Muddy Mountain Mist

2010 Mountain Mist 50K

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?

Monte Sano Lodge at Mountain Mist
photo: Pre-race with all my peeps.

The 2010 Mountain Mist was going to be special for me:

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.

Rats.

Just gotta work harder and smarter, I guess.

Pre-race matters

Races are becoming reunions for me, with the runners like family members.

GUTS group photo at the 2010 Mountain Mist
photo: GUTS group photo

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

reggae love

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.

POW!

Dammit.

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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

western states logo and barkley 100

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.

Humbling deer

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.

“Whoa!”

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.

Wow.

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.

Mud boggin’

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.

Everywhere.

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:

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.

Boo Ya!

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Comments

@M, thanks for asking.

Currently, I subscribe to the following:

- fast running during the week (3-6 miles at a time)
- race short distance races (5K and 10Ks)
- run long and tough on weekends (25+ miles)
- bodyweight strength-training every weekday (with some unscheduled rest days)

Thanks.

Christian,
I was wondering what your training looks like on an average week. I see you’re into Crossfit, but do you adhere to the CFE website, or focus on longer runs, etc?

Thanks,
M

@david – i sure hope you make it back – the mist always wants us back!
:-)

good luck in your recovery and thanks for reading

I ran the Mist in 2007 and 2008, but had knee surgery on the eve of the 2009 race. I’m 53 and may never be able to run the Mist again due to my knee, but your story brought back so many memories and gives me hope. I start training again this week after a 14-month layoff. If my knee will cooperate, I’d like to run through McKays Hollow at least one more time.

Nice report. We met at Cheaha last year, my first ultra. I always enjoy reading them. Sub 6:00 is awesome!

The mud-acceptance bit alone was worth reading the whole report!

No, your race reports aren’t going to suck in 2010 — that was another great one!

The mud acceptance bit made me chuckle, as did the HEED comment (that stuff really messes with my stomach).

Good luck at Barkley and Western States! See you at Cheaha…

Barkley and WS in the same year! Wow dude – Very awesome. I will be watching.

Very cool report Christian. Great description of the path to mud acceptance. And the HEED isn’t bringing me back next year either. That line caused me to burst into laughter.

Good luck at Cheaha and Barkley. I can’t wait to see the race report from Barkley.

@Bryan – yea, Fuego report was a full-on experience, so the report is gonna be a little deeper and more intense. It sorta changes the experience when your racing. Not better or worse – just different…

Thanks for all the bad a$$ reports, you have a gift of writing and putting me right in the race with you, especially the fuego y agua report… For someone just getting into the sport it’s pretty awesome to read reports of “local” races!! Congrats on the sub-6 time, can’t wait til I’m there too!

Congrats on the sub-6 finish! Your descriptions of the stages of “mud acceptance” are hilarious but oh so true!

Congrats on the sub-6 finish! You descriptions of the stages of “mud acceptance” are funny as hell and so, so true:)

@Jason
…as is yours to me, dude. Keep on’a rockin’

Another outstanding report, Christian. Thanks for sharing. Your constant improvement at the sport is a real motivation to me.

Found this quote online:

“Mud-pies gratify one of our first and best instincts.
So long as we are dirty, we are pure”.
Charles Dudley Warner 1800′s

@Heather ….man, I’ve been all over the board since I started this stuff. The thing is, I’m learning advice is very hard to give beyond general “dont give up” stuff, because every single person is different and an experience of one. I would say to keep trying new things, keep what works, throw out what doesn’t and don’t kid yourself on any of it.

Wahhhh….I’m so jealous; part of me wishes I was writing your race report instead of my own mud & blood (DNF). But reading your blog is surely an inspiration!

You’ve been at this Ultra game for a few years? How has your training changed over that time? I’m a relative newbie seeking to stride out farther than the marathon. And bet I’m older than you too (at 49). Not making excuses for my poor MMTR performance, but trying to figure out a rational plan of attack for next year….

As always, great report. It was cool to see you barreling through the finish as quickly as you did. I’ll have to keep an eye out to make sure you don’t blow by me at Cheaha…

Christian,

Kudos…nice job on the sub 6. Impressive, especially knowning the course conditions were not “speedy”. Good seeing you at the start…I could tell you were focused. See you at Cheaha…then onto Barkley!

DeWayne

What a write-up! Congratulations to you on the sub-6hour 50k too!

Cheers!

Great report, lots of funny memories were brought back to mind. Everytime I got sick of the mud and prayed for it to end, I was given a Hellacious rocky technical wakeup call and was asking for the mud back, and it came back over and over, a relentless course. The last 1.8 was great, next year I need to start closer to the front, that will definitely knock off 15 minutes. Good Luck with The Barkley!!!!

Great report Christian! Dang, it makes me want to get back on those muddy trails and push myself harder!

Opening up 2010 with a bang, my brother! And for you I believe it will be a year to tell your grandkids about. Good reading, as always. See you at Cheaha.

@Rob – If I get in to Hardrock, you know I gotta try… I just hope I’ll keep my job

Another fun race report! Thanks for sharing all the muddy details and congrats on a strong finish. See you at States if you survive Barkley (I know you will).

As always, great report! Awesome finish, you sure have come a long way in the sport. Keep up the good work! I share your opinion of HEED (HEAVE is more like it!). BTW, it really is ~1.6 to the finish from the last aid-station. I know the sign says 1.8, but that was when the race finished at this other pavilion on the other side of the picnic area. But that’s irrelevant really; it is a long way to go when your chasing the clock! I noticed that your applying for Hardrock, will you go if you make the lottery? Could we see another Western States – Hardrock Double? Sweet!

@sarah: I train mostly in North Georgia on sections of the AT and of course, the nasty ol’ Coos.

great race report. Question – where have you been doing your hill training in Georgia, eg Coosa? & what have you been doing- eg hill repeats?

Thanks!
Sara

Great report Christian! Congratulations and way to hang in there! Best of luck with Western States and Barkley!!

John in Cartersville

I love reading your race reports, that was great. I was completely in awe of the fuego y agua report too, you are getting me very amped about doing my first Ultra this year. Way to go on pushing through and nailing your goal, that’s really cool.

Holy Chit, you’re running Barkley? You are my hero! Once again, an awesome and epic race report, good luck at Barkley AND Western States, woo hoo!

Christian,

Awesome report, again. I hate it I missed out on the picture with all the GUTS members. Maybe next time. Keep up the great reports and tear up The Barkley.

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