With two weeks before the 2014 Western States qualifying deadline, we packed-up the Super-Roo and headed east to Virginia for the 2013 Mountain Masochist "50-Miler". Why the " " 's? MMTR is one of trailrunning legend Dave Horton's signature races and is known for its "Horton Miles", i.e. it's always longer than they say. Scott and I wheeled out of Nashville amid some pretty gnarly weather; gale winds, black clouds, and abnormally warm, tornado-like temps. We crossed our fingers and hoped that crossing the Cumberland Plateau would take us to sunnier skies.
The next 36 hours was a blur of gas station cappuccinos, bulging bladders, and desperate pit-stops as the Ginger and I tried to overhydrate ourselves prior to the start. My brother and current sherpa Justin showed-up later in the evening, as did my friends Eric and Chris, two U.S. runners I competed with in both the Atacama and Gobi campaigns. Early to bed, early to rise, and we were soon packed into the Crew Mobile and headed to the campground start, 40 minutes from our hotel in Lynchburg.
With the eastern time zone and one day from the end of daylight savings, the first 50 minutes were run in the dark. It was a pretty cool sight to see the moving band of headlamps worming out of the start and up into the Virginia hills. It was difficult to be certain what exactly we were running on after the first few tarmac miles, since the autumn leaves were 6 inches thick and obscured the view. I had to use some caution in attacking the downhills, as I found that the trail was covered with many large, unseen, mobile rocks that shifted quickly under foot. It took a good hour for the field to separate and I cruised through AS1 feeling strong at just under an 8 mph speed.
I found all of the early climbs to be easily runnable, albeit at a controlled pace. The cool and crisp morning air no doubt helped. True to my pre-race plan, I choked down a solid 100-150 calories each 30 minutes with religious zeal. My tendency has always been to stop eating somewhere around the halfway point in races due to fatigue and apathy, and my second half performance has always suffered. I pressed my usual pace early in an effort to take advantage of the good terrain. I knew that the course would toughen once I hit AS7 and the start of Long Mountain.
Everything was feeling really good until about a mile before the Long Mountain AS7. I rapidly developed an intense cramping pain under my right rib cage that radiated down my right flank. It progressed from cramp to stabbing pain very quickly and forced me to stop for a few moments in order to grab my breath. My immediate thought was that I was having an appendicitis and my race was over. I whispered a quick healing prayer and stumbled forward, the pain still very real. Over the final mile preceding AS7, I was able to return to form despite a bit of residual pain. My thoughts? Screw it. I'll deal with it when I've finished.
Leaving AS7, the terrain steepened for the next few miles requiring intermittent speed hiking. This was almost welcomed, as I'm not used to prolonged and uninterrupted running for 30 miles plus. Typically, my races require speed hiking at regular intervals throughout the race. At this point, I began to frequently refer to my laminated mini profile map in order to get a clear reminder of what the remaining 20 miles would look like. I charged onward and entered The Loop (~mile 33) feeling confident and strong, but also battling bouts of leg cramping.
After passing through the small out-and-back on The Loop and punching my bib at the overlook, I exited to AS11 to recharge for the remaining half marathon distance. Thankfully, I was able to catch up to Justin who was crewing me. He had missed me going into The Loop, so I was relieved to see him waiting. After slogging down a bottle of Coke, I pressed on feeling shockingly fresh.
Having seen virtually no other runners since mile 31 or so, I felt that my position was going to hold provided I didn't give in and slow down. That can be difficult without a rabbit to chase, so I had to rely on my innate pacing to assure that I wouldn't be overtaken in the homestretch. I cruised through the next 5 miles easily, but started to feel the man with the hammer slowly creeping up on me by mile 43. I battled up the final climb, focusing on the knowledge that the final 5 miles would be a downhill flight. I became frustrated with my footing, often feeling as if I couldn't make a solid foot plant and feeling off balance. Some consistent praying and concentrated breathing helped push me over the summit and on to the downhill slide.
I had not stopped at either AS12 or 13, so I quickly slid into the final AS14 for a fast shot of Coke for the final 4 miles. I opened my hips, forgot about my aching forefeet, and tried to stride out as much as I could. On the final chicane around mile 49, I was able to glimpse the first female on my tail...and she appeared to be gaining. Not wanting to get "chicked" in front of my mates, I shifted into the highest gear I could summon, tucked my chin, and blasted the final slope.
As the access road gave way to tarmac, I could sense the end was near. Well, that and the fact that there was a huge spray painted sign on the ground that said "1 MILE TO GO". With absolutely no regard for oncoming traffic, I zipped out the final mile in a cool 6:53. One well-deserved fist pump later and I had crossed the finish in 08:35:47 and a 22nd overall position. I felt pretty spent and was sure that I had left whatever I had out there on the course...which is great. I hate finishing and feeling like I still have gas in the tank. Leaving it all out there is a great feeling.
As a first timer to Mountain Masochist, I have to say that I'll definitely be going back. It was a great event that was organized and well-executed. Big thanks to RD Clark Zealand for that. Moreover, the race just had a really great vibe to it. Maybe one of my favorites, so far. And...besides getting a pic with trail legend Dave Horton, the icing on the cake was getting to bask in all the glory that is AJW! Hahaha! Thanks again MMTR. See you again soon!