I wonder if my race reports are going to suck in 2010?
This year marks my 4th year running ultramarathons – in fact, Mountain Mist is my first three-peat race – and the fourth year since I made the choice to give up the fat ass way of life and start lacing up the kicks to try to shed some pounds.
After almost 40 ultras now, how can I possibly have anything else interesting to say about this sport?
I dunno, but if you keep reading, I ‘spose I’ll keep trying to share the stoke.
What are friends for?
The 2010 Mountain Mist was going to be special for me:
- I was introducing a triathlete friend to the crazy world of ultrarunning.
- I was running the race using a new, and disruptive nutrition approach.
- I had some pretty lofty “personal best” goals, wanting to shave at least 20 minutes off of my 2009 Mountain Mist finish time of 6:19.
Naturally, with the third goal constantly on my mind leading into the race, I was a little bummed to get emails from the RD stating the course conditions would be very muddy, and thus slower, than some previous years.
Just gotta work harder and smarter, I guess.
Races are becoming reunions for me, with the runners like family members.
I put a lot of stock in my mental and emotional state as it relates to athletic performance, so it was very special for me to show up at packet pick-up and catch up with many of the other Southeastern ultrarunners – many of whom have been my personal heroes since I started running trail ultras – Jim Musselman, Rob & Kathy Youngren, Dink & Suzanne, as well as the many of other runners I see more regularly at races and in training.
One highlight was sharing my pre-race meal with a whole group of GUTS friends including: ‘Kena, “cold water dude”, “three-kids-tony”, “four-kids-kim” and “J-dog the Hammer pimp.”
Lots of pre-race laughing and cutting-up which erased the jitters and sent me to bed feeling like one happy dude.
It’s a reggae race morning
I knew I was in for a good race day when we stumbled upon some reggae music on our way up the mountain to the Monte Sano lodge. I mean, “who’d a thunk it?” – certainly not me since everything else on the radio was “kill your dog”-country …but at the last minute, digging down into those stations where you usually find NPR all the other boring stuff, there it was – Spongy Reggae!
Sorry to go on and on about the reggae, but if you know me, you know how much I dig the I-life, so it was a good sign that I might just have a good race day after all …mud be damned.
The race started with another one of those heart-stopping musket shots just like Landsford Canal. It was so loud, it literally shook your guts around.
The beginning of Mountain Mist starts with about 1/2 mile of road to thin the herd and create less of a log jam at the entrance to the trail.
Since I had time goals, I tried to hang somewhere around the front of the mid-pack with two goals in mind:
- hit the trails before the massive crowd.
- stay as far ahead as possible to avoid too much churned-up mud.
This went well, but by the time I hit the first aid station, I felt my heart rate slamming, my quads pumping and a strong need to settle into a more comfortable pace.
Did Dink sell out to Muddy Buddy?
Seriously. That was a lot of mud.
Whenever you hear “lotsa mud”, you usually think “cool, that’s what mountain trail ultras are all about!”
But, then you start running in it, and yeah, it’s cool at first — but miles and miles and miles of mud can really test an ultraunner’s resolve.
The path to mud acceptance is kinda humorous, and for many people, goes like this:
- First, runners try to avoid mud acceptance by running around it, usually making custom paths around the various mud pits in an attempt to either preserve the shoes, or prevent all the slipping and sliding around.
- Then, comes selective mud acceptance. This is when runners pick smaller muddy sections to run through, perhaps only avoiding the ones that are completely full of brown water.
- Eventually though, usually after about 15-20 miles, mud acceptance is reached. Runners just plow through the mud like a five year old on the kindergarten playground, realizing that “nope, it ain’t gonna get any better out here.”
As I slogged through the powerlines section, just before the K2 climb, I was still running in mud avoidance mode, which in retrospect was most likely less energy efficient than just charging through it.
Training matters too
Since my acceptance into the Barkley and Western States this year, all I care about is nasty training – all hills, all the time – and I’ve really been focused on putting in the mountain climbing work.
With this being said, by the time I hit K2 I found it much easier than any of the other previous years. It felt short to me. All the climbs felt short to me this year – but, before I sound too cocky, I did walk most of each of K2, waterline and rest shelter.
It’s just that I could power-hike them much faster than before with more torque and stamina, and better yet, wasn’t wasted at the top, allowing me to set into a decent paced run at each individual summit.
Lesson: Hill training works.
I really enjoy the sections between K2 and the infamous waterline climb. These sections are moderately rolling, with some hella’ rocky terrain, and it seems these are the sections that can expose your true level of training and your ability to navigate some insane footing.
If you haven’t been training on rocky trails, these miles can chew you up.
As I trotted along through an area of wide open forest, about a mile or so from aid station #3, I was taking a personal inventory.
“Ok, how’s this going…?”
“Legs still strong?” -check.
“Heart rate mellow?” -check.
“On pace for a sub-6?” – who freakin’ knows… but I hoped so.
I felt great (due in part by Vespa, I’m convinced) and I started to speed up a little; and just as I started feeling like I was moving really well, I heard all kinds of crazy-loud c r a s h i n g.
Three crazed deer were ripping through the forest, towards my direction. I mean RIPPING. Nothing got in the way as they tore through small trees and bushes, sprinting up the rocky hills like every step was memorized. Heads-down, antlers pointed, they flew across the trail so fast it was almost surreal.
…and just when I thought it was over, 2 more smaller ones came out of nowhere behind them, doing their best to imitate the style, grace and power of the first two.
Dude behind me let’s out a scream as he obviously was stoked by the encounter too.
And all of sudden, I didn’t feel so graceful anymore.
It reminded me of the many times I’ve said to myself, “this trail isn’t so tough,” – only to end up, ten seconds later, with my face in the dirt and blood exiting from some sort of wound somewhere on my body.
Nature has a way humbling us quickly and succinctly.
Good ol’ waterline
Every year people dread this climb.
It’s sort of a love/hate thing because the Mist wouldn’t be “the Mist” without it; but, I gotta be honest ’cause “hey, it’s my report”, and state that I did not find this climb nearly as difficult as I have in the past.
Again, must be all that hill training.
It’s tough, and it’s steep, but it’s very short and after my 6-mile-climbing “beat-down” in Central America, waterline just wasn’t gonna shake me this year.
Laughing was pretty much all I could do after waterline.
Once I left that aid station, it was nothing but light brown, deep, slippery, cambered mud.
The entire approach to McKay’s Hollow was just a slip-n-slide fest and I couldn’t help but wonder what those in the back were going to have to endure after the front and middle packs came through and shredded up the already-nasty terrain.
But, I LOVE the McKay’s section and there’s a lot of technical descent here, so I took advantage implementing my best Andrew Hackett imitation on the drops and running as hard as I could muster on the muddy flats.
…and man, was it ever muddy. Like, ankle-deep muddy.
Chasing the clock causes stress
I’m all for time goals.
I don’t live and die by it, but obviously it’s a great way to gauge improvement. I mean, if you constantly improve, you’ll eventually get up there with the big dogs, right?
I can only hope.
But, honestly, I suffered a lot of stress in McKay’s which took a little bit away from the experience. By the time I bottomed out in the hollow, I only had about 40 minutes to run that rolling ridge that crosses the creek a couple o’ times, get through the flat muddy approach to Rest Shelter, complete that long climb, and then sprint the last 1.8 flat & fast stretch to the finish line.
I feel super lame saying this, but I gotta tell the true story — I cried like a big baby.
I was running through that mud to rest shelter, and crying like a spoiled jackass because I really wanted to get there, and I just didn’t think I had enough time to get all that work done – so I just kept pushing, harder and harder and harder.
It was hurting, my lungs were maxing out, I was mostly alone so had no way to gauge pace, and all I could think was getting to that DAMN rest shelter sign that starts the final climb.
“Uh-oh, there’s someone, I better wipe my eyes…”
I’m such a wimp.
There was some dude obviously still in “mud avoidance” mode, so I passed him without as much as a glance, running through the giant swaths of deep mud every bit the same as I was running on dry land; and although it hurt like Hell, I was running with some fierce determination.
“I want that sub-6 dammit”
I did the whole cheesy talking to yourself thing. Typical “I think I can”-stuff I probably learned from some progressive teacher back in private school, …and I just kept pushing on.
A “5″ is a beautiful thing
I was so happy to get to the rest shelter climb, you’d think I had just finished.
I bellowed out a “yes!”, and shuffled up as long as I could before I was forced to power-hike. And power-hike I did! I was swinging my arms like Sally, and taking strides like John Dove.
I kept chanting the whole time.
…and staring at my watch.
At the top of the climb, I blew right on by the aid station, yelling out my number and screaming, “thanks for being here”, “we couldn’t do it without y’all” …etc etc etc.
I was on a mission.
I can’t wait to see the splits, because I’m pretty sure I pulled 7-minute-ish miles on that last 1.8 mile stretch.
At least it felt like it.
And when I could hear that crowd yelling for other runners ahead of me, I knew I was going to make it sub-6.
Rounding the corner, I could see the clock in the distance. It had just flipped to 5:54:10
And I crossed at 5:54:18
There’s something about the Mist
I don’t know what it is. Maybe a combination of a lot things:
- the people
- the varied terrain and beauty of the course
- the challenge
- the camaraderie
- the volunteers
- …I know it isn’t the HEED (that crap sucks)
My third Mountain Mist was everything I’d hoped and more.
Would I still say that if I had missed my goal? I dunno, maybe not – but I did hit my goal and not only am I proud to have done that, but I’m most proud of turning my life around, finding a sport I truly love, and getting to share it with some of the coolest people on the planet.