What a race!!! Not my fastest 50K trail race by any stretch of the imagination, but that was clearly secondary today. I was lucky I even made it to the race start this morning. The picture below taken at Monte Sano State Park the day before the race (courtesy of my running buddy James Duncan) should have been an indication of what to expect race morning.
Instead, I ignored the "signs" and almost didn't get to race my second Mountain Mist at all.
Richard and I met up for lunch on Thursday to pick up our race packets at FleetFeet. We both had opted to finally get ourselves one of those cool hoodies we saw a few people wear at last year's Mountain Mist and we were not disappointed. They looked pretty cool and well worth the couple of extra bucks. Just as last year, the race swag was excellent, at least in this runner's opinion. We received a sweet North Face tech shirt and a nice running heat with the customary Mountain Mist 50K skeleton printed on it...very cool. In addition, North Face handed out some free stuff at the finish line. But all of that fades in comparison to receiving my second MM50K finisher's award, a really cool hand painted piece of slate (see picture on top of this report).
On Friday night, Mike, Richard and I brought our better halves and met up for a casual pre-race dinner at the local Carrabbas. We were joined by one of our friends from Georgia, Candy, who had followed Richard's invitation for a free place to crash during the race weekend and driven the three hours from Georgia to participate in her first Mountain Mist. After swapping some running stories and providing Candy with some info on what to expect the next day, we all headed home to call it an early night. There would be time to hang out "properly" after the race.
I decided that I would pick up Richard and Candy at his house on my way to the state park. It's on the way so it would work out perfectly. Well, unexpectedly, I arrived at Rich's house on time, which according to him is highly unusual. That's why he and Candy had decided to head to a local coffee shop for some pre-race coffee. As a result, we ended up missing each other and since I was unable to reach him and did not see his car, I decided to head to the race on my own. Had I hung around for a few more minutes, I would have avoided what happened next.
As I am making my way up the mountain, I notice a giant display on the side of the road stating that Bankhead Parkway was closed. For some reason, I figured it must have been left there from the weekend before, when we were pretty much iced and snowed in. As I drove up the mountain, I also noticed road barriers in the middle of the road. However, since someone had moved them enough to the side, I figured they'd been left there in case the weather turns bad again. Trust me, this all made sense to me when I was driving up the mountain...at least in my head it did. As I made my way closer to the top, the road became icier and icier and I was beginning to question, why the police had not closed the road...duh! Only after what happened next did I finally realize that they had indeed close the road and that some moron had decided to move the barriers and that I was only slightly less of a moron for thinking that the road was actually open, even though there were plenty of signs that it wasn't.
As I am creeping further up the road (at this point I am barely able or willing to go faster than 15 miles an hour due to the ice that now almost blankets both lanes), I somehow make my way around the almost 180 degree curve that leads further up. As son as I make the turn (now I'm going 5 mph) I realized that this is my final destination for this car ride. There are about 4 cars pulled over to the side of the road, one pickup truck is "parked" with its front end in the ditch and one of its rear wheels straight up in the air. Another truck is stuck sideways blocking both lanes after an attempt to turn around failed due to nonexistent traction. At this point, I made my first smart decision of the day. Luckily, I was able to pull my Jeep over and onto a rather wide shoulder. I grabbed my bag, locked my car and starting running up the icy road towards the state park.
As I made my way around the next bend ion the road, I noticed even more cars pulled over with all of its passengers making their way to the race on foot. There's nothing like a nice little one mile run to the start ,ine of an ultra marathon to get you warmed up. Thankfully, I met a couple of good samaritans who actually pulled over on their own accord to offer me a ride to the race start. Thanks again whoever you are. In my confused and stressed state of mind, I forgot to ask your names (I hope your daughter did well in the race;-). I do remember that both of them had family ties to Germany though, which was kinda cool...me being from Germany and all. As luck would have it, I actually made it to the race with time to spare, allowing me to mingle with my running buddies, take the mandatory pre-race group picture (see below from left to right Mike, Mini-Mike, Me, James, Ed and Richard) and get ready for the start.
At 8 AM sharp, a musket signaling the start of the 2011 Mountain Mist 50K went off. This year, over 300 runners were toeing the starting line of the South's premier ultra running adventure. I had entered the race with a primary and a secondary goal in mind. First, I wanted to complete the Mountain Mist in under 6 hours. My second was just to finish the race, should I have any problems during the race.
The weather conditions were colder than last year. The temps were in the low 20s to start the race. Much of the trail was convered with snow and ice early on. Thankfully, I opted for running tights under my shorts for the first time in addition to wearing a hat, gloves, a short sleeve under armor layer as well as a long sleeve tech shirt and a vest to block the wind and keep my core warm. It was perfect and I never had to drop or remove any layers. I arrived at the Mountain Mist aid station (#1) at mile 7 after exactly one hour. I had stayed with James for the first few miles but decided to drop back to try to maintain a more consistent pace throughout. I did not expect to be able to maintain the early pace and figured taking the foot off the gas might allow me to maintain pace longer. Shortly before entering the first aid station Mike caught up with me. We stayed together for a couple of miles before he too continued on. The first 10 miles went by fairly quickly. However, shortly after the 10 mile mark after the Powerline cut section, I started doubting a sub 6 hour finish time. As I continued on, I started to feel some old groin and hamstring pains again. My left achilles tendon was also slightly sore. I thought it best to fall back on my secondary goal. I could not afford a serious injury two weeks from my second 100 mile attempt. While none of these little nagging issues is a real problem at this point, I am afraid they could turn disastrous in a 100 miler.
I made it through the second aid station at Goat Trail after 1 hour 56 minutes. So far, my splits were still better than in last year's race, even though I had slowed down already. My mind was not quite as focused anymore. I started to wonder if I wanted to continue. While I had made the conscious decision not to push the pace and to just finish the race, I did struggle with the fact that I was not able to just go for it. I prefer to run in company when I'm not "racing". I started taking my first two Endurolytes capsules along with a Hammer gel 2 hours into the run. This was the first time I used Endurolytes instead of Succeed caps and I neither noticed a drop off nor an improvement in my performance. However, I did not develop any muscle cramps which is the only reason I take these capsules to begin with, so that was a success. I continued to drop 2 capsules and 1 gel every hour. I also started with one bottle of Powerade that I started refilling at every aid station after skipping the first one.
I ran through the Stone Cuts aid station #3 in 3 hours 5 minutes. This part of the race included the cool stone cuts section that is definitely worth pausing for. I did not spend any time at the aid stations...I just didn't have to. The volunteers were absolutely amazing. At every aid station, they had pitchers ready with both water and Powerade, so you never had to spend any time to get your refills. It was fantastic, not to mention the awesome welcome every runner received entering the aid stations. The support was second to none.
In barely under 4 hours I arrived at the Land Trust aid station #4. The toughest sections were yet to come. So far, the terrain had been pretty frgiving in my opinion. The existing ice, while creating some seriously slippery sections, also created some very firm runnable trails. That would change immediately after exiting the Land Trust parking lot. In addition to being very rocky now the trails began to be seriously muddy. This slowed my pace down even more. Add this to the fact that I still had the two major climbs of this race ahead of me and you realize it was going to be a long day.
I took and hour and 4 minutes to complete the infamous Waterline Trail section of the race, getting me through aid station #5 in a total of 5 hours and 3 minutes. While there were abut 10 people with me when I ran (I mean walked) this section last year, I was on my own this year. I think that's why I actually "ran" it slightly faster this year than last. The climb up the waterfall was just as treacherous as last year, with mostly iced over sections all the way to the top. So much fun!
Once you complete the Waterline Trail section, it is all uphill from here...no, really. You still have one major climb before you get to call yourself a Mountain Mist finisher. The slogan for this race "Trail runners never die, they just thin out" was proven true again this year. Unfortunately, two of its victims were running buddies of mine, Richard and Candy. I believe they made it to mile marker 23 or 24 before the trail got the better of them. Heads up guys, there is definitely no shame in calling it a day prematurely on this course. There is always next year. I'm sure the beers we had after the race tasted just as good, am I right?
I was now heading down a section towards the final climb at the bottom of the Rest Shelter aid station, the final aid station before a flat 1.9 mile section to the finish. During this section, I caught up with Linda Scavarda, who I had seen at previous local races, but never had officially met. Thanks again for running along with me for a while, Linda, you made this final section go by much faster, which is almost impossible as there is nothing fast about this section. Once we reached the bottom of the hill before the final climb, we both put our heads down, stopped talking and made our way up to the Rest Shelter. It was here were I enjoyed the secret aid station food last year and washed it down with an ice cold brew. I opted for a couple of cups of coke instead this year as I was ready to finish this thing. I took of running like the wind...well, it felt like it. Boy was I dissappointed when I actually checked my actual pace for these final 2 miles. Snails move faster than that. Anyway, I started hearing the crowd at the finish line and knew that I had completed my second Mountain Mist in just over 6 and a half hours. Only 8 to go to get the coveted 10 time finisher's jacket;-)
My sincere congratulations to Ed Johnson, one of our new running buddies, for finishing his first ultra marathon ever. Well done! Pete Kilcullen, congrats to your finish. It was cool to meet one of the desert foxes Rich ran the Attacama desert with. I figured he was just making it all up;-) James Duncan, you smoked all of us today. Finishing in well under 6 hours, way to go! I hope I can run MM that strong one day. Mike Trice, at this pace you will definitely be the first one to collect the ten year jacket. Richard Trice, thanks for saving your energy for two weeks from now, where you have volunteered to crew and pace me to my first 100 mile finish. I won't be able to do it without you, buddy! Candy Findley, I'm glad you made the trek from Georgia to see what the Mountain Mist is all about. Hope to see you again next year. Thanks again to RDs Dink and Suzanne Taylor for continuing to put on this fantastic event. A very enthusiastic thanks to all of the volunteers, they were absolutely amazing. Sorry, I am running out of superlatives to describe the folks that put in all this time and effort to make this race so enjoyable for us runners.
Finally, congratulations to David Riddle, you are an animal. How is it possible to run this course in 3 hours and 42 minutes? Frighteningly fast and a well deserved course record! Congrats to Kathy Youngren for winning in a very strong field of women, including Emily Hardin (last year's SF marathon winner and first time MM finisher, I think!). Congrats to other top finishers like Rob Youngren, Eric Charette, Dewayne Satterfield, Tim Vinson, Blake Thompson, the list goes on and on. All of these guys are local and all of them are freakishly fast! Hopefully, some of that will rub off on me eventually;-) If you are still reading this, my hats off to you. It was probably not the most entertaining read, but it sure is long.