This was one of those goals I was trying to reach and ended up failing. I have been telling myself, I picked too many safe goals in the past where failures are almost impossible and I needed to try some of those goals where success is not guaranteed. So, I am not sad about not completing the race. It was where I challenged myself. This race pushed my boundary, for that I am happy regardless of the result. I can only become a stronger runner by facing tough resistance.
It doesn’t mean MMT is or was unreachable for me. It is just that I have to do better next time. I think I know how to do it. I now have one extra tool for my toolbox, experience. I need to do better. This is what this post is.
Briefly: My biggest struggle was over staying at Aid Stations (AS). I stayed at Elizabeth Furnace, mile 35 ish for over 10 minutes. It should have been a quick in and quick out. I stayed at Habron, mile 55, for over 20 minutes, which was too long and I knew it. It was the same later at most later stations. My plan unraveled at mile 65, 70, 78 (of subsequent aid stations). I won’t go into too much detail to not be tired out my readers. But if I try to redo this again, try to keep the AS stop to one minute or less.
Second, I did not pack enough dry socks and the wet trail damaged my feet by mile 55 and I had to spend a significant amount of time to fix them. It had rained the night of the race and the trail was wet besides numerous water crossings we had to cross.
Third, was food or the lack thereof. I was good with fluid and food till mile 55. I arrived there at the Habron Station, and retrieved my drop bag. Most of the time was spent on bandaging my feet. By the time I left the station, I forgot to eat and bring along food. This was my downfall at this and later stations — of not eating enough. In the end I was caloric deficient. It cut into my performance. This happened repeatedly for the remainder of the race.
Fourth, my fire and passion was diminished during the night as was expected. Later on I found the importance of having a companion/pacer who could keep one on pace and to keep up the morale. My pace during the night segment slowed dramatically. It was hard to catch up when morning came. I wish I had arranged a pacer.
Fifth, of being better prepared to face the course. The final 20 miles were harder than expected. There is a steep 6 mile climb near the end. I should have expected the climb and be able to close out the race, meaning I should have learned to climb it so well I can do it in any conditions. Lastly, I came into the race with a recovered of a pulled hamstring and I did not truly train until a month before the race. Lack of adequate training contributed to being not totally ready to tackle the harder sections later in the race.
Really, the race was going well up to mile 55. I had various issues but nothing was a race ending event. I woke up late as the race was about to get started. I missed the opportunity to have breakfast. Luckily, I woke up and ran to the start just in time as the wave of runners set off. This is not the first time I overslept though. Throughout the whole day, I kept my speed in check. I remembered how I bonked in Devil Dog (a previous race) by mile 26, so I celebrated when I crossed mile 26, then mile 33, and then mile 55 and then mile 65 and 70 (these were aid station mile points), knowing I reached a milestone each time. Also, the day was hot and humid, but a volunteer saved me by recommending to put ice inside my hat. Cool ice was so good. Many were not as lucky as I and dropped from the race early on due to the heat. I also had minor sunburn, but luckily I had my neck covered most of the time.
What really went wrong? I think it started at mile 55. By then I ran out food. This was one thing I did not pack because I ran out of time the day of! Waking up late didn’t help. While I was in the aid station, my attention was to focus on my feet to get them taped. By the time I left the station, I forgot to eat! The stretch from Habron AS to Roosevelt AS was the hardest and longest climb in the whole race (besides the finishing climb to Scothorn). At the time, I thought I could power through but I burned more calories than I thought.
I arrived at mile 65 by 11:30 pm, Camp Roosevelt exhausted, but was on pace. I did not recognize how tired I was. I also over stayed at the station. I flopped down on a chair and aid station volunteers were bringing me various food, however, they were too little and came in small portion and I was too tired to ask for more. I might have sat there for 15 minutes (fixing my foot), but again did not eat much before leaving, and did not pack extras to take with me and that led to my downfall at the following section. Note, sitting down usually is a bad thing in a race.
The next section, time (and the race) was really slipping a little by little, and I didn’t know I was in trouble of not finishing until by mid morning the next day, maybe 8 hours later. This was the wettest section. True to its name Gap Creek, we literally, hiked on a creek up the mountain and down another one to Gap Creek Aid Station. I was hungry, tired, sleepy, wet and cold, everything. I remembered clearly people passed me going twice my speed. I knew something was not right. I asked for coffee once I arrived. I didn’t know coffee on an empty stomach caused me a slight stomach ache for the rest of the night. The theme was the same, I couldn’t and didn’t take in enough calories for the next section.
As I climbed Kern Mountain to Visitor Center at mile 78, I was moving but slowly. This was one of the hardest sections in my opinion due to technical climb over rocks and I often had to use my hands to steady myself (and getting down on my hands and feet). Some, though could move fast here and passed me. Having trekking poles might help here. I was behind on my pace chart table for the first time in the race, but I was still ahead of the cutoff. The race should have been salvageable.
We climbed Bird Knob next. There were 28 miles left of the course. I was alone. Bird Knob, in the past, was runnable. I was hobbling through it this time. I encountered Bruce, a volunteer at the Aid Station, mile 82, and he encouraged me to get to the next Aid Station by 11 AM. I think I had two hours left at that time and we had 6.5 miles to go.
I reached Picnic Area (mile 88) by 10:30 am, half an hour before the cutoff. At that point, I wanted to pull out from the race. Tracy, someone I trained with passed me. Tracy was one whom I used to gauge my pace because the previous year she dropped at mile 95. Having Tracy passing me was not a good sign because I wanted to be ahead of Tracy to have a shot of finishing. Having Tracy passing me means I was slower than her and it was the nail on the coffin that I was not going to finish. The volunteers there were most knowledgeable and experienced. The one helping me said he will pack me with all the milk cartons I could take on the go. They urged me saying I could do it. Tracy and her team also urged me on. By this time, panic has set in and it was a mad scramble to the finish, with 13 miles left and 4 hours to do it.
I ran and power hiked to mile 90 (Rt 211) and arrived by 11:30, pretty much on pace. I wished I had a crew there, because after mile 90, we had 9 miles of climbing. Note my math doesn’t add up, it was likely 5 miles. I was in my lowest state. The first time in a race I felt helpless. Countless thoughts went through my head on how I could quit. I prayed to the God of the universe for extra strength. I need any help I could get to be out of here. I knew I was stuck. He sent me an angel to guide me through. In my delusional state, Elaina and her husband found me. They could have helped anyone but they chose me. Elaina paced me to Gap Creek II (to mile 95). She offered me a salt tablet and crackers. She constantly reminded me to sip my water. She also made sure if we crossed streams, I would pour water on my head to cool off. Surprisingly those things revitalized me. Small things but made a huge difference. She actually believed I had a shot of finishing the race before the 3 pm cutoff. She encouraged me to run whenever I could. We reached Gap Creek II by 2:15 pm, just 15 min after the AS cutoff. This in itself was a miracle. I did not expect to arrive until 5pm or later, really, because I was beyond tired at this stage. All I wanted was to lay down and sleep. I felt joy instead of disappointment. I turned in my bib to the Aid Station’s manager, as required since I was cut. My race was over. This was only mile 95, there was still about a 10K distance left on the course. The course was longer than 100 miles.
I salute those who were cut here, but still continued on. Elaina offered to still pace me to the finish if I wanted to, even though it wouldn’t officially be counted as one who finished. Not that it is pointless to keep on suffering, but I couldn’t summon the strength to go on. I saw a runner, probably the last unofficial finisher, coming in around 5:30 pm, 2 and half hours after the race was over. I’d salute her.
I did surprisingly well beyond my own expectations in many ways. A few weeks before the race, I had expected to only be able to last about 26 miles when I DNF’d on the 3rd training run (TR3) and here I was so close to actually doing the whole 100. Of course, I wanted to finish. In my last post, while preparing my race pacing table, I knew to finish it depended a lot on how well I could manage the time spent at the aid stations. In the end, it did come down to the wire. The ability to quickly recover after a bonk is what sets an ultra runner apart. That’s something I needed to work on by next year. I was bonking for a long time before I recovered and rescued. I saw a dude, who bonked and a reset a few times during the race (and he finished) while for me I bonked around 8:30am and never reset until around 1:30 pm, thus jeopardized the race. I will write more on bonking and what I learned from this race in another post. Nutrition is the key to break out from it.
But what I could do better is to manage my nutrition, like carrying candy bars to sustain during low periods. Also having a good pacer made a difference between finishing and not. I wish I had pushed a bit harder at night.
There is always a next year. MMT was tough. Now I did it, kind of, I have a blueprint on how to do it again next year, and to do it better. Though there was no buckle in the end, the friends I made and the experience gained is worth attempting this race.
P.S. if I could get Tracy race report on how her race went since I believe she was a stronger runner than me and how she ended behind me until mile 88.