|Our entire ultra training group before race start.|
I wasn't really prepared to run this race. I was making progress in my recovery, but I continued to take two steps forward and one step back. Just 2 weeks before the race, I went back to my ankle surgeon to check on an issue. Thankfully, he reassured me that everything had healed perfectly and cleared me to run. Unfortunately, an intense one week work related class kept me from training yet another week and before I knew it, race day had arrived. Further reassurances from some of my fellow training buddies whose training hadn't gone according to plan, either (read: severely undertrained is an understatement) convinced me to try to run. The goal was to finish under the 8 hour cutoff, so I would get an official fourth finish at Mountain Mist.
I met up with Rich at his place at 6:30am to make sure we wouldn't miss the 7am race start check in. It seemed Mike was running late, so my antsy @$$ decided to head up the mountain ahead of them to get checked in and mingle with some of the familiar out of town runners that I hadn't seen in a while, most of them GUTS runners from the Atlanta, GA area.
Our entire training group had signed up for this race: Jerry Abbott, James Duncan, Ed Johnson, Mike Trice, Richard Trice and myself. Thankfully, everyone made it in time for our obligatory pre-race group photo. Half of us were ready to PR and the other half was ready for a long day in the woods.
Ed, Jerry and James lined up near the front of the pack while Rich, Mike and I found the tailend of the field. I planned to run conservative from start to finish. It had worked perfectly for me during the Rocket City Marathon and it was in line with my new mantra, keep it slow and steady, speed is not important right now.
The race course had been modified this year to allow for a larger field of runners and to allow the front of the pack to spread before entering single track trail that would make passing more difficult. However, this approach really only worked for the front pack. The back of the pack continued to create trains at just about any uphill and downhill section of the race.
The three of us in the back kept to our slow pace and it worked. None of us really had a serious drop off in physical or mental determination to finish this thing. Well, if we did, none if us verbalized it. The result was a long trail run with a positive attitude and engaging conversations through the day. The only complaints to be heard were related to the windchill that would frequently chill us to the bone throughout the day and keep us from shedding ANY of our three to four layers.
As the day progressed and I realized that I was likely to finish this race, I became even more enthusiastic. I was still able to run ultras after all and I was actually able to finish them. I realized that I might still be an ultra runner after all, albeit without any speed. Who cares, I can work on speed later. Rich and Mike were a large factor to me finishing this thing as I'm not sure I would've stayed the course for almost 8 hours without their company and reciprocal encouragement. The scenery provided an amazing backdrop to our adventure with frozen waterfalls, and the ever popular stone cuts. It made climbing waterline trail and the other sections almost "a walk in the park". Well, it was a walk based on our actual pace:-)
When we started to hear the cheers at the finish line about 1.5 miles out, I started to get choked up just a little. We all relied on each other to finish today's race from start to finish, so it was only fitting that we decided to cross the finish line together, not holding hands in a "Kumbaya" kind of way (we wanted to maintain some type of manliness), but next to each other nonetheless. We were the last of our training group to finish, but it seemed today provided to be a challenging race day for all of us, with times slower than initially anticipated. However, a finish is a finish and that is all that mattered to me. After all, I am one of the ones lucky enough to be able to be out here, period. Hopefully, there are many more ultra attempts and finishes in my future. With friends and running buddies like these, I don't see why not:-)
|First ultra marathon finish since my return thanks to the Trices.|
|Jerry ran so fast, he was gone when the last of us finished:-)|