|The smile says it all.|
Four minutes. That's how much slower I ran the first 6.5 miles of the 2011 version of the Mountain Mist 50k compared to last year. You know, four minutes is a lot of time to have lost in just 6.5 miles. Best decision I have ever made in a race to go down that four minutes to my ghost of last year. By the end of the race I had turned that four minute deficit into a 15 minute surplus, a win, and a course record. And maybe even the best race of my life.
Ok, so going out 4 minutes slower wasn't the only factor leading to my breakthrough performance. Overnight temperatures in the teens had left the trail frozen solid in most places which made the course fast compared to the soggy and slippery alternative. The unlikely layer of snow on the Alabama trail caused me no real problems and was a beautiful treat that I was able to enjoy for at least the first half of the race before I started getting down to business. The perfect weather conditions, in my opinion, didn't hurt things at all either.
With standout ultra runner Hal Koerner coming in from Oregon and young gun Josh Wheeler making the trip from North Carolina, I expected to have my work cut out for me from the start. As the race began, I wasn't surprised that Hal and Josh let me dictate the pace because I knew the course much better than either of them. The trails of Monte Sano State Park were where I first cut my teeth as a trail runner before I moved to Cincinnati this past summer, so it feels like my home course. Josh settled in on my shoulder and chatted for a while, but Hal laid back just a bit as if he didn't want to encourage us to push the pace anymore than we already were. I was running my race, determined not to repeat the mistakes of last year.
I was already 2 minutes off course record pace at the first aid station, but I didn't care. I even stopped briefly and calmly refreshed my aid supply. I didn't even have a course record on my mind at this point. I was so demoralized by the way I felt last year and the 12 minute gap between Dave Mackey's 2007 CR and my 2010 time, that I honestly didn't think I was capable of closing it. We headed down Warpath Ridge, to the powerlines, and I made sure we took the first real climb of the day at a leisurely pace. A short time later we were through the 2nd aid station with Josh following closely and Hal not too far behind. Now over 4 minutes behind my pace from 2010.
Mile 14 is about where I realized last year that I had gone out too fast. This year, it's where I found myself all alone and where my confidence started to build. For the first time, I began easing down the pace ever so slightly. By the 3rd time check I had turned my 4+ minute deficit into just 90 seconds. After doing the ceremonial climb over the gate at Fearn St in honor of ultra legend DeWayne Satterfield, I began to open it up. I knew that I could make up time over this gradually descending, technical section of trail. By the Land Trust aid station, I was right on Mackey's CR split.
I'm not going to say too much about climbing Waterline. I couldn't do it justice. You just need to experience it. I have never thought much of my climbing abilities, so I was shocked to find myself ahead of CR pace when I peaked out and hit the last real aid station with 10k to go. It feels so much better to have your confidence snowballing in the positive direction. I now believed I had a chance. I rolled down the fire road and cautiously attacked (if that's possible) the treacherous descent known as Suicide Drop. Slush mile ran unusually fast and I used it to store up a little energy for the final climb. I alternated power hiking and running up Rest Shelter trail, but I knew I was going to pull it off when I hit the last 1.5 miles of flat trail. I just cruised, taking the time to enjoy my accomplishment. 3:42:59.
I still can hardly believe I was able to run that fast...and to have it feel so much easier than last year. I give some of the credit to my improved fitness and strength. Some goes to the course which was definitely faster this year than last. But, most of the credit goes to those 4 minutes that I patiently let slip away early in the race. I hope I've learned my lesson.
I want to say thanks everyone who helped make Mtn Mist a success again this year. RD Dink Taylor, Sponsors The North Face, Fleet Feet Sports in Huntsville, The Huntsville Track Club and all of the volunteers. And congrats to everyone who finished the Mist this year. There were many, many great individual performances, but I would inevitably leave someone out if I attempted to list them all.
Results with splits