While I as at my grad school residency in Portland in June, I started officially training for the November 2nd Mountain Masochist 50-miler to be held near Lynchburg, Virginia. I had been running a lot already but things change when suddenly there’s a distinct purpose for the miles. On day one of training I was doing my second ever track workout just as the sun came up over Forest Grove, OR. I would do a few more similar workouts over the next four months, along with some short and fast road races including my first ever 10k. I’d incorporate, also for the first time, repeated stair sprints at UNC – most always done while rocking out to old Metallica in my ear buds. The final new aspect of training was daily push-ups and sit-ups. Every day I did 60 and 75, respectively, and I am certain that my running form and my speed improved considerably. I have to assume that this all was for the good since after completing Mountain Masochist my body was sore for maybe 24 hours max. Also, I finished with no blisters, no chafing, and no other physical weirdness that big miles often inspire. Maybe after having run 23 ultramarathons, 12 of which were 50-milers, I’ve managed to dial in what works best in my body. Or maybe I was just lucky.
I can’t lie, I had to read other folks’ blogs to recall the nitty-gritty details of last Saturday’s event. Sometimes that how I roll. I arrive at the start line and then somehow, lots of hours later, I’m at the finish. I have a few memories of the long day but mostly it’s relatively uneventful. I ran from aid station to aid station, and in this race there were many (14 in all). I ate when I was hungry. Took Succeed salt tabs when I felt crampy or when water sloshed in my belly. Listened to slow music when I needed to relax a bit (Sigur Ros), faster tempos when I wanted to turn things up (Black Sabbath). I remember getting my feet wet early on during the creek crossings, tripping a lot during the headlamp section, slipping and falling gracefully into a puddle that I assume was comical to witness. I chatted to a few folks, but per usual, enjoyed the solitude of crunching leaves and my pounding feet as a meditation of sorts. My most vivid visual memory is of the amazing autumn colors painted against the cloudless blue sky. Spectacular. The RD said that the colors came late this year and were peaking the week of the race. It was truly stunning. The most poignant internal memory is of my focus on breathing. I hit a mental wall at like mile-11, a very bad time to be feeling grumpy about the miles and terrain – and the only thing that seemed to clear the funk was a few deep breaths. This low point came and went for like 20-miles or so, but always focusing on the next breath kept me rolling. I’m not just saying this stuff because I’m a yoga teacher. I’m telling you, there’s a lot happening when you bring your thoughts back to the only thing that exists, this present moment. It makes the world a better place. Especially when you are questioning the logic of running 50-miles while in the middle of a 50-miler. That’s a suffer fest just waiting to happen.
And then, like always, I came out of my head at about mile 30 and picked up the pace. I cruised through the “out and back” section of the course that led to the punch stamp turnaround on the summit of Mount Pleasant. It was there where I nearly lost the trail and had to bushwhack for a bit but ultimately found the trail and roller-coastered downhill for the remainder of the loop. On this stretch I also encountered a fellow Trailhead, Balto, and was energized even more. There were more climbs and more downs and more pounding and more aid stations than necessary – and then suddenly I was off the trail and onto a gravel road, followed shortly thereafter by hard top that announced in giant chalked letters, “One Mile to Go.” I cracked up when the guy about 50 meters ahead of me looked back as if I was going to try and reel him in on this home stretch. He waved, I waved back, we held our places and ran the longest mile I’ve run in a long time. I could hear the finish line crowd, then I saw Katie in it, then I heard my name as I crossed, and then it was over. 9:26ish or so, top 20% overall, and somewhere in the mix of the top 10 women (this is always my goal). I distinctly remember it being a hard race, in fact I think this is the first thing I said to Katie as she bravely hugged me. But the fact is, I like hard races. Mountain Masochist was unique in that I battled the voices in my head a lot more than usual. I find this interesting and need to think more about it. Fact is, I have three more ultras in the next 4 months (50k, 40m, 50k) and I have nothing to prove. Plus it’s getting cold out there. Shit, I hate training in the cold.