If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.
When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.
The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Massanutten Rocks - an (almost) textbook 100.
Another "from the end"? In any other year, my finishing time would have landed me 2nd place for sure, not that I was counting on it. This year I came in 6th. This is to my Denmark friends who keep being disappointed in my "rarely mentioning" placing. I don't race for a place. I race for time. A place depends only on who else shows up (and, of course, in which physical form, and how their day develops). You (and I) can only do what you (or I) can do on a given day. This is the ONLY substance you can control. Do not get in a game of racing others. Race the clock. You will win - or at least there is more hope for it.
I ran a nearly perfect race. I often say - and repeated it to many I shared trails on that day - that I split a 100 miler (or any ultra, for that matter) in 3 parts. First part is run under "Do nothing stupid, do not task yourself at all" agenda. Talk, breath, look around, socialize, don't get lost, eat and drink, do not break your legs...you got the idea. Second part is "Start putting an effort". Most likely you will still run same pace, but it will feel as if you are actually working for it. Smiles are not as often, talking is a bit more demanding, eating and drinking is even more important. It is still not a breaking point, but it is work, not a lollygag. Last segment - "Suck it up, Buttercup, and move it!". No pity allowed. Focus and determination. You won't find me chatting unless I spit something sarcastic, and that could be about me - or you. I am very single-minded here. That's why, yet again, I've proven to myself I don't want any pacers or crew. Takes too much mental energy to worry about others, am I running fast enough, am I nice to them, do I have to talk to them, how many times should I thank them (I do, but is it enough?), are they still going to be my friends...Crew is nice at times, though, because - don't take me wrong, I LOVE volunteers, done that almost as many times as races, but often they are simply not into this ultra gig and are too slow for me. I had to forgo ice in my bottles at a handful of AS's because I couldn't stand the time wasted. I just said - "Eh, it's ok, I'll just fill 'em up" and leave. I did tell at one that it's nothing personal, I have a fear of AS's - I mean, if you lose just 3 minutes at each, multiply by 15, and almost an hour is gone! Some folks like to sit down and re-charge. I don't. I like to just glide by. But I do get a lot of energy from those aid station people, and that energy keeps me high for at least 20 minutes out on the trail...
"The climbs are bitches, and downhills are mo-fo's. All and every one of them". Don't let the picture fool you - it is 19,000 feet of climb...and 19.000 feet of loss.
"Now that is the best and briefest description I have ever heard of Massanutten!"
This was my description and a response from the local trail club member. This summs up the race course rather well. But I bet you want more details...Well, let me try.
Disclaimer: photos of the trail are taken by my darling Larry (see his report). Photos of me running are property of Ray Smith, all rights reserved. Thank you, Ray, for all these awesome pictures you took at every aid station! Greatly appreciated!!!
Larry didn't get into WS100 lottery, and got very subdued. I suggested MMT100 as a goal race, and figured I wanted to apply as well. I had entered the lottery once before, but was far off on the wait list 2 years ago. This year I started my wait list as #54 (I think) and got in with 2 and half weeks to go. I don't think it hindered my training much, although with a new coach there was no hill repeats or long runs and back-to-back runs that give me confidence for a mountain 100 mile race. I got in a pretty darn good 50 mile race shape, but I wasn't so certain for the 100. However, I am not a spring chicken when it comes to running a 100. This was my 18th start (and 15th finish) of a 100M race. On Wed of the race week I had put together a pace chart for 28 hours, packed my gels (their AS's didn't carry any) - and that was all the prep I had. My life last 2 months is increasingly busy, to say the least. The full-time job is, well, full and demanding, the massage school still has classes going one night weekly and part of the weekend, I entered an internship at massage for my certification and spend 2 nights a week and a few hours on the weekend working the clients (whom seem to love it and I get best compliments, by the way:)). Oh, yes, I do have a family...and I do need to run too. So, pardon if you felt abandoned, my blogging for the sake of blogging is not on top of my priority list. I do like to write about my feelings during the races though, so you are in luck:)
We stopped at the Russian Orthodox Church in DC on the way to VA. I am not religious, but it is part of my heritage. I asked for a good day for Larry and I, besides asking for a good outcome for Alex and good choices for Stephen. That's all I wanted - so that Larry and I would have a good day. Back at home, we had a joking wager going on with kids, where they had to pick which one of us would finish first, for an amount of their allowance. I don't think either one of us cared seriously about the order of finish, but it seemed to me this would provide Larry an incentive to keep moving, because most of all I wanted him to succeed at this race. This was to be his biggest feat to date.
We met friends at the pre-race meeting. Although I have to say, I really could care less for the pre-race meetings themselves. They are way too long and absolutely unnecessary. If the website has all the info, a 10 minute briefing is all that's needed. But the dinner is always a nice addition:) There was one thing we needed to be aware about – the start of the race was a good ¾ mile away from the parking spot, and that meant we had to walk it in – and walk it out. Felt kind of excessive for the race of 101.8 miles, but, oh, well. Make it 103:)
We had a beautiful weather predicted. Just beautiful. Upper 70’s to may be 80F during a day with dropping down to 50’s at night, low humidity by East Coast standards (about 45%). Many a folks complained at being hot and humid – I guess this is the first time I thought “Thank God I live in Texas” (don’t let me say it again). I felt nothing like that at all. We were in the shade about 80% of the time, tree covered the sun, air was still with occasional breeze, and I loved every minute of it.
And so we were off. No, Larry is not asleep, and yes, I am wearing a head scarf. I never got to turn on the headlamp though, despite 5am start time. First 3.5 miles are on a dirt road mainly going up, and between easy footing and lots of lights from others around, I didn’t need to carry mine. Every step of this road I shared with my friend Steve Ansel (his report is here). We had good talks, along with some other folks around, as we approached the first water stop and entered the trail. The dawn lightened up horizon and Steve took off. I settled in at my own pace with a group of ever-changing folks, many of whom tended to pass me, for what I really didn’t mind, just clicking in my mind “I will come back to you later, buddy”.
This is the trail in a picture below. This is the EASY part of the trail, one you can actually run on. One we train on living here, in Austin, TX. There are a few short sections that are even smoother (very few), and about 10-15 miles of dirt road (I think). The rest of trail makes Zane Grey 50M race course look like a child’s play… Joe Prusaitis mis-lead us before the race “It ain’t nothing you haven’t seen at Cactus Rose 100/Bandera course”. I should have known. Joe LOVES technical trails. I thought I did too. I had to re-think this position…
But so far so good, right? I am taking my EFS gel from the flask, which makes me nauseous, figure out why I feel like crap rather quickly (I never took it before, and it has much more salt then I am ever used to ingesting), back off and get with my life by Edinburg Gap AS, mile 11.7, where I arrive at 11:38, exactly 7 minutes ahead of my pace. I unload that EFS to a volunteer (who was grateful to get his hands on it, as much as I was happy to find a use for this stuff, I hate wasting products), picked a few pretzels and went off.
More same terrain. We climb sharply, and amazingly I feel like a real mountain goat, strong like never before. I am enjoying the climb, however, on the other side of the mountain, there is a sharp drop with loose rock, then more of it, then mellower grade yet nastier rocks – bigger, sharper, sticking out and threatening to twist your ankle as the minimum “welcome” sign. Having flashbacks from Cactus Rose’s broken tailbone, I vow to stick to “get it easy, make it happen” and not push. It is a little difficult to accept, because I am a “downhiller” and this is my strongest suit, where I bag most of my time. However, I let it go – as well as let others go by, because it is more important to make it to the finish then risk for speed and bail out. I settle in, once again…
The views are amazingly stunningly awesome! We go on to the ridge, on the ridge, then off the ridge into the valley – and repeat it from each AS to the next. I love this pattern. I absolutely do. I’d take this over flattish running any day, any minute. The course is so stupidly rocky, you don’t dare raise your eyes off the ground unless you come to a full stop, and this makes time and miles fly by, literally. I am in a very good head-space, feeling strong and knowing – knowing – this is going to be a good day.
Woodstock Tower, mile 19.9, 9:35am, right on time, and like I haven’t run step. Almost weird, and I congratulate myself for running well within. Nothing feels like it had done any work, stomach settled in, I finally get my first drop bag and load up on gels, get my bottles filled and get out. There is a helicopter noise here, workers cheering us on – the forest gets thinned out. It’s a boost. The guys are rather hot:)
There is no climbing next section, quite an easy running, and I am beginning to pick up the pace, ever so slowly – and a few folks. It is a bit early, but I know for certain I am not straining myself to do so, so I go with it. I get into next AS right on time, yet again, not any earlier than planned, and leave fast. From here on my personal mile count begins. I go like this: 25 miles is a quarter. 30-35 miles is a third. 50 miles is almost half. After that – negative rolling miles. So, reaching first 25 is always big for me, this is where I begin to feel I had entered the race…
Another climb, another crazy descent, another awesome running segment, I am approaching mile 32.6, Elizabeth Furnace, and I am almost 20 minutes ahead. This is a party AS. My friend Diana is there, and she takes care of my bottles. I re-supply my gels, one of which exploded, and I ask one of the crew ladies to wash them. She does it, and offers me a baby-wipe. Do I look so bad? I am thankful, it feels wonderful. I tell her big thanks – I feel like a woman! On to another climb, baby!
I pass a few guys here, because this is where, officially, I work. It doesn’t quite feels like work yet, but I am putting an effort. My climbing legs are perky like never before, and I am dancing on the rocks. A few people, apparently, ran with Larry at one point or another, and all relay how he talked about me, and how he is awaiting for me to catch up. I truly am blessed to have a husband with the same passion – and who believes in me – and I don’t want to catch him! I so want him to have the best possible day ever! But I press on, because this is a race, and this is what you do.
Mile 37 comes and goes, another 5 minutes in the bank, and the next AS, Veach Gap at 40.7, kind of sneaks up on me. I am fast through, because I got guys on my heels, and I don’t like to be re-passed once I get by. It’s a game now. Everything in life is a game…A long section ahead, I pick up an extra bottle of water I stashed in my drop bag, and take off. Climbing yet again…looking at the race profile taped to my bottle and counting “teeth” of the ridge till the downhill, then flying down, as the rocks permit, to get to the Indian Grave Trailhead, mile 49.7, almost an hour ahead of the pace. While two wonderful volunteers fill my bottles, I take my pack off, get out my i-Pod and headphones, put it all on, and with the words “Lets get this party started” run out. I am on cloud 9. I am strong, and I feel awesome. I don’t think I had felt like this at mile 50 before just about ever.
There is a gravel road with gentle rolling, and I see a few guys making their way ahead. This was the hottest spot for me, as it’s open to the direct sun, but because it is closing on the evening, it is very manageable. I had calculated that I reached half-way point, mile 51, in around 11:55 or so of total time. Knowing second half is much gnarlier than first, it will be night time, and I will have accumulated fatique, I am figuring I need to add 14:30 for the second half, and project my finish time as 26:30. This is the wildest dream…and this is still a long way to go.
Habron Gap, 53.6M, 5:20pm. An 1:05 sooner. I am focused now, and I hear “hey” from the chair. I can’t focus my eyes and nod, thinking “who the hell is that?” But I am used to be greeted and not knowing the person, so I don’t pay much attention to digging into memory pockets – I am trying to find my biggest drop bag, I need to upload stuff for the night, get two of my headlamps, remember to take extra liquid for the next 9.5M section, drink my V8…when I finally look up and see Larry. WTF? I mean, even if I did think I’d catch up, not until mile 80! But he is here, and while he is done with his pack, he is waiting for me. We walk out together, and I give him a kiss for a woman to catch it on film. He jokingly tries to send me off the wrong direction, and I almost go, but then he points out on the trailhead entrance – and we are off for yet another climb…
(This photo is by Teresa Sukiennicki.)
AS give me boost, and I pick it up, yelling “Hang with me, baby!”. He sends me off (“Go do your thing”), and it makes me sad. I climb and as I turn around to tell him that I love him – I am alone…man, I am climbing strong. So I go on, praying as I can that he will hold on, he will push, and he will finish. The downhill here is a real bitch, and even though I still don’t need my headlamp out of the pack, I am slowed down tremendously. Finally, this, too, came to an end, and I run into Camp Roosevelt, mile 63.1, at 8pm, with an 1:25 to spare, and to the loud scream of David Horton “Olga, what happened to your hair!!!”. I give him the biggest mouth smooch, and explain I live in TX now (we haven’t seen each other awhile) because I found me a boy, and he laughs. Soup is in order from now on, but I still demand ice in the bottles, put on my headlamp and my waist-lamp, and just as I run out, I see Larry entering the AS. Yay, baby, he looks happy, he is going to be just fine! From now on every mile was “push it to keep away yet hoping he’d catch up”. I think it provided both of us with a lot of incentive to keep going strong. I didn't want to run together (I prefer to be alone and move at my own pace), but finishing together would have been really neat...
I share a couple of these miles here with a man Dave who ran with Larry at some point, and he is jealous we do same kind of stunts as a family. I think warmly about it, but talking at this point becomes more of an obligation, so eventually I pull away. As we turn onto climb (aren’t you tired of this repetition?), the trail practically disappears, it is dark, and everything looks like boulders, leaves and trees – and I have to really look for reflective markers to find which way to turn to follow the course. But it is not impossible, the course is marked rather well, and I am pleased. At the top there are boy-scouts camping. It’s refreshing to see others, and as they later say on their own blog, it was funny how proud they were for hiking up 3-4 miles for a night in the woods to learn there are 170 runners going through at mile 66 for another 36…At the downhill a guy tells me he is not sure if we are on the right trail, but I push this thought away. I see markers well, and I follow them.
I stumble down, realizing that at night my already shaky downhill technique will struggle more, and hit Gap Creek I at mile 68.7 an hour and 40 min early. For some reason I find David Horton there again, and as I fill the bottles and gulp the soup, I ask the volunteers to “tell my husband, who is on my heels, to slow down”. They laugh. I laugh. Life goes on…
Next climb doesn’t feel that huge, but eating gels becomes a burden. And here is something I had been struggling with for the last couple of years at every ultra, and especially in a 100, as the day and miles wear off – so, if you are still reading and paying attention, please can you help me out? I pee. A lot. Often. Like, every 5-10 minutes. While I don’t go to any “off-trail”, could careless about guys looking, and don’t have a need to squat (pardon details), I do need to stop and actually do it, and it takes at least 30 seconds for every stop. That’s more than 40 min loss no matter how gentle I try to calculate it. And it annoys the heck out of me. And it hurts, eventually, too.
Anyhow, Visitor center at mile 77.1 is reached 1:45 ahead, and the girls there tell me I am picking up – whether time or places (or both) – apparently this was the closest I came to Ragan Petrie, 5th woman, about 15 minutes behind. However, for those interested in a racing aspect, even if I did hold on the pace and did finish in 26:20-26:30, I wouldn’t have moved a spot, so at the end all is good and right in my world…
And I didn’t hold on. The next climb to Bird’s Knob was still fine, I still followed the schedule on the spot, was still same time behind Ragan, but I felt the deterioration setting in. The dirt road out of this AS was annoying to say the least, but the next climb knocked me off my feet. I was dead tired and sleepy, and the worst thing is, while I knew I will need a nap, I haven’t planned on the fact that the trails on these mountains are so narrow, steep and bush-y, there was no place to lay down for a shut-eye! Eventually, at the top of the climb, I found a spot, and dropped down. It was only 5 minutes respite (with 3 runners passing by “Are you ok?”), but I got incredibly cold. So far the night was warm as I was moving, I didn’t even need my arm-sleeves, yet along a jacket, but taking a cat-nap without putting anything on was stupid, and I should have known better. The section was really bad, as the “teeth” of the ridge were sharp, I couldn’t start moving fast to get warmer, my legs were stiff, and overall I just felt low. The good news, my usual “wall” came full 10 miles later:) I shuffled down in a big herd of folks, and stumbled, eventually, into Picnic Area at mile 86.9 at 3:22am, having “eaten” 30 minutes of my cushion, and the bad patch had only began…
This was my only AS I set down. I ate the soup. I asked for a wet paper towel and washed off salt off my face and neck very well – and it felt awesome. I re-packed my backpack. I almost got up, but the rain started – so I set back down, unpacked my jacket and put it on. Only then I went out, a full 10 minutes later. I had no regrets spending all that time though. Sometimes you do what you need to do.
Rain kept falling, it wasn’t heavy, or the trees protected us well, but some bushes hit the legs with wet branches. I still felt rather fatigued, as that nap wasn’t enough this time, and started looking for another place to lay down. But I entered the climb, one of the feared ones, and it veered on up, alongside the river bank, with very steep slopes on each side – step right – fall off down all the way into the river, try left – and meet the wall. This was my slowest section. Music could do nothing, caffeine wasn’t helping, it was slow, and I was a little bit concerned of getting shaky and falling off. Eventually I found a flat rock, and lied down. The rain stopped, but I still had my sleeves and jacket on, so it felt nice and toasty. 3 minutes later a runner and a pacer came by, asked the usual question and got me up and going. The eyes felt better, but it took another 20 minutes to feel the energy slowly returning. We finally got to the downhill to the last AS, mile 95.4, where I showed up at 6:24am, only 50 minutes on my 28 hr pace chart and not happy at all.
Guys at the AS cheered me on, they were awesome. They really lifted my spirit! While I was taking clothes off and re-packing for the last time, they said “27:30 on this course is a hell of a deal, be proud”, and I finally smiled. Not only because it is a “hell of a deal”. But because I decided I am breaking 27:30, just because, for the last time push! And I took off. The climb (which we had done before on this section) seemed to be short and easy, but as I looked down, it was a cruel joke. The first mile of a downhill was the worst we had had on this course so far. I swore loudly as I crawled my way down, determined to live up to my own expectations. It took me 25 minutes to get down a mile to where it let off enough to jog/walk/shuffle, and soon after the road, all 3+ miles of it, same one we started on, was in front of me, and all I had to do was make 11 min/mile (and pee-stops every quarter mile) to break 27:15. Because 27:15 was my new goal.
Off the road, as the camping area eventually showed up (I thought it never would, damn it!), we had to enter the trail, and get another 0.7M on it. I felt it was unnecessary for an RD to subject us to this add-on to already long 100 miler, but I made my way down, and crossed the finish line in an anti-climatic 27:16 with a handful of folks cheering on. No matter what, I had exceeded my expectations, and I was thrilled with my day…
The body seized, and was close to vomiting. With stiff muscles, and stiff stomach, I managed to swallow a fried egg (hot breakfast at the finish line!) and make my way to another camping building to pick up mine and Larry’s bag with clothes change (they had HOT showers!!!). My only hope was to waddle back in time to see him finish. I was praying hard – I knew banned a disaster he will be pushing for sub-28.
And he did it. He crossed the finish line in 27:55, with the widest smile (with the ONLY smile) I ever saw him at the finish, whether in life or on the picture. This was the proudest and happiest moment for the whole weekend. It is hard to explain why, and I won’t bother on personal details. Let me just say that I am married to a person I wanted to be married to. That makes me one incredibly sappy happy wife...
The drive back to Baltimore was insane, as I couldn’t stay awake behind the wheel. We took 3 naps off-road, and somehow survived without the accident. And this is where I realize the ice-bath was in order. Because while being crippled at my regular job was funny, not nice, but ok, jeopardizing my massage clients to my rather weird choppy movements was unacceptable. I think I am as proud of those tortures as I am of my finish:) (p.s. these are my places as I went along from AS#2 to the finish - and this is why it is a textbook, and why it is an "almost": 78-78-66-65-60-58-52-54-44-36-29-26-28-33-30)
Where do I want to end it? It’s a must-do for any crazy ultran. I am already thinking of how to improve my time. This race is a staple, a text-book in so many ways, and I am thrilled to have gotten the opportunity to run it. The belt buckle is one of the sweetest in my collection. The trails are real. The memories are dear to my heart. Don’t miss your chance.