Oh, how I love this race.
Maybe its the time of year…reliably brisk, colorful leaves…with a hint of nasty weather lurking.
Maybe its the trails…rolling, climbing, twisty. A delicious mix of gentle grades, gnarly climbs, and some technical single track to shake it up.
Maybe its the finish in Montebello…a quiet mountain village that I know so well.
Mostly its the people. Gathered together Friday night, all day Saturday, and into Sunday morning. The culmination of a summer’s worth of training, final race in the Lynchburg Ultra Series, a motley tribe that returns every year in the strange ritual of ultra running gluttony.
When I ran MMTR last year I knew I’d be back. And even though I suffered better in 2014, I know that next November 7th, you’ll find me, once again, running towards Montebello.
So, a couple of things made this Masochist a different race for me. First, it was to be run the day after Halloween. Now, October 31 is kind of a big deal in our Neighborhood. The kids get off the bus and hurry to their costumes. Around 4pm, they migrate to the Neighborhood party, where there is music, food, games, and mayhem…the parents enjoy and early happy hour, the children get a head start on their sugar rush. Jimmy’s in charge of the hay wagon rides. As the sun sets, the set off in pack to loot the candy bowls. Totally awesome.
But hanging out, drinking beer, chasing kids, and staying up late was not in the cards for me this year. With a wistful sigh I helped transform my three daughters into Cleopatra, a Raccoon, and Cinderella. We took some picture and with a heavy heart and guilty conscious I headed out of town.
Arriving in Lynchburg, I picked up fellow Dirty Moms Martha and Jenny and we went to packet pickup. Its always fun to check in and catch up with runner friends, and tonight was no exception.
Sophie even brought cupcakes for we lucky ones that have MMTR birthdays.
We went back to the hotel and tried to fall asleep early. But for some reason, I tossed and turned all night. I wasn’t nervous – I actually felt pretty recovered going into the day. But that was the second reason MMTR was different this year. I knew, even if I felt OK, I was still in Grindstone recovery. I had no idea if my reserves would lend the strength to run 50 miles well, or if I would lose steam and suffer on the back half (my one long run illustrated this point nicely….a 20 mile out and back along Dick Woods Rd. The first 9 miles were easy and effortless…the return trip was almost a death march…I had no oomph left).
Anyway, I decided to just take the day as it came. I had secret hopes of being able to start fast and make up time in the first half (last year I hit Long Mountain around 4:45, but ran very conservatively. I thought if I pushed the pace I could do it in 4:30). The weather was tricky, with a forecast of rain, drizzle, sleet, or snow (depending on which source you trusted). I started with my Marmot Precip (too hot), but took it off after the first mile. I also made the game-time decision to run in tights. As I never felt overheated, I think this was the right call – especially later in the day when it got really cold and windy!
We started right on time, ran around the lake and into the night. I found Sophie and Jeff, who had planned to run together, and jokingly “glommed on”. I really don’t like running with friends during races, preferring to be inward and introspective and focused, but since my goal was to run smart (and Sophie is the champ of running smart) and enjoy the day, I hung onto their train. I absolutely love running with both of them and the miles began to tick away. We chatted, we laughed, we sang (a bit). It was a steady pace, and I worried that I was running too fast. It felt like more work than last year. So I was surprised when we arrived at Long Mountain in 4:45 – right on schedule. I had hoped that feeling of working hard would have translated to a faster time, but not so.
I took time at Long Mountain to change into trail shoes and restock my fuel. I caught up with Sophie & Jeff and our new friend Chris on the climb up Buck. At the top, mile 30, we finally asked the aid station volunteers about our placement. “You are #11th and #12th place for women”. Sweet. With Sophie a lock for grand-masters, she told me to go “huntin” and try for top 10.
We rolled along towards the Loop, and got some different intel – “you’re actually in 10th and 11th place”. Even better. I tried to figure out who might be in front, and then decided it just didn’t matter. Run smart, Let It Go, and stay in one piece for Hellgate.
I guess I picked up the pace in the loop – I love this section – because before too long I had lost sight of my team. I continued to drink and eat as much as I could. My legs were tired but holding. All that was left was the out and back to the summit of Mt. Pleasant so I could see the runners in front of me. As much as I grumble about this superfluous section, I actually get such a boost from seeing familiar faces and cheering on friends. I did not see Kyle or Nebs, which meant they were having a great day (yay!), and I didn’t expect to see any of my fellow CRUTs – John, Nick, Bethany, Dan or Marc…they should all be far ahead, and thankfully that was the case. But I did see Beth M. and Beth F., running strong as well as Robin and her sister. It would be a fun chase, but I really like them all and would not be sorry to finish behind. Sadly, in the mix was an unhappy Jamie – I really hated to see her suffer but knew she had the grit and guts to pull to the finish no matter what.
Coming out of the loop I had passed Jamie, so I thought I was either in 9th or 10th place. I knew I had to run hard to maintain my position, but my legs were so heavy. I counted down the miles, so ready for the finish line and my warm clothes. It was really cold up top, with sleet and snow and bitter gusting winds. All of a sudden I was thirsty, and I realized how much water I was actually evaporating. (Turns out I was pretty dehydrated- which might have explained the heavy leg feeling for most of the day).
Right before Salt Log Gap I started running with Brian, a friend of Dan’s and Kyle’s. We had a great conversation for a few miles, through the aid station and onto the single track. As we rolled along I caught a glimpse of a girl up ahead. I didn’t know her, but passed her with the knowledge (I thought) that she would still be in the top 10. When I pass someone, I try and make sure its a clean pass – I hate leapfrogging and wasting energy. I ran strong on the ridge top right to the last climb, and she stayed behind me. Ugh. I did not want to waste strength if she was just going to jump back ahead. I stopped for a moment on the climb to pull out some Chomps – I needed the calories – and to regroup. My only chance of pulling away was to use the technical terrain to my advantage. So I pushed the downhills, taking risks that I might not usually take. But the last aid station, she wasn’t in sight. However, I heard the dreaded “You’re in 10th!”.
Shoot. Last year I spent that whole section thinking I was in 9th, only to learn at the finish that I was in 10th. I did NOT want to be first loser this year and so I ran as hard as I could down, down, down the mountain. Did this section get longer?? Did it get flatter?? There seemed to be a let more running this time, but I pushed it as best I could. Finally the “naughty” tree as my girls call it, and the last steep 1/2 mile down to Fish Hatchery Road. 1 mile to go! Brian and I ran and ran to Rt. 56 and the whole way to the finish. Finally done! 9:41. Seven minutes slower than last year, but I feel like I worked a LOT harder for it. 10th female. I’ll take it.
Ah – the finish! Warm clothes and slippers and hot soup. Friends and teammates and Horty and Clark. Families cheering, kids playing. All is right in the world when your day ends in Montebello.
The Crozet Ultrarunning Team crushed it. John – 6th place. Nick – 7th place. #DANton – LUS Masters winner. Marc – 10th finish and PR. Jeff – Huge PR. Bethany – 2nd place female. Sophie – 1st grand-masters. I am so happy for everyone and so very fortunate to be in the company of such amazing runners and genuinely wonderful people.
Next year the race will be my 40th birthday party – a day to celebrate the journey. Can not wait!