25 January 2010


It's noon on Thursday and I couldn't wait to pick up my race packet at the local running store. I was the second or so in line for early pickup and already, my race number somehow got lost in the stacks of numbers. Well, well, I took it in stride, convinced that they would find it eventually, and they did. However, this gave me time to browse. I ended up talking to one of the friendly staff members at the store, who are all runners and who always have great advice for your next race. I finished the conversation with my goal of running "sub 6". They were all really impressed and I didn't quite understand why. I continued to ponder this all the way back to work until it finally dawned on me. Maybe I should have mentioned that I meant "sub 6 hours" and not sub 6 minute per mile pace, which would be no small feat on any trail run, let alone an ultra. Anyway, the race swag handed out was pretty cool, a nice short sleeve technical race top (North Face) in black with the signature Mountain Mist skeleton on the front and some Smartwool socks. That way, I would have a dry pair of socks for after the race. Judging from the local weather forecast, I would need it. That evening, I started getting my running gear and drop bag ready. Luckily, that water bottle belt I ordered online arrived just in time for the race, or so I thought, but more about that later. The evening ended with my fiancé suggesting that I take longer to get my running gear ready then it will take to run the race. Well, I can't help it, I am German and every little detail needed to be planned ahead.

Race day
I woke up at 6AM sharp. Plenty of time for that pre-race cup of coffee. It started as a pre-race tradition and now has become a requirement to help along a biological process, 'nuff said. I was sitting on the couch watching the local news and weather while everyone else in the house was still asleep. 7:30AM came around and my fiancé asked whether I planned to leave any time soon, since the race was scheduled to start in 30 minutes. For some reason, I was much more relaxed than I had ever been before any race. This hit me as very strange, since this was the race I had been training for and thinking about ever since I started to contemplate running an ultra about 8 months ago. My bags were ready. Before I headed out the door, I grabbed the bottles of various liquids (a chocolate whey protein milk shake mixed with two whole bananas and a bottle of Endurox R4 for recovery as well as a bottle of Cytomax Tropical Punch for during the race) I prepared the night before from the fridge and some ice from the freezer. While I was aware that there were multiple excellently stacked aid stations along the course, I wanted to avoid the crash and burn I experienced during and after my first Ultra in November of last year, so I packed some extra items. Come to find out, I was too relaxed. I got to the mountain lodge (start and finish point) 8 minutes prior to the start which was barely enough to take off my warm-ups and put on my bottle belt. This was the moment I realized that I should have followed that old advice of trying out any gear before using it in a long distance race. That water belt did not fit as snug as I had hoped and expected. The full bottle made it too heavy. Anyway, I needed the storage of the belt for my phone and sport beans so I kept it on and hand carried the bottle during the race. This way, I could also store the bottle in the belt on the tough climbs and steep descents during the race. I would just have to deal with any lower back bruising or chafing after the race, and I did. It is still sore. I met up with my training buddies at the lodge and we slowly made it to the starting line after taking a quick team photo in front of the lodge for the famous "before and after shots". All of a sudden, the starting gun fired and I almost took off. Oh good, it was just a practice shot. Mike and James wanted to get ahead of the middle of the pack runners and positioned themselves in the front half of the pack to avoid jockeying for position on the early part of the trails consisting of a lot of single file trails. Richard and I decided to try to "enjoy" the race. We positioned ourselves in the middle of the pack. We had readjusted our original goal of sub 6 hours and decided to aim for sub 6 1/2 hours. That's why I was so relaxed. I wanted my first Mountain Mist experience to be eventful and memorable and not a blurry and hazy experience ending in the ER with an IV attached to my arm. In any case, that goal had to be readjusted as well once we hit the trails. The unusually low temperatures in the two weeks preceding the race had resulted in a lot of snow and ice, at least in Alabama terms. It all started melting the week before the race followed by heavy down pours Wednesday and Thursday. As a result, we all expected some sections of the trails to be muddy. And, boy, were we right.

Race stage 1
The first group of runners was off to the races and disappeared out of my sight very quickly. By the time we hit the trails, they were gone. While I cannot confirm it, I am sure they were led by our local running phenom David Riddle, who was going for the local Grand Slam of winning this race after winning the Dizzy Fifties 50K trail run, the Rocket City Marathon as well as the Recover from the Holidays 50K. All of them in a span of little over 2 months. Before the rain set in three days prior to the race, everyone expected David to try to break the current CR of 3:46:19, which was a realistic goal since David had run the Dizzy Fifties in 3:21:25. However, the conditions on race day made an attempt at the CR very unlikely. Mike and James were off as well while Richard and I tried to focus on finding a slow and steady pace early as that was the goal we had. If we could stay just below a 12 minute per mile pace, we were on target. Well, somehow we ran more of a sub 9:30 minute pace early on. I was wearing running shorts and a short sleeve tech shirt since the local weather forecast assured me toasty temps up to 60 for that day. Luckily, I was able to put on a wind breaker I had packed just in case, because the early temps were much lower. Our early pace also caused me to build up a good sweat under that wind breaker so I took it off at the first aid station between mile 5 and 6 of the race. My split time at this point was 1:04:49, which seemed to be on target for our goal. The second half of the race is much harder than the first part so it couldn't hurt to be a little faster. One of the volunteers was kind enough to offer to take the jacket back to the finish line of the race for me and I accepted the offer since it was only going to get warmer for the remainder of the race, right? Wrong. I received Heed refills for my bottle as well as half a banana and three chocolate chip cookies and after thanking the volunteers continued walking down the trail while eating the banana and cookies. I would continue this ritual at every aid station except the last one, where I changed it up a bit.

Race stage 2
Richard and I reached the second aid station between mile 11 and 12 after 2:07:10 and we were still on track for our target pace. However, we knew of the climbs during the second half of the race and started to contemplate adjusting the goal from an actual finish time to just finishing in an upright position. I continued to be in a great mood and was feeling great physically, but the mud on the trails was unreal. Some runners had to retrieve their shoes from the mud more than once as the ground continued to suction runners down with every step in this stuff. On a good portion of the trails, our feet would literally disappear and be submerged completely in the mud. Trying to run in this meant either to avoid the mud by sidestepping the trails or to just tie our shoes really tight and go for it, right down the middle of the trail. After about 15 miles and three foot submersion incidents, I decided to go for the second option. I continued to wonder when those nice warmer temperatures were arriving. Our pace felt really good, but I could not seem to get any warmer. I started to long for the wind breaker and the sweaty first 5 miles of the race. I decided to pick up the pace and push ahead as Richard was working out a minor twitch in his calves while loudly proclaiming how much he disliked the mud on these trails. I am sure that twitch was my fault as I asked him to pick up pace on a rocky downhill just prior to this point. Anyway, I am glad to report that he managed to work out that twitch and continued on without any other problems.

Race stage 3
I arrived at the third aid station after 3:17:22. Since I had really only run these trails a couple of times as part of my race preparation, I cannot remember any of the trail names and sections, but a couple of guys that I met along this stage of the race and I agreed that the "Stone Cuts" between aid stations 2 and 3 presented a really cool natural feature of the race. The remaining sections of this race would be memorable for reasons other than their sheer beauty. For the next 9 or 10 miles or so, I joined up with group of runners from Atlanta, GA and Fayetteville, TN. This section flew by as we struck up conversations about our different running experiences.

Race stage 4
This aid station is somewhat of a blur, but I arrived after 4:09:40. I refueled and moved on. During the next stage, our conversation turned to the level of giddiness and excitement acceptable when running up the Waterline trail (you know who you are;-) about 20 miles into the race. However, that stopped when we reached the bottom of the waterfalls that had to be climbed. While we were walking up the Waterline trail, our group of runners seemed to have doubled to 8 runners or so and some of us were trying to make light of our situation and trying to pass time by telling jokes. A "gorilla removal service" comes to mind. However, once we reached the bottom of the waterfall, every breath was used for climbing and the chatter stopped for a while. After we all reached the top, we kind of scattered and it was every man for himself for the last part of the race.

Race stage 5
I arrived at the fifth aid station after 5:15:53. One more aid station to go. But first I had to complete one final uphill climb after one serious descent. It was during this stage of the race that I received a boost from a fellow runner. I was complimented on my ability to still race downhill. This really helped my confidence and I continued to plod along, hiking or shuffling uphill and running downhill. A special thanks to Beth Auman from Philadelphia, PA for those motivating words.

Race stage 6
I am reaching the sixth and final aid station after approximately 6 1/2 hours. And I am feeling good. Only 1.8 miles to go and I am there. I briefly reflect on the race and decide to continue with the attitude of enjoying this race above all and not to worry about the finishing time at all. That's why I gladly accept a nice ice cold beer at this aid station. During the earlier stages of the race, one runner told me that there was this secret item you could ask for at the final aid station and that you had to know what to ask for in order to receive it. Now I am not sure if it really is a secret, but I am not going to blow it in this blog. Let's just say that the beer and "it" hit the spot and gave me the fuel to really crank it up again on the final 1.5 miles.

Finish Line
After exactly 6:48:55 hours, I finally cross the finish line (see official results). This is the longest I have ever run continuously in my life. I am happy, very happy. Luckily, Mike and James managed to run the race much faster than I did and were in perfect position to snap a photo of my race finish. Thanks again, guys. I removed my mud covered shoes and socks, which at this stage was much more difficult than running, and proceeded to enter the lodge with its famous (at least among my running buddies) fireplace. There was pizza and pasta and drinks to be had by all. Instead, I forced myself to drink the two post-race drink I had prepared for just this occasion. After all, I did not want to end up with chills again so nutrition was at the top of my list at this point. However well prepared I felt I was, I still ended up with a minor case of the chills for about 20 minutes but that's ok.

Final race thoughts and comments
First of all, I want to thank Mike, Richard and James, in no particular order for welcoming me into their training/running group the way they have. Without them, I would have turned around in bed on multiple occasions and decided to get just another 2 hours of sleep instead of getting up at 5AM to go running. It really helps to have some guys counting on you to show up somewhere at 5:30 in the morning to run in 15 degree temperatures and in complete darkness to train for races that no one other than yourselves really understands, at least not in my house;-) I hope to continue to train with you guys for years to come. Second, congratulations to David Riddle for running another amazing race by winning and finishing under 4 hours, 3:58:30 hours to be exact. From what I am told, only a handful of runners ever finished this race under 4 hours. And I would bet that wind breaker of mine that none of them did it in the muddy conditions David had to do it in. Third, I want to thank all of those runners I met along the race and that made this one of the best sporting events I have ever participated in. While I do not remember all of your names, I do remember all of your faces. Thanks again, you guys kept me going. Last but not least, I want to thank my fiancé for putting up with my crazy training habits and schedules and for always being supportive, no matter how crazy or lofty my goals may seem. And now it's on to setting up the next training plan for my upcoming races. There are two major races coming up for me in the first half of this year and both of them present new territory and significant challenges. However, completing the Mountain Mist run confirmed my belief that I can accomplish those goals as well.


  1. A little late, but just wanted to say thanks for the shout-out on your blog. Congrats on your Mtn Mist finish, and now for your PR at Black Warrior last weekend. Also, I think I've looked up a couple of your public Garmin Connect GPS tracks...I didn't have a GPS before Christmas and was looking at the Dizzy course...so thanks for that too. Keep up the good work. You're setting new PRs almost every weekend.

  2. David, thanks for reading. Your running continues to be inspiring. Glad you found my GPS data useful. Just don't use my Garmin data as your virtual partner, I am too slow;-)



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