I ran the inagural Grand Viduta Stage Race in Huntsville, Alabama the last weekend in April and let me say that Brandon Mader, Will Rogers, and Sean Allan put on a great event. I will definitely be back next year! Here’s why:
- First and foremost, great course diversity and smart course design: the first day was in the Land Trust portion of Monte Sano Mountain and for those familiar with the Mountain Mist 50k course, as I am, the GVSR offered up a different view and approach to many of the classic trails used in the MM50k.
There was very little running of the same trail twice and a wonderful ultization of the rockiest trails in the area. At roughly 13 miles, it was a technical, and challenging day. Days two (16 miles) and three (14 miles) were on the other side of the mountain predominantly in Monte Sano State Park and also utilized many MM50k trails, again in many cases, in the opposite direction of the old classic. There were sustained climbs, steep descents, and also technical footing.
Newer trails (not part of MM50k) and the infamous Death Trail out of McKay’s Hollow crowned the event Sunday. The race directors laid out the basic plan and veteran Rob Youngren offered his advice on how to make the courses even better. You would be hard pressed to be disappointed in any aspect of the course layout.
- Great trails: Monte Sano Mountain has some amazingly diverse trails. There are short steep climbs,and long sustained ones; incredibly, excessively rocky stretches, and perfectly runnable ones. I admit to having a special fondness for all of them–Randy and I lived on the mountain from 1998 to 2002 and ran there nearly every day–and I was surprised at how well I remembered them. One of the things I most enjoyed about the race was feeling like I was home. The pictures are from days 1 and 3.
- A small group of runners: The event had a wonderful, traditional ultra feel in part because it was small. It was a great amount of runners for a first year event and everyone I spoke to had a blast.
- Fresh fruit at the end of the stages: Fresh cut watermelon, grapes, and oranges awaited us at the end of days two and three. It was humid enough to make me welcome the sweet and wet fruit.
- Because I was in town visiting old friends, I missed out on the after party each day, but heard they were great. The guys organized a group meal at different restaurants–the perfect hosting activity for locals to show off Huntsville’s eateries to out-of-towners.
- Here’s what else I liked about it: a cotton T-shirt (I have enough tech tees to last me until the Reckoning), ample aid stations (and food), delicious post race snacks, beautiful trails and great courses, running with friends, a generally low-key event.
Bonus: a great photographer who was all over the courses and posted hundreds of pictures each day. Added bonus: Huntsville has an amazing running community. My husband and I were quickly welcomed into it when we moved to town and have felt a part of it even after we moved away. When you come to Huntsville for a race, you feel you belong, like you are part of a big family.
Complaints: None. I can’t think of a thing that wasn’t great. The trails were well-marked and even though some flagging was pulled down by local boneheads on the second day, no one had serious issues with it (sure a few people got off course for a mile or so–it always seems like more than it is–and then they were back on course and on their way to the finish). The race directors regrouped and made sure everything was perfect for Sunday.
Overall, the Grand Viduta Stage Race was just what an event should be: fun, beautiful, challenging, and filled with the spirit of comraderie. Put it on your calendar for next April. You won’t be sorry!