Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MMT, take 3

In 2014 I finished MMT in 24:43, and my main focus this year was to break 24 hours.  An Achilles problem in February lead to no running for over 3 weeks.  The mileage slowly built back up, but never got to where I was in the previous years.  I did more overall elevation, so my goal, though a stretch, remained sub 24 going into race day.  If I had any chance at this, I knew I’d need help this year.  My buddy Jeff casually mentioned he’d help if I needed it, so I reached out to him about 10 days out.  He was in, and recruited Garry and Marsha to join him.  Sounds like a party in Virginia.

After checking in, attending the race briefing, and eating we hung out with some friends at their upgraded cabin for a few hours before heading to bed.  It was a good time, and nice to relax before trying to sleep.  I got 3 hours of sleep before tossing and turning until the alarm went off.

not feeling bad at Edinburg
My perfect-day race plan was to go 5-10 minutes faster in the first 12 miles, then run at the same pace as last year for the next 75.  I thought that if I was able to get through Aid Stations better, I could be about 30 minutes ahead of last year where Jeff could jump in and push me to sub 24.  Well, plans are made to be broken, right?  The first 12 miles went according to plan.  I didn’t feel like I pushed too hard, though I was sweating a lot more than last year.  It was low 60’s, but very humid.  It was around mile 13 that I knew sub-24 wouldn’t happen.  I think the best aspect of my ultra-running is my fast uphill hiking.  As I went up the big climb at mile 13 I was already out of breath and had side stiches because of the heat.  And, it was only 6:30am.  My new goal was to just finish as fast as I could, regardless of time.

For each of the past two years I ran most of miles 15-30 with a group of other runners.  This year I was never really with anyone for more than a mile or two.  During these miles I got passed by a fair number of runners, many who I recognized, many who I knew I should not have been ahead of at this point.  Maybe I went out too fast, and would spend the next 80 miles paying for it?  In this section runners were slaughtered by a ridiculous amount of horse flies.  I said I felt like I was going to get a concussion because of how many times I was hammered in the head by flies.  The other memorable thing about these miles was my attempts at peeing.  I never had to, but forced myself to.  It barely dribbled out, and it was a dark yellow.  I was drinking 40 ounces between each aid, and drinking another 20 or so at aid stations.  I was taking salt every 30-45 minutes, but I could not stay hydrated.
feeling less than stellar after 33 miles
Kym putting suntan lotion on me
At Shawl Gap (mile 38) I saw hopeful winners Jimmy and Ashley in chairs looking like their days were done.  It bummed me out big time.  I don’t remember much about what I said or did here, but I know I had a deep, dark sense of jealously.  I was so spent that sitting down in a chair and calling it quits didn’t sound like a terrible idea at this point.  If I was rude to the group here, I’m sorry, I think I was trying to avoid letting those thoughts creep up.  I left here with 2 full handheld bottles, and an empty flask to fill up 3 miles later at Veach Gap.  During this short 3 mile road section I downed almost all of the water I had here as well.  I refilled those, plus the flask and headed out for what I knew to be one of the toughest sections.  There is a huge, mostly straight climb which has sections exposed to the sun.  I did most of this section with a guy named Dana running his first MMT.  I know for sure that if he weren’t there to help push me I would have sat down to rest a few times.  About 4 miles into this section he asked me if I had a lot of water.  He had just run out.  I had about 20 ounces left, and we still had 5 miles to the next aid.  I told him I had a little.  He said he was ok for now but might ask if he got desperate.  As I contemplated just giving him one of my half full bottles we turned a corner to about 40 gallons of water on a bench.  It was absolutely magical.  I topped off my bottles, and drank about another half-gallon.  I think that surprise-water saved a lot of people’s day.  It was here that Rande Brown caught up to us.  I asked him if any of his previous 10 finishes were this hot.  He said it was tough to tell.  He could only remember one other year of extreme heat.  I moved ok into Indian Grave (mile 50) where the awesome volunteers were having runners sit down while they put ice cold towels on them.  While it sounded great, I didn’t want to get too comfy there.  I quickly cooled myself with one of the towels, grabbed a bite to eat and set off on the 4 mile road to Habron Gap.  A light rain started on my way there and that felt great as the road is very exposed when the sun is out.  When I got to Habron I saw Jim, his day officially done.  He and Karen set me up with a handkerchief full of ice to wear around my neck for the next section.  This aid was bordeline overwhelming for me because there were so many people there to help.  Jim and his crew, Kym, and the crews of all the other Pacers.  It was excellent.  I sat down for a few minutes to rest, then set off in the rain for another big climb.
A haze over the mountains, with a storm brewing

It was here that my race took a nosedive.  During this long climb a pretty heavy thunderstorm rolled in.  It went from 90 degrees and sunny to somewhere in the 60’s (I think?).  I was sopping wet in a sleeveless shirt, and I was cold.  Teeth-chattering cold.  It wasn’t fun.  The extreme heat wasn’t fun, now the exact opposite was even less fun.  I didn’t want to do this anymore.  I couldn’t stop thinking that.  I didn’t care anymore.  I didn’t want to be out there.  I’m not sure what it was, but as the weather made a complete change, so did my hydration.  I couldn’t stop peeing.  During this 9 mile section I peed at least 15 times.  I was convinced that I was medically unable to go on.  I’m now sure I was fine, but I was convinced I was done then.  In this section, after the climb there are several miles before the next aid station where the trail is very runnable.  The rain had stopped and I’d try to run.  When I’d run, I’d kick a rock.  Almost always with my right big toe.  I grunted the first few times, then I yelled a few times, then it turned to blood curdling F-bombs.  My foot was broken.  I was again convinced I was medically unable to go on.  I was done running, I had to walk it in from there.  From the time the heavy rain started through the rest of this section I planned my DNF.  My best plan for a successful DNF would be if Jeff, Garry, and Marsha didn’t show up to help me at mile 63 like they planned.  Maybe they heard Jim got hurt and his crew would help me, and they wouldn’t be needed.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to convince Jeff, Garry and Marsha I needed to quit, but I could fight Kym on it.  My hopes rested on a DNS from my crew.  About a quarter mile from the aid station I spotted a long blond haired dude in a flannel shirt drinking an IPA on the trail.  My DNF hopes were dashed. When I finally reached him I apologized to him for having him come down, as I was quitting.  He had none of it, walked in with me telling me I just had to get it done, forcing me to run the last few yards into aid.  I sat down and told everyone I was done.  In 2012 I told Kym I was done at mile 88.  At that point I knew I really wasn’t done, I kind of just needed to say it to express how much I was hurting, and how much I needed a rest.  This time I was serious.  I was dunzo.  They all had running clothes with them and asked if I needed someone to go with me.  I told them I wouldn’t do it alone, and if anyone came with me it would be a 6 mile walk before dropping.  I was adamant I was walking the whole section, and then I was done.  Jeff ran and got changed.  I changed socks, moleskin, and my shirt.  My big right toe was a disaster, but I tried to ignore it.  I only had 6 more miles of walking on it anyway.

Jeff and I headed out with a baggie of food that Marsha gave me.  As we walked I ate all the food, leaving the two hard boiled eggs I was confused about why she would give me.  A few minutes later I realized they were potatoes, not eggs, so I ate them too.  This section consists of about 4 miles of mostly uphill trail, some of which is a stream.  Jeff and I talked and my spirits changed.  I may have even run a little in those first 4 miles, I can’t remember.  I do remember that the climb here has always been my favorite of the race.  It’s very steep, but only about a mile long.  I decided to attack it.  We went up fast, and this year the downhill after the climb was not in nearly as bad shape as last year, so I ran that whole thing.  I got excited when I passed a few runners, as I hadn’t passed anyone on the trail in a long time.  I got into Gap 1, and it was on.  My crew saved my race, and now it was time to make it worth it.

We headed out up Jawbone and Jeff remembered about a turn off the main trail that I surely would have missed if I were alone.  When we got to the top of this climb another storm rolled in.  This one was more refreshing.  It was a humid climb and the rain wasn’t as drenching as the earlier storm.  The trail along Kerns Mountain is pretty much unrunnable in the dark.  We fast hiked it and passed a few more people.  With a new moon it was complete darkness out there.  I started playing a game where I’d spot a runner’s headlamp far ahead on the trail and I’d say “headlamps”.  We’d make a push and pass them, then look for another one.  Every pass in the night felt better than the last.  I think I passed 6 or 7 in this section.  When we got to the 2 miles of road before Visitors Center (mile 78) it was the first time Jeff kind of pushed the pace for me.  We did two strong miles before reaching Garry’s redlighted headlamp waiting just outside the Aid Station.  Yeah, yeah.

In Visitors Center I put moleskin on my right ankle, got some soup and headed out.  I had meant to switch watches, and about a tenth of a mile from aid I realize that and asked Jeff to go back for me.  Probably a stupid ask on my part, but I use my watch to fool myself into thinking I have more to go than I really do.  We climbed up to Bird Knob fairly well.  One runner was in there, sitting in a chair, and eyeing up the lounge chair.  I was happy to be feeling positive, and we headed out with more soup.  After the next short climb we ran well, picking off more headlamps.  6 or 7 more. 

Jeff and I looking for food, Garry hydrating (photo: Andrew Burnette)
Picinic Area (mile 88) has been my downfall both previous years.  I napped in 2013, and too long of a sitting down, sock-changing break in 2014 lead to dead quads.  We moved in and out of there pretty quick, but my feet were too sore to try to run the mile of downhill out of there.  Regardless, we knocked off 3 more headlamps as we started the next big climb.  The last huge climb.  The climb that never, never, ever ends.  My fool-myself watch trick failed me here.  I thought 3 miles was a high estimate for how long this climb is, but it’s even longer than that.  This climb hurt.  On the downhill just before the road, we got passed the one time of the last 40 miles.  The road running was slower than I’d hoped, but once we saw Garry’s red lights I was able to run it in from there.  Again, aid was quick and at the top of the very last climb we caught the runner who passed us.  (He passed us again just before the last road to the finish, but must have made a wrong turn and got lost as he finished 45 minutes after me.  Ouch.)  Most of the last trail section is too technical to run at this point of the race so I just moved through it as best as I could.  We got to the road at 6:05am.  A strong finish for sub 27.  We ran every step of the road, and halfway up the campground road.  It was awesome. 
This was definitely the hardest run I’ve ever done, and finishing with the help of my friends was the best feeling of my running life.  Garry, Marsha, Jeff, Kym – I surely would not have finished without you.  I cannot thank them enough. 26:48. Two hours slower than last year, and 7 places better for 13th place.

As usual the volunteers were all awesome.  I was especially impressed at how Kevin just had a hip replacement, but I saw him all over the course.  At the finish he mentioned how bad I looked at Camp Roosevelt and he wasn't sure I'd make it.  To have 199 runners and a race to direct, remembering each runner and giving them the feeling that every one of the matters is what makes MMT great.
Best crew ever

Best Wife ever

A special thanks to JP Food Sales, Redners, and Great Lakes Cheese for sponsoring me.

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