Endurance is defined as, “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way”. This past weekend, I completed Mountain Mist 50K. I have heard competitors say it is the hardest event they have ever done. I am certain it is one of the most challenging things I have ever dared do, especially with limited training. However, the conditions couldn’t have been better and the trails called my name!
The first half of the race is challenging, but nothing special in comparison to many other trail races in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Twist and turns, ups and downs. I set a conservative pace but still pushed myself. Mountain Mist has strict cut off times. I didn’t want to lollygag and miss the fun at the end of the race. The first quarter of the race is mostly downhill. But the last quarter is mostly uphill, straight uphill. At mile 6.4 I was happy to see aid station #1 and friendly faces. I discarded my ski cap and gloves. The temperature was in the mid-thirties so I kept my sleeves for a bit longer.
Volunteers are an important role in any race. But seeing friendly faces who are kind and compassionate are vital in endurance sports. Volunteering is often more difficult and draining than people think. I am very thankful for those caring souls. I knew someone at each aid station. Jen Cox had her MSU cowbell on the course. She let me ring the darn thing! Volunteers are great. I make it a practice to volunteer for events like Mountain Mist to get the courage to sign up. Thanks friends!
By the time I arrived at mile 16.9, aid station #3 at Fearn Drive, I was fixating on time. I arrived roughly thirteen minutes before the cut off. Friendly faces hustled me through the aid station. Many Mountain Mist veterans advised me there is no loitering at aid stations. Relentless forward motion or I wouldn’t finish! A runner from Tennessee who hadn’t seen the course kept saying, “the back half is hard, how can it get harder”. I prayed for her and me as I shuffled along the trail.
I hadn’t run all the trails but I knew what was ahead of me and I had to keep trucking. Anytime I could keep pace with a fellow runner, I would take the companionship and conversation. It was gold to my mental state. Any helpful hints, words of encouragement or smiles along the way were valuable. The trails I had run were comforting. Just knowing where the heck I was meant a lot. Once I made it to aid station #4, I knew the hard part was approaching quickly. Time to get a handful of extra calories and water for the climb up Waterline.
Every scary story about Mountain Mist included the trek up Waterline. Waterline is more than trail running. Waterline is more than an incline. Waterline and the climbing up the side of a limestone gorge tha tfwill judge what a person is made of. Resilience and grit have been in my vocabulary, my mental fiber, my determined spirit for years. Climbing Waterline would put those ideas to test. Step by step, hand over hand and one foot over another, I inched my way up the monster incline. I focused intently on all the people above me. I convinced myself, that I would be where they were soon. And eventually, I was at the top and headed for the last big cutoff.
I was still trying to catch my breath and recover my legs as I approached aid station #5 at mile 25.1. I saw many friends and spectators anxiously waiting for their runner. It was like the baseball team from Field of Dreams coming out of the corn, but it was random people clad in Patagonia apparel appearing out of no where as I shuffled to the last major cutoff. People were throwing out time and distance to the aid station, but all I could do was shuffle. As soon as, I recognized the aid station and I heard the piercing sound of a horn. “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN”, I shouted frantically. The horn represented the fifteen minute mark until the six hour and thirty minute cutoff. I meander through the aid station, channeling the Little Engine that Could! I still had one good climb a head of me, then a sip of beer and a short jog to the finish line. I think I can… I think I can… I think I can!
Honestly, I didn’t have much steam left. I was doing well keeping a good pace, but after making the last major cut off I was like the work horse headed to the barn at the end of plowing the fields. The day was beautiful but long. All I could do was soak in what was left of the trail. I was on the McKay Hollow Trail. It was almost like I was home because I had more experience on this trail.
The closer I got, the more I reflected on the trail, the limited mud, the limestone and the monster climb. My physical and emotional fuel tank was empty. I knew at the top of the hill, I could enjoy a sip of beer and a few calories to help with the tired body. The added companionship of a local runner and a runner from Georgia would make the short run from aid station #6 and the finish line enjoyable.
All I wanted to do was finish, to endure. Mountain Mist is one of the toughest things I have ever done. I would stay it is much tougher than any obstacle, mud or trail run. Spartan and Tough Mudder races can not compare in toughness. I am sure if the trail condition were similar to past years, I wouldn’t have completed the 31 mile trek. Mountain Mist has been known for thick mud, rain, snow, sleet and extreme cold temperatures. The 2017 version of Mountain Mist had perfect conditions with warm temperatures and minimal mud. The conditions were great but the course was still the same… it was hard. I am thankful it wasn’t any harder.