I finally have had time to link together a solid training block as I settle into my new routine of graduate, real world working average Josh. Last semester/year brought a lot of challenges and changes. The transition from a 'constant on the road, go-go-go, 4am blaring alarm' to a now 'calm 4:30am alarm clock routine' has been a welcomed shift. My frustrating drop out at Lookout Mtn. 50 renewed a willingness to commit to a training cycle in preparation for the 2011 season. In hindsight, the race probably turned out for the best as I was able to recover quicker. With that said, the added pressure of a new job coupled with running expectations has made for some listless nights. However, going into Mist, I was confident in my fitness.
Mist has always ranked high on my racing bucket list. I first heard of Mt. Mist when I was fourteen years old. People have always said, "Oh, you run ultras in the south? Have you raced Mist?" There is a rich history that surrounds this race not only because of the strong fields that the race assembles early in the season but also with regards to beauty/difficulty that accompanies the course.
I targeted this race as an early marker of where my fitness stands as I prepare for my main spring goals: Mt. Mitchell at the end of February and Way Too Cool 50k in March. Since Huntsville was within driving range, I could not pass up a chance to race some of the top 50k runners in the country. Coming off a three consectitive 100+ mile weeks culminating in a 115mile run week, I knew I would not be fully rested. Regardless, I took the week leading up easy and, before I knew it, found myself shivering at the start line Saturday morning with 350 other scantly clad, large quaded ultra-running loonies. Thankfully, the gun (a rather large civil war style musket) sounded (exploded) and the race was underway.
I slotted in behind defending Mt. Mist champ David Riddle and passed the early miles chatting pleasantries. As expected, Hal Koerner was nice enough to join us (not only from Oregon) but also with the pace making at the front of the race.
I was told that the early miles were fast and sure enough before I knew it we were making our way across a clearcut power line trail somewhere around mile ten. The first climb was a welcomed shift from the icy descents we had been tackling; however, trying to stay on pace proved difficult for everyone as we slipped and slided our way up the icy ascent. Hal dropped back on the climb leaving just Riddle and myself to march on into the second half of the course. Unfortunately, on the next uphill section, I lost contact with Riddle as an inopportune bad patch left me scrambling for nutrition. From the limited information I could gather at aid stations, the next few miles proved decisive in the race outcome. I stayed roughly 1 to 2 minutes behind Riddle; however started to lose time at creek crossing (and cave crossings?) due to my unfamiliarity with the course. The white markings on an already snowy backdrop added a little difficulty spotting the correct path and often I had to stop to scout out my next few steps. The second to last climb was a barn burner as we had to navigate an icy waterfall into the second to last aid station.
Moments following losing contact with Riddle. Coming into a colorful aid-station, somewhere around halfway(-ish).
Here is where the lessons were learned. With six miles left, I skipped the second to last aid station figuring that the limited calories I had taken earlier in the course would tide me over to the end. Normally not one to train with calories, I felt the gas light come on around mile 29. I glanced back and saw Hal making his way down the trail towards me. I knew the catch was inevitable. Figuring I still had two miles left and one large climb, I slowed my pace and tried to gather my remaining energy reserves to match Hal when he caught me. As soon as Hal came up on me though, I knew I was on fumes. In the last two miles I lost my podium spot as I got passed again in the final half mile. All in all, I learned an important lesson. THE MOST IMPORTANT AID STATION IN A RACE IS THE SECOND TO THE LAST. You can rest assured that at Mitchell I will not make the same mistake.
The story of the day goes to Riddle as he crushed David Mackey's course record by close to three minutes on a very slippery/icy day. Impressive is hardly the word I can use to describe it. Honestly, it was a privilege to run with him as long as I did. I wish Riddle the best of luck as he tries to make the US 100k team. Hal, I look forward to racing you again in short order at WTC.
Having trained through Mist, I am now turning my attention to the Mt. Mitchell challenge here in a few weeks. In the meantime, I want to thank Huntsville Track Club for putting on a wonderfully organized event which will definitely remain on my race calender for years to come.