Mountain Mess


Gary Griffin,


Somehow, I thought that we had paid our dues this time. We had somehow wronged the running gods but we had repented and all was well. First off, the ultra down at Wakulla Springs had been run in just about the nastiest conditions that most of us had ever dealt with for an extended period. An all-day rain and temperatures in the 40s left us pretty well numbed. Several weeks later the most intense cold spell in over 30 years set in and we ran a 5K out at Innovation Park with a start temperature of 23 degrees. The following week we thawed out a bit but showed up at Bradley’s Store off Old Centerville Road for the 30K and the old dirt road had become the old muddy road and well …. you know what an adventure that was. It was wonderful in all regards because it is the beloved 30K and a tough, tough race but the elements that were encountered that day did add a bit of high drama to the whole affair. Afterwards I was telling Vince Molosky (who ran off and left the group in winning that race for the third consecutive year) that we had paid our dues. “Next Saturday,” I said, “we are going to have some really nice weather up on Monte Sano for Mountain Mist.” What was I thinking? Yes, the extended forecast called for temperatures in the 40s and 50s (unheard of at Mountain Mist!) and no rain. I know. I know. The web site has this disclaimer:

Conditions: Expect anything…including cancellation due to inclement weather (the mountain can ice over)! This course consists of extremely rocky mountain trails, mud, and creek crossings – not to mention the 3526 feet of climbing!

This was going to be one of those rare years at Mountain Mist because we down here in Tallahassee had taken one for the team. We had run through some bad stuff for the past 6 weeks and now the GWTC contingent bound for MM was going to reap the benefits of that. Yessirree!!! Bring on Mountain Mist!

As the week progressed, the forecast held. Start temps in the 40s and highs near 55 and overcast, and can you spell perfect running conditions? Oh, did it rain a bit in Tallahassee on Thursday before the race? Sure, homes in my old neighborhood that had never had water in them in over 25 years did so that day but we’re a zillion miles from Huntsville, Alabama and it probably never rained a drop up there. Before Vince, Ed Baggett and I piled into the car on Friday morning for the 7 hour journey, Ed and I were giving Vince a good deal of grief for being so fortunate as to be seeing Mountain Mist as few see it, i.e., sedate. You see, Dana Stetson and I first went up there in 1999 and we couldn’t sleep for the tornado sirens blasting all night long and the pouring rain. (We even called Dominoes to get a pizza brought to our room and were asked, “Are you crazy? We don’t deliver in this!” So much for advertising.) The next morning we thought there was no way we would run, and they didn’t bat an eyelash before sending us off into the woods. Jeff Bryan and I pulled into the host hotel back in about ’04 and noticed smatterings of snow on the ground. No big deal, we thought. The next morning as we drove up the mountain we broke into an impromptu chorus of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” for there was snow everywhere! We won’t run in this, will we? That was about as dumb as asking Dominoes to bring Dana and I the pizza, I suppose. Yes, we ran and we slipped on ice and had a blast. Jeff then somehow convinced Hobson Fulmer to join the party the next year and by the grace of God, I was injured. Hobson and Jeff have not spoken since and if a friend of mine did that to me I wouldn’t be speaking to him either. They ran the entire race through mud and sleet and freezing rain, and from what I hear it was pretty bad. Yep. Even by Mountain Mist standards it was nasty. Last year David Yon joined us for the Huntsville pilgrimage and outside of the sleet at the start and the fact that it was probably in the 30s and 40s most of the day, it wasn’t life-threatening or anything. In fact, 2009 was a pretty good year to be up on that hilltop outside of Huntsville. But that’s all history. 2010 was here and we had paid our dues and the forecasters were calling for great running temperatures and no rain and by golly, here comes the Gulf Winds team! Vince and Ed and I, along with Jeff and JoLena Pace. Jeff was going for his 8th finish and I for my 7th, and hopes were high.

I don’t recall who said it first – Ed, I think. “Did you hear about the tornado in Huntsville last night?” he asked as we headed up the I-10 on ramp. You’re dreaming Ed, I told him. I watched The Weather Channel and I watched that front go through Huntsville with not a drop of precipitation or any problems, and besides, I was a Meteorology major at FSU back when we used slide rules and we’re in for a great day, and furthermore – we’ve paid our dues, son. We are going to have some sweet, sweet running conditions up on that hilltop!

As we ventured northward it was good and wet in south Alabama but that was OK because we were running in north Alabama and sure enough, by the time we got up to Huntsville there was no water in the medians and life was good. We drove up to the start/finish and although it looked a bit soggy, no to worry, we thought. It’ll be good.

When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?

In summary, it was a mud bath from the very start. Oh, you ran up about a half mile of pavement before hitting the single tracks and the pavement was OK but once you left the old slab of tar things went south quick like. Vince got off easy as he took off like he stole something and ran with the leaders all day, doing us all extremely proud. He finished 11th overall and ran 4:49:57 but there’s no doubt that his feet hit the ground enough to churn up the mud for Ed, Jeff, JoLena and I, because by the time us slow pokes got out there a few miles it was a royal quagmire and it never let up. Ed loves that stuff but he’s a former Army Ranger and he’s never been quite right anyway. Jeff and JoLena can put up with most anything, although by the time I came upon Jeff at mile 17 he wasn’t in the best of moods. Neither was I.

You see, back in ’99 when Dana and I first made our way through this 31 mile adventure, the web site had some sort of posting that suggested that “those aged 60 and over should seriously consider the hazards of this race.” I remember telling Dana at the time that I was really going to show them when I got to be 60. In retrospect, one should not talk that way when they’re 50 and the goal event is 10 years down the road. Having said that, I went to Huntsville this year fully confident that I was going to make my way around that course and come out at the other end with all appendages intact and walk off with my dignity. But – like I said a bit ago, by the time we hit mile 17 I was not having all that good a time. The relentless mud had dashed my goals of a sub-5:45 finish and all I cared about was seeing the finish line. Yet, as Mountain Mist vets will tell you, the 17-mile aid station is the halfway point. Thankfully, it was at that point that I encountered Jeff Bryan. Jeff’s a veteran of some tough races and I’ve seen him fight through some nasty patches over the years, and his ultrarunning resume attests to his fortitude. He doesn’t back away from a bad day or a nasty course and on this day he was the antidote to my mud headache. Together, we made our way through those last 14 miles, just as Ed and JoLena did with the help of those who sustained them on this horribly difficult day on Monte Sano. A Mountain Mist finish is something to remember on any day, but this year’s mud fest made it extra special. The often ankle deep mud and the slick rocks on the treacherous downhill segments made this one a cut above in my book, and the fact that Vince Molosky hammered his way through the 50K in under 5 hours (one of only 17 to do so in a starting field of nearly 300) attests to his guts and trailrunning prowess. Last year, David Yon came up here and won the Grandmasters title against a stellar field. Vince excelled in a similar fashion this year. His performance was even more impressive when you realize that of the 10 who finished ahead of him, 7 were from the Huntsville area and live and train on those trails. Course familiarity is a huge benefit at any trail run but particularly at Mountain Mist.

So, hats off to Vince for leading the GWTC charge. And, hats off to the running gods who always keep us guessing about Mountain Mist. When they say “expect anything,” they mean exactly that. But I thought that we had paid our dues ….

GWTC Runners Mountain Mist 50K Finishing Times – January 23, 2010

Vince Molosky 4:49:57 (11th OA)

Jeff Bryan 6:21:04

Gary Griffin 6:21:05 (2nd AG)

Ed Baggett 6:58:13

Jo Lena Pace 7:44:31