Mountain Mist 50K Trail Race Report

photo: the beagle is impressed with the custom finisher award at Mountain Mist

An obvious Southeastern favorite

“What a beautiful day …beautiful course. I just love it”, I blurted out as I sat in the Monte Sano Lodge, roasting my cold, sore, tired legs in front of the toasty fire.

I had just completed my second Mountain Mist 50K in two years.

“Yea, it’s my #1 favorite…”, said experienced Big Peach Running Company runner Andrew Powell.

He then slid his shorts up his thigh to expose this killer, monster tattoo that read, “Trail Runners Never Die” complete with the Mountain Mist skeleton runner loud and proud.

Now, that’s “race love.”


photo: Mountain Mist 50K skeleton runner logo

There’s a reason for the allegiance

I was so excited, I was jumping out of my car seat during the 4.5 hour drive to the Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama. I couldn’t wait to get there, get some sleep, and attack that gnarly, technical trail in the morning.

Mist has it all. Rocks, and lots of ‘em, with jagged rocks, smooth round rocks, big rock sections, gravel sections, and the cuss-inducing, ankle-twistin’, sneaky rocks hidden under leaves.

You also get those tough, long climbs at K2, Waterline, and Rest Shelter (a complete misnomer) to feed that fix for hills and test your endurance and trail stamina.

Plus, nasty descents like the knee-n-quad killer downhill section into McKay’s Hollow. This downhill, technical, section will beat you to death, especially with about 25 miles in the bank.

And in between, runners are presented with some of the most runnable, beautiful trail sections that I could only describe as “too damn pleasant”. Coupled with an unexpected bout of sunshine, this year’s Mist was absolute heaven.

Religious people have their views of heaven …this trail runner has his.

Perfection makes for a lame report

Things went so well during this race, I really don’t have an interesting blow-by-blow to share. This year’s experience pretty much went like this:

  • Got the lodge the night before and met up with some other GUTS runners. They probably thought I was on crack since I couldn’t stop moving, nor chanting “I’m ready to run, I’m ready run”, “lemme at it, I’m ready to go!”
  • Couldn’t sleep all night due to the excitement. Tossed and turned listening to the lame Monster Truck rally happening 100 yards from my hotel.
  • Cringed a little at the sleet falling from sky an hour before race start
  • Started the race
  • Ran at a consistent pace the entire race – power-hiked the three tough climbs.
  • Fell about eight times, but recovered from each and every one with nothing more than a few scratches.
  • Finished in 6:19, a 50K personal best, with a little left in the tank, and feeling like a million bucks.

And that’s pretty much it. I apologize if you were looking for more.

Like all races, I learned stuff

If you know me, or read this blog regularly, you know this is NOT always the case, but this time, I feel like I did just about everything right. For once, I was actually somewhat prepared. The following comments are things that I believe helped me ensure a great race and will serve you well if you ever decide to join in the fun:

  1. Managed fluids and electrolytes perfectly with S-caps every hour, on the hour, without fail
  2. Ate less at aid stations, never feeling full, but keeping energy levels even
  3. Breezed through aid stations, never staying longer than a couple of minutes
  4. Kept a consistent pace regardless of terrain
  5. Paid close attention to POSE form to keep my body strong and extreme-fatigue-free
  6. Yak’d it up with other runners during some of the easier sections
  7. Took time to really enjoy my surroundings – soaking up the magical beauty all around me.

It wouldn’t be such a great race without the people

Like most ultramarathons, it’s the people that make an event so special. A huge shout-out to Dink and Suzanne, of Fleet Feet Huntsville, for putting on a true 50K classic and a race that sets a solid benchmark for quality and runner experience.

Thanks to the volunteers first and foremost.

I also want to thank all of those that take the time to introduce themselves to me, compliment my blog and race reports, and share their individual running stoke with me.

This weekend, I was actually told that, because of me, a certain runner decided that he was going to try ultrarunning.

Imagine how that made me feel… I guess this goofy, over-excitement has some benefit after all. {wink}

Saturday’s Mountain Mist was his first ultra and he completed it in a respectable 6:53, and got his first ultramarathon finisher award.

Congratulations Wayne, you made me feel really good, and I’m proud of your finish, dude.

But let’s not forget, Masters Women race killer and local GUTS runner, Sally Brooking, who ran the race with a broken foot, and still finished in 6:47.

Absorb that for a second …Masters runner …broken foot …still beat 1/4 of the field.

That’s a little crazy.

How about Robert Youngren who set out around midnight to run the course, rest a little, and then start again, with the rest of racers, thus making it a 100K. …dude…

Appalachian Trail speed record holder David Horton was in attendance and it was honor to shake his hand and get some face time with a legend in the sport.

My personal heroes Susan Donnelly and Rob Apple were also running. This was Rob’s 535th ultramarathon.

Absorb that one, too, for a second – 535 races at distances beyond 26 miles.

Sick.

My friend Tony and I finished together …My Douglas County Rogue Runner friends kicked ass, …Byron Backer and Carl Laniak showed up and slaughtered the course in true elite style …Fellow GUTS runner Marty Coleman with his 5:21, and new friend Bryce with his unbelievable 4:37 and 11th place finish overall.

In fact, all of my fellow GUTS members kicked some major butt. Nils, Marty, Tony, Vikena, Kim, Matt, Sarah, Sally, Janice(and bro), Andrew, Bryce, Jason(s), Andrew, Spurgeon, Jamie and anyone else I may have forgotten.

Congratulations to everyone!

What can I say, I love this stuff

If you thought I was obnoxious before with all of my running glee, just wait.

It only gets better and better.

My performances continue to improve.

I meet more and more top-notch, quality characters who add so much to my running experience, and life in general.

I’m dedicated and I’m fired up.

Life is good.

I’m glad I started the 2009 ultramarathon season with Mist.

Hogpen Hill Climb Race Report

Helen, Georgia is an interesting place.

It’s a trippy little re-creation of an alpine German village, and it’s plunked right down in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains in White County, Georgia.

The street names and public signs are even in German.

And of course, the village is the home of the long-standing Georgia race favorite, the Hogpen Hill Climb, touted as “one of the toughest races in North America”.

Ok, so, I don’t know if I agree with that since I know many, many tougher races; but the Hogpen Hillclimb is definitely a tough one, and running point-to-point from the bottom, to the top, of any mountain, deserves some challenge props on any given day.

“This isn’t so bad”

After skarfing my pre-race favorite meal of a cheeseburger and strawberry milkshake (thanks ATY), we milled around the starting area talking with runners from all over the map, and amazed at the motley crue of the race field. Grizzled ultrarunners, collegiate athletes, running clubs, triathelete-types (at least, by gear appearance), and every other type of runner imaginable.

photo: Sean and I before the start of the Hogpen Hill Climb.

It was a cool mix of people with some newbies, like me, very nervous having absolutely no idea what to expect in a race that simply climbs ~10.5 miles from the bottom, to the top, of a mountain.

Clock strikes noon, and we were off and running.

The first mile cruises through the unique alpine village of Helen. “nice and easy”, I’d repeat to myself over and over since I knew the most difficult climbs came around mile 7, …and lasted all the way to the finish.

Miles 2,3,4 all clipped off relatively easy. I was chatty with my running partner, cruising the rolling terrain and consistently gauging my fitness because, again, I knew the worst was yet to come.

Around miles 4-6, we got some climbs that weren’t too steep, per se, but they were long, semi-steep climbs that whittled many runners down to walkers, and got the lungs to take notice.

A great example of race foreshadowing.

photo: A portion of the route up the mountain

And then it got hard

After a steep descent, somewhere between mile 6 and 7, things started to get a little crazy.

We turned a corner, grabbed water from the aid station, and looked up…

“Oh sh@!, this must be the beginning of the grind”

And it was.

I’m not sure about other people, but I was a little shocked. The climbs from mile 7, until the end, were just brutal and relentless. Many times I felt like I was going to fall down backwards.

I kept running out of principle, but there were times where I was barely passing power-walkers. I started to get a little blurry-visioned a couple of times and slowed quite a bit.

“Oh my God, this is unbelievable”, I kept saying to myself.


photo: the Garmin elevation data from over the ten miles of climbing

It’s funny, well not funny, but interesting how the miles don’t quite “clip off” when you’re climbing like they do when you’re cruising.

This was punishment.

Hogpen Hill Cramps

I knew I must be getting close to the top because it started getting really cold and we started seeing all these huge, frozen waterfalls, alongside the road as we continued to climb. The sun was out and it was melting some of these monster ice creations and they’d come crashing down around us as we rambled up towards the top mountain..

It was cool – but a little unsettling.

photo: Waterfall ice formations along the way up the mountain

My Garmin was acting funny, so I lost track of my mileage, plus I ran out of water and was now running on pure determination to just get the race over with – my legs were trashed, and for the first time since my very first marathon…

…I started to cramp.

Badly.

My quads, right above the knees, were giving every indication that too many more steps up this mountain and they were gonna have a plan of their own.

Bummer.

But, “there’s some cars, that must be the top of the mountain, whoo hoo!”

Nope.

It’s a bluff, false summit, yet another 200 yards to go.

photo: Struggling past the false summit at Hogpen – 200 more yards to go…

I yelled out to friends, “I’m cramping, I’m cramping”, but I don’t think they cared. I think they just wanted me to finish so that we could make our way back down the mountain.

Chicken soup for the soul

1:58 – I barely got the sub-two hour which was my goal – I am still amazed, though, at the difficulty of this race.

That’s some hella’ climbing.

photo: Sean (1:52) and me (1:58) finish Hogpen

The top of the mountain was freezing, so we didn’t play the chatty social game very long – just long enough to grab some fruit, water, and that delicious hot homemade chicken soup.

Damn that soup was good.

photo: Hogpen Hillclimb views

A funny side note: I recently met this ridiculously fast ultrarunning kid name Matt Kahrs, who has waaay too much energy, recently running a local 50K in a shocking 4:09; and when I saw him at the Hillclimb, I knew he was probably going to shred this event too – sure enough, as I was nearing the top of the mountain, this kid comes flyng down, having already finished, and was now running back to the start.

Later, after we completed the race, and started driving to the bottom, we saw Matt.

We rolled down the window to offer some encouragement, but before we could say a word, he looked at us in a sort of panic and bellows out…,

“duuuuude, do y’all have any food?”

We laughed and started throwing various gels and electrolyte jelly beans out the window as he scurried to pick it all up like a homeless man chasing dollar bills.

…guess ya had to be there – but it was funny as hell. Good show, kid. Solid determination.

Things to know about the Hogpen Hillclimb

In retrospect, we probably were too conservative in the beginning of the race. Once you get to the really difficult climbs after mile 6, the pace is so slow anyway, I’m not sure that I really saved anything by starting out at a snail’s pace.

Mentally, by starting in the back, it felt good passing the early sprinters, but again, the steep stuff is where you really find out what you’re made of…

If you decide to run the Hogpen next year:

  • Carry water – there are minimal water stations, and apparently this varies from year to year.
  • Carry electrolytes – you might think you don’t need ‘em in something as short as a 10-miler, but you’d be mistaken. I was, anyway.
  • Make sure you have a ride down – the race is point-to-point, so once you get to the top, you need a ride down. The race neglects to mention this on the application, and we would have hated to be one of those cold, lonely souls trying to mill a ride to the bottom.
  • Take a camera – the views are incredible. The ice formations rock!
  • Don’t sit in the back seat with cramps – ouch!

See ya next year Hogpen. Now we know what to expect.

Hogpen Hillclimb results

If anyone knows how to find the Hogpen Hillclimb race results, please let me know. Thanks.

Across the Years 72-Hour Race Report

Or, how I ran 140 miles and still got beat by more than half


photo: me and my family before the start of the ATY

What can you say? It’s Across the Years

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this race, and it’s taking me a long time to fully absorb everything I experienced.

Did I like it?

Why did it seem so hard?

Why do I feel so special? so strong? …and in the same vein, so inadequate and weak?

How can my muscularity feel somewhat recovered, while my nervous system seems to be shot?

I “feel” things in my heart, more than I feel things in my body. Am I just a cheeseball?

While I mulled over my thoughts and feelings, I read all the runner race reports with great interest. Was it the same experience for them? A smattering of this-and-that emotional crap all mixed in with the mental and physical challenge buzz?

By now, if you’re on “the list”, you’ve heard about the quality character displays of folks like John Geesler, Andy Lovy, Chris O’Loughlin, etc… And Juli’s friggin’ unbelievably supportive husband, the new youngster PRs, the 1000 mile jackets, Ray K’s productive silliness, The Coury family, Lauri’s multi-million dollar charitable effort, the special European representation… on and on.

So, as much I want to share my experiences with all that – I’ve already been beat to the podium.

Instead, and perhaps a wee bit egotistically, I wanted to find a way to express this race for what it meant to me.

I want to share why I loved ATY …and perhaps didn’t love ATY.

I want to be honest with my feelings.

A completely different form of athleticism

Across the Years was a completely new experience for me.

I’ve never run any timed event above eight hours, …so it only made perfect sense to bite off nine times the effort with the 72 hour race, right?

In my opinion, it was too much for my ability level. I did ok in the first 24 hours, logging close to 70 miles, but the last two days were mostly a struggle as I probably walked 85% of day two and 65% of day three.

All that walking just didn’t seem right to me…

…then I met Uli Kamm.

He’s 61, logged 204 miles, took 8th place in the 72-hour race, and has run, er “walked”, just about every single difficult ultra in the country, over an ultra career of 40 years, and finished under the cut-offs while beating a handful of runners. Hardrock with 60,000 feet of elevation gain/loss, Bighorn, Wasatch…

Put that in your bong and smoke it.

Ultrarunning 101 is in session

ATY is like ultrarunning vocational training.

I learned so much about the history of ultrarunning, the ultrarunner old school, the ultrarunner new school, track runners, trail runners, road runners …trans-America runners, Badwater finishers, Barkley bad-asses, and trans-European athletes.

I ran alongside, and shared conversation with, people from Scotland, Germany, France …and all corners of the USA.

I absorbed training tips, techniques, strategies and experiences from people who were so well prepared, it was shocking.

Thanks to people like Mike Melton, Robert Andrulis, and Lynn Newton, I was able to prevent some costly rookie mistakes and make some last minute changes that would allow for the 140 miles that I was able to hammer through.

Thanks to people like Andy Lovy and Chris, I was able to keep my feet from falling apart while also providing muscle-loosening techniques to keep me moving forward with less pain.

Thanks to the volunteers, I was able to stay hydrated, nourished, and never “got sick of” the aid station items …grilled cheese, hot potato soup, egg rolls, quesadillas, pancakes, ham/turkey sandwiches, and plenty of vegan food.

Nice.

And lastly, thanks to the sarcastic personalities of Hans Bauer, Mike Melton, Ray K, and John Price, I was able to associate within part of my own element.

A spectator at my own race

I love the sport of ultrarunning. I read a lot, participate on the ultra email list, and attend as many races I can. Because of this, I tend to know a lot about various athletes, living vicariously through some of their races and challenges; so getting to meet, run with, and engage in personal conversations with these people left me a little star-struck.

Running a few laps with Lisa Bliss, are you kidding me?

John Geesler?

Juli Aistars, Tracy Thomas, Alene Nitsky, Hans Bauer, Uli, Ray K, Don and Gillian, Xy Weiss, John Price? …and many, many more.

it’s just overwhleming for this newbie to the sport.

These are all people that I read about, communicate with online, and/or eagerly watch their race results from race-to-race.

Many times I did not feel worthy to be there.

I’m a weightlifter, turned runner, who is still trying to figure all this out…

How did I get in?

How did I get the chance to play with all the cool kids?

It was a very special, humbling experience.

Zombie runners and me
Photo: Zombie Runner owners Don and Gillian …and me

Running in circles

This is the part where I just can’t come to grips with how I feel.

Did I love running in 500 meter circles, 452 times?

Nope. I did not.

Mentally, it was nearly the greatest challenge of my life to end my rest periods, leave the warm tent, with a bleeding, chaffed ass, in 30 degree nightime weather, just to continue circling a track in pain.

I would stare out at the beautiful mountains and wish that I was running up there.

The views in the flat desert go on for miles and miles, like the movies, and I imagined myself breaking free from the fences surrounding the track and running like the wind. Fast, instead of shuffling in pain on days two and three.

Sometimes, I’d feel like that show on TV called “gangs” where they show prisoners in “the yard”.

Many times I felt caged in. Lonely. Sometimes second-guessing my desire to move forward, around in circles, for three days straight.

What was I thinking, anyway, when I signed up for this thing?

What were the RD’s thinking in accepting me? Was it a desire to watch a newbie crumble?

“God, I miss my family.”

“I can’t wait ’til they come back.”

Many times I’d say to myself, “welp, it’s definitly a fact now – I am a trail runner, not a track runner”

As hard as this is to admit, I even built up feelings of false superiority with thoughts that, “man, I could smoke most of these people in a 10K, 10-mile, half-marry, or even marathon.”

I know that’s lame, but this report wouldn’t be an accurate account without the truth.

I think I needed to rationalize to myself why I wanted to get rest, while guys and gals, labeled in the real world as senior citizens, were able to continue …with smiles on their faces, while logging hella more miles than me.

It’s humbling being beat by a 71 year old. It just is.

The whole thing messed with me.

Humbled me.

Forced me to view things differently.

A moment of weakness

As the race went on, I started to reevaluate my goals.

First it was, “ok, I’m fine with just a hundred miles. ”

Then it was, “ok, I’ll go for 103 and make it a distance personal best”

Then it was, due to a little pushing from Mike Melton and Robert Andrulis, “ok, I’ll go for 110″

Then 120

Then 130

And that’s when my wife and son showed back up from Flagstaff.

Coming from Atlanta, GA, they were all excited from their ski trip, snowboarding lessons, and frolicking in more snow than they have ever seen in their lives.

It was so nice to see them, and as everybody on the track probably remembers, I’m definitly one of those dudes that loves to talk about his family. Too bad I’m not religious, because “blessed” would come out of my mouth a lot just about now.

Anyway, I was feeling low, beat and battered and my ass hurt. I knew it was allowed for runners to go get sleep off-site in motels or wherever if they wanted to, and that just sounded LOVELY to me.

So, I called my wife at the hotel and said, “come get me – I’ve done enough miles – I got my hundred buckle and that’s plenty.”

She kept asking if I was sure, and I kept saying I was, so she drove 30 minutes from Phoenix to retreive me.

Ok, this feels completely wrong

As we were driving away from Nardini Manor, down Jack Rabbit Trail, I looked back and could see the lights of the track, and something just didn’t feel right.

I immediately got grumpy with my wife before I finally came to grips with my feelings.

I felt wrong leaving.

I had been part fo this thing for over 60 hours at this point.

I had suffered, laughed, talked, raced, and particpated with these athletes for all this time – and now I was gonna leave them?

…for my own selfish needs?

I couldn’t do it.

Thank goodness my wife is so level-headed and understanding.

She gave me a burger, strawberry shake, and a kiss and turned around to take me back to the race.

Once I got back – everything was right again.

A New Years Eve Celebration like no other

The family came back around 11:00 p.m., walked a few laps with me, and prepared for the NYE celebration.

Runners, wore party hats, blew Kazoos, and drank champagne at midnight. And, as is tradition, everyone, including runners, crews, family, and spectators, all walked a lap of the track while the Wrublick boys fired off an impressive display of fireworks from the desert fields.

Very cool. Nice touch.

I took as many pictures, with as many runners as I could.

But that little diddy of fun lasted only 15 minutes and then back to the track for the final nine hours of the event.

Christian and Austin at ATY
photo: Austin and I, circling the track just before midnight

Ten more miles for an even 140

I crawled outta’ the warm tent at about 4:30 a.m. realizing I needed close to ten miles to get an even 140, and decided to go for it.

I started running – or what could maybe, possibly be perceived as running – with a focus on the 140 mile mark.

Ray K was chasing Frenchman Serge Girard, shirtless I might add, and singing “day-o …daaaay-o …daylight come and I wanna go home…”

A real tripster this Ray K.

He caught him.

And I got my 140 miles right around the same time.

With only 45 minutes left in the race, I huddled up in a big giant fleece blanket, and watched the rest of the runners finish.


photo: one tired dude – 72 hours + 5 minutes complete.

And that was that

And just like that, it was over.

I was almost sad.

Why? who knows. Probably just an emotional, mental, physical mess, wanting to laugh, cry, rest, and socialize all at once.

We all congratulated each other, broke down our tents, and prepared for the awards.

Problem was, many of the runners left immediatly, so many were not there to receive their awards.

F&$* that!!!!

I hung around, even though I went outside the tent to throw up the meatballs I just ate, and dammit, I was getting that buckle if they had to wheel me up to the front in a wheelchair.

Lotsa hugs, congrats, promises of keeping in touch, …and off we went, back to the hotel, so that I could endure the humbling experience of my wife patching up my chaffed ass (amongst other things).


photo: Accepting my 100-mile buckle with the event RD and host

So what’s the verdict?

I want to go back in 2009 if they’ll have me.

Now, I have an idea on how to strategize.

Now, I have an idea of what to expect – and what “not” to expect.

Now, I know that the running is only one element of a complete experience that is the Across the Years footrace.

I am part of the family now. Perhaps the red-headed stepchild, but still part of the family, and I can’t imagine spending New Years anywhere else than Nardini Manor next year – circling that damn track – but growing in my ultra experience ten-fold.

Maybe I can even get Ray K to like me.

And while I probably would excel at 24-hours, I want to come back to the 72-hour race.

Next year, that 200 mile buckle is mine.