Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12M Recap

There's nothing like Marathon Monday to get me excited about running and racing. After watching Rita Jeptoo's course record, Meb Keflezighi's big win, and ShalanFlanagan's PR, I was tempted to click Register for yet another marathon, but it seemed wise to step back and channel that enthusiasm somewhere else. So I'll be catching up on a bunch of updates I meant to post here, rather than registering for another marathon (for now...)


I'm not a morning person; races are among the few things that can get me out of bed before 9 on a weekend morning. Still, on race morning of the Mountains-to-Sea trail 12-miler, I was really not feeling it. It was cold and raining, and I had planned to get to the start in time to do 8 miles before the race so I could hit 20 for the day. This was going to be my last 20-miler before taper.

Back when I registered for this race (which was a no-brainer: it's a trail I hadn't run before, it's put on by Bull City Running, and the money goes to the Friends of the MST), I wrote a note to myself in which I described in detail my plan to get in my prescribed 20 miles. "I have mapped out a route for you. You need to arrive in Raleigh at 6 with your gels, water, etc. You are going to do an out-and-back (4 miles each way) to cover 8 miles before the start. At the end of the race there is supposedly great food so just get them done first and you'll be way happier."

Map for proposed pre-race miles.

Map for proposed pre-race miles.

Despite this attempt at planning, I misread the instructions about the start line and didn't factor in that there was no parking at the start, and I had to meet the shuttle at a parking lot. That was no big deal, but the shuttles didn't leave for another 45 minutes and it was cold, and pouring rain. My mistake plus the whole "running while completely soaked for 8 miles before the race even starts," led me to just nix the whole plan,  bargaining with myself that it would be much better to just sit quietly in a warm shuttle, run the race, and then figure out how to add 8 miles afterward.

In the shuttle I met a woman here from out of town and eyed a number of other people I was too shy to talk to. They looked like real trail runners to me and all I could think of to say was, "It is raining so much...", so I stayed quiet.

The start was as cold and as wet as it looked from the inside of that warm shuttle. (I had worn a tank top but hastily grabbed a tshirt and rain jacket on my way out the door, and I would keep and be grateful for all of those layers during the race.) Still, I tried to get excited. I talked to a few really nice people and told them it was my first time running MST. We shared what information we had about the trail and talked about our upcoming races. I was grateful to be out there, despite everything.

The main thing I want to convey about my race is that the trail was really, really muddy. 95% of my attention was focused on navigating mud. My shoes were soaked in the first mile. I tried to carefully control my slips and slides in the mud without going down, though I did, once. I caught myself with my hands and avoided rolling around in the slop. But soon I was in the swing of things. I had warmed up and gotten used to having wet shoes. Other runners, grown adults (!) were giggling and splashing around in the mud, and the fun was contagious.

I thought the course was wonderful: The hills were rolling but not steep and the course was technical-ish (to me, but what do I know) but didn't seem like it was trying to break my ankles with its roots and rocks. 

Obligatory (?) muddy shoes photo.

Obligatory (?) muddy shoes photo.

I wound up finishing in 2:09:07. I can't say too much about my time except that, like Little River, I was 95% sure I was running at about half-marathon pace, only to look down at my watch halfway through and see some surprising numbers. My average pace was 10:49, which shocked my vain, road runner self, but I guess that's trail running for you. (?) I ran strong, passed a lot of people, and powered up the hills. And, I was third in my age group, so I'm happy! A thing I'm growing to appreciate about trail running is that it has expanded my understanding of what a "good race" means beyond just my time at the finish line.

After the race I did finally get in those 8 miles....after a stop for coffee and a bagel, and a shower, and a nap. I felt pretty gross and the whole thing wasn't ideal as a last long run of marathon training, but I would definitely do it again. And hey, at least I spent a lot of time on my feet!