I want to state this before I really get started. Each years trip to Huntsville seems to get better and this one was true to form..... and then some. As much as I love running the race, being up in the mountains all day, being able to share the experience with good people is something that turns a 'good time' into something more memorable. So thanks to Orlando, John and Johnny for being at least as stupid as I am.
As for the race, I learned why the body needs oxygen and a lot of it to maintain 7+ hours of froward momentum (ie. running, walking, crawling and rolling). I started the race slow, Which is my M.O. anyway, reaching the first aid station at 1:10. 3 minutes slower than last year but I knew I was going to have trouble coughing as much as I was. I could also tell that I was short of breath early in the race. Normally I do start breathing hard in the first couple of miles then I guess you would say my lungs catch up with my legs and I find a more sustainable pattern. This day my lungs lagged behind. After running with John for the first 8 or 9 miles of the race in knew I would have to slow down so I let him go (only to find out later I was a splinter in his mind coming out of McKay's Hollow).
Running with John early was fun. Watching his frustration with the runners in front of us kind of tickled me. He was dying to get by and start pounding out miles. I told him not let it get to him, a slow start will help you in the end. I had seen this movie before and knew how it ended. Seeing his enthusiasm though lifted my own spirits, It's amazing how a TRUE positive attitude can infect those around you.
Soon after John got away, just after the power line, I started climbing the switchback trail up K2. Here is where I ran into Orlando. I knew coming into the race of his issues with plantars and tendinitis. He said at the time was not doing well and didn't know if he would finish. I knew he would finish, I think I knew that better than he did. As it turns out he wasn't far behind me at the end of the race. Orlando is a lot of things (and I've called him a lot of things) but the one thing he is certainly not is a quitter. And on a day no one could've blamed him and probably would have encouraged him to drop out, he would not. Orlando once told me that you start a race with your legs and finish with heart. Well Orlando, my friend, showed the heart of a lion.
After passing Orlando I made it to the second aid station about 10 minutes slower than last year. Noticing this made me wish I hadn't worn my watch. I couldn't get last years run out of my head. But that being said I still had a lot of work to do. After leaving #2 I caught Madison, a local guy who had sat at our table during the pasta dinner. We leap frogged each other practically the whole rest of the race. I was still running pretty good (on borrowed time), the terrain was as easy as it gets for this race but when I arrived at the Stone Cuts everything changed.
The Stone Cuts are the first real 'action' you see on the course. About 15 miles in you're coming up on the halfway point. It's one of the more scenic areas of the course, squeezing between rocks and ducking tunnels, it's where the race really starts for me. Also included as you're leaving the area is a complimentary climb to the ridge top (free of charge), this is where I really started to slow down. My cough was getting worse and I know I was not breathing properly. When I finally reached aid station #3 I was very tired so I grabbed a shot glass full of Peanut M&Ms, crossed Fearn Rd. and walked for while.
Mercifully aid station #4 is only about 4 miles from #3 (which took me about an hour and ten minutes to cover). And from #4 you start going down, first on an old rocky railroad bed. Then the rocks get bigger and the descent gets steeper as you drop into the Land Trust. Here the steep grade over large rocks were starting to infuriate my quads (who were letting me know this in no uncertain terms). My legs were already feeling like rubber when the trail started back up toward the Waterline. I walked most of the hill leading up to the waterfall then climbed up with a little less trouble than I thought I would have. Once atop and on the gravel road, knowing aid station#5 was eminent I really started feeling better (that is 'better' not 'faster').
Aid station #5 was a Godsend, I ate a peanut butter and jelly square, pretzels, M&Ms, drank some coke, basically had lunch and readied myself for the long descent into McKay's Hollow. From here I just kind jogged some, walked some and eventually made my way to the finish. Running through the hollow I was haunted by my wrist watch again, thinking to myself 'last year I was already done at this point'. I'm sure every runner has these type thoughts, but you catch yourself and realize where you are and what it took to get there. After that I was thankful, thankful that I had the ability to do any of this, thankful that there were people to share it with and thankful that there was free food at the end of the race. As tough as the race turned out to be I still had a great time.
PS. Congratulations to John on a great run for his first Mist. And to Johnny, whom had I never met I wouldn't be doing any of this ridiculous nonsense. And finally Orlando, for finishing the race with only one leg (and letting me win).
David R. Milner President of Active.com