Fire on the Mountain 50K – Race ramble

I’m depressed. I ran 32 miles over all kinds of rough and ready trail and road, mountains, through creeks, a really glorious run. But I’m freaked out because I hit a deer late Friday with my car. I remember one moment admiring it and the next moment it-is-bouncing-off-the-windshield WHAM! It tore up the front of my car. Blood, shit and hair all over it. The windshield sprayed with some kind of creature fluid. Blech.

I’m running in the Fire on the Mountain 50K outside of gorgeous Flintstone, Maryland. I never get any sleep. I have inserted baby time into my training. baby reps. How many rocks in the old rocking chair? Thousands a day. If you’ve ever had the chance to let a fat little seven month old baby sleep nestled on your shoulder, arms around your neck, give it a whirl. I’m the burpee. He’s the burper. And seven, and eight, now vomit. My personal trainer weighs 19 pounds and likes slow-flo bottle nipples. Coffee intake began in earnest at 3 am before the race.

Luckily I didn’t fall many times. Last year I did an amazing barrel roll just past mile 27, a ripping good tumble down a leaf-strewn rootsy path. My heavy railroad-training paid off. I took on the creeks and gained six slots crossing them like a cyclops. Railroad tie running gave me the mechanics, the responsive movements needed  to decide where to step while stepping, so my momentum remained moving forward no matter what happens when the foot came down. Without hesitation. There is no path.

Basically I ate bananas, the occasional vanilla creme cookie, drank a good bit of water and ran, thinking of deer launching out of New Order videos into my lap, like I was a Santa for bloody severed deer heads. I guess if I were a decapitated deer head I’d ask Santa to get out dreams altogether, and return to a more peaceful life of grazings and leapings and whatnot.

A couple of days before I went on an eight mile trail run to warm up for the race. My “taper” consisted of me being unable to run. I’d hoped to log a couple of 75-mile weeks leading up to the taper, but I didn’t even come close. So, I tried to make every mile hard. If I ran flats, I ran railroads and ditches. If I ran hills, it was every day. So, on my eight mile run, I was trying to see where I was at in terms of fatigue, so I switched onto deer trail and ran up and down thorn-chocked ravines beneath power lines. There were deer all in the thorns, in little trampled pockets. I chased them. I fell down the hill and used a long stick to slow and then stop my slide. Ready. If you can chase a deer through a brier patch, you can run a trail.

During my training this past month I’d already encountered bear, possum, fox, dogs, and drunken assholes in cars. I’d done almost all of my running late at night after dinner, belly sometimes still full. Not good for speed.  So, when I went for the race, I was really looking forward to peaceful, quiet hours in the woods. I am dying to do a night ultra. Next year I’m going to do the Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 mile run. I want to run in the dark.


 Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore.                                       

Entre le royaume, des vivants et des morts.*

If this is heaven

I don’t know what it’s for

If I can’t find you there

I don’t care 

*Between the night, night and dawn.   Between the kingdom of the living and the dead.

I saw the deer go up off the windshield, and no more, like it ascended into the mists of time. So, I’m thinking of that – deer transcending the physical plane altogether –  and Arcade Fire’s Reflektor while I’m running through the woods, up and over mountain ridges. Deer bouncing off my windshield to sophisticated pop music. The song is a duet about being lost in duplicity, and a deer is bouncing off my windshield.  I don’t really see any deer. The fast runners up front scared them off. The woods are very peaceful. As the sun came up and began to drizzle into the chilly crannies, I felt my mood lightening. The more tired I  become, the less I worry about my problems. The run becomes a funnel of pain, a crucible that forces me to become the doppelganger I strive to be, a portrait of focus.  And distraction. I realized about an hour into the race i was still following orange tape, but no longer the red blazes I needed. I found myself hugging the rocky wall along an increasingly dangerous and narrow footpath.

Finished 33rd of about 160, at 6 hr 20 was my third time running this race. The temp was in the mid 30s at the start, but warmed up really nice. Ice in pockets and shallows rimed the tumbled stones and tufted weeds of the shadowed hollows. The hills looked like embers caught in the reflection of a dirty tin can. I looked forward to hours of solitude in the woods, and I would find it.

I realized I must have taken a wrong turn out in front of the beta pack about six miles in and, followed by four or five others, ran myself right out along a disappearing rock shelf trail. That’s part of trail running. At least a dozen times I saw a runner come to a fork in the trail and shrug and head off on the more likely of the two paths. Backtracking the nearly quarter-mile mistake, a stretch of the trail crumbled. I slid down the slope feet first on my stomach. I jammed my toes into everything in between me and the nether slopes of the valley below. My jaw jounced off a rock just at the edge, but my beard cushioned the blow. It was sore, but not as sore as my arms. I pulled myself back up and onto the path. Altogether, my wrong turn cost me about seven minutes. I wonder what the deer’s wrong turn cost it? I just kept running. I was trading speed for consistency. I tried my best to run as much as possible.

A little bloodied, I continued on, finishing at about the same time I finished last year. The hardest part for me was the logging road section after the Oasis. When I rounded the parking lot in the clearing, I was tired but really happy. I ran well during the event, got too slow at the end, worked through it and finished strong. Looked fat in every damn picture. I finished 33rd out of about 160 runners. Had a great time, really, though I didn’t share it with anyone. This was a quiet little run for me.

The event had great volunteers. Everything was pretty cool. Kevin Spradlin, the RD, puts on a fun race, an adventurous romp. Low-key and gritty. I shredded my old trail shoes. The whole tops ripped open. It affected the way my shoes gripped the ground. My feet feel abused. Nothing like Guantanamo, right. Just a white boy whining about his stupid ass feet.

I’m a grown man. Why am I running like this? How am I running like this?

I think that I rarely get more than 4.5 hours of sleep. That is a big hamstring to my super spacejam lifestyle gimmick, my flow besmirched by baggy eyes and sorrow. Weary.

But in a good way. If I had time I’d run one every day, and do it well. But that would require sleep, so I’ll recuse myself from that challenge – rather convenient if I were a wuss. And I am a wuss for lack of sleep. A couple of weeks before I ran 28 miles from 10 pm to 3 am, a road run, took a nap and then got up and trandformed into full Dad mode for a big Sunday family shenanigans extraveganza (and housekeeping). I fell asleep folding laundry. I felt like I was folding sheets underwater. So, I was already putting myself into the headspace of possibly running a 50K on 3 to 4 hours of sleep, which is what happened. Lying on the dirt at the finish line,  I see a volunteer hand me my medal and ask if I was going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay. [Swell of cheesy music]

Beard Warrior 109
Beard Warrior 109

By the end of the race, the weather was quite beautiful, sunny, 58F, breezy, with relatively clear azure skies, spots of cottony small clouds suffused with afternoon light. Skyrockets in my coffee. I lay on the dirt, the sun warming up. Despite pulling on a parka and sweats, I still felt cold. I lay in the sun, letting it dazzle my eyes through closed lids. I imagined the sun casting reddened light onto the back of my eye sockets, burning its way into my brain along the optic fiber. People were cheering each runner who came down the hill to the finish, each runner carrying a piece of tinder to throw on the bonfire. There were good embers when I’d gotten there, and the fire still blazed. The “finish line” was the act of chucking a piece of wood on the bonfire. It was a “finish activity”. i inhaled the wood smoke.

I bought a new pair of trail shoes on the way home. Next year’s race date is already planned.

My entire impression of the race: like stirring skyrockets into a cup of coffee. I asked the Sheetz grub coach tech at the finish for a Red Eye, but got a Nope and a Red Alert instead – same thing, different name. Just a reflektor.

2 Replies to “Fire on the Mountain 50K – Race ramble”

  1. Great report among the variety of other thoughts.

    I owe you a thank you as I came down the hill right as you and the group that followed you came back onto the correct path and I heard someone say you’d just gone the wrong way. I followed right behind you for a while until you got your stride back and disappered from view along with that whole group.

    It’s amazing how you can take off with 100+ people in an ultra and yet, some days, spend a considerable amount of time alone in the woods.


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