50 miles is a distance I respect a lot. This is mainly because in 2009 I entered my first 50 mile race and experienced more suffering than I’d like to consider reasonable. It was truly humbling but at the same time uplifting to keep pushing on with so much left still to do. I did push through though, and finished it.
I had foolishly started the race with an injury that I had picked up the month before and although it had nothing to do with my performance on the day, it sealed a fatal blow to my running for the next two years as you’ll note from the void in race results until late 2011. In fact in the year following Masochist, I could probably count on one hand the number of runs I did. 2010 was not a good year.
I had some unfinished business with The Mountain Masochist 50M Trail Run.
My second 50M race was only just this year in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and thankfully this went a lot better than the last. I had run a good amount of 50K races in the intervening period and a number of longer adventure fun runs. I felt I had the 50K distance wired and was looking back at the 50M distance with some curiosity. San Juan had gone pretty well. I had run it consistently but felt I had more to give. Time for some redemption in the Blue Ridge Mountains!
Unfortunately, leading up to the race my usual medley of injuries were plaguing me. Particularly my hip which is essentially the same root cause as my knee troubles for my first Mountain Masochist. Seriously, modern medicine should really figure out why the Iliotibial Band is so damn useless at its job! I could barely run during the previous weekend’s trip to Buena Vista and was considering pulling out, but seeing as Silke was running it anyhow and I would be there regardless, I decided to give it a shot after a full week of rolling around on the floor with a tennis ball to the hip. Things felt a little looser and I figured, why not?
My arbitrary goal was 7h30m which I knew was quite aggressive. Lining up for a race for me is the same as standing at the base of a climb. There are no excuses, only commitment to the task at hand. Get to the finish line.
The start section had changed in the last couple of year due to some permitting issues. I, for one, was looking forward to the new course as it was now solely on trail, replacing the 6 mile road section from the original course. It would no doubt be slower due to that but was fine by me.
The start was incredibly well behaved thankfully. An almost pleasant pace. I had decided to use my road running shoes for this one, the Adidas Adios 2’s, which I figured would be great for the first half which had some long non-technical fire roads. This decision was put to question almost immediately as the new section had us ploughing across streams, up wet river beds and over leaf covered rocky single track. Oh well, I was still having a boat load of fun!
I took two minor wrong turns early on, probably because I was concentrating so much on my footing. Ben, who was right behind me, yelled at me and got me back on track in short order. After 7 miles or so we came across the first aid station which I blew through without stopping. Most of the rest of the pack stopped briefly to drop off their head lamps so I found myself all of a sudden with only one other runner who had also not stopped.
We ran together for the next several miles, chatting and swapping running stories whilst basking in the orange glow of the sunrise through the peak fall colours. There was no real effort at this point. It was just running. Simple and natural.
After 15 miles or so we crossed over a small river and onto the first true climb of the day. Almost immediately I found myself alone as I took the lead. The climb felt pretty effortless so I just went with the flow and kept pushing on. I took a look back a few times and couldn’t see anyone chasing. I didn’t really expect to be in the lead at all in this race let alone so early on. It made me slightly nervous but I felt good so what the heck. Game on.
I hit the aid station at the North end of the reservoir around mile 22 and knew that the next 4.5 miles was where it all fell apart the first time around. Mostly uphill on wide dirt roads, it felt more like mile 22 of a road marathon. The section proved to be tough yet again and I found myself in the first low spot of the day.
Nevertheless, I pushed on and tried to maintain a respectable pace, emerging at the Long Mountain aid station at mile 26.5. Glancing at my watch for the first time, it read 3h24m. A solid first half. This, however, meant nothing. This is where the race really starts. From here on in, it goes up, with most of the climbing coming in the second half.
As soon as I started climbing I started to feel better again. I remembered this section. I had walked almost all of the climb up to Buck Mountain the last time. Not today though. I stuck my head down and threw my legs at it. It felt neither easy nor hard. Just work.
I hit the top, stopping briefly at the aid station where someone mentioned I was only a minute or so off course record. I’m pretty sure he was wrong about that but even so, I knew things were going well so far. I set off again and shortly after passed the 50K mark in around 4 hours flat.
On the climb up to the formidable section known as ‘The Loop’, David Horton, former race director, pulled up along side me in his truck. I was obviously causing a bit of a stir in the race thus far as no one knew who I was! He asked me if I had run many Ultra’s before which I took to mean, ‘do you know what you are doing?’. I hoped so. We chatted briefly and he told me there was a pack of 3 chasing, about 3 to 5 mins back. It was a little closer than I had hoped but this was the Mountain Masochist and just getting into the top 10 here is an accomplishment. There was no time for reflection, I had a job to do and The Loop was calling.
I came into The Loop still feeling pretty decent. I filled my bottle at the aid and set off into one of the most technical sections of the course. This section take a lot of casualties. I have crewed this race before and watched first hand the demise of people as they emerge from The Loop. in 2009, I had entered it a mess and emerged a mess!
This year they had added a little extra bonus out and back section half way around which sent us up to the top of a small peak. I knew that this part would be crucial as the top of the field would see each other for the first time and know the gaps that were there for the taking. I desperately wanted to ensure my gap was enough to give the chasers doubt. The climb to the top was longer and harder than I had hoped. On the way back down I passed 2nd place and guess he was about 2 mins back. He had obviously broken away from the other two as they were some ways behind him.
I landed back on the saddle at the entrance to the out and back and pushed on along the ridge. I had expected it to slowly trend back downhill at this point but there was a further climb to be done. I had run out of water and probably neglected my food intake for a while. I think I had about 1 or two gels so far and had been snacking on aid station food fairly consistently but it wasn’t enough. All of a sudden I had a desperate craving for a cheeseburger. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. I was low. For the first time, I walked. Not much but enough to know I was struggling.
I felt deflated and knew I had made a mistake with my hydration and food. I craved something big. A cheeseburger. Yes, that would do it. I needed a cheeseburger. Unfortunately I was about a mile and a half away from the exit of the loop and I doubted they would have any cheeseburgers.
Shortly before mile 38, Brian Rusiecki passed me. It knew it was coming as the last mile had been rough but it was still a blow. Shortly after he passed me, I looked ahead and saw him take a short walk which surprised me. This encouraged me slightly as it reminded me that everyone out here was suffering on this section. I tried to hold on as best I could. Shortly after, I emerged at The Loop aid station once more and to my delight saw they had noodle soup. I downed the whole thing, chugged some water and almost immediately felt better. I set off, rounded the corner and saw Brian ahead of me down the hill. Game on.
A short effort later I hit Salt Log Gap aid station around mile 41 just as Brian was leaving. I took a bit of time here though as I knew I needed some calories and water. At this point I was fairly sure I had an ok lead on 3rd and 4th so I was mostly focused on just keeping my focus and finishing strong. I hit the penultimate aid station and knew there was only one crux left. The climb and traverse of a long ridge section before the final descent.
The going was tough on the way up with a few walking sections but I hit the ridge and felt I was moving ok along it. As I hit the highest point of the course around mile 45 I suddenly lost sight of the trail. This section is so deep in leaves it really needs some concentration to stay on course. I knew immediately I was off track but just couldn’t seem to locate either a trail or the next marker. I stumbled around for 4 or 5 minutes trying to get my bearings, cursing at myself for making the mistake. Finally I caught sight of the marker and saw the trail again which looked incredibly obvious all of a sudden. I suddenly began to worry about 3rd place catching up. On the plus side, the adrenalin kicked in and I started cruising again. Surely the last aid must be close.
No. It wasn’t. The adrenalin passed and I started to feel the fatigue again but knew that I was still moving well. 2 and half miles ish after my brief wandering I arrived at the aid station and asked what the gap to 1st was. They said 8 minutes. Damn it. I kinda wish I hadn’t asked as it now felt like an impossibly large gap. On the plus side, it was all downhill from here and I took off with the intention of giving it a solid last effort in the final miles.
1 mile to go, the large dusted flour sign on the ground read. I was stoked. I passed by David Horton again who was cycling back up the hill. I think after coming into the loop in 1st and exiting in 2nd he had probably thought I might have started unraveling and shouted ‘way to stick at it!’. I turned the corner onto the main road and let it rip.
7h19m for 2nd place. Solid. Brian had crossed the line 10 minutes earlier. I was pretty pleased with that. I think without the little detour at the summit I would have been a little closer. Not enough to contend the win but close enough to make it exciting. Redemption was earned.
I hung out at the finish, chatting and cheering for the other finishers. 3rd and 4th was pretty much a sprint finish, about 7 minutes behind me. I was stoked to see Ben cruise into the finish in 18th place in 8h20m. Only 20 mins out of the top 10! He had had a solid day with only one rough patch requiring some walking. Not bad at all for his first Masochist and a full 30 minutes better than my first time, and on a harder course!
Silke, finished in 5th place despite a pretty rough day all in all. She had felt good until half way but then struggled with cramps for most of the second half. We hung out for a while and chatted with the husband-and-wife 1st place duo, Amy and Brian on the bus ride back. We hung out for the awards ceremony, then jumped back into the car to head back to New York to watch some friends run one of my favourite races the next day, The New York Marathon.
The Mountain Masochist is truly a great race. It has history, competition, views, community and just about everything that makes Ultra running awesome. It’s not surprising that they have so many repeat offenders. I’d certainly like to add some more Masochism to my life.