LOVE HARDER , EAT BETTER & EXPLORE FURTHER
I struggled with anxiety about Mountain Mist until about Friday night when all our friends rolled into town and finally I was stoked to run Huntsville’s most famed trail race.
Mountain Mist has a special place in my heart. When I moved to Alabama in 2016, made my first friend, Kevin, my third Sunday in town was spent volunteering at the Mountain Mist 50k (“50k? Like kilometers? But that’s longer than a marathon, why would someone do that…”). I volunteered at the Rest Shelter Aid Station run by Josh Kennedy (~Mile 30). This was the “snow year” that moved the race to Sunday after the city closed many roads Saturday due to icy conditions. I was amazed at the strength and endurance I saw coming through that aid station after men and women had spent hours in the mud and the technical terrain. Having only completed 1 marathon and 2 half marathons (and about 10 trail runs ever), I immediately eschewed the idea…until I signed up for the Black Warrior 50k one month later. What the f*ck Kevin.
Anyhow, I think Martin (at www.ultrakrautrunning.com) has put it best so far to describe Mountain Mist 50k as a Southeast trail running family reunion. From Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and beyond, trail runners come to Huntsville to take on the 20+ year old course. I got to the lodge thirty minutes early and I was only able to hug about 20% of the people that I would have loved to catch up with.
Friday night Shannon, Dave, Jackie, Jeff and Bernie-the-poodle all came to crash in our new pad. We have two spare bedrooms (iceboxes) and plenty of space. Enjoying their excitement for the race really changed my attitude. I hadn’t tapered at all and had been feeling the weeks of Barkley training in my legs. I was completely convinced the race would be wash out and I would just have to run “for fun”. After quick dinners, chit-chatting and bib-folding we all crashed for an early morning wake up.
At 5:30 Luke and I rolled over, looked at each other and lamented our life choices. Nevertheless, we were up and at’em, caffeinated and soon our crew was packed into the Subaru and the Merritt Prius and we were off. Jeff wasn’t racing and was instead going to meet his speedster wife at a few aid stations - newly minted HOKA athlete Jackie Merritt was going to demolish this race for the second year in a row. I was way more confident in her than in myself - ha.
Quick hellos, body gliding and selfies before we got outside to let the shivering commence. I new I was safe in shorts and a tee rather than overheating, but damn was it chilly standing at the start line. Luke and I had decided that we’d be running our own races, but I was at least going to keep up in the beginning and avoid the bottlenecks that happen if you hang back. There was a competitive women’s field this year - it was going to be a close one between Jackie, myself and Emily Ansick (a badass who I’ve written about before at Grand Viduta Stage Races grand-viduta-stage-race-recapping-trail-runner-summer-camp.html ).
And we were off. David Riddle took off like a rocket, straight up insanity. I only saw Jackie’s shorty-shorts for about two miles before I lost her around a curve too. Mountain Mist is a complicated course - it has a really fast start on the road, onto really easy trails and it all lulls you into complacency. Until it beats you to a pulp all the way to the finish line from Mile 16. The sadism of it all speaks to me.
I lost Luke around mile 4 and by the end of the first half I was settled into 3rd place female behind Jackie and Emily and somewhere in the Top 20 overall. The first half just rolls on some mountain bike trails, with one solid climb, and I just get bored. I happily settled into my pace and enjoyed the perfect, misty day - really I was just waiting for my legs to cramp and accumulated fatigue to take over.
But it never did. I love this course. I was stoked to hit Red Gate (the “halfway” point), and find out Jackie and Luke were only about 7 or 8 minutes up and Emily was only up about 2 minutes. Back half is my jam and I was ready to turn it on. Rocky terrain, a few big climbs and some lovely mud - I felt pretty confident in my inov-8s with only a few little ankle jumbles. Climbing Waterline - which is an experience everyone needs to have someday - I caught a glimpse of Emily and a few minutes later I saw Luke’s hairy legs. I made it my mission to catch everyone by the Boulevard Parking Lot, it’s all downhill from there ;).
I may have confounded the aid station workers here (if they didn’t know me) when I caught Luke chugging some Coke and said something to the effect of “You ready mofo? Let’s go!”. We took off together down Natural Well, we stayed together to the ditch where we actually ended up on a double date with Ansicks and everyone got to watch me straddle a downed tree that I have never successfully climbed over.
After the ditch, I was ready to put the hammer down and hit the Natural Well downhill hard. I was sad to leave Luke, but I know that if I focused I could cut some more time off and maybe gain on Jackie a bit. Downhill on Natural Well is tough, lots of big drops and slippery rocks that can really take a toll of your quads and hamstrings. I complain every year that if I was a little bit taller, I wouldn’t be annoyed by this section nearly as much. I ran into Yong Kim and then Martin on slush mile as I went, and I was elated when I hit the Rest Shelter climb. Get to the last aid station at the top and then you are home free. I wish I had had a little more energy to run more parts of this climb, but I think I made good time - according to Strava I did PR the section so I’ll take it. I chugged a cup of Coke at the top - promptly threw it up on near an aid station volunteer (you all are AMAZING and I love you) and took off like I was running from the cops. Oh, the speed you can find when you really want to beat your husband in a race…
I made the turn for the finish line with a huge PR - 4:44. Four minutes back from Jackie who gets closer to the course record every year. Luke was only a few minutes behind me with a PR of his own - good enough for 3rd in his age group in a hugely competitive men’s year. We were 9th and 10th overall and I don’t think much would have made us happier.
We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon up at the Lodge before regrouping at the house for some amazing vegan chili courtesy of Chef Jeff - which we promptly covered in sour cream and cheese because we’re animals. All told, it was an amazing weekend - I’m so glad I didn’t back out of this race. Huntsville Track Club and Fleet Feet put on a first class event, with supah cool swag and its only a few minutes from our house! Next year, call ahead and we’ll bunk as many people as we can to test out the Mist
Shoes - I've been partial to the Saucony Peregrines of course, but the mud of the Mist course is legendary. I went with the TrailRoc 270 Inov8s, a lot less cushion but it was worth it for the sticky rubber and mud-shed-ability.
Gear - Saucony Bullet Tight Shorts, Lulu Swiftly Tee, and Swiftwicks on my toeseys.
Pack - As always the Nathan VaporHowe 4L, with a 1/2 full bladder it holds enough that I only stopped at aid stations to chug Coke and I didn't feel weighed down. I really need to reorder this in a size that fits...
Nutrition - Tailwind Nutrition in the pack, and a pack of Honey Stinger Strawberry Chews that came in handy during the longer climbs.
Luke Hough & Liz Canty
Liz Canty and Luke Hough. Co-habitants who like to run, race, explore and drink much too expensive beer. Read along through the awesome, the sweaty, the daily life and the occasional bickering over which running shoes are the best…