TL;DR – A weekend long run on a weak leg.
What a weekend! It was like taking a cold shower. I have done many kinds of runs and gone on many outdoors trips, but this past weekend was one of the best. It was a training run for my MMT 100 (Massanutten 100 mile trail run). I compare the trip to be like when I ran on the Wild Oak Trail one night, (the post is somewhere on here, maybe one day I find the link and link it), but that was another story. Or it was like the Smoky Mountains trip, except less tiring. I felt refreshed by it.
Granted the event was just one of the small training runs for MMT, but it felt like a real race. As many as 40 people showed up and they ran it fast, I don’t think they were holding back. The training program was free and was open to all on a first-come-first-serve basis. So many of the runners were using it to train for something else other than the MMT or they just wanted to run it for fun. I had to hold back because of my hamstring injury and also my condition is not good. Even so, the event was so good and it would be many times that when the real race (MMT) comes in May.
My training for the last several months has not been as great as I would have hoped. For various reasons, and mostly due to various injuries but also being unmotivated, my training hasn’t really been seriously taken off. Luckily, I had a few so called training runs and this was one of them (TR#3).
All the training runs for the MMT are on the actual course. Each time, I am humbled by it. This time, coming in with a hamstring injury, probably sustained at the last training run a month ago, which was probably stemmed from an injury from even earlier at the Devil Dog 100k in December, I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. The injury seemed to be serious enough for me to not being able to move or walk much for the last two weeks. The big question of course is why I even tried to go and run, right? But I couldn’t just stay home. It was the same reason I ran a 10K race the week before while limping, but now the pain has gone down significantly. Note readers, Don’t do what I do. Instead listen to your body.
Luckily for me the run was problem-free, but just maybe a tiny bit, which I will tell. I woke up immediately at 3:30 in the morning after my alarm went off, the drive was 2 hours away, so I knew I had to be out of the house by 4 to make it on time. Even with only a couple hours of sleep, I felt refreshed and ready. I rarely felt tired on a run! I had kind of packed my things already the night before, and was just missing a few more things. I planned to camp out too afterward, so I had to gather my tent, sleeping bag, my food bag and some clothes. I had a big loaf of bread (banh-mi) in the car and I ate it for breakfast as I drove to the site. I thought that was enough for the day but a bit later in the morning I was hungry again. I regretted that I didn’t bring along other snacks.
Originally I was going to leave on Friday night and camp out before the event so I wouldn’t have to make the morning drive but for some laziness in me, after work, I didn’t pack quickly enough and ended up having dinner and after dinner I was a bit too sleepy to do the night drive. My excuse was I didn’t want to look for a camping spot after dark.
Anyway, I arrived a bit “late”, just 15 min before the event. Ideally, I like to be there an hour before, for any big event. I should have left the house at 3 in the morning instead of 4, but that would cut into my sleep time. Many already were there. Luckily, I got a parking spot. Note, we were trying to fit 40 cars in a small lot that was probably designed to hold 15-20 cars. It was a tight squeeze and I was afraid either someone would dent my car or I to them. This was by the way the same lot we used on the last training run at Stephen’s Trailhead at Camp Roosevelt (and that time, we tried to squeeze 60-65 cars in).
The temperature of the early morning was nippy cold. The city temperature was 42 F but I think up on the mountain was near 30. It was cold enough to see my breath. Definitely, I was not dressed for the occasion. I didn’t bring gloves or a wool cap. My ears and fingers were burning from the cold. I didn’t check the weather closely before going. It rained just 15 mins before the race.
I found the race director and signed in. Unknown to me and the race director, there was someone having a similar name as mine and it caused much confusing through out the day. He was also asian. I was using my last name and he was using his first name, and they are the same. So whenever I reported myself arriving at a checkpoint, the volunteers would say, they already cleared me or I came through. I felt someone stole my identity. This also led them to believe I was no longer on the course for having crossed my name off early. Some even said I didn’t show up or not on the list. Nothing wrong with that except I would receive no aid for showing late. By the way, they offered me food. They are one of the nicest people.
I also decided to add a few more layers on top of my T shirt before starting out. It was a smart move. I carried a rain jacket as well. Guess what! It snowed midway into my run. Unbelieveable that there was still snow at the end of March. It was not too bad, but the wind and temperature was consistently on the cold side.
We started our run in the dark. I couldn’t remember much of the landmarks and turns we passed by. I was just following the crowd. I ended up being the last one eventually. We crossed several streams and maybe by mile 5, I could no longer keep up with the group. On one hand, I was being careful with my hamstring, stepping gingerly and didn’t want to push it too hard. And I know it would be a long day, and many more miles to cover. On the other hand, my aerobic performance was poor. Little did it occur to me to have a plan B, like how to bail out or take shorter the course in the event if something bad were to happen. Eventually, I did have to take a shorter course, thanks to a lady at an aid station for the trail guidance. It did occur to me at mile 5-6 whether to turn around and go back. I told myself that if I need to turn around it better be sooner rather than later now and before mile 15 when I reach the point of no return.
The sunrise was amazing as I was climbing the first hard climb. I don’t remember what mountain it was (I think on Duncan Knob) but it was on a blue blazed. Too bad, I was a bit too tired to take a photo. Throughout the day the views were amazing. I recognized a mountain in the distance. I named it Mt Doom because as I know we would be there 25-26 miles later. It was maybe a mile or two from where I was but we would circle back to it. It is a landmark close to the finish for this run as well as the actual 100 miler. As an aside, after checking the map post race, Mt Doom might not be the same Mt Doom I thought I saw, but it is near the finish.
What so fun about trail running is the significant distance we would be covering on a run. I am surprised each time I run to see landmarks that we eventually get to. Even though we could see it, but it would take us a whole day to get there. Of course, we meandered around several other mountains and valleys to get there. It is something I am very proud of.
My pace was beyond slow and I know it early on. I thought it would be nice to keep it as if it were a race day. I had no doubt that I would finish regardless. On race day, I would be at 70 miles in with 32 miles to go. normally, I wouldn’t be running much by then. The pace I was doing I felt was not too far off from race day pace for that stretch. I felt my pace was reasonable even though it was slow.
Little did I know though there was a cut off time for the training run too. Logically, yes, I wouldn’t want everyone waiting for me. I remembered later reading it somewhere before, but while on the course it didn’t occur to me. I was planning to run that course in 12 hours, and didn’t realize we were given at most 11 hours (for 35 miles). This was my fault. If it were race day, I would have built up enough buffer in the first 70 miles to allow me to go slower than the required pace at the end. But today I had no buffer since I just started. What even worse was I was also doing/planning to do a reverse split, which I believe I could, but this was a no-no for a long run, because most cutoffs usually give more lenient toward the end than at the beginning, not the other way around. I was taking it easy and chilling and walking even during most of the down hills and flats, thinking I could always make up in the mid or final section. I also made enough stops to take pictures — at one point I almost took a quarter mile up a side trail to summit a mountain for a picture. I thought I was having fun because I know on the actual race day, I wouldn’t have such free time to do all these side excursions.
By 10 am, 4 hours into the event, I sensed time was ticking by faster than I wanted and even without any prompt, my spider sense kicked in telling me I need to giddy up. I started running then with the aim to reach the first checkpoint by 10:30 (note, in my mind I thought the checkpoint would stay open until 11). On a normal day, I would have made it, but today was not one of them. My body refused to move. I could hardly even do a 12-13 mins on flat. Every few steps I needed to stop and breathe. It might be the altitude affecting me too. But I knew I was maybe 2-3 miles from the first Aid Station. I came in at 10:45. The last person came in like 20 minutes ago. And the actual cut off was 15 minutes ago. They were wrapping up. The two ladies at the station was surprised to see me. The one who was in charge of the station apologized, they thought everyone had gone through (this was because of the names mixup and they crossed my name off before I even arrived). They felt that they had failed me and I felt bad too like being a bad guest. They offered whatever food they had left. But the hard truth was I had been DQ. They said I shouldn’t (actually couldn’t) continue on the course and they showed me a way to cut off a 10 mile loop to get ahead of other runners and so I could get to the finish in a decent time. Reason being even though I was just 15 minutes behind, they fear, by the end of the run it might increase to an hour or more and they were not wrong about that. They were not wrong.
Navigation was my biggest concern since I tried to read the trail notes before the event (for the 100 race) with my map several times but each time came away in confusion and feeling sleepy. So I was worried on the actual run I would get lost.
I was sad because the whole purpose for me to come out to the training run is to know the course. And now only a third way into it, I was kicked from the event and the mission is not achieved. I did not want to jeopardize being banned from future events, so I obeyed.
With the shortcut, I got in front of many faster runners. It was funny to see the look on their faces, like how did this slow guy get in front of them! Of course the front pack was amazing in their ability to climb and actually ran up the mountain not breaking a sweat and they already have done 26 plus miles while I only had maybe 15 miles and I was struggling as I slowly climbed one step at a time.
I finished around 2 pm (2:16 as recorded) having done about 24-25 miles that day. It was still a pretty good stat in my opinion of running 24-25 in 8 hours. I was slower than my last training run but it also meant I ran much faster after being cut from the race to make it back to the finish (which was in the same location as the start) in a acceptable time. I know if I had run properly in the first place, I wouldn’t have been cut.
I was tired after finishing and was actually glad I was being cut. I couldn’t imagine how I would have managed an extra 10 miles if I had gone the full route. I was able to sit around with the faster people as we waited for the rest to finish. We had a fire going and the Race Director was grilling some good burgers for us. It was a free race, so any extra food beyond what we brought to the race was coming from the club fund or RD personal fund. We felt honored for the food and the excellently managed event. Normally, no food was expected.
I ended up camping out on Saturday night. It is really for another story, but it was nice and cold when the temperature dropped during the night. I did my camping thing. Pretty much the only guy on the whole mountain. The following day, I decided to drive to the 10 mile segment that I missed and ran it on my own. It took me 3 hours to run it. It was much easier than I thought. It was less rocky and it was pretty much runable for the most part. I am glad I did it so as to have an idea for the actual race. People were saying all kinds of stories for this section and I had to see for myself.
In conclusion, I did what I came to do. I did 35 miles over the weekend. My hamstring held up well and I believed it got stronger due to the event. I am in less pain today afterward (almost pain-free). I think I am at 85% recovered now from the injury. Before the event, I felt I was at 75-80%, so maybe another 10% improvement. It felt stiff still, and I am not at 100% yet, but soon will be. Readers might not know the joy of being able to run again! Physically, I am not ready for the 100 mile race as I would like but I know I can get a bit more ready by the next training. The 100 mile race is scary yet manageable. I believe I said the same thing on the last training run. This time having seen almost the entire course, and I believe I ran on the hardest section of it, laid to rest whether this race is within my capacity. The next training, called Chocolate Bunny (on Easter Sunday), will be a night run on almost the same portion of the race course as this time. I am looking forward to it. It would nail the finishing portion of the course in the actual condition because on race day, most people will be running this last section in the dark or predawn period.
I am grateful to have run it. All the volunteers made it possible. I was not in peak condition. It was humbling, but I sense that it is so true from scripture that my grace is sufficient and my power is made perfect in weakness. The weaker I am, the more appreciative of the type of runs I could pull off.