Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Saturday, May 6, 2017

2017 Black Mountain Monster 12-Hour

The Black Mountain Monster is a 6/12/24 hour Ultra run on a certified 5K wooded loop between the railroad tracks and I-40 in Black Mountain. Most or all of the course seems to be on Montreat College's property as it runs by their track and field facilities and through their outdoor adventure (ropes, rock walls, etc...) areas. Perhaps they even use this 5K route for their cross country meets. I originally registered for the 24-hour event last November, thinking it would be good training if I got into UTMB in 2017. Mont Blanc would be over three months after the 24-hour run and I'd have plenty of time to recover. When I was again unsuccessful in the UTMB lottery, I looked around at what I could run in 2017 to keep enough qualifying points to register for the 2018 running of Mont Blanc and settled on Bryce Canyon, which some friends had run a few years back. I soon realized that Bryce Canyon's mid-June race date probably wouldn't work well with my doing a 24-hour run roughly five weeks before, so the race director, Mike Guyer, was happy to let me drop down to the 12-hour run. Quite a few friends would be there and despite my concerns about having done fewer long runs than I'd hoped (only two over thirty miles this year,) I was nervously looking forward to gauging where I stood fitness-wise with Bryce just around the corner.

Ray and I had gone up a couple weeks before race day to check out the course but had a little trouble following the hand-drawn map and we weren't allowed on part of the trails because Montreat was using their ropes courses for a class. We were still able to get a decent feel for what to expect. There were a lot of turns and a few hills, but nothing too rough, and there was even about a half-mile stretch of paved greenway. I rode up with Lee the Friday evening before the race to help set up a tent. The main reason for going on Friday was to get a good spot for the tent and, with some advice from Mike, we did. We would run right by it before and after the timing mat each loop, giving us two chances to get whatever we needed for the next loop. We also picked up our shirts and the little oval BMM stickers, but with the race starting at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, we didn't really need to get them early as there was plenty of time on race day.

When race day rolled around, I realized that this would be one of the few races I didn't set an alarm for. Most races either have early morning starts or late afternoon/evening starts (like Grindstone or The Boogie.) Mid-morning is somewhat of an oddity in my race history. With it being about a 45 minute drive to Black Mountain, there was no real rush. I packed the car with my folding chair, two of Brandon's Tanawha Adventures (filled) 5-gallon water jugs, my race gear, and my post-race clothes and headed out around 7:45. The weather Ray and I previously experienced, temps in the mid 80s, was drastically different than what was promised for race day. The forecast was calling for some periods of rain and cool temperatures with an expected high in the upper 50s and so far it was correct. It's about a quarter-mile walk from the parking area to the race start so the BMM has a truck and a Gator transporting the runners' heavier gear. Ray pulled in right behind me and we headed over to the start to find Lee. Beyond the cooler temperatures, it was a much windier day than expected, and a number of people were having trouble with their tents--some didn't even have stakes to anchor them to the ground. There were probably at least twenty tents in the large, slightly sloping field. Those near the bottom of the field, like us, had slightly softer ground from all the water coming down the hill, but it wasn't too bad.

Starting at Tent City - Weather looks good--for now...
Roughly 150 runners were registered, spread somewhat evenly between the three events. Ray and I were both in the 12-hour and Lee was in the 24-hour, which I had prodded him to do only to then abandon him when I dropped down to the 12. With his first 100, the Yeti 100, coming up, he decided to remain in the 24 and had different goals that would help him prepare for that event. It was a chip-timed race and like at Jordan Lake, they put the start/finish chute in a short out-and-back. It's not a big deal during the race, but it makes for a very congested start. If any were made, I never heard the pre-race announcements as I stood amidst the crowd at the start, I just noticed everyone started running. Up the hill, across the mats, a sharp U-turn, and we were off. I knew this first lap would show me just how accurately Ray and I had followed the course during our preview and as it turned out, we weren't terribly off. The main area we messed up was not finding a section of single-track around mile 2.5, but I think we were pretty close on everything else.

It would be pretty boring to describe every loop, and honestly difficult because they tended to run together. The splits are at the end of this post and I'll try to just summarize the day.

A stretch of more manageable mud.
The off-and-on rain that was forecasted turned out to mostly be "on" to some degree. Combined with the rain the day before, the course had some muddy spots from the start. Those spots would get much worse as the day (and night) wore on and new areas, like the one pictured to the right, that were once pretty solid and dry would become problem muddy areas.

Before I realized the trail might be pretty muddy, I had planned to wear my Brooks Cascadias for the race, but (I think wisely) changed to my Salomon Speedcross 3s before the start. Not only did they handle the mud better in terms of traction, they kept some of the water out, even without gaiters. I didn't have any blister issues during or after the race and my feet mostly felt dry the entire time, though my Balega socks probably contributed to that.

They say that insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result. I note that not in reference to this being a loop course, but to my once again having a meal the night before heavy in olive oil. I already have stomach/GI issues during long runs and the olive oil did a number on me. I certainly wasn't dehydrated, but made six porta-jon visits in the first 36 miles of the race (and seven for the entire race.) Even though it was cool and rainy, as a precaution against possible dehydration, I also took 3-4 S-caps over the course of the event.

If you scroll down to the lap splits, you'll note that every lap until the twelfth, was slower than the prior lap. Some of that was naturally slowing down, some was certainly the porta-jons and stopping to refill my water bottle, and some was the increasing amounts of mud and constantly changing the layers on my upper body. I would head out on a lap prepared for a strong rain and then the rain would quit and I'd be burning up--or vice versa. This continued until the rain finally let off for good around 7:00 p.m. and I changed into a dry shirt and light jacket that I would wear for the final three hours.

It's actually worse than it looks!
For most of the event, I ran alone, speaking to friends or co-runners only briefly in passing. With it being a relatively small loop, it was rare to go more than a minute without encountering another runner. I thought I had encountered just about everything in trail races but was proven wrong when one lady called me "babe" and "sweetheart" the two times I asked to pass as lapped her. It made me feel like I was in a diner, but was kind of funny.

Like so many long races before, I hit a bit of a wall between miles 30 and 40 and it shows in the splits as they were 3-5 minutes slower than my mile 31 split. This was a combination of everything--stomach issues, fatigue, and misery. At this point, I had already started doing the math of walking the rest of the 12 hours and began to seriously doubt my ability to finish 100 miles at Bryce Canyon next month and wondered if I should go ahead and drop down to the 50-miler. I knew that Bryce probably wouldn't be rainy and muddy, but it was going to be a lot hillier. I felt like my lack of training was really coming back to bite me now as I was past any distance I had gone in months and when I reached mile 40, I'd be past any distance I had run since Grindstone last October.

But around mile 40, a cloud was lifted (from me, not the sky--it was still raining) and things felt better. The mud was getting worse, but my body had seemingly self-corrected and while I wasn't about to run any more sub-30 minute loops, I could run/jog at a comfortable pace and hike the uphills. In a later e-mail, Bill would explain his theory for what happens to me between 30 and 40, but I won't get into it here as it's kind of scientific. My 14th lap dropped four minutes from the prior lap and though my lap times would again creep back up, I felt quite a bit better and knew that I could push through until the end.

I should mention that the timing tent is facing you as you cross the mats and make the U-turn. I didn't notice it at first, but after about 5-6 laps, I saw they had put up a large television screen that showed your lap split and place as you cross the mats. It showed that I was first in the 12-hour race. That surprised me quite a bit because I knew there were some guys ahead of me. So, I figured they must have been in the 24-hour race and tried to stay focused on just finishing. Unless I stopped and asked, or the second place runner happened to have crossed the mat within about the prior eight runners, I couldn't tell where they were in relation to me. Being more concerned about actually finishing the full 12 hours, I honestly didn't think about my place very much after that, though I did look at the screen on occasion to see if it showed the second place 12-hour participant. It never did until I started my final lap. It's hard to tell for certain, but only about twelve of the forty-one 12-hour starters went the "full" twelve hours, allowing for those who stopped because they didn't have time left to get a final mile or two after crossing the mat in the 11th hour.

After the six hour point had passed and that event ended, it was noticeable how many fewer runners were on the trails. Over the next few hours, more would stop for reasons ranging from "had enough" to reaching their mileage goal. I eventually figured out that Ray had pulled out and gone home (at the 50K point.) For most of the day, I felt like I did a pretty good job of eating something. With our table so close to the course and the start/finish aid station a little set back from the course, I tended to forget about the race-provided aid and just relied on what I brought. I was surprised to find out that the race had Huma gels, which are my current favorites. They are pretty expensive gels so to land them as a sponsor was a major coup for Mike.

It's hard to tell how muddy this part was!
After a time, like with all of these small loop courses, I was running from point to point and I had it pretty well memorized, even the best paths around the muddy sections (when there was any way around them.) One section had so much mud and water that about mid-race, they brought in pallets and mulch to lay across the trail. It would have been a really messy spot had they not done that. In the picture to the right, you can see how the water had accumulated. It was probably 8-12" deep in that area to the right of the pallets and underneath the pallets was either quicksand or mud. I was never quite sure which. While the pallets helped, I still slowed down on them because the spacing between some of the boards was just enough for my foot to fall into if I stepped wrong.

As I headed away from my table after my 17th lap, I heard someone back at the start/finish area yell my name. I was too far away to tell who it was and thought it was possible they were cheering for the guy running toward them. I later figured out that it was Brandon and Johnny. I had forgotten that Brandon said he'd be coming out at some point during the day. My 18th lap was my longest for two reasons. First, I made my final pit stop at the porta-jon, and second, I changed into my dry shirt and jacket and getting the wet clothes off took a while. I don't think the actual running part was any slower than the prior lap had been. Things were holding together pretty well. I was running and walking in the same spots on every lap on a consistent basis now.

When I headed out for my 19th lap, Johnny appeared and said he was going to run it with me. I warned him it wouldn't be very fast, but later realized how cold it was for those standing around out on the course and he might have been doing it in part to warm up. He and Brandon and Greg had come down to hang out and support some other runners. I don't know if it was the dry clothes or a fast, fresh runner pacing me, but the lap with Johnny went pretty quickly. Of course, the distraction of someone new to talk to certainly helped. The next (20th) lap I did alone and knew upon starting it that I had time to reach my goal of getting a 100K. It went a little slower than the lap with Johnny had, even though I walked the same spots as I had been. I believe part or all of this dropoff was because the sun had set and I was now running with a headlamp.

Brandon joined me for what would be my final lap. I had about 53 minutes left so obviously I couldn't get in two laps. Partial laps count at the 1, 2, and 3 mile marker so if I really felt good, I could continue to one of those points with any remaining time, but I didn't think it likely that I'd try. During our lap, Brandon told me about some more races that he's planning and we talked about other things that have since slipped my mind. Like with Johnny, the lap passed a bit quicker with someone accompanying me. Not necessarily on the clock, but it felt faster.

Brandon split off as I headed up and crossed the mat for my 21st lap. At about the 2.5 mile point of that lap, I had told him I was feeling a bonk coming on and it stayed with me until I reached the mats. I had 14 minutes left in the 12 hours and probably could have made it to the one mile point, but just didn't feel like going out there and then having to come back. Plus, to my surprise, Paul had shown up to help me pack my stuff and get it back to the car. 20 laps, or a 100K was my primary goal aside from just surviving. 21 laps was a secondary goal for only one reason: I got 21 laps at Jordan Lake 12-hour last year. That was a smaller loop, but I guess a part of me liked the idea of getting the same number of laps in.

I got a pottery medallion for the win though it didn't feel quite right given that at least a couple of the 24-hour guys were ahead of me and got more miles in their first 12-hours than I did. But the biggest thing I took away was the reminder that there are low points you have to get through and just because you're struggling early on doesn't mean you can't turn things around. The concern I had about Bryce Canyon is still there, but I just need to remember to take it easy and gut out the tough spots--and most importantly enjoy the views.

I wish I had taken a picture of my legs post-race, to show how thick the mud was caked on, but I did manage to get this of my shoes the next morning. The first picture is post-race. The second one shows how well they clean up with a hose and brush.


Lap            Lap Split         Race Time
  1                  25:55.64             00:25:55
  2                  26:09.56             00:52:05
  3                  26:43.72             01:18:48
  4                  26:57:12             01:45:46
  5                  27:16.29             02:13:02
  6                  28:03.43             02:41:05
  7                  30:06.97             03:11:02
  8                  33:09.36             03:44:22
  9                  33:15.00             04:17:37
10                  34:26.90             04:52:04
11                  38:13.49             05:30:17
12                  37:37.88             06:07:55
13                  39:24.85             06:47:20
14                  35:21.13             07:22:41
15                  35:52.93             07:58:34
16                  36:32.86             08:35:07
17                  37:33.12             09:12:40
18                  40:25.98             09:53:06
19                  36:45.56             10:29:51
20                  38:04.81             11:07:56
21                  38:03.66             11:46:00

Results from Wilson Timing.

Results on Ultrasignup (may have to click on "12-hour" on the page.)

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