Mountain Masochist Trail Run (MMTR) is a point-to-point 50 mile course of roads, jeep trails, and single track with perfectly timed aid stations to help support as you travel through George Washington National Forest, Pedlar Ranger District, as well as some Private Land. I decided to officially pick up this race just before racing Nationals, because I was feeling good and confident with my level of fitness. Plus, I knew the months ahead I was going to get ready for IRONMAN North Carolina thus endurance training was right around the corner. What I didn’t know was IRONMAN would be canceled because of Hurricane Florance, my job was going to become more stressful, and I would be plagued with injuries the last three weeks of October. I was not adequately prepared for MMTR.
With that said, I’m happy with my results. I FINISHED! Having run 26 miles over a year ago, and nothing more than 16 miles for 2018 (the point where I injured myself), I’m ecstatic that I didn’t get pulled off the course because I was going to slow. YES, MMTR can pull you out of the race for going too slow! Every aid station had a poster board clearly stating the cut-off time, where if you don’t cross before the announced time you get put on a bus. They do this for the volunteers, it’s not fair to make them wait too long if you are doing a scenic walk up the mountains.
“Was it hard1”?
I know this is a polite opener when people ask how did things go, and they don’t expect to hear “easy… piece of cake… you should try it tomorrow”. Yes it was hard. It was painful. I mean it… I was in pain from mile 12 (which was around 2.5 hours into the event) and it never got easier. I learned a lot doing this course, and the next time I do an ultra I’ll be better prepared, but for now a quick recap (to the best of my memory).
The morning didn’t start out very well as our bus drove the WRONG WAY from the campground to find the starting line, which added an extra hour of sitting in a bus of aggravated people. When we finally rolled up to the parking lot the Race Director jumped on and quickly announced “You have five minutes to sign-in and hand off your drop bag”. I only got to the drop bag and never found the check-in person. I wasn’t too worried as my goal was to finish, I wasn’t there for points where strict record keeping is crucial. The beginning was a little crazy with so many people starting in the darkness of early morning, and because of the 6:30am start time I had a nice headlamp that provided me enough lighting to see where I was going.
I was so mentally lost at the beginning from the horrible bus ride, I honestly cannot remember the first two miles. However, right around mile two is when we entered what I’m calling “the streams” area. These were not your tiny streams where you may be able to leap across, or find the perfect rock in hopes to not get you shoes wet. These streams were sometimes 20ft wide. These streams were sometimes knee deep of water. They were all ice cold and we had to travel across so many streams, with the biggest at (I think) right before mile 10 where we had to travel 100ft in a tunnel, with cars above zooming over our heads.
This was the beginning of me mentally breaking down. I was feeling tired from the long climb up, and the gravity of how painful this day may get was beginning to build in my head. The climb was scenically beautiful, and I was able to chat with a lovely racer all the way to the third aid station, but after that aid station it was a steep downhill and she took it like a pro and dropped me quickly. It makes sense psychologically and physically why I started to break down at this point, as the past month I haven’t run more that 16 miles (and it was usually 14 for the past couple of weeks either walking our jogging). I was still enjoying the views of the mountains with the fall colored trees, but the joy I get being in nature was being overpowered by how much I was hurting.
Round mile 20 was (apparently) the drop-bag location. I was low at this point, suffering from severe tunnel vision and when I think about it now I should have been treated like a toddler trying to cross the street to get to the aid station. I have no idea of there were cars coming or going. I only had a couple of Clif bars and socks in my drop-bag, so the fact I totally missed this actually worked in my favor, because I didn’t need them and just would have waisted time. Thinking about this now I’ll plan for future races that drop-bags should only assist for weather situations where you may need to add or remove articles of clothing, as weather may change from morning to afternoon.
The miles between 20 and 33 were really bad. I wanted to quit. I wanted to get cut off, I wouldn’t even argue. “PUT ME ON THAT BUS” was all that was going through my head and after a very long 4 miles at Mt. Pleasant I was done. My feet hurt, my calves were tight, my ass was pain from climbing, and my hips were now hurting from the jarring motion of trying to descend Mt. Pleasant. I have no idea what happened during aid station 33, but I became happy again. I noticed as I was running down the car path that I was actually gaining on a couple of people and soon passed them. It’s not that I like to see people suffer, it’s that if I’m doing better than others then I may not be as pathetic as I have been telling myself in my head.
This was a significant Aid station checkpoint, as it was the LAST AID STATION!!! This is it, the home stretch and I knew it was going to be long. What I didn’t expect was the hardest uphill climb was just about to start. We had to endure a 1.5 mile climb up a hill that is about a 10% grade incline. I had to constantly push my legs down and lean far forward to climb up that hill, and I did it in 23 minutes and passed a couple more people in the process. From that point forward I had done enough quick math to know I that I was going to finish before the 12 hour cut-off. I picked up my pace for a long 5 mile downhill trek back to the finish line in so much pain while also feeling strong and accomplished for what I was about to achieve.
This was it! There is the finish line and I did it in 11:13:55!!! But wait… my watch says 48 miles??? Yup, Mountains will do that to you. I’m glad it was over, but I also really wish the watch was accurate so it would record the full 50 mile run. Afterwards I chatted with other people and at a wonderful roasted chicken, green beans, and past salad dinner… then applauded the accomplishments of my fellow runners.
Post Race Thoughts
The one thing that I haven’t emphasized is how beautiful the day was during MMTR. We could have not picked a better day as the fall foliage had just turned two days ago so the trees were magnificent. The weather air was chilly which is exactly what I like while running. I was able to layer up in the morning2 and only stripped off my hat towards midday to make sure I didn’t overheat. The only thing that I would comment regarding the weather is treat the low of the day as also the high of the day. While you are in the mountains, it gets cooler as you go higher in elevation, and sometimes you are running in the mountain’s shadow.
Things I did well
- “Picking a line” — I’m not sure if trail runners don’t look for lines because several people around me choose the strangest routes while on some of the trails, especially at the beginning. I think I did well as I was able to pass a few because I picked the right line, something that I’ve been building the past couple of years from Mountain Bike riding. You need to pick the right line while on the MTB or else you are going to have a bad day.
- Nutrition/Hydration — Once I passed the first two aid stations I had my plan solid. I knew depending on the distance of the next aid station and the elevation that would be traveled how much water or food to pick up. This is important because the more weight you care the harder it is on your body.
- Power to Weight ratio — Once I hit that last aid station, I was able to plow up hill and a good pace and I believe that is due to cycling. Cycling is a great way to build up your upper legs for that continuous power. I love climbing up hills on the bike, and I think that carried me to the end.
- Having fun — Actually, I’ll give myself a half point for this. I talked to plenty of people on the trail and said hi to all the awesome volunteers while smiling… till about mile 16. I wasn’t fun afterwards until I passed the last aid station.
Things I need to work on
- Hills — 9k ft of elevation is NO JOKE. If you are thinking of doing this, find yourself a good hill of at least 5% grade that lasts over a mile. Do that hill every weekend 10 times in one day… you might be ready for MMTR.
- Hills — Going down hills is just as hard going up.
- Rocks — I hate rocks. My body is falling apart now between my ankles and hips from the jarring rocks with every step I took over the entire day. The worst section was the single track at Mt. Pleasant. I unfortunately walked the entire time because I was falling over myself while going up, and destroying my bones while trying to go down. That was a very long 4 miles.
Updated 2018-11-06 I saved a copy of the official results and can now be downloaded here.
FYI; Wattie Ink Tri shorts are PERFECT for trail running. Zero issues with my clothes irritating where I would get burns on myself vs. what happened during my weekend training sessions. So glad I picked these up with Speed Sherpa two years ago. ↩
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