Having run Mountain Mist the previous two years I was ecstatic to have successfully convinced two more runners to join our party- Ron Brooks and Wes Trueblood. Although we had lost Beau “Boy” Hollis due to the birth of his second child, the core of our group: Jeff “Screech” Yoder and myself remained. Going into the race Glein Hein tried to hype me on a course record but I knew that such feat could not be accomplished unless David Riddle and I were to work together like we did in 2013. With Riddle out of the race this possibility was out of the question.
We were slated to leave Bloomington at 8:00AM on Friday, although in typical Screech fashion he didn’t end up picking me up till after 9AM. Screech pulled up in a brand new KIA SUV, our rental car for the weekend. I congratulated him on choosing such a great car but all he had to say was, “The last time I drove an SUV I wrecked it.”
The trip to Louisville (home of Ron Brooks) passed uneventful other than the ever interesting topography of the Knobstone Escarpment. Screech quipped, “Dude. I can’t even drive right now. Just want to look at all these Knobs.”
Of course on the way to Alabama we had IcePeak going pretty much 24/7. IcePeak is an app that uses GPS to tell you what peaks are nearest and their respective elevation. Brooks believed that this was going to be one of those trips where we pulled over on the highway to bag some peaks. As self-proclaimed Peakbaggers of Southern Indiana I know Screech and I had no objections to this. Regardless, we decided against stopping because after all, you know, we had a race the next day or something.
Running a 50k wasn’t nearly interesting enough so betting began to take place on the drive down. Here is a recap of all the bets placed:
1) If Screech ran every mile < 14 minutes I would donate $10 to a charity in his name.
2) If Screech beat Wes, Wes would buy him a 24 pack of Ski (some dumb drink that Screech is obsessed with).
3) Whoever finished last between Brooks, Wes, and Screech had to buy dinner for the other two.
Bets placed but since retracted:
1) Screech loses his first born child if he finishes last.
We stopped at Whole Foods on the way down so Wes could use the bathroom (He will only use free range toilet paper). After a few more stops we finally we made it to Hunstville and headed straight to packet pick up on top of the mountain. The weather at the base of the mountain was alright but at the top there was a creepy fog that reduced visibility to <30 face=”Calibri, sans-serif” font=”” style=”font-size: 11pt; line-height: 115%;”>
Up until this point I had been debating what shoe I would wear on race day. I had brought both Sense Ultras and Sense Softgrounds. On one hand the soft ground had much better grip, well suited for the conditions we would face tomorrow. On the other hand, I knew from previous experience that the Softgrounds tend to be terrible on wet rock. I knew the extent of rocks on the mist course was such that while the softgrounds would not doubt be a better choice for the mud, the detriment on the rocks would be too much to justify wearing them. I was not too worried about the adverse conditions since Wes and I had been spending our weekends out on the muddy horse pocky trails in the wilds of Brown County State Park. Although no doubt rugged, I knew they would be nothing as technically as the rocks we would face in the last half of the Mist course.
Leaving packet pick up, we headed to the hotel for a 25 minute shakeout run. Dylan Hammons met up with us and we took off towards, “some crack in a rock where Jessie James supposedly escaped into.” After showering, we headed to a pizza place downtown and everyone ate a medium pizza. The conversation flowed and no one seemed too worried about the race tomorrow. Ron and I were still hungry and were secretly hoping Screech wouldn’t finish his so that we could eat it. He finished.
Back at the hotel we started packing up our race gear for tomorrow. What to wear in the race is a topic often agonized over the night before. . Since the weather was calling for 29 degrees at the start with a high of 55 this race would be exceedingly tricky to try and plan for. Normally that low of a temperature warrants mittens, no question. However, the drastic difference between the low and high made me wonder if gloves might be a better choice. I ultimately decide on a singlet, arm sleeves, a pair of salomon S-Lab twin skin running shorts, and mittens. I would rather rick be too hot (I could always tuck my mittens into my shorts) than having my hands freeze. The previous two years I had not carried water. I could not remember regretting this decision so I decided to opt out again this year.
The race starts with about 1 mile on asphalt before entering the off road section. I knew that Josh Whitehead (1:06 half marathoner) was in the race and I was worried he would start off at 5:00 pace. I knew such a pace would be exceedingly uncomfortable for me at the start since I don’t typically warm up for events longer than 13.1 miles. Luckily, he, nor anyone else was willing to push the pace. Screech actually ended up setting the pace for us the first ½ mile of the race and I was happy to run alongside one of my best friends. We hit single track and Screech fell off as the pace quickened slightly. When we reached the first technical downhill stretch I pushed to see how everyone else would respond and to learn the downhill capabilities of those who I was racing against. Josh Whitehead and I opened up a little gap on Daniel Hamilton which we carried to the 1st aid station. Since I wasn’t carrying a bottle I stopped to drink and take a gel. In the process Josh opened up a slight lead on the descent down Warpath ridge.
The descent seemed more technical this year than prior years. Perhaps due to the slickness of the rocks this year, but I didn’t feel comfortable taking as many risks as I did back in 2013. Nevertheless, I ended up catching Josh by the time we reached the powerline cut. The sustained downhill caused us both to start pushing more and as a result we missed the turn-off for K2. Having run the race the previous two years, I quickly realized the mistake which only ended up costing us 245’ of climb and ~4’15” worth of running. It also cost us the lead as three people ended up passing us, although I was not too worried about this mix up, especially this early in the race.
I was happy to watch Josh hammer up k2 while I took a more leisurely approach since I knew flats were coming at the top. Sure enough I quickly caught Josh on the flats and let him lead for ~2 miles while we slowly reeled in Daniel Hamilton. When we caught up to Daniel I was content to let him lead us into aid station 2.
Last year I opened up a lead on Riddle in this section of the race, which I would hold all the way to the finish. This year would be the same story as neither Josh nor Daniel was climbing at a speed quite to my liking. After the caves I increased the pace slightly and gapped Daniel and Josh before reaching aid station 3 (mile 17). At this point the “real” race starts as the technically of the trail increases dramatically and the topography changes drastically as well.
Leaving the aid station, I could see the first place runner just 100 yards ahead. He gave no chase as I passed and soon I had the trail to myself. The slipperiness of the course combined with the 18,000,000 rocks made for slow going. I was relieved not have to anyone breathing down my neck and to be able to run comfortably over such technical terrain.
Having run the Mist the previous two years, the course had become somewhat of a waiting game for waterline and then another waiting game till redline. This mindset helped the race passed quickly early on and before I knew it I was at the base of waterline (2:51). In 2014 it had taken me 2:54 but in 2013 it took me just under 2:40, a testament to how much faster we ran the first section then. The climb wasn’t as bad as I remembered from previous years, perhaps because the third time is a charm. I made quick work waterline and the ensuing flats and found myself at the penultimate aid station.
Leaving the aid station, the last stretch of the course is particularly treacherous. Well less than 6 miles, no one has completed it to my knowledge in less than 40 minutes. Such a feat would normally be relatively easy, if it weren’t for an extremely technical 800’ descent followed immediately by 800’ of climb. In 2013 I had taken 46 minutes on the stretch but it took me nearly 54 minutes in 2014. This year I expected to be even slower than 2014 since I wasn’t trying to hold off Riddle.
However, still unsure exactly where Josh and Daniel were behind me, my mindset was that I should continue to keep an honest effort in. At the same time, saving enough to switch into another gear if they ended up catching me. The descent to McKay Hollow is typically my slowest mile, despite losing nearly 800’ in elevation. The terrain is just too technical to run fast, or at least not worthwhile to try due to the high risk of falling on ones face. After leaving McKay, one is faced with the last climb on the course, Redline. While technical, Redline is still entirely runnable. Once I crested the ~800’ climb I knew that I had enough left in the tank and cruised on into the finish. Although the effort felt easier than last year, my split from the penultimate aid station to the finish ended up being 52:10.
I wanted to wait around to see how Brooks and Wes finished but I knew I was going to get hypothermic if I didn’t get more clothes on fast. Luckily, our car was only ~1/4 mile from the finish line and I was able to jog over and get warm clothes on before they finished.
Brooks ended up having a killer race (3rd) as well as Trueblood in 6th at his first race in over 4 years. Screech, plagued by stomach issues, finished a respectable 21st place. I managed to win the race in 3:58. A time 5 minutes faster than my time last year, yet 15 minutes slower than my 3:43 in 2013. I was quite pleased with my fitness, having not done much more than easy running since the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile championships in December.
The ride home to Bloomington was bittersweet. On one hand I was excited to get out of the car but on the other I knew that I would soon wish I were back into the car, heading to another race. The funny thing about races is that it is times that seem the most mundane, such as spending 7 hours sitting in a car, are the parts that you really end up missing over the next several weeks. But the trip really doesn’t end when you get home. The ensuing weeks are spent relieving the memories, whether in your own head, via group texts, or inside jokes. The memories we formed over the weekend would last us a lifetime, or, at least until our next race together!
As always, thank you to Ugo Bars for providing me with the energy I need to properly refuel after ultra-endurance events. The hour after crossing the finish line sets the stage for recovery process over the next two weeks. By eating two Ugo Bars I was able to kick start the recovery process and resume training right away.