Saturday, January 24, 2015

Race Report - 2015 Mountain Mist 50K

Traditional pre-race photo of my training group (Paul missing).

I've had a great year since I was able to come back to running and ultrarunning exactly one year ago, when I toed the line of the 2014 Mountain Mist 50K. This time around, I've had a full year of training under my belt, ready actually race this thing. In previous years, I'd either been injured, training for another race or undertrained. This time, I was feeling pretty good about my training. In fact, I even decided to "taper". Actually, I didn't really taper, I just decided to rest my legs for a full three days prior to the race. Longest break I had from running in 12 months:-)


I drove up to the Monte Sano State Park lodge to participate in the pre-race dinner the night before the race. I had never done so before, but had heard many good things about DeWayne Satterfield's colorful and poetic way to describe the race course. He did not disappoint. Many of the things he described came back to me during the race. References to the Brahma bull and Kathy's bench had also been mentioned in one of Rob's race reports from a couple of years earlier. While Dink's pre-race instructions focused on the fact that no one had died in this race...yet, DeWayne kept it much lighter. And as DeWayne continued his talk, I continued to think about what my race strategy should be. A few fellow runners with lots more experience than me kept telling me that I should be able to break 5 hours. You hear something enough, you start believing it:-) Now I just had to figure out how to actually do it.

I remembered that everyone always mentioned how no one knew the course better than DeWayne and that he had the race dialed in perfectly every time he toed the line. He also never got sucked in to starting the race too fast. I guess running every edition of the Mountain Mist kinda makes you an expert. I figured I'd try to follow and stay with DeWayne for the first "half" of the race until red gate and see what happens during the much tougher second half. That would ensure that I didn't start the race too fast and hopefully I'd avoid a blowup that way.

Looking at DeWayne's results from last year and hearing how well he'd been running this year, I wondered if that was still my best strategy. Oh well, if he started faster than I could handle, I'd just drop back earlier than planned. I still figured my original plan would my best option.

I showed up at the lodge on race morning 45 minutes before race start. The place was already packed, no wonder with nearly 500 registered runners and their supporters and crew. I was as nervous as I'd ever been before any race, but I was also pumped and happy to see so many friends and fellow runners. It all just felt like a huge ultrarunning party. I don't think I've ever felt so relaxed and so excited in anticipation at the same time.

If you've run a few ultras in the Southeast and made some friends along the way, Mountain Mist is the one race they all show up for and there's a reason for it. Mountain Mist is one of the baddest ultras out there and it is the one race everyone puts on their calendar year in and year out, even though they know they're in for a beat down...and the weather never ever disappoints either.

I met up with my training buddies just in time for the obligatory pre-race group photo. I was also still trying to sort out what to wear during the race. It had rained for almost 24 hours straight the day before the race, so i knew the course would be slippery and muddy. Instead of my Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes I opted for a pair of Superior 2.0 shoes that had just bee released. They have significantly more grip than any other pair of Altras I've owned before (full shoe review to follow). ATemps had dropped significantly overnight, so in addition to muddy trails there was actually a slight dusting of snow to go with some icy road and trail sections early on. I still opted for a singlet and shorts with sleeves and gloves as I was certain that I wouldn't be cold for long.

We all shuffled out of the lodge and towards the starting line with about 4 minute to spare. I lined up in the third row just behind DeWayne and a couple of others, ready to go. When the musket fired to signal the start, we all took off in what felt like an all out sprint. However, it was cool and flat and I felt good, so no reason to doubt myself this early on in the race.

A light dusting of snow overnight made for cool race pics.

I settled in just behind DeWayne just behind the lead pack of runners, who quickly pulled ahead and way from the other runners. I ran alongside Keith, who could barely handle the "slow"pace we were going. In other words, he was itchin' to pull way, which is exactly what he did about 5 miles or so into the race as we were approaching the O'Shaugnessy Point aid station. I wouldn't see him again until the finish. At this point, I had finally caught back up again to Rob and DeWayne, who had pulled ahead of me just a little. They were joined by Yong, one of the guys from the Nashville crew and another stout trail runner. I introduced myself as we continued to run together, Rob, DeWayne, myself and Yong, in that order, as we made out way down the muddy and slippery Warpath Ridge trail to the Powerline section as a fairly good clip.

The Powerline section wasn't as bad as well all had expected, e.g the mud wasn't nearly as sticky as it had been in years past and we continued to make good time through this section and on to the K2 connector trail, where we would encounter the first real climb of this race. Rob and DeWayne set the pace and Yong and I followed. As we made our way up the climb, we would see fellow racers just below us making their way up, some power hiking, some walking. I remembered a conversation with Dana from the previous weekend as we came through this section while marking the race course: "If you want to break 5 hours, you'll need to be running this section". I kept that in mind as I followed Rob and DeWayne up to the top.

We reached Goat Trail and continued on to the next aid station at Three Benches. This section was uneventful and I was able to keep up the pace. We quickly went through the aid station and continued on. As we made our way around Keith Trail, I noticed DeWayne and Rob slightly increasing the pace...or maybe I was slowing down? Either way, I now had to work to keep up. Yong had fallen back and out of my sight. If I let them go, I would be left in no mans land with no one ahead to pull me and no one behind to push me. It didn't matter. As we approached the Stone Cuts, Rob and DeWayne were still pushing, so I had to make a decision. I dropped back and decided to settle into a slightly slower pace to avoid risking a blow up later on. I just didn't think I could sustain their pace and I believe I made the right decision.

I went through the Stone Cuts and continued at my pace, every once in a while catching a glimpse of Rob or DeWayne, who had pulled ahead by a quarter mile. I was felling pretty good. I had managed to stay with the two of them for the first 15 mies of this race and hopefully I didn't overextend myself. I arrived at the red gate (mile 17) or the unofficial half way point of the race in 2 hours 21 minutes. Wow, that was actually slightly faster than I had planned, but I was feeling good. I quickly refilled my bottle and continued on. I had now lost all sight of Rob or DeWayne or anyone else for that matter. Over the next few miles, I think I passed one runner and was passed by another. I started to slow down a little once I hit High Trail. This trail turned out to be just as sloppy or worse than the traditionally bad McKay Hollow trail section, lovingly referred to as "Slush Mile". I needed to keep the pace as I fully expected to slow down once we hit the Railroad Bed trail section with its ankle bending rocks.

Just before I arrived at the Land Trust parking lot aid station, I took my attention away from the trail for one second to get my water bottle ready for a refill. That's all it took, wham! I was laying on my back, luckily only my pride was hurt as I landed on the one spot that did not have pokey rocks. I quickly rebounded and acted like nothing had happened as I rolled into the aid station. Another refill and off I went, headed down to what I call the rock garden of this course. The next couple of miles are extremely technical as they approach the second major climb of the race, Waterline trail, a 3/4 mile section of trail leading 500ft straight up to a waterfall and a hand over foot scramble to the top. I managed to run the entire second climb to the waterfall before using both my hands and feet to scramble to the top.

Once I reached the Bluffline trail, I started to jog very slowly as there was still a little more climbing to do before runners would reach a nice and flat section leading to the second to last aid station at the Trough Springs trailhead. As I arrived at the aid station, I checked my watch. 3 hours and 39 minutes had passed. There was a stout 10k including a final mayor climb left in this race and if I was to reach my goal finishing time, I had to do it in 1 hour and 6 minutes. As I headed down the Arrowhead trail, I remembered Rob's race report from a couple of years earlier, when he ran his PR on this course. I remembered him writing about how he had 65 minutes left to hit his goal and how he'd had the perfect race and managed to reach his goal. I just didn't remember by how much time he beat his goal nor did I fell like I had enough left for a strong finish.

I started to do some math in my head. OK, all you gotta do is run 5 miles at 10 min per mile pace and cover the final climb to the Rest Shelter aid station in 15 minutes. That should leave 1 minute to hit your goal. As my watch vibrated to indicate another mile split, I looked down to check...9:50. Ok, now just one more like that, then 15 minutes to climb rest shelter and just under 2 miles to the finish. Easy enough, right? Well, as I passed Natural Well on my left to drop down Suicide Drop as this section of McKayHollow is affectionately referred to, I had to slow immediately. This section of trail was extremely slippery and I didn't have a death wish. As a result, my watch indicated a 13 minute mile after I finished the descent. Dangit, did this cost me my goal time? I just didn't know. I decided to press on and to push up rest shelter. I remembered "Kathy's Bench" and followed its unwritten rule. I pressed on and as I reached the top and Josh's final aid station, I chugged a cup of coke before continuing on. I  told myself that it was just under 2 miles to the finish and that now was the time to goal out. If there was a chance t hit my goal, I didn't want to lose it by mere minutes or even seconds on this final section. I started counting the bridges (there are three before the final creek crossing near the finish).

Goal finishing time accomplished, by just under a minute:-)

With every bridge I crossed, I tried to pick up my pace just a little more and and more. I felt like I was flying, which was definitely not the case, but I knew I could not go any faster at this point. I could hear the crowds cheering on a runner finishing ahead of me.Then I finally saw the finish line and as the finish line clock came into my line of sight, I realized that I was going to make it. I was ecstatic. I crossed the finish line and still had enough energy to stand up straight for just a second as my wife took a quick pic. My race had worked out perfectly and I couldn't be happier. I spent the next few hours hanging out with a bunch of likeminded friends as we enjoyed the beautiful weather and watched fellow racers finish.

A huge thanks to Dink and Suzanne and all of the volunteers. Without their tireless efforts, none of this would have been possible. A big thank you also to DeWayne and Rob as I would not have been able to keep a steady pace for the first half of the race without them. I look up to these two as accomplished veterans of this our sport of ultrarunning and getting to share the trails with them during the Mountain Mist was pretty cool. Thanks also to my training buddies, without whom I would have lacked the consistency in my training that is necessary to reach my goals. Without the accountability that comes with making plans with your buddies to run at 4:30 or 5AM in the morning,  week in and week out, I probably would have hit the buzzer on my alarm many many times. Yes, I am weak, but with friends like mine, how can I not succeed:-)

Everyone finished and is all smiles, with Mike earning his 10 time finisher's jacket.

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