22 January 2022


Alms House Trail

This was my 11th running of the Mountain Mist 50K, one of the largest ultra marathons in the United States and it happens to be right in my backyard, well, almost. It is a 15 minute drive from my house, but only 5 minutes as the crow flies. This should've been my 12th running, but some unforeseen health issues had me skip last year's edition. This was also the 28th edition of the race with two major highlights, it was the coldest version of the Mist to date with temps in the low teens and windchill in single digits at the start and the largest field ever, at least from my recollection, with more than 500 registered runners.
Alms House Trail
I planned to arrive at the Monte Sano State Park lodge, the start and finish location of the race, an hour ahead of the official start time of 7AM. The lodge is an amazing race location as it provides plenty of space for runners to hang out together both pre and post race. In addition, it has to rather large fire places that are always lit on race day, providing much desired warmth both before and after the race, especially when it is an unusually cold day on the mountain. I arrived as planned, eager to catch up with old friends from all over the Southeast and the entire US, actually.
Waterline Trail
You see, the Mountain Mist 50K is like a homecoming for trail runners. It's an annual trail running family reunion. This is definitely the part I enjoy the most. After more than 10 years of running trail and ultra races, I've met folks from all over and there is nothing more fun and fulfilling than to catch up with friends. There are lots of great trail and ultra races out there with lots of amazing race directors and volunteers, but very few are able to create an atmosphere quite like the Mist. As a fellow runner noted after the race, "you know you are at a special event when no less than 4 race directors of other southeastern ultras are in attendance. 
McKay Hollow Trail
As always, the race start was signaled with the traditional firing of the musket, this time a double salvo that caught me by surprise. So much so that I hadn't even started my GPS watch, yet. As I stumbled on as to not get "trampled" by the stampede of my fellow racers, I had already decided to settle in the middle of the pack in an effort to avoid another blown reminiscent of my 10th finish 2 years earlier. Back then, I was still in the thralls of a nasty virus I had brought back from a work trip to Switzerland. This year, I wasn't sick, but my fitness was at a pretty low point as I spent the previous 3 months since Moab 240 not really running much. Instead, I spent my time eating and lounging...and eating some more. There may have been a few pints with friends involve as well, but I digress.
McKay Hollow Trail
The goal for the day was to stay warm (remember, single digits at the start) and to finish the race in one piece (recurring ankle rolls since April 2021 race injury) and hopefully, in a time faster than 2 years ago. I had no ambitions other than to use this race to kick off my 2022 training cycle. The race also gave me the opportunity to test out a new ankle taping technique originally shown to me by Jeff Browning. However, I had attempted to stabilize my ankle by more traditional means using various ankle braces over the past year in an attempt o prevent further ankle rolls. Unfortunately, my ankle did not get any better and I continued to roll it in just about every trail race in ran last year. It was time for one last ditch attempt before I'd consider surgery to repair the failing tendon.
McKay Hollow Trail
I am happy to say that said taping technique worked like a charm. On one of the most technical race courses I know, I did not roll my ankle once. I call that a resounding success. Back to the race...
McKay Hollow Trail
Having run this race 10 times previously, the goal was to start working towards 20 finishes, obviously:-) I ran with a few familiar faces for the first 10 miles, but pretty soon, I was running on my own. The race actually went pretty well until I hit the halfway point at Oak Park. I even had brief illusions of a finishing time somewhere between 5:30 and 5:45. Those illusions lasted as long as it took me to finish the climb from Oak Park to the "red gate". Realizing that I still had to make my way up Dummy Line Trail before starting the decent towards High Trail, those hopes were dashed as quickly as they had entered my mind. 
Waterline Trail
By the time I reached the bottom of the Waterline Trail, I has to resort to walking significant sections of this climb. This theme continued on all remaining climbs. My pace also slowed on the flats, but at least I was still moving. The second half of my race was really slow. In fact, the final 6 mile section of the course may have been my slowest, yet, or at least closely following my death march 2 years ago. When I finally reach the last aid station, I decided to skip the beer and just get that 11th finish under my belt. When I finally crossed the finish line, I was just happy to be done once more. Now it was time to celebrate everyone's finishes together and what better way to do that than with a cold beer, every trail and ultra runner's favorite pastime:-)
McKay Hollow Trail
A huge shoutout goes to Dink Taylor, the first and only race director of the Mist, and the crew of tireless volunteers. I know from my previous RD experience that it is impossible to put on a successful event without selfless volunteers and the Mist is a great example of just that. Freezing temps did not keep these volunteers from cheering and supporting every single runner, from first to last, for more than 9 hours across the icy and sometimes muddy trails of our "Mountain of Health". Until next year...
McKay Hollow Trail

Monte Sano Lodge - Mountain Mist 50K Finish Line
Trail family

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