November 04, 2012

How To Go From 3rd To 19th In A Few Quick Steps - Mountain Masochist Race Report

This was my third time lining up for the Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50 miler with my last run being in a time of seven hours flat for 3rd overall in 2009.

The last time I lined for for a 50 mile race at all was 18 months ago during my short recluse from crutches. I was really excited for this one for after being sidelined for so long it was one of the few races I could use to really gauge where my fitness was. In the end hurricane Sandy removed any chance of fast times though as the upper portions of the course were blanketed in a decent amount of snow. I figured this could only play to my favor though, being Canadian and since we live in igloos up here.

This was the 30th rendition of the Mountain Masochist and it also involved a few course changes. The first six or seven miles used to be on the relatively flat paved Blue Ridge Parkway, now there was but a few miles of paved surface and a bit more climbing on trails.

I found myself inadvertently leading the race through the first trail section and then settled into a group of seven runners who included Eric Grossman, Brian Rusiecki, Chris Reed, Frank Gonzalez, Brian Schmidt, Ty Draney and David Hryuniak (a 2h32m marathoner attempting his first 50)

I was happy to follow the leaders but given the first hour was by headlamp and my Princeton Tec Apex was casting shadows over other runners legs as the brightest light, I got pushed back to the front. Eric Grossman joked,

"Is that some kind of crazy Canadian light you're wearing there?"

I think someone else piped in with,

"Yeah what is that a metric light?"

We clicked off the miles with occasional banter. Having run the race twice before I was surprised that our lead group was so large.

As we hit the first climb people laid into it. I'm a decent climber but my bread and butter is my descending so I slowly slipped back in the pack. I quickly found myself in 6th, from 1st and it always amazes me at how much this can affect your perception of how you're running. I immediately attempted to stifle my inner voice which was freaking out

"DROPPED! What are we five miles into this thing? You're dnf'ing for sure today"

I just kept reminding myself that the placings weren't accurate until after the equivalent descents. Sure enough as we crested and I let my legs roll out I found myself back in the lead within a mile.

A longer climb ensued and I found myself in 7th

"D-N-F. You're not a runner anymore. It's been too long and you haven't had a good race since getting back at this. You can't keep pushing like this and make it to the finish line today."

"We'll see what happens on the next descent!" Says positive me to negative me.

We topped out at an aid station where half the group stopped to grab fluids. My one handheld still had enough to get me to the next aid so I rounded the corner behind two others. It was singletrack and a bit rough and once I hopped back into the lead I was actually able to open up a decent gap. I figured it best to capitalize on this since I knew I'd be yo-yo'ing with guys in this fashion throughout the day.

Confirming my fondest memories of Masochist the sun rose, right on cue, as we were on a gravel road that allowed for relatively open views. Though a brisk wind pervaded and some cloud cover lingered, it was a beautiful morning.

"What are ya gonna do now that the suns up headlamp boy!?" Grossman jokes.

The pack had closed the gap and went about putting some distance into me on the long strung out gravel road climb.

The following descent was steeper and rockier and I managed to get myself up into second, just behind Eric. An obvious pattern was unfolding and it wasn't until about fifteen miles in that our pack started to thin. I was shocked to see that Brian Rusiecki was no longer with us as I considered him the pre-race favorite given the year he's having. 

We eventually settled into groups with Eric leading and Hryuniak off his wing, third and forth paired off together as did sixth and seventh. I was in no mans land without a dance partner. No one spoke fluent Canadian though so I wasn't completely surprised.

At about twenty four miles in Rusiecki comes storming up out of nowhere,

"Man they were hot outta the gates weren't they"

"Yeah I was surprised by how many people stuck with the lead group"

and with that he was gone. I knew then and there that he was going to win. It wasn't even a question in my mind. It was almost the same spot where Geoff Roes pulled away from me in 09 to smash the CR. Geoff had apparently just warmed up that year while I was running to my capacity.

My good buddy Hays Poole and his wife Kathy and son Will who reside a few hours away in Raleigh NC had driven up to crew for me. It was Hays's third time doing as much yet the first time his wife and son could join. The long story short is that we met through NHL hockey as his Carolina Hurricanes defeated my Edmonton Oilers in seven games to win Stanley's Mug. This is relevant information because we're die hard fans. I came into the twenty six mile 'half way point' and while looking for Hays, Kathy and Will in the crowd I spotted an Edmonton Oilers shirt screaming at me like a beacon. Quality move, for not only did it allow for a flawless transition but it gave me something to laugh about for the next hour.

Right after the half way point you get into the largest climbs of the day. In my previous runs I had predominantly power hiked these areas I wanted to alter that to predominantly running them this year. My goal in 2009 was sub seven hour race and i missed by twenty nine seconds. I locked into a rhythm and started doing what I had not in these past races. This combined with the fact that I felt really good while doing so was showing me that I was outperforming my previous best run on the course. This is what I came for. This was the test I wanted and even though we all knew the course would run slower with the snow I was at least confirming to myself that my training has been paying off and I'm close to, if not finally back to where I was before my injuries derailed me. 

I picked up fifth within a few miles and then snagged fourth as we headed into 'The Loop' at mile thirty three. The Loop for me has been one of my favorite sections of the race. It's five miles long, all on singletrack and with a decent level of technicality to it. It's the closest section of MMTR that feels familiar to my home terrain. As I grabbed fourth heading into The Loop Horty tells me that third is only three minutes ahead and the leaders are fifteen minutes up. Immediately we get into the snow and Clarke's pre-race proclamation of

"It's like two different courses out there" in regards to the front half vs the back half is showing itself to be as literal as he intended it to be.

I went to work with the knowledge that from there to the finish is predominantly downhill. I liked where I was and had told myself throughout the day that I simply had to be within striking distance by this point in the race. The first half works a bit against my strengths while the back half aligns with them perfectly. 

I powered through the snow anticipating doing The Loop as in previous years. I follow the flagging through the snow and eventually see Brian and Eric running together and towards me,

"Waaa. What's goin on?!"

"Out and back"

Oh right I think to myself, I remember reading about the out and back section this year. I mark the spot where I crossed paths with the leaders and take a time check. A few seconds later I spot Frank a switchback ahead of me and as I close the gap we reach the top nearly in unison. There's an orienteering punch that you clip your bib with to show you've gone up. I was distracted by the views for a second and actually said to myself

"No you're racing, you can't hang out here and fully appreciate this"

"But, but, but...I hate racing, you suck" Again these are the internal conversations I have with myself when I run.

Hats off to Clarke though, the view from that perch was beyond anything the original course ever presented. It was the highlight of the entire race course for me.

The snow obviously became deeper as we climbed and near this high point it was shin deep in sections. Given that only the four of us runners had been through we were in essence breaking trail (Clarke and crew had been through so it wasn't 100% breaking trail)

I laid into the descent and having plenty of experience in the snow Frank graciously stepped aside and cheered me on. I time checked where I'd seen the leaders and was pleased to know that I had gained two minutes on them. I had flirting visions of maybe closing in on one of them by the final three to four mile long descent that takes you into the final mile of the race.

I flew through the snow and was buoyed mentally by the fact that I knew I'd at least crack top three unless something completely unforeseen arose.

"You're going the wrong way!"
"No I'm not, it's and out and back!"

"You're going the wrong way!"
"No I'm not, it's and out and back!"

"You're going the wrong way!"
"No I'm not, it's and out and back!"


Couple that with my own recognition of where I was by thinking

"Its weird we're not doing the full loop this year. I wonder if there was just too much snow on that side?"

"You're going the wrong way!"
"No I'm not, it's and out and back!"

I had this exchange so many times that shortly before arriving back at the aid station (which is in fact the same aid station you hit after the loop) I wanted to say to Horty and Clarke,

'Can you please tell people it's an out and back this year. No one seems to understand this' (yes I'm a complete moron)

Instead I just look for my crew as I'm in full on race mode and feeding off of the slim hopes of catching 2nd.

"Hays! Hays! Hays?"

Clarke and Horty look like they're staring at a ghost as the approach me,

"What are you doing?'

"I'm looking for my crew. Hays!"

"No what are you doing here?"


"You're supposed to come in from over there" As Horty points to the exit from the loop about a hundred feet away.

"No it's an out and back" I say, still not clicking into anything around me. Then it hits me. Then my eyes open as my racing goggles are ripped from my face, as the horse blinders are lifted I see twenty volunteers all stating at me with remorse. That look of "oh no" "I feel terrible for him right now" is just emanating off of everyone.

My brain snaps back into reality and I'm overwhelmed by the flood of emotions coursing through me. In my head,

"Are you f#@king kidding me! I did what!!? Don't speak Gary. Count to something. I don't want to f#@king count. Walk. Walk away and compose yourself dammit."

Out loud to Clarke,
"I'm just. I'm just gonna go over this way for a bit."

I walked around the corner and sat down in a pile of snow in front of a truck that put me out of sight. I slumped my head into my hands and started processing what had just occurred. Clarke found me a few minutes later.

"I'm sorry man. How ya doin?"

Both of us knowing it wasn't his fault of course.

"I'm alright"

"What are ya thinkin?"

The serious thought of being a poopy pants and not closing it out never crossed my mind. I just needed a few minutes to basically tell myself that a result on the day, whether 3rd or 30th, wasn't going to change how I ran, how I felt, how happy I was with what I had done up until that point. Yeah it sucked that I was no longer in the race, but there were exactly zero reasons not to finish. Couple that with the fact that I was staying with JB Basham who'd done a 112 mile version of the Hardrock hundred miler back in July and I really didn't even have a choice in the matter.

Five minutes further along and I started cooling off in the breeze and realized if I didn't get moving that I might end up with an actual reason not to continue. I said thanks to all the aid station crew and walked back out on course. Having absolutely nothing left to fight for I ambled my way along letting my body temperature determine when I'd actually start running again. I sauntered for a mile before the wind on my body coupled with the snow at my feet had cooled me to the point of needing to generate my own body heat.

A few miles in and I stopped at the intersection where I'd gone wrong. I distinctly remembered my thought process as I ran through the first time, which only strengthen my resolve in my ignorance.

There was a ton of flagging there and while running out it really stood out as being heavily marked. My eyes instinctively followed the majority the flagging towards the right and I never even noticed the additional flagging to the left that would guide us back around the loop. My thought while running through the first time,

"There's a ton of flagging here, they must really want to ensure we don't go left by mistake"

After I digested all this I proceeded to close out the final twelve miles of the course. I alternated between running walking and chatting along the way. Given that I've never been able to chat up the aid station workers while racing MMTR in the past two runs I spent a few minutes at each of the remaining four stations joking around with everyone. When I spotted watermelon at an aid station it necessitated a lengthier stop to help lighten their eventual pack down load later in the day. A runner I had passed came into the station while I was owning the watermelon and I looked at him with a piece hanging out of my mouth and deadpanned 

"Don't f@#king touch the watermelon"

Thankfully he got my sense of humor.

I ended up finishing with what my Garmin showed as fifty six miles in 8h55m for 19th place. Top Twenty! 

Brian won in 7h30 which many believe would equate to a low 6h50'ish time without snow and Eric was second in 7h45m. Local rockstar Frank Gonzales snagged third in a time 8h07m. Outside of my folly I had a fantastic weekend in Virginia.

Thanks as always to Clarke and his amazing team of volunteers. David Horton, for nothing more than his comment to me post race,

"That was impressive what ya did out there today. STUPID, but impressive that you stuck with it."

Hays, Kathy, Will, best crew ever!

Hilary and Jonathan Basham for adopting a Canadian stray for the weekend and then allowing their friends to endlessly mock me for the rest of the evening over our post race drinks.


Hammer Seat Saver (best running lube I've found)

I'll be back...(I'd return again no matter what the outcome)



Helen said...

So it *was* a loop, not an out-and-back???

I was wondering the same thing. I thought that Clark said at the pre-race meeting that you don't go in the direction that you came, that you're supposed to continue going.

Great report, thanks for sharing. You're awesome.

garobbins said...

Thanks Helen! It was an out and back within the loop itself. I wish I could blame anything but myself but I was just running with blinders on.


M. Jackson said...

Enjoyable read. You passed me while running in the wrong direction. You were rolling. Good on you for toughing it out and all the best in your coming races.

Guy Love said...

Sharing a couple miles with you made that trudge through the snow after the watermelon a bit more enjoyable. And don't worry, I had no desire to take your watermelon from you! You ran a great race, especially with the added mileage in some of the slowest miles of the course.

garobbins said...

M. Jackson why didn't you tackle me! Joking of course. Thanks and best of luck to you in 2013 as well.


garobbins said...

Guy Love, you finished strong out there. Great race to you as well and thanks for not stealing any of my watermelon:)


Paul said...

A funny ballpark estimate of your pace for 56 miles compared to the others @ 50 miles would make you the third fastest runner. That should count for something.

garobbins said...

Paul, I just downloaded my garmin file and saw that between sitting around and chatting at aid stations I spent 17mins not even moving.
Honestly if I'd known the top ten prize was no longer a shirt and now a puffy coat I might have actually raced out of there and still attempted to get back at it. Which is kinda stupid to say that something material would motivate like that but as I watched those coats being handed out I REALLY WANTED ONE:)


Clint said...

Great blog Gary.

Just wondering how I could contact you for a possible interview.


garobbins said...

Thanks Clint!

I'll drop ya a line.

dvroes said...

Gary, Just read your report. Glad you still have your great sense of humor and especially glad to see you back at or near full strength. Hope to run into you somewhere in 2013.

garobbins said...

Hey Don, great hearing from you and thanks for still checking in from time to time!

I definitely hope we run into each other in 2013 because that would also ideally mean that Geoff was back to health and running strong again.

All my best to you and yours over the holidays!