“Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start”
-Wake Me up, Avicii
A few weeks ago this became my MMTR anthem. Unsure of my training and my health, I wasn’t certain of the race’s outcome. But I knew that in the darkness of the morning, I’d be on that starting line.
The Mountain Masochist Trail Run was my goal race for 2013. But what did that mean?
Did I expect to win? No.
Did I expect a 50 mile PR? Nope.
Did I expect to make the top 10 women? After seeing the entrants list on Tuesday…an emphatic NO!
I describe myself as a B+ runner. I’m strong. I push through. But I’m not a contender. I am sooooo OK with that! I love keeping up with the fast kids on training runs. I enjoy having the cushion that comes from being comfortably in the middle. I’m not well equipped to manage other’s expectations and so I like floating along – right under the radar.
What I wanted was a strong MMTR. One where…
… I didn’t crumble mentally.
… I ran a smart race.
… I stayed on top of the essentials…food, hydration, electrolytes.
… I could take in the experience, hang with my ultra-family, make new friends, and come home refreshed and renewed.
By September, my training was going well. I was logging lots of miles (though not as many long runs or back-to-backs as I’d like).
With the girls in school, I am able to train during the morning and “hide” my workouts. It’s becoming increasingly important that I am home with them in the afternoons and evenings, and I never – EVER – want them to feel like I’m choosing running over family time.
But with the peak in mileage, my immune system took a beating. I ended the month with a bad case of bronchitis/walking pneumonia. October passed in a lethargic haze. Worn out and run down, I decided to focus less on pace and more on staying within my limits. The best I could hope for was a steady run.
I am blessed to have some very strong women in my life who have a ton of experience with Masochist. In the weeks leading up to the race, Martha and Sophie told me what to expect. Martha’s photographic memory painted a picture of the course in my mind. Sophie, always so generous, shared her strategies and advice. A few days before leaving for Lynchburg, I met Bethany for coffee. While she wasn’t running it this year, her enthusiasm was contagious and I finally started to get excited!
When Martha pulled up Friday, I gave the girls hugs and kisses and hopped in the car. With Prissie and Mike joining us, it was a quick trip to Lynchburg. We went straight to packet pick up, where Horton put us to work hauling boxes of t-shirts 🙂 A fun dinner followed…seeing friends and familiar faces, meeting new people, and getting ready for the morning.
Happily (and uncharacteristically), I was not a bundle of nerves. I knew I could manage the distance. I did not have any time goals. I did not expect to be among the top women. I was going to take Sophie’s advice- go out slow, run without my GPS, rely on my body, and enjoy the day.
The race began at 6:30, which required an early wake-up and bus ride to the start line.
It was warm for November, so while I started in a long-sleeve shirt, I was quickly able to strip down to my tank and skirt. I paid no intention to my place in the bunch, and when we started I jogged along with the group. As the line thinned out, I found some space and settled into an easy pace. The trail was rockier than I would have like – a trashy jeep road – and I stepped gingerly over the obstacles- careful not to roll my ankle early in the day. Over the first 10 miles I was uncomfortable….I hadn’t been able to use the bathroom and my stomach was complaining. Catching up to Sophie and Donna as the sun came up I couldn’t quite find my breath…I was running too fast.
The day was beautiful, especially as the sun brightened the fall colors around us.
When the time (and trail) permitted I ducked into the woods to FINALLY answer nature’s call -I ran much more comfortably after that!! I watched Sophie zip off and was worried – if that was her conservative pace, I was outta my league! So I returned to my mantra – steady girl, run within yourself. Enjoy the day.
And I did! With the pressure of “racing” off the table, I bounded along the trail, enjoying a long stretch of running with Brian, trading places and smiles with Donna, overhearing the chatter and conversations of runners around me. I looked around, blown away by the beauty of autumn…
…the light bouncing off the mountains, the reflection of the reservoir, the open fields and wooden fences. The warmth of the day.
I stayed on top of nutrition as well. I don’t like to eat, but I forced myself to take in calories on a schedule. Not since Emma’s newborn days was I that focused on feeding by the clock! It worked – though I tired, I never once bonked.
I wanted to run easy and strong to the “halfway” point – Long Mountain Wayside. I knew there was a long climb up Buck Mountain that I’d be walking. After that, I’d start pushing it (if I could) or walk more (if I had to). When I rolled into the Long Mountain aid station there were two unexpected, friendly faces there to help. Sam and Brad had driven up from Richmond – they helped me get re-stocked and re-shoed and I set off knowing that there were friends on the mountain!!
The climb up Buck was when I knew I was having a good day. I started passing other runners…and not just guys. It was a big boost to know I was running strong relative to other women who had been ahead of me all day. Hiking up the mountain I had a nice conversation with Kevin (about raising chickens, of all things!). We reached the top, ran to the next aid station, and then we were in The Loop.
I knew the first few miles were runnable and I forced myself to cover them quickly, as the terrain would devolve into a rocky mess. It was beautiful in there as I was running along – not a soul in sight. When I got to the turn-off for the out-and-back climb up Mt. Pleasant I saw Nebs running strong, immediately followed by Gaby (looking great!). I shouted out a congratulations to them both and started the climb.
I think half of the field was on that mile section. How funny to run alone for so long and then see how close everyone is to one other.
I had no interest in counting girls, but I did see Sophie right above me. It was great to catch up to her and chat over the next few miles. She told me to go ahead – and she also mentioned that I was now in 9th place. I tried not to hear, but with only 12 miles to go I was now determined to get into that top 10!
I came out of the loop, and started a long climb to the next aid station. Then more climbing and a long single track section. I was chatting with one of the guys when he asked me if I knew there was another girl right behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw her 100 yards back. Thinking a) that she was gaining on me and b) that I would still be in the top-10 if she passed, I almost eased off to let her go ahead. But then, considering that I could still run and that there was another women within view up ahead, I kept my pace steady and pulled away.
I caught up to the next woman and we talked for a moment. At the aid station (the last one, I think?), I noticed her race number and realized this was Sophie’s friend Meredith. I introduced myself, but there wasn’t any time to chit-chat. We both knew that puffy-vests were on the line. Meredith had much happier quads than me, and bounded down the mountain. I rolled on…trying to run as strong as I could, while saving just a bit in case I needed to push it on the final flat section.
Three miles to go….down, down, down. Where – oh where – is that really cool tree that will tell me we’re 1.5 miles from the finish. There it is! OK…down some more…ONE MILE TO GO! Hit the pavement….there is Rt. 56. Left turn, Clyde…stay strong, final curve, finish line in sight….across the line at 9:34. DONE!!!
For weeks I’d focused on this moment – when I could change into sweats, put on my new socks and slippers, find a patch of grass and watch my friends finish the race. I was pretty queasy after crossing the line, and my body decided to empty out all of the gel and liquid sloshing around my stomach. Feeling better, with chili in hand, I sat next to Loretta and Nebs to watch the finish.
Loretta had rolled her ankle and dropped a few hours earlier. It was disappointing after all of her hard work, but she wasn’t the only casualty. Tight cut-off times got a lot of the other RVA runners, who filtered in slowly. But we were there when Brian finished, then Guzzi, Elizabeth and finally MARTHA!! Powering through a recent ankle fracture to come in before the cut-off!
Masochist was a HUGE success for me…I gained a lot of confidence by running my own race and seeing that I had the legs to feel good throughout the day. I ended the day 10th female (oops…not as much cushion as I thought!!) and was truly humbled to be standing in that line with the other nine women – amazing athletes and really great people.
But, more than that, MMTR was just plain fun.
These crazy people have become like my family in so many ways. I can’t wait for next year 🙂