Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Worlds End 100K - The Empty One

"To try and fail is every bit as valuable as success so long as you push your own margin and thus gain knowledge." - Cory Richards

The view of the start and the same view at the finish.

Seven day after finishing MMT100 I found myself standing at 5 am at the starting line at Worlds End 100K up in Forksville Pennsylvania. I can't really recall if I signed up for this one first or MMT but I think it was this one. I hadn't run all week since MMT as upon finishing that race I had some edema in the lower legs which I also experienced following Oil Creek 100. My left shin was also very tender to the touch. It was sore almost like a shin splint type of soreness. I would not label any of this injury it's just the way it is after you put your body through the rigors of a technical mountain 100 mile foot race lasting close to 33 hours. So I rested all week and ate and rested and ate some more. The puffiness in my feet and ankles subsided by Thursday and the shin tenderness was all but gone by the time I started running at 5 am.  This was my first 100k race so I really didn't have any idea how to approach it other then to survive. I almost thought of it as another 100 miler. I knew about 45 miles of the course having done the 50k last year and a training run or two over winter. This is not a race that compares even close to a 50 miler so my only thought was to treat it like a hundred. I felt mentally I was in a good place but physically I had no idea on earth what my body was going to do.

Respect. I know some folks may be thinking that I went into this race with a lack of respect for the distance and terrain. But actually it would be the opposite. Why would someone want to run a very challenging 100k race a week after a very challenging 100 miler? My answer is simply why the hell not! I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to be challenged and pushed almost to the breaking point. I knew failure was hiding behind every tree and bush at Worlds End. It was in the air. I could see it reflecting in the pools at the base of the many waterfalls when I looked down. I was running from it. If I dropped or missed a cutoff well then so be it, I would then know my limitations. Because let's cut the shit here isn't that why we all do this? To see if we can finish or tackle a distance that we never have thought possible before? That's the whole damn point of ultra running. The point is to push our limits, to do the unthinkable. At least that's how I view it. There are many "easier" races out there just waiting for your next cushy PR or age group award. Those races are not for me and do not appeal to my sense of adventure.

Something happened in this race. During those long 65 miles out in the forest something that I have never experienced went down. I was given a choice somewhere around mile 10 or so. I could drop or head back out on the course towards a state of mind that was all new. I felt pretty good physically and mentally for the first ten miles. But after that I was drained. I had nothing left to give. It was almost as if during the week I filled the reservoir back up from being empty but with only enough for about ten miles worth of running. What was I going to do for the next fifty some odd miles? It was all a blur. I would run with a few friends and we would merrily run along chit chatting at times and other times in silence. We would run/walk the technical stuff and hike the climbs. We would run the downs the best we could. It was strange. I just kept going fueled on... nothing. My legs were killing me, my wet feet blistered, my mind was almost blank. I would play the same music in my ear over and over mile after mile.

The scenery was fantastic, the trail a dizzyingly array of color and texture of sounds and smells. The air was grey and moist then rain then cold then dark. I was all alone in the dark along a fence and along a mud socked trail around mile sixty pushing 11 pm.. My trail friends whom I ran with were no longer behind me. They had fallen back and succumbed to this place. I thought I was lost. I could see the reflective markers lit up by my headlamp but soon realized I had been here in this exact same spot a 50K ago, it was the coal mine clearing. And as I stood there not understanding I was supposed to be here I let out a scream in frustration at the top of my lungs. It was dead silent afterwards. It was utterly soundless in that clearing and in that forest. The mist lingered in the air as my headlamp reflected off the dew. I was confused as to my placement on course. Was I still on course? What is happening?? I immediately was overcome with a foreboding feeling. I paced back and forth in the most frantic state. I was loosing it. Panic was coming. I had to make a choice. Go back for some reason, stay there and hope someone was behind me or follow the reflective flags. My mind was not in any shape to make such a call. So my gut stepped in and it choose the correct route.

I had been running flag to flag for the last fifty miles. I had been running in slow motion. Running as if in a quagmire. It wasn't the same run as MMT. It was not the same feeling. My legs and hips throbbed with a tightness and with a pain never experienced but yet I blocked it out. My blisters on the bottoms of my feet would warm as they burst then cool but I felt nothing. My head throbbed with exhaustion but I wasn't yet tired. I was grinding. I was running on sheer will to finish. I cared not of consequence to the body or of placement of position. Buckles or material things had no meaning. I needed to finish. I wanted to finish. And finish I did. I finished with another runner named Dave. We were fourteen minutes passed the deadline. A finish line cutoff that was not met. A finish line DNF (did not finish). Even so I wanted to shake the race director's hand. He was not to be found. Later I had learned he was sweeping the course as the person who was supposed to be doing it was having trouble. I saw Don and many other friends at the finish. I sat down at a picnic table with no real feeling at all to express. I sat there staring at the many dark shadows and figures trying to eat. Some talked to me or looked at me but I was blank. Don was talking to me but I was not understanding. I saw Sam finish a few minutes after us with the same look on his face as I felt inside. I hobbled over and congratulated him as he stood there off to the side as if lost. I shock his hand and patted him on the shoulder. There was nothing else to say or do. In the end I had found what I was looking for. I set out and did what I came to do. I completed the course and I unexpectedly stumbled right to the edge and came face to face with my breaking point. But I did not break.

Worlds is a phenomenal race. It's magnificent in it's beauty. It's a race not to be missed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Massanutten 100 - It Was Just My Imagination

It was now 1:30 in the morning. I have been on the MMT course for over 21 hours. The cold and bitter wind was howling from the northeast with a winter's fury. We could see the lights way down below in the town of New Market, Virginia. It looked like a place that I wanted to be. I knew there was warmth and comfort down below. I yearned to be down there. But I was up here on the infamous Kerns Mountain ridge and I was freezing cold, physically exhausted and mentally broken.

The Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Miler is a classic spring time race held each year in the beautiful Virginia mountains of Shenandoah. I have had this race on my radar for over a year, even before Oil Creek. I read a slew of race reports and studied the website. But I knew last year I was not trained for a mountain race like MMT. I was running on the Appalachian Trail occasionally but most of my long trail runs were on hilly trails like those found at Oil Creek. After studying and trying to pick the perfect first 100 miler for me personally I felt Oil Creek was a better fit logistically and with the way I was training so I went with it and completed my first 100 mile finish. It was such a great experience. OC is a magical race and so well done and I know I will return to best my inaugural finish time at some point. But I often would daydream of something really hard and mountainous. A race that will push me back or more importantly punch me back on my ass and force me to decide on how to respond. So I signed up for MMT lotto and got in.

My training post Oil Creek ramped up almost immediately. I slowly started doing more long runs on the AT and on Mt. Tammany. All winter long I would do mountain repeats almost weekly. 1,200 foot climbs up and down for hours. I was even able to get a full Buzzards run in out in Harrisburg which is an old marathon fatass race course that has some burly climbs and descents in and around the AT. I love signing up for trail races as training runs as well. So I did Tammany 10 (ouch), Hyner 50k, and Breakneck 42K as quad thrashing long runs. I ran Bull Run Run 50 miler as well to get some more long running miles in as well so I was forced to actually run. Those races were all so fun! I also kept doing short speed work during the work week on roads. The weekends were for climbing and technical trails. I would go out to Hamburg Pa a lot by myself and run Hawk Mountain and the reservoir where the AT runs through. Occasionally I would go out and run with Jimmy Blandford and company in Port Clinton and he would take us on guided tours of all the beautiful trails in his back yard. Well, I would try to keep up anyway he did win MMT and BRR so he's kinda fast. He's so great because he would wait for us at intersections and backtrack to make sure we weren't completely lost out there. I had a great six month training block with no injuries and felt rested and ready.

I would be paced by Casey Fisher at MMT who also paced me beautifully at Oil Creek. I drove down to his house outside of Baltimore and he drove the rest of the way. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Woodstock on recommendations from Jimmy and that was a great call. I'm just not a camper and the hundred or so dollars spent for a nice bed is a worth while investment for me personally. I am high maintenance I suppose. We did packet pickup then shot over to the Woodstock Brew House and had lots of beer and bbq. I was basically half intoxicated when I left. Oops..But most importantly I was relaxed and in a good mental state. I was not worried or very anxious about what was about to go down in those mountains. All you can do is show up and start running and see what happens.

All smiles at packet pickup.