Wednesday, May 21, 2014

MMT100 Race Report (again)

Last year I ran Massanutten as my first 100.  I blistered early, sprained my ankle at some unknown point, and had no fun over the last 50 miles.  So, I figured, let’s do it again. 

Last year Kym and I had plans to go out to dinner with some friends from my running club (Pagoda Pacers), but we got there too late.  This year we left early to get there with plenty of time to set up, but heavy rains on the ride down delayed us.  When we stopped for lunch at Chipotle we sat down to eat and saw Jim Blandford and his wife Karen, and crew Beth.  Exactly who we were having dinner with that night.  We joined them for lunch and I talked to Jim about his nutrition plan for the race.  He does Perpetuem with a gel and S-cap every 45 minutes.  This is what my plan was, with real food added in since I’d be out there for many more hours than him.  We got to race headquarters around 3pm and saw the mess it was because of the rain.  The parking lot was a mud pit and the field leading to the start/finish line was underwater.  We checked in and learned the bridge to the campground was out.  This meant we’d have to drive between the two, and that the start was moved to the campgrounds this year.  We drove up to set up camp and there were only about a half dozen camps set up at this point.  I noticed one was Karl Meltzer’s car.  He had his speed golf bag out, so I went over and talked to him about it.  He was very friendly and it was an interesting conversation about the sport.  Kym and I set up camp, went to the pre-race meeting, out to dinner, and I was asleep at 10pm.  I woke up twice in the night with nightmares of DNF’ing at mile 54.
Overflowing river on race morning

Race Day
When anyone asked me my goal for the race, I generally would tell them to not get the blisters I had last year and to not sprain my ankle like I did last year.  By doing that I knew I’d be able to have a nice improvement.  I told only one or two people my stretch goal of finishing before the 6am sunrise on Sunday.  That would be a 2 hour and 49 minute improvement, and would not be easy.

Start to Edinburg Gap
Last year I recall the first time I had to get my feet wet was around mile 65.  This year would be much different.  On the 4 mile road to the trail we had several shin deep water crossings from the overflow of water off the mountains.  There were about 15-20 of these types of crossings through the day with miles and miles of wet and muddy trail.  My plan to keep my feet dry all day was out the door 1 mile into the race.  I ran the first few miles with my friend Lori (who won 1st place senior woman!).  When I got to the trail I moved much more quickly up Short Mountain than the group I was near.  When I got to the top I ran the rest of the section with two guys, Brad and Dan, who were friends running together.  I very much enjoyed the conversation and leisurely pace and the weather was perfect.  I rolled into Edinburg gap at 6:25, exactly the same time as last year, but at what felt to be a much more relaxed pace.  12 miles.  0 minutes ahead of last year. 

Edinburg to Woodstock to Powells to Elizabeth Furnace
photo credit: James Williams
After leaving Edinburg there’s a long climb, then about 19 miles of very runnable trails with one other climb before you see your crew again at mile 33.  This section all blends together for me.  I know that I climbed the first hill strong, then put in my headphones for the first time.  During the runnable sections Brad and Dan caught me after I went through the first Aid quicker than them.  There was a group of 5 of us that ran a lot of these miles together.  At points I felt like their pace was too quick for me, so I’d drop back from time to time.  At Powell’s I had some French toast that might have been my favorite food of the day.  It was exactly what I desired at that point.  After leaving Powells’ there’s a fire road for a few miles.  During this section there was some talk about being excited for the next hill so we could justify walking.  5 or 6 of us hit the mile 27ish climb together.  I’m still very new to running very long distances, but the best thing I’ve learned is to walk with a purpose.  When I’ve run with Jim Blandford and other Pagoda Pacers who are better runners than me, I’m struck by how quickly they can move while walking.  I made it a point to walk with vigor when I decided to walk.  All day.  If you think about it there are something like 30 miles of uphills.  If you can take that average down 2 minutes per mile just by walking quicker, that’s an hour off your time.  It’s a lot easier to walk 2 minutes per mile faster than to run 2 minutes per mile faster.  So, on this uphill I pulled pretty far away from the group.  I was a few miles past the hill before they caught up to me again.  I’m just not as fast on the flats/downhills as them.  I got to Elizabeth Furnace at 10:38am.  33 miles.  11 minutes ahead of last year.
coming into Elizabeth Furnace

Elizabeth Furnace to Shawl Gap
My plan was to change socks at Elizabeth, but reports of a very wet trail ahead led me to decide to wait until Shawl.  This section was one of my least favorite last year.  After all the runnable trail we had just been on, the climb here was a kick in the gut.  It’s not the longest climb on the course, but one of the more technical ones.  Lots of switchbacks, steps carved into the mountain out of stone, and when you look up, it seems like it will never end.  This year I knew what I was getting into, and just put my head down and hiked as fast as I could.  There’s some high grass fields in this section and Kym pulled a tick off me as I got into the next Aid Station.  38 miles. 23 minutes ahead of last year.

Shawl Gap to Veach to Indian Grave to Habron
Coming into Shawl I started to feel a hot spot on the bottom of my right foot.  I took a long time here to change socks and to put moleskin on the bottom of both feet.  This 100 million percent saved my race.  The bottoms of my feet did not blister all day.  During a short road section before Veach I ran a little with Kyle.  A friend of a friend who I’d met just before the start.  Kyle and I would leapfrog and run together a little for the next 30+ miles.  The climb out of Veach is one of the toughest of the day.  It’s long and mostly straight.  You can look ahead of you and see you just keep going up and up and up.  It’s the middle of the day so it’s hot, and there’s 9 miles between aid stations.  I had two handhelds at this point, so I had to drink a lot, yet conserve water for the long time it would take.  After the long climb, there’s some runnable miles before you get to a ridge on the side of the mountain.  Very technical and actually a little scary in spots.  You just have to take your time and get through it.  It was here last year that my bottom of the foot blisters started.  This year, I was feeling great.  Just before Indian Grave I caught back up to Dan.  Brad had been feeling strong and took off on him.  Dan, Kyle and I ran most of the road to Habron together.  54 miles. 41 minutes ahead of last year.
me, Dan, Kyle photo credit: Ryan Paavola
54 miles done and happy. photo credit: Tab

Habron to Camp Roosevelt
I sat down to change socks at Habron.  I also taped my toe as it’s always a blister area.  This was my only blister of the day, but I never felt it until about a day after the race.  Dan and Kyle left Habron well before me.  I was having fun talking with friends here.  I left there with two handhelds, a burrito, a half of a PB&J, and an amazing ice cream sandwich.  I settled in for one of the longest climbs of the day.  It was the hottest part of the day, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.  The climb seems to take forever here and as I neared the top I caught up to Dan who was with Brad who had stopped and was forcing himself to puke.  I quickly moved on wishing them luck.  I don’t remember much about this section other than that rough climb. 63 miles. 47 minutes ahead of last year.
Pretty sure that guy is about to punch the girl in the face
my bro and me

Camp Roosevelt to Gap 1
When I got into Camp Roosevelt I was greeted by my brother.  He had asked me how he could see me at some point, but I never go confirmation that he’d be there.  It was an awesome surprise.  Unfortunately I was feeling so good at this point I got out of there as quick as I could.  I’d heard that the next section would be the wettest of the course.  Last year I had just taped my feet for the first time, and this was my best section as I ran most of it except the large climb.  This year was a lot of hiking, as running through the constant stream of water would have just taken too much out of me that I wanted to conserve.  The large climb was not nearly as large as I had remembered.  But, the back side of the trail was just as wet as the front, so it was slow moving down that as well.  69 miles.  56 minutes ahead of last year.

Gap 1 to Visitor’s Center
Coming into Gap 1 I was again changing socks and checking on my moleskin.  The volunteers here were amazing.  They gave me a foot bath, cleaned my shoes, reapplied moleskin and got me fed.  All while I just sat there.  Really awesome.  As I was being waited on Kyle came in and got out of there.  I could have stayed forever, but my midway goal was in reach.  I knew my best chance at finishing before sunrise would be made or broken here.  After leaving Gap 1 there’s a big climb then you hit the pie plates.  Mile 71 turn left, mile 98 go straight.  When you turn left you’re greeted with some horrible running along a ridge.  Up and down over the ridge with big rocks all over the place.  I wanted to cry here last year in the dark.  This year, it was not dark.  I looked at my watch when I made the turn and I think it said something like 7:55pm.  I had a few minutes to run in the sunlight.  So I took off like a bat out of hell.  I ran recklessly.  After spraining my ankle last year I am always afraid of it.  I didn’t care here.  I ran as fast as I could over this very technical section.  I made it through the worst of it before the sun set over the mountains. 26 hours was possible now.  I continued to move well here and passed Kyle for the last time of the day.  The last few miles of this section are on a road.  I welcomed it and ran strong.  Last year without stopping at Gap 1 at all this section took me 2 hours and 42 minutes .  This year I stopped for about 10-15 minutes and still finished the section 35 minutes faster.  78 miles. 1 hour and 32 minutes ahead of last year.
leaving Visitors Center (I think?)

Visitors Center to Bird Knob to Picnic Area
Coming into Visitors area I knew I was too early for Kym.  So, as I ran into the Aid Station I looked for her car.  Sure enough I was able to find her still asleep.  She popped up and got me what I needed while I ate some delicious soup.  I was moving well, so I wasn’t sitting down.  I got out of there quick.  The climb up Bird Knob is very steep and technical.  Last year there was also fog at the top.  I had back to back to back 27 minute miles here last year.  This year I moved very well and passed several people at the top.  Some more soup at Bird Knob, and back to running.  After you leave the aid station there’s a seemingly very long ¾ mile road to the next climb.  It’s a relatively short climb before a few downhill runnable miles.  These miles take a long time and last year just as I started to feel better I got sick of them and crashed.  This year I convinced myself there were more miles than there were, so when I got to Picnic Area I was mildly surprised.  88 miles. 2 hours and 57 minutes ahead of last year.

Picnic Area to Gap 2
Last year I got to Picnic and sat down to sleep for 30 minutes.  This year I sat down and had another amazing job done on my feet.  Cleaning, remoleskin, new socks.  Awesome volunteers.  I grabbed some food and got out.  There’s about a mile and half of downhill leaving this aid station and the sitting down for 10 minutes did my legs in.  My quads were toast, so I’d be walking this.  Fast walking.  After the downhill you start uphill and just keep going up.  I don’t remember it being this long last year, but there’s about 3-4 miles of climbing.  Some mild uphill, some steep uphill, some through a fast flowing creek.  After getting through that you then go back down a pretty steep hill.  It’s wide trail of loose smaller rocks.  Extremely runnable if it were earlier in the race, but not here.  When it wasn’t too steep I was able to do some running.  Finally you come out to about a 2 mile section of road before the last Aid Station.  I wasn’t moving too fast here, but I was doing my best to run as much as I could. 97 miles.  3 hours and 55 minutes ahead of last year.

Gap 2 to Finish
When I got into Gap 2 I looked for Kym and couldn’t find her.  I loaded up on some food and headed out.  Oops, Kym always hands me new full bottles, so I headed back to refill them.  As I was leaving here I looked up and down the street then heard my name.  I was again so far ahead of what she thought, so she had just woken up.  I grabbed a long sleeve shirt and headed out for what I knew for sure to be a sub 26 finish.  Heading up this climb for the second time of the day I caught somebody who asked me where the pie plates where. I pointed to the headlamps above us and told him up there somewhere.  He said he was on his first climb up as his stomach was giving him issues and he needed a nap.  I wished him luck and headed off.  Just then I got to the pie plates and shouted back he was almost there.  From here there’s a very steep drop then some very technical trail.  It was all fast walking for me.  There were some sections here that I was able to run briefly, but my quads were just too painful.  Finally I got to the glorious road.  4 miles to go.  I looked at my watch and it was 3:58am.  15 minute miles to go sub 25, 12 minute miles for a 4 hour PR.   I started running and didn’t stop.  I passed Keith Knipling with a mile or two to go and got that 4 hour PR.  I sat down and was able to amazingly see Keith finish his 15th MMT at the age of 38.  We're the same age, so if he follows his dad's footsteps he can do 50 of these.

103.7 mile in 24:43:03.  4 hours and 6 minutes ahead of last year.

Post Race
My goal of finishing before sunrise was blown away by the fact that I was able to get a shower and back to sleep by sunrise.  4 hours of sleep in the tent and I was actually able to help Kym pack up camp this year.  We went down and joined our friends at the finish to hang out, eat some tacos, and drink some beer.
Meltzer, Yoder, Lori, I forget his name, Marsha, Beth, Kym, Me, Jason Lantz. photo by Karen Blandford

A huge thanks to my awesome wife for chasing me down and being there for me again.  She's down on herself for not being awake when I arrived a few times, but I was so far ahead of my times that there's no way I could be upset.  She's done this by herself for the past two years and I can't imagine how difficult it is to do that.

Three days post race and I’m able to go up and down stairs without too much trouble.  My big toe blister is the only really annoying thing I have going on now, but hopefully that will be gone in the next day or two.

Less mud and quicker through the Aid Stations for sub 24 next year….?

edit:  GPS records


FiFi said...

That was so unbelievable. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love you and am so proud of you. Mom

Siobhan said...

Great post and congrats on an awesome finishing time.