Saturday, November 10, 2012

Valley View 5 Miler

At the finish line of MMTR last weekend I jokingly told everyone standing around that we should run the Valley View 5 Miler.  We all laughed and acted like we would go out a week after a 50 miler and tackle a fast hard 5 mile course on Candlers Mountain.  But we were just joking.

At the time I didn't even know if I'd be able to run or not.  The extent of most of our muscle soreness hadn't even began to set in yet.  It was just a joke.

But then it wasn't.

Wednesday night a group of about 12 of us went out, in the dark, to run the course.  For many of us it was our first run since Masochist.  We went out easy, and we got lost in the dark.  Not lost in the dark like 'where are we, are we ever going to see civilization again,' (well, maybe one time) but just lost as in not able to follow the marked race course.  But it was still fun.

So we registered to run the race the night before.  Way past the T-shirt deadline, but the Race Director Josh Yeoman is so cool that he made sure he found us shirts.  Thanks Josh!  And we showed up for the race Saturday morning thinking we would be the only MMTR finishers crazy enough to be there.

But NO, it seems that MMTR finishers are plenty crazy.  The first person I saw was Frank Gonzales, 3rd place finisher at Masochist.  He had to be hurting worse than most of us, but there he was.  Probably about a half dozen of us in all, fresh off a 50 miler ready to run up and down Candler's hills.  Crazy.

The race went well.  We all seemed to have found our legs again.

I earned a second in my age group with a time of 40:59.  But the big news is Alexis won first female with a time of 41:39. And Frank the Tank won first male with a course record time of  31:53.


Masochist - Not As Bad As I Thought It Would Be (Todd's Race Report)

I started the year with the goal of finishing every race in the LUS (Lynchburg Ultra Series), which includes three 50Ks and one 50 miler.  The Mountain Masochist Trail Run.  That was all really, just finishing them and getting the jacket that goes along with it.

The 50Ks (Holiday Lake, Terrapin Mountain, and Promise Land) came and went this spring, each with their own goals met and lessons learned.  But then came Masochist. And the six month gap between it and the other races.  Just enough time to get in really good shape right?  Or in my case, to train and train and train and burn out a month before the taper should start and not even want to run.

My problem is this: I like to run.  I enjoy it.  It is fun to me.  Training is not always like running for fun.  Too much structure, too much pressure.  Did I get enough miles this week?  Was that long run long enough?  Was that tempo run fast enough?  Am I fueling right?  By September running was becoming work.  And I have too much going on in my life to take on another job.

 By the time Masochist got here I had adjusted my goal from just wanting to finish, to wanting to finish in 10 hours.  My wife, and ever optimistic training partner, was convinced that she probably couldn't even finish the race in the 12 hour cut off.  Everyone who knows us was secretly (or not so secretly) betting on how well she would do come race day.  I'm pretty sure that there was a pool going, betting on how badly she would beat me.  I just wish they would have let me get in on that action.

One week out from the race, in the middle of my  2 1/2 week taper, I had a great run with some of the guys I'm fortunate enough to get to train with.  Explaining to Jason Captain on a long climb what my race plan was, I found my Zen Spot and totally stopped stressing about the race.  "The hay is in the barn," he says, meaning that the training was done.  There was nothing left to worry about except thing like fueling and clothing choices.  And I've never much worried about fashion.

At the start of the race I was feeling good.  Thanks in part to our terrific crew Kristen and Blake, whose job it was to worry for me about hydration and fuel all day. So I was left with nothing to stress about except whether or not my socks matched.

The first eight miles of the race were a lot of fun.  You climb almost constantly, but it was very runable.

The definition of runable changes almost constantly during a race, the runability of a hill is inversely related to the number of miles you have run to get to that hill.  As a matter of fact there are points in the day where steepness plays almost no role in determining the runablity of a hill.  If you are sufficiently tired, a bump in the road becomes a hike break.

But those first eight miles flew by, I passed and was passed by Alexis several times, I saw other friends and we wished each other luck, and I just felt completely good.   Coming out of the second aid station I felt a little pain in my right ankle, so I took it easy on the down hill that followed.  After that the work started.

And after that I didn't see Alexis again until the end, there were rumors whispered at aid stations  "She's 3 minutes ahead of you," "She was here 12 minutes ago," "She is on fire!," "She's looking really strong," "I think she came through 30 minutes ago, but she was just a blur so I can't be sure."  I was happy for her, and this actually helped me hold it together at a few low points.  'If the queen of self doubt can have a great day,' I thought to myself, 'then so can I.'

The ankle pain hurt of that first down hill, but it vanished on the next climb, and I was able to put it out of my mind.  The first half was going great for me.  I was on my pace goal or a little ahead of it at every aid station. My crew was more help than I could have hoped for, and the weather was awesome.

As I trudged up to Long Mountain Wayside, tired but in good spirits, I was having serious doubt that I would even see any snow that day.  I convinced myself that the course conditions were exaggerated to try to intimidate us runners, and that I was going to have a great finish well under my 10 hour goal.

I was wrong.  It happens once in a while.

When I got to The Loop, Blake started to run with me.  I hadn't expected him to pace me in until after The Loop, but this was good with me.  I enjoy running with people.  Blake told me as we headed in that it was going to be slow.  The front runners who usually run the 6 mile loop in about 45 minutes were in there for 1:13.  Still, I had a hard time believing it was going to be that big of a game changer.

Once again, I was wrong.

Not only did the snow slow us down quite a bit, but the extra strain of my balancing muscles was really working on that ankle.  By the time we trudged out of The Loop, 1:34 after going in, my right ankle was on fire again.

I was fortunate to have Blake with me at this point, because he kept me distracted from the pain, and I was fortunate for several miles of snow-free road.  At the Salt Log Gap aid station (41 miles) I told Blake that I had never run any farther than this before.  He cheerily told me we still had a long way to go.  Blake was great like that, he would tell you how hard it was going to be, but he sounded so happy about it that I had to doubt it was really going to be as hard as he said.

I tried to run the climb out of Salt Log Gap and Blake warned that I was probably wasting my energy unnecessarily, but I couldn't help looking at my watch and seeing my 10 hour goal looking harder and harder to hit.  When I left The Loop I had to maintain a 12 minute/mile pace to the finish, but the ankle and the snow  seemed to have other plans for me.

We reached the Forest Valley Aid Station, and things got worse.  The wooded section from there to the next aid station was as bad or worse than The Loop conditions.  There was more walking than I would have liked, and even walking in the snow was starting to hurt my ankle.  That 4 miles in the woods felt like 20.

By the time we reached the final aid station I knew my 10 hour goal was unattainable.  I had four miles to go and 34 minutes to run it.  The worst problem was my foot, by this point every step hurt.  I tried to convince myself that it hurt to run and to walk so running was the better option since it would end the misery sooner, but downhill running was not in the cards for me.

I finished with a time of 10 hours and 12 minutes.  The last 12 miles I ran/walked at a 13 minute/mile pace.  It seems that sometimes 1 minute per mile is just not as easy as you would think.

I did not reach my time goal this year, but I am still very very pleased with my Masochist finish.  My friend Frank 'the tank' Gonzales told me that in better conditions I could have been 30 minutes faster.  Clark Zealand, the race director said that we had the worst course conditions in the 30 year history of the race.

Most of all, I am happy that 50 miles seemed so easy to run.  I know I'm complaining about the snow and my ankle, but over all I just ran and felt like I could keep going.  Especially when my foot hurt too bad to run, I was frustrated because I still had the strength and will to run.

Next year, LUS + Hellgate 100K!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Race Report: Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run (Alexis)

Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50 Miler
Montebello, VA
Saturday, November 3, 2012

I registered for Masochist in frenzy mode as the race was filling up only days after registration had opened in early May. I was fresh off of my second ultra, Promise Land, and an endorphin high had me convinced I could do anything, including running 50+ miles. It wasn't until the Odyssey Trail Running Rampage 40 Miler in September that I started to have doubts about my capabilities.
Despite a decent overall finish at the Odyssey race, I began to come unraveled in the following weeks. I did not come away from that race confident and believing in my abilities, that race had knocked me down in size. I had not fueled well and a fall mid-way led to an almost complete mental breakdown.  Add to the self-doubt a few recovery weeks and my Masochist training, which had started out so well throughout the summer, began to suffer.
Three training runs on parts of the Masochist course over several fall weekends had me even more nervous. The parts of the course we traversed seemed difficult enough and we left out parts of the course that seasoned Masochist runners claimed were even more grueling. I began to second guess my registration and my sanity.
It all boiled down to fear. I feared a DNF.  I feared cold, wet feet. I feared another mental breakdown. Sure these fears were mostly unfounded, but aren’t many fears? 
To combat my unsubstantiated fears I began to compile a list of things that I had learned from previous ultras, both the good and bad, as well as insight and advice other ultra runners had given me. When my taper began I turned my focus entirely on the mental strength and determination I would need at hand.  The night before Masochist I finished the list, folded it and stuck it in a small pocket of my three quarter zip pullover.  With such seemingly simple advice such as “smile” and ‘give all of yourself regardless of outcome’ this straightforward scheme was to be my secret weapon when the going got tough and the hurt came out at Masochist.  Fortunately, I had a good day and the list never got pulled out. I like to think it was in spite of the list that I never had to pull it out.
In the many hours I spent reading and rereading books by Tom Noakes and Byron Powell, I decided that I had to be on top of my hydration and fueling well before the start, a point echoed in a conversation I had with Jeremy Ramsey days before. It was to this effect that I woke up at 3 am to begin fueling for Masochist; cereal, slice after slice of cinnamon sugar toast, pb&j, and several cups of coffee. I had also hoped to go to the bathroom but when attempts failed I took some precautionary Pepto Bismol. 
Feeling quite full I slathered my feet with Bag Balm and my favorite two pairs of race day socks; Injinji toe socks and Sock Guy socks from the Mountain Junkies Frozen Toe events held each January. I wore my Hoka trail shoes, my Zensah calf sleeves that have become more my signature than a necessary accoutrement and my much loved Nike shorts. Six Strawberry Banana GU sandwiched between my two sports bras (thank you, Chelsie) to get me started and I was ready to go.
Todd and I at the starting line. 
We met our friends, Blake and Kristen Edmondson, in the parking lot of the Amherst Food Lion at 5:30. They had kindly offered to crew us for our first 50 miler, an act I wouldn’t completely come to fully appreciate until later in the day having never had a crew before.
It wasn’t long after checking-in, a few quick hellos, and a final restroom stop, that we were off and running. I settled into the pack, my friend’s Chelsie and Grattan by my side. I reflected on Chelsie’s suggestion from an earlier conversation, it’s just a long run in the mountains with friends and ran with that notion.  It was dark but these miles seemed so effortless and the time and distance passed quickly. The creek crossings that I’d been anxious about were upon us so quickly, and then behind us. And my feet and I survived. My Hoka’s drained amazingly well and the water wasn’t nearly as cold or uncomfortable as I had dreaded. And just like that the entire race instantly became less frightening and more manageable.
It wasn’t long before I had the chance to meet my first stranger of the day, she was very friendly and opened up conversation about the beautiful scenery and we exchanged hellos. When she introduced herself as Leah Daugherty I was taken aback.  I instantly thought where am I? I shouldn’t be up here running with Leah, she is far better than I am.  She seemed surprised that a reputation preceded her and I immediately liked her even more for her modesty. I tried to run with her but got carried away in the leap frog game I was playing with Todd and ran off to catch him after he passed me yelling “Alexis, you run like a girl.” A cheer meant to motivate me but ultimately slightly offending me. It wasn’t long after that Leah effortlessly carried herself up a hill that I convinced myself I needed a break on. I passed Todd a final time, he reminded me to fuel and drink, like he knew he wouldn’t see me again until the finish.  The thought continued to weigh on me, Where am I? Am I running too fast?
Several well meaning friends had tried to convince me I could do well at Masochist but I refused to hear them. Frank Gonzalez told me I could finish top 10. I wanted to refute the concept, but the idea was a pleasant one, and I would be lying to say I didn’t let the thought take up residence in my thoughts in the weeks leading up to Masochist. But I just couldn’t believe I could do that well. I had read about many of the women coming to Masochist, at least a dozen I knew were far better than me. I told Frank I couldn’t accept the pressure of his compliment, he told me I was crazy.
It wasn’t long after leaving Todd’s company that I came upon David Horton on his bike, “run faster” he goaded before telling me he thought I was 6th female.  The next several miles until Dancing Creek were a blur, I turned my iPod on for the first time and just ran. Coming into the aid station at Dancing Creek and seeing all of those people and hearing some of them cheering my name, it was incredible, it made me want to run stronger or at least not stop, I swapped water bottles with Blake and kept on moving.
It was about this time that I really started to bask in what a good day I was having, I kept eating a GU every 40 minutes and I took my first 2 salt tabs. Running up the hill to Robinson’s Gap I felt very good but ran walked the hill because in training Mike Mitchell had encouraged this approach over running the entire hill. I paced with the runner in front of me who ran the entire hill. I would run until I caught him and then walk for a count of 30. Reaching the top of the hill I was headed into unchartered territory as we had ended here on a previous training run. I ran down from Robinson’s Gap at as hard an effort as I felt I could afford at only 17 miles in, trying to save the quads a little but also make up some time.  I had to take pit stop #2 of the day, a sign I was hydrating better than in previous ultras. I saw a runner up ahead and started to reel her in; I also had a female runner right behind me. I was enjoying being sandwiched in between these two runners and just trying to maintain my place between them.
Coming into Irish Creek I stopped long enough to fill my water bottle, I was feeling good so I didn’t grab anything more than a quarter of a PB&J . It wasn’t long until I came into the aid station at the Reservoir. I had somehow beaten Blake and Kristen to this aid station and my water bottle was still almost full so I ran right through.  Climbing out of the reservoir I spotted a runner up ahead who looked familiar, it was Joe Alderson.  I slowed to talk to him for a moment but he seemed done with his race. I was worried for him, that he was going to drop but he urged me to keep going. Losing ground on the woman ahead whom I had been chasing I said my farewell. My levels of self-doubt are so high I knew better to think I would have any power of persuasion over Joe and I feared he would DNF at Long Mountain.  Seeing someone I train with on occasion having a difficult time gave me a second to waiver in my own race. I overheard the woman behind me talking to another runner about marathons and I took the opportunity to jump in on the conversation, figuring that a chat would be a good distraction.
Coming though an aid station.
The woman was Amy Rusieki, a friendly outgoing runner whose husband was in the running to win the race. He had come down the year before and finished just behind Eric Grossman, he had come back this year to win and suggested Amy come along to run. We shared how much we both wanted a jacket, she encouraged me, gave me some pointers and told me that she thought I was doing well and would end up with a jacket.  I wanted to believe her but I was still unsure of the second half and the snow we were running towards.
I was running very low on GU at this point so I was very happy to see Blake a quarter mile or so before the Long Mountain aid station. He had a Gatorade, 5 GU, a fresh water bottle and a PB&J I’d made for my lunch.  Crossing the road and seeing the large gathering of volunteers and crew members was motivating. I had made it to Long Mountain, the halfway point of the race, in 4:25, a half hour faster than my ultimate goal and yet feeling like I was running conservatively.
 I ran through without stopping but started to walk as soon as I hit trail. I had to literally wet my PB&J to swallow it. It was the first time I had really attempted to eat real food all day and my brain felt as though it was eating cardboard. I did manage the whole thing down, but it took effort and I walked the whole time. With lunch over I started back in on my walk/run routine.
 I was surprised to see Dennis Coan just ahead at this point. I don’t think he was as excited to see me as I was to see him.  The climb to Buck Mountain was about as fun as I’d remembered in the training run. I missed hearing the Rocky music I’ve heard about for ages, but the volunteers at this aid station were very friendly and I stopped long enough to pick up an assortment of foods.  Overall, I still felt very good, and the next section was mostly downhill. However, it was at this point that we started to see snow on the ground.
At Long Mountain Amy had pulled ahead of me but I caught back up with her on this next section and we ran together once again. The miles flew by as we talked. At Wiggins Spring I saw Blake and Kristen again, they gave me more GU and swapped bottles.
There was more and more snow as we climbed but you were still able to dodge most of it as we were still on roads. When I got to the Loop I was in a very good mood. I was in 6th place, I felt strong and I knew that once I got through the Loop I could unleash my ‘race to the finish’ race plan. I didn’t’ see Blake and Kristen so I just headed into the Loop, David Horton asked if I wanted to grab any aid but I declined. The Loop was the only section of the course I had seen more than once in training. I thought I knew what to expect even with the snow warnings I had heard.
I was wrong. This happens a lot to me.
The snow was apparent immediately but I was able to run through it for the first mile or so, it was flat to downhill and the front runners had cleared a fair path. After a while though the trail started to climb, the rocks and snow got the better of me and I took to walking. Someone later likened this section to walking in holes made by post-hole diggers. It was bad but I imagined how bad it must have been for the guys up front. I was torn here, I wanted to hike but it was really only a walk and a slow walk. I knew the awkward footing would tire my legs in a way that the running would not have. It felt like an eternity to the fork that lead you to the summit of Mount Pleasant, however the trail only got more difficult from this point on. It was a little motivating to see Holly, Leah, and then Amy coming back from the summit until I was coming back from the summit and saw what felt like dozens of people in that out and back section. It changed my race, I will admit, to see a dozen women that close to me. I started to fear slipping form top 10, I just knew I would fall to 20th, that I couldn’t navigate the snowy terrain as well as they could.
The rest of the loop wasn’t as bad as the first half but I knew Kate Caldwell, the other female I was sandwiched between, was right behind me. She was clearly crossing through the snow more efficiently than I, I knew she would pass me at any moment, but she never did in the loop. At one point there is a climb, one that I walk/ran on training runs. I walked every step of it and it was degrading. I had hoped all along to race these final miles but I began to see that the snow had taken more out of me than any other hill or section of the course; I had come into the loop as confident as I could muster and it was working to get the better of me. I had read race reports, I knew the loop had a reputation for tearing a runner down, now I was the runner who was being torn down. I fought it with a smile.
When I finally came out of the Loop Kristen told me I had just missed them when I’d entered the loop and that I had been in the loop for about an hour and a half. She swapped bottles with me one last time and gave me a final five farewell GU and told me she would see me at the finish.
I ran towards Salt Log Gap and at some point Kate pulled away. I started the unavoidable over-the-shoulder-glance, ready for a group of three women to coming flying by me at any time, making this section of the course look like child’s play. At the Salt Log Gap aid station I hung around a little longer than at previous aid stations, I grabbed a few Pringles and headed on. I ate the first Pringle, but barely. I put the second one in my mouth, chewed it and blew it out like bubbles. My stomach was starting to turn against me. I tossed the rest of the Pringles off into the snow. This section of the course is a little over 1.2 miles, on road. Road that was mostly free of snow, a break from what I knew was up ahead, I urged myself to run but I just didn’t have it in me at the moment.  My stomach was growling, unsatisfied and upset from a day of little real food I imagine. I checked my water bottle pocket; I had ended up in the swap with Kristen with the bottle that had the Tums I’d packed the night before. I got excited over this, I took them out and started eating one after another, hoping it would calm my stomach and pass the time to the next aid station.
When I finally reached the Forest Valley Aid station the volunteers kindly offered me the option of hanging out a while. I thanked them but replied I must keep moving forward, I took a few Oreos and headed back into snow covered trails. One of the volunteers made a ‘Powered by Oreos’ statement, it made me smile. I thought about how supportive and encouraging the volunteers had been all day. I was able to eat both Oreos and my stomachache improved.
I decided at that point that the hike up to Forest Valley was my low point of the day; I had survived it even if I walked 98% of it. I thought of Gordy Ansleigh and his unsupported run that first year he ran Western States with the horses. I reminded myself to smile and keep moving forward no matter what.  At this point I stole a glance behind myself and there were two guys approaching, I let the one nearest me pass as I stepped aside, but then I decided to hold on. It wasn’t quite a chase as we walked more than I would like to admit and I wasn’t much of a companion as I didn’t talk much, but it helped the miles pass, though pass very slowly they still did.
These 4.11 miles seemed like 12 as I dragged through the snow. I did mourn the run that could have been if not for the snow, I could sense the trail that lies beneath the snow and I felt that it was just the kind of trail I love to run. But I hunkered down and did the best I could despite the snowy conditions. The trail did start to descend eventually but even then the snow slowed us.
In time we came to the aid station at Porter’s Ridge. I saw Matt Day who gave an encouraging word and I grabbed what I swear were unsalted Saltines. I asked the distance left, 4 miles said the man with the clipboard and offered up a frown, but it’s all downhill, he assured. I glanced at my watch; I had 9:02 on my Garmin. You can do this in 9:45 still, I told myself.  Of course, volunteers and helping hands always say it’s all downhill from here. A runner appeared beside me, I asked if he’d run the race before and if it was really downhill. The runner, Chris, said it was downhill and that I was doing well, that he didn’t see a group of 3 women chasing me down and that he could tell I wouldn’t let them pass me. We ran the next two miles together and he would tell me as each mile was counted down. He was very friendly and I tried to keep with him but the descent finally got steep and he pulled away but not before he told me I could stop fearing those 3 girls waiting to come from nowhere.
I held up running as hard as I could until I hit the pavement and the hill leveled out. I could see Brenton and Chris up ahead but I slowed rather than sped up.  I knew I had less than a mile to go and was just wondering where the finish was when the crowd began to appear up ahead. I looked behind me, not a soul. I slowed enough to let the emotions overcome me; I thought you’ve run 50 miles…you could run 100.
That great and final moment, crossing the finish line in Montebello, Virginia.

Thankfully though, I didn’t have to. I crossed the finish in 9:36. The moment I let my body know we were done, it kind of fell apart. David Horton asked me what I’d been doing, I think he meant to train for Masochist, but all my brain could pull together was ‘running’.
The next half hour is kind of a blur, I enjoyed seeing runners finish though I somehow missed my own husband when I went to the store for a coke. I felt awful as I came out of the store to see him just passed the finish line. What a terrible wife I am!
The finish line at Masochist was amazing, I am perhaps an emotional mess to begin with but add in an exhausting day of running in the mountains, and I was thoroughly overwhelmed witnessing so many people come across that line, especially having insight into what they had just endured. It was a great weekend, I met a lot of great, encouraging people and I was reminded once again why I love this sport.
I was in a very good place for the next 18 hours before I began to feel like I got hit by a Mack Truck. I am sore, especially in the quads, but nothing feels injured or anything more than sore. I feel like I had a good day, I stayed fueled and hydrated pretty well. I tried to run as steady as possible, but feel like I could improve on the second half. Despite snowy conditions I still ran faster than my ideal goal of 9:40, I am wondering how much better I could run. I feel like I could have gone further but not so much sure about how much faster.
Overall the thing I feel greatest about today is that I can’t wait to run. I really feared that Masochist was going to drain me of my desire to run. And I think I left a little of that self-doubt out in the snow. I am proud of my top 10 Patagonia Down Sweater. I did something that I really didn’t think I could do. I realize I had a good day, that I was lucky, but I also know that I’ve always been determined and stubborn.  I think I’ve finally found something where those traits are vital to success. And I’m already wondering, what next?