Going into the Music City Trail Ultra last year, I had three goals: Don’t get lost, Don’t die, Finish.
As most of you know, having tackled the course once, my goals were loftier this time around. I figured a PR was almost a sure thing, and top 3 a possibility if everything went well. Turns out, I should have just stuck to those goals from last year.
Having run the course previously, I knew where I could get some time back from last year. Despite it’s challenges (and there are many) there are some very runnable parts in the Tennessee mountains where I knew I could push. Also, spending less time at Aid Stations would cut down on my time. All this, and I figured a time around 5:20-5:30 was a possibility, and should be good enough for top 3 (more on that later) if the competition was favorable for me.
The race starts out in an open horse field before turning into the woods for the first of many climbs. I got out just behind the leaders, a little quicker than last year, but definitely manageable.
If you read my recap from last year, you know that the biggest and most intimidating hill on the course comes after we click over to Mile 1. However, once you crawl your way up, there’s a nice runnable section before you descend off the trail and into the woods.
The RD mentioned to me that the course was “hairier” than last year. Meaning, brambles were everywhere. Which is fine, but it just hinders your running a bit. It also makes showering wildly painful after the race.
Runners get a nice downhill to descend into Aid Station #1, where I filled up my water, dropped some Nuun in my flask, and ran away.
I had already noticed that the heat of the day was really ramping up, and it was only 8am. Eventually, the temps would climb well into the 80s. This turned into a major problem for me, since the warmest weather I’ve run in since October has been about 60 degrees and cloudy.
The section from Aid Station 1 to 2 (and then from 5 to 6) is so hard. Almost all up and down, with a few water crossings thrown in for good measure. Still, I arrived at AS 2 feeling good, but definitely not great.
I’d like to point out at this point in the race, I was hovering a smidge over pace for a 5 hour finish. Significantly faster than I thought I’d run (and what I should have been running).
The second from AS 2 to 3 was more challenging than last year. Only one big climb when you’re outward bound (two on the way back) but lots of terrain to push on. The location of AS 3 actually caught me by surprise. It was moved up a solid mile from last year due to mud where it normally was. This was great going from AS 2 to 3, but it meant we would be on our own for about 9.5 miles on a loop through the woods.
This part of the course ravaged me. The climbs, the water crossings, the last of trail, and the gunshots sounding in the mountains (there’s a shooting range nearby). The race actually set up another AS on the back half of this loop due to the heat.
At this point, my pace was suffering (although in hindsight it still wasn’t awful at this point) as were many runners. Another runner who was struggling was just behind me, and we ran together for the duration of the loop.
Getting back to AS 4, I felt terrible. The heat and lack of rest and recovery after the Cowtown was all coming together. Here I made my biggest mistake. I dawdled too long at AS 4. This got me out of rhythm and made it so hard to get running again.
It also allowed me to think. In a run like the MCTU, thinking is not a good thing.
A mile down the trail I stopped to pee (first time in the race at Mile 20…despite drinking 2.5+ liters of water, nuun, and gatorade) mostly because I felt I should, not because I had to. Not to be too gross, but my pee was a darker shade of orange/brown than my BibRave singlet. Not good.
With a solid 12 miles to go, and at a higher level of dehydration than I’ve experienced in a race or long run before, mentally I called it. I walked/hiked my way to AS 5 and called it a day.
I hate DNFing. But I didn’t feel soldering on that dehydrated and in that heat was worth finishing.
And I know at least one person reading this will disagree with that decision, and that’s fine. I’m always a proponent of “live to run another day” and being able to say I finished the MCTU a second time was not worth a severe dehydration risk, in my opinion.
We all know we have those days that just suck when we run, and we pray they don’t come on race day. I’ve had that happen once before (looking at you Rock N Sole Half). On Saturday I had that, a lack of rest from Cowtown, and the heat all create the perfect storm of badness.
That all being said, I have every intention to return to MCTU next year and avenge this result. I love this race, and the challenge it presents. But for now, this guy needs to rest.