Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 Mountain Mist 50km

Mountain Mist 50km
Huntsville, AL
January 22, 2011

Full of a nervous calm at the start line, I wondered if my projected splits were too fast, given my lack of specific training for this race.  Since my goal marathon in early December, I had been training on the first or second half of the Mountain Mist Course, but never logged a single long run of over 17 miles and most weeks never peaked at over 60 miles; far fewer that of the runners I hoped to beat on this day.  Was I over my head?  Most definitely.  Was I going to back down and not chase a personal best time and a top 10 finish?  Not a chance.

    Section 1: Monte Sano Lodge to O’Shaughnessy Point
    Miles 0 to 6.47

    Like a shot out of a cannon, the start of this race seems to get faster and faster each year.  What used to be an easy mile on the road to the trail head, is now a sprint of heavy breathing to get into position for the first downhill.  David Riddle and Josh Wheeler lead the way, followed by Hal Koerner, me and others as we ran down the icy hill toward Mountain Mist trail.  It felt a little aggressive for me as I had no business pacing with these top guys and once I realized that near the 5km mark, I backed off and let them go which was a smart move as I was able to settle into an even effort pace.  The trails were slightly snow covered, but more importantly the mud from mid week was frozen  and the ground was rock hard, making the impact on the joints feel like a road race.  As I made the turn onto the White Trail, I could barely see the next runner in front of me and the pack behind me had closed in quickly, comprised of inov-8 teammate Dewayne Satterfield, Rob Youngren and Blake Thompson.

    It was around this time that I began to realize that my left foot was completely numb and I could not figure out why.  The 18 degree temperatures were probably the reason why, but I couldn't help but wonder if my shoes were tied too tight, or if my calf sleeves were bothering me.  Regardless, it was non-responsive and would not push off or flex and I became very nervous that I would plant on a rock and it would buckle from underneath me.  I pushed forward and prayed that it was loosen up and regain feeling.

    Previous Mist winner David Rindt had caught up to me on the gravel road and we talked a little, catching up from the past year.  He is  such a strong hill climber that as he ran in front on the Family Bike Trail, I gave him encouraging words that he could close the gap on the leaders with the hills ahead.  Tim Vinson sprinted to catch me and then past, noting that he had to push the flats hard and he ran with David toward the first aid station.  With that move, I had fallen into 8th overall with some very talented runners behind me.  This year featured the best talent that I can remember and a top 10 finish would really be coveted by the tier 2 runners.

    My goal time was to split the first section in 47 minutes and I made it in 47:20; right on track.

    Section 2: O’Shaughnessy Point to Three Benches
    Miles 6.47 to 11.9

    Just like last year, Tim and David stopped at the aid station and having a hand bottle with me, I ran past them and down War Path Ridge.  I was still worried over the numbness, so I took it easy on the rocky War Path ridge descent, and sensing that weakness, Rob Youngren came flying by!  I caught up to him by the Grassy Knoll and together with Tim, Blake and Dewayne we ran out toward the power lines.

    Joking about getting lost and making the wrong turn onto the barely recognizable Red Lizard Trail must have distracted Rob as when we neared the edge of the woods, Rob made the wrong turn!  I immediately noticed the Red Lizards painted on the rocks and we turned around, which shuffled the order but we all still stayed together.

    The new and improved power lines section with gravel for the power company to maintain the wires made for a faster section, with less mud.  I fell to the back of the pack, having to go to the bathroom.  I held on until we got in the woods, but it seemed like the pack was pulling away while I stopped to go.  As we approached the K2 climb, I was behind Blake but within minutes, Rob and I had made our way to front.  In many of our training runs, Rob and I had been focusing on the hill climbs and I think that it really paid off as we reached the summit at Goat Trail ahead of the others and then ran ahead.  It was this point last year that Tim surged ahead, but Rob and I ran steadily fast toward the next aid station and kept the separation.

    Preparing to meet my crew (and girlfriend) Anne Noble at 3 Benches, I stripped off my outer layer and knowing that Rob was warming, suggested he do the same.  He had an issue with the disrobing and stopped for a second and I pulled ahead.  I drank some more of my bottle and took the first of my nutrition.  I probably had waited too long to pack in some calories but the pace had been too fast to really eat anything.

    Coming into 3 benches at 11.9 miles, I spotted Anne, handed her my still half full bottle and exchanged it for a full one and also handed my shirt to her.  With this hand off, I never slowed once and ran through the aid station quickly and was off toward the Keith Trail / Logan Point loop, building a slight lead on my friends.  Having a crew really made a difference on this day as it saved me critical time at the aid stations.

    My targeted split for this section was 41:30 and I managed to clock a 40:54 and come in faster than anticipated.  Overall I had wanted to be there at 1:28:30 and was at 1:28:14 and slightly ahead.

    Section 3: Three Benches to Fearn Road
    Miles 11.9 to 17.1

    Getting a natural high from seeing people, I surged forward.  This section really doesn't get interesting until the cut back onto the climb up Stone Cuts.  I could hear some chatter behind me from Dewayne and Rob, but stayed ahead of David on the climb into Stone Cuts.  Knowing how strong he is on the climb, I again got a natural lift by staying ahead and used this to power my way through the caves.  It was tough to tell how close behind me that they were, but there was no one ahead of me, which gave me no one to chase.  I did catch an ear shot on the switch backs down toward 3 Benches again, but it didn't change my focus.  Despite my best efforts, it would only be a matter of time that I could continue to hold off Dewayne and maybe others.

    On the bottom of Stone Cuts, I saw some friends, including a surprise of seeing Anne, which I didn't realize until a half mile later that it was actually her!  I had not planned on seeing her again until Trough Springs so it was a nice surprise.  At the right turn, I did a "Youngren-Spin" turning left-left-left to make the right turn, just to get a laugh out of my friends.

    I managed to hold well through the Sinks and back up the climb to Mountain Mist Trail, which looked like a heard of buffalo had come through with the packed foot prints in the snow.  The feeling had come back into my left foot sometime over the previous few miles and other than at the aid stations to lap, I looked at my watch for the first time.  I was just over 2 hours and 3 minutes and started to think that there was a good chance I would come through Fearn at 17.1 slightly ahead of schedule.  I crossed over closed Bankhead and began the short section toward the next aid station, which included a brief climb where I passed the screams of friend Kim Susor, who was taking pictures.  Rob and gang had again pulled close and were just seconds behind me by the time I hit the aid station.

    My targeted split for this section was 44:30 and I managed to clock a 44:01 and come in faster than anticipated.  Overall I had wanted to be there at 2:13:00 and was at 2:12:15 and slightly ahead.  This point of the race is commonly referred to as the half-way point, not on distance, but on time.  Negatively splitting the course from this point is very difficult.

    Section 4: Fearn Road to Land Trust Parking Lot
    Miles 17.1 to 21.1

    I had looked forward to the next 4 miles for quite some time, knowing that it was rolling to downhill, which I needed.  I felt like I was running pretty strong but after Tollgate but as soon as I made the turn onto High Trail, I could hear someone approach me very quickly.  Dewayne was making his second half push and blew past me, and Rob followed right behind him.  It was at that point that I realized that the lack of miles and long runs was now coming back to bite me.  I was running with the same effort but it turned out to be a slower pace and these guys were just getting warmed up and left me.

    Approaching Bluffline, I was mentally prepared for a fast downhill section, for in many training runs I had focused on my line down this descent.  The snow and firm ground made my normal line a little hard to follow and with the fatigue in my legs, I was not able to attack it like I wanted.  Just before the bottom, I turned my left ankle and hobbled a little, stepping to the side so that Tim could pass me by.  Reaching the bottom, I slowed even more and now Dewayne, Rob and Tim were out of sight.  I thought that I had fallen back into 9th, to the best of my knowledge.

    I plodded along down toward the Land Trust aid station, not knowing if I would see anyone there or not.  The freezing rain had limited access to the course and as of a few hours earlier, the race directors were unsure if they would be able to reach this point with the ice covering Bankhead.  Luckily the aid station was open, and not that I took anything, but seeing friends Luke and Brandi Hough helped to lift my spirits.  I had 1/3 of the race to go and I was starting to tire, though it was not as bad as it was in 2010.

    My targeted split for this section was 32:30 and I managed to clock a 32:55 and come in slower than anticipated.  Overall I had wanted to be there at 2:45:30 and was at 2:45:10 and slightly ahead.

    Section 5: Land Trust Parking Lot to Trough Springs
    Miles 21.1 to 25.1

    This particular trail is what prompted me to wear the slightly more supportive inov-8 Roclite 285's over the inov-8 x-talon 212's, which I had trained in quite a bit over the last few weeks.  The lug spacing on the x-talon's is slightly more than the 285's and with the brutal rocks on Railroad bed I was worried about possibly bruising the bottom of my feet.

    This brief 4 mile section is the tale of 3 parts; the rocks of Railroad Bed, the narrow but technical Alms House and the climb on Waterline.  I had made my way through the first part and was about half way to the climb when I was caught by David O'Keefe.  It was like a bad nightmare that I have relived in my head over and over after he crushed my at McKay Hollow this previous spring.  We have trained together a few times and he has become a good friend and was my dark horse to show well at the Mist this year.  We ran together for a bit, including him graciously picking up my glove for me when it got caught on a tree!  He stopped for a minute with a leg cramp and then caught up again.  I offered him an S! Cap, but never having taken them before, he declined.  Once we got to Waterline and I started a steady climb up, I would not see him again until the finish.

    I was now starting to catch sight of Tim ahead of me on the hand climb section of the hill.  He was taking it slowly and I was not bonking hard so tried to close the gap on him.  I got it down to just a short distance but by the top across the tree farm, he picked it up again and widen the distance between us again.

    Crossing over the road and coming into Trough Springs, I spotted Anne and she handed me my final bottle.  She also had my emergency fuel bag, which included a Honey Bun, some Oatmeal Creme Pies and a few Honey Stingers.  I was feeling ok and said that I didn't need anything, but gave her a kiss on the check in return for being my crew, before starting the final section.

    My targeted split for this section was 42:30 and I managed to clock a 42:35 and come in barely slower than anticipated.  Overall I had wanted to be there at 3:28:00 and was at 3:27:45 and slightly ahead.

    Section 6: Trough Springs to the top of Rest Shelter Hill
    Miles 25.1 to 29.3

    I looked down at my watch at the imaginary marathon mark (26.2 miles) and saw that I split it at 3:36; not too shabby for a marathon split considering that it was on this course!  I was starting to count down the miles and thinking about a finishing time.  I knew that I had just over 62 minutes to stay under 4:30, which was my main goal.

    I was very slow down Natural Well and even slower down into the depths of the hollow to the point where I felt like I was walking.  I was not giving up, but just lost some of the motivation to push at this point.  That was all until the bottom stream crossing when I spotted Tim again walking up Natural Well back toward Slush Mile.  I knew that he would start to run again on the flats so I had a short time to close again if I was going to have any shot of pulling ahead by Rest Shelter.

    Just as I left my shirt on a tree two years ago, I left my Delano hat on the same tree and with that, knew that the game was now on!  I chased hard after Tim through the mostly frozen yet slightly muddy Slush Mile and he was just one switchback ahead of me at the onset of the climb.

    I started by power walking the bottom half but as I closed the gap, I started to run more and walk less until I passed him by.  I encouraged him to follow along, that we still had a chance at a sub 4:30 if we ran it all in.  He said that he had dead legs, but I knew that he would dig deep in the end.  I did see Erik Debolt on one of the switch backs, which was surprising as I had not seen him all day.  I powered up Rest Shelter Hill, not walking at all until the very top when I needed to catch my breath slightly before the last aid station.

    I kept thinking that if I was going to have a legitimate chance of coming in under 4:30, I needed to crest the hill at no more than 4:15.  When I saw Grady and grabbed three chocolate chip cookies, I clocked in at 4:15:30.  It wasn't going to be easy and I was going to have to work hard, but my goal was in sight.

    Section 7: Top of Rest Shelter Hill to the Finish
    Miles 29.3 to 31.1

    I ran along at a decent pace, glancing at my watch frequently, and feeling pretty good about the day.  That was all until I passed a young couple with a small child on the trail.  For some reason I simultaneously turned around to look at them, and also heard a large splash in a puddle, which turned out to be David Rindt.  He must have passed Tim on the climb and he was surging hard and fast.  If he had not splashed the puddle, I might have not ever heard him until it was too late, but I did, and it gave me enough time to react.

    As I began to sprint over the final half-mile, I was reminded of the conversation that David and I had on the gravel road at the beginning of the race.  He had asked about my 2010 and I told him the story of training for and running 2:43 at California International Marathon in December.  He said that he didn't have that kind of speed, but I responded that ultra (mountain/trail) running was a different beast and more toward his talents.  Well now I thought back to that and realized that I had the foot speed to hold on, but it was going to take one helluva kick to hold him off.

    I stayed focused in the last few minutes and with a brief look back as I neared the lodge, I realized that I have kept the distance on him and finished in a time of 4:28:12.  That was a full 4 minutes faster than my previous best on this course from 2009.

    I was handed a finisher card after staggering across the finish line and what I thought was an 8th place finish, was actually a 6th place finish!  The two guys in the lead 5 at the beginning that ran with Riddle, Wheeler and Koerner must have dropped out somewhere.  That made for my 3rd consecutive 6th place finish, matching my bib number in 2010 and 2011!

    I owe a lot to my friends, not limited to Rob Youngren, Tim Vinson, Dewayne Satterfield, Kathy Youngren, James Falcon, Blake Thompson and others for the training runs leading up to the race.

    I am thankful for the help of my crew, Anne Noble, the help of the aid station workers, volunteers and race directors Dink and Suzanne Taylor.  Because of you collectively, I was able to realize a dream of breaking 4:30 in the Mist.

    Top 27 Overall Finishers

    Congrats to David Riddle on his course record and overall win.  Also, mad props to friend Kathy Youngren on her sub 5 and overall win as well.

    My Goals and Actual Splits

    Goal SplitActual SplitGoal TotalActual Total