The short version:
Fell hard only after 200' on the trail; was lost for the 1st time ever in a trail race; finished the last 7 miles disheartened as I thought I had cut the course big time! "Unofficial" finisher. Time 7:06:06. Very organized, excellent event!
Very long & detailed version:
The Huntsville forcaster on the 6 o'clock evening news said it would be a rainy 41 degrees in the morning with winds 15-20 mph. It was going to be difficult to figure out what to wear with such conditions. As I left the motel the next morning, it was 32 (!) degrees, raining & it was indeed windy! Arriving on top of the plateau at Monte Santo Park, the rain stopped & it was only misty (& windy). I decided to go with shorts, a singlet & a long sleeve shirt & gloves. This combination worked only half of the time as conditions changed greatly depending on where you were on the course -- not much wind once you came off the plateau, except for a segment underneath some powerlines where there was a 20 mph headwind!
I stayed in the car to keep out of the biting wind. I noticed runners were starting to come out of the lodge -- then all of a sudden a gun went off! I looked at the clock & it was most certainly 8:00 sharp! I like races that start on time, but I wasn't prepared this time. I got out of the car quickly with an adrenaline rush as I ran across the parking lot & joined in. It was a big crowd, the largest trail ultra to date for me with 275 runners. After a short distance on the road, everyone squeezed into the single track trail that led downhill. Spacing was (too) tight, especially at the pace we were running & that led to a hard fall for me on the rocks. I got up quickly so as to not be trampled & my left knee gave out -- it was numb! As feeling came back within a few steps, I got off the trail to assess the damage. A couple streams of blood coming thru the mud on my knee - looked alot worse than it felt at the time, so I continued on -- was I having fun yet, I thought?
ROCKS & MORE ROCKS:
If I had to summarize the Mountain Mist 50k course in one word, I would say ROCKS! I've run very rocky trail segments in races before, but never mile after mile of it!
Nearing the bottom of the hill, I recognized some of the trail as part of the Dizzy Fifties course that I ran last November. The rocks were everywhere - the only thing that had changed was that the leaves were gone & you could see the rocks clearly! There was a little mud (between rocks) all day but that was never a factor for me. The hills were manageable & the bigger ones had switchbacks (except for the "Waterline" hill). It was flat & smooth coming back onto the plateau again the last mile or so to the 1st aid station -- a big relief for my ankles! Checking my GPS, I found that the "clock" time was showing -- must have hit the reset button for the timer on the spill. I start the timer (w/mapping) again.
Leaving the aid station & going down Warpath Ridge, there were some intestinal sounds below & that signaled an unscheduled pit stop soon (a slight change in my pre-race diet will not be repeated!) So as I followed one runner about 25 feet in front of me, I was searching the rocky ridge for a little cover! This runner suddenly stops & shouts back "Are we on the trail, have you seen anybody?". I said this was my first time on this course & hadn't seen any runners lately. He turned back around & continued down the hill. A short while later, he stops & says "We're off the trail!". As we stood there looking, we could see runners up on the ridge, but they were not coming our way! He comments he had run this course several times before & this was the first time he had gone off course like this! I realized then that a small lapse in concentration can cost you very quickly! We scurry back up the hill back onto the main ridge & soon we were on the "powerline" segment. Coming out into the clearing there was a wide scenic vista -- nice! But, I couldn't go any further without a pit stop so I stepped off the trail, then promptly tripped on some vines & fell into the sticker bushes! This was turning out to be one "fun" race! From here thru the next couple aid stations, it was just a matter of keeping upright on the rocky trail & pretty much uneventful, except for the run thru a rock tunnel - pretty neat! I note that my timer on my watch had reset again -- what's going on? I decide to keep it on "clock" time as then at least I knew the elapsed time, since we started at 8 sharp.
My ankles were getting sore as I approached the aid station at mile 17.27. Looking at the course map pre-race, I figured this would be close to the halfway point, time-wise for me, and would let me know if I would be close to the 7 hour goal I had set. Time 3:15. Very good I thought as I figured I had a little to play with. The next segment was mostly downhill, but once again, very rocky! Another nice scenic view was to be had at one point along the trail here, but you had to stop to look as you dared not take your eyes off the treacherous trail for long while running! I arrived at the next aid station feeling good. Leaving here, the rocks seemed to be all pointed! By then I was getting a raw spot on the side of one ankle from where my foot was at such a sharp angle so much that the upper rim of my shoe kept rubbing it!
A couple miles out of the aid station, the trail was becoming unbelievably rocky with boulders thrown in. I saw a red mark on a rock & I thought maybe it was too rocky to put flagging thru here . . . then it dawned on me that I had not seen any flagging (or runners) for some time! Uh oh! I turn around & look back -- there was NO discernible trail thru the rocky landscape! Which way did I come from? I tried to retrace my path. Everything looked the same! There seemed to be a path occassionally, but then it would fizzle out. I was beginning to get flustered -- lost for my first time! Going back & forth & then up & down among the rocks was tough going. Was I starting to go in circles? I had to make a decision. I decided to head straight in just one direction (in the general direction of where I thought I came from) until I ran into something or someone. So I blazed my own trail . . . until it sounded like 2 people laughing down below me. That was easier than heading any other direction so I headed down the hill. A few minutes later, alas!, a glimpse of someone way off to my left! I made a beeline to that spot. Yeah! a trail, a well established one at that. I take off down the trail, but then I meet someone walking up the hill. I slow down, a bit puzzled, but I've seen runners running "against the flow" earlier in the race, so I kept on . . . until I met another runner. He set me straight by reminding me the flagging was always on the right as he pointed to a flag -- DUH! So I turn around & head back uphill & ask him how far to "Waterline". He says this IS the Waterline trail! What? That stopped me in my tracks! I was trying to picture the course map I had looked at before the race & had thought there were 2 aid stations after the one at the road (17.27 miles) before reaching the Waterline trail. Had I missed one aid station completely? Had I cut the course a couple miles or more? A sinking feeling came over me as I believed I may have done just that. I was in deep thought as I slowly trudged up the hill, a very long hill. Should I go back & find the aid station (there was actually no 2nd aid station) or keep going & be an unofficial finisher? I decided on the latter.
MY GET UP & GO IS GONE:
At the end of the long walk up the waterline trail, I finally came to the steep waterfall climb I had heard so much about. But as I was climbing, I realized my "driving force" was just not there. As I continued, I found my mind working more than the running task at hand. I was just going thru the motions. As I left the next aid station, to get my mind back on track, I decided to just try to enjoy myself the remaining 6 or so miles & not worry about what had happened. It worked. I talked more to the runners who passed me & I stopped to enjoy the scenery & trail whenever I felt like it -- no worry about the time. This paid off as I discovered the highlight of the course to me -- a "natural well" -- a HUGE key hole shaped vertical shaft with extremely smooth sides that seemed to have no bottom -- what a natural wonder!
I didn't pass anyone at my pace the last 7 miles except one runner who was sitting next to the trail, looking utterly exhausted. I was feeling pretty good myself going at a 100 mile pace. After I trotted in, I went to the gal at the computer who was entering results & told her what I had done. I asked her to delete my entry, but she said someone else would have to do that & made a note of it. I didn't take the nice finisher's plaque as I didn't run the official course. After that, I just drifted around -- the Lodge was a very nice place! Had some Papa John's pizza & chatted with some runners until my legs & ankles started stiffening up, so I decided to call it a day.
Getting back home after a 4 1/2 hour drive, I checked out the race website -- results & splits already posted!! I quickly go to the race maps to figure out what I had done. Boy, was I completely off on what I was thinking on the trail!! There was no 2nd aid station and I was wandering only a little off course! I was always fully expecting runners to pass me a second time after I thought I had cut off a couple miles, but according to the splits, I came back on course behind the runners who were behind me at the last aid station! I probably went just as far & lost 10-15 minutes or so! So I don't feel as bad now. Physically though, I'm bruised & scratched & pretty sore, especially my ankles --no sprains thank goodness, but just as sore. I hope to be able to return (much wiser) next year & redeem myself at this very scenic & organized event. MANY volunteers, GREAT location, TOUGH course!
Next up is Louisville's Lovin' the Hills 50k -- my favorite! It's been fun working on my other blog for this race, although I haven't been able to devote as much time on it as I had hoped. I should be in better shape this year than last, just need to be sure everything else falls into place . . .