Mountain Mist 2007
First off, you’ll think that I am making this up but every last word of it is true.
Confined to an inner-city hotel and far too many work-related responsibilities to even go into, I had not run a step for the 6 days preceding the event. Having toed the line at Mountain Mist – “Alabama’s Toughest Trail Run” – on 4 prior occasions, I knew that it was the so-called “real deal” and felt that the break would not do me any harm. It was contrary to my way of doing things, i.e., to run basically up to the event, but again – I didn’t mind. In fact, I really had no choice for the work stuff had just left me in no mood to wander out the door in the evenings and the hotel treadmill had no appeal.
I awoke on the Friday morning before the race and wandered down the stairs to breakfast. “Darn, my hip sure is sore. What’s that all about?” I figured it must be some sort of psychosomatic thing, as I was a bit more stressed about the upcoming 31 miles on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville than I normally am. I also knew that once or twice in the past I had experienced similar symptoms after a long layoff from running. My body seems to fare best on a steady diet of mileage, and maybe it was just hungry.
On Friday evening I arrived in Huntsville and the pain persisted. On top of that, I was moody and grumpy and really wanted no part of any pre-race company. Having to deal with a classroom of students and co-instructors for the last 2 weeks had left me in an anti-social mood. I went to the pre-race packet pickup, grabbed my bag, and gave away my dinner ticket. A Subway sandwich would suit me far better; peace and quiet was the ambiance I was looking for. All night before the run I tossed and turned as usual, but this time whenever I rolled over, my hip hurt. My attempts to massage out the pain and tightness were to no avail. This sucker was genuinely painful and troubling.
I woke up on race morning and paced around the room and even stretched (horror of horrors!!!) to try and alleviate the pain. No help. I drove out to the race start and walked a mile or so, hoping it would loosen up and that the pain would abate. No such luck. I tried jogging a bit and the pain only increased. I thought that there was no way I could run the 31 miles that Mist demands, but that since I was here, I would hike a bit and maybe ride the bike that happened to be in the back of the truck before heading back to Atlanta. About a half hour before the start I decided to gulp 3 ibuprofen, with the hope that it would deaden the pain. As a general rule, Vitamin I will bring instant relief to what ails me, but not this time. Susan Lance was there, and diagnosed my pain as “periformis” and had me lie on the cold pavement in the parking lot and try some stretches. I did so and found no relief.
As the other runners began to assemble for the start, I was there amongst them, thinking I would give it a shot and see how much I could endure. The first mile was bad, as my right leg was just basically dragging along and I was truly a one-legged runner. Fortunately, the first mile was on pavement, so I could just drag it along for the ride. As we turned onto the single track I noted that it didn’t hurt as badly as it had at the start, and it seemed to abate with each step. Running at an easy pace with Jeff Bryan, Susan Lance, and Prince Whatley, I was OK and got better and better. By mile 5 when Jeff asked how my hip was, I told him that the pain was gone.
I am becoming more and more convinced that running cures injuries. I’m sure that there are a number of injuries that that cannot be thrown into the category, but those that are related to aging and tendonitis certainly seem to respond to increased blood flow and activity.
Once the pain was gone, I was going to be satisfied with whatever Mountain Mist had to offer. I didn’t care if I ran 5:30 or 7:30; I was going to get to the finish. It is strange, and maybe it is my feeble memory, but a year tends to make me forget what this race has to offer. At mile 21 I was thinking, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.” I had forgotten what the last 10 miles had to offer. The first treat is the mile long Waterline Trail which gives you a couple of chances to climb on your hands and knees along a waterfall and over a steep rocky ridge. It is easy to feel defeated at that point, but then the course levels out a bit, and though rock-strewn, allows the runner to think that maybe they can finish without lasting harm. At mile 27, that thought is removed once and for all. Feeling depleted from the strenuous miles, you are then called to go up a series of steep switchbacks for the next mile and a half to the 29 mile aid station. I arrived at that point, as I always do, wondering how I was ever going to finish. I managed the last 2 miles, but barely. It is very curious. The first year that Dana and I ran this thing he fell 3 times in those last 2 miles. Last year I did the same. This year I was determined to stay upright and found myself on the ground another 3 times in that stretch – twice in the last 200 yards. It isn’t like this is technical running either. In fact, outside of the first half mile of pavement, it is the easiest part of the whole run except for the fact that your legs have nothing left in them after 29 miles of rocks and mud and punishing uphills. It is just amazing to me just how depleted you can get and can find yourself totally unable to lift your feet enough to avoid even the smallest root or stone.
I dragged myself across the line in 5:47:08, good enough for 5th in the Senior Men’s (50-59) Division.
On a day when the story is generally the horrid weather conditions that seem to set in on Monte Sano concurrent with the running of Mountain Mist, the story was anything but that. The weather was perfect with a 35 degree start and an afternoon high overcast that kept the temperatures near 50 by early afternoon. My day will forever be defined by the fact that my day went from looking so bleak in the pre-dawn darkness to being one of success – which any finish at Mountain Mist truly is.