Monday, November 8, 2010

Along For A Masochistic Weekend

This past weekend I had the opportunity to crew for (as they say in the business, which means to support) several of my favorite Charlotte peeps in the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Race. This is one of the oldest and toughest 50 mile races out there, originally spearheaded by the one and only Dr. David Horton.

Based outside of Lynchburg, VA in the George Washington National Forest, MMTR is a point-to-point races that roughly follows the Blue Ridge Parkway north from the James River Visitor Center to Montebello, VA. Thanks to Google Earth you visualize a flyover of the course. Of course, when I saw that all I saw was a golden opportunity extract the KML, convert to GPX, modify a few lines, and upload into a Garmin Oregon 550t.

Firewall installed? Check. MMTR uploaded for the weekend? Check.

This was Betsy's "A" race for 2010 and I was excited to come along and offer support to her along with some of my other favorite Charlotteans Melinda, Ashley, Tom, DC, and Ed! When I ran the New River Trail 50K back in October, they were out of a training run. The concept of running fifty miles is still a bit of a mystery to me, but then again an Ironman seemed out of the question five years ago!

The weather forecast for the weekend was looking somewhat bleak as the big day approached. Temps were dropping quickly, and it seemed like snow and upper 20s might be a reality on Saturday. The adventure began shortly after noon Friday when we gathered and headed north towards Lynchburg. My last visit to Lynchburg was in late April of 2003 for the Angel's Race Sprint Triathlon. Still one of my favorite triathlons to date, I managed to win the Male 25-29 age group. Nevermind I was the only male in that age range, this race had it all - very few races since have found that special place in my heart.

Once checked in to the race hotel (it's where all the cool people were staying), we headed down for the pre-race alcohol, then some pre-race dinner, and a whole lotta pre-race windbagging from Horton. One thoroughly enjoyable part was a presentation by Jennifer Pharr Davis, the current women's record holder for the AT through-hike (57 days). She talked about the experience of through-hiking.

The most delightful surprise of the evening turned out to be right in front of me! Before we left I noticed that Ernest Shackleton's endurance motto was printed on the back of a Hellgate 100K shirt. That's one shirt I'd almost run 62 miles for!

Fortitudine Vincimus "By Endurance We Conquer"

Race day began super early, as before 4AM early. The buses left from the hotel at 5AM. The Charlotte crew rode up on the buses, I drove up separately to the James River Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was dark. It was cold. But thankfully it was not snowing or raining. After parking the car in a location that was surely illegal in all 50 states, I managed to herd most of our runners together for a group shot before the 6:30AM start.

Tom, Ashley, Betsy, Ed, and Melinda. DC was busy shining his head.

Apparently this photo opportunity quickly made its way to the official Flickr photostream. If you find it, you'll see that Melinda was flashing a gang sign. Word. Then the runners gathered on the road and off they went, down the road about 1.5 miles then back. With the first runners coming back shortly after 20 minutes, I had to shudder.

On the route the runners would have support at 14 aid stations. Only half of those would be accessible by what I would call the traveling circus. After the last runner made their way to follow the James River, I fired up the Accord and headed north to the Dancing Creek ("Horton" Mile 11.2) access point. Initially I thought I would be killing hours at a time in waiting, but this was not the case. The most I waited was at this station, or more precisely, in the warm car while it actually became light out. My game of choice on Daedalus (my iPhone 4, named after the father of Icarus - Daedalus wishes that his owner no longer colloquially refer to him as Senor iPhone) has shifted a bit. Historically a HUGE Fuzzle fan, I recently found out that one of my favorite 1980s computer games Archon (a variant of battle chess) was available! Out of the 102 apps on Daedalus, Archon is only one I've paid for.

But I digress. My Unicorn besting a Banshee with his agility was not on show this day. The first accessible aid station was a bit of a walk in, about a half mile. I had missed the lead runner, but did catch the cream of the crop including first female. Every runner came down a hill and had to cross a creek that wasn't exactly very easy to cross. It was very interesting to watch over a 100 runners crossing in their own unique way. Most were successful, a few plowed through the icy goodness, others took their time, a handful spilled over.

Members of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Masochist Pants at the Dancing Creek Aid Station

The first person across the creek that I recognized was Jonathan Savage. Who else on this planet has a beard like that? Based on my calculations, it seemed like I had somehow missed Melinda. Next in line was Betsy, and sure enough down the hill she came.

Betsy coming down the hill, ready to cross

Betsy channeling her inner Cookie Monster?

And she's off again. That's DC up ahead

Photographer channeling Frank Hurley as he snaps shot of Ashley crossing

After getting shots of Tom and Ed, I began the walk back out to the car and quickly made my way to the 14.9 mile Parkway Gate aid station. This was right off the road. Just about everyone was walking up a steep hill to the actual station before refueling and plummeting down the hill.

Like my stylish foreground leaf inclusion? Me too!

The Grand Old Duke of Horton. He had 10,000 men (and women). He marched them up the hill, and he marched them down again. And when you're up you're up, and when you're down you're down, and when you're only halfway up, you're neither at James River Visitor Center or Montebello! (Nuts, that doesn't quite rhyme)

Tom asking for the vintage 2004 Nuun hydration and his crusts cut off the PB&J.

Once again Melinda had eluded me. After witnessing Ed's ascent up Mt. Parkway Gate, I returned to my world in the circus train. This time I did stop for a nice view of my own, although I was more tempted to stop by actually having some cellular data service. Thanks a bunch AT&T.

The next aid station was the first that involved some lengthy Forest Service road driving. The Accord handled itself nicely. The Reservoir aid station was located at 22.3 miles for the runners. By this point I was able to foresee Betsy's arrival by the dozen or so runners that had preceded her at previous stations. This time she came with fellow hen Ashley.

Here comes some hens! Who-de-hoo!

After snapping these shots I crashed through the bush to get some more artistic shots, this time of the ladies crossing the bridge.

Ashley on the bridge with her hands in the air- like she doesn't care - for anymore Masochist fare. Okay, I just stole that from myself.

This crewing thing was beginning to become stressful in getting from point to point, especially with the long dirt road drive back and then out to the halfway point. I had plenty of snacks, but had not had a single square meal, and that wasn't going to change any time soon.

The "halfway" mark at Long Mountain (26.9 miles) was my first spotting of this elusive Melinda character.

A bona fide The Beast sighting at the halfway mark. Go Duke.

On the subject of alma maters, I also spotted a woman with an old-school University of Washington blanket. Definitely wasn't planning on seeing one of those today! I wouldn't end up talking to her until I saw her again at The Loop.

To give an idea on pace, Melinda came through just short of five hours (4:56). If you are naive enough to believe any of the mileages on these aid stations (and that this run is actually 50 miles) then that works out to be an eleven minute pace. A little less than thirty minutes later Betsy came through.

Marathons are for wimps. Ultras are for bad-asses. And males who have no fashion sense.

Back on the circus train, accessing the next aid station at The Loop was the most precarious (and highest) destination. Once on the Forest Service road, there was a portion of the road that had to be shared with the runners up the insanely steep Buck Mountain. During my climb I had to pass about six runners, one of which I profess my utter apologies. It was at a point where it was obvious second gear was not going to cut it on this climb. Upon shifting the wheels spun some. I couldn't look back to see whether his face was full of rocks or not. I hope he finished.

Climbing up Buck Mountain. Internal Combustion Engine style.
Yes, that is snow. Yes, it is ridiculously cold outside.

Any guesses where Buck Mountain is on this profile?
Image taken from here

Parking for this stop required some tight parallel parking action. Always thought parallel parking was for big cities, not at 3000' in the middle of the George Washington National Forest. Then again, I've always thought that fifth dentist was the only one not paid off by the makers of Trident gum.

There it is folks. My favorite (non people) shot of the day.

It was at this point that I had an important decision to make. I dearly wanted to run part of this course. The timing and nature of the loop made my decision relatively easy. I quickly shed my warm cocoon for a little lighter fare; my black long sleeve Uwharrie shirt, black running shorts, Asolo Outrider trail running shoes, wool running socks, and my Coeur d'Alene hat.

Since I will be running a 5K in a few weeks, I was thinking tempo, tempo, tempo. I entered the loop about the time the second place runner was leaving, so there were relatively few runners in this section. I passed about six runners, two of which were females. Every one of them was surprised to be passed by someone running much quicker, but it was I who owed the respect. Each one, along with each finisher, was a titan in this field. By this point (33.6 miles) I would be running half as fast. For how fast I thought I was going, the main middle section of the loop was TOUGH. Apparently I was NOT listening to David Horton the previous night when he said there was nothing easy about the loop. Making my way up to the saddle was hard enough, but then the additional punishment up to the highest point was hurtful. I really was able to turn on the engine on the way down. I came out of the five mile run in about 47 minutes (9:24 pace). Ugh, I have a long way to go before doing well at Uwharrie.

One tenth of a Masochist. A most humbling loop.

I must have missed Melinda entering, so then I felt stuck as I should have brought my camera to the start (it was a bit of a hike back to the car). I didn't want to miss anyone, so I stuck around in the sunshine slowly cooling off. I did manage to talk with UW blanket woman. Her brother went to UW, they were from Moses Lake and she attended Central. She lives in DC and was there supporting her boyfriend. 10-4. At one point I started to run back to the car, but then I spotted a cute woman in purple coming down the hill, so I followed her to the loop entrance. I then was surprised to see Tom next - he told me Ashley was having some issues, DC was out, and he had not seen Ed. Hmm, that's not good. Time to turn on some hard crewin'!

Okay, it momentarily went downhill from there. Talk about trying too hard. I blame it on being thirsty, hungry, rapidly becoming cold, and wanting to pee quite badly. Or maybe that I haven't eaten any Top Ramen in at least four years. My apologies to The Beast. There, that was my fail for the day. And spitting rocks at some poor guy trying to climb a steep mountain.

Once released, I hurried back to the car to address most of the issues described above. I then took the camera back to "Camp Christmas." Always angling for the nice shot that didn't involve my circus brethren, I ventured a bit up the trail to get a good shot of Betsy coming out of the loop. While I waited I watched two young children playing in the woods. The girl was the inquisitive one, turning over rocks and searching the earth. The boy had a stick that was his Excalibur. I watched both of them thinking of my youth spent playing in the woods below our house, and how there was a bit of both of them in me. Soon enough the loop mistress came bounding towards me.

Dude! You again?!? Take your pants and get out of the way!!

Now that's what I came to see!!

The most stressful driving portion came next as I ignored Betsy's "request" and attempted to see her again at the Salt Log Gap station (mile 41.5), which was 2.9 miles for her and five billion miles of Forest Service road behind grandma for me. Turns out grandma was a sixteen year old girl who must have been driving dad's car and could not exceed five miles an hour. Thankfully the mileage for the runners was undoubtedly more than 2.9 and my mileage was in fact less than five billion. Not five seconds after I got out of the car did I spot Betsy coming across the station!

It was clear to me her balance was off. She confirmed this and that she was having a crampfest. Her body had been in motion for nearly nine hours. I walked with her up the path some distance, listening and doing my best to give her the mental push she needed. I turned around confident she would finish.

The last I would see of Betsy before the finish. Mile "42"

My descent back down towards the Blue Ridge Parkway was a lot less stressful. It was then a long drive north to the small hamlet of Montebello where the race would finish. By then the sun was close to going down and the temperature was dropping quickly. While I waited for Melinda I watched the more amusing part of the finish. There was another competition for finishers to lift weights immediately after crossing the line.

Yes, even the women got into this after party.

Was there any doubt that this guy won this competition? A huge crowd, including myself, gathered to watch Mr. Dunlop punch out 40 reps of 90 lbs. Wow. I couldn't do a single one without any running.

And now the finishers!

Good thing Melinda had plenty of Top Ramen!

Betsy finishing off her second MMTR - Wooowhooo!!!

Tom giving it up to Race Director Clark Zealand

The gutsy performance award goes to Corncob!
Her performance was so LEGENDARY (later that week) Horton himself reached out to congratulate her.

From there darkness descended quickly. I wasn't completely sure of how to get back to Lynchburg. How silly of me to assume AT&T services Montebello with a 3G network! But really, I knew enough lay of the land (Magellan did more than travel in ships) to make our way back to the host hotel. From there we went back down for dinner. My face/lips were actually burnt, and I was starvin' like a depressed android (Marvin!). This was my first meal of the day. It wasn't all that great, but it was what I needed! We did stick around for most of the awards. We were all very surprised to learn we were sitting at the table with the women's winner. Turns out she was from Elkin.Very personable gal. We clapped very hard for her!

Thankfully I was paying attention when they called Melinda as the Women's Masters winner. She did get that "cute" jacket after all. Back upstairs we gathered with champagne, other alcoholic beverages, and delicious baked goods to celebrate!

You would think after all these endeavors we would all sleep well, but it really doesn't work that way. I remember my night after finishing Coeur d'Alene was anything but pleasant. Even with DST giving us an extra hour, we were still up and getting ready through the "6AM" hour. The hens were watching a terrible train wreck of a series on MTV called Is She Really Going Out With Him? Terrible terrible terrible.

Before leaving Lynchburg our crew gathered at the local Crackerbarrel to regal ourselves with stories from yester day. I certainly was wishing I had actually been a part of the running experience. While I did have a tasty breakfast, I did get clocked in the head by our server with a heavy tray of food. Maybe now I've been hit in the head I will consider a 50 mile race! :-)

Seriously, congratulations to Betsy and all the other finishers!

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