Friday three buddies and I traveled to Huntsville, Alabama for the Mountain Mist 50K at Monte Sano State Park. It was insanely hot on Friday (77 degrees) and rain was moving in, hopefully bringing some cooler temps with it.
We were lucky enough to reserve a cabin less than a mile from the start/finish line. We rolled into the lodge for packet pick-up a little after 6:00 and then down to the cabin to get our stuff ready and a good night's sleep before the race. The cabin was perfect. And rustic. It has a great screened in porch and a wonderful stone fireplace. While we all joked and nervously laid our stuff out for the next morning, Mann started a fire. Problem one. The chimney was obviously clogged somehow because not long after the fire began roaring, the smoke began flowing . . . right inside our one room cabin. What was cool and rustic a few minutes earlier was now far too small to handle the smoke.
After the smoke was gone we finished watching A Few Good Men (okay, so the cabin wasn't that rustic) on television and got some sleep. Part of a one room cabin means sleeping arrangements are, well, not perfect. Mann and Damien were forced to share a full size bed, Brian slept on a twin mattress on the slate floor, and I took the twin bed - now with only a box springs.
We were up between 5:00 and 5:30 and began making final adjustments to our nutrition plans and packing our gels, electrolyte replacement drinks/pills/etc. We were out the door and headed to the lodge by 7:15. After a few pre-race comments, and a picture of the four of us while we were all in good condition, Mountain Mist 50K 2009 was under way. The weather was in the 30's with a strong wind to start. It rained during the night so some of the course was sure to be muddy.
The race follows a paved road for a short while until we take a left and into the woods for the duration of the race. The 340 +/- people stayed really bunched up for much of the way toward aid station #1. I was hoping not to even slow down at aid #1, but was worried that we would get held up as the volunteers checked us through the aid station. Fortunately the volunteers did a great job and I was able to breeze through.
Brian took off early in the race and I wouldn't see him again until the last section. Mann and Damien were behind me somewhere but I was never sure where. So, I ran the race alone, insofar as the four of us were concerned. One of the great things about running an ultra is that you are never alone. There are always others to share stories with and share in the pain together. I had the pleasure of running with a gentlemen from Douglas County, Georgia for a while.
The first half of the course is not terribly difficult; however, that changes for sure on the second half. Don't get me wrong, there are still some tough parts on the first half, but nothing like the water line trail at mile 23 and the last trail out of the bottom at mile 28. Because I had been warned that the second half was really tough I was doing my best to keep my heart rate down and run a smart race. When you are going 31.1 miles with 7000+ feet of elevation change, running fast at mile 6 hardly makes sense.
I knew the water line and the water fall climb were tough. Understatement. The water line trail is rocky but not super technical, that is, until you get to the water fall. At this point, you literally have to rock climb up a water fall until you rejoin the trail. This wouldn't be so hard if it weren't at mile 23!
This course is a really rocky course in sections. Some of the water falls were frozen and were gorgeous to see along the course, but there was no ice to speak of on the course itself. The rain made it slick and muddy in parts but frankly the course was in great shape.
Once you make it out of the water line you are at about mile 24.5. You get a very small reprieve until about mile 28 when it goes up, up, up. The climb out of the bottom is long and steep. The good news is that once you get out of the bottom you only have 1.8 miles left. The bad news is it feels like you'll never get out.
I was cramping pretty bad but, having done a few ultras, I knew the cramps would come and go. My legs started cramping in the groin area around mile 20. I knew my legs would improve if I could just keep moving forward. Indeed it stopped, errr, moved. The cramps went from there to my hamstrings, and to my quads, and calves. I felt like my nutrition plan was solid - I was getting plenty of sodium thanks to S! Caps and GU gels and thought my carb intake was good. The second half of the race I added in Cliff Shot Electrolyte Replacement drink, but still the leg cramping. I'm not sure what is causing the cramping unless it is simply leg fatigue.
Finally I hit the final aid station and the top of the climb. I grabbed some salty pretzels and hit it, determined to run the final 1.8 miles. This last section is smooth trail. I felt pretty good at this point, having held some back early in the race. I was able to pick it up a little. Off in the distance I saw Brian with a distinct limp. I figured he would run the race in 5:15 - 5:30 so I knew his I.T. band was giving him issues. As I caught up to him he confirmed that the I.T. band started hurting around mile 10. Very impressive to finish a tough 50K with a sore I.T. band. We ran together a bit and I pulled ahead the last half mile and finished in 5:47.
I was pleased with my time. It was a PR for me at the 50K distance. I wasn't in great shape and thought I would run 6:00 - 6:30, so 5:47 was a pleasant surprise. Mann ran a great race and finished a little behind Brian and me. Damien, running his first ever ultra event (Damien, try an easier run next time!), finshed well under the cut-off.
All-in-all, we had a great day. Running among the beauty God provided for us and with great friends is awesome, regardless of one's time.