Alabama: BUTS Bearly Ultra

This race has been at the top of my list for Alabama since I first came across it in a search of Alabama races. This state has some well known and difficult races, but the group that runs this one made it appealing the me. It’s hosted by the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society and after reading through their website, they seemed like a great group of trail runners who know how to put on a race that’s not too serious. The race takes place in Red Mountain Park. The park is the former site of an iron ore mine and you can see the historic evidence along the trails we ran. Although I was pretty sure this would be the race for Alabama, the fact that my awesome boyfriend/crew/running partner has family in Birmingham made it a certainty. They also have a slightly longer than half marathon and he had just finished the Infinitus 8k when I asked if he was interested in running the half here. He agreed and we started his training – all the way through a south Texas summer.

Total elevation just over 2,300′

As usual, we arrived early the day before the race. After picking up the car, we went to check out the park and trails. The course description suggested we started along power lines, so we had to see how serious they were. We found the starting area and the not at all intimidating power lines. We explored the park that is packed with activities including zip lines, a dog park, ropes courses, climbing walls, and oversized patio furniture.

Hard to tell from the picture, but these were huge.

After an early dinner, I got to enjoy reassuring him for a change that everything would be fine on race day! We were up in plenty of time to get to the park, get front row parking, pick up our bibs, and use the portapotties several times. After a race briefing, we lined up and were sent off.

All runners started together and the marathoners ran two loops of the course. That meant I could stay with my running partner for his entire first half marathon, but he was very concerned that I would not finish the marathon in time if I stayed with him. We hadn’t been able to find anything about cutoffs, but if I’d asked, I would’ve learned that there are none. Because we didn’t know, we decided that I would run the first mile with him and then go at my pace. Happily, that meant we got to share the power lines!

After clearing the power line section, we turned onto the park trails. They were a beautiful glittery red from the iron ore that had been mined in the area. I’ve never seen trails like that. The trails were mostly singletrack, with some roots, many rocks, and were very well marked. The back half of the course had wider trails and more hikers.

View of Birmingham from an overlook near mile 2.
Trails were well covered in leaves by November.
Ran across these hills – not up or down!
Wide gravel trails along the second half of the loop.

The 2 aid stations on the course were about 5 miles apart and had the typical fruit, candy, cookies, and drinks served at ultras. The third AS was at the start line and had more food than the others. At the finish, we were given finisher’s mugs, patches, and bandannas. There was also plenty of food and runners hanging around to enjoy the party.

We headed back to our nearby hotel to relax before going out with family to celebrate his first half marathon. He wasn’t too sore the next day, but has decided he doesn’t ever need to run another half marathon. I guess we’ll see. I got to go back to the park the next day for another long run in preparation for the next race on the schedule: Bandera 100k.

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