the half marathon, Steven Lamar from Chattanooga returns as the top returning male. The ladies race is stacked with very strong runners with the likes of Jennifer Sattterfield and Meghan Darby from last year. Newcomers Justyna Mudy-Mader, Whitney Batemen, and Alison Doyle may be front-runners, competing for the title as well.
Although the competition will be fun and the post-race after party will be a time to celebrate and talk about the obstacles overcome, the important thing to remember is that all of this wouldn’t be possible without the Land Trust of North Alabama. The Land Trust of North Alabama is a magnificent organization that works to secure land for public use. They are a 501(c)(3) organization that values green spaces and preserves these lands for all to enjoy. If it were not for the Land Trust, Wade Mountain and the other 8 nature preserves, wouldn’t exist. That’s over 62 miles of trails that you and I get to enjoy every week, gone. As a 501(c)(3) their non-profit status allows you to make tax-exempt donations. As we enter the last quarter of 2017, I ask that you please consider becoming a member of the Land Trust of North Alabama. You can visit their website here: http://www.landtrustnal.org/ or see the different membership levels here: http://www.landtrustnal.org/join-the-land-trust. Again, it’s tax exempt!
I want to conclude by extending an invitation to everybody reading this to come join us on Sunday, October 22nd, 2017. There are a few spots left for people who want to race. You can register for the race here: http://ultrasignup.com/register.aspx?did=44826. If the race is sold out or you would like to volunteer, you may also do so on the race registration site. The Volunteer button is next to the registration button. All volunteers will receive a t-shirt, meal, and 25% off any future RunningLane event entry. (http://www.runninglane.com/events)
See you on the trails,
If you enjoyed this read or have questions for Coach Will, let him know by sending him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org