I can be a bizarre man, and this is probably a bizarre way to start off a race report, but when I finished this year’s Mountain Mist 50K, I finally felt like me again.
Since I couldn’t even say three words without coughing into convulsions, I pretty much avoided all the other jubilant finishers around me, and sat down on the cobblestone steps outside the lodge trying to sort out how I felt about the race, my individual performance, and what I learned from the experience.
Dramatic? probably, but if you know me, is it really all that surprising?
As a sat on those steps, 13-year old Carly Rose’s rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” popped in my head, and I found myself humming it along with my crazy thoughts.
It’s such a powerful, emotional song, and it played perfectly with my day.
Promise me you’ll listen to the track. It’s a measly 2:00 long, but will most likely make you feel really good. If not, well I’m sorry I wasted your time, and you most likely won’t like this report anyway. (or, you might just watch the song twice.)
Odd race report tidbit, I know, but there it is…
What Happens in the Blue Beast, Stays in the Blue Beast
The ride to and from Huntsville, Alabama with a ridiculous peanut gallery of Joe “Fast Bastard” Fejes and Wayne “Weezy” Downey, could have been written as a movie all by itself.
These road trip movies have NOTHING on the shenanigans that go down, and the conversations that go sideways, when the three of us load into that big ol’ Excursion for race travel.
We’re probably all going to Hell.
Joe was coming off his incredible 300 mile, record-breaking run at ATY, and was not participating this year, but instead joining Weezy and I for a little support, camaraderie, and to just be part of “The Mist” – one of those races that, once you’ve had a taste, becomes very difficult to miss – whether running or just hanging out.
Three amigos, keepin’ it real …maybe a little too real.
Promises of Mud, Muddy Mud, and More Mud
This was my sixth Mountain Mist 50K, and every year runners are contending with some kind of mud.
If you’re lucky, it’s freezing on race day and you’ll get frozen mud. If you’re unlikely, days of rain coupled with a warmer-than-usual race day, offers up lots and lots of slippery mud.
We got lots and lots of slippery mud.
Worse, because I was completely under-trained for this year’s event, I wore Hoka road running shoes in hopes of saving my legs. I may have saved my legs a bit, but I might as well have been running in grease.
Lesson #1 – Hokas in lots of of slippery mud is a race decision no-no.
First Half, Miles 1-16: Pleasant Running …kinda.
Weezy and I made a pact to run together for the entire race.
Both equally under-trained, overweight and recognizing that this distance was way outside of how we are currently training, we still wanted to add to our Mountain Mist plaque stack AND get that much closer to that monumental, 10-year jacket.
We’d suffer together.
The first part of the trail is a descent and can be a little sketchy, and as usual, I was the first to take a nice fall. In just a little over a mile into the race, I busted pretty good, slipping in the mud, and falling backwards onto some rocks, right in front of Weezy. As you can imagine, I got to hear about it for a good quarter mile.
After crossing the road, the course takes runners up a gradual 4-ish mile climb to the top of the mountain. We ran very slowly, ’bout 10-11:00 pace I think, and power-hiked anything steep, regardless of how short the length.
Now, while this was pleasant running, and it was, some of the emotions I was feeling were not so pleasant. I’m not proud of these thoughts, but I write stuff the way it goes down, so I’m sorry if it colors me as a person – but – I really struggled with where I was running in the pack.
Look, I’ve never been an “elite” racer, but I worked hard and progressed a lot from 2006-2012, focusing on improving my speed over the years, to the point where the previous two years, I ran 5:45 and 5:15 at Mountain Mist, after running 7:40 my very first year.
I had gone from the back-of-the-pack, to as close as 31st overall (out of 247 runners). Both 5-hour years put me in a place in the results that I believed to be acceptable (for me), and I only hoped I could get better.
Then, I got sick.
Now I’m starting from scratch all over again.
I wish I could run along the trails in races with a big fat smile and say I’m happy to just be out there and I don’t care about finish times, but that’s just not me. Perhaps its a huge flaw in my personality, but I’m a competitive person – both with others AND myself. Running in the back of the pack did not feel good. The fact that I was letting it bother me, …well, bothered me.
Lesson #2 – It’s OK to participate for participating sake. Get over yourself. Enjoy the gifts you’ve been given. Be who you are in the moment, and commit to getting better. Enjoy the journey.
Second Half: Miles 16-31: Got Oxygen?
Between aid stations 2 and 3, somewhere around 13 miles or so, my diaphragmatic paralysis started to become a real issue.
For one, I hadn’t really run over 13 miles in training more than two or three times since I was released from the hospital. Even my longest obstacle races were only 13-14 miles, and those miles were broken up with obstacles. The muscles working in lieu of my diaphragm simply weren’t trained for the distances I was heading into from miles 16-31.
I started wheezing pretty badly.
I started coughing aggressively.
Weezy started questioning me, “Dude, you gonna be alright?”
Every time he asked, I said yes, but in reality, I had no idea what to expect.
A Pole, A Blond Kid and A Reason to Keep Going
Less than a mile from the half-way point aid station, somewhere around mile 16, it got really bad. Weezy had me lean against a trail marker to try to rest, catch a breath and collect myself.
Without necessary oxygen intake, my legs were dying quickly, and I was getting scared, feeling like there was nothing I could do but drop out of the race. I rationalized the situation as I simply wasn’t ready to come back to running trail races.
Just then, and I mean we couldn’t have been at that pole more than 10 seconds, some blond kid shows up out of nowhere, running with a pack of chatting, female GUTS runners, and pops up in my face, shaking my hand, and expressing how he read my blog, this blog, four years ago and how it inspired him to start running ultramarathons. He was all young, and peppy, and excited and life just ooozed out of this kid. At the time, I was too out of it to acknowledge his comments beyond a “thank you” and “I appreciate that”, but dammit, this kid, who I seemingly inspired four years ago, was now inspiring ME.
I sure hope that the girls that were with him will read this blog entry, remember the moment, and share in the comments below who he was. I’d like to personally thank HIM for HIS inspiration during a time when I needed it most.
Weezy got me moving again, but by the time I staggered that last mile into the halfway point aid station, I was not looking, nor feeling, too good. I simply could not get a breath, was coughing like a smoker, and the oxygen depletion was taking its toll.
Joe Fejes was at the aid station. He would later be expressing to others that I was probably not going to make it.
But dammit, my wife made a special poster board for me wishing me luck. Weezy was running every step along the trail with me, friends – past, present and future were encouraging me, and 10 minutes ago, some kid was expressing how much I had inspired him to run.
HOW COULD I POSSIBLY GIVE UP?
I’d run, shuffle, stagger, walk, …but I wasn’t going to give up. I know how that feels in the end and I didn’t want to eat that for dinner.
I grabbed a handful of pretzels, downed two cups of coke, and staggered across the street to continue on.
So very glad I did.
Lesson #3 – There are a million excuses to quit. All sound completely reasonable, even logical; but don’t do it. Never quit. Don’t stop until someone makes you stop. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn multiple times and one I am still mastering.
A Good Friend is Hard to Find
I really sucked for about 3 miles.
Weezy would push on, hear me cough, look back, realize I was flailing, and he’d slow down or walk. People passed in droves, and the pity party I was throwing for myself was getting to be too much for me, definitely for Weezy, and shoots, probably even for you right now as the reader.
I felt pressure to keep up, and with that pressure came more frustration and feelings of inadequacy. The whole situation compounded itself until I finally shared with Weezy how I either needed him to go on, chasing down the passing runners – or – chill the *&^%! out if he still wanted to stay together.
Like the good friend he is, and I’m not just patronizing him, he is a good friend, he chilled out, and we had a great, easy run across the rocks and approach to waterline.
Once we climbed the mean ol’ nasty waterline, I had a significant bounce-back, allowing us to pass almost 20 runners from the 26 mile aid station, through McKay’s Hollow, and all the way to Rest Shelter where we’d climb up the mountain for another mile before heading to the finish.
After I crossed the finish line, I was amazed at how much support the other runners offered me. Runners I’ve known for years, and runners who only knew me from this blog. Local runners and transient runners, all offering mad levels of atta-boys, congratulations and strong support.
If you’ve been in this situation before, you know how much that support means. As egomaniacs, and almost all of us runners are, we think our situations are so much bigger, and so much worse, than they really are. You feel like everyone is looking at you, like a leper, wondering what happened, or feeling all kinds of pity, when in reality nobody is paying all that much attention to you anyway.
Just because you consume you, doesn’t mean you consume others.
I guess that’s lesson #4 – stop being so d@mn self-centered and self-absorbed and worrying what everyone else might be thinking. Live life and enjoy the ride.
Easier said than done, and at 42 years old, I’m not much closer to self-actualization than I was at 22, but I’ll keep trying.
Thank you for reading.
Comments, good or bad, are always appreciated. Name-calling and making fun of me is all fair game.