Saturday, January 24, 2009

2009 Mountain Mist 50k

2009 Mountain Mist 50k Trail Run
Huntsville, AL
January 24, 2009
Full Results

The Mighty Mountain Mist 50k Ultra Marathon; this short 7 word phrase instills both fear and respect into most ultra runners in the Southeast. It is debatable if it is the toughest 50k in the region, but nonetheless, when it is in the conversation, you know that are in for a battle. The race draws in great trail running talent to compliment the local guys known to blaze through this course. It is run in late January, which means the temperature can range from freezing and snow/rain/ice to warm/sunny/muddy. No matter the thermometer reading, the course is rocky, full of roots, brief stream crossings, constantly rolling single track, hill climbs that crush the quads and a late climb up the side of a now dry waterfall that lives up to it's reputation. Often times the temperature at the top of the mountain will widely differ from the city and as its name notes, the start frequently will be in the fog and mist from the Monte Sano Lodge. This race is very popular, typically reaching its maximum capacity within weeks and this year was full in October. It is the Might Mountain Mist 50k Ultra Marathon.

This year was no exception. When arriving at the lodge, the temperature was well below freezing and a light rain was in the air. The instructions which normally take place at the start, were performed inside the warm lodge. Runners were all well bundled up to protect them from the elements and I had followed suit; I chose split shorts, a short sleeve Mizune tech shirt, with beenie, gloves and sleeves. I was comfortably cold at the start, knowing that it would warm once we dropped from the top. We made our way out to the start just minutes before the gun, which is an actual shotgun fired. No stretching, no warm up runs, no normal preparation; just line up and run. After wishing friends and competitors luck, the race was on. The gun was fired and we took off down the road.

From the start, I ran in the lead pack. The first 3/4 of a mile is on the blacktop road, to help create some separation before the tight single track starts. I was running with David Purinton, Jason Reneau, DeWayne Satterfield, Tim Vinson and a few other fast kids. By the time we hit the North Loop trail, Jason was in the lead. I told DeWayne to go out in front of me, knowing how strong of a downhill runner he is and that the first section drops off quickly. I took to the trails in 5th place and we logged a first mile of just over 7 minutes. DeWayne jokes how the lead pack is normally not this large!

At this point everyone is friends and chatting; it is all smiles and rainbows with 30 more miles to go. We drop down Cold Spring, cross Old Bankhead and take to the Mountain Mist Trail. At this point we are two miles in, now averaging 7:15 pace and the top three runners start to pull away. Jason is leading the way, followed by Greg Foreman and David. We are on this trail for about 2.5 miles. It is runnable at first but toward the end of the section, it gets fairly rocky with a slight climb toward O'Shaughnessy Point. I stick closely with DeWayne, Jaime Dial and a small handful of other runners.

Coming into this race, I spent 4 days in Dallas for work, putting in 12-16 hour days and had to travel back to Huntsville on Friday night, our flight landing at 9pm. I had no time to think about this race, no time to prepare a race plan, forced to sleep in a hotel, eat foods not normal to my diet. I ran some, about 8-10 miles day, starting at 4-5am each day in order to be at work by 7am. The roads were concrete and tough on the joints, though the weather was nice for running, in the low to mid 30's. I actually didn't even see the sun until Friday night on the way to the airport with the long hours at work. I mention all of this because it has been noted by several close friends that when you just get out there and race, listen to your body and trust your preparation, that you will have a better race than if you had mentally focused on if for weeks. I am a cerebral runner and don't like to take this approach often, but in the few times it has happened, I have had amazing races, logging some of my best performances. I won't say it now, but Dink (Taylor), Kathy (Youngren) and Biggie (Brian Robinson) may be onto something here. Of course, I will need further research and testing for validation!

We run through miles 3, 4 and 5 at 7:12, 7:55 and 7:33. This seems too fast for my tastes, but I have decided that this is how the race will play out; I will go out hard and hang onto it as long as I can. When we make the climb up to the South Plateau trail, the top three runners have pulled away, but our small pack has stayed tight. As with any race, you have to take advantage of your strengths. For me that means in a trail race, I need to hammer the flats and crush the climbs to stay competitive. So when we hit the white trail/gravel road, I decide that it is a good time to drop the pace and make a small move. I can barely see David in the distance, but I'd like to catch up with him. I ran faster and faster, but very quietly, as to pull away slowly. It's not sneaky, it is race strategy. By the time we make the hard left onto the Family Bike Trail, I have built a slight lead and now was running in 4th place. I used the tight (blind) turn to speed up even more and create some separation to the pack. I knew that when we hit War Path Ridge, I would slow on the drop and they would make the time back up. For the next two miles I run 6:55 and 7:04 and hit the first aid station at O'Shaughnessy in 47:36 and in 4th place overall. My plan was to be there in 53-55 minutes based on last year. I am well ahead of that and am feeling well. I run quickly through the aid station, not even slowing slightly.

As soon as we started down War Path, I was quickly passed by Jamie and one other runner. These guys are flying on the treacherous down slope and I stand to the side to let them pass. I finally catch up with David and we run together for awhile. Before we hit the Power Lines, DeWayne catches up and we all run together. Our 8th mile is at 8:03 and are on 7:24 (min/mile) pace at just over 1/4 of the way through the race. DeWayne passes us by and says that he wants to catch the leaders. I can't believe how fast he takes off and within minutes we lose slight of him. David and I continue to run the horrible Power Lines section into the wind, each step building up more caked mud on our shoes, mixed in with long grass. I joke, as each step gets tougher and our feet get heavier, that our feet look like scarecrow. David provides nice company through the bottom of the K2 climb.

After about 2 minutes climbing up K2, I ask David if I can pass by, indicating that I'd like to make hay now and put something in the bank for later. I have been focusing on the hill climbs extensively this year and they have become my strength, even my calling card. I have to walk just briefly on a few of the steeper sections, but by the time I hit Goat Trail, David is maybe 30 seconds behind. The climb has put a dent into our average, but through 10 miles we are still at 7:46 pace. Part of my hill climbing practice has been not just focusing on the hill, but then to get right back into pace after the summit and trying to recovery quickly. I turn onto Goat and try to get right back into it.

The next mile and a half heading into Aid 2, I think about how people will react when seeing me in this position 1/3 of the way through the race. Laura will be at this aid station to trade bottles with me. At about 90 minutes, I feel a slight tweak in my left foot from running on the rocks, and decide to take two Tylenol. Joey Butler would later ask what kind of drugs I was taking to run so well. They were just little red/white/blue pills! I start to feed off of the sensation of coming into the aid station so strong and keep the pace locked in. I come into the aid station just the way I did with aid 1, flying through it and never slowing. After the bottle exchange while in mid stride, I take off to run around Keith Trail. I hit the aid at 1:30:38, well ahead of my projected pace of 1:37:00 and more than 10 minutes ahead of last year.

Miles 11 through 14 are logged at 8:48, 8:28, 8:15 and 8:38. I can sense that David is close and as we run a switchback on the far side of Logan Point, I see that he is very, very close. David has played on his strengths of running on the flats and closed the gap. I now need a stellar hill climb up into Stone Cuts to get more comfortable. Just as I make the turn up into the Cuts, I see that I am still averaging 7:59 pace. This mile is slow, as you have to squeeze through rock crevasses, run in the dark through rock tunnels and up some rock steps. I come out and back down the hill onto the Sinks trail with a 9:01 mile. I am now 2 hours into the race. The next mile is a repeat section along Mountain Mist, with a slight climb. I am feeling great still and crank out a fast mile, while trying to find good footing. 300 people have now run through this section (on the way out) and the mud gets a little nasty before crossing Old Bankhead. The next aid station is now less than a mile away. I have stayed true to my plan for hydration/fuel. I have been drinking Gatorade Endurance, taking PowerBar cola blocks and salt tablets to prevent cramping.

I can see aid 3 in the distance and pick up the pace to look good and strong for the small crowd. After all, you don't want to limp in, right? I come in through about 17 miles at 2:15:18. I am 9 minutes ahead of my plan and 17 minutes ahead of last year. Laura hands me a new bottle, I give her a quick kiss on the cheek and head down a small pavement section along Fern Drive back onto the trail. I am flying high on a cloud in a dream state; adrenaline is pumping and I am in disbelief that in a race of this magnitude that I am amongst the fast kids near the front. I am at 8:06 pace, albeit through an east section of the course.

The next few miles down to the Land Trust parking lot is where I faltered last year. I had been running with Jamie and his wife Wendy. Once I dropped off, I never recovered. I vowed not to let that happen to me. I started to struggle a little through 20 miles, slowing slightly. The downhill sections take their toll on me, but I focus on my form and stay strong. Somewhere before aid 4, I get passed by Jeremy Ramsey. He came out of no where and I thought it was David, though I had not seen in for a few miles. As Jeremy passes me, we banter a little about the course. He notes that the course is finally getting technical and was able to catch the fast guys. I come through the aid station in 2:49:45, now in 7th place. This was by far my slowest section and I hope that it will not hurt my time later on. That said, I am still 8 minutes ahead of schedule and 21 minutes ahead of last year. We are through almost 21 miles and I am running at 8:13 pace. I have been doing math in my head since mile 10 on how much I could slow and still hit my goal of breaking 5 hours. I speculate that I could run 11 minute miles should something happen and still come in under my goal, but I refuse to slow and let this happen. I took of my sleeves and handed them to Laura, as it was getting warmer. This was the first aid station where I recognized anyone but her, as I see George DeWitt and Ben Purinton and say hello.

The next section is the toughest on the mountain, with a miserable Railroad Bed (where there is not a clean foot strike for the rocks), a tough Alms with lots of rocks and tight turns and then the mighty Waterline climb. I tough it out and push on, knowing that despite running in the 9's and 10's that it is still well below my projected 12's that I allowed for this section. I hit the bottom of Waterline still averaging 8:28 pace. I run most of the bottom section of the hill, then walk the top 800 feet, climbing up the dry falls and nearing oxygen debt. This is very taxing. Once I reach the top, I decide that I need more recovery time and I walk until I reach the tree graveyard. I then start running again and come into the aid station at Trough, where I have planed to meet Laura. My plan was to come through at 3:45 and I note an actual tie of 3:31:42. I am 14 minutes ahead of schedule and 29 minutes ahead of last year.

Laura later noted that I was nice at all of the aid stations except for Trough Springs. I had been asking for half a bottle each time, but the temps were rising and I was starting to drink more. I indicated that I needed a full bottle and there was some slight confusion with the aid workers who tried to fill my bottle. I was of course slightly delirious and turned to Laura for her to fill up my bottle, not caring if it was mixing flavors. I needed the sodium/potassium of the Gatorade to ward off the cramps. I hand her my beenie and speed off toward Trough Springs. I am still in 7th place overall and running well over my head. After all, I am road runner, very good at half marathon and less, good at marathon but falter after that.

In 2008 if I had not fallen apart on the Land Trust, I certainly fell apart on the last 10k. I tried mightily not to let that happen. DeWayne had said early on that very few people would run under an hour in the last 6 miles. I decided that it was going to be my goal and try. Somehow along Natural Well, I manage to get right back down to sub 9 minute pace and through the marathon (26.2) about at Natural Well in 3:46, still averaging 8:42 pace.

The next section from the top of Natural Well, to the bottom of the Hollow and to the base of Death Trail is my worst section. It is technical downhill and for me, it is barely runnable. No matter how much I practice, the number of falls I have had, the poor footing and this many miles on my legs means that I take it slow and cautiously. At the bottom of the Hollow, there is a camera man at the stream crossing. It is nice to see someone as I am feeling lonely, having run alone since mile 9. I walked some of this section and coming out of the hollow, the sun beats down and me and I start to get very warm. For some reason, I think that it is a great idea to drop my shirt on a tree and run without it. The temperature is about 40 degrees and my core body temp is probably low due to the distance logged. Of course now I have to go back and get it. People later wonder who would be crazy enough to take their shirt off at this stage in the race.

I start to get my legs back a little heading into the last climb of Rest Shelter. I feel like I am cruising along, but it is well over 9 minute miles. That said, I can sense the hill, which means a long walk, but know that it is just a means to an end. My math now solidifies that I would have to fall off the cliff to not break 5 hours, and I was more inline for sub 4:40. That becomes my goal. I get to the climb and start to power walk the switchbacks. I don't even dare try to run as to bring on further fatigue. DeWayne had said that even he walks most of this section, so I don't fell so bad in doing so. I just wanted to be strong at the top of the hill. Somewhere along the climb, I see someone in the distance, but don't know if they are part of the race, or are just a hiker out on the mountain.

I reach aid 6 and take a quick fill of Gatorade and a cookie. The cookie is my first actual food other than cola blast blocks all day. One of the aid workers tells me that 'he' just came through. I don't know who 'he' is, but I now have a new goal in mind; move up from 7th into 6th place. I start running harder and harder, closing the gap on the guy in the black shirt. I glance at my gps and am running around 7:30 pace. With 1.75 miles to go for the finish, I am running out of my mind! I see eventually that it is Greg and a I pass, he says that his leg cramps have caught up with him. I feel bad for him, but I use it to my strength and run by quickly. I am now realizing I have a chance to run under 4:35. Under 4:35!!! I must be insane, running in someone else's shoes.

Onto the last turn, over the bridge, and up into the finish. All day, I ran strong, thinking about how at each aid station, I was surprising people with my position amongst the other runners. Coming into the chute was no exception; I had something to prove and thrived off the fact that I had conquered this course and put the doubters at bay, but more importantly, for those who had believed in me and my talent/abilities, to show them that I could do it. I came through the finish at 4:32:15. This was 21 minutes faster than I had speculated I could run and 45 minutes better than 2008. I had run this ultra marathon at just over 9 minute miles.

I see a few people at the end, some finishers like Jason and Jamie and some volunteers like David Riddle and Luke Hobbs. Surprisingly, I am not that tired and I feel very good. People ask where my shirt is and at this point I can't really remember where it is, other than I dropped it somewhere. As I walk in and see DeWayne I ask him if he want to go back out and run more. He replies with, "don't tempt me because I just might!" I also see Jamie Dial and he says something that still sticks with me, as he says, "It looks like you figured this thing out!" It was true; I had figured this race out.

So I had navigated 8000' of climb (16,000' of elevation change) and 31 miles of technical trails in 4 and 1/2 hours. It takes me nearly 24 hours before the (self) enormity of this to actually sink in. Somehow I managed to finish in 6th place overall of 330 registered (about 250 finishers) and improve by 25 places over 2008. I was 3rd in my age group as well.

Thanks so much to the volunteers, aid station workers, Laura (my crew) and all other runners who pushed me to run so strong. And to Dink/Suzanne for putting on a great race that came off flawlessly in my opinion.

I later mention to Eric Schotz that I just wanted to stay ahead of him, because I knew that all along he was closing the gap like at the marathon! We hang out for a little while and watch a few friends finish, including Eric and David. When David comes in, I can tell that he is exhausted and gave it everything that he had, as I go to congratulate him with a pat on the back and he gives me a hug. Great camaraderie amongst friends and competitors.

Place No.
01 02 4:07:05 David Rindt_____________37__Roswell, GA
02 17 4:09:04 Jamie Dial______________36__Franklin, TN
03 03 4:17:07 Dewayne Satterfield_____44__Huntsville, AL
04 06 4:28:37 Jeremy Ramsey___________32__Lynchburg, VA
05 04 4:29:27 Jason Reneau____________32__Madison, AL
06 31 4:32:15 Eric Charette___________33__Huntsville, AL
07 10 4:34:19 Greg Foreman____________44__Owens X Roads, AL
08 05 4:37:09 Carl Laniak_____________27__Athens, GA
09 20 4:38:38 Zachary Koch____________23__Huntsville, AL
10 13 4:42:12 Tim Vinson______________44__Madison, AL

It is the Might Mountain Mist 50k Ultra Marathon and it has my respect for on this day, it made me a true ultra runner.