Saturday, May 12, 2012

Oh, Massanutten Mountain

 I got "lucky" this year and made it through the lottery for entry into the Massanutten Mountain 100 mile trail race (MMT) near Luray, Virginia. This spring I attempted to train both for speed (Boston Marathon) and distance (MMT), not being sure how that would work out. The speed part definitely worked (3:01 at Boston) but after today I am not sure that I adequately prepared for the MMT.

Part of my crew.
I felt pretty good this week coming into the MMT, although my left calf was injured sometime in the last week and I don't know when. I was worried about this and took a couple days off. The weather looked to be great for race day(s) and I was excited about that. I find that the 100 mile distance really weighs on me psychologically, however. It really is a heck of a thing to attempt, and I always approach it with a combination of dread and excitement. This one was no different. Since I've done the distance successfully a couple of times, I questioned why I was attempting it again. I don't have that same motivation as the first time. I figured I might as well give this one a good go and see how fast I could do it, rather than just trying to finish. I knew there was a possibility that could end badly, but it was something to do.

I was trying out a few new strategies, from a nutrition and hydration standpoint. The other two hundred mile races that I have run have had some really bad spells with vomiting and passing out and the like and I was trying to avoid this. I was going to try to get most of my nutrition with gels (Mandarin Orange Gu), taking two an hour, and drink water with Elete electrolyte additive. I had kind of tried this strategy on a three hour training run and it went okay so I hoped I would be okay for something longer. I expected to eventually not be able to take any more gels, and would have to add in some other food of some sort (PB&J, etc.).

I woke up at 2am this morning, to eat a bagel with peanut butter and jelly. I really didn't want to get the whole thing down, as it seemed like a lot, but I figured I needed the carbs. At 2:45am, Marvin Hall (my planned pacer for later in the day) drove me the half hour into the race start. It was about 45 degrees out and a beautiful morning/night with a quarter moon hanging over the valley between Massanutten and Green Mountains. I got out, put on a light jacket and hydration pack and went into the tent to wait for the start. At 4:00am, the race started.

I felt pretty good initially. The start of this race is a long climb up to the top of Short Mountain, but it wasn't too steep and I ran nearly all of it at a decent pace. The first 4 miles were road and then it hit the single-track for 8 miles to the first crewed aid station. Shortly after starting on the single-track, I caught a rock with my trailing toe and went down. It wasn't too bad and I just scuffed up my hands. I really enjoyed this section, with only my headlamp for illumination. It was very rocky, at least as rocky as the Central PA trails, and this made it interesting. The whip-poor-wills were singing in the dark and as the light broke the towhees started in.

After a nice long downhill rocky section, which I really enjoyed, we got into the first aid crewed aid station at mile 12. I was in the top 10 at this point and feeling pretty good. When I pulled out the bladder from my hydration pack, however, I realized I had not been drinking as much as I should have. I thought I was doing okay, put I really wasn't liking the taste of the water. I think it was a combination of the motel water, bladder taste, and the Elete. Anyway, I filled it up again and took off.

Jonas and I running into Elizabeth Furnace (mile 33).
Over the 8 miles to the next aid station, I still felt pretty good but I was not able to get down as many gels as I was planning on. I still couldn't drink as much as I should have been drinking. In spite of this, I was passing people. I think I passed three or 4 guys during this stretch and actually came into the mile 20 aid station in fourth place.

It started to get ugly on the way to the next aid station, however. My legs were weak and I still wasn't able to eat or drink appropriately. I knew I was starting to run a deficit on nutrition and hydration that it would be difficult to come from, but trying to eat or drink was making me nauseous. This was too early in the race for this to be happening. Aaah! It wasn't supposed to happen this way. When I got into the mile 25 aid station, I had to take some extra time to try to allow my stomach to settle. I got passed by a bunch of guys here. I walked for close to a mile coming out of the aid station.

I was looking forward to the next aid station at mile 33 because it is the first place that I would see my family/crew. It was a long slog, however, but i was able to pick it up a little on the last long descent into the aid station and felt half decent coming into the aid station. I did hit the ground hard at one point, after tripping over a tree root, but there was no damage other than a dirty shirt. I spent some time at this aid station again to try to allow my stomach to settle. I started drinking soda and eating PB&J. After a little time sitting and a clean shirt, I headed back out. I had spent too long here but once again I felt I needed to let my body divert some resources to my gut.

Stumbling into Shawl Gap (mile 38).
The next section got even tougher. I dropped the hydration pack for a handheld water bottle bottle because the section was only about 5 miles. The water tasted better and I drank more but I ate nothing. There was a good climb followed by a good descent but my stomach started cramping on the descent and it became difficult to run. I weekly ran into the aid station and thought about dropping out. I wasn't feeling terrible yet, but knew with my inability to get calories in that I would run into trouble soon if I didn't turn it around. I decided to lay down for 20 minutes to see if that would help. I was able to drink Ginger Ale but took no food. The laying down helped a little and I eventually walked away from the aid station, hoping for the best.

The next 3 mile section into Veach Gap (mile 41) was all dirt road and I had to walk most of it, even the downhills, as my stomach continued to cramp. I was determined to not spend much time at Veach Gap, and I drank some more soda, thought about dropping out again, and got up and headed down the trail. The next aid station was 9 miles away, with a nasty two mile climb to start, and I knew it might be a problem to make it that far with little caloric intake. I started the climb, and it was the toughest so far, got near the top where there was an incredible view of the valley below, sat on a rock and contemplated my options. The climb had taken a lot out of me and I still had 7 miles to the next aid station. I seriously doubted my ability to make it without passing out and there would not have been an easy way to get me out. The day had gone wrong far too early and I didn't see it turning around any time soon. I just didn't think it was safe to continue so I got up and headed back down the trail the wrong way.

I probably passed a dozen runners on my run of shame down the mountain. I finally reached the aid station and had them call my crew to come pick me up. On the way back to the motel I acquired a milk shake and enjoyed it. I took a shower, took a nap, and I finally felt like eating again so we ordered in Pizza Hut for supper. I enjoyed it.

I feel bad for quitting. I had pacers lined up, people wishing me well, and a day full of promise at the start. I thought I ran within myself and had a real chance to have a good performance here. It did not turn that out way. What are you going to do? There are good days and bad days. This was the latter. I didn't even enjoy the trails, which overall were nice, after mile 20. I don't feel like I need to come back and prove anything. I've done the distance, although not here, and while this was a tough course, it wasn't that bad. It is now 10:30pm as I write this and the ridiculous thing is that if I hadn't dropped I would still be out there on that mountain. If it had been a good day, I would still be out there running for another 3 hours. That's just stupid (by the way, I have about 48 hours of leeway here were I can say anything and then take it back later).

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