Mountain Masochist Nov. 1, 2008 Race Report
After crewing my husband, JR, twice on this race, I knew I could never do it. “It’s too hard!” was my reply to David Horton every time he asked when I was going to run it. But for some reason, and perhaps it was the fact that the race HQ was a nice hotel, I decided to sign up for it this year with JR. We started training for it in the spring. We ran Promise Land in April, two marathons over the summer, and the 40 mile Oddesey Adventure race at Douthat State Park in October. We also ran 31 miles of the Grindstone course the weekend after the race to clean up the rest of the course markers. To mentally prepare, I printed out a course map and elevation chart and hung it on my office wall, watched Jeanne Craig’s 2007 MMTR video on youtube, and read as many race reports as I could find. For the race itself, I studied the splits from 1998-2000, looking at those who finished between 11:30 and 12 hours and noted these splits after the Long Mountain Wayside on my course map, which I carried with me. But sometimes too much information can be a bad thing: Jeanne finished MMTR (her first attempt) in 11:44, a time I hoped to match, so I looked up her Promise Land time to see how it compared to mine, and was horrified to see that she finished over an hour before I did. JR told me it’s not a linear comparison, but it didn’t do a lot for my self-confidence. This could be my first DNF. I was scared. When I said that to David Horton, his response was, “You should be.”
A few weeks before the race, JR developed an IT band issue that affected his sciatica and had to back out of the race, so he was my crew for the day. Our ultra-runner friend Bill Potts had nearly the same thing happen but recovered, but on race morning developed flu symptoms and had to back out and asked JR if he could ride with him for the day. So I had a two-man crew for the day.
The start on the road was nice and easy, and I enjoyed watching the transition from a starry sky to day break and seeing the gorgeous fall colors. As in most races, you have to take care not to go out too fast – I was trying for an 11-minute mile, but someone near me had a GPS and when he told me we ran the first two in under 20 minutes, I backed off a bit. I didn’t stop at the first or second aid stations, save for a quick kiss from JR. Then we get off the road and started climbing on hard pack and dirt roads. As someone who likes to stop and joke with the aid station volunteers, JR had warned me to get in and get out as quickly as possible. For that reason, I planned to use a Nathan for fluids and carry gel and electrolyte tablets so I wouldn’t waste time at the aid stations. He was also ready with snacks and Ensure at the accessible aid stations, and was able to get me out fast. The first half of the race was beautiful but uneventful, but I was hoping to get to the Long Mountain Wayside well before the 12:30 cut-off. I was a little confused by the cut-off time for station 6, since the time was painted over from last year, and couldn’t tell if it was 10:35 or 11:35. It was about 10:30 and it appeared I wasn’t going to make it to Long Mountain Wayside at 11:30 as planned. As it got later and later, I wondered if I would make it in time. I finally saw the photographer at 12:15, who told me the aid station was about a quarter mile down the road. It turned out I made it at 12:22, just 8 minutes before the cut-off. As I changed shoes, feeling kind of spacey and dazed, JR took care of me, force-feeding me endurolytes and Ensure. I asked JR if he thought I could finish. Although he wasn’t sure, he answered confidently in the affirmative.
I had made my D-game – getting to this aid station. Now to work on my C-game: getting through as many aid stations as possible before being pulled. As I headed up to climb to Buck Mountain, Bill Potts yelled, “Climb hard!” When I think of all the things that helped me succeed in this race, I’m sure it was JR and Bill’s help and encouragement at that point that are responsible. Sophie Speidel also gave me this advice – find a mantra. During this section, I revised a Doors tune, and my mantra became “the Pain is deep, dark and wide. Break on through to the other side.” I repeated this an untold number of times in the next 5+ hours. I climbed damn hard, taking baby steps at a quick pace, and passing people (slowly) until I got to the top, the Rocky theme blaring away, all smiles because I had made yet another cut-off. The wonderful man at the aid station encouraged me, saying it was all downhill and to just take it at a nice jog. My confidence boosted, I made up some time and arrived at AS 12 with a 25 minute cushion. JR says that’s when he was really sure I would finish. We hiked hard up to the loop and I felt strong going into the loop. JR ran most of it with me, until he came to the aid of a runner in trouble. He was able to meet me as I came out of the loop and loaded me up with more endurolytes, gel, water, and a quick kiss, saying he would see me at the finish. If I could just get to the last aid station without being pulled, I’d have my B-game – finishing the race over the time limit.
The rest of the race is a bit blurry, but I saw a woman who I thought might have been Vicki Kendall, so I asked her if she was. She said no, but Vicki is behind us. I was amazed – JR told me that if I stayed near Vicki I would finish, because Vicki is a finisher. How could I be ahead of her? Then again, I hadn’t run the Grindstone four weeks before this race. So I hiked or ran with the two women, Jill and Carol, who are very strong uphill climbers. They seemed confident we would finish, but I was taking nothing for granted. The hardest section of the second half for me was between AS 15 and 16, with a big steep uphill section on single track. I would lose Jill and Carol on the ups and catch them on the downs, until we met up at AS 16, 20 minutes ahead of the cut-off with only a few miles to go and slightly over an hour. It looked like I just might actually finish this race! We high fived, and I ran ahead, not wanting to leave any possibility of failure. For some reason I though it was four Horton miles to the end, so I was pushing it, but I mentioned this to someone and was told it was only 2.9 Hortons, but actually closer to 3.5 miles. I backed off a bit because the terrain was rocky and downhill, but once I got to the steep gravel downhill on the road, I let loose and ran all out. I saw JR just before the 1 mile marker in the road, and he ran with me for the final mile. With over half an hour to finish, I knew I would do it, though I was still in a state of shocked disbelief. I ran across that finish line, just as I had done dozens of times in my head, but this time I was handed a finisher’s shirt. My personal best time for my first 50-miler: 11:38:55.
The first ultra I did was Holiday Lake, and it was originally intended to be my first and last. But after finishing, I considered running Promise Land. I have now run a total of 9 ultras. As of yesterday at 6:30 pm, I was convinced I won’t run this one again because it’s so hard, but those LUS jackets look really nice…