Monday, September 28, 2015

Race # 40 - Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50 Miler

Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50 Miler
Race #5 of the 2014 Beast Series
6:30 AM
Lynchburg, VA
Time: 11:25
Place: 99 out of 188 finishers (245 starters)

Almost 11 months removed from the race, I finally get around to writing about it.  That's what having a second kid will do.  This race report won't be as detailed as those of mine in the past due to the lapse of time since the race. Essentially, I don't remember a lot of it but here's what I do remember:

One month after Grindstone, the MMTR awaits as the fifth race in the Beast Series.  Everything I had heard about the race said that it gets harder as you go and "the loop" can make or break your race.  You didn't want to be close to the cutoff time going in to the loop.  I took all of this into consideration going in to the race.

Jon and I headed up the night before for the pre-race dinner.  While we gathered our things in preparation for the race, Jon realized he forgot socks.  Lucky for him I had several pair.  We headed to bed for an early rise.

It was dark and cold as we rode the bus to the start of the point-to-point race.  I stayed on the bus as long as I could before heading to the start line.  Soon it was time to go.  Standing out with the other runners, I saw a group of guys all from around Pilot Mountain and said hello before we headed off.  

As a typical Horton race, we ran through a creek in the wee hours of the morning.  The water was cold and the bottleneck of the beginning of the race kept us from speeding through to avoid getting completely soaked.  Just as I got out of the water there was another part we had to go through and at this point my feet are so cold that they actually felt warm.  Soon though, the bottleneck thinned out and we were running trails via headlamp.

The sun eventually rose and with it came the wind.  I remember coming down a gravel road in some beautiful countryside about halfway through the race and the crosswinds were so strong sometimes it would literally blow me side to side.  I eventually made it to the bus that took us to the start and my drop bag.  I grabbed some food and went on my way.

Not long after the halfway mark I caught up with a friend, Earlie, who was running his first 50 miler.  I decided to run with him for a little while to see how he was doing and if I could help him along the way.  I had been running alone just as I always do so it was nice to have a change in scenery.  So we were entering the loop but had plenty of time ahead of the cutoff.  It started to get cold as we got higher in elevation and eventually it was spitting snow/sleet as we got to the top of the mountain in the short out and back section.  We made our way back to the loop exit and downed some goodies at the aid station.   They had hot food (I believe it was pork) and it really hit the spot.

As we departed the aid station and headed down a gravel road, we ran in to Earlie's parents who were there crewing for him.  After exchanging some pleasantries and taking some pictures, we kept moving as we were getting closer to the finish. 

The gravel road seemed to descend for a really long time.  I remember at one point we passed a group of people that were being pulled behind a truck and I think they were on a hayride.  Don't quote me on that but we both thought that was really odd to see.  Maybe they were just riding in the back of a truck but either way we thought it was too cold to be out doing that but then again we were the crazy ones running 50+ miles.  

The last section before we hit the road to the finish was through desolate wooded area with rolling hills.  The fatigue was setting in for Earlie and I kept reassuring him that he was going to finish and I was not going to leave him even though he told me to go on ahead.  At Grindstone, I was in the same boat and Regis stayed with me almost to the very end.  Without him, I might still be out there!  

One of the oddest things that I've ever seen while running occurred in this section.  Another friend Jenny came  up alongside us and then went ahead but before she got too far in front of us I hear this noise but was unaware of what exactly it was at first sound.  Then all of a sudden it happened.  A tree fell right near us.  The three of us looked at each other and Jenny actually said it:  "Did that just happen?".  Yes, a tree fell in the woods just as we were running by it.  It was weird.

Soon enough we came down a good descent onto a paved road and were headed to the finish.  Earlie's mom was there cheering us on and she ran the last mile or so alongside her son.  I congratulated him on a job well done and pushed ahead a little to let him enjoy this moment of finishing his first 50 miler.

We crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 25 minutes.  I felt like I could have gone under 10 hours but the way things worked out it was almost as if I was meant to be there with Earlie and get him to the finish before the cutoff.  It was the least I could do after my race at Grindstone.

Five down, one to go in the 2014 Beast Series.....

Friday, December 5, 2014

Race # 39 - Grindstone 100

Grindstone 100 Mile Endurance Run
Race #4 of the 2014 Beast Series
6:00 PM
Swoope, VA
Time: 29:53:42
Place: 99 out of 188 finishers (245 starters)

How long do you think you could feel miserable doing something without quitting?  For me, the current record is somewhere around 30 hours.  Here's the story.

When I finished MMT100 last year, I was done racing for 2013.  I had accomplished my goal I  set for myself and I was done.  But not long after, planning for 2014 began.  Since I wasn't lucky and didn't get selected in any big lotteries, I decided to do the 2014 Beast Series.  Grindstone was the longest race of the series but I knew it was comparable to MMT, just with less rocks and more elevation.  However, I didn't know just how hard it would be.

I didn't do my homework for Grindstone like I did for MMT.  I basically ate, slept, and breathed MMT for 6 months.  Not so much for Grindstone.  I probably started studying up on the aid stations and course layout a couple of weeks before.  I did see part of the course in August doing the training run/trail work weekend so at least I had that going.  I knew there would be long climbs and descents and some technical sections, but it was a lot more runnable than MMT. 

This race was also going to be very different compared to MMT in the fact that I had no crew and no pacer.  I was relying on myself and my drop bags to get through this race.  Of course my buddy Jon was going with me but he was also running so he could not pace me.  It would be the ultimate test of endurance for me.

Friday, October 3, 2014.  It's 6:30am and I'm awake.  I knew at this point there was a real good chance I wouldn't sleep again until sometime Sunday.  The day was here.  The countdown was over.  It was time for the Grindstone 100.

Jon and I left out early Friday morning and drove to the Boy Scouts camp in Swoope, VA.  We arrived around 12:30, got our tents set up and went to check in and hear the pre-race briefing by race director Clark Zealand.  He informed us that this year's Grindstone was predicted to be the warmest start day of the race followed by the coldest race night of the race's history (or something like that).  Everyone knew that Saturday night would be very cold on Elliott's Knob, the last major climb of the race.  My goal was to finish before it got too awfully cold up there to avoid the predicted wind chill temps in the 'teens. Ultimately, I would be super stoked if I could beat my time from MMT which was 32:35:48.  That would put me finishing around 2:30am Sunday morning.  But of course, just crossing the finish line, no matter what time it was, was my main goal.

After the race briefing, I settled in my tent and got things ready for the race.  I tried to take a nap but I'm terrible at taking naps during the day and there was too much commotion going on outside.  Part of the commotion was some young kid standing next to the outdoor bathrooms asking everyone that came up in a really loud, obnoxious voice, "WHAT'S YOUR NAME?".  I really wanted to go over and ask him what time he'd be going to bed tonight and point out the fact that the rest of us probably wouldn't sleep until Sunday and to SHUT. UP.  But I didn't.  

Pre-race picture

Jon and I before the start of the Grindstone 100

Section 1:  Miles 1 - 5.2  

The sounds of rain hitting my tent began and I knew it would be around 3am when it would finally stop.  No way around it. We were going to get wet.  Soon, we all lined up at the start line and waited for the command.  A word of prayer and moment of silence for Maj. Mike Donahue who sacrificed his life for our country, and we were then sent on our way on an adventure a year in the making.  We hit the exit of the Boy Scout camp and headed around the lake.  I tried to stay toward the front as I had heard a huge bottleneck would develop at the lake due to an odd segue way to the trail.  It did, but I was able to get through rather quickly and was on the trail.  

I had my rain jacket on already but I was getting hot.  I knew not to take it off because the rain would be heavy at times so I just had to deal with it.  I started going over things in my head.  Where was this....did I bring that....did I put that thing in my pack.  All these thoughts kept going through my head.  I finally questioned whether I put my Garmin charger in my pack.  I didn't remember seeing it.  I really wanted to charge the Garmin when it was close to dying in hopes I could get the entire race in one file.  I stopped and took off my pack but didn't find it.  I put it back on and kept running thinking I left it in the tent.  I really wanted it.  Clark had mentioned we came to a spot on the trail that was about a 1/4 mile from the start/finish.  Was I going to be that person who said 'hey I forgot something I have to go back to my tent' or would I just deal with it?  Finally, I remembered I put it in one of my drop bags.  One of those, 'oh yeah that's what those things are for' moments.  Silly me.  So I kept running.

Family and friends of all the runners greeted us one last time as we passed by the section nearest the camp.  As we ran through the trail, it began to rain.  Then it rained harder, and harder, until it was pouring.  But it soon let up and that would be the hardest rain we would have the rest of the night.  Single file running on single track, and eventually we came to a halt.  About 15 people had turned around and were walking back toward us stating they hadn't seen a course marker in a while.  So we turned around and back tracked.  Went probably a 1/4 mile and someone obviously knew more than those people and told us to turn around so we did.  Kept running and eventually we found a marker to confirm we were going the right way, eventually arriving at the first aid station.  Crossing the road, we were slowed in order to get our bib numbers recorded by the aid station workers.  Sniper had told me not to fill both bottles at the beginning and to just get water at the first aid station.  I did just that.  But there wasn't much aid there, so I didn't fill my bottle entirely to the top and figured I would fill it completely at the next aid station which was about 9.5 miles away.  

Aid Station 1 arrival:  7:05pm  (1h5m elapsed)

Section 2:  Miles 5.2 - 14.6

The nasty weather meant darkness came even sooner and eventually I found myself in a line going through some tight single track.  Eventually I came out to the dreaded road section heading up to Elliott's Knob.  Fog was so thick I couldn't tell if the road was 4 feet wide or 20 feet wide.  I just kept hiking up the hill along with everyone else.   A couple of crazy people tried to run but I knew it was going to be a long weekend and there was no point in doing that just yet.  I soon come to the trail head but it's another 1/4 mile to the summit where we have to punch our bib numbers.  I finally arrive and wait my turn to mark my bib and then head back down.  So dark.  So foggy.  I really didn't want to miss the turn to the trail.  I look to the left and see headlamps but someone informs me that's not where I need to go.  Maybe someone made a wrong turn and was headed back to the road.  I kept moving and entered the trail head with several others.  

I was semi-familiar with this section.  This was the part that myself and a few others cut back in August with weed whackers.  We really did a number on this trail.  I looked magnificent!  You could drive a golf cart down this trail!  (Maybe we went a little overboard on how much to clear it back).  This section was mostly all downhill leading into the second aid station, Dry Branch Gap.  There were some sketchy parts where the mountain just dropped off to the left so I knew to be careful and watch my step.  With the slick rocks, running was done cautiously.  Around 12 miles in to the race, I came up on a guy who was bent over hurling off the side of the mountain.  Side stepping him, I knew that was not a state anyone wanted to be in, especially that early in the race.  

I arrived at the Dry Branch Gap aid station which was buzzing with life.  Runners were filling the bladders from their packs, eating, and the aid station workers were doing their best to accommodate us.  Soon it was announced though, that they were out of water.  This was devastating news.  How could this happen so early in the race?  And I knew I was probably in the top 1/3 of the field so what was everyone behind me going to do?  I had deliberately not filled my bottle all the way and here I was afraid I was going to be without water for the next section which was about 7.5 miles.  Luckily there was a case of bottled water and one of the aid station workers gave me one.  Talk about a life saver!  I quickly got out of there and headed onward.  

Aid Station 2 arrival:  9:28pm  (3h28m elapsed)

Section 3:  Miles 14.6 - 22.1

I don't really remember anything about the next climb.  I knew I had done it in the opposite direction during the training weekend but it was during the day and was the end of our run that day.  It was a couple miles of climbing followed by a long descent.  I caught up with a few people and we all carefully made our way down the mountain.  I didn't know any of them but figured I'd stay with them since it was dark.  No point in being alone outside at night.  In the dark.  And mountains.  The girl in our group was running with a friend or two and they were doing some conversing!  In a normal race I would have had to get the heck out of there in order to be alone in my own world but for some reason I was fine with it.  The pace was good and not being by myself even better.  

We reached the top of this mountain and began our descent which seemed like it was very long.  One guy who was in our group took a hard spill and appeared to have hurt his elbow.  He dropped of our pace and I didn't see him again until later in the race.  Being cautious was a priority as the trail and rocks were very slick from the rain that fell earlier that night.  

The long descent was nearing an end and either I caught up with some other runners or vice versa.  Either way, we were on a rather flat section heading in to the Dowell's Draft aid station.  Another runner and I started talking and I soon found out this was his first hundred.  He asked if I had any words of wisdom (like I'm some sort of expert).  I proceeded to give him the compressed version of things I've learned in my short time doing this crazy stuff:
  • Just keep moving
  • It's going to hurt but this is what we signed up for so push the pain aside and keep moving
  • Make it through the night and it'll be a brand new ball game when the sun rises
  • Keep eating and drinking
  • Don't think about the entire race at once.  Just think about making it to the next aid station 
These, amongst other things, are all good pieces of information, and often times I have to tell myself to listen to my own advice.  It's one thing to tell someone else to do something in a race but sometimes you have to heed your own advice.  Lights came in to view ahead as I came in to the next aid station.  I had my first drop bag here so I grabbed an ensure, downed it quickly, ate some food and soon went on my way.

Aid Station 3 arrival:  11:25pm  (5h25m elapsed)

Section 4:  Miles 22.1 -  30.5

It's tough leaving the comfort of an aid station.  Especially when it's dark and soon to be the middle of the night.  I don't think they had a camp fire though so that was easy to avoid.  I headed out of the aid station alone, into the darkness.  Another climb for several miles.  Less than a half mile out of the aid station I see two headlamps coming toward me.  Had I missed a turn?  I was confused.  As the runners came up on me, I asked what was going on and if we were on the wrong trail.  They informed me they were heading back to the aid station and dropping.  I couldn't imagine doing that.  Of course I felt like I wanted to but what was the incentive?  I would have to sit at the aid station and wait who knows how long to get a ride back to the finish line.  The mental demons were already in my head but I knew quitting wasn't an option.

I continued my way up the trail and eventually ended up with a couple other runners who had also encountered the two guys that had dropped.  They had told them they had finished Grindstone twice and tonight wasn't their night.  It didn't feel like my night either, but I had to keep going.  This was my only 100 miler this year.  I had to finish it to be eligible to be a Beast Series finisher.  I had to get my qualifier for the big race lotteries in December.   A lot of eggs in my one basket.  Just keep moving.

As I neared the top of this mountain, I could see lights of a town off in the distance.  The clouds were clearing which meant the rain would soon be gone for good.  I remembered this section from the training run.  It was mainly gravel roads so easy running.  I caught up with a few people but ran past them.  I was really battling my body at this point.  I just remember my legs felt so fatigued.  I would run as much as I could and then stop and walk.  I knew this road section was long but mostly downhill so I tried my best to keep moving at a good pace.  

We came in to the Lookout Mountain aid station and there was a guy with a viking helmet on.  I think.  Maybe I was hallucinating?  No, I'm pretty sure he had on a viking helmet.  This was dedication.  These people were out in the middle of nowhere it seemed like with a tent set up and were cooking food.  I don't remember what they had but I ate some left in a decent amount of time.  

Aid Station 4 arrival:  1:26am  (7h26m elapsed)

Section 5:  Miles 30.5 - 36.8

Leaving Lookout Mountain aid station, the next section was pretty uneventful.  I remember running with the same group of people I was with earlier, I think.  Heck it was 2-something in the morning and I was tired.  That's about all I remember.  Oh and that trippy bridge we had to cross.  I think that was on this section.  Eventually, I crossed that bridge and came out on a paved road.  There were numerous crew vehicles as this was one of the main aid stations of the race, both for crew access, drop bags, and food. A few people congratulated me on my journey thus far.  I heard the engine running on several cars and knew it was probably warm inside.  Wonder if they'd let me get in and lay down? 

As I came into the aid station, a volunteer got my drop bag for me and I made some adjustments.  I drank an Ensure, got some additional clothes and my second headlamp in case I needed it.  My Garmin charger was in this drop bag so of course I grabbed it.  I knew I wouldn't need it for a while but before the race, I didn't know what time I'd be getting to this aid station so might as well have it and not need it than need it and not have it.  

It was here at this aid station that we had to get weighed.  Pre-race I checked in at a whopping 140 lbs.  Pretty sure the scale was heavy as I haven't weighed 140 in a few years.  I was 138.  Pretty good only dropping 2 lbs. so far.  

Food was being cooked so I grabbed some.  Quesadillas, perogies (sp?), tater tots, all kinds of stuff.  Nice to have some warm food.  I filled my bottles and headed on my way.

Aid Station 5 arrival:  3:04am  (9h4m elapsed)

Section 6:  Miles 36.8 - 44.6

I left the comforts of the North River Gap aid station and headed into the dark.  This next section was essentially the longest climb of the race.  So I hiked.  And hiked.  And hiked.  There were a group of 2-3 guys who caught up with me and the one directly behind me was speaking of this section which made evident he was a veteran of the course.  I asked him a few questions as we walked.  Soon enough though, my headlamp blinked four times fast signifying my battery was running out.  I pulled off the trail and let the others go on without me while I changed out batteries.  Once done there I was alone climbing up a mountain in the middle of the night.  

I was tired and my legs were reminding me of it every step of the way.  But I was moving which is all that mattered.  I saw a headlamp coming toward me and knew I would run in to someone eventually.  It was the leader.  He was on his way down and I was on my way up.  I was at mile 40 which meant he was somewhere around mile 60.  I was completely amazed.

I kept on trucking up this mountain that seemed to never end.  I eventually reached the top, but still had a little ways to go to get to the next aid station.  I kept passing runners wondering how far it was.  Finally one told me it was just ahead.  Daylight was approaching and soon I would be a new runner.  It's amazing what a difference the sunrise makes.

I rolled in to the aid station and grabbed some food.  My drop bag here had my change of shoes but I would get those on my way back out in a few hours.  I had another Ensure, thanked the volunteers and headed out.

Aid Station 6 arrival:  6:12am  (12h12m elapsed)

Section 7:  Miles 44.6 - 49.1

The next section was a continuation of the gravel road that lead in to aid station 6.  Some runnable of course but walking some as well.  It was on this section that I met a guy named Regis.  He and I started talking as we walked.  He hadn't had a good first half of the race.  He had car trouble on the way to the race and was afraid he may not make it but luckily did.  He then proceeded to tell me he was dropping at the half way point.  When I asked why, he said his heart just wasn't in it.  He had finished every Grindstone thus far (5), and figured what was the point of this one if he just wasn't feeling it.  That along with knowing he had to deal with his car when he got back to the finish line area, he didn't feel like continuing.

As we talked more and got to know each other, I told him my story of course, including that this was my second 100 mile race and I had felt like crap since mile 15.  To each his own, we moved along, trading stories along the way.  We're on a paved road at this point.  The sun is rising in the east and we can see the beautiful fall foliage surrounding us.  The views were spectacular given the fact we had just climbed a mountain.

As we neared aid station 7, breakfast was cooking, but we had to go up to the Reddish Knob turnaround and punch our bib number for the second time proving we were there.  The cool crisp air felt great and the sunrise was giving me new energy.  I stopped to take a few pictures of my surroundings and take it all in.

The Reddish Knob area appeared to be a local tourist attraction or common place for outdoor adventurers to frequent on a Saturday morning.  A lot of 'normal' people hiking to this summit to check out the views.  Who knows what they thought of all us runners but they probably didn't know we had been trying to get here since 6pm the previous night.  Regis was a very outgoing person, making sure to greet every single female civilian that we passed on this road.

There was also some sort of motorcycle/dirt bike riding going on.  Luckily I only encountered three of these but others said they saw packs of 20-30 riding in this area.

Beautiful morning view

Looking in to West Virginia

As we finished at the summit, we stopped in at the Reddish Knob aid station for a few minutes.  One guy was cooking but not fast enough as there wasn't any hot food to eat at that moment.  All of the volunteers at this area knew Regis and struck up a conversation immediately.  After a couple of minutes we left and headed for the turnaround but would soon be coming back by this aid station once again.

Aid Station 7 arrival:  7:25am  (13h25m elapsed)

Section 8:  Miles 49.1 - 51.6

The next section was a short downhill road section that took us to the turnaround point for the race.  There was crew access at the bottom of this road so quite a few spectators cheering us on.  We reached this aid station and were greeted by the smell of bacon.  It was glorious.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any.  I had to take a nature break so I dropped my pack and headed for the woods.

Upon my return, I realized there were baby wipes on the table and I had toilet paper in my pack.  Neither were used in my visit to the woods.  Guess I wasn't thinking clearly.  I utilized the local foliage instead.

The smell of bacon was glorious, but unfortunately someone had just eaten the last piece.  So I did not partake in anything they had to offer and Regis and I left to start our return trip to the finish line.  In my mind, I always think of an ultra race as a bell curve.  Once you get half way, it's all downhill from there.  Figuratively speaking of course.  So we made the turn around and were on the home stretch.  Every step was one closer to being finished.

Aid Station 8 arrival:  8:12am  (14h12m elapsed)

Section 9:  Miles 51.6 - 54

After leaving the turn around, we went down a gravel road and then back up the fairly steep paved road, encountering some of the same hikers we saw earlier, and again Regis greeting them with his classy charm.

We soon arrived back at the breakfast station where burgers were being cooked.  We both got a quarter of one and then headed on our way, this time getting to omit the climb up to Reddish Knob.

Aid Station 9 arrival:  8:55am  (14h55m elapsed)

Section 10:  Miles 54 - 57.8

Shortly after leaving the breakfast station, I ran in to Jon.  He looked decent and said he felt pretty good given the circumstances.  I was glad to see he wasn't too far behind me.

We were making our way back to the Little Bald aid station and running downhill.  It hurt but that was nothing new  Regis had decided to abort the option to quit at the half way mark and said he would keep going with me.  I didn't mind.  It was nice to have some company and he was very knowledgeable.  Bouncing questions off of him regarding running ultras, sharing stories of previous races, but for me mostly listening to him, all helped pass the time.  Before I knew it, we were back at the windiest aid station on the course (in my opinion).  These volunteers were amazing.

As I came in to the aid station, I got my drop bag, had another Ensure, and proceeded to change shoes and socks.  I didn't really have to, but that was my plan before the race so I stuck with it. It was the first time I had sat down in almost 16 hours.

Meanwhile Regis is over at the food pounding freshly cooked goodies.  I quickly joined him and we were on our way on what would be one of the worst sections of the race for me.

Aid Station 10 arrival:  9:50am  (15h50m elapsed)

Section 11:  Miles 57.8 - 65.7

Leaving the Little Bald aid station, we had about 7.8 miles to go down the mountain to North River Gap.  I was not looking forward to it because it was a long section and mostly downhill.  That was going to hurt.

The sun was out, and it was a beautiful day.  Windy conditions though reminded me that a cold front would be coming through at night and I knew I did not want to be on top of Elliott's Knob when the wind chill dropped into the 'teens.

As we headed down the mountain, my Garmin chirped at me telling me it was low on battery.  I stopped and got out my portable charger, made sure I looked at my mileage after the debacle at MMT 100 in 2013, and plugged it up.  Thankfully, it started charging.  At MMT, when I performed the same action, my watch shut off.  I didn't know what mile I was at or what had just happened and that threw me out of it mentally.  This time though, I would soon be losing my mind but for a different reason.

Coming down the mountain hurt.  It wasn't majorly steep, but one of those mountains where in a training run you would normally just bomb down the thing.  I couldn't do that at this time because A) I wasn't bombing anything and B) I didn't want to kill what was left in my legs given how much of the race was left.  But putting on the brakes coming down probably didn't help much either.

Given Regis' past experience, I asked for some downhill pointers.  He gave me a few and I implemented them which made the journey somewhat bearable.  But my mental state was fading.  When I get in a bad mood during an ultra, it doesn't take much to make it worse.  Another female runner and her pacer came by and were chatting up a storm.  We let them in front of us and Regis jumped in on the conversation with them.  I was moving so slow though that they eventually went on ahead.  Then another couple of runners and a pacer came down behind me and they were telling jokes.  Again I let them in front and again Regis gets in the conversation with them.  The whole time this is going on I'm so annoyed and wishing I was alone.  I was at what seemed to be my lowest point of the race and this section was taking so long to complete.  All I wanted was to get to the aid station.  I was not a happy runner.

Finally, after 2 hours and 35 minutes of descending this mountain, we arrived at the North River Gap aid station.  The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.  I didn't feel like it was shortly after noon on Saturday though.  Being awake for long periods of time really throws off my sense of what time it is, even if the sun is out.

I got my drop bag and sat down in a chair.  I reached for my phone and sent a text to Summer.  It read something like this:  "Absolutely miserable.  So tired of this.  This is my last race ever.  I'm done."  After I got home, she told me she busted out laughing when she read that message.  In most ultras, I usually get to the point where I say to myself "why am I doing this...this is stupid....I could be at home with my family."  But I always know that comes in a low point and I'll soon snap out of it.  This time I didn't think that.  I really was ready to be done with all of it.  I wanted to go home, withdraw my name from the upcoming MMTR 50 miler and not even consider Hellgate.  I was over it.  But I knew I had to finish what I started so it was time to get a move on.

I had some good food at this aid station.  Had to jump on the scale and get weighed one final time.  I had dropped one pound since mile 35 so I was down to 137.  I grabbed my stuff and headed on my way to catch up with Regis who had already started on the next trail section.  On my way out I ran into my friend Jeremy who informed me he had to drop due to a previous injury that had flared up.  I offered condolences and set out on the next section.

Aid Station 11 arrival:  12:25pm  (18h25m elapsed)

Section 12:  Miles 65.7 - 72

Leaving North River Gap, I tried to think positive.  This is where I started the Grindstone training run back in August.  So I had seen the next 22 miles of the course in this exact direction.  I knew what was coming, and I knew it wasn't all that bad, so I tried to think positive.

I believe it was this section that Regis and I encountered a couple of mountain bikers.  Still in a semi-sour mood, when I saw them and the fact that they really didn't have any courtesy towards us at all, I thought some mean thoughts toward them in my head.

After a short section of flat easy running, we started up another climb.  This climb eventually lead us up to some old service roads where the Lookout Mountain aid station was located.  This was the aid station I came to the previous night where a guy was wearing a viking helmet.  I think.  Anyway, today they had pulled pork which totally hit the spot.  I ate some food and we headed out.  I was to the point though that food was becoming unappealing.  I was tired of eating.  I started feeling sluggish and I knew it was because I wasn't eating enough.  After I would eat at an aid station and then leave I started to feel good.  But then my body would burn off what I ate and I'd start to feel bad again.  It was the beginning of a never-ending cycle.

There were several other runners at this aid station with us and most of us headed out at the same time on our journey up the service roads.

Aid Station 12 arrival:  2:30pm  (20h30m elapsed)

Section 13:  Miles 72 - 80.4

The service roads were easy moving.  We walked a lot as it was mostly uphill but ran some of the flat-ish sections.  We caught up with the two girls we encountered coming down the long mountain section in to North River Gap.  Regis struck up a conversation with them while I took a nature break.  I took my time catching back up with them.

For as far as I had gone, I honestly didn't think I felt that bad at this point of the race.  I think my body had just become accustomed to feeling terrible for so long that it was just second nature.  If I could run, I felt ok.  When I stopped to walk, it was hard to start back running again.   I guess it was the law of an object in motion wants to stay in motion and vice versa.  So my mentality became keep running as long as you can without stopping.  Of course the terrain dictated when I had to stop and walk.  Regis and I both were in this mode it seemed.  We would run a section and let out sighs of relief when we would start walking.

Once we reached the top of this section, it was time to head down again.  It was getting toward evening and soon we would be hitting the 24 hour mark.  The downhill section was gradual, runnable single track which would have been awesome on any other day.  Not this day.  It seemed like it went on forever.  Running wasn't that big of a problem, but at times I was ready for a change in terrain.  It didn't happen though.  We just kept going, and going, and going.  Finally though, we came into the Dowell's Draft aid station 80 miles in to the race.

When I got to the aid station, Jeremy and his wife were there to greet me once again.  They offered chair which I gladly accepted.  I had another Ensure and a little solid food but nothing was appetizing at all.  I was so over food.  Jeremy was so nice, getting whatever I needed.  Sniper was there talking with Regis as well.  It was like we both had our own temporary crew.

A little after 4pm and we knew that it would be getting dark on us in the next section.  I had extra clothes with me if needed and soon enough, we headed on our way.

Aid Station 13 arrival:  4:15pm  (22h15m elapsed)

Section 14:  Miles 80.4 - 87.8

Leaving Dowell's Draft I felt ok.  I knew we had a long climb but had seen it before at the training run.  This was the last section of our training run and it ended at Dry Branch Gap which is where we finished our trail work coming down from Elliott's knob.

The climb was long.  I think I mentioned that already.  But I thought it would never be over.  I remembered at the training run that it was a tough climb, but a good one.  I enjoyed it.  It was like a really long escalator.  You just kept going up and up and the views were great.  A few switchbacks I think, but overall didn't seem that bad.  This time around it was.  The higher we got, the more the wind howled.  The sun was slowly inching closer and closer behind the other mountains in the distance.  It was going to start getting cold soon.  Cold never really bothers me running though so I don't know why I kept worrying about the second night getting down below freezing.  I actually prefer cold running over hot running.  Not sure what was different about this race though.

There were times Regis and I would be climbing and I was on the verge of the death march.  I knew I was going slow but I just couldn't muster up the energy to pick up the pace.  Regis would stop and wait and I would apologize only to be told not to, as he just wanted to stop and take a break as well.  The climbs were equally taking a toll on him.

After climbing for somewhere around 4 miles, we finally reached the top and started our descent.  Such a sucky thing.  Can't hardly hike up the mountain and when you reach the top and start going down, it hurts almost too much to run.  You have to get over it though.

Some parts of this descent were really steep which put running out of the question unless I wanted to risk rolling down the mountain.  I could sense we were getting close though.  The sun was gone and dusk was fading fast.  I turned on my headlamp although it was that twilight time of night were you have no advantage from the sun and a headlamp doesn't really do much for lighting up the trail.  I encountered another person who said we were close to the aid station.  I hate it when that happens.  "Close" to one person means something completely different for another, especially when you've been out there for over 24 hours.  Even if it's only a mile, at this point in the game, a mile seems like such a long way.

Nevertheless, I soon heard the commotion of the Dry Branch Gap aid station.  It was pretty much dark at this point.  The aid station was crowded compared to the previous ones we came in to.  I loitered for a bit.  Again, nothing looked good.  I think I ate a couple of fun size candy bars but nothing too heavy.  I looked around for Regis but didn't see him.  I began to wonder.  Did he leave already?  Was he in the woods taking a nature break?  We had stayed together this whole time, I would be surprised if he had left without me.  But I couldn't stand around much longer.  Not moving was making me cold.  I had to get out of there.

Aid Station 14 arrival:  7:20pm  (25h20m elapsed)

Section 15:  Miles 87.8 - 96.7

This was it.  The last climb.  I had finally made it.  Only ~14 miles to go.  When you think of it like that, you are so close.  But then again you are really a long freaking way from the finish.  But it was just a matter of time.  Just keep moving.

I was on the trail by myself but headlamps were up ahead.  I was hiking with a purpose and at a good pace.  I wanted to catch that group.  I didn't want to be on this last climb alone.  Not so much that I was scared by mainly because I was sleep deprived, and if I fell off the side of the mountain I'd at least want someone nearby to know that it had happened.

 Soon I had caught the group and we were making our way up the trail.  Regis was in the group and I was glad of that.  I didn't want him to be back at the aid station wondering if I had left without him.  The leader of the pack changed hands a few times and I found myself second or third in line.  A group of two or three guys wanted around so I let them go.  I would catch up with them later though.  Eventually I was up front setting the pace.  The wind was gusting at times and I was taking each step with precision as to not make any mistakes.

The trail looked completely different on this night compared to the previous given that the rocks were not wet and slick from rain.  I was on a mission though.  I wanted to get to the end of this trail and hit the gravel road and get to the finish as soon as possible.  I was ready to be done.

Moving right along, I stopped and looked behind me as I had not heard a voice in a while.  Nothing but darkness.  No headlamps.  No other runners.  I was alone at that exact moment.  The wind and dropping temperatures soon reminded me that I couldn't stand there and wait for anyone.  I was sweating on the inside and stopping for any extended period of time caused me to get cold very quickly.  I had to keep going.  I was on my own the rest of the way.

The end of the trail finally arrived.  Those of us who did the trail work on that section in August had wondered just exactly how long that section was.  The question had been answered.  4.2 miles.  I had reached the gravel road we had climbed over 24 hours ago.  This road was steep though.  The wind ensured there were no clouds and the stars were out in full force.  No fog like the night before made me realize that the road was much wider than I previously remembered.  The dense fog from the beginning of the race made me think that the road was about 5 feet wide when it was actually around 15-20 feet.  Steep though.  Man it hurt trying to get down this thing.  I was essentially running at an angle zig-zagging back and forth.  I was also keeping my eyes peeled as I most certainly didn't want to miss the trail that cut to the left that took us to the last aid station.  That would have been a terrible mistake and I would be stuck having to climb back up the road.  A handful of runners had a little more spring in their step and passed me on this section.  One was a guy and his wife or girlfriend pacing him and as I greeted them but but received no response, I realized he was not in a good mood.  I was.  I was almost done!

Luckily I found it with no issue.  Another runner named Nelson had caught up with me and we went through this narrow single track section together.  Mountain laurel surrounded us on both sides which protected us from the wind.  I soon caught up with the angry couple that had passed me minutes before and went around them.  The terrain was runnable again and I moving at a decent pace.  I looked at my watch and realized it was almost 10pm.  I had just over two hours to go about 7 miles and if successful, a sub-30 hour finish was awaiting.  3.5 miles an hour.  That's it.  17 minute miles.  If I can run 17 minute miles for 7 miles, I'll have a sub-30 hour finish.  Sounds easy huh?

I started running and my pace got faster and faster.  I soon passed the three guys who had taken the lead on the last climb only to blaze the trail never to be seen again.  Or so I thought.  I gave them words of encouragement and kept trucking.  My stomach started disagreeing with me though.  I had to slow down and take deep breaths and remind myself that I had time as long as I just kept moving.  But a sense of urgency still lingered in my head.  I arrived at the final aid station with a sense of relief.

There were several volunteers there to greet me.  They had king size Snickers.  On any other day I would have taken three of those.  But I couldn't do it at that moment.  I had a banana and some candy, got my bottle filled half way and said thank you.  The guys I passed earlier were just arriving as I left.  One of the volunteers walked me across the road and directed me which way to go.  The end was near.

Aid Station 15 arrival:  10:15pm  (28h15m elapsed)

Section 16:  Miles 96.7 - 101.85

I had 1 hour and 45 minutes to make it to the finish for sub-30.  It sounded like a lot of time but I did not want to mess around.  It was time to get going.  The first part of the last section wasn't very runnable.  I was walking briskly, keeping my eyes peeled for trail markers.  Occasionally I would see the reflective markers hanging from trees which were awesome.  But most of the markers were the standard pink streamers we had seen the entire race.  They were much harder to see at this point in the night.

I finally got to some terrain on which I could run so I was trying to go as fast as I could.  Granted "fast" was a relative term given the state of my body.  I remember coming to several 'intersections' and there would be five ways to go it seemed.  I had to hunt for the pink streamers which kept slowing me down.  I kept moving though.

I soon came to a stream crossing with big rocks to cross and I this is where things got real weird for a couple of minutes.  My headlamp illuminated some reflective gear up ahead which was not surprising but the movements began to freak me out.  The pattern of reflective material was like a big circle with two lines coming off the top left and right.  Sort of like the top of a stick figure person with a round head.  But it was moving back and forth, almost like it was swaying it's arms.  I stood there wondering what in the world was going on.  Here I was in the woods in the middle of the night, have been up for around 40 hours, and I thought I was losing it.  The object, whatever it was, did not come closer nor did it seem to be moving forward.  I knew I was close to the boy scout camp so I began wondering if some kids were out here playing tricks on hallucinating ultrarunners.  I called out for it and said "hello?"  No answer.  I started moving forward cautiously.  I soon got close enough to realize what it was.

Another runner was trying to cross an old creek bed that had a lot of big rocks in it and each step was made carefully which caused him to rock back and forth to the left and right.  Relieved that I wasn't being pranked, I caught up with him and we began to talk about how our race was going.  I didn't want to chit-chat too much so once we crossed the creek bed, I started running, knowing that I was so close to the finish and the clock was drawing closer to midnight.  He ran with me but a little behind me.

We both kept our eyes peeled for the markers which seemed to be harder and harder to find.  We found them though, and kept moving.  Covering ground, step after step, this section was taking forever.  I thought for sure we should be coming up on the lake which we ran around to start the race. Oh how I couldn't wait to see that lake.  Another runner was stopped in the trail up ahead and as I came upon him, I asked what was wrong, and if we had missed a turn.  He said he felt like he was backtracking.  Come to think of it, the back and forth movement the trail markers took us on the last little way made me feel like that too.  Were we just running in circles?  Where was the lake?!?

I thought surely we hadn't backtracked.  I ran ahead but didn't make it far before I began second guessing myself.  I stopped, pulled off my pack and got my phone.  I was hoping Google maps would tell me how close we were to the lake.  By now the reflector guy had caught up with us and we were all trying to get to the finish.  Once the map loaded, I noticed were were on the right track but hadn't gone far enough.  I pointed us in the right direction and we all took off.  Things began looking familiar.  And then the lake came in to view.  Oh, I was so happy to see the lake.  A quick glance at my watch and my sub-30 hour dream was about to come true.

As we ran alongside the lake, the campground lights in sight, I feeling of relief came over me.  I couldn't believe I was about to finish in the time I was finishing.  I had come into this race just wanting to cross the finish line in the 38 hour time limit.  Beating my time from Massanutten was my secondary goal but not only was I about to achieve that, I was going to crush it by over 150 minutes.

I reached the gravel road leading in to the camp and the other two guys took off ahead of me.  I didn't care.  I wasn't about to break out into a sprint so I could finish two places higher.  I let them run ahead and enjoyed my moment of glory running through the finish line chute and greeting Clark, the race director.

FINISH:  11:53pm  (29:53:42 elapsed)

I did it.  I was done.  It was over.  I could relax.  I got my finisher's shirt and buckle, and Clark ordered me to greet the totem pole.  Hug it, kiss it, whatever.  I walked over to it and gave it a big hug and got another person to take my picture.

Hugging the totem pole!
Not five minutes after finishing, my phone rings.  I was stunned that I had service and could get a call.  It was Jon.  He said he was leaving the last aid station.  I was so happy for him.  We both avoided the cold temperatures on top of Elliott's Knob in the middle of the night.

I was getting cold though so I went inside the dining hall.  Sitting down for about the third time in 30 hours felt good.  Soon enough, Jon came in and we traded stories from our journey over some food.  After a couple hours, we headed to the tents to retire for a few hours.

In the morning, a breakfast was served and several of us shared some of our experiences.  Regis finally appeared and turns out I got out ahead and finished about 30 minutes before him.  He said he struggled on the last section.  But we all made it and I was so happy.

Dr. Horton was there handing out Hellgate applications.  Although I had swore off running during the race, I figured I had to finish what I started.

So that's the story.  I managed to move upright in the forward direction feeling miserable for 29 hours, 53 minutes, and 42 seconds.  A new personal best on so many levels.  I can't say I'll never run Grindstone again.  Matter of fact, I probably will.  Maybe not next year, but I'm sure I probably will at some point.  I'm already intrigued to know what it'd be like to run not feeling miserable so early in the race.  Plus I really liked the idea of running through a full night first thing in the race.

The longest race of the Beast Series is now done.  Only two more to go.

Garmin Data:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Race # 38 - Odyssey 40 miler (DNF - 13.5 mi.)

Odyssey 40 miler
7:00 AM
Millboro, VA
DNF - 1 loop (13.5 miles)

The Odyssey 40 miler was supposed to be my last long run before Grindstone.  The race consists of 3 loops 13.5 miles long with about 2,600 ft. of elevation gain on each loop.  Perfect training for Grindstone's course. 

My buddy Jon and I headed out at 3am to drive to the race.  We got there in plenty of time to catch the pre-race briefing and set up our coolers and drop bag at the start line.  Soon enough, 7am rolled around and the race director sent us on our way.

The course starts almost immediately starting up the local mountain.  Semi-technical trail and gentle uphill made it easily runnable to start the race.  The two latter loops would probably require runners to walk this part but I ran to try and stay out of any bottlenecks.  Eventually we're climbing the mountain and something stunk.  Literally.  Smelled like bad BO.  I asked another runner if he thought it stunk and he said yes and there was a paper mill nearby which caused the smell.  Glad I didn't live there!

The first three miles were basically all uphill.  Once we got to the top of the mountain we had to check in with some volunteers that were stationed at a cabin with an amazing view.  The sun was rising and it was a beautiful morning to be running. 

After a quick look at the mountains in the distance, it was time to turn and head back down the other side of the mountain.  It was some really nice downhill running.  A little technical with some loose rocks but I was enjoying it.  Maybe a little too much though.

I decided to practice my downhill running so I let loose and started barreling down the mountain.  Big mistake.  I passed a few guys and rounded a corner and my right foot hit a root or rock or something that just didn't move.  Typical physics, my body stayed in motion while my right leg stopped.  Eventually though that right leg landed and went the other way.  Instant pain.  All I could think about was Willis McGahee's knee injury.  I'm sure mine didn't look like that but that's how it felt.  Basically hyper-extended the crap out of it.

I sat there on the trail in a world of hurt wondering what was next.  I was less than 6 miles into the race and at least 5 miles from the start/finish area.  Only one thing to do:  Get up and keep going.  I started walking to see how bad it was.  Nothing broke, and I didn't think anything was torn, so my thought process became 'let's see how it feels over the next 7 miles on this loop'.  Once I finished the loop I could decide if I would keep going or not.

By mile 9, I knew the answer.  One and done.  I could continue in the race but it most likely would put Grindstone in jeopardy, and that was not an option.  As lame as it would be, I had to drop. 

I made my way down the mountain, walking most of the way.  Runners passing me by asking if I was ok.  I was.  Just my pride was hurt mostly.  I came into the finish line and told the race directors and timers what had happened and that I had to drop to avoid messing up Grindstone.  They understood and my day was done. 

The worst part was having to wait another 6 hours for Jon to finish!  He did great though coming in around 8h30m.  I hung out and watched all the other runners from other races (26.2, 13.1, 6, they had them all!).  One girl gashed open her knee on a rock so I watched the medic put stitches in her leg.  Ended up taking a nap on a bench.  But overall a very unproductive day!  It happens though and made me realize that I need to keep myself under control going down hills and not run as fast as I did.  It was now time to rest up and make sure the knee was ready for Grindstone in four weeks.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Race # 37 - Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50 miler

Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50 miler (with 30 mile option)
6:00 PM
Ellerbe, NC
Time: 5:22:08 (30 mile race)
Place: 3rd out of 34

The Boogie 50 miler had been on my list of races to do for a couple of years.  I had even signed up for it in 2012 but a knee issue made me back out.  I needed something on the calendar in the summer though so I signed up.  It's a road race which goes against my normal racing schedule but I figured I'd try it.  

I drove down to Ellerbe Saturday afternoon and found the race site.  You really feel like you're in the middle of nowhere at this race.  As I neared the race site, something caught my eye on the left side of the road.  When I looked, it was a huge black wild boar.  I had never seen one in person before and thought how wonderful it was going to be running roads where these things roamed in the middle of the night!

Once I got parked and checked in, I got to talking to the guy who parked in front of me.  His name was Scott and he was from Texas and was in NC on business.  Since he had to stay over the weekend he decided to run this race.  

The race consists of five 10-mile loops.  Each loop is a smaller 6-mile loop with a 2-mile out and back which is downhill then uphill.  Seems pretty simple but alas, a loop course would soon get the best of me as it seems to always do.  

Starting at 6pm, we're all giddy and head out to cover the first loop in the day's remaining light.  It's amazing to run for 6 miles and not see a single car, especially since we were running on the road!  We were really in the middle of nowhere.  The 6 mile loop was gentle rolling roads.  There were a couple of hills that would definitely be used for walking later on but we decided to run most of this first loop.  Once we got back to the area our cars were parked, we ran by the start/finish area and began our descent.  It was a long slight downhill that seemed to go on forever.  A good runner could really do some damage on this downhill but I tried to take it easy.  Eventually it levels off and the turnaround is in sight.  Coming back was a different story.  Again, a good runner could run the uphill but given the length of the race, pace was key so walking was inevitable for me.

I had planned to try and do 2 hour loops which would give me a 10 hour finish.  Definitely achievable but anything can happen.  I completed the first loop in 1 hour 40 minutes.  Probably too fast but it felt comfortable to me.  

I stopped at my car and ate/drank a little bit.  Someone had posted on Facebook not to drink the water and I made that mistake on the first lap so I had to refill with the water I brought.  I headed out for loop 2 and Scott soon caught up with me.  We ran together and talked about where we were from, what we did etc.  He was a nice guy and I enjoyed running alongside him.

The sun began to set and headlamps would be coming on soon enough.  But the moon would also be rising and it was bright and almost 100% full.  Running without the headlamp on was definitely an option and added another cool factor to the race.  After the 2 mile out and back, it was time for another break.  I had finished the second loop in about 1 hour 50 minutes so still ahead of my 2 hour per lap pace I wanted.  But the pavement was taking it's toll.  

I started on loop 3 alone.  I was starting to have doubts.  My feet were hurting.  I was not used to running on roads this much.  I also wore the wrong shoes.  The 2 mile downhill was causing my toes to slam up against the ends of my shoes.  I should have worn a pair half size bigger.  I didn't even bring another pair to change in to!  

I contemplated many things on this third loop.  Did I really want to be out there for another five hours?  Would doing two more loops do more harm than good to my feet?  The doubts had crept in and made themselves at home.  I crossed the timing line for the third time and headed to the car to sit and think.  I had covered 30 miles in 5 hours and 22 minutes.  I decided to call it a day and head home.  

I hated dropping.  I walked up and told the race director I was dropping and he said I wasn't dropping but instead just finishing my race as a 30 mile runner.  The Boogie has always been a 50 mile race but this year they added the 30 mile option for which runners could receive credit.  When I told the race director I was dropping, he handed me the finishers award for the 30 mile race and said thanks for coming!  It was some nice hand-crafted pottery.  Engraved on the bottom it said "A little Boogie is better than no Boogie at all."   I took that to heart.  Although I didn't run the full 50, it was a good training run.

The worst part about it was the shoes I wore.  As mentioned, I should have worn some that were a half size larger but I didn't.  My big toes ended up being bruised and the one on my right foot was majorly bruised.  Over the course of the next few weeks, it turned darker and darker.  Here it is October and it still doesn't look right.  I'll have memories of this Boogie race all the way into 2015!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Race # 36 - Promise Land 50k++

Promise Land 50k++
Race #3 of the 2014 Beast Series
5:30 AM
Bedford, VA
Time: 6:36:59
Place: 103 out of 334 finishers

Disclaimer:  Writing this three months after the race, I've forgotten a lot of it.  

The third race of the 2014 Beast Series was the Promise Land 50k.  I had heard great things about this race and was looking forward to completing the next step in this year's Beast Series.  With a start time of 5:30am, it was best to head up the day before and camp out which adds to the awesome race experience.  Jon and I headed up that afternoon and got settled in with our tents before going to chow down on some pizza and a ton of junk food desserts.  It was ridiculous how many sweets we had at this place.  The pre-race briefing was the standard Dr. Horton heckling quite a few and lecturing all of us not to be stupid the next day and miss certain turns etc.  As darkness fell though, it was time to turn in so we were ready for the next day's race.

I slept about as well as I could in a tent in a field with a few hundred other people and of course awoke before my alarm was even set to go off.  Still a bit chilly outside, I stayed in the tent as long as possible before lining up with everyone else.  Soon though we had the national anthem and were sent on our way as it just started getting light.  I decided to go without headlamp since the first few miles were on a gravel road.  I figured there would be enough light from everyone else's headlamp around me.  After reaching the end of the gravel road part, we headed up our first trail.  The first five miles were all uphill.  Once we reached the top of the first mountain we began descending which was nice for a change.  

We crossed over the Blue Ridge Parkway and hit some nice trails that were semi-technical.  I enjoyed that part.  After a little down, it was time to head back up again before reaching the highest point of the course.  The next eight miles were mostly downhill and I ran a decent pace on this section.  Then came a long section through the woods that seemed like grassy roads.  I ran this with a friend and we kept leap frogging each other.  I would walk the ups and she would run the ups and pass me.  I would pass her on the downs.  

Soon enough I hit the trail that lead to the finish.  I felt great so decided to run.  I passed several people and started looking at my watch.  I didn't know exactly how long the race was but I knew I would be flirting with 6 hours 30 minutes to finish.  So I ran as fast as I felt comfortable without blowing things up to where I would be hurting the next day.  After a couple of miles though I knew I wasn't going to beat 6:30 and the gravel road was starting to hurt so I took it easy and just made sure no one passed me on the way in.  I finished in 6:36:59 and enjoyed a wonderful post-race meal watching the other runners come in on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Some pics from the run:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Race # 35 - Pilot Mountain Payback Trail Marathon

Pilot Mountain Payback Trail Marathon
9:00 AM
Pinnacle, NC
Time: 4:48:40
Place: 14th out of 42 finishers

The Pilot Mountain Payback marathon is one of my favorite races.  It was my first marathon back in 2011.  I train on the course most weekends.  It's local so my family is able to come watch.  It's just a great race.  Usually held in February, it was postponed this year due to the 18 inches of snow we received just days before the race.  While the snow made for a brutal Holiday Lake 50k, it allowed me to pencil in PMPB after not thinking I would be able to race it this year.

When held in February, the race begins at 9am given sunrise time, etc.  When I registered for the race, I'm almost certain the website stated the race began at 8am, which made sense given that A) sunrise is much earlier in April than in February and B) generally speaking it's warmer in the spring than the winter.  The night before the race I even checked the website and there was a clock counting down to 8am Saturday morning.  But it also said the race began at 9am.  I didn't know what to believe.

Nevertheless, Jon and I showed up around 7:15 that morning ready to run.  We were the first runners there.  A couple of guys from the timing company had just started unpacking and I asked what time the race started.  One of them said 9:00.  I said, "You know the website has a countdown to 8am, right?"  To which he replied, "Not my job, buddy."  I guess he woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  The race was under new management this year, and immediately I was not impressed.

With over 90 minutes to spare before the start, and since Jon and I had decided not to race, but instead just treat this as a long training run, we headed out for a warmup.  I showed him some trails he had never ran before and ended up doing a nice 3.6 miles before the race start.  We spent the last few minutes before race talking to a few friends and soon we headed off.

The first of many creek crossings comes within 100 ft. of the start line.  You can't avoid getting wet in this race.  A long uphill gravel road after that and while a lot of people were running up, Jon and I decided to walk.  After running this parts of this course almost every weekend, and this being my fourth year running the race, I know it like the back of my hand.  I know that pace is key.  If you start out too fast, the second half of the race will chew you up and spit you out and you'll end up doing the death march to the finish.  So we walked.  Once we got to the top of the road, the former race director was there to point us to the trail.  We said hello and hit a nice mix of single/double track trail.  Down the hill and back to the road that leads in to the park, we have to cross two more creek crossings.  You can avoid getting wet hear but what's the point?

Outside the first section, we cross a road and hit the Corridor Trail which is a 6.15 mile one way trail that is a constant up and down.  There are few flat sections so you're either going up or running down.  It's a nice section consisting of mostly double track and wider trails, a lot of the time used by horses.  Luckily the horses stayed home for the race as I did not encounter any.  Jon and I ran this section at a comfortable pace while talking amongst ourselves and other runners.

As we near the end of the section, the leaders of the half marathon pass us in the opposite direction.  We cheer and congratulate each runner as they pass by and we concluded the Corridor section with a stop at the aid station.  Half marathon runners turn around here and head back to the start/finish line but full marathon runners cross another road and head up the mountain trail to the summit of Pilot Mountain.  Jon and I are fortunate that we train on this course and given that this was my fourth running of the race, I knew where to go.  Others weren't so lucky.  

Jon and I headed up the mountain trail.  I love this trail.  It's about 2.35 miles one way and a lot of rocky sections.  It helped me prepare for MMT100 as it was the closest thing I could get to the rocky terrain of that course.  We ran the downs and walked the ups.  The day was heating up but it was breezy so tolerable.  Soon we reached the end of the trail which gives you the option to go to the left or right.  Course goes to the left but some people, whom we encountered later, went to the right.  Another blunder.  Regardless, we press on.  As we near another fork in the trail, the previous race director was there to greet us.  We talked for a minute and then continued to the summit.

As we near the top, I could see the school where Summer teaches.  Unfortunately, too many snow days forced them to have Saturday school and it just so happened to be on the day of this race, at which she loves to come be a spectator.  I waved and kept climbing.  

Soon we reached the top and there were my parents and Summer's parents and sweet little Gemma.  She was too busy playing in the dirt to realize I was there.  Expecting me sooner, my mom asked me why I was so slow to arrive.  I told her I was there to run instead of race and that Jon and I were staying together for the day.  We talked for a few minutes but then headed toward the knob.  

The trail that goes around the knob can be ran in any direction.  But I believe in a race, everyone should go the same way.  That was not the case today as the volunteer said we could go either way.  As we finished the loop around the knob, another runner was running toward us and slowed down thinking he was going the wrong way.  We told him they said we could go either way but again, this makes things confusing for runners.  

The next section runs along the west side of the mountain.  The terrain is tough with a lot of steps made out of rocks.  This is also where rock climbers hang out as there are a few sections worth climbing.  This section also intersects where the Mountain trail ends.  Here we encountered other runners who were going the opposite direction as us.  The volunteer who was standing at this intersection said they made a wrong turn.  I wasn't quite clear on what that meant but as we passed the former race director again, he explained to us that those people had taken a right instead of a left at the halfway point and not gone up the mountain trail.  Total mind blow as this could have easily been avoided with a simple sign directing the runners to the Mountain trail.  

Jon and I press on though and head down the Grindstone trail.  It's about a mile downhill, semi-steep in one part.  The end of the downhill puts you right at the campground and some nice single track trail the leads to the visitor's center.  I always enjoy running this section because it is twisty and curvy, up and down.  The Grindstone trail ends and the Grassy Ridge trail begins and more of the same, nice trails that take you to the park perimeter.  Some gravel road trail and some double track and soon we're back at the half marathon turnaround aid station.  We didn't stay for long here and headed back onto the Corridor Trail that takes you to the finish.

It was beginning to warm up as we headed down this section.  Another runner, Mark, had joined Jon and I.  We talked for quite a while as Jon ran behind us.  It seemed as though the heat was getting to him or something.  Eventually he told us to continue ahead so we did.  Soon enough Mark had to stop as well and I kept going.  I was feeling good.  I picked up the pace a little and started looking at my watch.  I had said I wanted to run under 5 hours, which was still achievable.  Although I wasn't there to 'race', I still had that mentality as I drew closer to the finish.  I didn't want to be passed.  So I kept picking up the pace which was tough because temps had risen into the 80's by this point.

I came to the end of the Corridor trail and crossed the road and hit the trail into Yadkin Island Park.  Only a mile or so to the finish.  Crossing one creek, I come out on the gravel road entrance and see another friend already in his car leaving.  I stopped to say congratulations and he informed me he finished in 3rd place.  An amazing job since I believe it was his first race of this distance.  

Two more creek crossings, the second of which was almost knee high (which felt really good), and the finish line was in sight.  No one to pass.  No one to pass me.  I cruised in with a time of 4h48m40s.  Good enough for 14th place out of 42 finishers.  Jon came in about 13 minutes later.  It was a good run for us but obviously could have been handled better by race management.  There was nothing left to snack on at the end either so we quickly departed for home.  Satisfied with the day, we had covered almost 28 miles with about 4,500 ft. of elevation gain, which proved to be a good long run before Promise Land 50k++.