Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mountain Masochist Trail Run Race Report

Mountain Masochist 50 Miler

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Montebello, Virginia

This was to be my third Mountain Masochist Trail Run (MMTR) having run it the previous two years. But it was a lot different this year. In the past it's been my fall race, all the miles I've put in over the summer and early fall have been leading to this race. This year however, it came 28 days after Grindstone 100. When debating an attempt to complete the Beast series MMTR weighed quite heavily on my decision. I like love MMTR. It suits my strengths, it's long, overall elevation gain, loads of service road, and it's nearby so I can train on occasion on the course.

This year with Grindstone I hadn't run on any portions of the course but twice. I sulked for 27 days after Grindstone about worn down knees and well, really so much more than my knees. By the time MMTR got here I just felt so ready to start. In the days leading up to MMTR I just kept repeating the same thing, I am just so glad it's 50 miles. I knew if it were anything shorter it would be harder on me but the distance played to my advantage, anything longer and I just wasn't recovered enough.

That is until I woke up on Saturday morning. I had a plan. Wake up at 3:30 am, start eating A LOT and get in game day mode. The day had other plans. I woke up at 3:38 stuffed with dread, hungry for absolutely nothing more.

I tried to eat the toast and drink the water. All I could think about was how little I wanted to run, how far 50 miles was. Kevin and Grattan met us at our house. Kevin brought my favorite food, Maple donuts from Dunkin Donuts, and I am so glad he did because if it weren't for my inability to turn down donuts I may have eaten nothing that morning. I took Kevin's advice and lathered my feet with Aquaphor, something a little new but turned out to be a lifesaver for my soft and problem-some feet. We woke Brodie who in celebration of his turning three on the same day was being forced by his selfish mother to endure the cold and wind as part of my crew. I had weighed the options, I needed that little happy guy out there.

We left here just before 5 to head to the start. I was so much less fun than I had hoped. My head started to get to my stomach. It was a long drive. When we got to the start I headed straight out to check-in, I was in such a place of distraction I didn't even recognize Jeremy taking names. I walked back to the suburban and climbed inside. I sat in the dark just willing the time away until the 6:30 am start. I thought, just get 15 miles in, then you will get invested. I was worried about my knees that had not grown silent in the recovery/taper period that followed Grindstone. I was overwhelmed with the weight of the unknown. If someone could just tell me in advance how it all plays out I would be such better company sometimes.

Finally at 6:22 I forced myself over to the start. I also forced a smile. The start line was warm hugs and group pictures, final wishes to friends and then finally the start. I took off along Chelsie and as an illustration of just how much my head was not in it I took off without a water bottle. Seconds later I felt this light shove, Todd thrusting the bottle into my hands.

The first mile was just like it should be, hello Andrew, I saw your name on the list Phil, where are you going Kathie, lots of friendly banter, feet moving swiftly over dark pavement. I gave it a somewhat honest effort to turn the burners on, when Chelsie made a move to go around packs, I followed. When Kathie pushed the pace, I followed, but it didn't feel genuine.

But I ran. And I ate at 7 just as planned. And I tried to fake it, but I've never been to good at insincerity. Kathie caught me just before the loop and prayed with me and then just after Anna, Elisa and Bethany called our names. I took them as a gift, to enjoy the long run in the mountains with friends, then we caught Grattan. We ran a few minutes together but then I felt like I couldn't keep up with them. Relax, it's 50 miles I reminded myself. I came into aid station one at Peavine just behind them with a smile on my face, I had promised Blake that smile, I was here to deliver. He filled my bottle and took my headlamp and encouraged me on.

I caught back up with my group because it was a climb and I am a climber. They all joked that they knew I would catch back up. I didn't offer that I was so much more unsure of that. We hiked and ran at intervals with Elisa setting a strong pace up that hill. When we spotted Clifton up ahead they started yelling his name, I laughed and said "Shh, we don't yell, we chase." I was playing, trying to enjoy my time, make it a game. They didn't come at first but then it was like I had lit a fire I couldn't control, they took off, without me. I could not keep up on the downhill. It was incredibly discouraging. My knees just couldn't take it, my head was certain of it. Trust yourself, I said. I had the same notion at Iron Mountain, to trust the runner that I think I am. I backed off and let them all pull away as incredibly hard as that was. I do not like to be passed, especially by girls, but I had to let them go.

As I watched my fellow Blue Ridge Trail Runners disappear down the trail before me I really wondered where my day was headed. Everything hurt already and I was only 8 or so miles in. My feet, my ankles, my hips. I had been so sure of no pain killers at the start but now looking back I think that was a rather faulty plan. I couldn't descend well so I was passed by several more runners. When Helen caught me on the winding trail I struck up conversation with her, these short conversation over the course of the day were like little treats being served up for me to savor and cherish, and I did my best to do so. I caught Robbie and he was struggling with an issue in his lower leg and wasn't sure he would finish. I told him not to think that way and keep moving. It's so much easier to offer advice than to follow some.

Coming into Dancing Creek I was so happy to be able to see my crew, just their faces alone I knew would lift me. I gave my birthday boy a kiss and swapped bottles with Todd. He started walking with me and telling me that I was right behind a big group and I could catch them, get moving this is your race he urged. He gave me two Maple Cookies and sent me on my way. Robbie left Dancing Creek with me and I got the feeling that he would like to run with me, only trouble was his injury prevented him from running the ups, mine the downs. Our injuries having not been made for each other worked to separate us not much long after.

The next few miles moved by, not quickly but at a steady pace. I stopped to go the bathroom which was the earliest ever at Masochist so I felt good about my hydration for once and struck up conversation again with a runner I had met earlier in the morning.  I came into Parkway Gate and was told once more that the group was still just ahead. I saw Clifton just after the aid station but I couldn't keep his pace on the downhill to the climb. But then I was finally rewarded with my first real climb of the day, the climb up to Robinson. I know that I have masochistic traits because I really love that climb. I caught and passed several of my fellow BRTR on that climb. I had good cause to think they would catch me running back down the other side of it as poorly as I knew I would descend but I knew I had to take it when and where I could.

I turned my music on when it came to descending. It was a distraction from the added pain that was coming down from the descent. It wasn't long before Elisa Rollins and Bethany Williams passed by me. I stayed near them but behind them to Irish Creek.  I was not having my best day but I was running a little stronger by this point. I asked how they felt and Bethany said she felt good but she knew it would grow more painful later. I didn't respond because I was jealous. I am not a perfect person and I started to let thoughts sink in, the what ifs. What if you hadn't run Grindstone? What if you had trained properly for MMTR alone? What if your hips and knees didn't hurt? I finally decided to partake in some pain meds. I let them pull away. I went back to my music. The Indigo Girls came on and helped bring me back to life a little, I listened to that song over and over again letting it take me all the way to the Reservoir.

Coming into the aid station at the Reservoir everything just hurt. My legs were tired, my feet, ankles, knees and hips hurt. I was feeling sorry for myself and in no place to race, I was getting the miles done but not like I wanted and it was getting to me. I gave Brodie a quick kiss and was ushered away almost instantly by Todd. He walked with me and listened to me grovel about my pains for a few seconds then he set into me, it came out so quickly and full of steam I can't remember half of it now. He told me that I was stronger than I was running, that I loved this race and this was my climb ahead. I don't recall everything he said but it was loud enough and powerful enough that a runner beside us said he wished he had him for crew. He said good-bye and told me to run every step to Long Mountain where he would be waiting with food.

I ran a few steps and then hiked. I ran a few more. I was passing by these two guys when I realize that one of them was James Decker. I asked how he was, he said he was fine. He asked how I was, I said I hurt everywhere. He said then how are you passing me? I said I guess I just enjoy pain and suffering. He told me Brodie was awesome and I left him with a smile. I did start to come alive a little then. It wasn't amazing or anything but it was climbing and I do constantly tell myself that I love a good climb so I had to climb. I passed a few people who remarked that I was running well for someone with tape on my knees or who was playing the Grindstone card (yes, I played it.) But the truth was I was starting to become invested, the further I went the more I believed I could do it. Why the hell does it takes so long? Well, if I knew that it wouldn't probably take me so long.

I caught Anna on the climb to Long Mountain. We ran a little ways together. She asked if I had been eating, like she was still on duty from pacing at Grindstone, it made me smile and eat two Oreos. She said she wasn't getting to Long Mountain before 5 hours and that her goal time of 10:30 wasn't going to happen. I get really nervous when people start talking times. I assured her that she could do it, but then started to worry about running a 10:30 myself. We got to take in the magnificent view of the mountains decked out in their full October color and she said she would like to buy that land in the little valley just below the mountain and build a house there. Then she could just sit on her porch and watch other people running 50 milers. The imagery she painted was awesome. But then while I was enjoying myself she kind of said something about seeing me later, basically implying I should run on. So I did. The wind was rough through here. I was just so ready to get to Long Mountain.

I got to Long Mountain in just about 5 hours. That was a little bit of a disappointment having usually made it there in 4:30. Todd and Kevin had a Mountain Dew and PB&J ready for me. I drank as much as I could of the pop and took the sandwich as Todd walked a few paces with me. He told me that I was only ten minutes behind Annie and Sophie and that I needed to get moving. He told me all great and powerful things. But I did not feel great and powerful. I had made it to Long Mountain but now I felt more done than I did at the start. He turned back and told me to eat the whole sandwich and then run every step up Buck Mountain, he would see me at the loop. You're far enough behind I'm probably going to run the loop with you, he said.

I walked along and tried to eat the sandwich but I struggled. The Mountain Dew had kind of upset my stomach just the littlest bit. I ate half the sandwich but couldn't get any more in. I had been eating but I couldn't get the whole sandwich in. I really struggled with eating the sandwich and the time it had taken me to get to Long Mountain. I thought about putting the sandwich in my vest, I thought about just finishing it, I knew I had to eat well to run the last half well. If I couldn't eat well then I would fail.  I finally threw it off the side of the mountain and said "F#%k this race, I'm done!" I had 7 hours, I would just walk it in. And I walked for about 4 minutes. And then I decided that I might not be able to walk every step and finish in 7 hours. I probably had to run a little bit to finish. So I started to run. Then I realized it didn't really hurt more to run over walk, so maybe I could keep running and get done a little sooner.

I ran and walked to Buck. I ran way more than last year when my hiking skills seemed so much more productive than they now seemed. Coming into Buck I didn't feel bad but then I didn't have anything I was running towards, other than the finish line. I know that should be enough, but it really isn't for me. Not at the 50 mile distance.

I came into Buck and there were so many familiar friendly faces: Wade, Freda, Opal, Chey, Rosellyn. Wade filled my bottle and they asked if I wanted broth. When I asked if it was vegetarian they answered as if in chorus, of course it is! I happily took a cup of warm delicious broth with crackers. I was on my way out when Chey's says "Go get em, hunt em down, you've only got 3 or 4 girls and then you're in the top 10." I stopped in my tracks. What? No, I'm not. I honestly thought I was much further down, I really had no idea. But she assured me I was much further up. This excited me, I told her that was the best news I had heard all day. In that moment, I believed I had a fighting chance. I didn't know just how strong those front girls were, but I'm glad that I believed that I stood a chance at that moment because it lit a flame inside me. I took off.

I ran downhill better than I had all day. I started thinking about running away from the girls behind me, closing the gap on the ones ahead. You only have 21 miles left, it was the first time all day I had looked at the distance in terms of 'only'. I started to evaluate how I felt. I felt rough but I had felt this rough for hours and was still moving. I came to the conclusion that I needed to run from this point on with no regrets.

I came into Wiggins Spring and Blake got me more broth with only a slight side of sarcasm. He asked if I had been eating, I smiled and said well, you know me. But I thought about it and I really had been eating pretty decent. And hydrating really well for me. Kim encouraged me on and I left the aid station set on getting to the loop.

I ran and walked the mile and a half with more purpose than I had last year. I met a triathlete from Tech and we ran a ways together. I felt like I got to the loop fairly quickly. It was cold and some mix of rain or snow was beginning to fall. Despite how I felt I was running I felt a little zoned out. Like I couldn't focus on things when I came into the aid station. However, everyone was very encouraging, Tammy said I was doing great and Todd and Kevin seemed to think so too. Todd went into the loop and I thought if you think I am running so great why are coming into the loop with me. He told me a plethora of stories and forced me to eat a GU. He told me I was going to catch a bunch of girls and that I was going to get top 10. I wasn't sure. I wasn't running that well most of the day, but he was so positive and forceful about it.

He yelled at me a lot, but in a way that I need, it didn't necessarily make me move any faster (I was slower in the loop this year than last) but it did make the time go. He told me to eat crackers, I ate a couple. He asked if I ate them all, I said no. He told me I was going to eat a GU every 20 minutes when I left the loop, I said OK. He said you promise me, I said no. It went on like that for a long time, he would ask me questions, he would stop and just wait for me to catch up, he would tell me what I was going to do. But I felt out of it. I couldn't really eat. I couldn't really run. The cold and snow had put out my little flame.

In the out and back to the summit we passed some girls, I figured that meant nothing, the loop is so long. Then I saw Jamie, she was walking downhill, she said come and get me Alexis. Then we passed Annie and Sophie. They were all out in front and it's so hard to know just how far out in front, I couldn't decide if I was going to muster up a fight or not. On the way up to getting the summit we passed two guys one of them said "The Running Couple, right?" That lifted me a tad, even if only slightly.

On the way back from the summit we passed a lot of girls, as usual I thought they're all going to catch me. Todd said you're going to be fine. You're going to take more Tums, Tylenol and Pepto and switch to GU. But then a few minutes later he was stopped on the trail waiting for me to catch up and he says, "You're going to need to catch those girls on a hill. And I mean an uphill because you're downhilling is worse than usual." And it's usually pretty bad. I wanted to yell at him. I felt out of it, I didn't really care about catching anyone just that no one else passed me and I was certain Anna was going to. I just felt like I couldn't run. Then I thought about Kevin. How he wanted to run and he couldn't, I technically could but didn't really want to. I thought about Pam Rickard, that I didn't have to run Masochist, I get to run Masochist. And so I tried to run, because I could.

Somehow we made it out of the loop and I was completely delirious. Kevin, Charlie, Nicole and others were around me, there was some shouting about some Mountain Dew where was it, I needed it. But I couldn't find Brodie and I started getting anxious about that which made Todd anxious and they said he's in the car, it was cold and we've got him in there. Then Todd started walking with me away from the loop telling me that I was going to eat a GU every 25 minutes, which I agreed to that schedule. And then he says there's Jamie. I look up to see Jamie Swyers. All day I had heard how she had been running great, 5th place, 6th place and now she's 100 yards ahead of me. I knew something had happened to her.

I caught up with Jamie and she told me that she was dizzy and lightheaded. I felt bad for her but I was also a little out of it myself and my husband had just told me I needed to go chase down a top 10 which I didn't really think was possible but I was holding on to that no regrets mission so I had to get moving. Joe was there and he wasn't feeling good either. I was able to drag Joe along with me but he kept saying I was sprinting which I am pretty sure I wasn't, I can't even sprint at the track series, but it wasn't long and he fell back. No regrets, run for Kevin. And on to Salt Log Gap those thoughts carried me.

I ran right through Salt Log Gap knowing that there was another aid station in a mile or so. I ran and walked this hill fairly well, I feel like I usually walk the whole thing, this year it was about 50/50. I came into the aid station and David filled my bottle as I passed through. It was 3pm. I told myself I had until 4 to get to Porter's Ridge. I ran as much as I could, I just kept telling myself to have no regrets, to give what I had left, there was only 9 miles to go, 8 miles and so on. I took a GU every 25 minutes and drank as well as I ever have. But I didn't see anyone. I was out there all alone. No one. It was kind of surprising. On the first climb I passed a guy but then didn't see anyone else until the trailer in the woods.

There were two people. I just tried to reel them in. When I got closer I noticed one of them was Sophie. It was almost like she noticed me. I felt like we picked up the pace. I stopped to go to the bathroom a final time for the day (6 times, a record for me!) and then really put the chase on. When I finally caught her she said you're tenth. I said no you're tenth and she said no I am just going for an age group record. I didn't think I was tenth I hadn't passed anyone else but I also didn't want to lose tenth if I had just pulled into it. So I picked it up.

I ran harder than I had ever ran through that section which always feels like 12 miles but really only felt like about 5 on this day. I ran it in 50 minutes. I felt OK about that. I got to the aid station and had my bottle filled one last time. And I took off. There were no more aid stations left. Just four miles between me and the finish. Four mostly downhill miles. And I gave them everything I had. My knees ached, my calves started to cramp but I thought if I was top 10 I couldn't risk losing it. I pushed harder than I have ever pushed on that final section. I remembered last year when Megan passed me, how I probably had more but never bring it. I thought about how rough my first half had been. I thought about that final mile on pavement approaching.

Near the mile marker I caught Mike Pfleiger. We talked about how 28 days wasn't enough, that our legs were tired, still beaten. And yet we were doing it. Soon we would be done. I thought I was tenth. My math skills competing with my delusional brain thought we were on pace for 9:35. I started to cramp in the calves at the fish hatchery because I don't ever run as fast as I was running. I told Mike I was going to fall apart. At the turn Brenton was headed out for Jamie and he said "Way to bring out the guns, Alexis." My calves cramped more and I slowed and Mike slowed too. He could have kept on but he stayed with me, this really touched me. A guy who is running the beast too but he stuck with me that entire final mile. I started to get a little emotional. It was turning into a pretty good day.

Except when we got to the store the time clock was off. Crap, no. That was my math. Ok, 9:50 is not a usual top 10 time...I crossed and Horton says "You're tenth girlie" and Todd gives me this big hug and says "Great job, but I don't think you're tenth. I think you're twelfth." I'm not going to lie. That last four miles was HARD. The whole damn 50 was EXHAUSTING. That moment, when my math was off and my placement was not what I thought, it was not really much fun. But I brushed it off the best I could. Jake Reed helped, he said at least you know that you gave it your all. He's right. With the day I had I am pretty thankful for twelfth.

No regrets. Except maybe a few that first half.

I do know a few things. The LUS is done. There's only Hellgate that stands between me and a Beast trophy.

There may be more, but for now,