Monday, April 11, 2011

Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge: 2011 Race Report

Falls Lake shoreline early in the morning
the trail head at Falls Lake where the MST 12-miler began
If you read my prologue to the MST 12-miler on Friday, you've probably been in suspense all weekend, waiting for to find out if I bonked in this race. Thanks for your concern.

I'm glad to report that I successfully ran the entire Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge this past Saturday without succumbing to fatigue or temperature discomfort. And, I cleverly avoided those pesky spider webs to the face by staying far away from the front of the pack. (Take that, overall winner!) Actually, it rained during the night prior to the race. So, I suppose that the spiderwebs had probably been washed away from the trail by the time all 203 of us started running.

Thanks to the evening's rain storms, the morning air was brisk and sobering as we stepped off the vans and waited at the starting line. The forest was thoroughly damp. And, the sky remained overcast throughout the race. It was pretty ideal weather for running, really.

I wandered and sat on the rocks for an hour while vans that shuttled us to the start unloaded runners by the dozen. Bull City Running flags marked the starting line, which faced the boat ramp leading into Falls Lake. Peppy music, ranging from Lady Gaga to Tom Petty, played from a stereo, adding a festive ambiance to the corral.

pre-race congregating
Runners congregate before the MST 12-miler begins (apologies for the blurry photo)
With ten minutes to go before the start time, I laced up my Roclite 285s and put the tattered jeans and Salomon jacket that had been keeping me warm into my drop bag. A quick warm up run to the boat ramp and back helped shake away the cold from my bare legs and arms. Then, we all gathered in a colorful mass at the starting line.

A few words from our excellent race director and the rattle of a cowbell sent us on our way. We proceeded first down the paved road and looped around a parking lot before heading onto the trail. I used this opportunity to find a suitable position among the other runners, somewhere in the vicinity of not too fast and not too slow.

The hills began their assault on us immediately. And, what the hills lacked in quality they made up in quantity. Surprisingly, though, these hills weren't as bad as I thought they'd be. In fact, their rolling, unyielding positioning along the course seemed to add a fun fluidity to the momentum of the race.

I joined a line of runners for the first couple of miles. When that line lurched ahead of another runner, I held back in order to remain conservative with my pace. I'd stay conservative through mile five, I think.

I look best when blurry
Me as photographed by Shannon around mile 8 or 9. I look better blurry.
After passing the six-mile aid station at 56:xx, I started to pick up speed. I felt pretty good in a burning-legs-and-lungs kinda way. And, I thought I'd surely be able to complete the next six miles in less than 56 minutes.

Soon I found myself running a marvelous pace behind a stealthy runner in black. She took a photo behind her back. And, I thought to myself, "Who do I know of with a talent like that, an ability to take photos while running a race?" ;-)

Eventually, the pair of us ran up to a somewhat steep drop off leading into a small creek. I over-stepped a suitable stepping stone and planted my right foot directly into the cold water. The most comfortable way to deal with a sloshing, wet shoe is to run faster. So, I did.

The conga lines of runners had dissipated now. The mile-nine aid station was far behind me. And, the only runner I saw ahead was a dude in a red shirt. I set my sights on him and ran harder in an attempt to catch up.

The trail was quiet without the footfalls and heavy breathing around me. I even found myself enjoying some of the scenery after summiting a particularly rocky hill. A wide expanse of Falls Lake, reflecting gray-green against the cloudy sky, sprawled beyond a sparse portion of forest. It was gorgeous. And, that's the point when I made a mental note to sign up for this race again next year.

Despite a sense that the finish line was near, it didn't seem to be as near as my legs wanted it to be. So, I was concerned that I'd depleted my all-out effort to finish strong. But, as we crossed the road and followed the flags, I found a bit more energy to finally finish just a couple of steps behind the red-shirted dude. He really helped to reel me in. And, I appreciate it.

race swag
An excellent Sport Science tech shirt and Darn Tough socks were the stars among the race swag.
Cookies rule!
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail was a gorgeous, challenging course; one that I'll look forward to running again next year. Everyone involved with the organization and execution of this race deserves tons of thanks for their efforts. Laying out a course along these sections of the trail at Falls Lake must have taken some serious coordination and planning.

Moreover, the food at the finish area was perfect. There was such a splendid array of cookies, coffee, bagels, bananas, etc. I had to stop myself from overeating.

I hung around shivering a bit so that I could clap for all the speedy people during the awards ceremony. The overall first-place runner finished in 1:15:54, about a half hour faster than me, which put me in the top 20% of finishers. I'm happy with that.

I'm even more happy to know that the trail head at the Falls Lake dam is only around 20 minutes from my house. I'll be running here more frequently in the future.

And now for some post-race scenery:Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge post race
Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge post race
Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge post race
Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge post race - The Falls Lake dam


  1. Great race report and nice photos! Did you take some of those on the run?

  2. Andrew: No, I lack the coordination to actually take a picture while moving. The top two scenes were photographed while waiting for the race to begin.
    Thanks for reading!

  3. Great report, Ash! And nice time to boot! It was very cool that you actually had your picture taken by Shannon. She amazes me with the number and quality of pictures she manages to snap *during* the race, and yet still puts in amazing times. I may try to carry my camera during some races in the future, but not until I can finish at least *one* race without falling down. ;-)

  4. A very thorough report as usual. Doesn't leave me much to write about.
    Good job getting around Shannon, she's a viscous competitor and has been known to hurt people trying to pass her.
    Hope to see ya at the next race!

  5. Great race and great report! I am glad I got to run with you for a little bit. Next time (if I can keep up with you), I will make sure the photo is not blurry!

  6. Scott: Thanks for reading! I think I would fall if I even thought about carrying a camera during a trail race.

    AC: Thanks for the warning about Shannon. Now that I think about it, she was awfully insistent that I cross that precarious creek first. ;-P

    Shannon: I'm convinced that you were either injured or just taking it easy during that race. Judging by what I've read about your running in other races, there's no way I'm fast enough to keep up with you on a good day.

  7. Awesome race and report! Your descriptions of the eerie quiet and gorgeous trail were perfect :)

    Hope you are recovering well!

  8. Ash, another great write up! I enjoyed it (and the race too)

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