Sunday, January 25, 2015

RACE REPORT: 2015 Mountain Mist 50K

WAFF 48 Overnight Pinpoint Predictor
A light snow awaited the sunrise on Monte Sano for the 2015 running of Mountain Mist 50K. A half inch of rain the day before the race also made for some muddy conditions.

A five time veteran of Mountain Mist said, "I've run 5 Mountain Mists. Today was the worst I've ever seen the course. It really showed it's teeth today."

I've run two, myself, and I can already say that MM is like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're gonna get. Everyone is warned at registration to "expect anything and that includes cancellation." Last year it was 7 degrees when the shotgun start blasted. This year it was 32 degrees.

Leaving the warm fireplaces inside Monte Sano Lodge, runners exit onto Nolen Ave. for about a half mile until the pavement ends onto a smooth trail on the plateau of the mountain. The first two miles allows the 300+ runners to spread out. Our beloved photographer, Gregg Gelmis, awaits us about a mile into the race.

Might As Well Jump (G. Gelmis)
Gregg asked me if I planned to jump today when he snapped my picture, and I told him I would do my best. I knew that if I planned to jump in some pictures that I'd better do it early.

This would look really cool if I could photo shop a witch's broom into it! Needless to say, I would not have this much energy by the end of the race. Mountain Mist is known to be a difficult, or technical, race course and nearly half the elevation gain of 3,700 feet is in the last seven miles.

 There are a handful of Grand Slammers in the pic above who finished the Dizzy 50s 50K, the Rocket City Marathon, and Recover From the Holidays 50K all within the last 10 weeks. What a pleasure it has been to become friends with these wonderful people! I look forward to many more miles of running with them in the near future.

2014-15 Huntsville Grand Slammers (G. Gelmis)
Mountain Mist 50k concludes the Grand Slam of Huntsville which began on November 15, 2014 also on Monte Sano Mountain at a race called the Dizzy Fifties consisting of 2 loops that runners complete 3 times for the 50K, 4 times for the 40 miler, and 5 times for the 50 miler.

Since the park closes at sundown, we have till about 4pm, or 10 hours, to complete our chosen distances. It was 22 degrees race morning, but the atmosphere is always joyous in spite of the cold. A fire pit is roaring and everyone is smiling!

The second race in the GSoH is the Rocket City Marathon. A new course that incorporated the US Space and Rocket Center and the Botanical Gardens was a great success this year. The start and finish inside the Von Braun Center (VBC) was second to none in any of the dozen marathons that I've run in the last three years. There is plenty of room inside the warm arena and on the street outside at the start.

The third race is a unique, local favorite called Recover From the Holidays 50K. The course is a three mile loop at John Hunt Running Park near downtown Huntsville and the race has 1,700 feet of elevation gain. The loop is run 10 times and includes a 100+ feet climb up a hill that must be conquered 10 times. The weather during each of the four races this year was sunny for the ultras and mild/cloudy for the marathon.

3D Image Provided by Chad Woods
 Updated Course Map Found Here
The map on the left gives you some idea of the elevation gain that must be endured when running Mountain Mist. The plateau is in blue but only 3-4 miles of the race is run on top: the first and last 2 miles.

The rest is run along the sides of the mountain and/or down and back up it! According to my GPS watch, the section called "Waterline" on the map, for instance, is 611 feet of gain in about a mile.

The snow was a beautiful sight for most of the race. It seems that only when we dropped down to the lowest sections--Powerline at the top of the map (unmarked), Bluff Line, Railroad Bed and Aid #4--did the snow completely disappear. By the afternoon, the snow had given way to a soupy, and sometimes scary slush to run on. I had one fall onto my backside around mile 27, but looking back, I was very fortunate not to have had one earlier or more than one.

The first 10 miles of MM consisted of running mostly within groups with minimal passing of other runners. Everyone is feeling good, so falling in with others who were near my goal pace was no problem. In fact, I went out a little fast, but figured that I could always slow down and that there would definitely be a lot of that before the end of the race.

At about mile 9.8, I took my two ibuprofen. A very large group of runners had just finished the climbing turn up K2 following the power line section which actually goes outside the state park and into private land. I was growing tired of not getting to speed up at times when I wanted to but couldn't; however, that was all about to change.

Running friends are without a doubt the best part of getting off the couch and out the door. The number of friends increases every year, and the positive attitudes that overwhelm the sport are addictive.

Go Ahea-hea-head Jump (G.G.)
The races we run based on our personal goals mean lot to each of us, but when the race is over and the medal is hung on the wall, without friends the memories would be empty.

Having separated myself into more open areas and confident that the pain would be somewhat dulled by the ibuprofen, I gave it my best shot to hold a 13:30 per mile pace as best I could. Some hill sections would be over this goal pace, so I had to try to keep it under 13 as best I could on the flatter sections. You never know, you just have to go for it based on a reasonable expectation from past performance with a little extra thrown in.

You never know what you'll hear out on the trails from one runner hollering every time he stubs his toe or steps in water to a lady passing through the caves of stone cuts in disbelief to a new mother to be who tells you she is pregnant! There are always numerous times when you "could have fallen" that you think about the night after the race, but it's rare that you don't catch yourself. Looking back, it's scary to think about, but while you're out there, all you can do is "Just Go!"

"Red Gate" is the first hard cut off time, and all runners must pass by it before 4 hours and 15 minutes. Making hard cut offs is definitely part of the stress of Mountain Mist. Last year, I made each one by 25-30 minutes and this year, I knew that I would be able to know early on if I had a chance at sub 7. When I got to RG, I was 25 minutes ahead of my time last year. I knew that this was a good sign, because I hoped to improve my time from last year mostly on the second half after RG. I got to see my Marathon Maniac running buddy, Mark Zaremba, who was sweeping from RG through the remaining 14+ miles. He said he wanted to see my Grand Slam finisher's jacket after I finished, and to make sure that I posted it on FB. I would be very glad to do that, I thought!

The next point that I had to look forward to was aid station # 4 where another running friend and Bridge Street Running Group leader, Holly Keeton, was working. I looked forward to saying hello to her, and she had great news. My GPS read just under 20 miles, but I was actually at mile 21. What a boost! I left her aid station feeling great. Railroad Bed was next and it is technical with jagged rocks and creek crossings much like the rest of MM, but more so.

I had come into the aid station next to a guy who was trying to psych me but it didn't work! He was telling me I would turn my ankle while I was stepping atop rocks in the creek. He said that RRB was the worst and that he hated it. I made sure that I thought just the opposite of him and took off! I told myself that negative thinking never helps and can make it worse, while positive thinking always helps and can make the experience better. I won! I cruised through to Waterline feeling good, but nearly half the elevation gain still awaits, so I must hold on. 

I just busted it (G.G)
I had been told by running legend, and WAAY-TV evening news regular, Cary Long, that I would not cramp if I put "Skratch" in my water at every aid station. I think he said "Cramp." Anyway, I think that it worked, because I was pushing it and knew that potential cramps would be the risk of doing so.

Waterline is where I first feared seizing up, but, thankfully, it was just the start of very mild cramps, even if you could call them that, and they came and went 2 or 3 more times, but never were severe.

I had to stop and rest a couple of times going up WL and let a couple of people pass me, but I finished 166 out of 327 overall and was 217 through Red Gate, so I passed many more than passed me in the second half. A net plus. I make it out of WL looking forward to the boiled red potatoes at the second to last aid station at 24.9 miles. I was holding my pace and felt that I would finish way under 7 hours, but that's how tricky Arrowhead, Natural Well, McKay and Rest Shelter can be. They would blow my expected finish time out of the water, and leave me feeling down.

I was still feeling pretty good coming down Natural Well, but that was all about to change.  I was leading the way for about 4 of us when Bammo! The mud finally got me.

I can't lie and say that it did not affect me. Honestly, I think that it did make a difference in my attitude for the rest of the race. It took me back to last year when I had such a horrible time in McKay Hollow with no nutrition, but this time I had plenty and was on pace for a great time compared to last year. That slowly dwindled down to hoping that I would even make a sub 7 to believing that I would not by the time I got to the top of Rest Shelter which is the last long climb out back onto the plateau.

I got passed by a couple of people going up Rest Shelter. I would gain one of them back on the plateau up top, but my hopes of a sub 7 were all but gone when the aid station worker said there's 1.9 miles to go and I only had 20 minutes to make it. I knew that I couldn't hold a 10 minute pace. My heart rate had shot through the roof climbing out of Natural Well into McKay and I had just about lost hope, but I was not going to give up. I would run as much as I could and walk when necessary, but I was resigned to a 7:05 or so.

Took One Hour Off Previous Year's Time
As I kept giving my best I would hear the people at the finish line behind the lodge woohoo-ing finishers who were ahead of me. I was prepared for my over 7 hour finish, but maybe, just maybe,  I misunderstood something. I passed a couple of runners and got passed by one. Then, I heard the people yelling. They were very close!

I couldn't remember from last year if you get close to the finish line and run away from it or not. It's that way on Racoon Mountain during the Scenic City Marathon. I thought that would be the case at MM, but I was wrong!

There was the final dip across the bridge. Could it be the lodge? Yes! My watch said 6:54:00. I was going to make it! I ran up the last root-laden hill bouncing like I was hopping downhill on the Moon. I was so happy! What a reward for not giving up. I crossed the finish line in 6:56:11. What a feeling! I could have jumped as high as I did at the beginning (maybe)...

I hope that you have a hobby as enjoyable and rewarding to you as mine are to me!

Thanks for reading my race report.

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