Monday, November 7, 2016

Humble Pie

So I "ran" the Mountain Masochist 50 Miler this past weekend. Here's a super-condensed post in bullet form (with a little bit more detail down below)...

(Glad that's over with...)
  • Ooooh! Ahhhh! Pretty Stars! -- Me before the Start at the Lynchburg KOA Campground.
  • I raced it as if I had fresh legs ... my legs were NOT FRESH!
  • "I like those Oiselle arm warmers!" -- Michelle Andersen at Mile 15, acknowledging my impeccable running style.
  • I hit the Reservoir Aid Station at Mile 22 in 3:04. Perfectly paced for a sub-8 hour, Top 10 finish.
  • Then I turned uphill ... and the cramps began.
  • "Got a bit of the Grindstone Hangover?" -- Jack Kurisky, 49, as he passed me at Mile 26.
  • Aliza Lapierre passed me around Mile 28, power-hiking like a champ. I tried to save face by chatting about how we ran around each other for the first half of Western States. ... But I couldn't keep up, so the conversation ended rather quickly.
  • I got up to The Loop Aid Station more than 30 minutes behind schedule. I lost 30 minutes in 11 miles!
  • Brian Rusiecki and the other race leader exited The Loop (Miles 33 to 38) just as I was about to head in. Have you ever felt like your soul was being crushed? Obscenities were muttered. I wanted to throw my water bottle at somebody's face (mostly Brian Rusiecki's stupid, fast face).
  • In The Loop, my muscle cramps settled down a bit, but I still couldn't pick up the pace.
  • 14 men and 3 women passed me between Mile 22 and Mile 38. That's having to hear a half-hearted "Keep it up!" every damn mile for nearly 4 hours.
  • I stopped to work out some muscle cramps for the final time around Mile 46. All told, I spent nearly 30 minutes of my race, across 6 hours of running, trying to work out some of the worst cramps I've ever experienced.
  • I came upon Jack Kurisky with 3 miles to go. I offered to run into the finish with him, but that jerk didn't want to hold me back!
  • "Dude! You got chick'd like four times!" -- John Andersen taunting me from his mountain bike with 2 miles to go.
  • 8:58:10 ... a solid hour behind schedule.
  • That hurt. A lot. My muscles haven't been this sore since I ran R2R2R only 6 months after picking up running.
  • Time to scour the internet for an article that claims running for hours on end with painful muscle cramps is magically positively correlated with VO2max improvements...

The months leading up to MMTR were a struggle. I spent 2 months in Physical Therapy working on hip problems, which were severely limiting my ability to train. Somehow, miraculously, I was able to pull out a strong performance at Grindstone. But I still wasn't out of the woods, so in the four weeks between Grindstone and MMTR, I only put in about 30 miles of running.

In the final hours of Grindstone, I didn't push myself to the limit to protect my hip, and it seemed like my body was recovering quickly as a result. About 10 days out from Masochist, I did a tough workout and followed it up with a damn good 5K time trial the next day. It seemed as if my legs and hip were ready to go! But just to be safe, I took off the entire week before Masochist to make sure my hip was happy.

Despite running over a dozen races in the previous year, I hadn't really pushed myself to the limit and given it my all since Grindstone 2015. So I wanted to give it a go at Masochist and run as if it were an A race that I'd been carefully building up to, instead of a race 4 weeks out from a 100 Miler that I just needed to survive. I knew it was risky. Either my body would hold up and I'd have an incredible day, or I'd crash and burn half-way through and have a disaster of a day.

I pieced together some splits for a 7:50-8:00 finish. That's been good enough in years past for Top 10. More importantly, that's what John Andersen was able to run the previous 2 years. If he can do it, so can I! Nevermind the fact that his times were on fresh legs.

In the first miles of the race I was right on target. My body felt like it was working at 50 Mile Effort, but wasn't drifting into the realm of Marathon Effort or 50K Effort. I settled in just outside of the Top 10 and figured if all went well, I'd work my way up in the later half of the race. For awhile, I ran with or just behind Dan Spearin and Michael Dubova, who went on to finish in the Top 10 in 7:58.

Early on, I noticed that I was dehydrated, so I made a point to refill my water bottle at every aid station and pound the liquids to get back on track. It wasn't affecting my running, but I started to fear that I was running on borrowed time.

By Mile 22 at the Reservoir Aid Station, I was still perfectly on target, at 3:04, and my hydration had improved. Places 9-12 were just ahead, 30 seconds up on me. After a series of runnable smaller climbs, I was excited to tackle the 7 mile, 2500' climb in front of me. I like longer races with killer climbs cuz that means more walking power-hiking. I started my way up and everything quickly turned to crap. My quads and calves started to throw cramps. I stopped for a minute to stretch them out, but when I got back up to run again, it was clear they weren't going away. And just like that, my day was done.

Looking back at my data, I ran the first 22 miles at a heart rate comparable to that of a marathon. While my breathing and my muscles felt like I was running at a 50 Mile Effort, it's painfully clear now that my cardiovascular system wasn't 100% ... cuz, you know, I ran a 100 Miler four weeks ago! So it makes perfect sense that my legs crapped out at this point of the race, 10-20 minutes after I would've finished a road marathon on fresh legs.

Over the next 7 miles, I lost more than 3 minutes per mile from my goal pace. I had crashed and burned ... hard! Half way up the climb, at the Long Mountain Aid Station, I ran into Horton and joked I felt like I was at Mile 75, not 25. His response: Well DUH! Thanks Horton ... inspiring, as always!

When I finally reached The Loop at Mile 33, Michelle Andersen was there to greet me. I did a lot of complaining, but she wasn't having any of it! She practically shoved potatoes down my throat and then tried pushing me on down the trail. All I wanted to do was stand around and wallow.

In The Loop, things improved a little. I was still way off my goal pace, but I wasn't hemorrhaging time as quickly. The views were fantastic and the fall foliage was beautiful, and somewhere in that 5 mile stretch of trail I finally accepted the day for what it was -- a successful attempt at finding my body's limit, followed by a long training run in the woods.

When the dust settled, my first experience with MMTR can be described as this: 22 exciting miles at Marathon Effort followed by 6 hours of cramp-infused jogging. My pace slowed from an 8:20 per mile pace to more than 12 minutes per mile after the cramps set in. Even if you set aside the amount of time I spent trying to stretch out my muscle cramps, I was still averaging nearly 11 minutes per mile. And to put that into some context, that's the same pace I ran all of Western States, and slower than my back-to-back 30 mile training runs before Grindstone which had comparable vertical gain. It was a slogfest to be sure ... but at least I got my snazzy puffy for finishing the Lynchburg Ultra Series (in 3rd Place I might add).

I'd like to say I'll be back next year to give it ago. I mean, honestly, it's downright painful living in a world where old geezers like John Andersen (and Bad Back Spearin) can break 8 hours at Masochist but I can't! But I'm going to keep coming back to Grindstone because that race means so much more to me. And as long as I'm doing that, those 50 miles of trail between Grindstone and Hellgate will always play second fiddle. (Maybe next time I'll just have to do a little bit better job of pacing!)