Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Dozen Mists Completed (an introspective)...

Last Saturday marked my twelfth Mountain Mist 50km finish.  Located in Huntsville, Alabama, "The Mist", as it's known among the locals (including myself), is a deceptively difficult race course in the best of conditions because of the endless miles of rooty and rocky single-track.  In the worst of conditions the dirt track becomes a slippery, muddy quagmire and you often find yourself running in what seems like a stream bed!  The 16th running of The Mist was contested in some of the worse trail conditions I've seen (though not the worst IMHO).

Long story short:  I finished 8th O.A. (6th under-39) in 4:47:32, not bad considering my fitness was supremely lacking and I took a hard fall early on that really shook my confidence the rest of way.

Longer story:  I had the best of intentions this past Fall to really buckle down and train for The Mist for once and so I began doing weekly 8 mile trail tempo runs that really helped sharpen my trail speed and technical running skills.  Then after running the Huntsville Recovery From The Holidays 50km on New Years Eve, I just kind of felt burned out and lost the flame.  So, while I still kept my base mileage up, I stopped really focusing on The Mist as a goal race. 

Why?  Well I'm the kind of runner that feels like if I ever "get all I'm going to get" out of a race in terms of performance then that is good enough for me and I not only don't need to prove myself over, and over again but, more importantly, have a tough time even trying to do so.  I know, it's a "head thing" for sure but I can't really help it.  So a summary of my past results might be a bit more illuminating:

1998: Placed 6th in 4:37:51 of 132 finishers.  This was my first experience with The Mist, and my favorite because it was so new and fresh!  At this time all I knew about the race was from word of mouth and the few articles I found in Ultrarunning magazine from past races.  I wore a cotton "The Prodigy" t-shirt, cotton gloves and cotton hat, and carried a bottle whose strap I'd made out of an old piece of web belt.

1999: Placed 2nd in 4:17:18 of 157 finishers.  This was the year that the race course was flooded after heavy thunderstorms the night before (read Tornado sirens), it was also very warm, probably one of the warmest races on record with temperatures near the 70s.  If you can dig up a the April 1999 issue of Ultrarunning magazine, I'm on the cover; crossing one of many rain swollen streams (there's a bridge there now).

2000: Finished 20th in 5:22:22 of 125 finishers. I came into the race with a bum knee so just wanted to finish.  This was generally known as "The Ice Year" because of the ice storm that hit race day morning and caused some controversies that are (to this day) not resolved.  I remember staying at my in-laws residence in neighboring Decatur when I was awoken to sleet striking the window early in the morning.  Kathy and I left out of there pre-dawn to get to the race start because we knew there would be trouble with the roads if we waited.

2001: Placed 2nd in 4:16:37 of 140 finishers.  A good weather year if I remember right, sort of ho hum; but a personal best for me.

2002: Placed 3rd in 4:11:13 of 157 finishers.  My best performance so far. I remember the course conditions being very similar to those this year (2010) but it was quite a bit warmer; this was also the best performances yet by DeWayne Satterfield (4:03:47 1st O.A. and course record ) and my wife Kathy (4:43:28 1st woman and 8th O.A. and course record).  So sometimes it's just about being fit and ready to run, despite the course conditions.  This year marked the epic battle between DeWayne Satterfield and Courtney Campbell up front.  Courtney and DeWayne are both strong downhill runners so this was quite a show down.  In the end, DeWayne proved to be the better climber, pulling away on the final climb (Shelter Hill) for the win.

Now we'll see what I'm talking about when I say that I've "gotten all I'm going to get."

2003: Finished 204th in 7:57:13 of 205 finishers (Kathy was last a year after setting the female course record!).  Ok, ok we were training for the Susitna 100 Mile and volunteered to sweep the Mist this year... geez...

2004: Finished 6th in 4:16:44 of 265 finishers.  Another ho hum year but memorable as the first year of any serious trail maintenance.  The term "Kysered" comes to mind in honor of local Dizzy Fifties race director Jeff Kyser who, in his zest for improving the local trail system, helped chain-saw and clear some of the oldest trail obstructions that had become landmarks over the years.  Those of you who remember resting on the double blow-down near the top of Shelter Hill know what I'm talking about.  This was also the year that both course records were broken (perhaps because of the faster, blow down free course? Who can say?).  Ian Torrence ran a stellar 4:01:58 and Michelle Richardson a 4:39:53.  Ian's performance, in my mind, remains one of the best performances ever on The Mist course because it was his debut having never run/seen any of the course.  Amazing.  (David Mackey's 3:46:19 (current course record) is mind boggling, but it was his second attempt after cratering his first time out) Same goes for Michelle's still standing record. Equally amazing.  Ok, I still ran pretty fast yes, but I remember topping out on Shelter Hill and just spying local Todd White just ahead of me and just letting him go.  Granted he'd probably have beaten me hands down anyways, but I remember thinking, "Well I'm not going to beat my best time, so why bother; I'll just coast in..."

2005: Finished 64th in 5:51:41 of 224 finishers.  Notable as the first year I gave up after the start of the race.  Went out fast and then just couldn't get my head into it so I turned it off before the O'Shaughnessy and let Kathy catch up.  We ran and finished together on a cold and blustery day.

2006: Finished 135th in 6:25:40 of 267 finishers.  Didn't give up during the race this year, but before.  Rather than have to race it, I decided at the last minute to be the first to complete a Mountain Mist Double.  So, starting at midnight the night before the race start, I ran the entire Mist course finishing in time to grab a quick shower, some food and hustle back to the starting line.  This was a warm year if I remember right; in fact I ran that night in shorts and just a light long-sleeve shirt.  I've never experienced so much wildlife in my years as I did that night. The highlight had to have been chasing a lost Pomeranian that turned out to be skunk; darn amber lensed glasses!

2007: Finished 10th in 4:27:04 of 263 finishers. This was also my "Jacket Year" or my 10th Mist finish.  I really did try and race this year, and did fairly good considering that I'd just run a Boston Qualifying time less than two weeks before and was still feeling the effects of a hard road marathon effort.

2008: Took a break, no Mist.

2009: Finished 132nd in 6:29:09 of 258 finishers.  Yep, you guessed it, another race avoidance tactic.  This time I roped in friends Josh Kennedy and John Nevels to join me in running the first Reverse Double Mountain Mist.  Like my Double Mist in 2006, we started at midnight, however this time we ran the entire Mountain Mist course the opposite direction in which it is raced; yes we went down Waterline in the dark.  That was an odd night.  I remember that a cold front was due to be coming in so I'd packed an extra layer or two of clothing; yet it was so warm, almost hot for the first 10 miles or so.  However, by the time we'd crossed Fearn ave. it had gotten downright chilly, and by the Powerlines it was cold and raining heavily!  Most memorable was getting run over by a coyote on with about 2 1/2 miles left to run on the Reverse.  Freaked me out and woke me up!  Pretty cool actually.  Ran with Kathy and good friend Blake during the race.

So that brings us up to date and shines a little light on my past history at The Mist.  If you're still reading this, God bless you.  As you can see, I've run all over the map at the Mist; the only thing that is consistent is my inconsistency!  I just can't help it, I cruise to the beat of a different drummer.

2010: Really didn't have the fitness going into the Mist this year to have a chance at some fast times, though my head was at least in it enough to want to try and compete.  Started out fairly fast, perhaps too quick given my lack of conditioning, so by the time we ascended to O'Shaughnessy point, it was clear that it was going to be a long day.  On the wide open trail sections on top of the mountain, the the main trail running peloton surged ahead of me and so I was left on my own to figure out how I was going to race this day.

I passed through the first aid station with just a wave and began down the nasty Warpath Ridge descent.  This downhill is treacherous in the best of conditions since it is so steep and rocky.  Today it was just as steep and rocky, but also slick as hell!  I began my normal goat hopping dance down the steep trail that I'm normally good at, but somehow I felt off, perhaps because I'd been redlining since the race start!  At any rate I zigged instead of zagged or else my shoe slipped on some muck, I'm still not quite sure,  all I know is one second I was up and flying down the trail, the next I was sliding on my right side, head first, down the trail; my forearms buried in the thick Alabama read clay! Doh!

I'd gone down hard and was out of breath for several seconds, in fact I just lied there for a breath or two then slowly came to my feet.  The first thing I noticed was that my right knee was quite bloody and covered in mud, decomposed leaves and other niceties.  Did I mention I had mud from finger tip to forearm on both my arms?  One of those hands held a water bottle in it, and yes it was covered in mud! Arggh!  But no time to waste, I started shuffling, slowly and quite a bit more cautious, but still steady.  Soon later I found a reasonable looking puddle that I used to at least get the most of the mud off my hands, bottle and arms; I left my gnarly looking right knee alone, for who knows if nothing else I might have a shot at "Best Blood."

I popped out onto the power lines section, amazingly nobody else had caught up to me yet, and yes it was very sticky mud (what else could one expect from this course?).  I ambled on and caught my last sight of the peloton just before the course takes a short detour back into the woods for a brief stretch.  I was now totally on my own (again).  Gotta finish, that's all that matters.

Heading up the hill at 9 miles (a.k.a. "KT", "Goat Hill" or simply "9 mile hill") I felt less than strong; while normally hill climbing in my strength, it just wasn't to be today.  Still I just stayed steady but I did have to walk some of the steeper sections because I was still redlining.  Nearing the top of this 1st "major" climb I spotted David Purinton and Zach Koch and a third runner (probably Eric Gilbertson?) closing in.  Onto the Goat trail proper I let David by then tucked in behind him, at this point in the race I really just needed a shoulder to latch onto.  For me, I hate the first half of this course, hate it to the point of totally avoiding training on this section pre-Mist.  So with the Dave train steaming ahead, I began to feel a bit better all the way through the next aid station at Three Benches and on around through Stone Cut.  On the climb up to Stone Cut, Zach surged ahead and began to pull away with David in tow.  I did my best to just keep up, but I just couldn't get in gear.  I did manage to catch back up some on the downhill after Stone Cut but by the time we'd exited the Sinks section both Zach and David were nearly out of site.  Crossing the baracade road it was all I could do to not make a left turn and head home (my house is only a mile away from here!) but I soldiered on even as I was passed by Eric Gilbertson on the Cold Spring trail. 

At last to the Fearn Ave. aid-station!  While it's the ~17 mile point, it is considered half-way in terms of time; in fact very few runners will run faster in this next 14 mile stretch than in the first 17 miles.  Even though I'd run a negative split from here before (several times in fact) it was not to be today.  Today was just about getting it done and making it to Duffy's (the location of the post race party!).  Still, I didn't waste any time at the aid-station, simply refilled my bottle and I was gone.  While I'd passed David in the aid-station, we both ran together for the next mile or so until I pulled ahead on the downhill Tollgate trail.  Yet, about as soon as we'd turned onto High Trail, David had overtaken me (again) and quickly disappeared.  I just could not get into a good rythme!  Oh well, I just pulled my visor down lower and kept trucking, steady as she goes.  I made good time down Bluffline trail and arrived at the Landtrust aid station (mile 21) to be greated by several friends of mine who were either working the aid-station, crewing or merely spectating.  They all gawked at my bloody knee (which looked far worse than it actually was) and asked if I was ok.  I assured them it was fine and after refilling my bottle I was onto my favorite 10 miles of the course.

The next couple sections of trail were the driest of the day, Rail Road bed and Alms House, so I imagine I made decent time here as nobody else had yet passed me, to my utter amazement.  Oh, did I mention I wasn't wearing a watch?  I had no clue how long I'd been out there, and it was kind of a surreal experience.  I've raced this way several times and the consensus is that I feel much slower than I actually am.  Anyhow as I turned onto Waterline I totally felt out of gas.  And right at this time, Kevin Boucher blew by me and up the initial gentle Waterline grade.  He passed at a good time as I'd just before decided to stop fighting and just walk all the way up Waterline.  I'd figured I was already so slow, and feeling so bad that there was no way I was even going to break 5 hours today.  But now I had a shoulder to chase once again, sort of, as Kevin was clearly pulling away but yet I attempted to keep him in sight for as long as possible, which meant I had to keep running.  Finally the easy part of Waterline is over and it just becomes an Alpine climb.  So I kept on climbing, trying to control my rate of ascent to avoid totally redlining again.  To my amazement I felt ok as I topped out and was able to run the rest of the way up and over to the Monte Sano aid-station (mile 25+).

Into the aid-station I saw some of the same gaggle of friends I'd seen at the previous aid-station, though now they looked more concerned.  I guess I must have really looked bad!  Maybe as bad as I felt!  Anyhow I topped my bottle off and I caved and asked a volunteer what the race time was, "3 hours 40 minutes" was the answer.  That meant I had an hour and twenty minutes to break 5 hours from here; no mean feat given how I felt.  So I left the aid-station in a run, but honestly my head still wasn't right because I thought that I still wasn't going to be able to run fast enough.  Yes it's only 6 miles to go, but that 6 miles includes some of the nastiest terrain in the Monte Sano State Park.  This section begins with a steady rise for about a mile or so then plummits into McKay Hollow (a canyon for all you folks out West) crosses a rushing stream at the bottom and then begins a long ascent up the other side leaving a short flat run back on top of the mountain to the finish. 

Even on the steady incline I was reduced to walking several times as I was redlining, once again, but finally as the trail turned down I was rolling once more, albeit no where near as fast as I'm capable (remember that fall I took earlier?).  Steady is the name of the game in this race and so down, down I went, negotiating the slippery, steep, rocky and narrow path.  I finally bottomed out and felt refreshed crossing the stream and began the long, final ascent.  Approaching third crossing of the same stream (further up the mountain) I spotted David ahead of me, still some ways off, but at least in sight.  So now I had a target to track and that got me re-energized (sorry David) and I finally felt like my old self on what we like to call Slush Mile; the sloppy (in the best of times) mile stretch before the ultimate climb back up the other side of McKay Hollow.  Today Sluch Mile truly was over the top.  It was nothing but a wet, muddy mess all the way to the base of Shelter Hill.  Despite the difficulties I'd crept closer to David and saw him just heading up Shelter Hill as I approached the base.  Well, it had been a rough day, but I still had the chance to finish strong, so I dug down and continued to run up the hill.  Granted it probably looked like I was crawling, but I felt steady and I wasn't redlining (for a change) and just felt glad that I was almost done with this race.  Nearing the final part of the climb, that my wife calls the Three Sisters because of three small humps along the final long switch back to THE Shelter at the top of the hill, I spied David just ahead and, to my surprise, another runner!

Well I was doing all I could do anyhow, I didn't dare redlining again, so I just stayed steady the rest of the way to the top.  Coming into the final aid-station with just 1.6 miles to go (yes I know it says 1.8 but that's not right, it was 1.8 miles to the old finish line), my friend Grady Edwards (the aid-station captain) just waved me through and said, "Go catch those guys!"  I didn't argue but passed right on through only asking what the race time was, "4 hours 34 minutes" was the answer.  Alright, plenty of time to get in under 5 hours.

While it would have been nice to just coast on in to the finish, I couldn't do that with two runners just ahead of me.  This is a race afterall and even though I wasn't sure at the time I thought I might still have a chance at finishing in the top ten.  I tried to get the legs going again for it wouldn't be any small effort to pass these guys, especially if they decided to fight.  I quickly caught up David, who was noticably limping (not that I looked any better mind you), and encouraged him to go with me to catch this other guy, who turned out to be one of the early peloton members; Vince Molosky.  I kept going and ended up catching Vince at the Horse Shoe section of the White trail.  I know from the past that there are always several folks gunning to break five hours, so it was no time to slack, because I could be sure there were other folks close behind hammering!

After a quarter mile more I risked a look back and could not see David, though I thought I could still see Vince.  Little did I know, but I'd passed Kevin Boucher at the Monte Sano aid station and now he was rallying back!  Anyways I was finally in the last mile when I heard some voices closing in behind me.  "Oh @#@#!!!" I thought but it was only my friend Grace and her friend on mountain bikes.  She encouraged me on and then it was a quick left, across a final bridge and up and into the finish area at the Monte Sano Lodge.  I ran as hard as I could manage the short distance remaining and crossed the line spent.

Not long later Kevin, David and Vince all came in close together.  It was a tough day and I was happy to be done; and very thankful for just having the opportunity to do these sorts of things.  Wow the crazy things we do!


It's been a few days now and I've had some time to think.  I've been asking myself what kind of future do I have with the Mist? I'm not sure.  I'd like to think I can still run some fast times on this course, but I don't know if I can ever get my head back into it.  I may also be assuming more responsibilities with helping organize the Mist in the future, so my chances to race and or run the Mist may be limited.  However, given the opporunity I'll continue to run it.  What I've been thinking quite a bit about lately, sadistically, was the words said to me by Tom Possert after I'd finished my first Double Mist.  "So when are you going to do a Triple?"  Mountain Mist 100 Mile? Hmmmm.....???  No why did he have to go and put that idea in my head!