Sometimes I wonder if it’s really worth it. Is it worth all the life I miss in my never-ending quest to shave a few minutes off my times running various road and trail courses? Is it worth the friendships that never were or will be because I’m too busy training, too desperate for sleep, or traveling to another running event? Is it worth the loneliness of nearly every distance run that I do alone because I’m too unwilling to slow down and run with others if it will compromise my training? Is it worth the fun vacations that I skip? The career advancements that I’m giving up to be able to run more?
I’m well past the point of diminishing returns right now. It takes a lot of work just for a few seconds of improvement.
Last year I began to doubt. Maybe it really isn’t worth it anymore.
I knew Scott Breeden, the 23-year-old ultra youngster from Bloomington, Ind., was going to be my only competition from the start. On the surface, his resume was not overly impressive, but the trajectory of his progress did catch my eye. He’s quite experienced for a guy just out of college having already run several 100s, but he’s also been getting a lot faster recently. I realized he would not be the typical hotshot kid from the roads running his first Mist. Still, I didn’t know quite how well the Midwesterner would be able to handle the surprisingly technical nature of the Mtn Mist trail.
|Hitting the trail (Photo by WeRunHuntsville|
My plan was to run the first half of the race by feel. It was just Scott and myself running together only seconds after the gunshot started the race. We quickly settled into sub 7 minute pace which I noticed felt really comfortable for me on this particular day. We chatted a bit over the first 6+ miles, his breathing just slightly more labored than mine. We split the first aid station in 41:30. I chose not to carry a bottle for most of the day, so I took a couple swallows of Coke before heading out.
As we descended down Warpath Ridge, Scott answered my questions about his technical running ability...he was going to be just fine. He briefly fell back once when his timing chip came loose, but he quickly caught back up. He followed me through the powerlines, climbed K2 on my shoulder, and tagged along into aid station #2. He waited as I slowly washed a gel down with water before we continued on together.
He stayed glued to me through the Stone Cuts and the Sinks trail. When the trail widened, he would pull up beside me and just barely push the pace. He probably didn’t even know he was doing it. A few minutes before we arrived, I explained that I would be climbing the gate at the Fearn aid station. He didn’t technically have to, but practically, I had to do it or Dewayne Satterfield would lose all respect for me if I skipped the gate. I still wasn’t carrying a bottle and was enjoying that, but I had to stop a few seconds to grab a few swallows of GU Brew from my dad just before the gate. I also grabbed a GU to carry with me for future use. We split Fearn in 1:55 and were 6 minutes head of my old course record pace!
|Nah, Alabama trail aren't that rocky (photo by WeRunHuntsville)|
As soon as we crossed the road and rejoined the trail, I welcomed Scott to the “back half” of the course. I explained how most people run the last 14 miles slower than the 17 miles on the “front half.” He asked if that was due to the rocks or the climbs. “Both,” I said. And then I took off.
It was a strategic move to drop him at this point. I didn’t want to show him the way, to give away the best lines, to let him see when I slowed down or sped up. If he was going to beat me and this course, I was going to make him do it on his own. All previous winners have had to do it at one point. It’s like a rite of passage. Just you and the trail ahead.
I ran from Fearn to the Land Trust aid station in just 24 minutes. I hurt a little for the first time all day, but achieved my goal and put a minute between us. I paused to take my gel and headed out, catching one last glance of Scott as the trail doubled back on itself.
I knew Waterline was coming and felt I could back off a little bit now that I was out of sight. I was still moving well, but I had stopped pushing to save a little something for the big climb. Soon after I began the ascent, I suddenly felt a little weak. The lack of calories I had consumed because I wasn’t carrying a bottle finally had caught up with me and I was beginning to bonk. It wasn’t that long ago that I couldn’t identify what it felt like to start bonking and recognize what I needed to do to fix it. The solution may seem obvious, but the long ultras I did last year gave me a bunch of practice in diagnosing and recovering from fuel deficits. With less than 10 minutes until the waterline aid station, I chose to wait to eat there instead of taking the gel I was carrying with no water.
The climb was tough, but I held it together well enough and made it to the aid station at 2:51 (official splits have me in at 2:49, but that’s not accurate). This time I took a bottle from dad so I could refuel on the run. I drank as much GU Brew as I could handle and gradually started to feel better.
The biggest obstacle I encountered throughout the whole race was an unleashed 80lb yellow lab just before the washout. It was obviously a very playful dog, and I tried to ignore it and just blaze through down the fire road hoping to sneak past unscathed. But the dog found me to be an irresistible temptation and threw a mean chop block that brought me to my hands and knees. The owner was frantically trying to coax the dog back under control, but it was too late. I wasn’t seriously injured, so I got up and continued on my way. I yelled back to the owner that more runners would be coming through soon. That was my only fall of the day.
Over the final 10k, I just tried to keep moving well as opposed to really pushing. I was still waiting for the calories to make their way into my system, I didn’t want to make a mistake on this very technical section of the course, and I knew I had one more big climb to conquer. I was doing the math in my head and knew I was in a good place if I just kept moving. I’d glance over my shoulder occasionally, but never could see Scott. I was really pleased with my climb up Rest Shelter. I didn’t run it all that fast, but I shortened my stride and just kept moving consistently. This is another thing I just learned to do last year on the big climbs.
|Victory! (photo by Eric Charette)|
The last 1.5 miles I was able to just cruise. I knew I had the course record well within reach, and I wanted to enjoy my 4th Mountain Mist victory. I shaved 6 minutes off my old course record, crossing the finish line at 3:36:52 with a big smile across my face. Scott ended up running an incredible race, finishing just over 6 minutes back and recording the 3rd fastest time on that course (few seconds faster than Dave Mackey's best time). It was an incredible run for a Mist rookie.
Back to my original question. So is it? Is it worth it?
When it all comes together like that, yes, it is absolutely worth it. It’s what I love. But it’s not just the end result that I love. I have also learned to love the process just as much as achieving the end goal. And all those lost friendships and vacations and stuff? I have better a question: How many friendships and adventures would I miss out on if I weren’t an ultra runner?
|Thanks to RD Dink Taylor for all of this hard work.|
|Gourmet tacos and beer post-race.|
|The coolest official race vehicle ever.|