After JFK50 last year, I was intrigued by the ultra world and researched what would be my next ultra-marathon. I loved training on trails for JFK50 and was hoping to find something with challenging and beautiful terrain. Soon after, I started training for Boston and my 2018 ultra decision took a backseat. In mid to late summer, a post appeared on my Facebook news feed about Fire on the Mountain 50K – trail, only an hour away and $45? Sold.
Before I dive into race day, I’ll first mention one of the official training runs I attended. My friends Jamey and Sara joined me for a course preview in October. The race director, Kevin, willingly gave up his time on a Sunday to follow us along for the first 16 miles of FOTM. As we waited at the Log Roll Overlook, a SUV came barreling through the unpaved road, stopped before us and the driver said, “Here to run? Jump in!” As Kevin traveled at a good rate of speed through the backwoods roads (very familiar to him), Sara and I bounced all over the place, laughing all the way. What did we get ourselves into?! The course preview was so beautiful and ended up being quite an adventure as one of the runners became lost along the way. (First piece of advice – if you can, research the course and if you are able to do a couple training runs there, do it!)
Race weekend – I was so nervous! My first ultra was a 50 miler; some may feel your first step into the ultra world would be a 50K. FOTM would be my first 50K and my first full trail race. Longest I had been on the trails was 16 miles. As you know, I embrace crazy challenges, but I was thinking maybe I should have started off with a trail half?!
When I woke up race morning, my stomach was a ball of nerves. We hit the road a little early just in case we were lost trying to find the middle of nowhere and to ease some of my pre-race anxiety. Although we didn’t arrive until nearly 5:50 am, I was one of the first runners to show. I picked up my Tshirt and bib and was ready to go. The temperature was hovering around 30 and we were surrounded my fog (so much for the overlook!). However, the “fire” began to rise on the mountain.
My goals going into the race were (1) Do not get injured, (2) Do not get lost,
(3) Top 3 Female and (4) Sub 7:00
We headed down to the starting line and we were all ready to go. Knowing we had a mile on road before we entered the trails, I knew I wanted to start off at a good clip to fight for positioning. Little did I know, I’d run a 7:41 first mile and still be slowed down when we hit the trail. No worries, a couple guys let me pass and it was time to play. The first couple miles were a little faster than I wanted, so I tried to settle in to a comfortable pace. We hit our first few creek crossings in the first 3 miles and a lot of mud. The first big climb was near 3-3.5 and I power hiked most of the climb – then came the downhill. Unlike downhills on road, this steep descent (called the “Buttslide Descent”) is not “let gravity help you; free running”.
More like, try not to fall off the mountain or face plant against a tree. Thankfully, I descended as best as I could, and managed to stay on my feet.
Mile 4-5, I took a weird step, twisted my right ankle and have no idea how I did not fall. Stayed upright, but yeoooch! Had to walk that one off for a little bit, but was excited I’d see my crew near mile 6. I ran through Aid Station 1, saying hi to John, Mario and Dylan. I started another mile of road with more elevation. All of a sudden, the girl who had been in first place comes running from behind along with a guy who had been running with her. They had taken a wrong turn and added on some bonus trail. We exchanged a few words and entered back into the red trail. This part featured it’s own challenges – billy goat single track trail, uprooted trees, and some rolling hills. Two guys were hot on my tail, so I let them pass.
Somewhere around this mark, I started to think, “Today, I am running for me.” I LOVE helping others – it’s my passion. It’s what I do. I was on my own today; and I could just focus on me and my goals.
So, I continued forward. I knew good race management would help me have a good race. My worst fear was running the first half too aggressively and then dying on the way back trying to ascend the mountain. When I felt my heart rate was too high, I hiked. When I felt amazing, I took advantage. Like any race distance, I had high and low points. After a couple tough miles, I felt like I was flying during mile 15. Knowing I had quite a hike up to the halfway point, I planned to eat a PBJ as I ascended The Oasis.
As I reached the top, I saw Jamey (thanks for volunteering), got some Nuun from John and Dylan and headed back down and on the 16 mile homestretch! I passed the 3rd female who was just heading up to the The Oasis. My favorite part came over the next few miles – getting to cheer on the runners coming my way! As I passed the unmanned Aid Station #5 and tried to descend the “stone staircase” back onto the trail, I felt the first twinges of fatigue in my hip flexors/quads. Then, from miles 17-24, I ran a good clip with barely any stops other than going through the creek crossings (almost 3 dozen in all!). After tripping a good bit early on and catching myself a ton, through these miles I ended up falling 3 times. Once on the right side (I did a good tuck and roll made popular by Coach Jeremy), then the left and then full frontal smashing my hand into a rock and leaving a small cut. Oh well, keep moving. This quote was often in my mind:
“If you can‘t fly then run, if you can‘t run then walk, if you can‘t walk then crawl,
but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Although FOTM50K is an out and back course, the return trip seemed very different than the first 16. However, I did have landmarks I remembered from earlier in the day – the large uprooted tree we had to climb around, the waterfall, and the log Sara and I stopped at on our training run. As I passed the log, I knew it was time to climb back up the “Buttslider Hill”. Don’t look up; just keep moving – grab a root, a tree, anything to help climb. This .2 mile featured ~426 foot of elevation and took me nearly 8.5 minutes to ascend. My legs were screaming; I was breathing hard but I knew eventually I would be rewarded with a downhill.
Eventually, I crested the mountain and began going down the other side. Which you feel would sound lovely, but honestly, it almost hurt just as much. Add in a leaf-covered path full of roots and rocks, and the downhill adds quite a challenge. Finally, I could run a little until I hit the mud bog again. After all the runners passed through (some twice), the mud was full of shoe holes and some steps threatened to remove my shoe. I crossed over a deep stream of water and just kept moving. Just a few more creek crossings, up a switchback and I’d be on the road to the finish. After my last creek crossing, I ran into a hiker who gave me an update – 2nd female; top 10 overall. “She’s not too far ahead.” I could hear cheers in the distance. Keep going. Finally, I see the road and volunteers cheered me on. About 1 mile to go and of course it’s uphill. Time to power hike. As soon as I crested the hill, I started running which felt great! I cruised in; passed Dylan (who I didn’t realize had the job of giving out the fire logs); ran back for mine and threw my log into the bonfire – then finished with a cartwheel. I did it – 6:16 – time to cartwheel!
Kevin announced I was the 2nd female and gave me the award for 1st in the 30-39 age group. I did it!! Can we eat and have a beer now??
Throughout the day, I tried to rank this challenge among others I have accomplished. 2018 Boston was probably the most mentally challenging day. JFK50 was tough; but was manageable and fun with Sara. FOTM50K was definitely the most physically demanding. One of the reasons I feel I succeeded was because I ran my race and didn’t get caught up with others. I feel early on, seeing the lead female and a male runner right in front of me was pressuring me to run faster than I planned. As they were swallowed into the forest, I felt I was able to focus more on me. I also didn’t waste much time at the aid stations; I’d grab a few things and go. Fueling happened when I knew I would be hiking – much more efficient use of time. All 32 miles, I was mentally positive and in all honesty, felt physically stronger than I anticipated. My gear performed extremely well – all the mud and all the creek wading – not one blister thanks to my Injinjis and Altras. My Legend Compression Wear leg sleeves kept my calves happy, my RaceDots kept my bib secure (yes, even after falling 3 times) and my new pack carrying Nuun was lightweight and I was well hydrated.
Check out the women’s race recap!
Would I do Fire on the Mountain 50K again? Definitely. Sometime soon, I want to share this trail with friends on a group run. A beautiful forest not too far from home.
So….what is next? Two days post race and of course I am already researching 2019 ultras. More trail? Hit a new distance – 100K? Try for a coveted 100 mile belt buckle? Time will tell.
For now, I have a short-term goal to help out my running family.
As you may know, Jeremy Sanders recently completed his 10×10 #For Lucas Challenge.
Now, it’s my turn. And, I need your help.
First, read all about the For Lucas Fund. Then, visit my personal giving page to help Jeremy and Jen Sanders achieve a new goal: $30,000 in 3 years to the UVA Neonatal Intensive Care Unit’s Bereavement Program. This program will use the funds to help emotionally console families with hand and foot molds, memory boxes, photography and to offset funeral costs.
In addition to your generous gift, I am going to “sweeten” the deal. Anyone who donates any amount to the For Lucas Fund on my page will be entered into a raffle to win 2 dozen holiday cake pops.
You don’t live local? You are in luck. I will even ship the cake pops to you f you are the winner.
Win-win right? Your pocketbook may experience a temporary strain, but I am going to take on the majority of the physical discomfort. You get to help NICU families and you may win dessert. You have until 11/30/2018 to make your donation. On December 1, I will pick 1 winner! Let’s blast my fundraising goal out of the water together.
After a little rest, I will begin! Follow my #ForLucas10x10 journey on Facebook!