Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Massanutten 2011- Full Circle

The Massanutten 100 is billed as one of the toughest in the country. All 100s are difficult, but what makes this race so hard is the terrain. It's not just the climbs and descents, but the technical, rocky trail. There are rocks that you clamber over, rocks that roll around under your feet, rocks that you rock-hop. In other words, a lot of rocks. The aid stations are far apart and you have to carry what you need in your pack. Determining what you need can be difficult, especially when the weather is calling for rain most of the weekend. The aid stations are well-stocked, and you can have a drop bag at most of them, but it always takes me a long time to try to predict what I will want at what point.

The race started at 4:00 a.m. this year, which meant a short night and a 2:45 a.m. wake-up call. The night before I was still struggling with a decision about what shoes to wear. I finally decided to stick to my Brooks Ravenna road shoes, which I have been wearing for the past year for all my trail runs. A couple of years ago, I would have questioned someone's judgment about wearing road shoes to the Massanutten and all it's rocks, but they've worked great so far and I didn't want to change things up at this point. (Although I did question, to myself, one woman's decision to wear Vibrams, which she had only worn a few times prior to the run.)

I tried to write this race report like a course description, but it got pretty monotonous. Every section involved a description of steep climbs and descents and a lot of rocky, technical terrain. So then I tried a description of my run, but that was monotonous, too. I felt good, I felt bad, I felt good again and then really, really bad. There, that sums it up. So I am left with random thoughts and highlights. Here we go....

1. The change-up in the course. The course is in a different order than in my previous run, so it was interesting to find that what used to be hard wasn't, and what wasn't hard was. Short Mountain on fresh legs at dawn was a lot easier than 2/3s of the way into the race in the dark. Kerns Mountain became the new Short Mountain, with the longest four mile section I have ever run.

2. Blisters. 28 in 2004. Maybe 2 in 2011. Correct shoes and socks (Smartwool) make a difference. My feet did hurt extremely bad towards the end of the race and I expected to find the bottoms covered with blisters, but they were just yucky and super-tender from being wet for the last 14 hours.

3. People. I had the chance to catch up with people I hadn't seen in a while, like Jay Finkle, 67 year old Gary Knippling who was running his 14th MMT, Beth Minnick, pacing and crewing Rick Gray (who was feeling too bad to chat). I spent quite a bit of time with Suzie Spangler as we were running about the same pace and kept catching up with each other. She helped time pass by faster, particularly the road sections, where you could actually have conversations. Later in the night, as I was feeling really bad, tagging along with her and her pacer, Mary, kept me going. I also met Jeff Pence, who we discovered used to work out and run with Tony, when Tony lived in Woodstock. I also met a number of new people and came to appreciate the familiar faces that I kept encountering throughout the run. Finishing in the middle of the pack, rather than lonely at the back, made me appreciate how many truly talented and determined runners there are out there.

4. The bad times. Issues with nausea and light-headedness in the morning, alleviated by running behind Suzie and focusing on her feet rather than on the rocky trail. A particularly bad time with those same issues in the night on Kern's Mountain, to the point that I thought I would have to drop at the Visitor's Center. A deluge along with lightning on the same section. Joining the walking dead huddled in the tent at the Visitor's Center. After Bird Knob, hitting a low point once again and actually running along crying about it. My feet (and everyone else's I passed) hurting so badly in the 15 miles. Mud from the rain (the shoes used to be white). The bugs!

5. The good times. The sunrise, both times. Seeing Tony at aid stations. No asthma issues. Good feeling feet for 80 miles or so. Eating a cup of soup at the aid station at Visitor Center and feeling like a new woman. The view on the way to Elizabeth Furnace and the view from Bird Knob at night. Finding a 6'2" leprechaun on the trail clicking his heels together and saying "Top of the morning to you." (Not a hallucination. Tony meeting me on the trail Sunday morning). Seeing Rick Gray at a very low point and then finding out he was able to finish the MMT on his third attempt. The flowers and the birds and sometimes feeling like I was the only one out there (maybe that should also be under bad times). A hard-boiled egg at the Picnic area. Finishing with a respectable time and being able to wear the shirt. Being satisfied with my run and not having unfinished business.

6. The aid stations were manned with the best volunteers. They filled my water bladder, brought me my drop bag and tried to figure out what I needed when I didn't know. Here's a chair, want some soup, what do you need, do you want to try....? At the Indian Grave aid station, the volunteer giving me sound advice (your hands are fine and lay off the electrolytes at this point, do you want to eat this, what about this, want some ginger ale?). At the Picnic area, while I was exhausted and teary, here's your drop bag, let me put this in it for you, I've touched worse things than your dirty socks, here's a coke, take this bag with some extra food in it, do you want to know what's ahead of you? A little kindness goes a long way when you're nearing your limits.

MMT was extraordinarily well organized, well staffed, and well run. I went into the run with a lot of doubts about whether I could finish it or not, but everything held together long enough to do it. I won't say I had fun for the last 30 miles, but I am satisfied with the outcome, especially as bad as I felt. (104 out of 195 starters, 33:49.)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Massanutten Flashback 2004

Some people get tattoos to commemorate important accomplishments. I have a dimple. When I smile big, there's an indentation on my left cheekbone, compliments of my first 100 miler, the 2004 Massanutten. I was running the section called the Jawbone and had navigated the rocky outcroppings without any problems. Then on a nice, flat section of trail, a small rock reached up and grabbed my foot, and I fell hard, onto another rock. I landed on my hip and face, blackening my eye, chipping my cheekbone and leaving a plate sized bruise on my hip.

I would like to say that was my worst experience of the run, but I think the 28 blisters topped that. I know how many there were because Tony made me drain them all, sitting in a hot bath, right before he dumped salt on them. We weren't married yet. He must have had a lot of confidence in our relationship, because ordinarily, that might be a deal-breaker. Then again, he was the one who talked me into running the Massanutten as my first 100.

"If you can finish that one, you'll know you can finish any of them." That's good logic, but I suffered so badly that I had no interest in another 100 for a couple of years.

So, here I am, seven years later, headed back to the scene of the crime. I'm not sure why, because although I don't remember what the suffering felt like, I do remember that I suffered. A lot. My only really good memory of the run was crossing the finish line. Oh, and the ice cream sandwiches at Elizabeth Furnace.

Here's what I remember.

There were rocks. Not the nice, stable North Carolina rocks, but the nasty little pointy ones that roll around and chase you down the hill.

Hallucinations. The man in the green raincoat looking at a map with Tony. And the double blazes that indicated we were almost to Elizabeth Furnace. I looked at those three times to make sure they were real. They weren't.

Crying on the climb from Edinburg Gap to Woodstock Tower and telling Tony that my feet hurt so bad, I didn't think I could keep going. Tony reminding me of the story of the blind AT hiker who constantly tripped and fell during the 2000 mile journey. "He didn't quit, " he said. Fine. I'll suck it up.

Having to use my hands on my quads to make them climb the last really steep mountain.

Looking and feeling like an accident victim for a week after the run.

Now, one week before the race, I sit here and wonder why I am doing it. I already feel a little banged up. My knee and hip hurts. I've been having some nausea issues. I can't breathe with all this pollen. Tony's knee is hurting and he can't pace me. If I had good sense, I would just stay home.

But then again, if I had good sense, I would find another sport. No excuses. Let's just see if I've learned anything in the past seven years.