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

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Comments

Christian,
Let me know if it’s ok for me to use this race report in the GUTS newsletter. No one did a Mtn. Mist report, and I know the members who don’t frequent your blog would appreciate reading your excellent report. I’m trying to finish everything by this evening or tomorrow at the latest, so please let me know asap!

Thanks,
Allison (Editor, Straight From the GUT)

Christian, really enjoyed your post!

Your article appeared in the second edition of the kdays.com Running Blog Carnival last week. Thought I’d pop over and let you know that issue #2008-03 is now online too.

Cheers,
Kerrin

Nice blog. I did Mountain Mist back in 2001. Nice race.

Happy trails,
Bad Ben

Hi Amy – I can’t wait to run Masochist again. I have some unfinished business there. {wink}

In speaking with the race director, Masochist ’08 will be open for registration May 1, 2008 – but it’s not a definite.

Keep watching the Extreme Ultrarunning web site for updates.

One thing to keep in mind – Mountain Masochist is a popular race and fills up quickly. Don’t dilly-dally when registration is open.

Hope to see ya there.

Hi Christian,

I’ve been Googling the Mountain Masochist for days now, looking for a website, but all I can find is 2007 info and your blog :) Is the 2008 race full, or can you even sign up yet? I have some friends who did it a couple of years ago and liked it, so I thought I might give it a whirl.

Thanks, Amy

Mark:

Thank you for the link to race report. I had a great time at the Mountain Mist.

I hear a lot of great things about the StumpJump race from all the members of GUTS here in Atlanta.

I can’t wait to check it out!

Thanks again,
Christian

Great race report. I’m disappointed I had to miss this race- I had signed up but got called away for business. I’ve linked to you on our Rock/Creek blog:
http://rockcreekblog.com/archives/strong_finishes_at_mountain_mist_50k.html

I’d love to see you at the Rock/Creek StumpJump here in Chattanooga in October. Also, come join our discussion board at http://www.runintheboonies.org/forum. We need more Atlanta people on there.

Hi Tim. (figured out your name from your 13th place finish in the MMT results at: http://www.huntsvilletrackclub.org/HTC_Races/MM07WEB/Results08/MM08OALL.htm

First off, thank you for the writing compliments. It’s easy to write a great report when you had an awesome experience… Sorta’ pours out on its own.

Second, dude, 13th place in your first ultra? Day-um. That’s incredible and I am really stoked to see all the new breed of Ultrarunners out there just burning up the trails.

I found your report very good as well, and thanks for linking it here, giving my readers an “elite’s” perspective.

Cheers!

Christian.

Though I’d share my RR because I posted a link to yours on RT with the comment:

“Posting this because this runner did a heck of a lot better job describing the race than I did…”

http://runningtimes.com/forum/showthread.php?p=125501#poststop

Since I posted a link to your race report at RT, though I’d share mine here. My quote when psoting your link was “Posting this because this runner did a heck of a lot better job describing the race than I did…”

http://runningtimes.com/forum/showthread.php?p=125501#poststop

Angie.

Yes, that’s a good way to put it – A blast! The kind that sticks with you for days and weeks. Still walking around pretty fulfilled.

Hoping Cheaha lives up to it’s name as well. From what I am hearing, I can expect to be as much as an hour slower. Apparantly, a lot of people find the course tougher than Mist. I dunno… we’ll see.

Great report! Congrats. You made me want to run it! I’ve been up to monte sano for a little 10k…sounds like u had a blast, yahoo!!!

Orlando – Thanks for reading, and more importantly, congrats on slaying a PR at Mist.

Feels good, huh?

See ya at Sweetwater…

excellent report. You certainly know how to capture all the race emotions. I’m very glad to met you at the end of the race. Hope to share some miles with you at Sweetwater.

Orlando

Thanks Leslie.

It definitly helped solidify my love for the sport.

It just keeps getting better and better.

Cheers

Christian

Wow – congratulations! Love the recap, almost as good as being there in person! Sounds like it was quite an experience and certainly helped you understand why you love this type of running.

Thanks John …Thanks Greg.

Greg: you absolutely destroyed it, bro!

I can’t believe how fast you front runners can negotiate that rocky terrain. Humbling…

Good Work dude! NICE!

SJ

Awesome man – great to catch up with you at the end and great to hear you enjoyed yourself. Awesome race report as well!

Anytime you want to hit up N. Georgia trails, I am definitely down!

– Greg

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