Mountain Mist was the hardest race I've ever done. Yes, harder than IMLT. Don't think I haven't given that a lot of thought. IMLT took me right at 16.5 hours to complete. It was 28* at the start. My shoulder had been injured for a year. It was at altitude. There was close to 2 miles of elevation gain on the bike. I BARELY made the bike cut off. Over half the run was freezing cold again. I wasn't sure if I could finish it, but really only because I wasn't sure about the bike portion (climbing at altitude was a complete unknown to me). Despite all of that I felt well prepared and I thought I should be able to finish it.
|Grand Slammers "before"|
A couple of days before the race I ran across an article on confidence. He said:
Effective confidence comes from within, it's not the result of external events. You succeed because you've chosen to be confident. It's not really useful to require yourself to be successful before you're able to become confident.It got me to thinking. Confidence that is born OUT of success is not confidence at all, it's pride. The very definition of confidence (Merriam-Webster) is: "a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something"... CAN DO/WILL DO, not did do once. Confidence always looks AHEAD and gives birth to success! That was an epiphany to me. I didn't have to be certain I would finish this race to be confident. But I did need to have confidence to run the race with all I had.
|"Bandit on Board"|
The day before the race it POURED down rain (in fact, I think it rained two days leading up to race day). The night before the race a light dusting of snow covered the mountain. That sounds beautiful, and it was, but it was also a muddy mess. I have never seen that much mud in my LIFE. I was certain I would have nightmares about being swallowed up in a mud pit. But I am getting ahead of myself
The race starts at the Monte Sano Lodge. I was in the back portion of the pack at the start line so the announcer of pre-race instructions sounded more like the teacher in Charlie Brown (wha wa wha wha wa wa). Then I heard the Star Spangled Banner start up. It was pretty cool because the crowd of cold and excited runners quieted down from the front to the back in a wave as we heard the song. At the end the only sound that could be heard were the sweet words of our National Anthem. I love that.
And then the sound of the gun went off and the racers were running...or shuffling as it were until the crowd thinned out a bit. The course has been changed in the last few years to start on the road for a little bit before we head onto a gravel road in the woods. This helps the faster runners get out front where they need to be before the trail narrows. I was taking it nice and easy to start out because I knew I would be out there all day. The girl carrying the peach inside of her was off like a bullet! So much for "you better run off and leave me because I might be going slow to start"!
I can't say I remember too much at the start other than wishing headphones were allowed (they aren't but I sure did see a lot of them out there). I don't usually run with music, but I also don't usually run for 8 hours either! The really unfortunate thing was that I had listened to a catchy song from "Into the Woods" just before getting out of my car and the song snippet that lodged itself into my brain was "I really hate to ask it, but do you have a basket". If you've seen the movie you should know the scene...Little Red Riding Hood is...well, I digress. Trust me when I say it was the most ANNOYING ear worm that I could have had in my head THE ENTIRE EIGHT HOURS I WAS RUNNING!!! Over and over and over again. About once an hour, like the gong of a clock "AGONY, far greater than yours" would intercept (also a song from the musical), but it would quickly be replaced by "I really hate to ask it..."
Just when I thought the song snippet would drive me mad I heard a woman talking behind me to anyone who would listen. Loud. Incessantly. Without breathing. I didn't understand how she could be talking that much without inhaling. I was stuck in a line of runners going down a hill in the mud on a single track of trail. "AGONY, far greater than yours..." I never wanted ear phones so bad on a run. At some point I caught up with some friends but my experience with them was that they would conserve at the beginning and then take off at the end when I was beat down so I didn't want to stay with them. I went into this race believing I would run my own race start to finish so when the trail opened up and we hit the first aid station, I ran straight through it since I was wearing my camelback. I was far ahead of the average pace I needed, but I knew I would lose time later so I was grateful for the cushion.
Before long we were on unfamiliar territory, Powerline. Everyone talked about how muddy it was, but I didn't think it was bad at all. We had a GREAT view of what I found out was MY STREET. I thought back to a time when I was in Officer Candidate School for the Army Guard. I was NOT a runner then. One morning we ran by my house and I made the comment that behind that window was MY BED. I caught a lot of flack for that statement from my TAC officer and had to pay dearly later on because he thought I was saying I wanted to quit. The thought on that day really was "what am I doing here, I could be in BED" but the thought I was having on Powerline as I was looking down on my street was "WOW, I GET TO BE RUNNING UP HERE!!" I loved it. For a brief moment my thoughts were silent as I reveled in the sheer joy of running.
And then we hit K2. "AGONY, far greater than yours....I really hate to ask it but do you have a basket..." I really need to learn to pick my pre-race music better. I chatted with a guy I had met a year ago not long after my surgery. I was still in my sling and he had just had shoulder surgery of his own. Here we were a year later taking on THIS challenge. It dawned on me that my shoulder wasn't even a thought in my mind. Even going up this beast of a hill I had to smile. I am stronger than I was. That is a wonderful thing!
Before I knew it I was at the 2nd aid station. I had just emptied my camel back -right on time- so I refilled with water and my baggie of Tailwind. I was so grateful for the aid station volunteers. They helped me get the pack off my back and then filled it up, emptied the baggy, shook it up and helped me get it back on. I was in and out in a matter of a couple of minutes!
Next section, Stone Cuts. It was in this section I started having what I was hoping was a telepathic conversation with Bilbo (the athlete I coach who was also doing the Grand Slam races). I was reminding her of how far she had come and how she didn't need to be scared of this section and how she didn't need to worry about the other sections that were to come later on. She just needed to keep moving forward and stay on top of the average pace per mile needed to make the cut off. When she didn't telepathically answer back the ear worm song crept back in.
Several times up to this point I had passed and then been passed by an older gentleman who I found out had done MM fifteen times!!! Every time he passed me I was sure I wouldn't see him again, but then I'd catch up and pass him back, sure I would see him again in a little while. Before long we were at the third aid station-the first cut off. I was there in PLENTY of time but I still wouldn't allow myself to think I had it made. At that point I was almost 18 miles in and still had the hardest sections to go. My right IT band had started hurting any time I was going down hill. It wasn't bad, but I knew what was coming up.
About that time I heard someone yell "GO DANA!!!!!" and then I heard a dog barking. It sounded like my daughter but I knew it wasn't her because she had planned to go sky diving that day and we were basically in the middle of the woods. But, as I got closer I realized it WAS MY DAUGHTER and my granddoggie!!!!! She had to look up the race, find the map, navigate all through the woods to find me just to cheer me on. I hugged her neck, patted the dog and kept going...sobbing like a baby! Seeing family on the course when I expect it is amazing. Seeing her out there at that moment gave me such a HUGE boost. I found out later she had tried to find me at the first aid station but she couldn't find that one at all. Then she hiked out to the second one but I had already gone through. All that trouble she went through to see me will probably be one of my all time favorite memories.
As I crossed the road I hear my peach-bearing friend say hi. She was at the aid station feeding her little bandit. I knew we were about to be on her favorite section of trail so she would catch up with me. And that she did. As we were going down Bluffline I was sinking into more and more IT pain as she bounded past me with more energy than she had any right to have at that point! We caught up to two more friends and had a nice chat about how much we didn't like being out there at that particular moment in time. But, what are you going to do at that point? You can't sit down and quit. You have to get out of the woods somehow.
I came into the fourth aid station with my camel back completely dry-perfect timing. The plan was to refill here with a full baggie of Tailwind and then top off at the next station, skipping the last one altogether. Once again there were volunteers there to help me, but the person who filled my pack this time was being careful not to overfill it. Unfortunately it wasn't filled with enough water to make a good mix of the Tailwind (it was WAY to concentrated). I decided it was fine because I probably wouldn't drink as much in the next section as I thought I would since it was the most challenging part of the course.
In short order I was running with my new friend, "Fifteen". We played leap frog for a bit with him passing as we went down hill (because I was in a good bit of pain) and me passing as we went up (because that felt pretty good).
Then we got to Waterline. If there is one reason I wouldn't want to do this race again, this section is it. You climb a hill, cross a stream, then you have to ROCK CLIMB up the side of a mountain. I was thankful for Fifteen being right behind me because he told me which trees to grab on to and where to put my feet.
You know when I said it only hurt going down...this was the exception. It hurt to rock climb too.
I had "run" this section once before, but I didn't remember it being THIS horrible. It felt like I was climbing a cliff. When I FINALLY got to the top, and I was still under the average pace I needed, I allowed myself to smile believing I would certainly make it to the finish before the cut off.
As I came into the last aide station I made the decision to only top off with water because the Tailwind concentration was so high in my pack from the last fill up. That was an error. When the nice volunteer filled it, she filled all the way up. Since I did drink more of the of the concentrated mix than I realized, when the pack was topped off it diluted the mix of Tailwind quite a bit. Thankfully I had a Huma gel with me which I went ahead and took in. I "only" had about 6 miles to go, but they were incredibly TOUGH --MUDDY-- miles.
At first the general trend was uphill so I was able to run and feel good (and even pass quite a few people). But then we hit some (MUDDY) downhill sections that were increasingly PAINFUL. Many of the guys I passed passed me back here, including "Fifteen". I caught up with a friend who I thought would be about done by then. On one uphill section her calfs seized up. While I was struggling going down she was struggling going up. We caught up with another grand-slammer and made a little train until we got to the base of the last up-hill section (Rest Shelter).
There is a bench on this section called "Kathy's Bench". I found out there is a "thing" that once you pass this bench you "must" run the rest of the way. Two friends (one of whom was REALLY sick with a cold/respiratory crud) were sitting, gathering energy to run up the hill. But as our little train neared they decided it was time to move out.
The decision was made to that let that "thing" go and power walk up the hill.
As we got close to the top we could hear the aid station music urging us along. There was an angel from Heaven sitting on the bench at the Rest Shelter who said "only 1.? miles to go!!". That was all I needed (coupled with the familiarity of the next section of flattish trail leading to the finish) to push me right by that last aid station.
My goal was to run in no matter how tired I felt. There was a gal up ahead of me who was doing a walk run interval so I made it my secondary goal to reel her in little by little. Every time she walked I got closer, but every time I got close she ran.
Then I head the sweetest sounds from far away...CHEERS and COW BELL RINGING!!! That sound was as forceful as the pull of winch drawing me in with a power that certainly wasn't coming from my legs. FINALLY after a full day of "I really hate to ask it, but do you have a basket" and "Agony, far greater than yours" I was blessed with another thought, "but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary...they will run and not grow weary...I will RUN and not grow weary...I AM RUNNING and I AM NOT WEARY". All I could do was smile and thank God for giving me this strength, this blessing, to run and not be weary.
Every time I heard the RING and WOOO WHOOO I was filled with energy to get to that finish line. There was one little bit of down hill that I had to gingerly step down, but then it was a sprint to the finish (my average for the race was 15:31...my finishing kick went from 9:30 down to 7:15...it didn't just feel like a sprint, it was a sprint!). I ran across the mat at 7:52:29, right into the open arms of a friend who scooped me up in a big ole bear hug as I cried my eyes out.
As I opened my eyes I saw Bilbo. It took me a couple of seconds to understand what that meant...she didn't finish. My first fear was that she was hurt, but then she told me she didn't make the first cut off and I scooped her up in a big ole bear hug as we cried together. As strong as she is on that day it wasn't quite enough. She wasn't alone, there were 32 starters who didn't finish that day for one reason or another.
|Grand Slammers "After"|
That was the hardest thing I've ever done to this point in my life. I loved it. If I could go ahead and sign up for next year I would. For now I'm focusing on McKay Hollow 25K, and after that IM Chattanooga.
Thanks for stopping in. Now go train!
|My shoes. Nuf said...|