Wednesday, May 20, 2009

MMT 2009: Extreme Weather Edition and Death March 2

I'm having some troubles putting MMT 2009 into words. Overall, it was a good day. As I've said before, I love my VHTRC running buddies, and MMT feels like a family outing in the mountains. Every aid station is filled with friends hanging out--the lucky ones are drinking bourbon--ready to wait on you hand and foot. Heck, one of my dear friends crewing for me was so kind as to remove my disgusting wet socks and shoes, dry my blister-ridden feet, and re-shoe me. That's love.

I was pretty nervous heading into MMT. I didn't necessarily feel in any better shape than last year, but people seemed to expect more of me. Last year I mentioned to someone that I wanted to run 26 hours, and they encouraged me to be realistic. This year I mentioned 24 hours, and people said I had a shot at Sue’s record (under 23). So, in the end, and shared only with me, I decided to run under Sue’s splits until I couldn’t.

It's funny how little comments can turn into little inner voices that stick with you and keep surfacing during a 100 miles. And in my case, it's often not the positive comments that stick with me, but rather the comments that probably weren’t meant as digs, but that turn into flashing billboards by the end of the run. A couple of those come to mind. First, the thoughtful wish of last year’s pacer that I “enjoy the last 20 miles more than last year.” When I didn’t understand the comment, he clarified to say that he hoped I’d be able to run more of it and not let it be another death march. I started thinking about that potential death march a little too early on Saturday. The second being Horton telling me to “be smart” a dozen times on Friday and Saturday. I find it kind of irritating when people tell me before a race to, "Run smart." To me, that's really not a confidence builder. It's kind of like saying, "I expect you to potentially fuck up, thus I need to remind you to run smarter than you would normally." I feel I usually run pretty smart races. And sometimes, smart is boring. I probably could have approached MMT differently, but a conservative race would have likely brought me across the finish line at about the same time. I didn’t end up running quite what I wanted to, but I wasn’t too far off my goal, and heck, I put it all out there. I figured I had nothing to lose—go hard or go home. And while I didn't quite succeed, I didn't quite fail, either.

I started off quickly. I knew I would. Heck, I even meant to, as I figured I had nothing to lose. Go hard or go home…. I was running with Mike Mason for a while, and knew that I probably shouldn’t be, but enjoyed his company, nonetheless. It was REALLY hot, and humid, and I was drenched by about 5:03 a.m. True, I love heat in general, and have at times waited for that 2 p.m. 100+ time of the day in the middle of summer to go for a run. But what’s fun for 10 miles in July, is not necessarily fun for 100 miles in early May, and my winter heat training in El Salvador seems to have worn off a bit. At Habron (mile 24) I suffered a bit on the climb out of the aid station and started to reflect on running smart and a potential death march. However, by the end of the climb and the run into Roosevelt, I felt pretty good again. I really like the run into Roosevelt—rolling, runnable and shady. And, I broke out my shuffle loaded with 6 hours of Split Lip and Scroat Belly, and my mood improved drastically. The climb out of Roosevelt before descending into Gap 1 is not a favorite of mine. And it was insanely hot, as a fire had cleared most of the tree cover. I didn’t feel like I was moving fast, but caught up and passed Adam Cassedy on the way down, and thought, “Oh, fuck.” There are few times when I should be up running with Adam.

At Gap 1, my crew mentioned that Keith had just gone through, and I thought, “Oh, fuck.” My apologies, as my vocabulary was a bit limited on Saturday…. There are very few times when I should be in Keith’s vicinity, especially on MMT trails. The climb up and trip along Kearns (worst section at MMT, in my opinion) were uneventful—just really, really hot, and I felt like I was crawling over the rock piles. I saw a nice big black snake, but didn’t see any runners until I started to descend and saw Keith in front of me. Again, “Fuck.” Keith was really suffering from the heat. We stopped for water together at the road, and I ran on ahead into the Picnic Area for a brief stop and up the climb to Bird Knob.

Luckily for Keith, and most others, the heat broke as a huge thunder storm rolled in. It was a lovely storm, with huge lightning bolts scattering the horizon. Not necessarily what you want when you’re on a cleared road on a high point on top, but it was lovely. Saddest part during the Bird Knob section was the demise of my iPod--they don't hold up very well in rainstorms, apparently. No more Scroat Belly. Major downer. I ran through the aid station on Bird Knob, as I was shivering by this point, and ran along Bird Knob and down to the Visitor’s Center. Low and behold, a lovely latrine was awaiting me there, complete with squishy Charmin and baby wipes, and I had my first not-so-lovely incident of the day (although you couldn't have asked for better timing). I met up with my crew down at 211, and headed on up towards Gap 2.

I was still feeling pretty good at this point. Not great, but the wheels were still on. Joe Kulak caught up to me on the road, but then fell back on the climb. I felt another bathroom emergency coming on, and he passed me along the fire road down to the Crisman Hollow Road as I made a very public pit stop. A recent burn had left very few bathroom options….. I was starting to feel a little crappy (literally) at this point, and made it into Gap 2, not quite as smiley as I had been at other aid stations. I grabbed a wad of toilet paper, and departed for Moreland, where I would pick up my pacer, Mike Schuster, as it was still too early for him to jump in.

Moreland is where the wheels started to fall off. My quads were starting to feel like bricks, and I was having a real problem with traction and sliding around on the rocks. On the climb up Short Mountain, Adam passed by early, and then Nate bounded by with his pacer, followed by Keith. Schuster and I had just been discussing Keith’s personal life, so it was perfect when Keith stopped to show us the engagement ring he had been carrying with him the entire day. He said that he wanted proof that he had carried it the whole way, but that it was a SECRET and that only Schuster and I knew. Funny that my crew later mentioned, “I think Keith is going to propose at the finish.” Slick, Keith. :)

We passed by Nate and pacer again, who were having some light issues (a.k.a. running w/o lights on short mountain) and we geared them up to get them down to the aid station. At the aid station, my lovely crew changed my socks and shoes, as I was starting to have a problem bending over that far. My feet were fairly trashed, but they had been for about 50 miles. At this point, I was starting to worry that I would not be able to get up the last few big climbs on my quads.

The last 25 miles were pretty uneventful, and not entirely pleasant. It rained much of the night, I think. Nate and new friend flew by us climbing out of Edinburg towards Woodstock, but we oddly passed them back, expecting them to catch back up quickly. We wouldn’t see them again…..trolls? The only other person to pass by was Neal Gorman, who turns out to be a neighbor in DC, and after inviting him to WUS--our Tuesday night running group--he sped off. After Woodstock, there’s a rolling portion followed by a steep down into Powell’s Fort, and then just 2 big climbs and descents to the finish. The section from Woodstock was painful. My quads and hip flexors had stopped functioning, and I had given up on eating and drinking much after Edinburg. We finally got to Elizabeth’s Furnace and started the last excruciating climb. I was literally lifting up my legs with my hands to get them up and over the rocky staircase that leads to the top. I was in tears, and frustrated at what was turning into a miserable death march, again. Again, sometimes advice can seem like a premonition. All good things come to an end, and thus, the climb did, too. Unfortunately, it turned into a downhill, which I couldn’t run. We hobbled in, and finally approached the finish line, where I could see that I could still make it in under 25 hours if I ran, if just by a few seconds. I shuffled in at 24:59:55, good for 10th overall, and 1st female.

Many thanks to my wonderful crew, Bobby, Jennifer, Katherine and Susan. They were always ready and waiting for me, and went so far as to undress and re-shoe me. It meant a lot to have some of my non-ultra friends come out and meet the other half of my life. And special thanks to Bobby, who showed them the ropes and made sure that both they and I were comfortable. I think they all had a good time. Katherine had mentioned before the run that she wanted me to be ‘happy’ throughout. I tried to smile, and did a pretty good job of it until the wheels fell off. It actually helped to have her say that, as I tried to run into each aid station as chipper as possible. And, of course, thanks to an awesome pacer, Mike. I felt really bad for Mike, as it progressed further and further into a death march. It’s a huge sacrifice to go for a long hike in the woods at night in a rainstorm.

Overall, I’m happy with the run. Even though it wasn’t quite what I wanted, it leaves me motivated to return to get under 24 hours another year. Or maybe under 22:38….

Post-run, I’m still not feeling stellar. Bleeding kidneys that still feel bruised, have left me a little lackluster until today. And my hip flexors still refuse to flex, although I’m hoping they get motivated soon. I plan to take a good week off from running, and hope to be in the pool by this weekend. I’ll post more on the nutrition/gear/shoes used in another post, as this one is already way too long. But in the meantime, the traction of the Montrail Mountain Masochists was lackluster, at best.

And the happy couple did get their moment at the end, even if it was interrupted by a discussion over course markings. Congrats Keith and Tracy!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pre-MMT Dreaming.

Anxiety has set in full force, as have my dreams involving various athletic feats where I am clumsy and failing miserably. Last night I was attempting another surfing lesson (I had attempted this in real life this winter in El Salvador and got pummeled by my board) and was in a pool with a large group of people. I was using an insanely narrow board, and couldn't stand up, so my instructor (a beautiful, beautiful man) crafted me an impromptu one out of cardboard. I tried and tried, but couldn't stand up, as my board was really soggy, and not so stable.

Last week I dreamt I was at MMT, and somehow got onto the all weather track portion (sounds like MMT, no?) and couldn't get back on trail. I later woke up (in the dream) at a hotel (again, somewhere along the MMT course), and had accidentally taken a 4.5 hour nap. I had a heck of a time getting my teeth brushed and getting back on trail again.

Back to real life, I felt the need for a pretty strong taper, so have been taking it really easy the past couple of weeks. I'm still running to work (4-6 miles), but after an 18 miler on May 1, haven't done anything over 8 miles. I've also tried to stay off of my feet on a couple of recovery run days, venturing into the pool for a couple of mile swims. I was having some pains on the inside of my left foot/ankle, so hope that a couple of very restful weeks, will leave me rested and my foot happy. Tapers are hard. It doesn't take me long to make me feel like I'm 100% out of shape.

Now it's time for organizing gear, figuring out which shoes to wear, and of course, the most important, what color skirt to wear. I'm going with the Montrail Mountain Masochist. I wore them for an 8 mile run on some really rocky trails in the Catskills this weekend, and started to second guess my choice. It was a wet weekend, and there were several spots where I slipped on rocks. I'm not sure that it was the shoes though. Mossy rocks are slippery, and I don't know if anything is going to keep me upright at MMT. It's been a year since I've visited my hand surgeon, so hopefully the rain will be light, and the rocks sticky. I'll have some La Sportiva Fireblades and some old-school Montrail Hardrocks as back-ups for a shoe change. It's going to be muddy again, this year, so a shoe change will likely be necessary around Gap2, or so.

Besides some pre-run anxiety, I'm really looking forward to spending the weekend with old friends and new this weekend at the ranch, along the trail, and at the aid stations. The VHTRC puts on great events, and MMT is no exception. Here's hoping the rocks on Short Mountain have spontaneously combusted since the Chocolate Bunny.