It has been a few weeks since I have written up my experiences with my attempt at tackling my first marathon, The Mystery Mountain Marathon. The Mystery Mountain Marathon is an ultra technical trail marathon hosted at Fort Mountain State park, with roughly 15,000 feet of vertical change. Orignally my plan was to run my 50k in November as my first greater than 13 mile race, but later changed my mind when I discovered this super hard race.
Being a slower runner, cutoffs are always a concern. This race provided a huge challenge in the form of the first cutoff requiring me to finish 11 miles in 3.5 hours. Earlier this year I finished a trail half marathon in under four hours and figured I might be ok with the races cutoff, later I realized the technicality of the trail made this point difficult and would prove to be my undoing in this race.
When I mention to other runners that I am slow, most figure slow is relative to a typical back of the pack pace. For me I am even slower than that though and often get passed by other runners that define themselves as tortoises. Previous runs on the first eleven miles of the race course proved slow and challenging and on one perfect day I was able to make the cutoff. It was then I got worried, the only way I was able to make the cutoff was to have a perfect day on race day, otherwise my super slow pace would have me finishing the twelve mile race instead of the marathon.
Night Before the Race
As this race was being held at a state park, the race director set aside a primitive campsite for those of us that wanted to stay over and camp. Additionally there was a get together and pasta dinner provided at packet pickup that night. I just relaxed and enjoyed the food, including a desert of dippable chocolate with pretzels and other I talked with some friends and tried to calm my nerves about the following day’s race. I knew I could run the distance, but the time really worried me.
That night I had a very comfortable sleep in my tent. About half way through the night the sky opened up and it began to rain hard. I stayed dry but worried about the effects of the rain on the trails, many of them would now be slippery and more difficult to traverse. As I slept I felt some dread about the transformation I knew the course was undergoing.
Race Day: Everything Falls Apart
I got myself up early, before the sun came out and it was still raining. while there was a break in the rain I boiled some water and made myself some coffee. The primitive camping site had two shelters so I decided to have my breakfast under them so I could eat and be dry. Just as I got my stuff gathered up one last torrential downpour kicked in and by the time I got to the shelter I was soaked. Still in good spirits I ate my breakfast and had my coffee.
Eventually the rain stopped and the sun came up. I packed up my tent site and headed to the race start. I let myself get caught up in the commotion of ultra race starts, talking and chatting with every one. Unlike road races, ultra trail races are more akin to giant social gatherings. Eventually I had to get all my stuff together and so I began to prepare for the day.
As eight rolled around everyone lined up in the parking lot and soon we were off. The first quarter mile was ran through the parking lot and onto the flat lake loop trail. I was pumped and excited, I was really doing it, I was running in a super difficult trail marathon. The beginning of the pack pulled away and began to fade from view as I made my way onto the lake trail. I was at the very back and the next slowest runner was only a bit ahead. Suddenly my toe caught on something and I went down hard. Less than a quarter mile into the race and I had already fallen. I picked myself up and realized everything was ok, besides a bruised palm and some scrapes. I continued on and tried to push the easy mile to buy some time for the tougher trails that would come later.
After a mile the lake trail was replaced by the Gahuti Trail and the true race had begun. This was a super technical rock strewn trail that occasionally would disappear as rain washed it away. I pushed hard so I could make the cutoff time and eventually caught up with some of the other slower runners. I stuck to a 3 minute run to one minute walk ratio and primarily walked the hills. Because of the rain the night before the muddy slanted trails often proved difficult to traverse and I slipped too many times on the wet rocks.
Eventually I finished the first four miles and it was time to start climbing to the tower. This trail was not too difficult, just a tad bit steep. I found on the climbs, my power walk often was more of an amble and the runners I passed earlier now easily pushed themselves up the hills. At one point a volunteer pointed out there were yellow jackets in a rock near the ground ahead and to be careful. The trail narrowed and we formed a single file line as we completed this section of trail. Suddenly the woman in front of me started to get stung and she pushed forwarard. I figured she would keep moving so me and the person behind me would not get stung, instead she came to a dead stop, leaving me right in the middle of the nest. I forced her forward and then worked to remove stingers from my legs.
After this episode I pushed the final hill slowly to the top of the mountain we were climbing and began going down , beginning the middle of the first eleven miles of the race trail. I continued to work on my 3:1 run to walk ratio, but found I was beginning to feel a depletion of energy, I had stupidly discontinued my fueling regiment I had practiced. Unlike my test runs, I walked every uphill and tried to push the downhills. In practice I ran the moderate uphills, but I just did not have the same energy. eventually I came to the front entrance, I wolfed down some PB&J sandwiches, munched down on some moon pies and pushed on. I was feeling better and had more energy, but looking at my watch I realized my day was probably going to be over at the cutoff and I would have to accept completion of the twelve mile course.
I did not let up and continued to push for the eleven mile cutoff. As I got there I realized I was fifteen minutes behind the cutoff and my day was over. The race director let me finish with the twelve mile race and as I went across I felt a wave of disappointment. This was not how I wanted the day to end. I knew from my training that I could run 25 miles, just not in the required 8 hours this race required. I still got a cool hand made finisher’s medal (actually ceramic) . I hung out for a bit, letting the medic look over the gash I had acquired on the back of my right ankle caused from a sharp rock that rolled into it, creating a good sized cut that was already infected by the layers of mud.
Its not all doom and Gloom
I signed up for this race hoping I could finish the marathon distance. Besides that I figured it would help to give me further guidance on what I would need to prepare for on my 50k race day. There were situations that training could not replicate that only racing could.
- Stick to my nutritional plan – I found later that I still had way too much calorie treated water in my hydration bladder and I had taken fewer calories than I had trained with.
- Do not go out too fast – I think I pushed too hard at the beginning and I quickly wore myself out, making me slower later in the race.
- Run smaller hills – not much more to add to this
- Train without the run/walk breaks – On long runs I think I need the run walk breaks. But on my shorter runs I think including them is hampering my ability to continue to improve my speed and pacing. I am not looking to be blazing fast, I just would like to keep up with the other slow runners.
- Don’t fall as much – not much I can do here, but though I would include it.
Overall it was a great experience, just too few miles. I was let down a bit, but I knew I might not make the cutoffs. The good thing is that this experience has given me positive insights that I believe will allow me to readjust my training and hopefully improve as a runner. while I initially felt a bit down by this race, I knew I could not dwell too long as I had Ragnar Tennessee and my November 50k to push for. In the end I just had to accept that it was not my day, but there will be others. Til next time.