Pre-race After conferring with my coach weeks ago, we decided that the Mountain Mist 50k would be the best option for me to meet the required qualification for the Georgia Death Race - a 50k trail race in the last calendar year. The elevation and technicality would be a great tune-up and a chance for me to test gear and nutrition.
Though I could have driven the 3.5 hour drive, gaining an hour crossing into Central Time, I opted to camp overnight at Monte Sano State Park. I left work at 2pm Friday to make it in time before sunset and was treated to a very beautiful drive through the tiny mountain towns of northwest Georgia/northeast Alabama. At the park, I went straight to the camp host to check in and got both a dinner recommendation and directions to the race start (more on that later).
I blindly picked the camp site online and chose a spot that was nearest to the restrooms. My good fortune meant I was treated to a beautiful view of Huntsville and I arrived just at sunset. I made a quick call to Adam and then changed into running gear for a 2 mile shakeout run around the campground. I watched the big orange thing dip below the horizon and then headed out to packet pickup (at the lodge) and to grab dinner.
I was a little worried about the camp host's recommendation at first. I had asked for a place that served pizza and beer and he asked if Italian would be okay. He explained they didn't really have many items with red sauce and yeah, they have some beer. I was picturing loads of fettuccine alfredo with goopy white cream sauce and reminded of when Michael Scott carbo-loads before the "Michael Scott's Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure"5K and promptly vomits.
But, the pizza was seriously some of the best I have ever had and the beer selection, while not vast, was a nicely culled collection of local favorites (re: Huntsville IPAs) and national specialties (Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout). I always like to err on the side of being really full before a race, especially an ultra, so I loaded up on a donut hole-esque dessert. Also, I just like donuts.
I stopped at a gas station on the way back to fill up my tank, get some cold brew coffee, and a back-up muffin in case there was some tragedy with my overnight oats. Back at camp, I settled into my 0° rated sleeping bag (Everest testing), read a little of David Goggins "Can't Hurt Me", and fell asleep before 10pm. The sleeping bag was beyond warm enough in the 20°-ish degree weather. I actually woke up at one point and had to crawl out of it because I was too warm.
The alarm went off at 6:20am and while I was cozy, I was also ready to get the show going. I changed in the warm bathroom and ate my oats. Just after 7am, I headed to the race start. I double-checked the map and walked about 5 minutes before I realized the trail was not terribly discernible in the winter and panicked that I might be late to the race. I turned around and decided to take my chances to drive up to the lodge. Again, I totally lucked out and parked just outside the entrance on the side of the road with just enough time to stand around and get cold before the start.
Race morning I lined up in the first third of the pack behind the start line. In reading race reports and talking to runners who had raced it, I knew the first 20 miles were pretty runnable and the last 11 or so were tough. This was supposed to be a training run of sorts (though we all know I'm competitive so it's not like I wasn't going to give it my best effort) and I really wanted to just stay relaxed as much as possible.
The first mile was pavement and I was far from warmed up. Everything felt stiff and stagnant and I was annoyed that despite taking it relatively easy, it felt awkward. We hit the fire road and things started to get a little better with softer footing and I tried to just stay with the little packs around me, only passing if necessary in this point. I didn't want to get stuck too far behind once we got to the single track.
People were not really talking much around me at this point, which in retrospect, I guess I was closer to the front of the pack than I thought initially. By the time we reached the single track section and through the first aid station at mile 6.7, I just tried to stay as comfortable as possible. Any time I thought I wanted to pass someone, I gave it an extra minute or two. It's so easy to push in the beginning, but I didn't want to feel like garbage at the end. The course in this section was moderately muddy - bad in some sections, but there was definitely very runnable spots and I did feel like we did a lot of downhill running.
There was some switching around of people at the aid stations as some people stopped for a bit longer. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade, a single pretzel, and kept right on moving. At this point, I was behind 3 females who were bombing the downhills pretty efficiently and I decided to stay in tow. Once we got into the section I would dub the "Power Line Field", I was relaxed and just enjoying listening to their chatter back and forth about various things.
Once we reached the first climb, dubbed "K2", one of the girls jetted up ahead and while I was tempted to pursue her, I knew it was too early to get caught up in competition. I knew my skills lied in power hiking ups and I'd wait until the final 2 climbs to put on the afterburners. We still had 20+ miles to go.
At the 11.9 mile aid station, I grabbed a cup of Mello Yello and filled up my water flask. I went trotting off down the trail and a few minutes past the aid station, full on Supermanned going up a tiny hill. Apparently I hit the ground with enough impact that runners in both directions asked if I was okay. Yes, yes, just a little blood mixed with hurt pride. My bib completely ripped off and I had to take a few extra seconds to pin it back on. But, once I was back on the trail, I started to feel great! It was like the fall had woken me up.
The next section had a short little climb that led up to a section called "Stone Cuts". Giant slabs of stone with a trail that meanders through them. Runners had to squeeze through narrow cuts and limbo underneath low cave-like areas. It was really, really cool and despite the slowdown, it was pretty awesome to be "running" through natural wonders.
From prior race reports, I learned that if you doubled your time at he mile 17 aid station, that would be the approximate time you could expect for the race. I came in just shy of 3 hours and was then just hoping to hold onto 6 hours. I was feeling a bit peppier in the next section and happy that there was finally a break to run without being so bunched up for a bit. There was a swift little descent full of rocks and then a bunch of muddy trail at the bottom before reaching the aid station just past mile 20. I was tempted to take a shot of Fireball at this aid station, but nothing was going inherently good or bad so I decided to stay with the status quo of Mello Yellow.
The next section was the infamous Railroad Trail, a rocky nightmare of a trail. The only saving grace is that it was relatively flat for a couple of miles, but it seems as though I couldn't get much more speed because the footing was terrible. I got behind a group of guys who were talking like it was the first few miles of the race and let them lead the pack up the Bluffline Trail and the ridiculousness of the Waterline Trail. It is in this section that you use all 4 points of contact to hoist yourself over slippery rocks along a waterfall. Fortunately, I was still feeling spry at this point and my flexibility is fairly decent so I had no trouble with this section. I was laughing at how crazy it was, but I was actually having fun bouldering over rocks. Check out the runners in the top right of the photo below!
|Photo credit: Andy Highsmith|
At the top of the climb (sweet relief!), I took off down the Bluffline Trail and started to try to make up some time. I wasn't moving super fast, but I was passing a bunch of runners who had gassed out near the 24-25 mile mark. Once we reached the next descent, I started running with John and he nicely explained the final sections and what to expect. The mud was incredibly thick in the flattish section near the water and my tired legs were exhausted by the repeated pull of the muck. I was actually grateful for the climb as it was drier and I could actually gain footing.
We didn't even stop at the last aid station and I noted there was 1.6 miles to go. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was about 5:40:XX. If the aid station sign was correct, I could still slip under 6 hours. Luckily, the trail was pretty flat and runnable at this point and while I didn't have a sense of how far we were, I started to see more hikers out walking their dogs - a sure sign we were closer to the trailhead. John was dealing with a side stitch and urged me to go on when stopped to walk. I stayed with him the first time and we started running again, but then I heeded his advice when stopped again and pushed for the finish solo.
I heard the music of the finish line first and then I spotted the arch as I came around the final bend. I crossed in 5:55:42 according to Garmin. I stepped off to the side and waited to see John finish, giving him a huge high five as he also made it under 6 hours. Eventually, I headed indoors for the warmth and to grab my finisher's slate and age group award, a backpack.
Food/Hydration: B Throughout the race, I ate 2 RX bars, 2 Spring energy gels, and a GU that I picked up from an aid station. I had 1 pretzel rod, 1 Oreo, and an orange slice. My hydration was mostly water, but I also took 1 cup of Gatorade and 2 cups of Mello Yello. The cooler weather made hydration a bit trickier and I think I should carry something with a bit of electrolytes like Nuun or Tailwind for GDR. I was definitely cramping post-race and it took a couple of cups of Sprite and food for it to stop. Also, I could have done a better job hydrating the day before. I avoided it because of the road trip and I think I started the day a bit dehydrated.
Gear: C My bladder in my Camelpack was not secured in some sort of way so I was slowly leaking water for the first couple of miles in the beginning of the race. I think I didn't have the cap seal on flush and it sloshed out from the top. I still was able to drink from it through about 10-12 miles, but then it was just extra weight. I think I'd prefer to just rely on flasks as they are easier to fill. Plus, for some reason, the hose across my chest was SO ANNOYING. To be fair, I kept thinking it was good that my hose was annoying me and not physical pain. But I am going to have to mitigate those minor annoyances.
Half capris were a good choice, probably should have just done a t-shirt and arm warmers. I really only needed gloves for the first couple of miles.
Hoka Torrents proved successful on the mud, rocks, and gnarly trail. I have zero blisters and my Swiftwick socks were a great choice - despite me blowing a hole through the toe of one of them.
Physical Training: A I'm officially in week 5 of my coached training and because this was a training race, I didn't have a true taper. In fact, I just came off my biggest true mileage week in over a year and ran 5 days leading up to the race, including a speed session on Tuesday. So while I am bit disappointed in my time for the race (I was hoping for 5:30 or so), I have to keep in perspective that I was not running on fresh legs and this was not the goal race. I ran a really patient race and fortunately felt the best at the end.
Mental Training: A+ I never hit really high highs or really low lows in this race. The points that I wasn't feeling great really were just when I wasn't pushing on the gas pedal. And while I do love the endorphin rush of the high highs, I think it's actually better that things were just really steady-eddy. The course and the conditions of the trail could have beat me up, but I kept telling myself when it got tough that I like doing hard things.