Mountain Mist 50K - Huntsville, Alabama
Elevation Gain: ~3800'
January 23, 2021 - A quick trip south is just what the spirit needs this time of year. While I thoroughly enjoy my winter runs along the Clarion River, I miss the trails when the snow piles up. The 27th annual Mountain Mist event was a perfect trail-lover's escape to motivate my ambitions for what I hope will be another storied year. My friend Rick Rawls had repeatedly invited me to come on down to Alabama to do MM50K, so this year I made excuses to be on the starting line.
It was a perfect day for trail running. Sunny and 29 degrees from the get-go, warming to about 54 degrees by the finish with only a whisper of breeze all day. We started off in waves of 50 every five minutes to minimize trail congestion. Having signed up in the eleventh hour, I started out in the final wave - always better to be catching people all day than to be passed. Finishing in 234th place of about 430 starters translates into passing a lot of other runners throughout the day.
At 0730 I headed off from the top of the mountain by the lodge at Monte Sano State Park, immediately east of the city of Huntsville. The 50K route would wind us back and forth on every side of the mountain, nearly all on woodsy trails with only a couple of short paved sections. The course is technical, but very runnable and conducive to quick finish times. I was there to ease through the distance without really racing, making sure I did not take a bad fall or pick up a new injury in the effort. In that I finished without incident, none the worse for wear with plenty of control the entire way, it was mission accomplished... and I had a wonderful day.
Stopping to take a lot of pictures, I never got very serious about maintaining any tempo or achieving any anticipated finish time. I ran well at a five- to six-mile-per-hour pace with intermittent periods of walking, picture-taking, and eating gels. Alabama has great mountains and hills and as the pictures prove - lots of rocks. I felt very much at home dancing with the rocks there.
The first twenty-one miles went by quickly in about four-and-a-half hours. I was feeling good. The first half of the race was said to be the easy part - with a lot of moderately level switchbacks and not a lot of climbing or descending. The second half began with a sustained climb, but I seemed to roll over that without much need for pause. The last third continued with more climbing and steeper descents. At about mile 25 we had to climb up out of a steep hollow using hand over hand to climb the rocks - again, my kind of "four-point racing".
Toward the end, I was maintaining my effort but could sense some fatigue, so I knew that I was slowing down. It was partly age and partly my level of conditioning for the time of year. My legs and feet were not used to negotiating rocky trails, but managed just fine without getting sore or tired because of not being as aggressive as perhaps I would have been when I was younger.
I finished in 7 hours and 20 minutes. I would like to have run more quickly, but the enjoyment factor prevailed over any temptation for speed. Perhaps the wisdom acquired over many years of racing trails also prevailed over the effervescence of youth that, while it still lingers fresh in my mind, is mostly now a thing of the past. I thank the spirit of Mercury for allowing me the continued good health and desire to take on such a challenge in such a beautiful place with other such beautiful spirits.