Moments From the 2017 MMTR
This past weekend was my 4thrunning of the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile Trail Run. I love this race. It is indeed a very special race. And incredibly difficult to race it hard the whole time.
I came into MMTR kind of flat – fairly beat down by life demands – but really excited to have a day in the mountains with friends. My goal was simply a PR – beat the 39-year version of myself that raced it last two years ago. I did PR, by 2 seconds! 7:58:01. Good enough for 4thplace and most fun of all is that my really good training buddies were 1-3 (Dubova, Thompson, and Frank the Tank).
As I said before, I went in kind of flat – emotionally flat. Not too high, not too low. But as they all do, this race ended up with some very significant moments that have singed themselves into my memory.
Horton and Jurek
Not only did I have the pleasure to eat the pre-race dinner sitting right between David Horton and Scott Jurek, but then I had the honor of being a guest at Horty’s home that night where Jurek also was staying. Driving from Montebello to Horton’s house with Horty and Jurek was surreal, yet very real. We talked about Jurek’s AT journey, how Horty started MMTR 35 years ago, Western States, the early east coast ultra guys like Courtney Campbell and Mike Morton, and just all the stuff and all the people. We stayed up until 11:30 sitting around Horton’s dinner table and I just didn’t care about the race the next am. Jurek is a good dude. And we all know about Horty;) Sitting in the back seat of Horty’s car, driving down 56, listening to him and Horty discuss the Appalachian Trail. Fantastic moment.
After about ¼ mile of trail around the lake, Masochist has 1.5 miles of fast road running at the start. It is here where you first have to choose your 50-mile pace. We are all hyped up, yet we have 49 (or 51;) miles ahead of us, so it’s no time to BS. How well do you know yourself? I quickly let a bunch of guys go ahead as I try to keep my breathing honest and controlled. I fall back into 13thplace, counting heads ahead of me so I know where I’ll be throughout the rest of the day. I know I’ll catch many of them, but then I really don’t know. The opening mile. I consider “go out hard”, but I always come back to “run your own race”. Generally good advice. Taking a deep breath, letting people run ahead, and running my own race down Pera Road. A patient moment.
Carpets of Gold
Everyone thought the foliage was gonna be a bust this fall because of the drought. And then came MMTR weekend. Driving to Camp Blue Ridge on Friday afternoon – holy crap! Incredible yellow and gold and orange! The forest was on fire.
I’ve always thought one of the prettiest sections of MMTR is right about mile 15-17. You’ve just left Parkway Gate aid station and you eventually come out on a gravel road where you will climb for a while up to Robinson Gap. When you come to the first hard left onto that road, the foliage is always spectacular and perfectly framed. A forest of gold, dropping leaves and making a carpet of gold to run on. It was right at this moment that I passed Bob Anderson. Bob was 71 years old and running his millionth ultra. He took advantage of the early start option that Clark offers for runners over 60. As I came up on him, we didn’t exchange more than a quick “good job”, but it was clear we were both looking all around at this little section of fall running bliss. Bob passed away in June 2018. He likely had countless moments like these. Running up that fire road, looking up at all that beautiful foliage with amazement. Beauty moment.
The AT-PCT White Truck.
This is my 5thyear of Virginia ultrarunning. And for 5 years, I have been privileged to occasionally be running on some fire road, in some race, when David Horton will drive by in his white pickup with the AT-PCT license plate. Will it be a heckle? Will it be an earnest “good work!” Will he be laughing at me? Running down the long gravel downhill to the reservoir, I had been running completely alone for the past 15 miles. That downhill goes on forever! I hear a vehicle coming behind me, so I try to get over… its Horton’s white truck. I probably didn’t look great, I certainly didn’t feel great. We had some brief conversation, I got an update on my friends, and he continued on down the road in his white truck with the AT-PCT license plate. Driving down the road on a race course he started 35 years ago. It’s good to have Horty around. We are lucky. Another AT-PCT truck moment.
I’m getting too old for this. No wait, I’m not, never mind.
After the long climb out from the reservoir, I arrived at Long Mountain wayside 5 minutes behind my 8-hour pace split. There is no fat in these splits. I was exhausted, as everyone is here, and a little sad to be losing my race against the clock. I actually thought to myself “well, maybe at 41 I’m just slower than I was 2-3 years ago…” Then I saw Dan Spearin, who came out to meet me on his bike and share a bit of the road into the aid station. We chatted about the day, about how he’ll be back here next year after recovering from major back surgery, and it was just a nice distraction from the second half of the race up ahead of me (btw, the clouds on the top of Buck Mtn said it was going to be raining soon…) As Michelle traded handhelds with me at the aid station, she gave me no sympathy, just told me I needed to work harder and sent me on my way up the mountain. I passed one guy in the aid station and another just after leaving to climb Buck Mtn. Now I was in 6thplace. Hey, maybe I’m not so old after all. Then I came up on Rebekah Trittipoe. Now 60 years old, she also took advantage of the 2-hour early start option that Clark generously offers those over 60. I finally caught up to her, and when I did, she was power hiking up that mountain as if she was leading the race. There was no casual “I’m just going for a finish today” attitude – she was racing. Racing her former self? Racing the clock? Racing others in her age group? Running up the Buck Mountain climb, and seeing Rebekah Trittipoe in full race mode. An inspiring moment.
The Violent Femmes
When Michelle crewed me coming into the loop, I told her I wanted the ipod/headphones so I could zone out for a while as I hammered home. My hands were freezing and I didn’t know how to even work the ipod, but fortunately Michelle turned it on and I took off down the trail into the Loop. “Daaaaaaaaaayyyyy. Aaaafffter Daaaaaaaaaaay….. 1, 2, 3, !!..” Randomly mixed in the multitude of tunes on the ipod was about 4 songs from the Violent Femmes. Tearing into the loop with the Violent Femmes blaring was awesome. I felt like an 8thgrader who just started hanging out with the wrong crowd, and liked it. A nostalgic moment.
Mastering the instrument
Just a mile or two after leaving the loop, I was finally feeling in control of my race. My conservative pace early had finally paid off and my goal of finally nailing the section from the loop to the finish seemed destined to happen. As I rounded the bend of another climb, on the ipod mix came Sam Bush’s live version of “Girl from the North Country” from the Peaks of Telluride show – a Bob Dylan song that has always been special to me. In Sam’s version, it’s just him playing his mandolin, and Jerry Douglas playing his dobro. Instantly, their mastery of their instruments just hit me like a brick as they played this song by Dylan, a master of words. It struck me how all of us out here on the race course are just trying to master our bodies and minds to get through the day. Man, that was a deep moment. You should listen to that song really loud sometime while running or suffering at something.
Frank Gonzalez is faster than me. But he’s been out of shape and 50 miles is a long way. I came into Long Mountain (mile 26) “about 2 minutes behind Frank”. I assumed I had closed on him some because he went out fast with all the fast guys. Cool, now it’s time to chase Frank.
I didn’t see Frank until the Mount Pleasant out and back – here is an out and back section of steep, rocky climbing that takes you approximately 15-20 minutes to complete if you’re running well. It’s a strategic and mental crossroads of the race because 37 miles in, you can see who is 15 minutes ahead and behind you. Frank ran down past me right near the top. I looked at my watch and he was approximately 90 seconds ahead of me. We grunted and smiled at each other and shared in the misery of friendly competition.
When I came into the Loop 2 AS, Justin told me that Frank was just ahead and that 4thplace missed the turn for the summit, so basically it was Dubova 1st, Thompson 2nd, Frank 3rd, and me 4th. “Catch Frank and it can be a CRUT podium!!” That got me motivated, but mostly I was just so pumped that here at the end of a grueling race it was me and 3 good friends taking 1st-4thplaces.
I ran the next section hard and finally, just after passing the former Porter’s Ridge aid station, with about 4 miles to go, right at that first big classic switchback where you can clearly see who’s both a bit ahead and a bit behind you, I saw Frank. Also right at this moment, the skies had opened up and it was POURING cold rain, like getting-into-your-vision rain. I yelled “Hey Amigo!” to my good friend Frank, he gave me his classic big grin and it was on. Unfortunately for me, Frank is way faster than me and he quickly set a large gap that I couldn’t make up. But still, for both of us, we were giving it our all, snorting and spitting with rain in our eyes, asking for every last bit from our legs, lungs, and heart. A racing the last 4 miles of Masochist moment.
I’m not sure there’s another race that I enjoy hanging out at more than Masochist. While many of us will indeed miss the old finish line in front of the Montebello Store, we made quick work of morphing the new finish line at Camp Blue Ridge into a memorable place. It continued to get colder and wetter outside as the day wore on, but as more and more finishers and crew packed into the huge tent at the finish line, the stories were told, we caught up with our out-of-state friends, and we enjoyed the fruits of the ultrarunning – the community – as much as we could before we all had to go home. With the new finish area, you can also go into the camp lodge where there were fires and couches. It was so cold that you just had to go in to warm up from time to time, but then we’d go back out to see more friends and strangers finish. At one point there was me, Thompson, Dubova, and Frank all sitting on couches around the fire trading stories about the day. These are some of my best friends and regular training partners and it was a pretty special moment to be chilling at the Masochist finish line with them relishing the day.