4 Saturdays Until Mountain Mist

mmistskeletonI started trail running before Christmas 2011. Since my trail season starts in the Fall and ends in the Spring, this is my fourth trail running season. If you’re a trail runner in the Rocket City you can’t help but think about our most renowned local trail race: Mountain Mist 50K. So, FOUR trail seasons I’ve been thinking about that race…and this year I’m finally on board to do it. And I have four more Saturdays left to train.

The first time I ever heard anyone talk about this race was when one of my 13.1 mentors with the Fleet Feet half marathon program was seeking counsel from a coach about the race. She was reminding the coach of her Dizzy Fifties 50K time and was expressing concern about making the cutoffs of Mountain Mist.

(If any of my trail running buddies read that last sentence they would say, “So that explains her obsession with cutoff times…”.)

Cutoff times have always been a concern of mine and I check for them at every race I consider because I avoid them like the plague. I chose my first trail marathon because it had no cutoff time. (It now does, for the record. I like to think my 6:30 finish had something to do with that change.) So, since that was my first reference to the MM50K…discussing cutoff times? I never even considered doing it that year. Not to mention it was a 50K and I hadn’t braved that distance yet. The race day that year was freezing and there had just been a rain so the trails were covered in ice. I remember looking at the pictures the next day on Facebook and having one thought: HELL NO.

Fast forward to Trail Season #2 which was the first season I attempted a 50K. During that Dizzy Fifties 50K I passed a guy from Tennessee who said that he had registered for Mountain Mist 50K, but that they weren’t going to honor his registration until he had a qualifying race. That needed to be a sub 4:40 marathon or one completed 50K. He had signed up for Dizzy to get that 50K since he felt the 4:40 marathon was too far out of reach. He said they told him, “And, keep in mind, if you can’t finish Dizzy Fifties in under 7 hours, you’re going to struggle making cutoff points along the course of MM50K.” So, that was my lesson about speed in MM50K: If I ever wanted to do it, I needed a 4:40 marathon or 7 hour Dizzy. That year my marathon PR was 5:07ish and my Dizzy time was 7:40ish. It was no where on my radar that year…I just didn’t think there was any way I’d be fast enough.

Trail Season #3 rolled around last year and registration for Mountain Mist opened and closed in one day, long before my first marathon or my Dizzy 50K that year. Several people asked me why I didn’t sign up, “There’s no way I’d make the cutoffs. My Dizzy time was 7:40 and my best marathon was 5:07.” Those spots in that race were so cherished I didn’t want to take one up without confidence I could make the cutoffs. Well…as my season progressed I learned something: I had gotten much faster. I did my first Dizzy in under 7 hours (6:48 to be exact) and I PR’d Rocket City Marathon with a 4:38. And all I could think was…DAMMIT. Why didn’t I sign up for Mountain Mist?

I spent a lot of last season “training” for MM50K with my friends who were planning on running it. They were concerned about the cutoff times so I soaked up all of their conversations about it and I poured over trail maps. I made it my goal to do it in 2015, the year I turned 40. But I started training last year, learning the trails and building up confidence on them. There were TONS of runners who had to back out of the race and several of them contacted me about taking their spot. However, last year they did it a little differently. They allowed 100 extra people to sign up knowing those 100 wouldn’t show up on race day…so there was no waiting list. No way I could do the race. I volunteered to work packet pickup that morning and y’all? I brought all of my trail running gear JUST IN CASE someone said to me, “Go ahead.” That’s how much I wanted to run that race last year.

I sat at the finish line for 3 hours cheering my friends on and it just gave me SO MUCH motivation for this year that by the time that race was over, I knew it would be my focus.

And it has been. I signed up for the local “Grand Slam” this year which is 3 50Ks and 1 road marathon. The last race of the series MM50K, so I’ve had to do some training for the other races before I could 100% focus on MM50K, but we are 4 Saturdays away now, and my focus is entirely on that race.

The first cutoff that day is at mile 16.9 and the cutoff time is 4:15. Now, I’ve run enough of these trails now and have timed myself on many of the key portions to know that if I get to that cutoff close to 4:15, I would have to run that back half at my best pace to make the rest of the cutoffs. And I have no desire to have to push it on the back half since that is the hardest half BY FAR. So, my goal is to hit the first cutoff in under 4 hours, ideally in 3:45. I’d love to hit the LAST cutoff at the 25 mile mark in under 6 hours even though I have 6:30.

Basically I’ve reverse engineered my own cutoff times based on how fast or how slow I’ve done certain parts of the course during training. Today I’m doing almost the entire front half of the course and if I want to make my 3:45 goal, I need to average 13:20 minutes per mile. That basically means I need to spend no more than 202 minutes of run time today. (I clock run time as we wait at intersections to regroup. It’s not a perfect reflection of race day, but it gives me an idea.) Last week I did the back half and those run times are what I used to engineer my goal times for the cutoff stations.

To say I’m obsessing about this race would be the understatement of the year. I eat/sleep/drink this race and talk about it to everyone everywhere, every chance I get. And I only have 4 more Saturdays to train.

The main kink in my training is that I have a 50K on 12/31…in the middle of the week…so it kinda thwarts my ability to do full-on-tough training runs the weekend before or the weekend after. That’s why I did the back half last week. I hope to do it again next week, but I’ll be taking it a lot easier since I’ll be 3 days off of a 50K.

But – either way – I’ll be spending the next 28 days prepping for this race that I feel like I’ve been training for since Fall 2011. It will be the culmination of my grand slam and it will finally make feel like a full-fledge Huntsville trail runner. Some people look at this as a One-And-Done type of event…but not me. I feel like this race and I have become best friends over the last four trail season, really getting to know each other. I love this race and I haven’t even toed the start line yet. If I can make it to the finish line this year? It’ll be back again as many years as they’ll have me.

Four more weekends until the Mist. Bring it on, baby.