Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fire on the Mountain recap

Edited to add: Fire on the Mountain was a fantastic race, put on by an extremely organized and friendly race director, and manned by selfless, cheerful, wonderful volunteers. The only problem with it was that I had no idea what I was getting in to and I was unprepared! I included the picture of the unmanned aid station to show how different this race was from a huge race like MCM, but the rest were all filled with helpful volunteers and my favorite race foods - cookies, M&Ms, salt and vinegar chips, potatoes to dip in salt, and Mountain Dew! If you love trail racing, this is a great event!

It's taper time, which arrives conveniently at the same time as Hurricane Sandy. I am as ready for the JFK 50 as I'm going to get. This weekend, I made some important final preparations. I bought tickets to Breaking Dawn 2 for opening night, which is the night before the race. I choose my post race dessert - chocolate cream pie. Simple, but I've never made it before. I also did a bit of running Saturday and Sunday. 52 miles in two days, to be exact.

I also learned some very important lessons this weekend. I'm embarrassed to admit that, because when I share them, you'll see how they would probably be evident to a 5 year old, so it's embarrassing that at 29 I just figured this stuff out.

Lesson 1: If you are browsing, looking for a race to add to your calendar, and you see one that has the word "mountain" in the title, KEEP BROWSING.

Lesson 2: If for some reason you ignored lesson 1, clicked on the race, thought "wow, only $30, what a great deal!" and got your credit card out, DON'T run 20 miles the day before. 

Friday night, I ran an easy, watchless 4 miles before getting an epic grilled cheese, tomato, and bacon sandwich from a food truck and watching Clueless at my BFF Carolyn's house. Jealous? You should be, but don't worry, that will change as I continue with my weekend recap.

Last week, the day after my 20 miler, I did 12 glorious, seemingly easy miles the next day, and got the brilliant idea to run 50 miles in one weekend as my last big hurrah before tapering. So, saturday morning, I had total deja vu as I met my friend Matt for a 20 miler at the exact same place as last week (the NCR, a long, flat, path) at the same time (7:30) and I think our pace was about 2 seconds a mile faster (10:12). Once again, it seemed pretty easy, and I felt good enough afterwards to do a whole bunch of errands and laundry and stuff like that.

Oh, the run was even extra special because I met a blog reader, Erin! The fact that anyone actually wants to read my writing still amazes me, so it was super exciting.

Saturday night, I refueled with a massive amount of tortellini and watched my favorite movie, Gone with the Wind, in honor of the fact that my 50K would potentially take place in a hurricane.

Sunday morning, my alarm went off at the God forsaken time of 2:40am. My 2.5 hour drive to the race was uneventful except for the fact that I missed hitting a deer by inches, only because that particular deer didn't have a death wish and stopped and waited for my car to pass before crossing the highway.

The directions from the race website directed us to drive a field, in the middle of nowhere, on a mountain. In retrospect, the whole race could have been a scam put on by a murderer, but luckily it wasn't. 

Packet pickup required a flashlight.

The Marine Corps Marathon was also today -
this is quite the opposite end of the spectrum!

Then we took buses up the mountain to the start.

Again, thank god it wasn't a trick played by a mass murderer.
The start was gorgeous!
I met up with crazy impressive super ultra runner Shelly, and got to know her as we ran together for the first few miles.

Wow this pic is awful, but I needed #proof
My goal for this race was to run it easy enough not to require extra time off for recovery. I'm not usually at all competitive with anyone but myself during races, but I did have an important goal during this race: BEAT SANDY.

My legs felt fantastic, like yesterday had been a rest day, so despite my early wakeup call, I was excited for the race, thinking it would be a fun day in the woods. That lasted right up until I started running on the trails.

Just take a look at the elevation. Particularly miles 2-4.

I may have gone into this race with the mileage necessary to complete it, but I haven't run on trails since my last 50K in July and I was completely unprepared for this elevation. Right away, we were going down a super steep incline. Just imagine running on a slip and slide, which is on loose, shifting dirty, and littered with random, jutting rocks, ready to take you out with one false move. At this point, the race was still "crowded" (less than 100 people, but that's a lot on a single track trail). So slowing yourself down was impossible, and even if you could, the person pounding down directly behind you would probably smash into you and push you to your death.

I fell right after I hit mile 2, and while I was fine, it freaked me out. Then, it was time for that super fun climb you see at mile 4. This is where walking had me so winded I was gasping for air. I'm not afraid of heights, but that next decline, on the backside of mile 4, was horrific. We were on the side of a mountain, and I made the mistake of looking down, and I had to grab a tree and stop because I was too paralyzed with fear to continue. It was around this time that I was about 95% sure that I was dropping out at the halfway point. I couldn't imagine doing this for 28 more miles. 

Obviously, it evened out a bit after that, although there were plenty more crazy ups and downs. The leaves were killer, hiding so many rocks and roots. They were ankle deep in a lot of places, wet and slick, and really a pain in the ass. There were a lot of stream crossing. I tried to step on a rock for the first one, and it might as well have been covered in vaseline. I fell in the stream, aka learned the hard way to just suck it up and get my feet wet.

I ended up running with a girl Shelly knew, Darla, who turned out to be my saving grace. She had run the race before, but hadn't really trained for it, and was doing a lot of walk/running. I joined up with her, kept things at an easy pace, and chatted, and started to feel like there was a possibility of me finishing.

Aid station #3. Once again, a bit different than the Marine Corps Marathon.

Miles 16 through maybe 23 were logging roads, which everyone was looking forward to on the tough trails in the first half. It was nice to be able to see where I was running and not fear imminent death for awhile, but I wasn't able to easily cruise along as I had imagined. They were still rocky and had some steep hills. Still, not crunching on leaves meant Darla and I could actually talk, so the time passed pretty quickly.

I stayed with Darla until about mile 24, and then was able to speed up a bit. I chatted with some other runners, enjoyed nature (just kidding, I wanted to punch nature in the face by then), and was so excited when I found Shelly again around mile 26 or 27 or somewhere late in the race, I really was too delirious by that point to read numbers.

I checked my phone walking up yet another steep hill at mile 28, and saw a text from Eric that school was canceled for the next day, compliments of Sandy. Excitement from that fueled me through the hill, and fantasies of how much red cat (super sweet, classy wine) I was going to drink got me through at least another mile.

The last few miles actually felt pretty easy, although mentally I couldn't wait to be done. When you exit the trail into the parking lot where our cars were, a volunteer hands you a log. Instead of going directly to the finish, you have to run a lap around the parking lot with the log before finishing and throwing it into the fire. Torturous, but a fun little twist.

Check out my badass dirty/bloody knee

Final stats: 32 miles, 7 hours, 34 minutes, 14:10 pace, my slowest and most difficult 50K to date. This race was a one and done for me.

This picture just says it all.
The race was sponsored by Sheetz. I'm obsessed with their lattes, so having a truck handing out free ones at the end made up for the 7+ hours of torturous running on mountains. Kidding, it SO DID NOT.

Ultra running is sexy. #Proof

Don't tell me you don't take nasty feet pictures before leaving races. 

I was extremely concerned about trying to drive home in a hurricane after 3 hours of sleep and a full day of running. Luckily, the weather stayed perfect and I was able to make it home easily. 

Now it's time to celebrate my survival. Homemade candy corn ice cream with homemade fresh whipped cream and chocolate covered pretzels, because no dessert is complete without chocolate.

What was the hardest race you've ever done?


  1. I wold never get tired of making "sheetz" jokes, probably because I am five years old. And full of sheetz.

  2. Congrats! That's a great time on a 50K after all the running you've been doing! Darla ran with my sister and I a lot last year in many of the final miles! We were doing lots of calculating to make sure we hit cut-off. She definitely helped keep me moving. Reading this just made me super jealous for missing it...sick!

  3. Congrats! You are a freaking beast! After a 20miler, I just sit on my couch, drink wine, and fall asleep. That elevation profile is disgusting.

    I'm so jealous school is canceled for you tomorrow. I will definitely be working. :-/

    Toughest race? Probably a marathon I ran in 2010. It was hot, sunny and windy. Super hot + Gu = stomach troubles. It was miserable! I crossed the finish line, started to cry, and all I could say was "I'm never running again!!" Alright, I'm a little melodramatic. ;)

  4. Congrats! You seriously are bad ass for going through that race, especially with the 20 miler the day before. For reals.

    Also, I'm an idiot and after you said you met Shelly at the beginning, I inserted her name in every time you wrote "Sandy." I could not, for the life of me, figure out why you were gunning to beat this poor woman...but duh. I got it now. Tiiiime for bed :)

  5. What the hell is this race?! Ha. Great job. It looks soooo tough. I have a feeling after doing these kind of runs you are going to have NO problem with JFK.

  6. That race sounds like hell but you still did great! I think I'd be scared off by the woods packet pick-up and bus to the start! Shit! That ice cream looks super good! Jealous!

  7. This sounded harder than JFK. At least then you have real aid stations :)

  8. Wow, congrats on finishing that beast of a race! Thanks for saying hi to me on the trail on Sat and wow, even a shout out on your blog. Hopefully I didn’t freak you out when I approached you in the dimly lit parking lot all gushing like “Hi, you don’t know me, but I totally read your blog” and you were probably like “uh, hi random internet stalker who knows my name. I’m just here to run a bad-ass number of miles in a single weekend.” But I was excited to meet a blogger that I follow in real life, practically my only celebrity sighting in my boring life. And I do think running two sub-4 hour marathons within a 2 week period pretty celebrity. While I am just working on getting my B.O. No, not a BQ, I am too slow for that, but my B.O. (Beat Oprah), 4:29. And I am going to do it too at the OuterBanks marathon, just need to shave like 15 pesky minutes. Anyway, good luck at JFK – you sound totally ready!

  9. I think this year's FOTM was one of my slowest 50ks. It is one of the two hardest courses I run. You did amazing!!! You are incredibly ready for JFK!

  10. Super Awesome job!! All of a sudden im not so sad that my ITB prevented me from running this race this year!
    What was the total elevation for the 32M?
    Now enjoy your taper and GL with JFK!!

    Hardest race for me was probably Labor Pains 9/12 just because it was my longest so far (45M).

  11. You are way too tough for me. I am such a baby in comparison.

  12. Love it...your feet look way better than mine. I'm kind of jealous.

  13. Congratulations Alyssa!! You really are an amazing runner! When I grow up I want to be just like you! haha. Really enjoy reading your blogs. Take care.

  14. I was looking most forward to the aid stations at this race, but thats looks lame! At least you have sexy feet to show off for all of your hard work. I think post-JFK we should all hit up the nearest nail salon and freak out the employees.

  15. Your race is ridiculous. I would have made the mistake of being like "mountain race? YES. $30? YES! Sponsored by Sheetz? YES!!!" So you're not alone. Then again, I've never run an ultra, so I could just be making it all up.

    I think you're ready for JFK and deserve your lounging and glorious ice cream before the power goes out.

  16. holy shit. i'm terrified of heights and would never think that i would have to deal with my phobia during a 50K. i don't think i would have been able to get past mile 4.

    JFK will seem easy after this one!

  17. Dang it.

    I had a great training weekend. Raced Karsten's uphill downhill 10K (there's only one hill - but it's the entire race) on Saturday, for 8miles. Then ran 4mi warmup before MCM to guarantee myself 30mi, in case I was too tired to run after it, which I was. That was my longest training run of the cycle, and my best long run weekend of it.

    Can't believe how much you outdid me on mileage. It did occur to me later that if I'd run 5mi warmup, I would have had 50K that day -- but it turns out your 50K was longer than that, plus you had that great long run the day before.

    Congratulations - awesome mileage weekend, and trail mileage, and hills.

    Of course, I'm so shocked that there turned out to be hills in that race.

  18. I think my most painful race was a marathon where I went out with a friend running to break 3, knowing I couldn't hold the pace, but figuring I'd try to accompany him for the first half.

    He was feeling great, and running faster than required pace, and I couldn't keep up by mile 6. Then I was exhausted the entire remainder of the marathon. That seemed to last forever.

    Mind you, at my first Stone Mill, the part at the end of the day, alone in the dark, was a drag. Fortunately, after a while in the dark, a friend met me and walked in with me.

  19. I'm still in awe of that aid station. Wow. First time I've read a race report, and while being totally impressed with the racer, not dying to add that race to my list of races to do. (Oh, wait, the hot chocolate one - second time!)

  20. I still can't get over the elevation for this race. Trail running on a mountain is intense. Next thing I know you're going to be doing a 100 mile race across the desert!

  21. Great race report, Alyssa. One of the best I've read from this year's field.

    A few clarifications:
    The photo of the aid station (Aid Station 3, to be specific) is the ONLY aid station of the 6 on the course that is unmanned - and it is advertised as unmanned from Day 1 (it's been unmanned all 3years of the event). The next aid station - the biggest of the race - is only 3.5 miles away from this point and has pretty much everything an ultra runner needs.

    The course is challenging, yes. But whether a course is technical, or hilly, is, I think, dependent on the person asking about it. We all have different experiences.

    The event organized 7 free training runs this year to get people used to different parts of the race. Every single person who completed at least 1 training run finished, and finished well - with the additional foresight of "things to come" around every bend or at the crest of each hill.

    I challenge you, Alyssa, to come out again next year and try to run under 7 hours. Almost a shoe-in to do so - you know the course now.

    FOTM race director

  22. Hi Alyssa - I think I ran briefly with you and Darla on the Green trail. I was a hurting pup by then and tried to keep up with the two of you - but you both were doing great. I also said this was a one and done - but then I finished, and reality is that I want to go back. It was a great race overall, and now that I know what to expect, I know I can do much better. Good for you to get all those miles in - this was my last training run for Stone Mill - which pales in comparison. You will do awesome at JFK.


Thanks for commenting! Comments make me probably more happy than they should.