Friday, October 31, 2014

Fire on the Mountain 50K - Finale (for now?)

Long long ago this year, I signed up for the race this entry is about, Fire on the Mountain 50K in the western part of Maryland.

It had been on my radar for a couple of years now. Back in 2012, when I was unable to do Steamtown, I really was looking for a way to take advantage of my fitness in a non-marathon but long race environment. Doing some internet searching, I came about Fire on the Mountain and Rock N The Knob (in PA). Both were the same weekend and after some thinking, I settled for the 30K of Rock N The Knob. (Did not regret that decision.)

Last year, I was geared on doing Harrisburg before a stress fracture derailed things.

But 2014 was the year I was destined to run Fire on the Mountain (or FOTM for short from here on out.) It helped that the RD, Kevin, had a deal of $20 registration around January. That sealed it as I sent in my check as soon as possible. Little did I know when I signed up that FOTM would be my 10th ultra of 2014.

With so many races that required focus this year, FOTM, while important, did not get a lot of attention until a few weeks ago when I realized I was hitting a gauntlet of races: Steamtown, FOTM and Stone Cat. Each of them being two weeks apart. Much of my emphasis was on a great Steamtown performance that left me little time to worry about logistics for FOTM, including lodging. I flipped back and forth between a Super 8 in Hancock or camping at the finish line/bus shuttle area. Eventually after a bad night of sleep on Friday before the race, I settled for the Super 8, where a number of fellow runners were staying. Oddly enough, I was not near them or saw them during my time there.

I rolled into Hancock around 6-ish and went off to find dinner. Being a vegetarian in this town did not seem to be a good thing as it limited my safe bets. Hardee's probably would have been the safest but that would have meant just fries. I thought about the Pizza Hut and almost ended up there. It was last option. After an attempted, find something to microwave at the local Sav-A-Lot, I ended up with a medium pizza and fries from Sheetz. Amazingly, not a total disaster. I knew I was risking it with the pizza but I had faith in Sheetz to be edible. In a pinch, I'd do that again.

Back in my room, I watched some World Series action and checking for any last minute race updates before hitting the hay. As much as I needed a good night of sleep, it was not to be. It was ok but not totally refreshing. But I had time to wake up as I had a 30 minute car ride to the finish/bus area and a 45 minute ride after that.

Thankfully, I did not get lost getting to where I needed to be since it was on some unlit roads. Upon my arrival, I checked in, got my number and went off into the woods for a little doubling down. After some freshening up, I confirmed with the RD that we could wear sweats to the start and they would get back to the finish. Since it was cold, I wanted to stay as warm as possible, especially since two weeks ago in Steamtown, the bus did not have heat. (This time that was not an issue.) Plus having a bag for gear to be returned, allowed me to listen to music on the bus ride out. As I was about to get on the bus, I looked up to the sky and saw the most beautifully clear sky in my life seeing so many stars that felt closer than ever before. But I could not stand in awe forever, I had to get on the bus.

During the ride, I listened to a combination of In Flames' Sirens Charms and Gary Numan's Splinter albums. I managed to relax and catch a few winks during the bus ride. Before I knew it, we were at our destination following a small walk down a dirt road to Point Overlook. Like many others, I went off into the woods one more time. A few minutes before the start, I shed my layers and put them in my sack pack loading it into the back of the designated pick-up truck. As we lined up, got last minute instructions and were about to go, a couple of stragglers arrived giving FOTM a brief delay in starting. After a spell, the official start commands were given.

At once the lot of us started down the dirt road we walked before merging onto a road for about a mile before we were to swing onto the red trail. (To avoid getting lost, our course instructions were given as Red Trail ->Green Trail -> Fire/Logging Rd -> Purple Trail. These came in very handy.) Down the road, I met Wade, who was running in his first ultra. As we turned onto the red trail, I moved to the front on the single track. We hit some downhill with technical footing and a lovely surprise of a downed tree. It was a few feet before the tree, I rolled my ankle. It hurt immediately and locked up. Wade and another runner passed me. I thought about dropping out right there. However, I felt, I might be able to loosen it and walked for around 30 seconds down the trail. I was moving ok and would continue to do so all day. However, my ankle injury did limit my flow and speed as I was uber aware to not take any risks on it. The red trail was far and away the most technical section of the day. Great fun that I would have loved more at 100%. But I moved on. Before the first major climb of the day, I passed the second place running and could see Wade ahead. With the steep grade, I had no intention on running up the hill and used my power hike technique where I put both hands behind my back. This works well for me. (And credit goes to Ben Mazur, who is the first person I heard use this method.) All along this trail, I would see Wade and then not see Wade. Typically, this was happening along the sections that I really took it easy on my ankle. Eventually, we popped off the red trail at an aid station before moving straight ahead onto the green trail.

It was on the green trail that I was able to run smoother. In fact, this was my best section of running the whole day. Granted I did take it easy on a lot of the dry water crossings due to the rocks. Around half way through this section, I caught and passed Wade. I slowly crept away. (Later on, I would find out he was having some stomach issues along with making a wrong turn causing him to drop out.) Right before the half way 'Oasis' aid station, I saw some orange blazes that freaked me out with a down directional sign. However, I saw a young girl, who was the RD's daughter, to my right so I went right up the uphill road.

YES! I made it half way and I was going at a much better pace than the first section of the race. I had an outside shot of the course record as I was in 16 and 2:23 with 16 more to go. (CR: 4:38 - Held by Brad Hinton, a tremendous ultra runner who I had the honor of racing at the OSS/CIA Nighttime 50M in June) At the station, I topped off my handheld with orange Gatorade before bounding off.

Knowing, the course going onto the fire/logging road section, I asked Kevin, the RD who happened to be at Oasis, how long the stretch was. 8 miles. I was either going to love or hate this stretch. However, it would be my best shot at giving me breathing room for the purple trail. I ran this the best I could. (The theme of the day.) My ankle being tight was no help pushing the pace. Despite, things, I managed to cover the 8 miles in a little less than an hour giving myself around 1:15 to cover the last stretch on the purple trail.

Going in, I heard the purple trail was the most runable. I would say without the leaves it totally would be. But with a rolled ankle and leaves covering much of the trail, I did not take it like I would. Mainly, I did not want to really do something stupid where I would not be able to race Stone Cat. Part of the decision to be cautious allowed me to enjoy some of the views I could see from the mountain top through the trees. Then again, at the same time, I was wondering which one would be the next to go up. (Answer: none, this was the last mountain.) This section had some great downhill that normally I would have flown done jumping side to side to avoid the rocks but I gingerly took the upper portion of downhill slow. Later on, there would be a more gradual downhill that I could find a solid strip of footing to flow down. Back when I hopped onto the Purple Trail, I thought I might be able to go under 4:30. For much of this stretch it was dangling there. With 3 miles to go, I knew I would have to high tail it in order to do so. I did not. Whatever, the reason, I just enjoyed the scenery of the final miles even if I just wanted to be done. The last hill before the trail's .5 marker, I hiked up, touched the marker and realized, I had the record. I cruised through the rest and out of the woods. In year's past, there had been firewood to grab for the final 1/4 mile. With Kevin, 450 miles from the site, a few minor things did not happen for the race. This was one of them.

In the end, I crossed the line in 4:31:59 taking 6 minutes off Brad's record. I was happy with that considering when I took off my shoes and socks, my right ankle was definitely swollen. (It really looked bad by the time I got home where it was more than a roll that happened. It was a sprain.) Originally, I had hoped to leave around 1pm for my 3 1/2 - 4 hour drive home. Didn't happen that way. What happened was one of the best things of ultras, sitting around with people talking and hanging out. I enjoyed soda and pizza for a few hours. At some point I had to leave, which was 3pm. I wanted to be home no later than 7 because I did want some time to see Peg before she left for NYC.

One thing I mentioned in the title, that I did not mention really was that earlier in the year Kevin announced this was to be the final edition of FOTM. He was unable to find someone to take the race organization on. While I am sad it is the final year, I am extremely delighted that I participated considering it had been on my docket for two years.

Maybe one day, the race will be resurrected and someone will break my CR. It is possible. I believe my ankle cost me 10-15 minutes out there. But that is whatever.

Now, I have another race to turn my attention to...Stone Cat 50.

When is that? Oh in a week of this posting. (Today is 10/31, Stone Cat is 11/8.)

Many thanks to RD Kevin Spradlin for his dedication to put on a race from 450 miles away from the site. Also: Kevin's daughter MacKenzie Spradlin for the photos she took, the aid station staff along with all the other runners who made this race what it was. I have plenty of good memories to last for a long time.

Fueling: Lemon-Lime and Orange Gatorade, Strawberry Banana GU gels and Black Cherry Clif Shot Blocs.

Shoes: LaSpotiva Helios. (Their rock protection saved my hide at FOTM considering my jacked up ankle.)


  1. Your record, for now, will live forever. And you finally got to meet the TrailWhippAsses!