[To begin, I need to apologize for portraying individuals that I highly respect in an inaccurate or negative light in an earlier version of this post. I honestly believed when drafting my original MMTR post that I was merely telling the story of an enjoyable day in the woods with friends. I now understand how portions could be read another way and those portions have been removed. In unintentionally violating the trust of two people that I greatly admire, I have learned a valuable lesson in privacy and perception. While I cannot undo what I have done, I will try my hardest not to repeat it.
To those that I offended, I am very sorry for what I have written and how it violated your trust. To the rest of you, I apologize for wrongly portraying others.]
My run of the Mountain Masochist Trail Run this weekend was a big confidence booster at the start of this stretch with 5 runs of 50 miles or longer over the course of 6 weekends. Knowing that I haven’t been putting my miles in, particularly long run miles, I decided before entering MMTR this past Monday that I had no intention of racing it. All I wanted was to finish the hilly yet mostly runnable 50+ miles and to do so without being too miserable for too long. Mission accomplished.
Race morning began with me waking in the parking lot of the high school that serves as race headquarters. Despite the cold night and the fact that I was sleeping in my car, I slept pretty well… even if it was only for four and a half hours. Anyway, I woke up, picked up my drop bag from the back seat, and walked about 20 yards to the buses that would carry me to the start. After a seemingly interminable ride over winding country roads, five buses filled with runners arrived at the start. It was chilly… and dark, so I stayed on the bus until just before the start. Upon arriving at the starting line I saw a bunch of my ultra buddies including, Mike Schuster, Sean Andrish, and Derrick Carr. While I wouldn’t see much of Sean (injured) or Schuster (too fast) until the finish, I’d see DC on the course.
In fact, moments after the start I found myself running along side Derrick and Bethany Patterson. The three of us along with a changing cast of others would run most of the 7 or 8 road miles to the trail head together. At multiple points during the road stretch I felt that I was going too fast. I had hoped to lock into a conservative 50 mile effort of around 155 bpm, but found myself nearing 165 bpm on many of the climbs. On a few occasions, I raised my concern to Derrick, and he assured me that I was fine. This reassurance could not fully quiet the alarms that sounded when our group pulled up on Nikki Kimball’s shoulder. I knew that I had no business running with Nikki at any point during an ultra let alone that early.
On hitting the single track a conga line formed but shortly thereafter an uphill broke the pack apart. Derrick went off ahead and I settled in to a comfortable pace and pleasant conversation with Bethany. While the effort on the flats and uphills was a hair more than I intended, I knew that my average HR would be more on target and it was. We ran/walked the ups, held a comfy pace on the flats, and ran fast but relaxed on the downs all the while chatting away. I was having a blast.
Bryon Powell (me), Bethany Patterson, and Matt Warner,
enjoying the MMTR course on a beautiful November day.
Photo by Clark Zealand, soon-to-be-RD of MMTR.
[After the first “warm up” section, my average HR for each aid station split up to Long Mountain was between 155 and 161, with the exception of a 152 average on one down hill split. More importantly, my heart rate only spiked above] 170 bpm once (up to 172). Perfect. 170 bpm is the effort that I go out at in a marathon, so it’s definitely aerobic when I’m in shape. Spending most of my time below 165 bpm kept me well within my safety zone.]
As usual, I enjoyed settling into a long climb and all the more so this time after having already run so much. I so enjoyed eating the Shotbloks on the climb out of the aid station. While I’d had no problem downing a Clifshot about every 45 minutes up to that point, it felt great to get something a bit more solid in my stomach. Near the top of the climb I quite unexpectedly caught THE Courtney Campbell. He was having trouble with the climbs after going out with the leaders, but he would fly by me on the flats and downs. He and I traded places at least half a dozen times before the race was over. Regardless of an exact count of position changes, it was surely more than I’ve ever been a party to in an ultra.
From the top of Buck Mountain, I decided to simply log miles over to the start of the Five Mile Loop and did a pretty good job of not getting caught up with racing Courtney. It was during this stretch that I bumped up my Clifshot schedule to ever half and hour or so. Entering The Loop, I allowed myself to be the tiniest bit more aggressive with running inclines and walking the steeper hills. I’d heard stories that The Loop is really hard… and that’s simply not true. There is some of the best running on the entire course on the first half of the loop and nothing worse than some moderately rocky trail with the occasional climb in the second half. Perhaps two thirds of the way through The Loop, I started descending a technical leaf-covered downhill. I heard steps quickly approaching from behind. I had no idea who it could be. It turned out to be Courtney who I had open a gap on during an uphill stretch about two miles earlier. As he disappeared around a bend up ahead, it would be the last time I’d see him until the finish.
Coming out of the loop I started gaining a little confidence. I felt decent and had what was nominally 11.5 miles, but was likely closer to 13.5 miles, to the finish. Admittedly, I struggled at times over the road miles that followed The Loop. I’d already logged many running miles earlier in the day and this road stretch was, for the most part, highly runnable. Yuck! However, I knew I was moving well, so I pushed on – catching a runner or two over this stretch.
The second to last aid station is supposedly 7 miles from the finish, though it’s closer to 8. At this point, there are some great trail miles left. I headed out of the aid station strong and caught a runner not far into this leg. Unfortunately, not long after was the only poi
nt all day when I didn’t know where the trail was. After heading down a seldom used single track trail, the trail disappeared at the base of at rather steep hill. I looked to the right, to the left, and straight up the hill. No obvious trail and no flagging in sight. Frick! After what seemed like a minute or two I realized that the “trail” went straight up the hill in front of me. Now pissed off, I quickly put some distance between me and the guy I’d just passed on my walk up the hill. While I thought I was putting in a harder effort this penultimate section my HRave was only 158 bpm and my HRmax only hit 169 bpm. I guess this felt hard after two sections during which I only hit HRmaxs of 164 and 163 bpm.
It’s worth noting that at some point either just before or early into this second to last section I took two Advil and a Double Espresso Clifshot. I need to file this away as a magic combination. By midway though the section my tired legs stopped being so heavy and I felt like I was moving much more quickly at any given HR. Good stuff. I felt pretty high during this stretch.
Even if my HR hadn’t been going so high in the miles before the final aid station, I instinctually knew I was making up ground on the field. I don’t remember the details, but I think I caught a runner or two in the next to last stretch and one early in the final leg; however, even if I hadn’t passed anyone, I knew I was moving up. Feeling good and knowing I was less than four miles from the finish I decided it was go time. I locked into 165 bpm effort and was off down the leaf covered and surprisingly technical double track. The terrain didn’t matter, I felt good and knew I still had plenty of turnover and that gave me with plenty of confidence to attack the trail.
About a mile and a half or two miles into the final section I caught a runner who told me there were two runners just ahead. I kept flying. Still locked into that 165 bpm effort, I made good use of a long, gentle decline. Even while rocketing down a steep hill on a leaf-free dirt road at sub- 6:00 pace, no one pulled into sight. Regardless, big orange letters in the dust gave me a welcome message – one mile to go.
It was just after the final turn onto the pavement that I saw three runners 200 meters ahead. I kept my head down and rolled toward them cutting the tangents back and forth across the road the whole way. They were moving well; I was moving better. Despite the growing heaviness in my legs caused by the sustained effort of the past few miles and the 6:15 pace I was running on flat road, I halved the gap quickly and then halved it again. At 20 meters back, I could much better gauge their speed. They were chatting, but moving well. They looked strong. Not wanting to race neck and neck for the final 600 meters, I redoubled my effort as I passed. As I keep flying, I tried to peak over my shoulder. The good news – no one was on it. The bad news – the group of three had splintered. Someone had reacted. With the bear jumping on my back, I focused on the line. 400 meters to go. I thought to myself, “Why did I start kicking with a mile and a half to go after having already covered 52 miles?” I couldn’t come up with an answer, but I was stuck. Having flown by the others, I would have felt like a huge prick if I didn’t finish off the effort. I did. Race over. Final time – 8:30:43.
This race reinforced my belief that I (and likely others) can put in solid performance when not in top race shape so long as I run conservatively from the start and eat well. Once you take out the first section (warming up), last section (pushing it), and one other section (long downhill section), my average heart rate for each and every one of the other 15 sections (representing a total of 41 miles) was between 155 and 161 bpm. Here’s a tally of the number of those 15 sectinos that I averaged a given heart rate:
- 155 bpm – 2 sections
- 156 bpm – 3 sections
- 157 bpm – 3 sections
- 158 bpm – 2 sections
- 159 bpm – 4 sections
- 160 bpm – 0 sections
- 161 bpm – 1 section
That’s pretty darn consistent! My average HR for the run was 157.
As far as collateral damage, I had some blisters and some chafing. Although I barely noticed until I took my shoes off, I had my three most common blisters – two heel blisters and a blister on the end of a particular toe. No biggie. The chafing was much worse. It’s four days later and I’m still rather uncomfortable. I don’t need to go into the specifics (trust me, you don’t want to know), but for a bit more information regarding this chafing incident and how to deal with chafing in general, check out:
You Can’t Chafe There! – A Story of Why I Don’t Want to Learn Something New Every Day
For more detailed information on the course, split distances, my split times, and my heart rate data go here: [broken link removed].