Posts Tagged ‘ultras’

Well they gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia*

10 November 2013

I came into the 2013 Mountain Masochist Trail Run in an unusual posture.  A month prior, I had completed my goal of finishing the Oil Creek 100.  Then, my legs felt great throughout, and even after, but a severe caloric deficit I couldn’t dig out of led me to hiking the final thirty-eight miles.  Finishing in just over 30 hours, I wasn’t disappointed, but somewhat bemused at how things shook out.  For two weeks, I thought that I nailed my recovery perfectly.  But a series of unsatisfactory mid-length runs and a very stressful workweek leading up to MMTR prevented me from showing up in the condition I would have liked.

MMTR is an institution.  Its thirty-first edition, like the others, features over 9,000 feet of vertical gain.  It was thrilling to even participate in such an iconic race and take in the breathtaking autumnal scenery.  This became a mantra as I hit the peaks and valleys over the next fifty miles.


The lead-up to the run was inauspicious.  I had to stop several times on the drive south to deal with a work emergency.  My crew (CH) and I decided to camp at the start line to reduce hassle in the morning.  Yet a particularly noisy group of 19 year old girls camping nearby prevented me from falling asleep until after midnight.  Morning came quickly and I deviated from my practice by eating breakfast an hour before running, rather than earlier.  Nevertheless, nowhere on earth can buoy the spirits like a pre-dawn ultra starting line.  I was ready to roll.

The first little stretch (mile and a half?) was on pavement.  A very confused local was blasting Drake as a few hundred runners surrounded his car and quickly passed.  Soon after turning into the woods, my stomach started doing backflips.  (This is a recurring issue.)  I knew that if I gutted it out, it would calm down after about an hour – and it did!

Unfortunately, that was the point where my legs started feeling twice as heavy as usual.  I wasn’t in panic mode, but was a little concerned.  At this point, I was only about an hour in and my body was fighting me, hard.  I had almost killed my water – shouldn’t there be an aid station soon?  But I forced myself to stay positive.  The aid station was a little farther off still, but by the time I reached it and left, I was feeling pretty good.

The next few miles passed quickly.  I was hiking most hills to stay fresh for the seven mile slog up Long Mountain.  I spent a couple of miles with a really nice fellow named Billy from Lynchburg.  This was his first fifty miler (as was the case for many others I met), as part of the Lynchburg Ultra Series.  I could kind of relate – I have a special place in my heart for JFK, but what I was doing then was a different beast entirely.  In other words, I felt like this was my first honest fifty.  I ran with Billy for a large portion of that long, smooth downhill from roughly Mile 16 to Mile 20.

The smooth jeep roads were a nice change of pace.  In the previous months I ran Catoctin 50k and Oil Creek, both gnarly, and did a lot of my trail training on the AT in Myersville.  At MMTR, there was a short technical section in the Loop, but it was actually welcome at that point to mix it up.  The overall buffed out roads felt like a prize for making it through a long season of tweaked ankles and hopping over rocks.

Finally, I reached Long Mountain.  I began a strong power-hike and hoped to remain steady to the top.  I have very few stand-out skills in long-distance trail running, but I feel that I’m a pretty good uphill hiker.  I was imagining my legs as pistons firing, feeling good and passing folks a few at a time, when I finally got my comeuppance.  I always get my comeuppance.

It hit me halfway up Long Mountain.  I suffered a tremendous wave of nausea and came as close as I ever have while running to losing it out of either end.  Up to that point, I felt like I had been fueling and drinking pretty well; I must have been pushing too hard.  I felt really poorly for the next fifteen minutes or so and backed off the pace significantly.  I inched into the Long Mountain aid station desperate for words of encouragement.  CH didn’t disappoint.

I began to feel better as I kept climbing out of Long Mountain.  Nevertheless, at this point a familiar foe reared its head.  I simply wasn’t taking in enough calories.  I recognize that this is always a problem for me, and yet I can’t seem to fix it.  I’m always afraid that putting too much into my system will cause some sort of malfunction, but the opposite problem is just as bad.

At any rate, I finally reached the Loop where CH was set to run with me.  Like I said, the more technical trails felt like a nice change of pace on that day.  It was CH’s first exposure to trail “running,” and she saw that it often entailed a great deal of hiking.  Save for a minor fall, I think she enjoyed it.  I punched my bib at the top, took in the incredible view, and was warmed by a feeling of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the day wasn’t over yet.  I ran out of water coming out of the Loop, and the aid station could only fill me up halfway, as they were running low.  The short jaunt to the next aid station was somewhat of a low point, but I gulped down a lot of water.  This, of course, caused frequent bouts of micturition for the rest of the race.

From the Loop to Forest Valley?  The less said the better.  There was one hill in particular – not a terribly long one – that seemed to reach straight up.  By the time I reached the final aid station at Porters Ridge, however, I was feeling better, mostly due to the knowledge that the remaining four miles were nearly entirely downhill.

From there to the end, I let gravity take control.  With about two miles to go, I really opened up my stride and was running rather quickly.  Having no regard at that point with how I placed, I nevertheless passed at least ten other runners.  It was more just enthusiasm for how close I was getting to the finish line.  Yet I quickly discovered that the last three-quarters of a mile or so were paved and flat.  In any other circumstance, a flat course would be cause for celebration, but now it meant that I actually had to start working again.  I didn’t want to be that huge tool that passed a bunch of people only to slow to a crawl and have them catch back up.

The finish line was a welcome sight.  I mused before the race that if the stars were perfectly aligned, I’d probably run around ten hours flat.  Keeping in line with my poor power of prognostication, I ran a 11:20 and change.  (I actually knew early on in the day that I wouldn’t finish anywhere near ten hours.)  I think on a perfect day I could have shaved an hour off of it, but I wasn’t disappointed in myself at all.  I was blessed to run such an incredible course and really just tried to enjoy the entire experience.  Huge thanks are due to Clark Zealand, Dr. Horton, the organizers and volunteers, the friendly racers, and my crew, CH.

*Of all the renditions of Wreck of the Old 97, this is probably my favorite.


(Real men wear fanny packs. Photo courtesy of CH.)

What did I learn?

This was my final race in a long and exciting, but trying, year.  I took on some big challenges with the understanding that it was probably too much, too soon.  On a macro level, next year I plan to work on quality miles rather than racking up junk miles, and focus racing on 50Ks and 50 milers.  I simply need to become a better runner before biting off huge distances.

From MMTR, I confirmed my realization that I really need to nail down my nutrition and hydration strategies.  I also learned that I need to incorporate a lot more hill training not just in race-specific training, but as a matter of course.