|The ascent is a tad on the technical side. (photo I took during the DWG 50K in Oct.)|
|And here is a small portion of the descent looking up. Yea one mistake and your done.|
So in order to beat 10 hours you really have to be good, like really really good. Honestly you have around 12 hours to actually finish. Alex, the RD and founder of Athletic Equation, is a really good dude and badass ultrarunner himself and I believe his cutoff’s for this event are somewhat softened and I felt he would grant you passage if he really felt you wanted to finish.
So I signed up for this race because I like to be challenged. I am a firm believer in running races as long training runs to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the rigors of a hard and mountainous 100 miler. The harder the better. It worked for my first 100 miler so I am applying the same concept for MMT and Eastern States this year. I guess it's a variation of the David Horton mindset of "the more you can trash yourself in training the more you can trash yourself in a race."
The course is nasty and rough. I like nasty and rough but this course defines it. I’ve trained here all winter long to prepare for Massanutten 100 in May so I knew what I was getting into. But in the depths of my subconscious I knew that finishing for me was a longshot. I have only done four loops at the most in one shot and often have felt beat up afterwards. So ten loops was a stretch. So my attitude going in was don’t get hurt and try and get 10,000 ft of vertical gain in on a nice long training run. If for some reason I felt really good then of course keep going and get the finish. But I wonder if planting the seed of my first DNF prior to the race starting had already sealed my fate. We all know one thing, ultrarunning is more about the six inches between your ears than anything else. Doubt is the enemy of ultrarunning and if you have it going into an event it will be very hard to beat it back.
For the first time this year Alex offered a one hour early start for those that wanted it. I of course opted for it along with three others. So at 5:30 am we were off into the darkness towards the first ascent. It was Charlotte from Connecticut, Cassandra from Lancaster and Joe the school teacher from New York along with myself. We chatted away and climbed into the darkness doing what every ultrarunner does when with a new group, we talk racing and juggling family and the specifics about the course. I was somewhat surprised to find out the Charlotte and Joe had never been here! I assured them that they would love it and they said they wanted to stick with me because I knew the course and they were worried about getting lost. I let them know that it was really easy to stay on course but I just hoped that there were no bears on the trail since we were the first one’s out there.
The first loop was really slow. It was around seventy five minutes which is about fifteen minutes slower then what I hoped for. But seeing how it was all in the dark it was understandable. To finish you really need to be doing sixty minutes loops or faster. Fifty minute loops would be ideal. We caught the sunrise on the second loop and it was so nice. The temps were perfect. A little on the chilly side high 30’s to low 40’s but I was sweating like a pig as usual. Lugging my 200 pound frame up and down the mountain takes a lot of effort. Charlotte and Joe were smaller and much lighter and they really seemed to be hardly working while I felt like a grunting rhino. They were great running partners and their light heartedness really made the loops go by. Charlotte talked about the TGNY100 that she loves which is a road 100 around all five boroughs of New York City and Joe talked about Manitou Revenge 54 miler in the rugged Catskills which is definitely on my radar. Charlotte is also doing Eastern States 100 as well so hopefully I can share some Waterville miles with here in August. I was able to run the first five loops with my new trail friends and I was very grateful for it. They eventually started pulling away though as I slipped back and slowed. Now I was alone as I usually am at races. I always seem to fall into that void area in a race where it seems like you are dead last and there is nobody anywhere near you.
Off I went on the fifth loop and as I passed under the Route 80 underpass to start the climb I ran into Emir and Casey coming in. I high fived them as they went past and they joked to me about where have I been. It’s always good to see familiar faces suffering out there. They started at the normal 6:30 time and had already caught up to me. They both looked really strong. Up the mountain and back down the mountain I went for the fifth time. Then back up for my sixth loop which was my worst. Halfway up the ascent I became queasy and lightheaded. I felt nausea and the initial thought of wanting to vomit came over me. I couldn’t believe it. I have never felt that on any run or race before. It was a first for me. I think I was really allowing my heart rate to stay very elevated on the climbs in order to keep my time close to sixty minutes per loop but in doing so may have been overdoing it. This loop sucked and it was one of the lowest I have ever been and even more so then any low I experienced at Oil Creek 100. I just tried to drink and relax and breath. I walked way more of the descent then I would have liked and rolled into the aid station after six loops wanting to drop. Alex saw me and gave me a pep talk and I sat down as they refilled my bottles. I got some warm chicken soup with broth and pierogies. Boy was that good! I think I sat there for maybe ten minutes relaxing and eating. The warm calories really helped and I no longer felt sick. Alex told me it’s time to go back out there. He was awesome and my thoughts of dropping stopped. So off I ran. I ran the entire road section to the climb feeling really good.
Loop seven was probably my best as far as the way I felt overall. I probably pushed too much in hindsight however. As I got about halfway up I came upon two hikers sitting on a rock. They looked like a father and son. The son asked me what the numbers were for and I stopped to lean on my poles and told them gasping for air that it was a race and that we do ten four mile loops of the mountain and this was my seventh loop. Just like the movies both of their mouths dropped open and almost hit the ground. The look of utter shock was painted on both their faces. They both said “wow” and wished me luck. I actually cracked a smile at that point and thanked them. It was one of those very short moments during a race that is memorable. I mean, the look on their faces was priceless. They had to be thinking we are all completely insane. I made it up to the top and the start of the blue trail descent feeling really good with all those wonderful calories I received at the aid station. I ran the descent with reckless abandon thinking in my head I only had two loops to go when I had three. Simple math apparently escaped me. As I came around and started the eighth loop I kept thinking I had this loop and one more. I don’t know why. Ultra brain perhaps? I quickly ran out of gas during the ascent and simultaneously realized no I had three loops left. Oy Vey.. I realized as I looked down at my average pace that I was already past the twelve hour pace mark. There was no way I could do another two loops in two hours which would make them my fastest loops that day. Impossible. There it was…the seed had sprouted, my first DNF was waiting.
My legs were trashed and so were my feet. I hobbled down my final descent and shuffled under the overpass and up to the finish line. As I came in I saw my friend Ryan running down the road towards me. He wanted to pace me the last two laps but I was cooked. I felt bad he came out here and I was done. Sorry bro. I came in in exactly 10 hours with 8 loops completed. I had done 30.5 miles with 10,375 ft of gain and felt very proud of my efforts. How odd to consider those numbers a failure. By the rule of running it was a failed attempt. But honestly, I don't look at it like that at all. I'm quite happy with it. I quickly changed and cracked a beer I had in my cooler and ate some awesome red beans and rice they had and sat with Ryan as we waited for Emir, Casey and Don to finish. It was so great to sit there watching folks finish especially friends. That was my favorite part of the day.
I personally had a great training day and took a few things back home with me.
1. For the first time I battled a sick stomach and fought through it as it passed. Something that was new to me. That’s a win and will use that knowledge if it happens again.
2. I didn’t get hurt and had a great day on the mountain "trashing myself."
3. I hung out with some great friends and met some new ones. The best win of them all.