Monday, November 8, 2010

Mountain Masochist Race Report

I'm finally sitting down to write my 2010 Mountain Masochist Race Report. It was an incredible weekend and I just couldn't seem to put it into words. I'd hoped to run a little faster and faded a bit but still very very pleased to get under 10 hours and learn a bunch about running a mountain race. To put it in perspective, the following is from Running Times:

The Mountain Masochist 50 Miler is an indisputable stronghold of tradition in the ultrarunning world. In line with some of the other time-tested endurance events around the country, like JFK, the Masochist draws crowds from the tight-knit ultra community year after year.

Started 28 years ago by ultra icon David Horton, the race continues to gain in popularity as running insanely long distances has become trendy.....

...the Mountain Masochist’s reputation and history puts it in a league of its own. The 50-mile trek begins near Lynchburg, Va., and weaves through the Blue Ridge Mountains along roads, logging trails and single-track trails to finish in Montebello, Va. With a net gain of 9,200 feet and a loss of 7,200 feet, this course isn’t for the faint of heart. What’s more, the largest elevation climbs come later in the race. The most brutal climb begins at mile 22 and continues upward until mile 29.5 over the top of Buck Mountain.

After that lung-busting uphill, the notorious “Loop” presents itself at mile 33. The biggest terrain challenge on the course, the 4-mile loop takes runners over a rocky single-track path. Many report the loop is more like 6 miles rather than 4, and that the course itself is 54 miles, not 50. These “Horton miles” are the stuff of legends and part of the race’s charm and mystique.

“The Masochist is one of the classics,” says Zealand. “It really reflects the history of the race and the sport itself.”

I was able to leave work a bit early on Friday and got on the road for the 2 1/2 hour drive up to Lynchburg. I wasn't as nervous about the tough course as I was about possible bad weather. I had a bad experience last year with temps in the 30's and a hard rain so I couldn't imagine those type conditions for 8-10 hours... but the last time checking it looked like the rain and snow would have already passed and likely it was just going to be in the 30's with maybe some snow on the ground at higher elevations late. I tried to keep my mind off the race and listened to some good music... Dylan (Blood on the Tracks), Keller and the Keels, and my new favorite mountain/appalachian/bluegrass band Big Daddy Love.) I went down early to get my race packet and drove a couple of blocks to a Kroger and got bananas and some waffles for the morning.

The pre race evening program was wonderful. Good pasta (thanks Clark for having a vegetarian option) and inspirational words (and instruction) from Race Director Clark Zealand, Masochist David Horton and Jennifer Pharr Davis who holds the womens record for running the AT and next year will attempt to break the all time record. Fun to talk to JPD about her run on the AT and my experience hiking 1/3 of the AT 30+ years ago. (I guess she'll never forget my name since she told me her 6th grade teacher's name was Robert French, her first male teacher.) I headed back to my room ready to lay down, but first laid out all my gear for the race... pinned bib on my shorts, mixed up bottles of Perpetuem, counted out my gels, laid out shorts, shirts, gloves, sleeves.... after I realized I didn't have anything left to do I went to bed.

I was up at 4 a.m., took a warm shower, ate a banana, 2 waffles.... packed up my drop bag that would be laid out at the 26.9 mi mark and a bag of warm clothes for post race. Jumped on one of the busses at a few minutes before 5 a.m. and we were off to the start at James River Visitor Center. I saw a few rain drops hit the windshield and got nervous but the weather all day was nearly perfect, so no worries.

It seemed likely to be in the 30's all day so I decided on my favorite short sleeve runners shirt (from a trail race in Dupont Forest), arm sleeves, and a thin long sleeve shirt over that, shorts and gloves. The first 6+ miles were on the Blue Ridge Parkway and paved roads and everything clicked along pretty well. I felt like I was running faster then I should have but also figured I should run faster before I hit the tougher trail climbing. I forgot my headlamp at home but with so many others with light and being on the road it wasn't a big deal. It was really a great feeling as the sun rose and you could begin to make out the mtn. ridges in the distance. I hit the first Aid Station at Cashaw Creek and was in and out quickly and headed up the trail. I was happy to be on the trail and passed many runners as many were slowing on the uphills.

My memory of some of the early sections is a big foggy but I do remember that time seemed to pass quickly. I wasn't running real fast but I felt like I was moving along well. Before I knew it we were at the Dancing Creek Aid Station and I tip toed across the creek with minimal wet feet. Again it seemed quickly that we approached the tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway at the 14 mile mark and this time no keeping the feet dry.

The remainder of the "first half" of the race was for the most part uneventful. Ran several miles with a nice kid, and I do mean kid, he was 18 yr old Jesse who I left behind only to be passed by him in the final mile. Jesse was only a few minutes off the best time ever for an 18 yr old. I got to the Long Mtn Wayside Aid Station and my drop bag in 4:42.... couldn't believe I'd been running for that amount of time but energized because I felt good and was more then halfway. I had a slow stop, at first because I couldn't find my bag and then fumbling around with loading up on gels, full bottles, grabbed a cap, etc.

I started the long climb up Buck Mtn and I played it pretty conservative knowing it was a long way up and I had the difficult "loop" ahead of me. I'd run the training run on the final 23 miles of the course so I knew what was ahead of me. Fun to hear the Rocky music playing at the Aid Station at the top (thankfully we were warned the night before that you hear the music through the canyon long before you get there)...

As we approached "the loop" I got pretty excited because lot's of crews were cheering us on and just a lot of activity. I can't remember if this is where we started to see snow dusting the ground, but it seemed to energize me. I headed into the loop and purposely decided to take it pretty slow. I really enjoyed the single track... particularly the first section in the rhododendrons. I realized it was one of the more beautiful sections of the race and I wanted to enjoy it and not tumble. I did trip one time but barely nicked my knee and slipped on my bottom heading down a really steep downhill. But not much blood to report so no chance of me winning the "best blood" award (much to the surprise of my NC running buddies who know I have a history of kissing the earth from time to time).... I was pretty slow coming down the second half of the loop, passed by a bunch of runners, but not being the best of downhill runners, I expected that.

I won't go into a whole lot of detail.. but I began to have stomach trouble heading up Buck Mtn. I stopped a total of 4 times before and after the loop and as one of my friends said... with most of the leaves on the ground it was a bit difficult to find a spot to do my thing. In addition to those stops, I stopped to water the bushes a BUNCH of times(I'd say double digits). Anyway, I guess it will always be something but my stomach trouble seemed to cost me at least 30 minutes or so. In my first 50 mile effort I had no stomach trouble and I sure hoped for the same but I guess I'm more surprised that I didn't have trouble last summer.

After some good running after the loop, we eventually headed up to some tough single track with lots of leaves on the ground and a hard trail to follow but it was marked extremely well so I made it through that section and the really steep final climb. A whole load of people passed me over the last 8 miles or so but as long as I was moving I was happy. Some people were literally flying down off the ridge. I spent way too much time at the last Aid Station talking with the volunteers. A couple of the guys wanted to talk to me about my minimal New Balance 101's and after a few minutes of talk I finally interrupted one of them to say, hey man I'm almost done this race I gotta go. They yelled as I trotted off asking if I slipped on the leaves any with that sole... I just waved and yelled YES as I took off for the final 3 "Horton Miles". I moved pretty good over the last miles but so many people passed me that I lost count. I got to the painted sign on the ground saying "1 mile to go ?" and I had to just laugh at Horton for messing with us one final time. I hit the pavement for the final mile into Montebello, still being passed by runners including the 18 yr old and then Marlin Yoder who was the first "older" guy I noticed zipping by me.

I was super happy to round the corner and see the clock at 9:56 and Clark Z. and David H. with smiles and reaching out a hand to congratulate me. From the photos it looks like they greet each and every finisher! What a heck of a nice thing to do. It was a LONG day and they are there to greet all of us.

I headed to the bus and put on dry socks and shoes, put on a bunch of layers and milled around to cheer on the finishers coming in. I ate more "junk" then I have all year but didn't stop eating for long. I jumped on the second bus heading back to Lynchburg and finally got cell coverage to call home and let Sara (wife) know I was finished and healthy. Enjoyed reading all the back and forth emails from family "following" me from the comfort of their homes on the computer.

The post race meal, awards and breakfast the next day were great to swap stories and learn from other masochists. I learned a lot and will likely do things much different next year. I feel like I left something out on the course. I really was nervous to fly down the more runnable sections like most of the ultra folks do. I will likely push it a bit more uphill (my strength) and for sure push the section before the loop, beginning of the loop, and post loop. We shall see for sure since I can't imagine ever missing this event unless I'm unable to toe the line. I had a lot of time to think about this Horton fellow. The best way to describe Horton on a Masochist weekend is like a kid on Christmas morning. I don't think I ever saw him all weekend without a huge smile on his face and an encouraging word for every masochist. In closing, a big thank you to Clark, David and all of the wonderful volunteers.

One final thing I forgot to say is that when you look at the race results and view my "Runner Results History" it lists several DNF's and 11 hour MMTR's.... not sure how that happened but that wasn't me.... I swear this was my very first MMTR! Not sure if someone else with my name ran it before or why that shows up.


  1. great job, rob!! it was a rough n tough day ( for me anyways!) congrats on your finish!!! Proud of you!

  2. Thanks Jenn, was hoping to run a bit faster but really happy to experience my first masochist and share it with all of you...