Mystery Mountain Marathon, October 9, 2016

 

This was a hard one.  Well, all of them are hard, actually, but it does seem like some are harder than others.  Sometimes it’s just not our day.  Maybe we are tired, our nutrition might be off, our mind isn’t quite with it, or for whatever reason the run just seems like such a struggle.  We can try to just enjoy a beautiful day for running and some beautiful scenery, but it’s hard to enjoy that while our head is focused down on the trail.

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Fort Mountain, Chatsworth, GA

I had a goal, a plan.  I even shared it out loud.  Normally I don’t share a goal.  It’s like bad luck – I might jinx myself or something.  But there you go, I said it out loud – I really wanted a sub 6 hr finish.  This would be my third time running this race.  It’s 26 miles with 7,000 ft of elevation gain, lots of single track technical trails (my favorite), long stretches of rocky fire roads and some gnarly downhill sections.  Previously, my best time was 6:16 and each time I’ve run it, I’ve also been the Grand Masters Female 1st Place Finisher.  This year I have been training with a coach and felt like I was stronger and had a good chance of reaching my goal.  I also asked a couple of my running friends, Bill and Loren, if they would pace me.   I knew with a little push, I could stay running on sections I had walked in previous years, and that should help me reach my goal.

Promptly at 8am, the race started with a bang, literally from a cannon.  Like most races it started out on a short road section before entering the trails, then within a mile or so the trail narrows to some single track and very technical sections.  This is my favorite part of the course, but today it took me several miles before I felt like I really settled into a comfortable pace and run.  I know I’d pushed myself up to the front a little more than normal and was running strong with my two friends, Loren in front setting the pace and Bill just a few steps behind me.  We all stayed together and pushed through nearly 5 miles of trails before Bill took the lead and moved further ahead.  He had been struggling with stomach issues all week and I knew he was not feeling great, so I was happy to see him push ahead and find his own groove.  I also knew Loren would continue to set a good pace and help me to push even when I didn’t feel like it.

At each aid station, we got an update on how far Bill was ahead of us.  Sometimes it was a couple minutes, and later it was more like 5 or 6 minutes.  He would leave word that he expected us to catch up to him as he continued to struggle with his stomach issues, but he seemed to be having a great race anyway.

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I really was having a good time

Around mile 9 or so, I turned my ankle.  At first, I wasn’t sure just how bad it was, but I was able to walk it off within a few minutes and begin to run pain free again.  It did, however, make me more cautious so I wouldn’t turn it again.  This wasn’t my “A” race and I knew I didn’t want to injure it seriously.  After the mile 10/11 aid station, the fun really began with a steep power line climb and then a downhill that is called the “downhill of despair.”  I guess that should be description enough.  I was hopeful that once we finished the downhill section, the trail would smooth out and the fire roads would not be quite so technical – a little easier running.  But instead, we experienced more rocks and technical sections that made it difficult to settle into a comfortable stride.

Once we went through the next couple of aid stations that seemed to come quickly on the fire roads, we came to what’s known as Conte’s climb.  Most local ultra trail runners and any GUTS Member (Georgia Ultra and Trail Running Society) knows who Franco Conte is.  I’m sure his ears are burning as many of us go up this long climbing section named after him.  The climb isn’t hard because it’s so steep, but because it’s so very long.  Most Georgia runners are used to hills.  We run on them almost daily, and they are usually short and steep.  Long steady climbs that never seem to end are not our specialty, in most cases.  Two weeks earlier, I had been in the Grand Canyon, so this was right up my training tree.  I had this one.  Loren and I were looking forward to reaching  the Last Gasp Aid Station, but it just seemed to take forever.  By the time we got there, I felt I was a little past my Last Gasp.  We caught and passed a few runners here as we headed into the last section of rolling hills with more climbing.  By now, I’m just ready to be done.  Loren pushed us forward and I kept running even when I really wanted to just walk it in to the finish.   I knew I had to keep pushing to stay with him.  He kept track of our time on his watch and let me know we were doing great, but I didn’t really want to know exactly how we were doing.  As long as we were good, that’s all I needed to know.

Soon we were at the top of the power lines, headed down them and into the home stretch.  We both moved as quickly, but carefully, as possible.  We quickly checked in with the aid station crew at the bottom of the hill, and were off around the lake to the finish line.  I told Loren it would take all his strength to push me in, because I was done.  I kept moving forward, trying to finish as strong as I could.

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This was all the push I had left in me

I wish I would have been smiling as I crossed the finish line, because I could not have had more fun.  I got to run on a beautiful course with absolutely perfect running weather, and I spent time with a couple of my favorite runners.  But I was spent.  I gave it all I had that day.  Maybe on a different day it would have been more.

It took a couple of days before I realized I did reach some of my goals.  I did get a PR on the course by 9 minutes, finishing in a time of 6:07, and I was once again the Grand Masters Female 1st Place Finisher!

 

Where It All Started

I guess we all have a story, never did I think mine was all that interesting. Many times people will ask me, “When did you start running?”, “why did you start running?” or “what’s your story?” These are the same questions I would ask others, my curiosity into their story, their beginning.  The responses I often heard, “I’ve run most of my life,” “I ran in high school or college.” At first those responses immediately intimidated me, and kept me from sharing my story.  The feeling that I don’t belong in the category of “runner,” because I have no back ground or history of being a runner. But we all “have a story” and just like moving to the starting line of a race I put those fears behind me, this is my story to share.

My story starts as a full time mom of 3 kids and basically a couch potato.  Oh I played basketball in junior high and high school, grew up snow and water skiing, rode bikes and was always active outside.  But being a mom and working full time when my two oldest were young, I wasn’t very active.  As the girls got of age, my oldest daughter went off to college and number two was going to follow soon.  Our third child was born in 2001 and at that point I had become a full time stay at home Mom.

Fast forward to 2012, at the age of 48 I was basically overweight and out of shape, then a friend invited me to start hiking with her.  It was also a bonus that I could get my 3 dogs out of the house.  Not to mention that for the first time since living in Georgia, this was an opportunity to begin to explore parks and recreation areas that I’d never been to before.

To expand my hiking opportunities my friend encouraged me to join the Atlanta Outdoor Club (AOC), a club focused on hiking and other outdoor activities.  I was welcomed and inspired by so many outdoor enthusiasts in the AOC.  Soon I was joining faster fitness hikes and I began to really enjoy the challenge of trying to keep up with the fast pace hikers and was even starting to jog to keep up.  These weekly hikes became a 5 1/2 mile jog for me.  Next my friend asked me if I wanted to run the Peachtree Road Race.  I had never done anything like that, but living in Atlanta for over 20 years, I knew it was biggest 10K event around with 60,000 participants.  I immediately said I would, figuring running a 10K (6.2 miles) couldn’t be that much tougher than my 5 1/2  mile fast hikes.  I could at least finish it, plus I’m always willing to try most anything at least once. So in 2012 running the Peachtree Road Race was my first race ever.

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My daughter Katie and I right after my first Peachtree Road Race

Before long I signed up for other 5 and 10K races as well as running often with another friend who I met in the AOC who was a more experienced runner.  As a beginner and having no fitness back ground I started signing up for weekly trail runs with the AOC to build a base.  These runners did more than just run with me, they waited on me, they supported me, encouraged me,  and taught me that I could do whatever wanted to do.  I was slow at first so after one of my first runs with the group I began to bring my dog Summer, an Italian Greyhound, for company.  She’s still my best running buddy and joins me on all my training runs up to 30 miles and runs a few races with me too.

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On the AOC fitness hikes I met Stacey who became and still is a good friend. Stacey was a runner and really wanted me to do a half marathon with her. That seemed like a long ways from the 5 or 6 miles I had gotten used to running but as I said, “I’m willing to try anything at least once.”  However, others had cautioned me to train and not just jump into it like I had done with the Peachtree Road Race.  So we agreed on the Georgia Publix Half Marathon in March of 2013, and I began to train for the longer distance.

While training for the half marathon, Stacey asked me about running a marathon.  At this point I wasn’t sure I could do a half marathon and I’d never even thought of running a marathon.  A marathon wasn’t even on my radar.  By now Stacey and I were close enough friends that I knew her background.  You see Stacey was a breast cancer survivor of 10 years.  She was a young, single mom when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy, chemo and several additional surgeries.  She had turned to running during her recovery.  Running a marathon was a bucket list item for Stacey and I knew immediately if she could go through all that, I could run 26.2 miles for her.   We signed up for the October 2013 Chicago Marathon and spent the summer and fall training.  We had the best time running together and a great first marathon experience.  She will always be my initial inspiration for running a marathon and continues inspires me as a friend and cancer survivor!

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Stacey & I before the Chicago Marathon

Would I run another marathon?  The first marathon I ran for Stacey but I felt like I wanted to run another for me. A tough question with a passionate response…”YES”.  Two weeks later I upgraded an Atlanta Track Club 10 mile race to the Atlanta Marathon.

After two more road marathons in early 2014 I finally did my first trail marathon.  The trails are where I began to run and enjoyed most of my training runs.  The feeling of running through the woods, the challenge of climbing the mountains and the technical nature of the trails really developed my passion for trail running.  The community I found during that first trail marathon hooked me.  The trails are where I truly enjoy and love to run.

Now that trail running had become my happy place, a month later I did my first 50K, an Ultra Marathon (any distance longer than 26.2 miles is considered an Ultra Marathon). Again I thought it would be one of my “try something once and done” type things.  But now the trails had become my love and the distance was an enjoyable challenge.

Soon with some encouragement from another running friend I began a quest to run a 100 mile race.  Not only was this something way out of my wheel house, I had never even heard of it before.  But the challenge was something that excited me.  How could a middle-aged mother of 3 who didn’t even start running until the age of 48 begin to consider such a thing?  So this is my journey.

I am an ordinary woman, wife and mother. My faith and family are of most importance to me on this journey that I am embracing. A journey that takes me through the good, the bad and the difficult, the ups and the downs along the way, and what keeps me going.

A trail running mom on the path to run 100 miler! I truly believe that EVERY STEP IS A BLESSING! Posting and sharing little bits of trail wisdom as I go!

 

 

 

 

Mystery Mountain Marathon, October 12, 2014

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Leading up to the Mystery Mountain Marathon and 12 miler put on by #GUTS, I think I was feeling pretty good.  I had recently done a very challenging hike in the North Georgia Mountains doing 3 peaks and a total elevation gain of 5700 feet. I felt prepared and ready for the challenge.  I had ever been to Fort Mountain, but felt like I could handle the climbs.

 

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It might be important to add here that I drove up in the rain and some heavy fog . It had been raining all night there at the park and the trails were muddy and wet.

My plan was just to begin in the middle of the pack and go at an easy pace.  I gathered at the start line with several other friends I knew and chatted with them before the gun.  A pretty normal start with a few hundred yards on the paved road before dropping into the trail which quickly started on a single track and at times very technical trail for probably 9 miles. 

You can prepare for some things before a race such as training, before race food, clothing and such, but some things you just can’t always prepare for.  As a trail runner you learn to adjust to the unexpected things that some up.  Around a mile and a half into the run, a yellow jacket flew into my face and stung me on the eye.  Yellow jackets are known to be vicious this time of year and don’t really appreciate several hundred runners disturbing them, go figure!  Just as we came up to mile 3, there was a photographer at the top of a small set of rocks that informed everyone that there were yellow jackets just around the turn.  I ran through the Yellow Jacket nest with a couple of other guys, everyone got multiple stings.  Luckily that would be the end of the yellow jackets on the course.

View from the beginning of the powerline climb
View from the beginning of the power line climb

Around mile 10 the course turned to go up some very steep power lines.  To stop and look up to the top was an almost overwhelming view, but the look back from the top would add the satisfaction of accomplishment.  On to some wicked downhill that was nearly as steep as the climb up but not a straight line.  Once dropping out of the power line area it was on to around 7 miles or so of fire roads.  Sounds like the easy part of the run, but heavy gravel fire roads are not usually what trail runners call fun.  Sounds of water falls and some beautiful scenery gave way to the long fire road section that included constant hill climbs as well.

Beautiful waterfall along fire road. We loved the sound of water while we were running.
Beautiful waterfall along fire road. We loved the sound of water while we were running.

One thing we were prepped on about the course was that around mile 20 we could expect a serious hill climb.  As promised that hill would turn out to be everything we were told it was.  It was very long, and steep at times, a hill you were certain couldn’t keep going up but it did.  Once to the top it would prove not to be the final hill by far.  Finally the last major aid station with 4.9 miles to go.  At this point everyone was just looking for some flat or down hill to start running again.  A few rolling hills before another good climb back to the top of the power lines (gee this looks familiar), yep down we go.  Finally to the bottom with some cheering volunteers to encourage us along, the last mile or so looping around the lake and back to the finish were we started.  It was not an easy run for sure.  I was with others for most of the run, few and fewer near the end.  But while several runners were pulled from the course because of missing cut off times, or dropping; I finished!  Every step is truly a blessing. The Mystery Mountain Marathon was very well run by GUTS race director, Kim Pike. The volunteers were so supportive and helped me get through this tough race.

Overlook from last miles of MMM.
Overlook from last miles of MMM.

Grandfather Mountain Marathon, July 12, 2014

My training leading up to Yeti Snakebite 50k included Grandfather Mountain Marathon in Boone, NC. If you are unfamiliar with this marathon, it’s 26.2 miles of mostly uphill. The cut off time for it is 6 hours. I had signed up initially with our friend Tom, and then my friend Laura wanted to join the “fun”! We trained by running extremely hilly road courses to prepare ourselves. Our goal was to finish in 6 hours and have the finish line still up when we crossed. A short run on the Appalachian State campus the night before the race to stretch our legs proved to us that this would be no easy task. We may have taken on more than we were ready for.

Grandfather Mountain Marathon

We met up with other Marathon Maniacs (www.marathonmaniacs.com) on the Football Field at App State for the 6:30am start for GMM. We began our race chatting with several other runners along the first few miles. We settled into a comfortable pace a few miles in, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way and taking pictures as we went. By the half way point, we were at 2:22 hr mark, it was now obvious we could reach our goal and even surpass it. It was a huge boost to my spirits when I came in at 4:49 and Laura just 5 minutes later. For us a huge accomplishment but not really a race we wanted to repeat anytime soon.

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Laura crossed the finish line with a herd of sheep! The race ends at the top of the mountain in a Scottish Festival!