Playing in the Mud | A Mountain Mist Race Report

2008 Mountain Mist Finisher - 6:41:33

When I was about 14 years old, my town of Myrtle Beach, SC was growing like crazy. The city was building hotels, houses and restaurants by the hundreds, and as a kid, there was nothing more fun than throwing on some long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and hitting the muddy construction sites for hours and hours of get-dirty games.

The Mountain Mist 50K is a get-dirty game. The best I’ve ever played.

Pre-race | There Are No Coincidences

Thank goodness I found Tony roaming around the Holiday Inn at 5:30 a.m. Tony is a fellow member of GUTS, and it was nice to see a familiar face since I had no idea how to find Monte Sano Lodge, the mountain, nor any of the roads getting there.  

After a plate o’ pancakes at the Huntsville IHOP, we headed towards to mountain. There was a slight, sleety rain on the way up the mountain, and I started to get concerned that I had neglected to bring any rain/sleet/snow protection.

Mountain Mist trail viewAbout halfway up the mountain, I quickly learned why the race is called Mountain Mist. We turned a corner and went from a light, misty rain, to up-in-the-clouds. I couldn’t see 20 feet in front me. There’s a little mountain community up there at Monte Sano, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like to “live in the clouds”.

We arrived at the race start, unloaded our gear, checked in with the race volunteers, and settled in at the Monte Sano lodge preparing our bottles, lacing up our shoes and greeting some of the arriving runners. 

“…wait until you get to the trail to fall down”

Before the start, one of the race officials stood up and announced, “there are random patches of ice around the lodge. Please be careful at the start, and at least, wait until you get to the trail to fall down.”

Mountain Mist starting lineFive minutes later, we’re off…

And I fell down.

In the first 100 yards of the trail I kicked a nasty root and went ass over tea kettles, close to taking out two other runners with me. This would end up being the theme for the day.

The beginning of the race was a little slow. I got stuck behind a group that was very concerned with the rocky, potentially slick, terrain and thus was moving very carefully along the trail. The single-track trail was tight. Looking to the left it went straight down over the ridge, and looking to the right it went straight up sheer rock, so unless you wanted to squeeze uncomfortably close to others runners to pass, you were sort of stuck in position for awhile.

But, when it opened up, I surprised myself. I took off, and from this point on, around mile 3, I was rarely passed, but passed lots of others. That might sound like a little bit o’ braggin’, but that’s new for me. I love ultrarunning and I can’t help but feel a little proud of the fact that I am steadily improving.

I’ve found my niche. Technical descents. I love to run down those hairball, sketchy rocky sections. I just bust all out Rambo-like, skipping and dancing over rocks and crevasses, jumping from section to section, knee-lifting and bobbing and weaving… I LOVE THIS TERRAIN, and there is lots and lots of it to love at the Mountain Mist.

…but I also fell at least 10 times, beating up my up my ankles, toes, knees, hands and forearms.

Gotta pay to play.

Chatty-cathy Coming Through

Running Mountain Mist

Maybe it was the caffeine from the large IHOP coffee. Maybe it was the caffeine in my gels. Whatever it was, I was just a’chattin’ away like Betty Rubble at the beauty parlor. My first victim was Sandy, from Downtown Atlanta. I chatted her head off throughout the long rocky descent at O’Shaunghnessy Point (??) as well as along the very muuuudy powerline section.

The powerline section was really wild.  Wide open vistas, and a field of tall, light brown, chest-high, whisping weeds on each side of the trail. It was a lot different than the spooky, misty, wooded trails that make up most of this race.

And then it was time to climb.

The first tough climb at Mountain Mist shows up around mile, I dunno, 9-ish? The ascent is called K2 and understandably so. it’s a good one and it pops out of nowhere. Immediately you are winding your way up never-ending switch-back after switch-back of steep, rocky trail. For me, this is where the race really started.

The Pain Settles In

After leaving aid station 2, somewhere around mile 13-ish, chatty-cathy took a nap as I caught up to a group of about 5 runners, none of whom were talking at all. Kinda sensing that was the intention for this bunch, I kept quiet and just ran along, doing the rock dance and judging each step very carefully.

Finally, after running 20 feet behind this girl with muddy shoes for about 4 miles in complete silence, I blurted out, “I wonder if my shoes look as funny as yours?” — you had to see this girl’s shoes. There was so much mud on them that the mud had developed depth and thickness and was growing around the perimeter of her shoes. It looked like she was running in snow shoes.

The middle of the race has lots of rolling sections that continue to increase in rockiness. The surroundings are beautiful and ever-changing. In the mids, we went from the eery, misty forest, …to loose-rocky, hard-packed dirt descents, …to areas of dense greenery …and then…

Waterline

This was what I was waiting for.

The Waterline. The much-talked about section of the race known for breaking folks down every year. It’s a trail section that is so steep, it requires a few hundred feet of actual rock climbing, through some very slick and muddy terrain; and oh yea, it’s positioned 24 miles into the race.

Exactly what you are looking for after almost a full marathon of running… {wink}

At first, we started up a pretty steep, but easily manageable incline, and I was thinking, “well, this isn’t so bad.”, “maybe all that hill training is making this feel easy…”

Inexperience rearing it’s ugly head again.

We slowed way down on the ascent and our group of four had turned into a line of ten runners. The front runner, who knew the course, stopped and said, “we go up there”, pointing straight to the top of what looked like nothing but shear rock to me.

“How?”, I asked.

“Follow me.”

And we started crawling across the rocks, through the mud, across the falls, and up the slippery ascent while holding on to trees, rocks, dirt and sometimes, each other. Whatever it took to get to the next challenge in the climb. The total climb goes from ~ 780 feet to ~1450 in what feels like less than a mile. …it’s the most challenging ascent I have experienced to date.

If you are reading this report as someone who has run this race, you’re nodding your head right now and reminiscing your specific climbing experience at Waterline.

If you are reading this report as someone who is interested in running the Mountain Mist, I’m here to tell ya – This is the baddest-ass section of the race. It’s tough, dirty, and hairy. You’ll slip, bang something, and bang something else. Your quads will burn and your calves may cramp …or wanna cramp. You’ll spend time talking yourself out of stopping halfway up and resting …you’ll rest anyway. …however you cleverly sneak it in before the person behind you runs up on your heels.

Waterline rocks.

After waterline and a relatively flat, rocky section, there is a very long, steep, and arguably the most technical, descent on the course. It winds down through various switchbacks with mud, creek crossings, drop-offs and slick slate.

I loved this and moved very quickly through this section; but, I fell hard too.

Actually fell three times in this section; and these last few falls were sucking the life right out of me. I’m glad I was alone since I was cussing up a storm …and it didn’t help trying to take a drink from my bottle and slurping down some mud along with my water.

Note to self: after falling in the mud, wipe off your handheld water bottle spouts.

But par for the course, looking back, it was another one of my favorite sections. Call it caveman running.

Censored.

One of the Mountain Mist elevation maps that I first studied used to name the last climb in the race as simply, “censored”.

“You have got to be kidding me”, I thought to myself as I arrived at the bottom of this climb.

I looked up. Way up. Way, way up at the top of the mountain to see one of the runners ahead looking like a little colorful spec on mountain top.

“Man… 28, 29 miles into this race and we have to climb that?”

I don’t have anything to say about that climb other than it’s steep, long, tiring, and goes on for-ev-er. It’s nothing fancy …nothing awe-inspiring. Just good ol’ fashioned, roll-your-sleeves-up-and-endure-it, one foot after the other, until you summit.

And boy are you glad to summit.

1.8 Miles to Home Free

At the summit of that third, and last, brutal climb, was the final aid station. Thank goodness for the energy of the volunteers because I needed some encouragement and I needed it right away. I was dying.

At the aid station, a sign read, “1.8 miles to go” – That in itself was very encouraging and I breathed a sigh of relief, grabbed a couple of mini Snickers bars and jogged it home for a 6:41:33 finish, 30 minutes faster than any previous 50K I have run to date, putting me 146th place out 253 starters.

Christian finishes Mountain Mist

Would I do it again?

If I could register now I would. I can’t see how any 50K could be much better than this. The trails were beautiful …stunningly beautiful. The course was gnarly and tough. The people were friendly. The vibe was electric. The aid stations were plentiful and the volunteers were some of the most knowledgeable and supportive folks I ever experienced.

Even without the PR (personal record), I fell in love with Monte Sano and the Mountain Mist 50K Trail Run.

See ya next year …for a sub 6:00:00

It Doesn’t Snow in Atlanta

Snow in AtlantaThis week, it was all about the snow.

It doesn’t really snow much in Atlanta, Georgia. Sure, we get the occasional sleet event, but rarely do we experience the complete ground-covering snow blast that we received Saturday morning, January 19th, 2008.

Naturally, during such an unique event, it was mandatory to put on the hats and gloves, and step outside to log some miles.

This was one running experience I was not going to miss. 

Trail Running in the Snow

The Sweetwater Trails with snow I can honestly say this is the very first time that I have run in the snow. It was everywhere. Snow coming down, snow on the ground, ice in the trees…

Arriving at the Sweetwater State Park trails, we noticed that there were no security guards or rangers, no vehicles, …but an open gate. To me, an open gate says, “come on in, y’all” – so we did. 

At the start of the run the snow was already falling steadily; and so was the temperature. Decked out in toboggans, gloves, and multiple layers of polyester, we ventured off into the woods for 10-11 miles of pure joy. With a big race happening next week, I was only shooting for 8 miles, but our muscles felt so good, and the scene was just too cool to call it quits after an hour. We clocked a few mo’ miles just for the joy of it.

Break out the Bikes

As expected, the brief snow day quickly turned to more of a snow/rain thing. With temperatures expected to drop more overnight, the ridiculous media had everyone believing we were in for a complete city lock-down. As usual, the weather media was wrong, the sensationalistic bubble burst, and we ended up Sunday morning with some really cold temperatures, but with crystal clear blue skies and bright sunshine.

Time to switch it up. Time to break out the mountain bikes.

Snow and ice in AtlantaIt was 19 degrees when I suited up for some trail terrorizing, only 4 degrees if you counted the wind chill. For some reason, perhaps it’s my extreme sports background, but when it comes to biking, I just can’t go out there rocking the running gear, or any of that spandex-y, polyester fluff that I wear while running. Instead, I put all that stuff on underneath and then covered it all with some baggy khakis, long sleeved Metallica t-shirt, some gnarly black trail shoes and an MP3 player packed solid with an aggressive riding soundtrack.

Ah, perfect – now I’m ready.

Or so I thought…

Just as I was feeling cool as Coolio and tough a nails, my wife chimes in, “don’t forget your cell phone, it’s cold out there… Call me and let me know you’re ok…”

What am I?  …twelve?

I hit those trails with a fury. One, because it was cold, and two because I’m one of those dudes that gets bored just following a path. I like to find stumps, fallen trees, steep drops, hella climbs, dirt mounds and other aggressive riding obstacles sure to send me flying over the handlebars at least once. Today, three times – plus one very funny climb where I started the ascent, geared down, continued up …until I just couldn’t climb anymore; but rather than just stopping, I realized I was on a ridge and I just sorta’ fell over the side of the ridge. Nowhere to step off the bike, nowhere to bail, just a pretty rough sideways tumble down the side of hill with the bike still between my legs.

A big log finally broke the fall.

I just laid there for about five minutes. Smiling. Laughing. …wondering how I was going to get out of this one.

I thought about calling my wife, “LuvPi, (yea, I call my wife luvpi – you can laugh if ya wanna) I’m sitting at the bottom of hill, upside-down, stuck under a log with a my bike between my legs – this is me calling to tell you I’m ok…”

But I thought better of it.

Had a great time on the those frozen trails. By the time the Bad Brains reggae dubs hit the ear buds, I was already muddy, stinky and looking for more. I must’ve stayed out on those trails for almost three hours before finally heading home to complain about being hungry and try like crazy to negotiate a massage.

I got to eat; but sadly, no massage.

Mountain Mist is next week – Can I get a Woo Hoo?

It’s All About the Trails

Bring on the bloodThere’s times when the road is just more convenient.

It’s 2:00 p.m. on a Sunday and you still have to get in that four-hour long run – Chances are, you’re gonna’ be road runnin’. Running purists tend to preach that real runners run on all terrain from the track, to the roads, to the trails and everything in between.

That may be so, but for me, it’s all about the trails.

I enjoy running through that brier patch that everyone else stopped to avoid. I like hearing the thorns tear through my shorts. Bloody legs? No problem. Bring it on.

I like big, thick roots. I like natural rocks and poor footing. I like rain and wind and mud and dirt.

I don’t even mind falling down. I know how to fall. Believe me – there’s a whole elegance to falling correctly. The nastier the fall the better.

“If it ain’t rough, it ain’t me”

I seek out the races that I know will be extra tough. When I lace up the trail shoes in 2008, it’s going to be all-out war with myself. I love running ultramarathons on mountain trails because I know that during that six hours, ten hours, twelve hours, twenty-four hours – whatever the race – I will experience every possible emotion.

Happiness, sadness, fear, confidence, frustration, success, anticipation, loneliness …everything. I’ll feel strong as bull and weak as mouse. I’ll scream with excitement and cuss out of aggravation.

The journey is always about much more than covering miles of mountain dirt on two feet.

It’s about learning who you really, truly are. …what you are made of. It’s about testing your limits.

You hear that a lot, “testing your limits”, but when you’re throwing up 20 miles into a difficult race, your face dripping with sweat and caked with salt, your legs weak, tired and wobbly, your nutrition completely in the toilette, and you are coming to the realization that the next X number of miles could potentially be the proverbial crawl through Hell… yea, you’ll know yourself just a little bit better than you did before.

Enter the SweetH20 50K

The SweetH20 registration opened up last week and again, I had to jump on it. I ran this race last year as my second ultramarathon ever – and I loved every single, solitary thing about it. Even the two weeks that it took my body to recover.

The race has some crazy hills. Straight-up, quad-killa’, ham-screamin’ hills. It’s 31 miles of rugged trail, dirt, mud, roots, rocks, rope-assisted river crossings and plenty of bust-ur-butt potential; but it’s also got some of the coolest nature, wildlife and fellow runners that a trail runner could ask for…

2006 SweetH20 Race Report {written last year}

Red Top Rumble

But as you can see by my race schedule waaay up there in top right corner, I added yet another diddy to the trail running fun – the inaugural Red Top Rumble 11.5 Mile Trail Race in Cartersville, Georgia. This weekend, I was lucky enough to run these mountain trails, and their beautiful views of Lake Allatoona, with the group that is hosting the race and I think it’s safe to say that participants are in for a real treat on February 10, 2008.

It’s not an ultra race – but it is a trail race – and I’m pretty sure there won’t be too many people walking around afterwards complaining that the course was “too easy”. It’s one of those unique courses that teases you to go out fast with it’s timid, rolling and well manicured terrain, only to grab you by the gotchas about halfway through and remind you that YEP, you’re in the trails, brutha’.

But First, …The Mist

However …before all those exciting experiences above, I’ll have to contend with one of the roughest, toughest races in the Southeast – The Mountain Mist 50K – less than two weeks away, January 26th. This race is important for judging my progress in this sport. While I don’t expect to put up any stellar numbers, I expect to finish – and I’d like to finish strong.

Black Warrior 50K took me a little over seven hours. The SweetH20 took me a little over eight hours. Laurel Valley took me a whopping twelve plus hours, but was a few miles more than Mountain Mist. Taking all this into account, and understanding the known difficulty of this race, my primary goal is to simply finish; but if I had to come up with a goal finish time, I might as well make it a nice and lofty goal… I’m shooting for a sub-seven hour finish. 6:59:55.

Stop laughing.

If I can do that, I’ll know I’ve made some real progress.

Knowing When NOT to Race

I was scheduled to run the GUTS Fat Ass 50K race this past Sunday – but I didn’t.

Instead, I woke up at 8:30 a.m., tagged along for breakfast and church with my wife, and then laced up the shoes for an exceptionally easy ten mile trot; and I couldn’t have been happier with the decision. The weather was awesome, the run was pleasant, the watermelon afterwards was refreshing, lunch with my wife was special, and an afternoon of periodic football-watching capped everything off nicely.

Nowhere Near 100 Percent

As I roll into this second year of ultrarunning, perhaps I am starting to mature just a wee bit with regards to the sport and knowing when to endure the toughness…

And when not to.

First of all, physically, I was not ready to participate. I believe I could have finished, but I was far from 100%. Second, and most importantly, Mountain Mist 50K, up in Huntsville, Alabama, will be upon me in less than three weeks, and I am eager to take on this difficult challenge. Skipping the GUTS race provides me with a few more days of strong training as opposed to at least a week of recovery had I run the event yesterday.

Mountain Mist updated elevation profile

Working on the Whole Person to Become a Better Athlete

…and while I try to keep everything here about running, I’d be remiss not to mention the positive lift I created for myself by taking some time out to spend quality time with my wife. The holidays can be hectic, hard and crazy, and with the beginning of a new year comes a time to refresh, renew, and reevaluate.

I tend to get caught up in my training, my needs, my diet, my trips, my races …and forget that my wife and stepson have wants and needs too. Needs that go beyond the breadwinner role, but sort of meld into a family participation role as well. The great thing is, this family participation, be it riding mountain bikes with my son or having a Tasty Turkey bagel with my wife, is beneficial to my training. The closeness I experience spending time with them provides me a mental lift, emotional progress, if you will, and makes me feel good about myself, the state of my family relationships and furthermore, allows me to concentrate more on the ‘task at hand’, when I am beating the street or running rip-shot through the trails.

Running may come and go, but family is forever.