Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mountain Masochist 2013 Race Report

Mountain Masochist 50 Miler

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Montebello, Virginia

The last few days of last week my legs hurt. I kept trying to brush it off as taper madness, but it felt like the veins in my calves and behind my knees were swollen, my legs felt like lead. Then last Thursday morning I awoke predawn in the middle of a nocturnal night cramp in my bad right calf. A nuisance I've grown accustomed to through pregnancy, this particular one caught me off guard. I walked it off and soaked in an Epsom bath, but it was tight all day on Thursday. I started to get a little nervous about it's potential effect on my performance at Masochist. There's a running joke that I am somewhat of a headcase when it comes to running races, especially ultras.  I prefer to think of myself as more of a work in progress. But on Friday morning when the calf was still tender and quite painful when rolled or touched directly, I started to get really sad.

Since officially turning my focus to Masochist I have been quite open about the fact that this race was important to me. Being my current goal race I spent what time I had left, about six weeks, training with it in mind. I wanted to better my time from last year's snowy course but at the same time I knew I'd had just about as good a day as one can expect when running 50 miles when I ran it last year. I'd had people suggest my time should be easy to beat after last year's snow, but I wasn't convinced. If I didn't have my doubts about besting my time before Friday, I was even more nervous walking around on tight and aching legs that I felt should have felt fresh and ready to run. Not like they'd already run 50 miles.

I did have one thing on my side, the fact that I'm not really in fact all that much of a headcase. I have my doubts, my worries and insecurities but unlike what Todd and Blake may joke of me, I can be pretty driven and fairly tough when I set my mind to something, when I have a goal. So I went forward with my goal of sub 9:30 for Masochist knowing that my head and my heart were in for Saturday's race. I figured that if the stomach got on board we would all just hang on hope that the legs would show up too.

Friday evening we celebrated Brodie's second birthday here at our house with pasta and cake and when Todd's mom took the children home with her afterwards, we headed over to the Liberty Conference Center for the race briefing. As much as I like a grueling fifty miles of running through the mountains, it's the gathering of trail runners that I love the most. I love seeing faces I have only met once, I love seeing our fellow Lynchburg trail runners, I love meeting new people. I know we all needed to get on with our evenings, gathering gear and pretending like we were going to sleep a wink, but I could have hung out there all night.

Not surprisingly, I tossed and turned for a good four or so hours before finally climbing out of bed for the day. I ate four slices of cinnamon sugar toast and a cup or so of coffee and made my lunch, a PB&J, to eat at Long Mountain. I stuffed my Mountain Hardwear vest with my food and pharmacy for the day; raisins, fig newtons, granola bars, m&ms, toilet paper, Tums, GU, Pepto, S Caps and Ibuprofen. Fairly weighted down we headed over to the Wingate to meet Kevin Correll, Kathie Colling and Blake Edmondson (who was crewing Todd, Kevin and I).

The time between arriving to carpool and starting the race flew by. I know Sam Dangc told me I didn't need those arm sleeves so I took them off and stuffed them too in the vest but other than avoiding those benches I couldn't think of anything other than just getting started.

I started off alongside Kathie, Todd, and Kevin but Kevin disappeared out of sight immediately. Not long after Brenton and Todd ran off down Pera Road and out of sight. I was starting easy, my legs needed the warm-up.

The first few miles were so crowded with hellos that the running was effortless. But once the crowd thinned out I realized how tight and unhappy my legs were already. To top it off my headlamp was dimming and I was having stomach pains. I took a moment to walk and being forty or so minutes into the race I took out my baggie of raisins to snack on. I opened up my Tums and ate a few of those as well. I thought about my legs, and that if they would just warm-up we could have a good day. Knowing fifty miles is a long day I decided to take it easy and see what happened. In the Peavine Mountain loop I lost sight of Kathie completely and nearly tripped myself several times, commenting to those around me that I was just waiting for my legs to show up for the run.

These words I really meant.

At the first aid station I caught back up with Kathie and Donna Utakis for a few minutes. We ran and hiked up Cashew Creek Road. However, on the way to Dancing Creek I saw the Iron Mountain Trail Runners, Rick, Kevin, Beth, and Laura up ahead and had my first good running section of the day trying to keep pace with them. I stopped only at Dancing Creek aid station long enough to swap bottles with Blake.

From Dancing Creek to the Parkway gate I started to feel a little better. My legs were no longer so tight but my stomach was still knotted with light cramps. I talked with Doug and then Tim through here. Those conversations were nice as they took my mind off of my stomach. Near the parkway gate I noticed I was running near and around Sophie and Megan and this made me feel even better, made me more hopeful that whatever funk I'd found myself in those first few miles was wearing off.

I swapped bottles again with Blake at the parkway gate aid station but otherwise ran through trying to keep Sophie in sight on that downhill to the creek crossing.  Coming out on the forest road that takes you (uphill) to Robinson Gap I saw Mike Donahue. Mike said Todd was just up ahead of me, still wearing his colorful shirt but suffering with stomach issues. On Friday evening Todd walked into a double dare that he had to wear that shirt all day at Masochist. I told him that should I come across him during the race I expected him to be wearing it. Knowing Todd may only be a little ways ahead and reaching my favorite hill of the entire day I ran on in hopes of catching a glimpse of Todd's bright shirt. I ran and walked the hill until I reached Bethany Weber. She was suffering from an allergic reaction on her hands but otherwise said she felt ok, she said Todd and Brenton were just ahead. I kept on running. Then I saw Peter Jetton, he too said Todd was just ahead. I ran on but when I came to a long uphill stretch and still didn't see Todd I started to think it was a ploy to get me to run the whole hill. Finally, I was walking a patch when from out on the steep side of the trail Todd comes climbing, bright Hawaiian shirt and all, back from a recent bathroom break.

We ran on to the aid station and Todd told me he'd been having stomach troubles for a few miles and had already visited the woods a number of times. He said other than the pit stops he was feeling pretty good. He asked if I had anything for stomach trouble and I gave him two Pepto Bismol capsules. We passed Mike Mitchell as we neared the aid station which was a pleasant surprise, he cheered us on, saying the aid station was just up ahead, as was Brenton. At the aid station I ran through without stopping at all. Todd stopped for something, maybe water, but I knew his powerful legs would catch me on the descent. I ran the downhill comfortably, probably too comfortably but I was just starting to feel good and didn't want to risk it. Not long after Todd caught and passed me like I was standing still. I lost sight of him on the downhill but I was glad he was having a better day.

The next section was flat and boring and I was in a rhythm but not really enjoying myself. There were two guys just ahead that I used to pace my walking breaks off of but other than that it was just long, somewhat rolling, somewhat hilly service road running. At Irish Creek aid station I saw Todd's bright shirt but he was gone from the aid station before I got there. I saw James Decker who should have been far ahead of me but was smiling and enjoying the aid station, seemingly in no hurry to leave. It reminded me of Todd. I stopped and grabbed watermelon and grapes and had my bottle filled as Decker and I talked about how I only had two iPods, what with Masochist being a 50 and all, three were not so necessary.

Leaving the aid station I saw Kristen Chang and felt that my day must be getting at least a little better to be up where she was running. I ate the watermelon but could only stomach one grape. On the next section of climbing I started to gain on Todd once more. It was more climbing and I tried to just keep his shirt in sight. I had almost caught up with him by the time we got to the aid station there at the Reservoir but we left together after swapping bottles with Blake. I had eaten two granola bars by this point and a few m&m's but I was starting to have trouble eating. I tried to talk to Todd as I ate a third granola bar. He chatted for a minute or so but he was pulling away with his hike. I didn't think about it or really realize it, so I asked him if Blake had mentioned where Kevin was when he yelled at me, "This is a race, I'm not going to slow down to talk to you." I immediately pulled further back. I felt bad, I would have run to catch up with him, I wasn't intending for him to slow down for me. But I was also hurt. I fell back several paces and turned my iPod back on. He looked back once to see if I was still there but continued to pull ahead.

At about this time I decided I would like to run a little bit. When I passed Todd I did so without comment, but he reminded me to take it easy, not race anybody. The next little bit I came upon a lot of different people, I would run a little ways and then hike until they pulled away to a certain tree or some other insignificant point and then run again. Or I would count. I was on the way to the hallway point, Long Mountain. I wasn't really feeling much like running so I was trying to make it a game. I saw Mike Mitchell again on the way by the pastures which happened to be a wonderful sight, both the friend spotting and the colors of the mountains all around.

I got to Long Mountain in 4:32, about 7 minutes slower than last year. I saw Blake, Opal and Madi. I exchanged water bottles with Blake and got my PB&J. My plan had been to get a gatorade as well but I forgot. Blake said Kevin was 8 minutes ahead, Brenton was a minute ahead and I was seventh female. Just after leaving the aid station I saw Phil Layman, Brenton and Jamie Swyers up ahead on the trail. I ate my sandwich and hiked behind them. By the time I had finished my lunch I only had to jog a quick jaunt to catch up with the Swyers. Brenton was a little sluggish at the moment but we talked about others we had seen and Jamie said that Alyssa Wildeboar was just ahead. In the store on Thursday at packet pick-up Alyssa had said she wasn't really trained up like usual for Masochist after running Run Rabbit Run 100 in September.

The stats Blake kept of us during the first two-thirds of the run.
Over the next half mile or so Phil, the Swyers and I had spread out. I was hoping I would have run more on the way to Buck Mountain but my legs were tight, especially in the quads and hip area. They just felt heavy and running was so not tempting I hiked nearly every step of the climb. I was very thankful for all the hiking practice I had over the past few weeks. I know a run would be faster but I felt like the hike was purposeful and efficient enough.

 At Buck Mountain it was nice to see Kevin Smith and his family. I refilled my bottle as the day had heated up considerably and I had not gone to the bathroom, I was beginning to worry I was dehydrated. Phil and I were at the aid station together and when Kevin Smith said that Kevin Correll was only a minute out I called to Phil that we were on a mission and headed out. Shortly thereafter we saw Blanks taking photographs and looking for Amy Albu.  It's mostly downhill from Buck to the next aid station at Wiggins Spring and we ran what we could. Phil pulled ahead once more and I kept a look out for Kevin. I never saw Kevin but it was through here that I first spotted Alyssa.

At Wiggins Spring I grabbed some pretzels but Blake suggested we exchange water bottles at the loop so I headed on. Phil and I were climbing along to the loop when Blake drove by a few minutes later, his window was down and he said that Kevin was only a minute or so behind us. I was confused, "Kevin, who?" Blake laughed at me like I was a fool, "Uh, Correll!" I hadn't seen Kevin, apparently he had stopped in the woods and Phil and I had passed by him on the way to Wiggins Spring aid station. Phil and I laughed that we'd been looking for him and had literally passed by him like he was hiding, we found it kind of funny.

Along the way to the loop I hiked most of the way, I just wasn't finding the energy to run short bursts. But I did see Alyssa again, when she looked back and said something I jogged a little ways to catch up with her. We ran to the aid station together at the loop. I asked her about their carpentry work and her running. I tried to conceal my excitement to be running with a running idol of mine. It was a pretty cool high of the day though. Running along the little side trail that takes you to the loop I was talking to Alyssa when I looked over to see Blake on the road below running along to the aid station carrying Kevin's pack and our Aid Station bag packed with our fuel and other gear. It was quite moving to see Blake hauling to get there before I did. Blake's a good friend and good crew.

At the aid station I swapped bottles with Blake and headed into the loop, Phil was just ahead going into the loop and Alyssa had stopped at the aid station. I ran the first mile or so well, then I added more and more walk breaks in and by the time we reached the out and back portion Phil and Alyssa were almost out of sight ahead of me. This section just does me in a little. It's about the most technical section of the whole race and I am just slow moving through it. Headed back from the summit from punching our bibs I crossed paths with probably thirty people just behind me on the way to the summit including the next seven females. Usually this would have pushed me more but my legs were just feeling so heavy. I ran more than last year on the second half of the loop but I still was in the loop for about 75 minutes.

When I got out of the loop I grabbed more Fig Newtons from Blake because they were currently the easiest thing to eat and swapped bottles with him one last time. I knew I had roughly a half marathon to run and I needed to run it in about 2:10 to hit my goal for the day. I ran as steady as I could until Salt Log Gap and caught back up with Phil. I had a good feeling at this point that Phil was going to hang on until the end and that I wouldn't be able to keep up with him on the final downhill road section. At Salt Log Gap I ran right through, I got out some Tums and a Fig Newton and ate them on the climb up. I tried to run some but hiking was how I spent the majority of that mile or so.

The Fig Newton was something I tried new that day after a kind stranger offered me one at Iron Mountain. Since I've been having more and more trouble with my stomach at races this year I decided after the summer races that I needed to change what I was eating before and during long runs. I read some helpful suggestions and have been training with granola bars and raisins on most of my long runs, trying to consume about 100 calories an hour for runs over four hours. During Saturday's race I ended up eating raisins, granola bars (3), Fig Newtons (1.5 of the snack packs), a PB&J, two small sections of Watermelon, a few m&ms and a few pretzels. My stomach, other than unrelated cramping at the beginning of the day felt really good. I did not eat a single GU or drink any soda as it turned out. I only struggled once with convincing my stomach to eat and it was just during a slightly faster section where eating real food was just a little more trying. I am not sure the no-GU route would work for the 50k distances, especially the likes of Holiday Lake, but I was very happy with my overall fueling for the day. It was perhaps my best success of the day. That and trying to move very efficiently through aid stations.

At Forest Valley I refilled my bottle and joked with Tony Martin that the next section was really seven miles long. He assured me it was just over four. Last year in the snow it felt like more. This year with no snow it felt like more. At first there's climbing and I was hiking but even the flatter and downhill portions seem to go on forever. It's one of the only single track trail sections of the entire race, I hate to complain about it, but it's just so seemingly endless! I came upon Johnny Robinson and he told me to go on but I didn't really have any more energy than he did. John, Phil and I just ran on in silence as though we were taking turns pulling each other along for what seemed like miles. At 45 miles into the race I finally pulled over to go the bathroom for my one and only time of the entire day, it was darker than is probably best, but it wasn't anything darker than I've had on training runs so I wasn't too worried. But then not long after I started having that sensation that my legs were going to cramp up on me. Just this tight, tingling but not cramping feeling. I drank all that was left in my water bottle and made sure that I filled up again when we got to Porters Ridge.

Johnny, Phil and I all got to Porters Ridge at the same time basically but I thought Phil hadn't stopped. I filled up my bottle and said hello to Jordan who was waiting for Kristen and headed on. As I headed out Johnny wished me well on chasing down my PR which I thought was sweet. A minute or so later Phil came up and passed by me. I didn't realize that he was behind me. With a little over two miles to go we saw Mike and Blake headed up the road we were coming down, headed out to run either Kevin or Todd in.  I tried to hang onto Phil's coattails but my legs were starting to worry me with light cramping. I knew I could run slower and smarter and still hit 9:30 so I steadied my pace and watched him pull away. I had a suspicion earlier in the day, running along to Salt Log Gap that he would beat me at the end so it was no surprise when he pulled out of sight.

What was surprising was when Megan Stegemiller came upon me so fast you would have thought I wasn't moving! She breezed in, told me not to worry that the next girl behind me probably wouldn't catch me, and pressed further on. It was actually awesome to witness. She had been in eleventh place (for females) when I'd seen her in the loop and here she was just flying by to take a top ten position, and a strong one at that. It was the kind of thing I would love to do but usually can't. I would have loved to have even hung in sight of her but she was moving so fast it wasn't a half mile before I couldn't even see her ahead of me anymore. I will admit that it did slightly take the wind out of my sails, but in an inspiring, darn-I-am-going-to-get-creamed-at-Hellgate sort of way.

I did however, pull out a personal best for the course. I finished in 9:24:17, over 12 minutes faster than last year. And I ran at least 7 minutes slower on the first half of the course, so I do indeed believe I had a stronger second half than last year. I managed to place seventh female again this year and won the Mountain Woman Award for top local woman who ran it. Overall, for having a very worried start I am very happy with the overall day. My legs definitely were more tired than I would have liked and I feel like I hiked a lot more during the day than I did last year but that also gives me continued hope that I have a faster time yet still to run on that course.

Standing around in Montebello watching dozens of other runners finish was another high of the day. I was happy to be able to see Todd and Kevin finish, just a minute apart, both with good times having not had a great day. Talking with other finishers, eating cheese quesadillas, Mike's surprise Coke, the stories from others about their day, it's those pieces that I treasure most out of the day. When the day was over and we got back into our cars after the award ceremony I was honestly a little depressed that Masochist was over, as far as running goes, it's a really tough weekend, but it's also a really enjoyable weekend that is over far too quickly.