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Mountain Mist Celebrates 30 Years

The South's annual ultrarunning celebration of community and camaraderie, with whatever the weather delivers

Jeffrey Stern

February 13th, 2024

6 min read


High atop Monte Sano Mountain hovering over Huntsville, Alabama, and the surrounding Tennessee Valley, a traditional shotgun start launched nearly 400 brave souls into a torrential downpour of a race day. The conditions were fitting for a race named Mountain Mist 50k, perhaps epitomizing the 30th annual celebration of one of the South’s most beloved ultra races.

Only once in the event’s storied history has Race Director Dink Taylor moved the race date. In 2016, snow and ice forced Taylor to push the traditional last Saturday of January to one day later on Sunday. Mountain Mist is about as consistent as races come. 

While the frosty conditions that blanketed the valley just a week prior had all but melted, racers were treated to more than a full helping of water beginning just a few hours before the race gun went off at 7 a.m. and lasting until early afternoon. As the precipitation gave way, thick fog rolled in on the back half of the course, a section known for eating up tired legs with climbs like Cry Baby and Waterline, which requires the use of a rope and all fours to make your way to the top.

Runners of all ages from twenty different states remained unfazed by the rather apocalyptic conditions. Despite the challenges, 392 hardy souls finished the burly course under the nine and a half hour cutoff, the third most finishers in the race’s three decade long history.

Skills requisite to navigate this year’s Mountain Mist included moving safely across nearly a dozen fast moving creeks, hopping a multitude of downed tree limbs, lifting your knees through shin-deep water over miles of trails, keeping your shoes attached to your feet in boggy mud sectors, staying grounded in high winds, and using a sixth sense for obstacle navigation in low visibility.

Runners had to really want to earn the hand painted finisher’s plaque this year. Katy Anderson flew in all the way from Bondi Beach, Australia, to collect her first finish, while 

67-year-old local runner, Lonnie Vogan, completed his 29th Mountain Mist. Sally Brooking out of Marietta, Georgia, notched her 24th finish. First timer Deanna Doane out of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, who not only came to run but was also out helping to clear part of the more damaged section of trail the day before, came from behind late to pass last year’s winner in the final miles and take the women’s win. 

Droves of new ultrarunners make the Mist their inaugural foray into the long-distance racing world. Huntsville’s own Kimberly Jouglet, after having run a half-dozen local 5 and 10k races the past few years, decided to make the leap. She blasted her stated goal of merely just making the cut-offs and finished in an impressive 8 hours and 53 minutes, despite taking some down weeks in early January for a hip injury. She attributed her strength and resolve to get the job done to hours spent in the gym and cross training to augment her lack of running, and it paid off. You can expect her back on the start line in 2025 for round two.

Even though she’d finished in the top twenty only two weeks prior at the Bandera 100k in Texas, Mica Anderson wouldn’t miss her seventh start at the race in as many years. She took it as an opportunity to jump start her training towards summer — she’s currently sitting at number twenty on the Western States waitlist and is looking forward to the prospects of running the historic hundred miler in just five months.

A friendly team competition pitted squads full of athletes representing Chattanooga, Huntsville, Nashville, Atlanta and Birmingham, in a cross-country-esque style scoring format, with Chattanooga winning commandingly for the second straight year.

From the front of the pack to the back of the pack and year after year, the early season 50k draws in new and seasoned runners alike not just for the challenge on 30-plus miles of sinuous and rocky Beast Coast trails, but also for the incredible camaraderie found once the mud had settled. From hanging by the finish line cheering each runner in at the Monte Sano lodge, to warming frozen fingers around the fireplaces inside, listening to live classic rock cover music, sharing stories of slips and slides out on course, and grandiose plans for the rest of the long year ahead, the strength of the South’s ultrarunning community shines bright at this event, even on the most overcast of days. 

The iconic red gate on the course is placed in a different location each year. It honors local runner DeWayne Satterfield who passed away of a rare heart cancer. By Pete Schreiner.

Many are eager to divulge where they went wrong and how they will train differently this year to set themselves up for more success at the next edition of their beloved Mountain Mist. Local runners are just as quick to ask an outsider who traveled a long distance, like myself, what I thought of the course and if I’ll be back. Of which I was swift to express how much I loved it and a resounding ‘yes.’ Even my California carpet back at home had me well prepared to tackle unfamiliar terrain with some confidence. 

It’s easy to seek out some sunshine or snow during the winter training and racing months, but wet and sloppy conditions, coupled with thirty years of history and ultra spirited enthusiasm delivered at the Mountain Mist. This race was enough to fill my cup for the warmer months ahead and have me plotting a return once the calendar flips over into the next New Year. 

All photos by Pete Schreiner.

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