I know I shouldn't have, but I ran a race this weekend. I took 4 weeks off after Sawtooth and have only just started to build a base back up for Arrowhead. The last thing I needed right now was a race. But on Tuesday night's GUTS run, everyone was telling me how good the Mystery Mountain races are and how I had to do one of them. There are two races, a 26 mile and a 12 mile, both hilly and technical. I thought about it for a while and decided I was allowed to do the 12 mile as long as I took it fairly steady.
It was worth it. The races are at Fort Mountain State Park, in the mountains in the north of Georgia, and it was so beautiful there. The start/finish area was a nice little lake, and the course went around the lake and then up the mountain. It was a perfect sunny day, just a little hot and humid, but still nice for running. The organization was great, the course was so well marked that it would have been impossible for anyone to get lost, and there were plenty of friendly volunteers.
I was running with my heart rate monitor and decided to run at road marathon heart rate, which I figured over 12 miles would be a good tempo run speed. It worked out well; my legs felt good at that effort and it was fast enough to keep me in the lead for the women. The hills were long and tough, and a lot of the trail was more technical than I was expecting. Overall it was roughly the same difficulty footing-wise as the Superior Hiking Trail, but with much bigger hills (though also some more runnable parts than you'd get on most of the SHT).
When I picked up my number on race morning, I had noticed a sign with the course records. The women's record for the 12-mile was 1:50. I had no idea what that really meant at check-in because I didn't know anything about how hard the course was, only that people had said it was "hard." But I filed the number away in my head, just in case.
Out on the course, I had no real idea how far I was most of the time because I only had a heart rate monitor, not a GPS. But I came up with the plan that when I got to the aid station at mile 8, I would check the time and if it looked like I could possibly come in under 1:50, I would speed up and go for it. I ended up getting to mile 8 at 1:20, so I would have had to do about 7:20 minute miles the rest of the way to beat 1:50. This didn't seem too likely based on how the course had been so far, but I heard Helen's voice in my head telling me how you always have to try because you never know what might happen. And, what if it turned out the last 4 miles were all downhill on runnable trail? So I took off, running straight away into a pretty big uphill, but then amazingly enough the single track dumped out onto a wide, smooth...and downhill trail. For a good half mile or so I thought I had gotten lucky and was going to make it, but the easy ride promptly ended and we were sent right back onto some hilly, extra technical single track. It had been worth a try, though; you really do never know. I ended up coming in at 1:55, tired and thirsty (I didn't bring water) but happy.
The after-party alone would have made it worth running the race. Food by a chef from a local restaurant, the lake for an ice bath, and lots of good people to meet. I'd love to come back next year and run the 26 mile, but I have a feeling it will conflict with my autumn road marathon plans. We'll see...