2020 Mountain Mist 50K - Race Report

1/25/2020 03:51:00 PM

Crossing the Mountain Mist 50K finish line for the 10th time.
Race week hadn't gone well at all. Two weekends prior to the race on a late Sunday night, I had returned from a less than pleasant work trip to Switzerland. Usually, unpleasant and Switzerland are not words I use in the same sentence, but this time it was different as I spent the better half of the week curled up n my hotel room running a fever and sweating profusely through two sets of bed sheets as my body tried valiantly to fight the flu virus I must have contracted on the flight over just 3 days earlier.

It took more than two weeks to finally get over this thing. Yup, that means I wasn't over it by the time I toed the line at my 10th Mountain Mist 50K atop Monte Sano Mountain in my adopted hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. In fact, my only run the Thursday morning leading up to the race went horribly wrong. I thought I was over the flu, I hadn't run in 2 1/2 weeks due to travel and then illness and i really needed to at least go out for an easy run with my running crew. The run went as well as could've been expected, but the aftermath was a surprise. Every muscle in my body was aching. These were levels of soreness I hadn't experienced once during my summer of 100s last year, so I was dumbfounded. Clearly, the flu had done a number on me, but I wasn't going to miss out on earning my 10 year finisher jacket. I only missed the race once in the last 11 years and that was due to a traumatic injury that seriously sidelined me for an entire year in 2013. So no matter how I felt, I was going to get that 10th finish, that was the goal. 

As usual, race morning at the Monte Sano lodge was a who is who of ultra running in the Southeast. It's a huge family reunion of sorts, your trail family. Runners come from all corners of the Southeast, Nashville, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Birmingham as well as other corners of the country. It's a blast. I always try to make sure to get there an hour or so early to have enough time to catch up with everyone. When that doesn't happen, there'd always the post race beers in front of one of the two fireplaces at the lodge to catch up with anyone you missed pre-race.

I wasn't ready to "race" and my attire showed it. Long sleeves, two layers, gloves, buff, anything not to feel cold at the start. While you (I) always think you (I) can throw down, sometimes it's just not meant to be. Huntsville is the homecoming event of trail races in the Southeast. Don't get me wrong, there are other amazing events with an amazing atmosphere, but at the Mist, you're always ready throw down in a friendly competition among your trail family. Not so this time. While the heart wanted to push, the mind knew better. I had lined up just a little further back than usual. Not all the way back, but not at all near the front row. As RD Dink Taylor fired his musket or whatever that rifle is called, I took off at a comfortable pace. Not at all the sub 7 min pace from last year, but a much smarter pace. Yet still, I was moving well and settling in a good spot. We'd run the new course for the first time this year and while I had run it before in training, I was curious to "experience" it on race day. 

Everything continued to go smoothly, I felt good. Hey, maybe the flu wasn't that bad after all. Maybe it's just a couple of weeks of needed rest and I was gonna crush this race, yet. You never know, let's just see how this goes...or so went the conversation inside my head. That all came to an abrupt halt when at around mile 10 somewhere along Keith Trail it all came crumbling down. On one of the small uphills, my body just said nope, no, not gonna run this, I'm tired, I'm done. Well $h!t, this is going to be a long day if I have to walk the remaining 21 miles...and it was a long day, indeed.  I managed to shuffle along, but I was now running slower than I would normally power hike during a race. I kept that shuffle going as best I could.

When I finally reached "red gate", I climbed over it for the very first time in my years of running Mountain Mist to keep up the tradition started by the most influential, humble and inspiring ultra runner I ever had the pleasure to meet and share miles with. This would be the first year he would not be able to toe the starting line at the Mountain Mist. I don't think I've ever been as emotional as I was when climbing over the gate, choking back tears. I'm not very good with words nor am I an exceptionally strong runner. He is both, a champion ultra runner and a master of prose. If you've ever met him on the trails or listened to his talk at the pre-race dinner at the lodge the night before the Mist, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. Thanks for the inspiration you've provided over the years and that you continue to provide.

Out of the dark and into the light, quite the poignant photo (PC: Pete Schreiner).

Right after red gate, runners are sent back down Cold Springs Trial to begin the newly added section of the race course. Down Cold Springs through a creek and down a natural drainage ditch onto Old Bankhead Parkway before entering the fastest section of the race course down Bankhead Trail and on to another couple of connector trails before getting dumped out onto a short road section taking runners to Oakwood Rec Park, where they would refuel before starting the newly added climb back up the mountain (to replace the previous "K2" climb).

To say this section was no prettier for me than the previous 2-3 miles would be an understatement. I could barely run the downhills, afraid to slip or trip. My body was aching and I was already doing the math to see how slow I could possibly move without risking hitting the cutoffs. I continued the jog as I tried to keep up with Chad, who had caught and passed me just before we entered Bankhead Trail. I had to let him go soon after. When I finally started the climb out of Oakwood Park, Rick had caught me and passed me rather quickly. The John Dove, then Jay, and on and on they went, right by me like I was standing still. Well, I may as well have been standing still. I was not making good progress. Running was out of the question on anything remotely looking like an incline and so I continued my walk.

Eventually, I reached the top of the climb and made the sharp right turn onto Tollgate Trail. Others will argue this point, BUT I stand firm on the opinion that this is the new "perceived" or unofficial halfway point of the race, replacing red gate's designation from years' past. I haven't taken the time yet to look at the splits, but I'm certain my assumption is right. If my times are an indication, then I'm definitely right as I made that right turn in 3:30 hours and finished in 6:52 hours, a fairly even split, if you asked me:-)
By far my most emotional moment in any ultra running event, climbing over the red gate for the first time in honor of a true legend of the sport and in life.
As I continued my inner battle to continue moving and not give up on running for the day just yet, other friends and training buddies continued to pass by, some long enough to exchange a few words others on a mission to take care of the business that is the Mist. I have to admit, as much as I suffered, I definitely enjoyed the conversations I did get to have. I was thankful for the company and camaraderie as I struggled to move forward. I kept doing the math and even bummed an extra layer of clothing at the 25 mile aid station (thanks James) so I didn't have to run too much and still stay comfortably warm. At this point, it really didn't matter if the trail pointed up or down, my running was nonexistent. Until we hit 'Slush Mile". I say we, because by this time, Chris Reed had taken pity on me and rather than leave me behind stuck with me until the finish. We conquered the final climb, again with not a whole lot of running, if any, opened a couple of PBRs, cheered each other, took a couple of giant gulps and got back to the business of finishing another Mountain Mist.

When I finally crossed the finish line, I was too tired, too beaten to really celebrate that 10th finish, but I still consider it one of my favorite moments, even if it took 2 hours longer than my previous five finishes. How often does one get to say that they finished an ultra marathon, any ultra marathon, 10 times. It's a pretty cool club to be part of and I'm a little proud of it, too:-)

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