Monday, May 14, 2012

Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 - Race Report

Coming into Veach Aid Station (mile 41)

Well I've come away from another 100-miler successfully, but it was a real tough one for me.  Real tough.  I struggled terribly with this race.  Putting the Barkley aside, I can honestly say that this was the most difficult 100 I've done...specifically from the mental aspect.  Certainly the physical component of the MMT100 was right up there, and arguably the toughest course I've done (especially with all the rocks), but it was my mind and heart that nearly failed me this past weekend.  I'm not sure if the finishing the Barkley has spoiled me forever in standard 100-milers, but somewhere around mile 35, I was overcome with a very new and incredibly overpowering emotion.  Let me explain...

I remember reading Andrew Thompson's 2005 Barkley race report when he described a feeling he had on loop 5.  He described it as, "a profound loss of purpose".  Now granted, Andrew was in a 3-day sleep-deprived haze, but I never really grasped what he meant by that statement.  When I ran the Barkley, I never lost focus.  I was single in purpose and drive, and was determined to make that 5th gate no matter what it took.  In every ultra I've run, there's always been some level of that drive, that determination, that has motivated me to "get there"; get to that finish line.  The same can be said for my thru-hikes.  It's not a stubbornness per se, but more as Andrew would say, a "sense of purpose".   

This past weekend, at around mile 35, I no longer could come up with a single reason why I should keep running.  I wasn't smiling, I wasn't having fun, I had tripped/fallen several times on the rocks, it was hot, I was miserable, and I had no golden images of the finish line stanchion in my head.  I just had no desire to continue.  None, whatsoever.  I didn't care that it would be my first DNF, I didn't care that I wouldn't get the buckle, I didn't care that people were passing me, I didn't try to catch/pass others, I didn't care about trying to keep at it to get that sub-24 buckle, I didn't care that I would be embarrassed to have finished the Barkley only to have failed at MMT...I just didn't care about anything.  It was the most profound sense of apathy I've ever experienced in a race.  I really just did not want to be there any longer.  I didn't even care...that I didn't care, which is what really surprised me.  How could I be so ready to quit and not be at least disappointed?  I was truly emotionless about it all.  For a large part of this race I was completely alone too.  I think having a pacer would have been a life-saver, as I was honestly very lonely.  (I was in the "solo-division", which meant I wasn't aloud any outside aid)

Add to all this that the aid stations were very far apart, which was very morally deflating.  One stretch was 10 miles long and included a very technical part.  It took over 2 hours to get through this section.  There was a decent amount of climbing, but it was the rocks that were a killer.  They just didn't end.  I fell several times, stubbed my toes more than once, and was just plain clumsy all day.  It reminded me of running at Rothrock, but only for 100 miles instead of 20.  Every aid station I came to, without hesitation, I sat down in a chair.  There was no sense of urgency to keep moving.  I probably spent a cumulative total of 45-60 minutes at aid stations.  Had I been efficient, and motivated, I truly feel I could have broken that 24-hour barrier, but like I said, I had no sense of purpose.

So what kept me going?  I honestly don't know.  I think it was a couple of things.  I thought a lot about all the volunteers that were out there for us runners, giving up their time.  It made me feel terrible about quitting.  I also thought a lot about how pissed off I would be next week, and that I would have to come back to run it again next year for "redemption".  At the time, the thought of having to see the course again was awful (despite it being quite beautiful).  I thought of my mother checking on my web-status updates on mother's day, and what she would think when my status would suddenly go to DNF.  I thought of others who were watching my status, and I thought I needed to at least do it for them.  Somehow,  I was able to completely turn off my mind and go into a sort of unthinking numb state...with a single thought of just "move forward".  Aid stations went by painfully slow.  When I did make it to the 96 mile aid station, I was able to somehow re-awaken, and finally be at peace with my run.  I exited the trail at about 5:40 am onto the road in the dark, and ran the last 4 miles by myself as the sky began to light up.  It was finally the magical moment I was waiting to have all day.  I crossed the finish line just before the sun poked its head above the mountain ridge line.  It was lovely.

So there you have it.  My less than glorious finish at the MMT 100.  I am definitely glad I stuck it out, but even today I'm not that moved by it all.  It actually kind of saddens me a I want that excitement back, that sense of accomplishment.  But, I am content to pass this one off as simply "not my race".  I'm not saying I wouldn't ever do it again, but for this particular year, it just wasn't there for me.  I am definitely still excited about Badwater, so I know that drive will be back!

As far as blow-by-blow race report, I'll give a few details below, but honestly I tuned so much of the race out, that it's hard to remember straight in my head.


I rolled into the camp on Friday about 2pm and quickly set up my tent in far back-corner of the tenting area.  It was a nice spot, albeit tick-infested.  I went through all the pre-race hooplah, got my bib number,  and dropped of my 4 drop-bags.  I decided to try to get to sleep early and give myself plenty of rest.  I slept terribly though and finally got up, after tossing and turning, about 2:45 to get geared up.  It was quite cold out (high 30's), and I was already shivering.  I ate some muesli, taped my still-barkley-healing feet (which worked out great), and headed to the start tent.  The event tent reminded me a lot of the Vermont 100 tent.  Actually, the entire race atmosphere reminded me a lot of Vermont.  Very small with that homegrown feet...I really enjoyed that aspect of the race.

We were off fairly quickly, and the first 4.1 miles featured a steady, and very runable, road section.  I made quick work and dove into the first trail section ready to attack!  About 30 feet in, I tripped on a rock, bashed my knee, and scraped open my hand.  I immediately realized I forgot to wear my leather cycling gloves....damn.  It was the start of what would be a very long day.  The rocks were brutal.  From mile 5-10, there was a gnarly ridge-line section that was very similar to what I'd see here on the mid-state trail.  Almost impossible to run, as the rocks are just to clumsy to work around.  There was a lot of, run for a few steps, hike a few, run a few, hike a few...very awkward.  I was feeling pretty good for the first several hours, despite all of the wipe-outs.  Somewhere around 11 o'clock it started getting pretty hot out.  Aid station volunteers were putting ice in our water bottles and I was starting to get miserable.  It was probably at about mile 33 (Elizabeth Furnace), when I sat in my first aid-station chair, and just didn't feel like getting up.  I made the quick up-and-down to Shawl Gap (mile 37), and that's when I felt the apathy come on.  I had 65 miles still to run, and no reason in my mind to run them.  They told me the next 4 miles was on road, which kind of lifted my spirits.  Anything but rocks I thought.  I figured, "what the heck, might as well do the road section".  Coming into Veach at mile 41 (first picture above), I was not happy.  I sat again for a while and pondered what to do.  This is about when I started to turn my mind off and "just go".  I tried to mentally break the race up into manageable sections, but with 10-mile aid station splits, this was hard to do.  My memories from here get hazy.  I remember running with a fellow Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, we talked for a while about it.  I also remember running with a chatty, and high-spirited woman that kept me motivated (who reminded me a lot of my Leadville pacer Sophia), but mostly I was alone.  The climb up from Habron Gap I remember as being long.  When I hit Gap Creek the first time (mile 70), it was nearing the end of the day.  I put my headlamp on and talked for a long time with the aid station volunteers.  They kept nudging me to get going, but I just kept sitting for a while.  I somehow convinced myself that the change-of-pace to nighttime running would be nice, so I finally did head out.  I made it to the turn-off sign at mile ~72 after the Jawbone climb just as I turned my headlamp on.  There were three volunteers there cheering wildly for me.  On the sign post, I saw the 2nd pie plate that said, "Mile 98 - Go Straight" and I wanted desperately to fast-forward into the future to the next time I'd be at that sign.  The following ridge section was the most demoralizing of the entire course.  It was night, the rocks were brutal, and it went on for a never-ending 6 miles.  It took me almost 2 and a half hours to get to the Visitor's Center at aid station 77, and even the road-section down to the center seemed like it took FOREVER.  The climb up to Bird Knob was actually a nice section for me and the aid station at the top was very remote.  Just two people running a make-shift tent out of their car.  In some way, it reminded me of the Hope Pass aid station at Leadville.

From mile 82 to mile 96, I have very little memory.  I was in a horribly dark and low place.  I do remember the climb after mile 90 taking a very long time and I was within ear shot of a few other runners.  But that's about it.  When I finally did make the descent back down to the Gap Creek station for the 2nd time, it was like the curtain finally opened.  I was almost done.

The last climb would be Jawbone a 2nd time, which was nice as there would be no surprises.  At the top, I saw the sign again indicating where to go if at mile 98 and I stopped for a long time looking at it.  I remembered how several hours ago I was wishing more than anything to fast-forward and be here at 98. I took a long time realizing just how hard it was for me to make it through those last 27 miles.  Then I slowly made my way down the mile or so to the road, dodging the last of the rocks.

With 4.1 miles remaining, I popped out on to the road just as the sky began slowly lighting up.  I jogged tenderly for the entire way down remembering spots along the way from the previous morning.  I breathed in the morning air and I finally was able to smile again.  The birds started waking up and I felt good for the first time in 60 miles.  At the bottom, the course does a short loop through the woods and dumps us out on the far side of the finishers tent.  I made the short loop around the grass with a handful of people cheering me on.  I cross the finish in 26:26:12 (at 6:26 am), shook a few hands, and promptly sat down to a mostly empty finishers tent.

I ate lots of food, drank a ton of sodas and water, and passed out for a few hours on a mattress in the corner.  In the afternoon, I accepted my pewter buckle award (23rd place overall) and solo-division mug.  The announcer mentioned my Barkley finish as I accepted my awards and I got a hearty and surprising ovation from the was quite humbling.

As a side note, I would like to send a congrats to all that finished this very difficult course...and especially Gary Knipling who finished his 15th running!

Not much else to really say.  Like I said, it was a terribly difficult race for me and I'm glad to be home now resting and recovering.  My sole focus for the next 2+ weeks is to prepare for my upcoming PhD exam.

The buckle

The mug!

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