Ever wondered what it’s like from the other side of the race? Mom and Roo wrote this special guest post for me, I loved hearing about it from their unique point of view. Sometimes spectating can be just as stressful as racing y’all! 😉
Mom: Most of you reading this have never heard of Mountain Mist so I’ll try to help you understand the significance of this 50k Trail event. It’s one of the top TEN hardest trail races. The elevation levels are such to even entertain the idea of participating- your inner spirit must be a mountain goat. You must be able to lift your entire body weight over boulders on a vertical incline, crawl through crevices meant for bugs and insects, run through sub-zero, fast moving mountain waters, jump over stumps, roots, rocks, and skate your way over mud and ice all while passing THREE cut-off check points. If you share the brave news that you’ve signed with others – the words hang in the air like a heavy fog – people pause, wondering if they heard you correctly, then shudder and walk away saying a silent prayer for their friend. I’ve volunteered at mile 17 aid station several years in a row and witnessed ELITE runners drop out at this point, not willing to continue knowing the second half was even more brutal.
Pre-RACE Day: The day before the big event- of COURSE there was snow, freezing rain and ice in Alabama! I started to sense the anxiety level in Chelsea. She wasn’t talking much, wouldn’t give me eye contact and conversations about anything other than the impending weather resulted in a glazed look silently saying “I am not hearing you”. She never said it out loud, but she didn’t have to. The usual pre-race Mom pep talks also alluded me- secretly I was hoping the race would be cancelled, but alas, our Race Directors had major pull with our city officials and instead of a total cancellation, the race was delayed by one day. We spent the day before the race, Saturday< having some much needed fun and distraction, perusing shops, making sure Chelsea had a good pre-race meal and finally heading home to get our girl into bed early. We were ready! We didn’t really know what to expect, so I packed a “MacGyver” back-pack filled with so many things I could barely hoist it over my shoulder– checked and re-checked. Clothes were laid out for quick departure, and plans set for some of her running besties (Kimmie and Lindsey) to meet us early to make the ride up with us. Team Chelsea was a GO!
Roo: I swear, spectating and crewing someone at a long race is almost as difficult as running the dang race. Okay, not really but it is really exhausting! However, crewing for Chelsea is one of my favorite things to do, especially at her previous four races, since they were such big deals and went towards her Grand Slam! Which is why I drove three hours up from school! I just knew I couldn’t miss Mountain Mist and the moment she Grand Slammed! Even if it meant waking up at 5:30 and being on a ice and snow covered mountain when it was 18 degrees outside running all over creation for 12 hours. *insert pained smile here* (also, did I not tell you spectating was just like running the actual race???)
Mom: Not sure any of us actually slept. I was wide eyed at 0530 and brewing coffee. By 0600 I could see the glorious peek-a-boo of the SUN! I was so happy to see the bright heat inducing ball of ice melting rays. YES! THERE WOULD BE A THAW IN THE WOODS TODAY! The mood had suddenly shifted in our house – we were not scared or anxiety ridden – we were excited! It was a brilliant plan to have her running besties meet us for the ride up. The instant they arrived Chelsea was relaxed. I don’t know if the fitting phrase is “the more the merrier” or “misery loves company”, either way – it was exactly what we needed to soothe ourselves as we headed up mountain.
This was my first experience to be “in” the Lodge the day of MM. I felt proud just to be in the crowd mingling. So many runners – the vibe was strong and the time ticked by fast – very soon we were walking with Chelsea outside for the gun start – runners standing on sheets of pure ice. Chelsea looked calm and ready – *BOOM* – the gun shot – I gave her one last mamma pat and assured her we would track her and be waiting for her at Aid Station (3) mile 16.9 – the first timed cut-off. I watched her familiar running saunter as off into the snowy wood she went, her blue hat quickly becoming part of the pack of Mist chasers! SHE’s REALLY DOIN THIS Y’ALL!
Roo: I lovingly reminded Chels that I didn’t drive all they way here to see her get hurt or not finish and that I was not going to spend my day home in the ER with her.
Cut-Off #1: Mile Marker 16.9: We had a few hours before we had to meet her at the aid station, so we went home. I could hardly sit still; constantly wondering where she was, how she was feeling, had she fallen, was she scared, what were the conditions etc. Scotty and Sarah met us and we all headed back up the mountain to wait.
Roo: We arrived at the first aid station around 10:40. A minute later mom got a text from Chels saying what she wanted at the aid station and that she was at mile 13. Immediately, we started to worry. She had one hour to run 4 miles, which normally wouldn’t have been a big deal, but this was trail miles. Icy, muddy, snowy, trail miles.
Mom: The cut-off time was fast approaching and I was shocked to see several of the die-hard elite, top trail runners coming into the aid station at a much slower pace than they normally would. Several decided to drop out because conditions were SO BAD. At this point Amanda Clark met us. She completed MM last year and agreed to run the back half with Chelsea. The cut-off was getting close. Too close. We were all perched on different parts of the road, aid station, peering into the woods, squinting for a blue hat and black and white tights – I’d already been silently chanting her name over and over “come on Chelsea, come on, I know you can do it”.
Roo: I was honestly preparing in my head what to do and say if she didn’t make the cut off. I was gonna cry. A lot. 11:47; no Che— wait a minute. What’s that in the distance? CHELSEEEEEEA. I ran down the side of the road to where mom was waiting and said “she’s coming, she’s coming! Chelsea’s coming!” to which mom replied with loud screaming of Chelsea’s name. Here she came running down the trail, just making the cut off. Phew!
Mom: She made it! We couldn’t believe it. Even SHE couldn’t believe it. We had zero time to waste – we gave her a Coke, she quickly swallowed some boiled potatoes, Amanda literally tossed two Excedrin in her mouth and OFF they went.
WHAT A RELIEF! I could breathe normal again. We all very quickly made the walk up the hill to our car and headed off to the next cut-off station. The mood in our car was a GREAT ONE. We talked the whole way of how incredible a moment it was to witness Chelsea crossing over when so many other really good, seasoned runners hadn’t come close. She had a little over 55 minutes to do another 4 miles.
Cut-Off #2: Mile Marker 21:
Mom: The second cut-off aid station was positioned a little more in the woods. We drove to the parking lot and quickly made our way through a portion of the wet, muddy trail until we could hear cheering. I can’t tell you how glad I was to see two of our most favorite and encouraging runner friends manning the aid-station. Carol and Marty Eaton. We exchanged hugs, and Marty offered words of support and assurance, reminding me “She’s strong, and ready- she’s going to do it, so stop worrying”. I’d been whispering those same words to myself all day, so it was good to hear it from someone else. Marty and Carol are naturals at knowing exactly what to say to tired runners. It was a sloppy, muddy, mess by this time and we began to see those who had been just ahead of Chelsea at the last aid station. I perched myself on the side of the trail and set my sight on the exact point where runners pop into view.
Roo: The minutes ticked on and we became increasingly certain this would be the end of the race for her. Again, I started thinking of what in the world are we going to say and do if she doesn’t make it. I got discouraged. It’s not that I didn’t believe in Chels, I do, with my whole heart, but she was running on solid sheets of ice. It was mega hard on everyone, even seasoned Mountain Mist runners.
Mom: I was filled with nervous tension and I stopped breathing for a few moments as I looked down at my watch and saw the time. I looked back at Marty – he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. As I turned back around, I caught a glimpse of blue through the trees. IS THAT THEM? I could hear Amanda and her bubbliness and I screamed CHEEELLLLLSEEEEEEEEEEEEE so loudly I’m certain it echoed for miles! I jumped up and down, not even feeling the heavy weight of the backpack on my shoulders anymore. I ran to the front of the aid station to hand her coke and a vanilla waffle. Marty knew she was very close timewise so he firmly instructed her to take her coke and waffle with her, no dawdling, and to HAUL HER ASS DOWN THAT TRAIL. I barely got to see her – it was a blur. She looked tired, but smiled and managed a wave before her and Amanda disappeared into the woods again. Holy Crap y’all – only ONE MORE CUT-OFF TO GO.
Cut-Off #3: Mile Marker 25:
Mom: The last aid station is the most pivotal and most gut-wrenching. Dreams end, hearts are broken. We were highly sensitive to this, particularly after a mutual friend waiting on her husband to cross shared that the volunteer manning the aid-station was super strict at cutting off runners at the exact time, down to the seconds. The entire race is a big deal, but this moment, this cut-off is huge. We all handled our angst differently- Roo and I paced, my husband chatted, Scotty walked off and looked at his phone, and Sarah read her book. Several of the runners ahead of Chelsea were coming in earlier. We relaxed a little, shared some snacks and kept watch. At 1:45 I decided I wasn’t close enough and walked across the street to stand at the bottom of the trail where the runners came out of the woods. The trail was thick with bushes and branches and good golly the ice and water and mud holes! I had to bend down to be able to view the top of the hill to see the runners. A friend, David Collins, came up and said “I’m going to go to the top of the hill and make sure they know they need to move their asses”. I wanted to hug him. Off he went.
Roo: 1:55 rolled around and my third round of heart palpitations began. As the clocked ticked closer to 2:00, we were starting to feel a little heart broken. But then we heard word that the actual cut off time was 2:02, since the race had started 2 minutes late. Okay. That’s two extra minutes. Come on, Chelsea. But then 2:00 hit and there was no Chelsea. 2:01 and there was no Chelsea. There were some runners coming and Alvin had started yelling for them to hurry because they only had one minute to make the cut off.
Mom: I began to feel a helpless desperation with shallow breathing and chest pains. By this time, Alvin, Roo, Scotty, Sarah and others that knew Chelsea also walked over. At this point, I literally bowed my head and prayed to the Mountain Gods, Buddha, Mother Nature and Jehovah “please lift her feet and give her lightning speed”. Tears formed uncontrollably. This can’t be happening. The volunteer timer at the aid-station was making her way across the street to deliver the bad news to runners. Alvin walked up the trail a little because it was so hard to see through the thick brush……and like a David Copperfield illusion that magically appears – Holy !@#$ – that beautiful blue hat pops over the hill, and those black and white tights are sprinting their way down with Amanda in tow. The time is 2:01! Every single person waiting with us starts yelling for her “RUNNN CHELLSEEEAAA”…like a slow motion movie scene where the losing team suddenly scores and WINS the championship at the last second….the chaos, the yelling, the crying – I can’t explain what happened or how she did it, but she flew down that hill, floated across the pavement and collapsed onto the cooler sitting on the table holding onto it for dear life. She was literally the LAST runner to make it! The clock stopped and no one else was allowed to pass.
Roo: By the grace of God, and everyone yelling at her to run faster, she sprinted into the aid station LITERALLY WITHIN 10 SECONDS OF BEING CUT OFF. I mean, literally. Within seconds. Y’all. You don’t even understand the stress and panic and heart brokenness and sadness and disappointment and then rush of relief and excitement and proudness and happiness that all occurred within 5 seconds. Mom kept saying “that was such a movie moment!” and it truly was. SHE MADE IT. From this point on, there were no more cut offs. She could crawl the last 6 miles and take as long as she wanted. She had basically already completed Mountain Mist. *proud tears*
Mom: I wanted to collapse myself, but I was too busy trying not to do the ugly cry. Chelsea had DONE IT. To me she’d won at that point – she could crawl the last part or we’d carry her. It was finished in my mind – the worst was over. She met all three cut-offs and had beaten Mountain Mist. It was one of the proudest moments ever. She had six miles to go- the sun was out, the temperature had warmed and she was gabbing and laughing with Amanda like two best friends as they slowly walked back into the woods. We piled back into the car and made our way up to the lodge. We all replayed the unbelievable moment and laughed, and cried some more. We had time to visit and mingle with the runners in the lodge that were finished – my face beaming when they anxiously asked me- “did she make it?”. As the sun was going down, we were all waiting for her to finish.
Roo: We gathered our emotions and calmed ourselves down and went off towards the finish line. We were able to relax for the first time all day because SHE MADE IT. She was practically done. We waited around the finish line for quite a while and watched all our friends finish, and as the clock ticked on, fewer and fewer people were coming through. Around the 9 hour mark, we were starting to wonder what had happened. Around 4:35, mom asked someone when we should get worried, to which she got in reply, “Don’t worry, Chelsea would do anything to cross that finish line, even if it meaning crawling.”
The seconds were ticking on and we were still waiting, the sun was going down and it was getting colder. We heard one of the runner’s daughter (who was keeping a lookout, too) said “Chelsea’s coming!” She was coming! There was a huge crowd gathered at the finish waiting on her and we all started cheering and mom started her usual “CHEEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLLL-SEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAA”. At 4:40 she came running through the finish line. SHE DID IT. SHE GRAND SLAMMED. She cried, mom cried, I cried, we all cried. It was such a great moment. I was so glad I was there for it and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I’m so proud of Chelsea and how much she has accomplished. She’s my inspiration and role model and I love her very, very much!