Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mountain Masochist 50 mile race report

This past weekend I flew to Lynchburg Virginia to run the Mountain Masochist 50 miler. I chose this race because it is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup and top 2 males/females get an automatic entry into Western States 100 miler, June 2010. That was the goal!

Tamsin Anstey, Gary Robbins and I drove down to Seattle at 5:30am on Thursday morning. We got there pretty early as to avoid Seattle traffic. We filled the time however, playing a tedious little game my dad taught me when I was 7 years old. It's called 'the box game' and I won! Before we knew it we were on a flight to Atlanta and not too long after that we hopped on another plane to Virginia. We arrived in Virginia at 10:00pm, and were greeted by the race director himself, Clark Zealand.

(Left: Old RD David Horton, Right: New RD Clark Zealand)

We adjusted our clocks 3 hours ahead, which made it 7pm our time (i.e dinner time). I would normally be carbo loading this night with a big plate of pasta but it was to late and nothing was open but a grocery store. It took me forever to figure out what was going to do the trick. I had even thought about buying a microwaveable pasta but just couldn't bring myself to do it. What I came up with was some granola and yogurt and a couple rice cakes with peanut butter and banana. Sad I know. We did manage to eat some baked potato from Wendy's in the Atlanta Airport! It was soon time for bed, although I had a difficult time falling asleep because of the time change.

I woke up Friday morning feeling awful. My throat was sore and I had a pretty bad cough. I thought for sure going into this trip that I was starting to really feel better and was confident my cold symptoms would be gone by race day. I tried to drink a ton of liquids and downed some Ricola throat lozenges, which seemed to help. Peter was very kind and sweet and put me up in my own room (he wasn't there). I guess he didn't realize it when he booked the room online but he chose a smoking room (all they had available at the time). In fact, I think the entire floor was a smoking floor because it reaked when I went up there. I walked into the room thinking perhaps it would smell better than the hallway but it was worse. They obviously tried to mask the smell with cleaning spray and the mix of that and smoke was horrible. Anywho, the lovely lady at the front desk switched my room and I was good to go. I just can't beleive they still allow smoking in hotel rooms!

The 3 of us went for a little 'get the legs moving again' run. I quickly realized I wasn't breathing all that well and my throat hurt to inhale. I wasn't really maintaining pace with Gary and Tamsin and decided to run back to the hotel, while they kept going.

The Hotel was starting to fill up with runners. Package pick-up and the pre-race pasta party/pre-race briefing was going on at the Kirkley Hotel that evening. It was great to meet some new faces as well as the famous David Horton. I could write an entire blog on David alone.

(David Horton speaking at the banquet)

What a character! His energy is amazing and I was blown away by his presence. The 3 of us opted out of the pasta dinner and made our own from items we bought at the grocery store. I normally have chicken breast, potatoes and broccoli. The best we could do was by organic canned chicken (like tuna), a microwaved potato (came in plastic which was supposed to be left on to steam it) and raw broccoli, which we microwaved in water. All in all, a decent meal. The banquet was filled with good energy. Geoff Roes came and sat at our table. He is a super nice guy and I must have asked him a million questions. He has broken many course records this year (Wasatch 100, The Bear 100, and a couple others) and was going for the CR at this race, which was previously set by Dave Mackey (6:48). It was going to be tight with all the fast guys who came out to compete (Gary Robbins, Lon Freeman, Valmir Nunes). Valmir holds the world record for the 100km (6:15) and broke the Badwater 135 mile CR! It was going to be a good show down.

I left the banquet a bit early and hit the hay around 9pm.

I woke up at 2:45am and started to get ready. Ate, changed, and packed up again. I was waffling between using my camelbak (which I always use) and a hand held water bottle. There were going to be 16 aid stations. It was either go fast and light and stop more often or go with what I always use and skip most of the aid stations. Although it is heavier, the camelbak allows me to keep my hands free. I also don't have to stop as much and it holds all of my fuel. The one downside is that there are no outer pockets, therefore I need to take my bag off to get something out of it. To solve this problem however, I had pockets sewn onto my shorts, where I stashed my gels and salt pill container.

For some reason, I wasn't nervous. For this race, I found I was more excited to just go do what I came to do. In my mind, Tamsin and I were going to be dooking it out with Justine Morrison, who was last years winner. I didn't care to beat Tamsin. For all I cared, she could have won (which she did), I could have won, or ideally we could have crossed the line together.

There were 5 buses that shuttles us to the start. It was dark and cold but those buses kept us very warm.

(the Jiffy John line up. You don't see this at many ultra's. The ironic thing is that there was forest in every direction and Horton was telling everyone to hit the bushes!)

The 3 of us went for a warm-up run 30 minutes before the start. Being warm made the start of the race a bit more manageable. Tamsin, Gary and I lined up near the front. I slowly inched my way back as I didn't want to get caught up in the lead men's pace. I scanned around for Justine to see where she was but it was really dark and without knowing what she looked like, it was challenging. Gary met her last year but he couldn't find her in the crowd either.

(The start line at 5:30am)

With a 5,4,3,2,1, countdown from Clark, we were off. Tamsin and I ran together and kept a comfortable pace. A really nice local girl named Heather and another guy kept close behind us. The first section is an out and back along a concrete road. I scanned the runners coming back to see if there were any other women in the pack, but there were not. This meant Tamsin and I were leading the woman's race. Just after an hour had passed Heather says to me, "I wonder how far ahead Justine is? She usually starts out really fast". I told her I never saw her at the start and that I didn't see any other women in front of us on the out and back section (It wasn't until Aid Station 4, that someone told us we were in 1st and 2nd place. Heather and I went back and forth a few times in the first hour. She passed me on the first few small climbs. It didn't take long for me to realize I was a much better down hill runner and I took advantage of that to put a lead on her early in the race.

Tamsin and I ran together for the first 3 hours. I was feeling good in terms of my body but knew I was sucking wind a bit in my chest. I was coughing quite a bit at one point and Tamsin asked how my throat was feeling. It was the last thing I was trying to think about so I gave her a pretty short answer, and said, "it is what it is". We got separated when I had to take my second 'potty stop'. She didn't get to far ahead of me and she came into the halfway aid station only 3 minutes ahead.

(The beautiful Blueridge moutains)

Those 2 'P-stops' early on started to suck my energy. I could feel myself starting to fade. I have always dealt with the same issues and haven't found a solution to it yet. Sorry to get personal here people but it's frustrating when you are constantly trying to replace the calories that are coming out the other end. It's also dehydrating. As much as gels work for me and provide me with energy, I think they might also do the opposite at times. It seems after 5 gels or so I need to make a pit stop. Anywho, I have learned to deal with it and be as efficient as possible with my stops. I will work on finding a solution for next season.

I am not to sure what happened to me after the half-way mark but I just started to feel horrible. My legs were ok, a bit sore, but not bad. I had ran everything up until that point and came into the halfway 20 minutes before I thought I would. I gradually started to feel really nauseous and I lost the ability to take in food. Normally I can stomach gels up until the last hour or so of the race but today I was 4.5 hours from the finish when that happened. I ran/walked up to the loop aid station.

I was running around a guy wearing an Orange shirt. I told him how I felt and he said, "there is a lot more challenging terrain up ahead. You are a good downhill runner, take advantage of that, and keep moving". I came up to the only section of single track on the entire course. Both Peter and Gary said this was the place where Tamsin and I should really start to lay it down because this is our kind of terrain. I came into this section in the most negative head space. I couldn't eat and I had lost the energy to run. I thought for sure I was done and all I wanted to do was drop. I was however, still in 2nd, and that drove me to keep moving.

This was the one time I pulled upon my DNF at Miwok. I knew that DNF would come in handy at some point! I thought back to that day and how I felt after I dropped. I did not want to give up. I thought, as long as I was still in 2nd, even if I had to walk, there was no reason to drop. I thought about how mad I'd be if I dropped and later found out that the next women would have come in hours behind. So I walked all the hills and some flats and ran all the downhills. The loop actually went by so fast and I still came out 10 minutes before the split on my arm said I would! That lifted my spirit a bit. Even though I walked the majority of that 5 mile loop, no one passed me. I kept looking over my shoulder wondering when all the people were going to come, and no one did! So, I changed my game plan. I knew it wasn't my day so I was going to do what I needed to do to get it done. I came out of that loop with 12 miles to go and I remember thinking, ok, I can do 12 miles.

I just want to mention how enjoyable it was to have 16 aid stations. Each one had a sign saying what aid station it was and how far to the next. It was rare for aid stations to be separated by more than 3 miles. I found it uplifting to think to myself 'alright, only another 2.5 miles to the next, and 1.9 miles to the next. Those aid stations broke the race down into tiny little increments and gave me something to focus on.

The trouble came when I started dry heaving! This started somewhere around the6.5- 7 hour mark. What was happening (I think) is that my throat was so dry/sore that my salt pills were almost getting stuck there. Every time I had one, I never fully thought it was going all the way down. Anywho, I started dry heaving. I must have pulled over 6-7 times to do so. 4 of those times I hacked up a little something plastic in my mouth. But, every time it happened, I felt 100 times better. It was the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me in a race. So now, not only was I not eating anything, I couldn't take it any electrolytes. I did not eat a single thing for the last 3 hours.

Knowing this was how my day was going to be, I needed a plan. If I can't eat, what can I consume for energy? The answer: COKE!!!! I got to aid station 14 and asked them if they had a bottle I could put coke in. A lovely man went to his car, got me a plastic water bottle, and I filled it to the brim. This drink became my savior and took me into the final miles of the race.

All the guys around me were power hiking the hills and I had no hesitation in following suit. I could run downhill just fine, flats were a slog, and uphills were a hike. I had no problem hiking. No other women were in sight so I just kept moving. I got to aid station 15 and there were a whopping 4 miles to the last aid station. This section was nice and undulating and I found a steadier rhythm here. I had somehow come out of my negative head space and the closer I got to the finish the more excited I got. I was just so damn happy that I had beat the mental beast! I knew that there were only 3 miles of downhill to go once I reached aid station 16, and that was my focus. If I could hold off Heather until then, I had this in the bag.

In the last 3 miles I was starting to get pretty tight and felt a calf cramp coming on. I didn't want to risk taking a salt pill and continue this saga of dry heaving but I also didn't want to cramp and have to stop running. I decided to take the pill. Boy did I suffer for that one. The dry heaving started all over and again it didn't stop until I dislodged this little piece of plastic. I was literally sticking my finger down my throat to initiate the gag reflex to get that thing out sooner, allowing me to carry on with the race.

Those last 3 miles seemed like forever. The terrain consisted of runnable switchbacks that weren't that steep. I still had to put forth a lot of energy to get down the hill. I just kept moving and eventually the terrain got steeper. Yippy!!! The trail popped out onto a road and then I noticed something on the ground. It said '1 mile to go' in pink spray paint. I was so excited. I was so happy for this day to be coming to a close.

It got super hot and I had tied my shirt up like we used to do in elementary school. I must have been delirious because I started playing around with my hat. I thought it might be interesting to tilt it sideways to have a more comical effect when I crossed the line. Then I changed my mind and had it backwards only to change my mind one more time and went back to the sideways look. I wish someone could have been filming me during this time, it would have looked very odd. Nonetheless, that decision making process made the last mile go by pretty damn quick and there it was...the mighty finish line!!!! I crossed the finish line in 8:39:55 and posed with flexed arms with a sideways cap and my shirt tied up to the side.

Gary came over and gave me a giant hug and told me how the guys race turned out and how tamsin finished up. I found myself in a state of Blah. I felt no emotion. As happy as I was inside to be done, I felt pretty beat up both physically and mentally.

In the end, I am happy I went and experienced another character builder. It just proves to me how tough we are as human beings. You can be in such discomfort and mentally torn but the body just keeps moving.

Big shout out to Tamsin Anstey who finished in a time of 8:09, which is the 5th fastest time ever. What a great finish to an awesome season for you! Congrats to Gary Robbins for taking over 20 minutes of his previous best time at MMTR50. He wanted to break 7 hours and he ended up finishing in 7:00:28 (pretty damn close).

To finish off the night, there was a post race banquet dinner back at our hotel. They gave out many awards and it was nice to exchange and share stories. We went to bed shortly thereafter. We had to be up at 4:15am because we had to catch a flight at 6am the next morning. Traveling is hard the very next day after a race. Holy crap am I sore. Tamsin can hardly walk. All I had to say to her was, "welcome to the wonderful world of ultrarunning". Thank god for handles in washroom stalls that allow you to brace yourself so you can sit down slowly!

(7 of the top 10 women)

(The Canadian Contingency)


- Brooks Cascadia trail shoe

- Brooks epiphany short (which I added pockets to)

- GU Just Plain

- Thermolytes, electrolyte replacement

Alright, that brings the season to a close. It has been great and I learned a lot this year. I had my first DNF (miwok at 80km) and my first injury (broke my cuboid bone). I also had a lot of good races that I am very proud of. As much as I am looking forward to the break, it wont be long before I am back out on the trails.



aka Moogy said...

Awesome job Nicola on pulling thru to the finish. Thanx for sharing in the details as we learn so much thru the lows and the highs. That entry into WS must be sweet. Hope to see you and Tamsin there, or at least at Fat Dog.

garobbins said...

Awesome trip! Congrats again Gilder!!


Wow! you did all that while sick! you have amazing drive. Congrats to you and your impressive finish. Love the finish line photo-too funny!

Darin said...

Hey Nicola great job you must be wicked happy to achieve the goal. Now you can kick back and relax until June, sweet!
On a side note the world record holder for the 100k is Takahiro Sunada at Lake Saroma in a time of 6:13:33. Recover well!!

Information said...

Hi Nicola! YAY FOR YOU!!
Fan-frickin'-tastic, you got a little reward for toughing it out, helloooo Western States! Fun that y'all got to represent with G.R and Tamsin. Nice work superstar.

Leslie said...

Ooops! I shouldn't browse blogs at work. "information" = Me. Leslie. Congrats, again!