TL;DR This race in May (MMT) means a lot, so I wrote a long post about the first training run. Summary – a cold slow run on the first third of the actual course.
It has begun. I am not quite in a mood for training yet after more than a month off since the Devil Dog 100 race. Whether I am ready or not, training comes upon me again. I think though I am in a better position to start this year’s training than last year. At least, I am relatively in a good health and I am more upbeat about it. There’s an urgency that I need to get back out there as soon as possible to kick start the machinery. The MMT race is in the third week of May. There is still time. Time is also short. This is a recurrent theme. I have a whole life ahead (Goal #99) and yet there seems to be not enough time. There is so much expectancy that this year will be a good year.
A little background, though no secret at all to my regular readers. The topic of MMT came up many times. I have talked/written to death about it. Last year I attempted this 100 mile race that was considered a much tougher 100 miler race than any I tried before. I ended up getting very close to finishing it, reaching mile 95 with only about 6-7 miles to go (the course was about 102 miles). Due to a kind of weird lapsed of focus at night, I burned up a lot of time and it caused me to miss the final cutoff in the morning. This year, I hope to correct this mistake — to be a stronger night runner. Yes, this will be another redemption arc, just like the Devil Dog. And I know I have a good chance to do well.
MMT is no joke. It is not extremely hard but it is no walk in the park. We will have four training runs before the real race. Each one is just plain hard on the actual course and they are spaced a month apart. This allows me to gauge my progress. The first run was from the race start to mile 32. They get progressively harder. They will cover the entire course by the end of all three training runs.
How did I do? I knew I was out of shape even before doing the run. I had a couple runs since my last real race (the Devil Dog). I ran Naked Nick 50k and New Year Redeye 50k. I wrote on both in previous entries. Verdict: The run was a struggle and I mostly walked the course.
On top of being out of shape, I also had a slight injury on my foot. It is an old problem because I tend to twist my ankle (especially the left) a lot. I might have reinjured it during Devil Dog. Each subsequent runs, I hurt it more. I had couple bad rolls at Naked Nick. I did it again at Redeye. I aggravated my left ankle. The last two weeks, I was basically off my foot. You might say, why I ran then. Men are stupid is all I have to say. My justification is I could not sit around while a training run is happening.
I was hoping for it to get better. I finished the training run with the ankle being no better or worse. I guess I was lucky.
I knew even with the injury and being physically weak, I should get out onto the course. We met at 5:30 AM at the Signal Knob Parking which was about an hour drive from home. I had to be up by 3:30 AM, to prepare. Mind you, I hit the snooze button a few times before finally getting up and getting into my car by 4:15.
It was hard to wake up this early on a normal day. I made it tougher on myself because the night before I had various things to do and that I did not get to bed until past 1.
[start rant] It was a busy Friday, both at work and in my personal life. It was like a whole week of work condensed to one day. The tale is just too long to tell. My mailbox key broke and I had that replaced. It is a story for another time trying to get the post office to fix it and I had been going at it for a full week, and actually we didn’t receive mail since Christmas. 2. Plus my car was in the shop for a recall due to the gas tank could be corroded (and could fall off, and I knew about this since last summer) and it needed an inspection. They ended up spraying a sealant on it. I was worried that I would not have my car back in time for the training run. Dealing with a rental car, but in the end everything worked out. 3. Another thing was our CRAW team had only 12 miles left to go. I did not have to run it that day, because we have 9 other people on our team to do it, but no one ran. We could leave it for the next day, but I did not want that since we were so close to the finish. So around 6 pm on Friday, I put on my clothes and headed outside to do almost a half marathon to get it done. This was a virtual relay race that went around the world. By 9-ish at night I finished it. 4. I cleaned up, ate, got warm up then I attended to some work left from my company I needed to do that night. I did not finish everything until midnight. 5. Then finally there was still laundry and packing for the trip to be done. I ended up with maybe three hours of sleep. [end rant]
When everything was packed, I was ready for bed. It was too hot to sleep with everything on me, and of course, I stripped back down. I put on again everything early in the morning.
Dressing for the cold: For the run, I ended up having on a tee shirt as a base layer. I wear a 32 degee brand thermo long sleeve over as my mid. They are like underwear but super warm and thin. I swear by these. I think they are made out of a special material that reflects heat, like those space blanket. Then I put a super thin hoodie sweater as my outer. We were required to bring a rain jacket that also served as a windbreaker. I was warned about the high wind. The temperature ranged from 20-30 F, in the freezing range. The wind chill factor was probably in the teens. I had gloves and a wool cap, but my fingers still were cold most of the time. I added a fleece jacket and brought along a puffy down jacket, as precaution. By the time I finished the run, I wore all of them because it was that cold. The puffy jacket though I left that in the car for use after the race. Because rain was expected, a fleece was better than a down jacket because fleece will stay warm even when they wet.
I packed myself a lunch, which was just a (cubano?) sandwich. I had the same for breakfast. I added a gatorade, some gummies and bars. I filled up my water pack. This run required having a turn sheet because the course was not flagged. I had to download the map to my phone and tried to get the offline map to work and saved a copy of the directions on my phone. I already studied the course ahead of time. I did not have a printer. So in the middle of night before falling asleep, I wrote out all the turns by hand on a piece of paper. (I actually printed out at work but forgot to take it home.) I put that in a zip lock. This would be the most important paper. I prayed that I would not get lost.
The course: I have been on the course before because I ran the MMT last year (MMT stands for Massanutten Mountain trail 100 mile race). Supposingly, I should know the way. As I ran this again, I was surprised by new things or sights I missed during the first time because I had forgotten about them. There were way more climbs than I remembered, such as the long climb after Edinburg Gap. That whole stretch was completely new to me. Somehow it was blocked off from my mind. Also the reservoir after Woodstock was a surprised to me. I didn’t know to go around the lake. Now as I write this, I kind of have vague recollection.
The course was not hard. It was just one way – follow the orange blazes until near the end then follow the blue blazes. There was like just one turn. There were a few tricky sections but the usual mantra was to follow the orange.
We started out with about fifty people. Some did not show up during the roll calls. A few dropped along the way. I ran near the back end of the group as usual since I am not a strong runner. I supposed there were a few behind me. They must have dropped off later into the run and I ended up being the last four to finish. Also some would come out again the next day for the Waterfall 50k (WTF 50), the race I couldn’t get in this year.
The first few miles were on the road. It was snowing and started sticking. I think it was beautiful. I ran in the snow before but it also made me nervous because my shoes were not made for snow. The traction on them was not that good.
Pacing: Having done the MMT, I know to go slow. It was not a race. I stayed with maybe 10 people. We entered the trail and went up the Short mountain. Some started to run ahead. Four or five passed me by. I tried to keep my pace. By about 8 miles I was tired. Going up hills got me breathing heavily. I was not in the best shape and my glasses fogged up. It was hard and I was wondering when I would black out.
The first aid station was at mile 12. It was a welcome sight. We had hot food, some chips and sodas. I stayed there for a bit. I remember that during my race, I did not stop here or even at the next station. Today though would be different. It was not a race. I stopped along with my group. Larry called me as I came in. He knew me by name but I never met him, well I might have, but I could not remember him. I thought he was John, another famous runner in the club. They all knew every runner by name. I was still with a group of about 8. Charleen was quite famous in our group. People were calling out to her. Michelle and Jamie were with them. Both too were excellent runners. The women were in a high spirit. Three guys in front and four ladies in the back. I was sandwiched in between them.
The three guys pressed ahead. I followed them so I don’t have to look for directions myself. The mid section to Woodstock Tower, before our second aid stop was boring to me. The three guys took off at a much faster speed and disappeared. Mind you I was leading them before. I was left my myself. The ladies were taking their time in the back.
A bit lost: I knew to stayed on the orange blazed trail but some sections of it seemed to be unused for some time and the blazes faded. I was started to doubt if I was on the right trail. A couple times I could not see the trail at all. It got me worried that I was off the path. I looked around by instince went on ahead following along the ridgeline. I was back on the blazed trail.
At 2nd Aid Station: I arrived at Woostock aid station by 1 pm, well ahead of the cutoff of 2 pm. The three guys were still there. Soon the ladies arrived as well. The temperature dropped as we stood around. My water hose became frozen. I had to kept it underneath my shirt to melt the ice. I met a few familiar faces. Carl, son of a former race director and one who ran me a few years back at this place, greeted me. He left me a good impression and he also one of those guys who wins races. Dan, the current race director was also there. Carl’s father (one of former RDs) was also there cooking for us. I took some hash browns. There was also a guy there who helped me at the MMT around mile 80-85, but I did not know his name. I was so grateful to him during my race. He was one of the best volunteers to kick me out the aid station when I was about to give up. I was glad to see him again but did not get a chance to say hi. When the guys set off, I followed along.
The last 12 miles were easier. The three guys in front got tired and slow down their pace and I could keep up with them by now. We picked up a few other stragglers by the time we got near Signal Knob. We climbed up toward the Meneka Peak. I showed my worth of knowing the trail here but directing them away from the Meneka Peak. Both trails were to the left and the direction told us to take a left without specifying which left. I saved the whole group from getting lost there.
We then ran down on the other side. I think it was the Sidewinder trail or something. It was basically a series of switchbacks to the parking lot. During the descends the ladies caught up to us and they were speed demons. The three guys couldn’t kept up with them, so they overtook us. I always like a fast descend. Even though it is supposed to be fast, it was 3-4 miles long and probably took us close to an hour to get down. We reached the parking lot by 4:45. 10 hours after we started. My original goal was to finish under 9 hours. During the MMT, we do not go to the Parking Area but take a short trail to Elizabeth Furnace. It is about 32 miles. My watch battery died around mile 28 so, I don’t know the distance it would have recorded for the full run.
The Finish: Again it was a very cold day even after we finished. The volunteers had ramen noodles for us. I would take anything hot. After me, were couple more guys. The last guy came in at 5:08. Larry (a different Larry) who organized this training run was accepted into Hard Rock, a very famous race. We all congratulated him. He said that race will be in mid July. It is like when I mentioned I run marathons to people, they think I was talking about 5k because they have no way to understand the distance. This guy is running 200 miles, and it is outside my realm of comprehension.
This was how I imagine a good day to be. I fell asleep soon after getting home and slept in the living room. Of course, I had to wake up in the middle of the night to go to bed for real in my room. My ankle was still hurt.
Some conclusions: 1. I know what I need to work on to be stronger. I need to work on hills. Uphill downhill. Plus I was horrible with flat. I couldn’t run much. I need to able to run for a long stretch of time. Yes I was out to of shape, so need to work on everything. Also my foot needs to heal.
2. Challenges. My mom asked why am I doing this to myself. I realized the problems I laid out scared her. When I am worried, she is twice as worried. When I think a race is crazy, she thinks I am a complete lunatic to attempt it. She wanted me not to run. It was impossible for her to see I find joy in such a challenge. I have to be careful how I project my thoughts. I have to self-censure myself from anything that indicates danger or hardship. She asked why don’t I do races that I have confident in completing, ones that have less risks. I personally think it is because of the challenges I am attempting it. I don’t want to run easy races.
3. This is kind of a rant because I was a bit miffed. I did not get along well with some people I ran with. They weren’t hostile, but it was like being on one toes, uncomfortable. I will leave it as that. I have many theories, however, I will keep those to myself.
Many were their first time too. I hope they realize that the actual race is 4 times longer. So good luck to them. There are still three more training runs.
PS. Happy Lunar New Year! (coming Sunday)
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