Fire on the Mountain 50k
As race day approached I didn't feel the usual combination of pre-race emotions. This year there was a few new feelings taking up room in my head. Kevin the RD had made the official announcement that 2014 would be the final FOTM. Being lucky enough to have run every FOTM, it was sad news that the fifth running would be the last. While the possibility of the race ending (hiatus, Kevin, remember it's just a hiatus) was a sad note, there was a bright spot in the happenings. My sister would be running her first ever race. First ever ultra trail race no less. I was excited for her and nervous that I may have encouraged her to take a leap that was a bit extreme. Little did I know that once again my tiny big sister would be setting the example that I would try to follow.
We headed to Flintstone Maryland to the Green Ridge State Forest Headquarters to pick up our bibs and unfortunately get a refund for our race t-shirts. The RD lives several states away and is the owner of a new business which left little time for some items on the race day check list. But I have to say that was the only detail of the race that was disappointing. I am so grateful that despite all the challenges being so far away and running a business Kevin and his family were still able to put on one of the best trail races I have the privilege to run. Many thanks to Kevin and his family, all the volunteers, DCNR and the beautiful Green Ridge State Forest for allowing us safe and supported passage on a perfect day.
As the sun rises
There was no sun as I went through the pre-race drill and quietly slipped out of the house and headed to pick up my sis. Being an early riser she was wide awake and waiting for me to hit the road. Mostly we drove in silence. I was lost in my mind, still trying to wake up. As for my sis I can only imagine the thoughts that were swirling in her mind. I wanted to do everything I could to help make this first race a successful one for my sis but it was hard to shake the sadness that it would be the last FOTM. It is silly to get so sentimental about a race but as I made the long winding drive I couldn't help but think of all the past years.
View from the start line
In no time I had to get back to reality as we pulled into the open field that would welcome us as a finish line after 32 miles through the Green Ridge State Forest. Sis and I hopped out of the truck to check in, make a quick nature call and then readied our gear in the warmth of the truck. The minutes ticked down and it was time for us to get on the bus that would take us to the start line. On the bus we chatted and listened to other runners talking. Sis and I shared a seat with Janelle who was running her first 50k.
Sis and I about to hit the Red Trail
The ride has always been longer than I'd want with nervous anticipation growing by the minute but soon enough we were at the start line. One last nature call, a few snapshots, chatted with a few friends and we were ready to get on the move. The RD gave his usual final instructions; Red Trail, Green Trail, Fire Road, Purple Trail and we were....not off. Just as the RD was about to send us on our merry way, several runners yell "Car!" There were two cars making their way to the start line. Thanks to the winds the night before there had been an alleged tree down that delayed a few runners. Graciously the RD waited for them to grab their gear as their driver declared she had photos of the down tree. After a few minutes delay and a few laughs, we were finally set on our way down the fire road for a quick mile before entering the Red Trail.
The perfect day
The Red Trail was just as wonderful as ever. The day was beautiful, the leaves were abundant and our spirits were high as we moved quickly along the trail. I love how much I remember the route of this race. After about 3 miles we turn left to continue on the Red Trail but a few runners had turned right. With all our trail training miles, we were moving well over the terrain and making great time as we hit a hard left uphill we saw another group of runners who had missed the turn and incorrectly continued straight. We ran into the first aid station and paused long enough for me to tighten my one shoe then continued down the course. As usual, the trees in the Green Ridge State Forest beckon me to visit them but happily this year I would only need a few nature calls through my journey. I enjoyed some technical trail running throughout the remainder of the Red Trail only falling once luckily without paying any blood dues. We hit the second aid station in high spirits. I encouraged my sis to eat and drink more than she was doing. I had some banana, pringles and a little to drink. Sis sent out a quick text to update the family on our progress. We were happy with our pace and still feeling strong as we hit the Green Trail.
A pause at the Oasis
My history with the Green Trail has been a wet one but this year the course was as dry as I can remember it. Sis took the lead through this section as we had decided to run together or at least within eye sight. My main role would be to keep her on course and keep her from going to fast early in the race. It was a challenge to contain her enthusiasm and even though I was certain she could probably run much faster than we were going, we hadn't tested how long she could hold those paces and I didn't want her to burn out at mile 27. So we wove our way through the low laying section of Green Trail hopping across the creek only to hop back across the creek.
Sis ready for the climb up to the Oasis
The Green Trail went by quickly as we came out to the water only aid station shortly after passing the open front shed that I recalled being so happy to see in a section with little cover. Since we knew that volunteers were limited, we had planned to be able to run heavily self-sufficient. We paused only briefly before heading back down the trail.
My favorite part; the climbing.
Through the Green Trail we passed several runners. My sis was running strong but quiet. Every time I'd check in with her, she was "fine" or "good." It was a different experience to run with someone who is running their first ever race. I can only imagine what all was going through her mind as she was going farther and farther, getting closer to going farther than she had ever gone before.
The Oasis view
As we hit the Fire Road, the RD's daughter was there taking pictures of everyone. Another of many great perks of FOTM, awesome free race photos! In five short years she has gone from a little girl to a beautiful kind young woman. I'd call getting to see her and her sibling grow another of those FOTM perks. Another perk is the Oasis aid station.
Sis loved the oranges
We climbed the hill to the Oasis aid station dubbed "half way" on the course due to the "easier" second half. I added water to my hydration pack, drank some coke, ate bananas and chips. Sis enjoyed the oranges. Stephanie snapped a few photos of us and we were off again.
Enough energy to celebrate
We hadn't made it too far in fact I knew where we would answer another nature call because I stop at this spot nearly every year. Thanks to the nature call my tummy settled from the influx of sugar and we were off down the nearly 8 miles of fire road. There isn't much to say about the fire road we ran a lot, we talked some - although now I can't remember what we talked about. There were descents and climbs, rocks and more rocks and finally an aid station across the bridge. We didn't bother really stopping. I just whined that I'd love some sugar and caffeine.
The finisher's trophy - worth it!
My achilles/heel of my left foot was really bothering me. I was complaining about little things just to hear myself talk. Thankfully sis gave me some pain medication and a couple of runners who settled in beside us briefly offered me more...it must have been obvious that I was uncomfortable. But sis just kept motoring on. It was awesome to see her dig deep and not complain when I know she was working hard. We came to the next aid station but no soda to sugar up on so I risked drinking whatever sports drink they had and thanked them for being there before we headed up the next hill.
5th FOTM - 7:16
Quickly we were approaching the entrance to the purple trail and after directing some fellow trail brethren to the correct direction, we took the lead and enjoyed the softer footing. In previous years, I had complained about the purple trail. After my time on the Massanutten trails, I now enjoy the purple trail and felt like we were making some good miles as we worked our way further along the course.
32 miles. No worse for the wear.
As we made our way along the purple trail I remember quite a few places in this final section. As we passed under power lines sis mentioned how much it reminded her of our hometown pipeline route on the Mid-State Trail. We passed a particular large tree that has a fondness for me since we shared such intimate moments during one of the early years of this race. We passed a random spot along the trail where Champ had greeted me during the first FOTM.
Salty as ever
As I relived all those happy memories my sis had grown really quiet. This was the first time during the race that I thought she might be tiring. But still she continued ahead. If I said run, she ran. If I said hike this hill like you mean it, she hiked. But there was an unmistakable air of "I just want to be done" about her. Of course I was eager for that finish line too but as always the longer I go the more comfortable I feel about continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
How I celebrate my 5th FOTM 50k
We came on the last aid station put didn't take any aid since we had our hydration packs. Only about 4.5 miles to go! The remaining trail was a nice mix of descents, climbs, easy footing and technical running. It was a beautiful day. The conditions could not have been closer to perfect for my sister's first race and honestly, if FOTM has to see an end (Remember Kevin, hiatus. right?!) what better way for that to happen than this perfect day.
5th or 1st, it's a sweet success
It was a celebration of the ending of one thing but the beginning of others. Life is like that. Sometimes things have to end but there is always something new to begin. As we started what I knew was the final climb I prayed that my sister's daughters had found their way to the finish line. I knew that nothing was going to stop her from seeing her first ever finish line. I shouted that we were almost there. I was happy I was in the lead because I could hardly hold in the tears. Now tears of happiness that we could share such an amazing journey together.
Our cheering crew
And there they were, two beautiful young ladies waiting for their mom. Cheering and snapping photos as they ran to the clearing that would start our final victory lap to the finish line. That open field that had held one of my favorite finish lines for the past five years. I have loved it and hated it but each time I longed to see it knowing it held another piece of this wonderful journey that I am on. A journey that really has no finish line. A journey made up of moments like this one. Moments that matter. Moments that make me closer to the person I want to be. There I am running with my sister, my big sister. The one I spent my life trying to be just like and in this moment I couldn't have been more proud to see her being a little bit more like me. Minus the complaining.