All 2010 Race Reports
by Dave MacLuskie
First off, thanks to all of the volunteers at Mountain Masochist; to the ones I saw and the ones I didn't see. I tried to say a sincere thank you at every aid station but who knows where my head was. Thanks to Dr. Horton for creating the race 28 years ago, even if it is a bit long. And huge thanks to Clark Zealand the race director for putting on a top notch event. I can't imagine the logistics of organizing a 50 mile point to point event with the requisite marking, timing, safety, volunteers, aid stations, food, water, transportation and all the things I don't even know happened. Every time I saw Clark he had a smile on his face. Even more impressive to me was that he and Horton were at the finish line offering congratulations and shaking everyone's hand. Even slow people like me.
My first 50 miler and 3rd ultra.
Ran 50+ miles (well, walked the uphill bits) and finished before the 12 hour cut off.
Total time: 11:50:25.
Tired, sore and pleased.
I know I tend to be a bit wordy, but it's a ultra race so I feel justified in a ultra long report. I've borrowed some photos from my training runs so they look a bit greener. I also snagged some from Clarks Flickr site. Thanks to whoever took those!
I'll skip over the training (a 20-22 miler every weekend and ocassionally a 15 miler the day after), and the two training runs (written up here as Training Run 1 and Training Run 2).
I arrived in Lynchburg on Friday, checked into the hotel and attended the pre-race briefing in a packed room. A few things that stood out was an acknolwedgement of the current Appalachain Trail thru-hike record holder (Andy Thompson, 47 days, 13 hours) and the current womens AT thru-hike record holder (Jennifer Pharr Davis, 57 days, 8 hours). In addition, of the nine people who have ever finished the Barkley Marathon (100 mile run in the mountains of Tennessee), three were in the room. Then there were folks like Tom Green who has been in all of the MMTR races and only missed finishing one (last year) and John Price who was going for his 25th finish in a row, traveling to Mexico to do a double-deca Ironman (20x Ironman distance), and running across the United states next summer. I'm sure there are many more stories I didn't hear.
And then there's me. First 50 miler. It's a humbling place to be. This is the course elevation profile. A total of 9200 feet of elevation gain, over the more than 50 miles. (I've heard 52-54 is more likely.)
I got up at 4am, ate some oatmeal, downed a poptart, drank some water and got dressed. The finish line temps were predicted to be below 40 deg all day. As I was likely to finish as the sun was setting it was going to be even cooler. I decided on tights, a thin short sleeve compression shirt, my favorite orange Icebreaker (merino wool!) long sleeve shirt and a jacket. This was too much. The jacket and tights were really not necessary (though the jacket was nice at the end).
Outside the hotel at 5am we boarded some school busses and were shuttled off to the James River Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway (the lowest point of the Parkway, which is celebrating its 75th birthday). We'll run the first 3-4 miles on the Parkway.
The usual porta potty line waiting commences. Then the usual pre-race standing around being nervous and cold. Then the usual pre-race "forgot to tie my shoes", "where is my glove", "why am I here?", etc thoughts occurs.
Ignoring the enthusiasm in my face, note my utter lack of togetherness: shoes loose, gaiters not attached, jacket askew, hydration vest not buckled.
At 6:30 am we start. There are whoops and hollers and yells and we run up the road en masse. After about 1.5 miles we turn around, and head back, passing the start line and the crowd of spectators and start the thing for real.
After 6-7 miles on road we come to first Aid Station: Cashaw Creek. I've run a bit over an hour. 1:06 or so? That's probably too fast, but it felt good and effortless. Once we hit the trails things will slow down, for me at least. The sky is getting lighter as I approach the station. I had a small flashlight with me but never bothered to turn it on. I kept it in a pocket on my hydration vest and didn't bother to fish it out to discard it in the growing pile of discarded lights. I grab a cup of water and head into the trees.
Coming into Aid Station #1, Cashaw Creek. I appear to be leading the orange/red crowd and doing a funny little dance.
Once on the trail I slow to a walk. It's uphill now. I'm too warm now and remove the jacket and tie it around my waist. It'll stay there most of the race and it isn't really a burden. I also remove the hat and gloves and stow them in my pack.
The photographer specifically asked for a thumbs up. A friend pointed out that this is best I've look in any race photo of any distance that he's ever seen me in.
I walk uphill, run downhill, lather, rinse and repeat. Coming into the aptly named Dancing Creek aid station I manage to step carefully on wet rocks all the way across the water only to plant my right foot in shin deep on the last step. I choose think of it as dancing with Dancing Creek. The water is cold. My foot is now wet and heavy. Fortunately a mile later it was forgotten and I never did have issues with my feet despite that and a few other water hazards.
A bit further on the tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway has more water in it than the last time I ran this part a month ago on a training run. It's not deep, but it's hard to tell in the dark! Yes, you run through it.
It looks like a creek but it isn't as bad as it seems. That is, once you're past the crocodiles and trolls. I'm kidding. The trolls only come out at night.
There's a lovely bit of trail to the Parkway Gate aid station, then I descend again only to hit a wide gravel road and a long uphill section. At the top is the Robinson Gap aid station.
It's uphill even though it doesn't look like it.
A few to the side showing one of the switchbacks already covered.
I experiment with a 60 paces walking, 60 paces running combination. I find that extended walking makes my back sore (likely poor form on my part), but running is always fine. I can't run up the whole thing but the 60/60 plan worked well for me. If nothing else, it broke up the mental monotony of walking. I even passed some people, most of who passed me back when I stopped at the aid station at the top to tighten my shoes. During the training run I ended up with fairly bad blisters and I attributed it to the upcoming downhill section. I'm pleased to say I had no such issues on race day. I had no hot spots, blisters, or any other foot issues all day.
The downhill and rolling section continues. I pass through the Irish Creek aid station, grab something or other, and continue around the resevoir to the Resevoir aid station. How do they come up with these names?
The aid station is right by the river. It's very scenic. (Photo taken on the bridge during first training run on 9 October, hence the green.)
Now it's just the long uphill (again) on Swapping Camp Road to Long Mountain Wayside, nominally the half way point. It sits on Route 60 and is easy to get to (if you're in a car). It's about the biggest aid station and an area folks can meet their runners. The long climb has a negative impact on me and I think I entertained thoughts of stopping there. Upon taking assessment of myself I wasn't hurting, wasn't tired, and wasn't thirsty. I think I might have been hungry. I had some gummi bears on me and chowed down as I walked. It helped. The mental aspect of the race was more than I had anticipated. Some people say they can shut off their brains and just run. I apparently cannot (or I haven't found the "off" switch yet).
As you near Long Mountain Wayside the road flattens out and opens up.
At Long Mountain Wayside a volunteer fills my hydration vest while I drank a few cups of water then I continued on. As I was carrying everything I needed already I didn't require a drop bag here, though it was an option. I was pleased to see I had a 30 min buffer on the strict cut offs. If you don't make an aid station by the cut off, you are out of the race. One of the busses was waiting and was an ominous sign. I even got excited about making up another 30 min on the back half of the course. Was sub 11 possible? Wow! I had run the back half in 4:50 or so on a training run. I knew it would take longer today but 5:30 seemed possible in my head. I'm sure the experienced runners are all laughing right now. Race day math doesn't always add up.
One note: I didn't use a stop watch. I did wear a watch, but as the cut offs are all denoted with clock time, not race time, it was easier just to compare the actual clock times. In a 12 hour race, the second hand quickly disappears anyway. Plus, looking at a stop watch that reads 10 hours is more depressing than one that reads 2pm. Two is, after all, a smaller number than ten.
Leaving Long Mountain Wayside is a notorious climb up to the Buck Mountain aid station. At the top, somewhere up there, the theme to Rocky is on a constant loop. The climb is long. I did not run at all. I was too tired for the 60/60 trick I pulled earlier. This climb felt fairly easy on the training run. Of course for the training run I started fresh at Long Mountain Wayside as opposed to 27 miles into things. Marc had said as much during the training run. Knowing and experiencing are two different things.
I'm moving so fast here everything is a bit blurry. Right?
I was told you can hear the Rocky music a mile away so not to get too excited. True to form, I heard music as I came around one bend. It was faint and far away to my left. I made a note of when I first heard it. The sound would disappear as the trail wound around the ridge and reappear a little louder. By the time I reached it 30 minutes had passed since my first hearing it. That's gotta be more than a mile! I wasn't walking that slowly. I filled up on water, coke and Chips Ahoy cookies. Chips Ahoy cookies are a new favorite.
I got a bit chilly running back downhill when I was out of the sun. There was some evidence of snow fall (very light) but it made things pretty. The air was cold and brisk and kept me alert. I was glad to have the tights on the cold sections then I'd turn a corner and run in the sun and wish I had shorts on (but not enough to change).
Snow! Sort of. It presumably fell early that morning. It felt like running through a refridgerator when you saw snow. It a way it was refreshing.
The road ends and I take a right onto another road to climb to The Loop aid station. A lady in a van driving down the hill asked if I wanted my jacket (still tied around my waist) taken to the finish. I declined wondering if I'd need it when it got cold around 4:30. I'm glad I kept it. It was sure nice of her to ask though!
The next aid station is at the start of The Loop: a 5 mile loop that winds through the Mount Pleasant Recreation Area. It includes Mt. Pleasant and Pompey Mountain. I stop at the aid station before entering and grab a few snacks. They had no Chips Ahoy, but they did have ham sandwichs; a new favorite food while running.
The Loop is very pretty but some of the climbing is rough. The descent is even worse for me as most of it is rocky; the kind of larger loose rocks that I turn my ankle on. There are a few day hikers enjoying the trail and they kindly let us pass.
An entirely unconvincing photo of how rough The Loop is. (This is NOT the worst part.) See how the fellow uphill is leaning on a tree? I love the trail but it was slow going for me.
The Loop slowed me down. The first mile or so is very runnable but I lost a lot of time. I lost 10 of my 30 minute cushion. I spent about 1:15 in the loop. I couldn't run up the hill and I couldn't run down the hill without tripping and falling. John Price passed me near the exit and I was hoping to stay close to him. I knew he had incentive to finish! He slow pulled away from me though.
Upon exiting the Loop the aid station (same spot, different table) had warm ramen noodles with a nice salty broth. It was awesome.
My running was turning into a shuffle but I was making forward progress and moving faster than walking. At the next aid station, Salt Log Gap, I only had a 12 minute buffer on the cut offs. Ack! They had hot (hot!) chicken noodle soup. Yum! The next aid staion was only a couple miles away but mostly uphill. I maintained the 12 minute cushion into the Forest Valley aid station. This aid station had the best ham sandwiches; lots of ham, good cheese, potato bread.
I had several thoughts in the past hour or so about not making the cut offs. I was bleeding time. It would be a relief to stop but I know I'd regret it and didn't want to stop. Rather, I didn't want to not finish. If I could stop and finish I'd go all in. The mental games were rough. Oddly, my energy level was quite high. I was eating better and drinking enough (apparently, though I think more would have been better). I had expected to feel wiped out by now and I wasn't. Sure my legs hurt, but it's 50 miles. I knew that would happen.
The section to the last aid station, Porters Ridge, is long. It has a few tough climbs including the hardest on the course. It's short, but very steep. One step at a time, hands on your knees steep. Steeper than the hills at Yorktown beach steep. The downhill after that is almost more brutal as you have no real excuse to not run. I needed to make that last cut off! I came through with a 15 minute buffer. It was 5:30 and I had to finish by 6:30. It's "only" four miles and I have an entire hour but it's all downhill on rocky jeep trail that I'm lousy at running. And I'm tired. And my legs hurt. I had a hard time here on the training run too. It was getting chilly now and the sun was low in the sky. I put on my jacket and was glad I did. I felt much better with it on. It was like an immediate warm hug. I felt no need for gloves though.
Where I fell during the second training run. (Photo taken during the second training run while I was nursing my pride.)
At least 15 people passed me in the last 4 miles. My run/shuffle was as fast as I could go. Both IT bands were tight and my legs ached all over. I slowed to choose my footing over a little washout section and a girl in a green hat ran by saying "run with us! run with us!" She hardly seemed tired at all. I think she might have been running with Alicia, a girl I had met on the previous training runs and had played leap frog with all day. She passed me decisively on the downhill. I couldn't keep up with them but kept running.
I caught John Price by the road. Per his comments at the pre-race meeting the night before I didn't congratulate him for 25 finishes. I knew he didn't want to be jinxed! Finally I saw the 1 mile sign just before the gravel turns to blacktop. Rumor is that it's the only accurate mile on the course. It meant I was almost done.
I ran/shuffled up the road and saw the official clock: 11:49:xx. As I rounded the corner as it clicked to 11:50. I finished 25 seconds later.
Finishing and a high-five/shake from Clark Zealand who probably stood there for 4 hours.
Clark stood on the finish line and I shook his hand (he was still smiling). Horton was behind him and I shook his hand too. I ate a moon pie and drank a cup of soda.
John Price ran in a few min behind me for his 25th finish and I found out Tom Green was the last official finisher before the clock tipped to 12:00 for his 27th finish. Fun fact: their bib numbers were 25 and 27 respectively. That's a lot of pressure!
After walking around a few minutes I found my red duffel bag and heard the bus was 1) warm, 2) leaving. Sold! I boarded, stretched some, changed into dry socks and dry shirts and listened to others chat or sleep for the 1 hour drive back to hotel (remember it's point to point race! and we end up 50 miles away).
The awards ceremony was amusing. I met a few nice folks and have forgotten most of their names. Sorry! I'm bad with names. A fellow who I think was named Jim saw my Shamrock marathon shirt as I limped into the elevator to head down for the awards ceremony. He lives in Hampton. I talked to a very pleasant fellow, who had finished the race several times, dropped after the loop. He had recently undergone some knee surgery and wisely decided to stop when things got painful. John Price got a 25 year finisher award (a big heavy glass thing). Tom Green the last official finisher got the "More Guts than Brains" award -- a small silver-colored statue that is the back half of a horse. Clark pointed out that "Official" is misspelled on the award.
Of the 301 people signed up, 212 finished within the 12 hour limit, 4 are a few minutes after 12 hours, 11 did not start, 49 are listed as "did not finish", and 22 have no time listed (I'm not sure what that means).
Finishing means I get to wear this awesome shirt! I'm trying to come up with a way to wear it at work. Maybe with a yellow tie?
I slept very well, woke up to moderately stiff legs but nothing nearly as bad as I expected. On the drive home I thought of all the things I should do to finish faster next year. Some are a challenge as I live in a relatively flat area.
For anyone else thinking of doing the race (you know you want to), the training runs were very helpful. The hills seem a little less endless. The recognition of landmarks like "that turn", or "the tunnel", "that oddly shaped tree", "that place I face planted last time", and "that place where Marc said he heard that some girl got run over by a deer one year" were all helpful in reminding me that I was making forward progress.
Great day. Great race. Thanks again to everyone involved! So when does the Lynchburg Ultra Series sign up start?
Mountain Masochist Trail Run 2010 Race Report, Mountain Masochist 2010, MMTR 2010
dave.macluskie AT gmail.com