Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mountain Masochist Trail Run 2011 Race Report: My First 50 miler, and My Best Race EVER

Before Promise Land, totally freaked
I had been anticipating November 5th since I left the finish line of Promise Land 50k++ in April.  Promise Land was my first ultramarathon – I  had never even done a marathon before – and I was only 16 years old then. However….November came faster than I expected. I guess between graduating high school, getting ready for college, running a few fat-ass 50ks with VHTRC, turning 17, and moving into college, the summer months slip away quickly. But through all the rushing, Masochist was still a prominent item on my mind. It was to be my first 50 MILER! Training was a form of relaxation, a way to easy my mind about starting college, and it turns out telling people you run ultras is a great conversation starter when you find yourself living in a foreign place with 30,000 strangers such as Virginia Tech. My training was going swimmingly, especially since Blacksburg offers the kind of terrain one needs to train on for such races, as opposed to Mathews County, where the highest point is about 6 feet above sea level. I’d hooked up with the triathlon team after meeting several of its members at Terrapin Mountain this March. Having them as training partners for the last few months was perfect since they CAN in fact run up mountains. Being the most stubborn person on the planet, I decided I would not allow myself to concede to the steep inclines we found ourselves running every day. So instead of listening to my lungs and legs (which I swear I actually HEARD crying and screaming for me to stop, what was this flatlander, swamplander, doing running up the mountain???) Two months later I could finally haul my sorry-self up the mountains around here and my biggest long run on my training schedule – the last 30 miles of Grindstone – felt great. However, things took a turn for the worst 2 weeks out from MMTR. I was on a long run with two friends from the tri team and I hit a rock and completely whipped out on the trail. I hit my knee on a rock, but I just got up and kept going. It was talking to me a little, but nothing too painful. Just as the pain started to subside, I fell AGAIN and hit the same knee, same location, on a rock AGAIN. This time it was hurting bad…but I finished the last 6 miles of our 15 mile run before looking at it. Long story short, I think I only ran twice the two weeks before MMTR. It wasn’t the not running that I was worried about. I’d been training for this race since May. It was the fact that my knee felt like someone was constantly hitting it with a hammer and that it was swollen and didn’t want to bend that was bothering me. Just walking around campus was a painful task. But thankfully, by Friday the 4th it finally felt okay. Ish. It wasn’t swollen as much and I was walking relatively normally. And my legs were now fresh after my two week running hiatus! So anyways, at 4:30pm I hopped in the car with three buds from the tri team – one of whom was also running MMTR, and two working at aid stations – and we set off for the Kirkley hotel.
When we got there around 6:30pm I was warmly greeted by my best friends who I had not seen since we all left for different colleges in August. MMTR was to be our reunionJ My mom – an ultra runner as well – was also there with my grandmother. It was so great to see them! We all went into the ballroom for the pre-race dinner. You could sense that every runner in there was a little anxious in anticipation the next morning. But the veggie lasagna was so good it made me forget about my nerves! So then Clark and Horty got started with the prerace briefing and raffle, were I was first scared to death that they were going to have to cut out Apple Orchard Falls at Promise Land and then made quite happy by scoring some sweet Teko socks! So it was a good dinner, saw a lot of friendly faces and caught up with lots of people that I hadn’t seen in months. After the dinner, I spent the night catching up with my best friends, sharing hilarious stories about our college experiences so far. I guess we headed back to the room around 10:30pm, where my mother and grandmother were, and got my drop bag (containing some extra Perpetuem Solids, S! Caps, and socks), CamelBak, clothes, and shoes ready for the morning. My anxiety and nerves finally subsided around 11:30pm and I drifted off to sleep. And 4.5 hours later, our alarm went off at 4am. It was probably the best night’s sleep I’d gotten since leaving for college in August.
Before MMTR, totally pumped!!!
I was so anxious getting ready I kept forgetting what I was doing...but I did remember to get some coffee! I never really eat before a race that starts in the morning, but since we had to be up so soon before the start, I did stomach half the ClifBar that was in my bag. My mom helped get me set to go, and at 4:43am I kissed my loved ones goodbye and got to the bus just in time. I had a seat to myself, and let me tell you, I was so nervous. I had no clue how my knee was going to feel, just that I had done everything I could do for it. Eventually when I realized I was not going to catch a little more sleep like I had hoped for, me and some people around me struck up some conversation in the usual ultrarunner form: have you done this race before? How many 50’s have you done? Have you heard of *insert race here* before? Which are always fun things to talk about! We got the start line with an hour to twiddle and toil away getting pumped/nervous about the start. It was still dark outside, and the stars were beautiful. I met some more cool people just hanging out on the bus because who would want to stand outside in the 25 degree early morning darkness just getting cold before the start? Not this runner! The bus was so nice and warm! But eventually the time came to peal myself out of the warmth and safety of the bus and step into the bracingly cold mountain air. It was time to start. Oh goodness. A quick trip to the portapotty and I was heading over to the start area (little secret…I had no clue where the start line was! I just went to the big crowd of people dressed like me!).
Crossing some water like a boss
I remember at Grindstone when I was at the TWOT lot aid station anticipating the arrival of my runner, Horton was talking to us about what it’s like to run a 100. He compared it to eating an elephant: you approach it thinking, “How am I going to eat this?!” but you just keep taking small bites out of it, and at some point you come to realize that you don’t have that much left and that you can in fact eat the entire elephant! Well, since I didn’t know if I could even run or not, as I approached what I assumed to be the start line I told myself I only had half an elephant to eat! I could do that, no problem! I felt good and awake and the air was so cold I couldn’t feel my knee at all…so I said to myself, “Welp, here goes nothing!” with a big smile on my brain. All I had to do was finish in 11:59:59 to be the youngest MMTR finisher ever. Then the pack of runners started moving, and we were off like a glacier! We had a long ways to go, no need for speed yet! I ran (hey! I could still run with relatively minimal pain in my knee! Good sign!) the first couple of miles with a friend from Virginia Happy Trails, Bob Clouston. We’d run/gotten lost on the trail together at a few fat-ass 50ks over the summer. So things were going well! The road section lasted a little longer that I thought it would, but I kept telling myself to enjoy it now because things were going to get tougher later. And I was right. But we’ll get to that later. So then, lets seeee….We finally got to the woods! The sun rise was beautiful and revealed a perfectly cloudless sky. More good signs! My friends from triathlon team were at one of the aid stations at this point and it was good to show a familiar face that I was feeling good and strong. Then Sophie Spidel and Marlin Yoder caught up to me and my pack, which now included my friend from Tech that I crewed at Grindstone, and I thought “Um….and I running too fast? Should I be next to Marlin and Sophie right now?” But I felt fine! So we stayed with them and chatted for a bit of that first fire road then they of course took off because they’re such amazing runners and we’re looking like they were on their A-Game. I was just running, enjoying the morning and the beautiful mountains and considering what it was going to be like to run 20 miles further than I had ever run before... It was going to be awesome. That’s what I concluded. So then I snapped back into reality as we rolled our way into the next aid station, a crew access point! And I heard my mom shouting my name a hundred yards back from it! We had to cross a little water to get there, so I took the opportunity to pretend like I knew what I was doing and crossed it looking super-hard-core (that’s what I told myself anyways), which was awesome and reminded me of how surprisingly good I felt! It was awesome and I snagged a quick hug from my friends and mom and grandmother and handed off a layer I’d taken off. Then I left and headed up the mountain. I recall just climbing fire road for much of the time between then and the halfway point, which claims to be miles 26.9 but is more like 28J from what I’ve been told! It makes no different to me. I had hooked on to two men who were keeping a good up-hill-power-walking pace, which I am a big fan of. So we talked our way through it, and eventually got to half way. I was starting to hurt…a lot…but that just meant I was doing it right! I remember coming into the station before the climb to halfway and seeing my friends from triathlon which was very nice! They helped fill my pack back up (just to be safe) and informed me that I was “crushing it” which was very reassuring of my ability to finish!!! So yea…we climbed to the halfway from there. I was keeping a good pace and was done with the first half in 5 hours and 10 minutes on the nose. Very promising. I wasn’t going to let myself get bogged down and loose time at the aid station. I had it planned: change socks, take advil for knee, grab pb&j, and GO! And that’s just what I did with the assistance of my crew (oh my this report is getting loooonnngg…but it was such a great race I want to share it with everyone! 54 miles is a lot to write about!) and then just caught up to the guys I’d been running with and get kept climbing. 27 miles down. The real race was about to start.
The Rocky Music Aid Station could not have been at a better time. That climb up the mountain was rough and relentless (good! That’s what the elevation profile promised me! And I like it when things keep their promise especially when it involves running in the woods!). I guess if I’m going to peg a section where I wasn’t doing well mentally, the climb out of half way was it.  It’s just hit me how far I was actually running, and the pain in my lower back was growing and growing and my knee was starting to feel it…but talking with Christian and Donnie was definitely a big help. You just gotta talk your way through sometimes! But from this station (pb&js, potatoes, and fresh fruit along with Hammer nutrition are the best food during a 50 ever, just gotta say that) we started trotting down the mountains we were now on top of to remind our bodies what running was like after those 6 or 8 miles of climbing. Then I got all warmed up again and was feeling great! Not like I’d already run 30ish miles or anything! I was so happy that I felt good. I have no idea how I was doing so well mentally. Now, lets get to the loop. The infamous loop that so many runners have grievances with. I got to the loop (after seeing my crew again before it! Woooooo! Love those peoples!!!) 1 hour and 15 minutes from cut-off. So we’d lost some time climbing 8 miles. Who would have thunk?! Haha. But the point here is that… I LOVED THE LOOP!!! It was so fun!!!! I want a shirt that says “I LOVE THE LOOP AT MOUNTAIN MASOCHIST TRAIL RUN” because it is awesome!!! It’s so pretty and a nice break from the fire roads and I just had a really good experience with the loop. I ran it in an hour and three minutes. And felt good coming out of it! So I flew out of it like I’d just won the whole entire race and then I was off down the mountain. How on EARTH was I feeling so good?!?! I had been telling myself that if I could just make it through the 30s I would have no problem finishing. I had made it through the 30s. It was in the bag (I hoped). I had lost my two new friends on the loop, but I had to take it where I could, and I was feeling so good (just so good!  I still can’t get over how good I felt!) I just had to take it. I still walked the up hills, but I was running strong the rest! Anyways, I just remember pushing it (relatively!) into 40 miles. 6 miles further than I had ever run. Whoa. And was feelin good, but I did have to take some more advil for my knee. It was hurting bad at this point, but I wasn’t letting it get to me because mentally and mostly physically I was just in such a good place! I was literally smiling while I was running. I think I was just soooo happy to be running! After 2 weeks! It was a rough too weeks, not going to lie, I thought I may never be able run again, especially with all the stress from college and moving out of my dorm room (a very unfriendly/uninviting place to endurance athletes, i.e. going to bed at10:30pm, eating healthy organic foods, very structured, waking up at 6:30am, not to mention someone who has just turned 17 years of age, etc….) and moving into a new residence hall that was more inviting to people like me (small, all girls, very academic focused, CLEAN, quiet, etc..). I was finally in my natural habitat out there on the trail, pushing myself farther than ever, and was loving every step of it. I felt like Rachel Corrigan again, and was eating that trail up. Climbing up to mile 40 something from mile 40 something, I talked with a man who had just finished Grindstone and was going for the Beast Series. How impressive and inspirational! I hope one day I can run a 102 miler, then the next month run a 54 miler. We stayed together until after the aid station that only had 8 miles left, and I bid him good luck and much respect. Next thing I knew I only had 4miles to go…how was this amazing adventure almost over?! I wanted more! But more than I wanted more, I wanted to finish under 10:30! I checked my watch, and seeing as how I had 45 minutes to run the last 3.9/4 miles…I knew I could do it. I was going to finish under 10:30, and time my awesome mom had proposed to me as my finishing time about a month ago, before I hurt my knee. I thought maybe on my A-game, my A++++ and-some-extra-credit-game, I could do that. 10:30 is a damn impressive time, and I was now going to do it. At least that! So when I was at 4 miles to go at the aid station, feeling like I was flying on cloud 9, in a complete state of bliss and at harmony with nature again, I confirmed that it was less than 4 to go, grabbed an orange slice and chugged some Mtn Dew for a quick caffeine boost, and just said to the aid station workers, “I’m just gonna go for it. Thanks for being here!” And took off. What else was there to do?! Let’s break 10:30!!!! So I just started sprinting (meaning 8/7:30 minute miles. After running 50 miles, an 8/7:30 minute mile is a freaking sprint). I kept passing people too! What was I doing?! I was just so happy! Loving every second I had run and was running just thankful beyond belief that I am capable of running in the woods! I thanked God for giving me the gift that running is, for the trees and fresh air that I was breathing in. I just kept passing people and reeling people in to catch then next thing I knew I looked down because I saw pink rocks, and as a geophysics major it interested me (pink rocks?), but when I looked at them I saw it said “1 MILE TO GO” OMG ONE MILE!!! WHAAAAT!? (< I actually said that out loud with a huge smile on my face) And then that’s when I really did sprint. I checked my watch and saw that if I ran a 7 minute mile I would get 10:20. 10:20! So I took off, on the road, and next thing I knew I saw the finish. I heard my mom yelling through all the crowd noise! I heard my best friends! I heard Horton! I took off, full on sprint!!! And then I was done!!!!! I looked at the clock and saw 10:20:04 as I crossed the line!!!!!!! Clark gave me a high five and with a big sigh I was done. On an endorphine high like no other. Horton gave me a hug and said something along the lines of “Good job girl! Wow! Impressive!” In a matter of seconds I was surrounded my by mom, best friends, grandmother, and triathlon team friends. I got my finishers shirt, that sweet, sweeeeeet finishers shirt. I had finished my first 50+ miler, 9200 ft up and 7200 ft down, in 10 hours and 20 minutes with a bum right knee and was now the youngest MMTR finisher ever. What a day! I was in shock of my performance, and felt better than I had felt in a long long time, both mentally and physically. My muscles were throbbing, but relaxed. My mind was finally at easy, and I was truely happy. 
Done:) with my mom!

I had just run the best race of my life so far. Better than cross country in high school. Better than Promise Land (althoug that race will always be my favorite:) ). MMTR = best race I'd ever run. I'd never felt so good.
MMTR taught me so much about running ultras. I know my body can do it, I know that that achy stabbing pain in my hips and lower back will eventually subside if I just keep on running. Now, I know I’m faster than I thought, and a lot stronger. I know I can take 2 weeks off and still be able to cover 54 miles in the mountains, and pull of a 7:04 mile at the end. And above all else, I know that running ultras is what I love. I love everything about it. When I’m out on the trail, in the woods, just running and running, everything - mind and body - feels like it’s in its rightful place. It makes me happy! I have been in a really rough patch with my first semester of college, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in my future. MMTR reset everything. I know that when everything feels like it’s in shambles, I will always have trail running there to fall on. I wish I could get my undergraduate degree in running ultras! Alright, I think I’ve written enough. Time to go sign up for another ultramarathonJ See ya at Holiday Lake!!
"MMTR Legs"

with my FINISHERS SHIRT!! and my BFFS:)


  1. You are insane! I love the race report Rachel. And of note, everyone goes through a rough time first semester freshman year. You're not alone so talk about it! You'll be surprised that everyone else has similar feelings.