26 January 2019


9th Mountain Mist finish, one more for the coveted 10 time finisher jacket.
If you're a Huntsville local, chances are you first learned about the sport of ultrarunning in connection with the Mountain Mist 50K. As one of the oldest ultramarathons in the Southeastern United States and now in its 25th year, the Mountain Mist is still considered one of the toughest by many. It may not have the most vert, but every year trail runners are humbled when they attempt to finish this race.

Every year, a slew of new Mountain Misters take off at the start gun at paces that resemble that of a 5K road race and this year as no different. That usually comes back to bite them, maybe not after 17 miles, the unofficial halfway point of the race, when they ran past or jump over the red gate at the Fearn Street crossing, but certainly at mile 23ish, when they start their climb up Waterline Trail. And if they still aren't humbled, they certainly will be by the time they make their way up Crybaby Hill or the final climb to the top of Rest Shelter. Hey, I'm not judging, it took me multiple times to figure out that even though the first half is actually very runnable, it still has nearly 2000ft of vert over 17 miles, which makes the second "half" or remaining 14 miles and 2000ft of vert over 2 major climbs even more challenging, if you failed to hold back a little on the front end.

Luckily, It only took me 5 finishes to learn to latch on to "the" veteran of this race, let's call him DeWayne, who is like the metronome of the Mountain Mist. If you want to see what consistent pacing looks like, just watch DeWayne. He's not only one of the fastest runners ever to run the Mountain Mist (9 wins speak for themselves), he also one of the smartest. Oh yeah, he also makes for great conversation on the trails.

While many of us get humbled by this race, we come back over and over and over again and it's not just for the coveted 10 time finisher jacket, it much deeper than that. It's a family reunion, but not just for local runners, it's a reunion of runners from around the Southeast. I spend more time catching up with runners before and after the race than I actually do running the race. That is not an exaggeration. It is the reason this is my favorite race year after year. It is also the most important race for me. Whether I have trained for it nor not, I never ever not put it all out there. There is nothing more fun than to race your friends whom you usually train with the rest of the year.
Just over half way in and still in good spirits.
This year marked my ninth start and finish and while it was fun, it is never easy. In December, I had some grand ambitions of trying to run a personal best. This goal did not change until the weekend before the race, when I bruised a rib during a trail run and woke up with a head cold the following day. Not a great omen for a PR attempt. Feeling sluggish all week, I finally admitted to myself that a PR was out of the question. I entered race weekend with a slightly adjusted goal still ready to run as hard as possible. The plan was to save some on the front half to see how I would have some left in the tank in the latter part of the race to push the pace. I am happy to report that plan worked out for the most part, anyway.

After some start line banter and the loud bang of the start signal, we were off. Having run this race 8 times, you kind of fall in with the same group of runners year after year. This year was no different. Even though DeWayne was running with a torn meniscus, he still set the perfect pace. The first few miles went by fairly quickly and were rather uneventful. I tried to make sure not to raise my heart rate too much too early. That also meant hiking rather than running some of the stepper sections of the hills.

I cruised into the 17 mile aid station at red gate feeling pretty good and still on target to hit my A goal for the day. The tried and true formula requires you to double your red gate split to come up with your approximate finishing time. If you end up much slower than that, then you most definitely started the race too fast.

I was still running by feel. In fact, I checked my time for the first time at red gate AS. I continued to drink a bottle of fluids in between aid stations and take one gel every 45 minutes. I chased that with a couple of SCaps every hour, which kept me fueled evenly and cramp free all day. My pace would fluctuate only very lightly. I would zone out and slow my pace, mostly on the High Trail and Bluffline Trail sections. Eventually, I would snap out of it and pick it back up again. By the time I reached the top of Waterline trail, I started the smell the barn. Another 10K and this thing would be done. I had some renewed energy coming through the Trough Springs AS, but that slowly started to fizzle as I made my way down Natural Well Trail. By the time I reached "slush mile" or the bottom of McKay Hollow Trail, I was ready to be done. One more slow climb up Rest Shelter and all that was left was a 1.7 mile flat stretch to the finish.

I declined the beer and chili at the final AS and tried my best to sustain a decent pace. When I finally crossed the finish line, I had reached my A goal and was another step closer to my 10 time finisher jacket. I spent the next 3 hours reminiscing about the day with my trail family. I am already looking forward to 2020 and my 10th finish.
Never leave anything in the tank when running your local favorite.

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