It has been almost 2 weeks since I ran the Mountain Mist 50K in Huntsville, Alabama. I am not sure why it has taken so long to write a race report, but here it is. As I found out first hand, there is a big difference between describing this race course and actually seeing (and feeling) it. As usual, I read as many race reports as I could before the race to gain some course knowledge. None of them prepared me for what I found on that 31 mile course.
Here is a video done by one of my fellow racers which shows some of the course:
Our adventure started on Friday as we loaded up in Susan’s mothership and headed north east. The traveling crew consisted of myself, Susan, Jeremy & Kristin. Kristin was the designated Sherpa for the trip. As we approached Huntsville we saw snow on the side of the interstate in little patches. That was pretty cool. There might be a “little” snow on the course. When we drove up to the lodge (starting line) on Friday night for the pre-race meeting, the woods were full of snow. So much for a “little” snow.
At the pre-race meeting, the race director stated that every year the race had been run that someone had broken a bone. People will fall. People will get hurt. This is not an easy race. No one will think less of you if you back out. Are you frickin’ serious? Now I wanted to do the race more than ever!
When we got to the race Saturday morning, it was about 25 degrees outside. I had my clothes layered properly, so the temperature never bothered me. It did warm up to about 40 degrees by the end of the race and I did the hat up/hat down routine to regulate the heat.
The race started and we took off down the only asphalt we would run on. After about half a mile we plunged into the snow covered trail. Soon afterward we hit our first ice covered downhill section with people flying everywhere. It was a treacherous start but put us in the “be extremely careful” mode which stayed with us the whole day. The race quickly became a follow the leader game on the trail because it was difficult to pass without risking death.
I ran with Susan for the first 17 miles which was the first time cut-off point. We made it with 40 minutes to spare. In the first 17 miles there was some snow, ice, rocks, and a cave section which required some crawling, climbing and general monkey type maneuvering to get through. And Susan had to stop twice to take pictures with her I-phone. In retrospect, I did stop 72 times to pee in the snow as well. There was one mountain climb during the first 17 miles, but it was all switch backs and I power hiked up it. Susan said it was her hardest hill of the day. It was my easiest.
After the 17 mile mark, Susan gave me the look and told me she wanted to run alone for a bit. That was my cue to go on, so I did. I found out later that she was having difficulty with a particularly flatulent runner who was in front of her (not me).
The next 8 miles were uphills, downhills, lots of rocks & ice, the first stages of mud, and generally zero flat terrain (elevation or footing) at all. There were times when I was completely alone and times when I was running with 4 or 5 other people. I spent most of the race (95% of the race) looking 2 feet in front of me at the ground. If you lost focus, you hit the ground. And the ground was not soft dirt but jagged rocks and bone breaking terrain. I know for one 2 mile section, I never looked up and my feet never found a flat section of ground.
At about 25 miles, we started the waterline climb (#2 of 3 monsters on the course). This was straight up. Zero switchbacks. And about a mile long. When I reached what I thought was the top, it ended up being a false plateau. And on the plateau was a dry waterfall area. Remember I mentioned that one climb required upper body strength? This was it. Free climbing a 12-14 ft high vertical rock wall to get to the next level. Then I ran up a narrow ledge another 400 yards to get the real top. If I had arrived to this place alone, I would have not had a clue how to get up.
After this climb, it was about ¾ of a mile to the next aid station on relatively flat terrain. And this is when my left hamstring locked up. Seriously? I still had one more monster climb to do. I stopped, walked it off and shuffled to the next aid station. I reloaded my bottle and headed out. The next 3 miles were a combination of running down a creek bed, ice covered creek crossings, and some scary ass descents which were difficult to walk down much less run. When there wasn’t ice there was now mud thanks to the sun and 190 runners ahead of me. But I was still moving along.
I reached the base of the final hill and started my winding ascent. I could really feel the miles now in my legs, but I forced them to continue. This was the hardest hill for me. I was running on borrowed time with the leg cramp situation, so I was closely monitoring the twinge indicators. When I reached the top, the old man at the aid station gave me some beer which I quickly drank. I almost said, “Thank you sir may I have another”, but he may have told me the wrong way to add more miles. From there it was only 1.5 miles of mostly flat running back to the finish line. But of course, one more short steep uphill to the finish!
I finished the race in 7:24:57. Considering my training was sorely lacking (long run of 20 miles and only one trail run), I was pleased with my results. 320 or so started. 274 finished. I ended up 191st. Not too bad at all.
I am proud that all five of the Louisiana flat-landers who did the race finished. Congrats to Pat, Mark, Jeremy & Susan for surviving the Mountains of Mist!
Here are a few things that I either learned or that surprised me:
- When running in the woods, the miles just magically go by.
- Running on flat asphalt does not make use of the side muscles in the leg (which had the red ass at me for many days after the race.)
- Trail running experience goes a long way when you throw in mud and ice. Lack of trail running experience……….
- Never once did I think “I can’t wait until this is over”. I guess I was too busy thinking, “I have to run through/over/under/around/up/down that???”
- You can be in pain and still be happy. It is sometimes a stretch, but it can happen.
Well, I haven’t taken a step running since the race. Not because I am injured or because I don’t want to run, but because I am taking the six-million dollar man approach. It is time to be rebuilt in to something stronger, better, faster. Actually, I will take any one of the three. The Mountain Mist course showed me that I need more overall body strength to handle the rough terrain and walk away from it gracefully afterwards. So how am I going to get some overall body strength? P90X!
Yep, I am giving it a try. So far I have done the first 3 workouts. I guess my experience so far can be best explained by the letter I wrote to the makers of the P90X program.
Dear P90X Gurus,
I just completed the Shoulder & Arms workout in your P90X series. What part of “I have no muscles in my arms” do you not understand? Yes, I survived the Chest & Back series, but that was only thanks to being able to do girl push-ups and standing on a chair while doing the pull-ups. But then last night you had me pick up free weights and do shoulder presses, curls and lots of other exercises where I came very close to braining myself. Would it be legal to rig up a pulley system to my garage door opener to assist with this? I could lie on the floor and push the button to make it go up and down while grunting occasionally.
In the future, could you please modify all your workouts to simulate running long distances on completely flat roads. I think it would better suit my needs and the needs of all long distance runners who have twigs for arms and sunken chests.
Thank you for your assistance.
P.S. I love the added bonus of watching a 75 pound woman using heavier weights than I am while smiling through the workout.