October 15, 2013 by trailcats
A trail marathon? What’s a little trail marathon after a 50k or even a 50 miler? I’ll tell you what it is…it’s the hardest damn race EVER. It’s not the distance that scares trail runners (well, maybe a little) – it’s the wicked, most FB’d status picture ever – the elevation profile. And so begins my tale of the Mystery Mountain Marathon, the baby of a seemingly nice lady, Kim Pike. Bwa-hahhahahaha.
Harley and I headed up to Fort Mountain State Park Saturday afternoon, eager to set up our tent at the group campsite. We were surprised to see zero cars once we arrived at the Pioneer Campsite #3. Undeterred, we carried an armful of equipment to a barren site. Where were all the GUTS people? We later realized the barren site was the GUTS site. So at 4:30, we were the first to arrive. We set up the tent and headed to the pasta dinner at the group shelter up the road – with hungry bellies.
What a fun evening we had, catching up with old friends and making some new ones. That was pretty much the theme of the weekend. It’s my favorite theme. There were so many congrats to dole out: Katie’s pregnant, Anna and Aaron are engaged, Brandi just took first place at The North Face 50-miler, and Susan had recently completed her first 50-miler a mere 6 months after her first 50k!
When we arrived back at the campsite we were shocked to see over a dozen tents lit up from inside – and no one outside of them. Where was the campfire, the pre-race camaraderie, the last beer I wanted? The only nightlife we saw in our tent were two ticks and a mutant grasshopper-hornet-spider. Asleep by 8:45, we secured our longest night of sleep before a race – just after Harley made up the cutest ghost story ever.
Race day was abuzz with the most cheerful and efficient volunteers and eager runners. Runners of the marathon and 12-miler alike toed the line at 8am. And then we were off! We would all round the lake and head to the Gahuti Trail for 11ish miles before separating, at which time, the marathoners would embark on the 301 bike trail. The Gahuti was pretty darn technical with rocks and roots aplenty – I loved this trail. I like skipping around the obstacles. Plus, this was my first race without wearing my running tights, and I was nervous about possible chaffing with my shorts – but all the skipping around ensured my thighs would never touch!
After the Gahuti were the power lines – the gateway to the 301. Everyone is worried about the damn power lines. I tell you what, these were a dream compared to what lay ahead. Following the longest descent I’ve seen in a race, was the longest ascent I’ve ever seen, Conti’s Climb. The likes of which will haunt for me the next several weeks. Conti’s Climb, named after an affable trail runner who likes to torture himself with this and the Coosa Loop, was the hardest thing I’ve encountered as a trail runner. If you climbed this once a year, you’d have buns of steel. During some parts of this climb, I turned around and hiked backwards – just to give my quads a break. Hey, I was still moving forward – by moving backward. During one delusional moment, I started thinking about a haiku:
I hate Conti’s Climb
I really really hate it
It damn near killed me
Harley and I separated around mile 20. I tried keeping up with Warren and then David. I was happy to follow David all the way to the finish. If I hadn’t had him in front of me – I might have been crawling, instead of shuffling. Along the way we met Steve, a 64-year-old marathoner and former Ironman. This was his first trail race and we almost finished together. What an incredible feat – he comes from the flat land of south Georgia and kept a very good pace over ~7,500 feet of elevation gain. Of course, not as good as Richard Schick who nailed yet another trail run, also at 64. Originally this blog post was gonna be titled “These older guys are kicking our butts!” Again, there is no cookie cutter trail runner – they come in all shapes, sizes and ages.
The temperature had crept up over the day and I had my eye on the prize – jumping in that lake!! We rounded the lake to the finish line and…bam…it was over. I waddled to the bathroom, grabbed a cold glass of Virgil’s Root Beer (fresh from the keg that Jason brought) and then made a beeline for the lake. It was about 50 degrees but I totally submerged myself in it. Most of the smart runners did – it’s like it wasn’t even an option.
While I was floating in the water I saw Harley come through the finish. His strongest finish yet! He was so awesome out there despite some cramps from running that super tough 50k the previous weekend. He left his shoes at the finish and also took to the lake. He watched as a dog went over to his shoes that had some snacks in them – and it sniffed and walked away. Our shoes were so stank, a dog wouldn’t eat cat shit out of them.
We sat at the finish, lubricant in hand (the first beer does NOT count as an intoxicant, though Delane begs to differ) watching all the other finishers come in. The best finish belonged to Katie and Franco. She’s 30 and 5 ½ months pregnant and he is 62 and this was his 45th marathon. They ran the whole race together. He made it his mission to bring Katie and baby Lily back in one piece. He’s a man of his word. And she’s a kickass running mama!
My butt cheeks (right>left, fyi) hurt so bad on the ride home. It’s like I needed to hang them out of them window to cool ‘em off! Speaking of which, the Moon Pies were a nice touch at the end. I had a Moon Pie eating contest with myself when I got home. And I won.
In summary, I really enjoyed this tough course. At the end of the race, I swore I would only volunteer next year. I mean, who runs this twice – much less five times, Jim! But I’ll always wonder – can I conquer Conti’s Climb? Franco said he would introduce me to the climb and give me a personal tour, guaranteeing my rebirth. So, there’s really no reason (other than insanity) that I couldn’t both volunteer and run next year.
By the numbers:
7,000-8,000 feet of elevation gain over 26 miles.
Holly: 5:40 (3rd female)