I knew choosing the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Race as my first ultra was a big step, but I had to start somewhere. I knew the area, had hiked some the trails on the course and the course seemed fun. But my first ultra ended in a big fat DNF, I had a lot of fun, did a lot things right, and few things really wrong. I took this past week off from doing anything physical besides walking up the stairs at work, I even skipped out on touching this blog. I just wanted full mind & body relaxation. I also played back to back games of flag football the next day, catching 4 TDs & 3 Ints, which may have added to the soreness over the next couple days. But getting out and moving actually helped shake some of the pain and soreness. So now after a little break my body & mind is ready to get moving again.
I was excited and anxious the day before, but the fact that I was running an ultra the next day had still not quite settled in. I arrived in Lynchburg around 4pm that Friday. I had taken the day off so I could prep and relax. I also had to find my toe socks and headlamp. Headlamp was found in a bag I had used to clean out my car a couple days before, and my toe socks were found after doing laundry. Packet pickup and pre-race dinner was around 7pm at the Liberty Mountain Conference Center, getting there was an adventure in itself. But apparently not being able to find the Conference Center is a rite of passage for all newbies.
I had no issue getting to sleep, and no problem waking up at 330am, for the 440am bus ride to the start. I was pumped. I had laid out all of my gear, put Vaseline on my feet, and made a few last minute adjustments to my drop bag. At the packet pickup I had learned that some runners pack 2 race day bags. 1 bag for during that the buses drop off at the half way point for resupply and maybe a change of clothes, and the 2nd bag for post race that just stays on the buses. During the bus ride, I chatted with a few other Richmonders and tried to relax, but I was still too excited. Walking down the starting point it felt like I was joining a cult. The dark path opened up to some 350 runners with headlamps and smiles on their faces, with the thought of racing 50 miles bringing that smile to their face. Everything felt so new, but I still felt right at home. To me, this felt like another crazy hike, a new adventure.
The start of the race was no like no other race I’ve done before. After rounding a lake, avoiding a few park benches, we started a climb. It was amazing, looking back and seeing a stream of runners with headlamps weaving their way up the switchbacks. The course opened up in a neighborhood and everybody spread out, but within a mile or so we dove back onto single track in the woods. I thoroughly enjoyed this section, we were avoiding mud/puddle pits, fallen trees and running through creeks. Early on I watched one runner go for an accidental swim as he was unable to avoid a huge puddle and essentially dove right in. There was one decent climb on a Jeep path where I started really getting some hiking in. But once I got to the top we were back on single track, started going down hill and the sun had started to rise. This was easily my favorite part of the run. A pack of us had formed, following the single track as it weaved down the mountain side, trying not to watch the sun rise so we wouldn’t break our ankles. This dumped us out at the first aide station 7.7 miles in. I started taking in calories at this point, leaving the aide station, hiking uphill eating my Cliff bar on the go. The next couple miles were a mix of Jeep path and wide trails. Some parts got pretty rocky with the leaves covering up a lot of the rocks. My New Balances MT110’s were doing well, but at times I wish I had a thicker sole. I was looking forward to switching to my Brooks Cascadia’s at the half way point. Near the 15 mile mark there was a huge 2 mile climb on a fire road, which was mostly hiking occasionally running to shake things out. This was a decent section for recovery where I got to eat more food and somewhat relax. After the climb there was a 2 mile downhill section still on fire road, which was fast but it really broke my legs down. I was able to hang on until I got the last aide station 4.4 miles before the half way mark. Up to this point I had mostly forgotten about the cut off times posted at each aide station, but here the sign showing the times was really obvious. I noted I was 40 minutes ahead of the cut off point, so at this point I was doing decent. I took my time at this aide station, taking a swig of Mountain Dew to see if that would give me a boost. Once out of the aide station, there was another climb and the struggle began. As I was hiking I began to get passed by other runners hiking, this bothered me a little as I am typically a fast hiker, so I knew my legs were having a tough time. Once we got to the flats and downs it took a lot for me to even move into a jog. There was one final climb that seemed to last forever, where the thoughts of dropping out started to seem like a real possibility. I knew the 2nd half was tougher, with a lot more climbs and a steep hike out of that aide station. I had lost a lot of time during that final push uphill. Once I got to the top of the hill I had no motivation to run, my legs were shot, and I kept hiking even though it was pretty flat. Coming into the halfway point aide station I had lost 25 to 30 minutes and only had a 15 minute lead on the cutoff time. I knew there was a big chance of me losing all of that cushion and being asked to stop at the next checkpoint. The aid station I was at had warm food, my gear and a good ride to the finish line. I decided on calling it quits at that point. My fellow Richmonder’s were there changing into fresh gear so I told them of my decision and wished them luck. I stuffed my face with warm soup, quesadillas and potato wedges while letting my decision settle in. I chatted it up with a few other dropouts, then hopped on the buses to the finish line after waiting for the cutoff time to pass. One plus to dropping out and getting bused to the finish line was that I actually got to see the elites run. I’m normally too far back in the pack to ever watch them run, so that was a good experience. Once the buses filled up with runners after a few more hours we made it back to Lynchburg. I grabbed some McDonalds, went to some of the awards banquet and passed out by 8:30pm.
I chalked this up as a learning experience. My gear was on point, the Vaseline & toe socks had prevented blisters, my food and water intake seemed to do well for me. The one thing I know I was lacking was leg strength. This has been an ongoing issue and road marathons typically bring out the worst of it. I was hoping running on trails & hiking would make it easier, but my legs were still obviously not up too par. I plan on running Masochist next year and conquering an issue that has plagued me since my first marathon in 2007. Over the next couple months I am focusing more on gym and cross training, with running falling to the back-burner. I will keep everyone updated on my journey and look to make an excellent return to running in the spring.