Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 Mountain Mist 50k

I’m going to keep this race report fairly brief…I hope. While not a big focus race for me in 2012, Mountain Mist 50k is a fun trail race back in my hometown and a great way to kick off another year of racing. I approached the race with very little taper, but didn’t expect to need totally fresh legs to win the race. There were a few wild cards, but no fast and experienced trail guys in the field.  The race played out mostly as I planned, and I won easily in 3:45:58. I was especially happy to bring the TeamRWB singlet across the line in front since it was my first time representing the team in a race.

TeamRWB was well represented.

The big variable this year was the condition of the trail. Last year the course was frozen solid which actually made it faster than normal. Before the race this year, everyone said the course was going to be slow and muddy. It was very wet and muddy in places, but I really don't think the mud slowed me down that much. I was surprised though, how washed out the trail was in many areas. With the dirt washed away, more rocks than normal were exposed, and I think the ruggedness of the trail slowed me more than the mud. One section in particular, where the side of the mountain is literally sliding away, the course had to be rerouted and left us to navigate through a series of blown down trees that weren’t there last year.

Got my game face on.
As the race started, one of the wild cards, Daniel Mueller, and another guy I didn’t know (turned out to be Run Bum, aka Sean), took the race out quickly. I hung back and let them learn the hard way. Run Bum came back quickly, clearly just enjoying himself for a bit before settling into a more realistic pace. Daniel lead through the first aid station, with Josh Whitehead and myself cruising through a minute back (two minutes faster than I split last year). Josh is a fast road guy, but has limited trail experience, and he quickly fell off my shoulder as I bombed down Warpath Ridge. Daniel and I found each other a couple miles later after he made a wrong turn. We ran together uneventfully until the Fearn St aid station at mile 17.

Daniel won all three of the races in last summer’s Chattanooga Stage Race, which made him a credible threat, but that’s really all he had on his resume. Consider me impressed that he was still on my tail at that point in the race. That’s farther than Hal Koerner and Josh Wheeler made it with me last year. Plus, we were two minutes faster than my “halfway” split from my previous year’s course record. I had begun pressing just a little bit around mile 15 to start testing Dan and pull him a little out of his comfort zone. He was running really well, so I was actually quite surprised when he fell off quickly as I breezed through the aid station and continued pressing. It sounds like Daniel still has some road racing goals he wants to pursue, but he is a very good technical trail runner. If and when he decides to focus on trail ultras, he will be a force to be reckoned with. You heard it here first, folks. He ran 4:08 in his first 50k—at Mtn Mist. Impressive.

Now I am alone and 2 minutes ahead of course record pace. The first 17 miles actually weren’t as wet and muddy as I was expecting, but the last 14 made up for that. It was like a completely different trail. I decided to push on and see if could reset my CR. I made a rookie mistake around mile 22 and slipped on a super-smooth, algae-covered creek bed and went down hard. I’m very lucky that I didn’t break an arm or ribs. I landed on the back side of my left shoulder and somehow missed falling directly on a scary looking rock. I took a minute to gather myself and decided to be a little more conservative for the remainder of the race.

Photo by We Run Huntsville
At the mile 25 aid station.
I felt like I had a relatively strong climb up Waterline, but because of the trail conditions and fall I was now almost 2 minutes off CR pace at the 25 mile aid station. I had also stopped to give my 1-year-old niece a kiss before reaching the actual aid station. That's something I would have never done last year when I came tearing through that aid station like a man possessed. Of course, during the race I don't know my splits to the detail that I know now. I can't tell you how surprised I am to see that my last 10k split, on some of the most technical sections of trail, was only 1:13 slower than last year. I was already just cruising it in when I took another hard fall right after reaching Natural Well, which caused me to run even more carefully. While I blazed through Slush Mile, I didn't think my climb up Rest Shelter was terribly impressive. It must have been decent though, considering how fast I ran on that section.

As I reached the top of Rest Shelter I thanked the retiring aid station captain, Grady, for his many years of service, and then sped away on the flat and smooth trails. Although I knew I wasn't going to be able to break my CR, I had come up with a new goal: to stay under Dave Mackey's CR time set back in 2007. I couldn't remember exactly what his time was though, so I just ran as hard as I could for that last mile in an attempt to break 3:46. I sprinted across the line with 2 seconds to spare.

With race director Dink Taylor.
While I wish I could improve each time I run a particular course, the more I think about the 2012 edition of The Mist, the more pleased I am with my run. I ran super strong through some less than ideal trail conditions.  My energy level was fantastic the entire race, and I never felt any hint of bonkage. My nutrition plan worked fine, but I've got to learn to eat more in preparation for Western States. And I have to admit, the 50k distance is starting to feel almost short.

Unfortunately, Mtn Mist has been quite boring for spectators wanting to see a good race the last 3 years. I have it on good authority that next year you can expect to see a competitive race. So, I want to ask you reader, if you could pick ANYONE to come race The Mist in 2013, who would it be?

Don't ask, because I don't know.
A little muddy out there.

Thanks to Sarah Tei, Eric Charette, and Bob Vasse for the pictures.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ultra Runner of the Year and other thoughts

It's been a while since I've posted on the ol' blog, so I thought I'd do a quick update and share a few thoughts.

First up, I've recently joined forces with Team RWB to help spread the word about the great work they're doing.  Their mission is to help reintegrate troops, especially those injured in action, back into society primarily through endurance sports. I have tremendous respect for our service members, and I absolutely believe in the healing powers of endurance sports. I think Team RWB has a winning formula. Check them out and please support their cause if you're able.

Next, I wanted to acknowledge the results from the Ultrarunner of the Year voting. I was stoked to find out this week that I finished 4th in the UROY voting behind the likes of Dave Mackey, Michael Wardian, and Mike Wolfe. It's a huge honor just to be considered in the top 10 with all of the great runners on that list. And it was unimaginable just a year ago that I would jump from an honorable mention to being regarded as one of the top ultra guys in North America.

That was certainly great news, but I can top it. My performance at the JFK 50 Mile was voted the top performance of the year by a North American ultrarunner. I was stunned and speechless immediately after running JFK, and now that I know how highly the ultra community regards my race at JFK, it just makes it that much more difficult to comprehend. One thing is for sure, I am glad that I didn't have to vote for performance of the year with all of the options to choose from. If Ian Sharman's 12:44:33 100 mile  (7:38 pace!!!) at Rocky Raccoon was given top honors, you would have heard no arguments from me. It's hard for me to appreciate how fast that is, because I haven't run a 100 yet, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't run that fast. If I were voting though, I would have given my first place vote to Wardian's 6:42:49 at the World Championship 100k. I was at that race folks, and the conditions were not ideal. To run that fast in warm and muggy conditions was absolutely amazing.

The UROY news was a bright spot in what was a pretty rough week for me. I fell ill with a stomach virus last Monday night and suffered for most of the week. While I was able to run some, I had to significantly cut back on mileage and skip the hard efforts. Although the acute issues have passed, I am still very weak from being so dehydrated and having such a limited diet. It's amazing how easy it is to lose faith in one's fitness. One part of my mind tells me that I'm fine and my strength will return quickly, but the other side thinks I'll never run fast again.

Up until this week, my training had been great. I'd gradually been increasing my mileage after a couple down weeks following JFK and had just put together two weeks at 100 miles a piece. I've got two weeks until my season opener at Mtn Mist 50k, and I should be fine as long as I don't try to make up for missed training this week.  Easier said than done.

After Mtn Mist, I was hoping to do Mt Cheaha 50k or the Mt Mitchell Challenge on February 25th, but I'm not able to do either due to a family scheduling conflict that's just recently come up. So, I may not be racing in February as planned.  March is a personal scheduling mess as well, but I'm trying to decide on a good 50k-50 miler. Although not official yet, I hope I'm going to Italy in April with the US 100k team to run the World Championships again this year. Unfortunately, making that race a priority will prevent me from running 3 different Montrail Ultra Cup races that I would have considered otherwise.  Just bad timing. I'll be getting ready for Western States in May and of course racing that in June.

One more thing, I just wanted to throw out there that I've set up a fan page on facebook: www.facebook.com/RiddleRuns  If you'd like to keep up with my running on facebook, then just like my fan page. I've linked my twitter account to my page, so it's a good way to keep up if you don't do twitter. I plan to update my page frequently with news, thoughts, pictures and hopefully some video.  Check it out.

Thanks to everyone who felt I was deserving of performance of the year. And congratulations to all of the other runners who were just as deserving.  Take care!