“Coming to Run” – 2011 Mountain Mist 50K Race Report

Mountain Mist swag

Thinking outside the box

“5:45?” asked Sally.

“The way you ran at Fat Ass, I think you have a 5:15 in you.”

Shocked, but intrigued, I smiled a little sideways and replied, “really?”

Burnt out

If you read my runner-tortured ramblings, you know that I hit the proverbial bottom with regards to my running, and specifically, 100-mile race performances at the end of last year (2010).

Keys 100 – DNF

Western States – DNF

Rio Del Lago – DNF

It wasn’t pretty.

The Pinhoti 100 was the final straw - Lying trail side at mile 34, at 221 pounds, with a crazy, erratic heart beat, and being cared for by ultrarunning entrepreneur, Shannon Farar-Griefer (and almost ruining her race), I realized something had to change if I was going to continue this sport.

I was a mess.

Who am I? What do I want to be?

After Pinhoti, I took a very real and honest personal inventory with regards to what I was doing.

Sure, I was big and strong, but I had the running fitness of a rhinoceros. Did I want to be a runner? A weightlifter? or what?

I wanted to be a runner.

But more than that, I decided that I wanted to be a competitive runner.

It no longer felt good to just complete events. My approach to ultrarunning had been all ass-backwards, and I realized that the truth was clear. I was biting off waaaay more than I could chew, and suffering in the process.

Whether it’s a 50K, 50-miles or 100-miles, if you have to walk a significant portion of the ultramarathon, you aren’t running it – you are simply completing the distance.

I want to RUN ultramarathons.

Starting off 2011 with a bang

So, I decided to start over.

I decided that I was going to train with no excuses.

Lose the weight with no excuses. 30 lbs of it! Gone.

Get faster. Go harder. Rest more. Eat right. Train consistent…

…with no excuses.

And coming off of a decent effort for my first race of the 2011 season, the Ghost Town 38.5, I felt ready to not only tackle the Mountain Mist 50K one week later, but actually run my heart out and PR the damn race come hell or high water.

Plus, I had already called it out publicly, so the pressure was on.

I was gonna get that 5:45.

A cold morning at Monte Sano

Being my 4th year as a race participant, the starting line of Mountain Mist always feels like a southeastern family reunion. All of my GUTS friends, Alabama friends, and a smattering of Carolina folks, all milling around excited to tackle the beautiful trails of Monte Sano and the surrounding wooded areas.

It was cool to see Hal Koerner line up with some of my local heroes like Rob and Kathy Youngren, Carl Laniak, Dwayne Satterfield, David Riddle, Sally Brooking, Marty Coleman, etc etc etc …too many to name, but clearly it was going to be a fast field.

Running to aid station one

Running Mist with my eyes closed

I started out at a moderate pace alongside Jen Vogel, Tatyana Spencer, Sally and Marty – people with whom I should normally be very careful around as they are great runners and could easily blow me up early; but we were running comfortably at a 7:30-ish pace up the road and it was a good way to start as we made our way into the technical trails.

I was on a mission, and I shot ahead of a small group on the trail, hoping to get a good position in the usual early conga line.

I found myself in between Kathy Youngren, Dana Overton and a couple other Alabama locals. They all seemed to know each other, so I just ran along with them listening to some good stories, watching the pacing on my watch, and trying to maintain comfortable breathing.

This early section is technical, gradual uphill climbing, but we were still maintaining low-to-mid 8′s and I was feeling pretty proud to be running with this group.

And just when I thought I was somebody —- {WHACK} —- I flew into the air, stumbled for a good 10 yards trying to catch myself, before finally ending up staggering into a pretty gnarly fall that banged the hell out of my left knee.

Ugh.

Slam at Mountain Mist

But that’s trail running; and after a few jokes tossed around about who was responsible for my fall, I caught up and continued running with the speedy group into aid station 1.

Feeling fantastic.

Switching it up

Ok.    Stop.

This is where I get into my race report writing conundrum. I’ve run this race four times now. It seems silly for me to offer a blow-by-blow account, again, so I won’t.

If you read the first time I ran this race, then 2009, then 2010 – that outta’ be plenty to understand what this course is like.

These dudes did an AWESOME job capturing the ruggedness of the course, so check it out!

Instead, …well… I don’t even have an instead. I’m just gonna write some crap and whatever happens, happens.

Lonely on the Rocks

From the time I entered the trail at the beginning of the race, until the time I got to the Landtrust Aid Station (mile 21.1), I focused on three things:

I was focused on time, not the competition, but I did enjoy picking off the occasional runner who had gone out too fast. …and I’ve been that runner many a’time.

If you know the course, you know that after this Landtrust aid station, you begin  your approach to the dirty ol’ nasty waterline climb; and to make it worse, the approach to waterline is about 4 miles of constant, jagged rocks – a full-on rock garden – with sketchy creek crossings and this year, snow and ice.

I ran this entire section completely alone.

In my New Balance 100s, I started to form some blisters purely from my foot slipping between various pairs of rocks, getting stuck, and then popping out after some significant pulling. It was slowing me down, and I let myself get a little low.

I was lonely, and frustrated …and every time I looked at the watch, I was seeing scary numbers like 11:31 for pace. Even tho’ that’s the pace at that moment and not average pace, it still made me grumble and added to my frustration.

At this point, I knew by simple math that unless I completely fell apart on, and/or after, the waterline climb, I was a lock for 5:45…

…but that damn Sally put a faster time in my head, and although all I cared about was 5:45 for months leading up to the race, Sally derailed all of that with one simple side comment, and now I was stressing to see if I had what it took to actually beat 5:45.

Such a sucker for peer pressure.

Piece of cake

Now, I’m not saying that waterline wasn’t hard; but, as one experiences more and more races around the country, it definitely becomes one of the more manageable climbs in your experience index – mostly because it’s very short; but it is hella’steep y’all, and while you’re climbing, you’re feeling it for sure.

However, where I was with my racing at the moment, I actually used the climb as a bit of recovery. I didn’t try to waste a ton energy, but instead just climb steady and consistent.

There’s only two speeds up waterline – slow and slower.

After topping out, I felt pretty good and passed a couple o’ dudes who may not have had as much fun as me negotiating that dirty ol’ beast, and by the time I hit the 25.1 mile aid station, I was surprisingly ready to crank it up.

McKay’s Hollar’

I felt really strong passing through that aid station, and focused on a couple of dudes up ahead.

“I got’chu,” I kept saying to myself, and I picked it up a little bit at a time, each time I caught one, until I had passed about 3 guys and was now making my ‘dip’ into McKay’s Hollow.

Ahhhh… McKay’s Hollow, I love this section – it’s just so crazy dramatic – but being a complete psychotic head-case, I truly embrace sections like this and love hammering them hard.

I passed two more dudes here, and came upon Joe Fejes, a faaaaast Georgia runner and someone with whom I should be very, very proud to be near. Joe and I dropped one more runner, and hit the ever-so-slightly rolling flats with some serious speed. I thank Joe for this because he set the pace, and I just tried to hang on for dear life.

My legs were crying.

My lungs were wheezing.

We splashed through the mud with reckless abandon, and I was so happy to be getting pulled by Joe. I knew it would help.

Rest Shelter – Wipe the eyes & straighten the hood(ie)

The last climb of the day is also the longest.

Joe was faster than me up the climb, but I ran some of the less dramatic switch-backs and hit that final aid station JUST as the watch flipped over to 5:00 hours. Dink, the RD, was there, and after a couple of quick sarcastic greetings, I tore out of there.

1.7 miles to go.

I ran that last section with all the heart I had, kids. Seriously. I didn’t have any wacky crazy over-the-top dramatic moments in this race like others, but I did still run to the point of tears. (‘cuz I’m super wimpy like ‘dat)

My legs burned and my calves were trying to cramp, and I’d have to tweak my gait to avoid it, all while still trying to hammer as hard as I could with 30 miles on my legs already.

It was surreal.

It hurt, but it also didn’t…

Sort of euphoric in a way.

Until…

I took a horrible fall.

I couldn’t have been more than .25 mile from the finish when I looked up to see the lodge through the trees, kicked a root, flew in the air, landed on my shoulder, and every muscle in my left leg locked up as tight as drum.

But %^%$! it, I got up, mud in my mouth, and kept on running just as hard as I did before I fell.

Turned the corner, ran up the railroad tie steps, heard people cheering, looked at the clock from a distance, and saw it…

5:15

Sally hit it on the head.

5:15:47 was my official time down to the second, and when I crossed under that banner, I just froze.

“How in the Hell did I, Christian Griffith, run that fast at Mountain Mist?”

And on the way home, it hit me – “I ran well because I trained.”

It’s so crazy how we, as human beings, can spend countless weeks, months, and even years of wasted time seeking alternative solutions to problems that already have clear-cut answers.

If you want to improve at running you have to run. Really run.

You have to really care and you have to train.

Hard.

You have to set goals in your training every bit as much as you set goals for your races.

Thank you Sally

But you also need mentors.

Had Sally never put that possibility of a faster time inside of my head, I would not have even considered the possibility on my own. I may appear cocky and confident, but I believe I am really very much self-deprivating in many ways.

Having someone you really respect step to you and say, “hey, you’re doing very well, go for THIS” can do wonders for your head, your confidence and your drive.

Thank you Sally.

And thank you you to Dink, Suzanne, and all the race volunteers for yet another perfect, perfect race. I don’t know how they do it and make it look so easy, but they do. Every single year.

Tip of the cap to ya.

Next year, sub-5 …doh!

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Comments

Christian,

You should write a book my man. Your accounts of the actual “feel” of a long distance run is much better than any other I’ve read. And I read this for a living. Well done young man. Start writing and submitting. You have an audience.

Peace

I enjoyed your last post. Amazing what we will put ourselves through. Just finished watching Chariots of Fire for the umpteenth time for a bit of motivation.

Great report, always love hearing about people pushing it past their own threshold, isn’t that what running is about? I needed to read this today, as I’m heading to Appomattox to run Holiday Lake 50k this weekend! Thank you for the motivation!

Christian:

That’s what I call “stepping it up BIG TIME!” Congratulations to you – from the time and the story, sounds like you “left it all on the field” out there on Monte Sano.

Cheers!

Rob

Huge congratulations, Christian. I, too, have taken your words to heart. I am tired of simply finishing. I’ll never be a fast runner, but there’s loads of room for improvement.

I look forward to reading about more of your successes.

Christian,

Way to rock it dude! You ran a great race and I can totally see you dipping under the magic 5 hr mark. Perhaps I’ll see you on the bus at Mount Cheaha! Keep on training!

I just read your Mist race report, and it hit the nail on the head; the trick that no one wants to acknowledge is that there is no trick – we’ve just got to get out there and run. With a purpose.

Solid run, man, and if you keep up the training, you’ll destroy that 5hr mark next year.

Christian,

I love how you tell it like it is… :) Congratulations! You are doing us all proud!

Juli

Great job out there Christian. Any chance of you giving us some details of your new training regimen?

Christian,
Great read and congratulations. It truly is amazing what happens when you train:) Remember, to rest; you cant hold a peak forever. If you rest and pick it up back up in 3-4 weeks you will come back stronger and faster than ever.

Great job.

Bill

I love you, man! Freakin’ fierce.

Great job at the race! Funny what a small world running can be. I’ve had your blog in my feed reader for a while. I was a little surprised when I saw this post and wondered if I would be able to recognize you. My wife and I were collecting split times at 6 and 21. We did remember you! In fact we had a bit of a laugh when you passed us. You had an icicle hanging off your hair near your ear that looked a bit like an earring and it had grown by 21. Anyway, maybe I’ll see you out there next year as I run it for the first time hopefully.

Hey I always enjoy your comments on the list, etc. You’ve slimmed up, for sure, congratulations. Way to go chasing the goals.

As always, love, love, love reading your race reports! Your commitment to training and racing is an inspiration.

AF

That third paragraph section about running ultramarathons vs. completing ultramarathons is ace. Very motivational to me. I’d love to be able to RUN an entire ultramarathon (except for the “unrunnable” sections) one day. I’ve made some progress. Earlier this year, I was walking the last third of Mount Cheaha 50K and Sweet H20 50K. I went from that to running the last four miles of Pine Mountain 40 without stopping last month and then running a lot more of this year’s Atlanta FA 50K right up to the end, but I’ve still got a long long way to go. Training and weight loss is key and I’m glad to be back on the ball after “losing the plot” over Christmas and Atlanta Snow Week. I’m taking your advice in this race report to heart and I’m going to run with it. Literally run with it. Congrats on tearing up a great time out there, Christian!

Sah-weet!!!!!! That’s blazing fast! Super proud of your hard work and reading about it actually paying off. That is indeed very inspiring :)

Another great read. Huge congratulations Christian! Conditions permitting, you’ll go sub 5 hours next year for sure! This was probably the “fastest” I’ve ever seen the Mountain Mist course in the 13 times I’ve participated. Doubtful we’ll get a break from all the slippery mud in the future, but one can only hope! Train for 4:50 just be safe next year!

“Sure, I was big and strong, but I had the running fitness of a rhinoceros. Did I want to be a runner? A weightlifter? or what? … I wanted to be a runner.”


Hey Christian, you’re a runner.

I love and hate this report… Train? Hard? Ahhhh…the truth hurts! Thank God I’m comfortable being an under-achiever.

Way to go, Christian. You should be hella proud of yourself. You chased the dream, and then passed it!

fun read christian. i liked your description of the last 1.7 miles. from the 17-mile AS on i kept notching up the pace and kept telling myself that i was going to run that last 1.7 as fast as possible this year. as the cramps started in, i picked up the pace, damn near crying. i am lucky i didn’t fall, cause i don’t know if i could have gotten back up. i was at the absolute edge and as much as it hurt, damn it felt good.

again, congrats on a kick ass run and time.

Awesome stuff, my man, congrats for an amazing PR, and your words of inspiration.

You’ll get sub-5 easy :)

Enjoy reading your misadventures on the blog… pushing well past insanity, and gettin thru the “breaking point” to the other side… just can’t believe it’s the same Christian I knew a decade ago.

Steve

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