Thursday, March 8, 2012

Another Late Race Report: MMTR, November 2011

My nagging hamstring injury – nagging because I insisted on running with pain since mid-2010, rather than taking some time off to let things heal; and also because I may have a “compliance” issue where physical therapy is concerned – has turned into a small hamstring tear. So, since I can’t run, I’ll have to write about running. Time for more catching up on race reports.

I traveled to the Lynchburg, Virginia area in early November to run the Mountain Masochist Trail Run, a 50 mile run (in Horton miles; in Garmin miles, it’s maybe 53 miles, but who’s counting?). This was my first David Horton (or David Horton-founded, since Horton is no longer the RD for this one) race, and I was excited for a run in the mountains with the fall colors still very much out. The race has 9200 ft of climbing and 7200 ft of drop. I had intended to "really train" for this, to explore whether 50 miles is "my" distance. But I had been slow to get back to long miles after the Vermont 100; I did quite a few 20 mile-ish runs, but nothing longer than 21, and only a few weeks of 70 or 80 miles total. I was hoping for something under 10 hours, which probably wouldn't put me in the top 10 women, but would feel respectable. 

I made the drive from Chapel Hill with three other TrailHeads, two who were running and another who had volunteered to crew. We met a couple other friends at the hotel, and headed to the race dinner.  At dinner, we heard an inspiring talk from Jennifer Pharr Davis, who had shattered the Appalachian Trail speed record – the overall record, not the women’s record – in Summer 2011.She told us that she hadn't run at all, because running really wasn't her thing. And yet, she covered nearly 47 miles per day...every day, for 46 days and 11 hours. She was up before dawn each day, and hiked into the night. Something to think about when the legs got tired from running just one 50 miler! Jonathan Allen sat at our table; he had recently moved from Utah to South Carolina and was excited to run some new races. (He was sick, but finished 16th overall -- report here).

On Saturday morning, we were up and out very early, following the buses to the parking area. It was cold, right around freezing, and we huddled in a school bus for as long as possible. (2011 was the last time that the course would start at the James River Visitor Center, given new National Park Service regulations; the RDs are figuring out a new plan). We were off in the dark, headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway for an out and back. (Someone helpfully pointed out, just prior to the start, that were it not for the 1.5 miles each way at the start, the race really would be a 50 miler. I thought of this a couple times in the late stages of the race). I ran most of the first road section (7 miles) with Icarus. We were going too fast, but felt good and enjoyed the rolling roads. As I passed the first aid station, day began to break, and the course turned onto some double track, with a bit of climb. I wasn't paying very close attention to other runners at this point, but I was enjoying some fabulous views at the tops of climbs -- the pink sky of the early morning coupled with yellow, orange and red leaves of fall.

Around mile 15, I came through an aid station at about the same time as another woman, and she and I took off up the trail together. This was Erin's first MMTR as well, and maybe her first ultra in the mountains, but definitely not her first race. She was wearing La Sportiva Quantums, so we had a chat about how much we both loved those shoes (and also about how they ran half a size too small). We also talked about past races, about the midwest (she lives in Kalamazoo; I spent five years in South Bend) We would see each other many times over the course of the race, and it was great to have some company out there. (She finished in 7th overall, 36 seconds ahead of me).

I also got to see several other Trailheads around mile 21 or 22: Wackus caught me on a long flat stretch. I was surprised to see him, because I knew that I probably had gone out a little too fast in the first part of the race, and that he was in probably about the same shape as I was. As we came into the aid station, we also saw Icarus, who had DNFed with a twisted ankle a bit earlier, and Lynx, who was our race crew. Icarus and Lynx were great throughout the day; I saw them many times, and it was always a great morale booster. From there, I took off on a slog up a long hill, and then eventually to the major aid station, Long Mountain (Mile 27). Our crew was there, as were a couple other Chapel Hill folks. It's always so great, after running largely alone, to come into a place with lots of cheering folks and many offers of food, drink, spare clothing or whatever else. 

From Long Mountain, I headed up a long, long climb, which would eventually take me to the "Rocky" aid station. I stopped at some point along this climb, and threw my jacket (tied around my waist, but I had wanted it for later, in case the temperatures dropped) on the side of the trail while I took a pee break. Only later did I realize that I had dropped it in a pile of sweet gum burrs or something similar; when I tied the jacket back around my waist, I ended up with burrs poking all into my running capris. Weeks later, I was still removing them from my clothing. Oops.

Beyond that, I don't recall that much about this part of the course, beyond having that feeling of trying to slog through, not take it too easy on the climbs, and run the flats and the downhills. I do remember that all of the aid stations were staffed by incredibly friendly and supportive volunteers and all sorts of good things to eat and drink. Around Mile 35, I entered The Loop, which is a five mile section of single track, which goes to near the summit of Mount Pleasant. I had been warned that one could get cold here, as the area was more exposed and the sun began to fall. But that wasn't a problem at all...what was tough was a section of fairly technical single track, covered in a thick carpet of leaves, that came 35 miles into the race. By mile 39 or so, I could tell that my pace had really fallen off, and just as I excited the Loop, I was passed by the ever-fabulous and ever-supportive Sophie Speidel.

It was a little disheartening to be passed -- Sophie seemed so strong -- but I knew at this point that I was in 8th place. And we all knew, before the race began, that the top 10 finishers would get a very cool piece of race schwag, a Patagonia puff sweater. So my goal was to stay in jacket range. I said hello to Icarus, and then I began another section of wide forest roads. Around Mile 44, I hit what seemed like the cruelest part of the course -- another four-ish mile section of single track, some old Appalachian Trail, with lots of up (and down), and with several inches of fallen leaves on it. I knew that I was slowing down, but that others probably were as well; all I wanted at this stage was to make it to the last aid station, because I knew that the trail would then open up, and the end would be in range. At some point, as the trail once again turned steeply up a hill, I gave up, leaned up against a tree, and shouted a profanity or two. Of course, I wasn't as alone in the woods as I thought; the guy who appeared about 10 feet behind me seemed to find my reaction to the trail amusing, so I fell in behind him and just tried to keep moving.

The guys at the final aid station, just under 4 (actual) miles from the finish, were kind enough to offer up various sorts of booze, but I declined and headed on down the hill. With about a mile and a half to go to the finish, and coming down a lovely wide switchbacked descent, I managed to take my first fall of the race, face planting into some wet black dirt. I headed for the finish, with legs that were definitely unhappy -- but, hey, hard to blame them. I finished in 9:38, 8th woman (and 41st overall). Sandi Nypaver, who won the women's race, was an hour and 33 minute ahead of me -- wow!

I ran the race in the La Sportiva Electron, in which I'd also done a good bit of my training miles. These were a great shoe for this sort of race, where much of the trail is fire road, rather than single track, and where it's therefore nice to have some extra cushioning. The Electron also felt just fine on the early (and late) road miles, and served me well on the single track portions of the course. (It, too, seems to run a bit small; I wear a half size larger than usual). 

It was a lovely scene at the finish area -- a beautiful fall afternoon, folks putting all sorts of food and drink into my hands, and time to hang out with other runners. Sophie was there, and not long after, Meredith Terranova, whom I had met during Western States 2010, came across the line.  Having race crew there was great, as we had our own transportation back to the hotel from Montebello. Meredith and her husband Paul (who finished 3rd overall, and who plans on the Grand Slam plus Kona this summer) rode back to Lynchburg with us, and we had lots of laughs. We stuck around for the awards ceremony, because I had to collect my jacket...a fun scene there, and then a drive back to Chapel Hill and a very, very sound night of sleep. 

Masochist has a good bit of climbing as well as a good bit of fire road (and some asphalt). It's quite different from a race like Uwharrie, which is all single track with many -- albeit shorter -- climbs. MMTR is very well organized, with great race schwag (love my finisher's shirt), and at a beautiful time of year. I think I may have to run it again sometime...