It’s been a long time
My, oh, my, its been awhile since I sat down and penned a straight-up, ultramarathon race report. Slowly but surely, I’ve been fighting my way back into the running world, and after 19 months of fighting, the rewards of hard work are finally paying off.
But, that’s not what this report is about.
This report is about a special vibe that surrounds the Mountain Mist 50K Trail Run. It’s about the build-up, packet pick-up, race day, race course, the volunteers, the athletes …and even the drive home.
Today, you’re not going to read my splits, or over-analyze Garmin data.
Instead, you are going to learn why I have come to this race seven years in a row, and what makes the Mountain Mist 50K my favorite 50K race of all time.
It usually starts in October, when the race opens for registration.
People sit at work, at home, in cars, and on mobile devices, all waiting to get in that registration before the event fills up.
Facebook walls begin to light up with “I’m registered for Mountain Mist 50K!”
…sometimes, followed up by, “What in the Hell did I just do???”
My previous years’ race reports start blowing up with traffic as newbies carefully comb the ‘blog-o-sphere’ for any tidbits of advice or strategy to set their minds at ease.
But, by far, its the ride up, in the Blue Beast Man Van that makes the build-up period so very special. To be a fly on the wall in this vehicle could be its own reality show. We are quintessential “boys” …we have no apologies. It’s a good damn time.
We always seem to arrive in Huntsville late, and it’s usually the redneck Weezle’s fault.
But we eventually get there, pick up our race numbers, and then start buying a bunch of last year’s gear. We are Mountain Mist garment whores. We love it. We love everything about the Mist gear, from the logo to the shirt quality; and it’s always being sold at rock-bottom prices that even tight-wad Joe Fejes will pay.
While scoring great gear, cheap, is cool, the best part about packet pickup, for me, is seeing all the Alabama runners that I chat more on Facebook with than actually get to see and chill and run with in real life. It always feels like a homecoming. You know who to expect to be there, and who not. And the ones you expect, are ALWAYS there.
Race day on top of Monte Sano
By 7:00 a.m., the lodge is abuzz with hundreds of nervous runners making last preparations, trying to stay warm, shaking hands, hugging, and sharing “Good luck”(s) and wishes of an exciting day out on the rocky, mountain trails.
The quintessential GUTS picture goes down around 7:15, with the Georgia Ultrarunning and Trail Running Society members all huddled up, trying to squeeze into one photo frame.
Outside, the national anthem is happening, but no one hears it but the peeps up front, and everyone chatters away – not out of disrespect, just completely oblivious to the whispers up front.
Mark, set, go…
The Mountain Mist 50K race course
The course changed a little this year. For the better? yes, and no.
The race started out with about a mile of road, a mile of gravel road, and a mile of single-track. The goal was to spread out the runners, but it didn’t really work, and all that road just wasn’t all that cool.
I’d vote for taking us straight to the trail next time, like usual, and let people who get annoyed by the back-up, sprint faster at the gun.
But the addition of the Arrowhead trail, in lieu of the washout section, was waaaaaay cool. Instead of slopping around, running from side-to-side on a washed-out, old jeep road double-track, we ran a fun section of winding single-track that was really, really nice. Way better than the washout.
The Mountain Mist course is notorious for being really muddy and rocky, but this year, because of the temps, all of the mud was frozen solid, allowing runners to just breeze across the terrain like a soft road.
I ran really smart this year, and for the first time in my entire ultrarunning career, I had a negative split on the course.
I guess even the dumb ones can learn if we stick to it long enough.
It’s the varying terrain that makes it so special
I think what I love most about Mist is that I never get bored. Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of the course from start to finish:
- Run on flat road until you get to the trail
- Run a tricky ridge
- Climb out of a valley, to the top of the Mountain
- Descend sharply into an open powerline section (I nicknamed this the ‘wheat fields’)
- Climb the first beast, K2
- Run a winding single-track with gradual ups-n-downs
- Cross a road, and run a rock garden
- Descend a ridiculous, and I mean ridiculous, rocky washout
- Cruise some easy, yet muddy, single-track
- Stumble through a few miles of gnarly rocks on your way to ‘waterline’
- Climb waterline with one-legged squats
- Hit the single-track that escapes the old washout
- Drop deep into McKaye’s Hollow – my favorite section of the race, cuz it’s here where I excel
- Cross a decent sized creek
- Run some muddy single track at the base of the mountain
- Hit the longest climb of the race, ‘Rest Shelter’, at mile 30
- Try like Hell to sprint the final 1.7 of easy flat trail running, to the finish
With helpful, enthusiastic volunteers encouraging runners the whole way.
Sounds like fun, right?
And lastly, the drive home
I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you anything about the ride home.
It’s between me, Joe, Weezy and the walls of the man van, but let’s just say, we screamed a lot. We yelled. We laughed …laughed so hard we cried; and we talked more smack to one another than should be allowed in an entire lifetime, let alone a four-hour drive back to Atlanta.
That’s how we roll. The riff-raff.
So there ya go.
A race experience that should serve as the benchmark for all race experiences. Great people, great trail, great organization, great swag, and just a flat-out great race.
It’s the best 50K in America.