This is coming from my husband Alberto regarding his recent MMT 100.
For many years now I have planned on doing an ultra in every state, preferably a 100.
Lately I’ve been calling my events Demo day. This is recalling my first 50 miler, JFK, which, so far, has been the most painful. Since then I have been doing longer runs. Doing MMT 100, I was afraid of the challenge, more specifically the pain that is always inflicted on my ankles and feet by the rocky terrain. I guess it’s a good thing to train and be in the best possible physical shape, it pushes you. As I started prepping for Massanutten I started having phantom pains which is usual for me. I have been looking forward to run this event for years and finally it all worked out for me to be able to train. I came to the start and didn’t have a strategy other than having a conservative pace of a 15 minute mile through to the halfway point.
My crew for this event consisted of my wife Allie and two of my sisters. They saw me off at the start. Since my sisters are inexperienced, I told them to go back and rest and then meet me at mile 33, Elizabeth Furnace. A couple of minutes after the start I briefly wondered when I would reach my breaking point. On some of the events my body wants to stop because I’m so tired or am in such pain that I don’t want to continue. This is when I start to rely on other factors such as my wife to keep me going. I always promise her the finisher swag for all her crewing efforts. Then I focused on the moment and enjoyed the scenery.
On entering mile 33, Elizabeth Furnace I was promptly greeted by Gary Knipling who as everyone probably knows is a lively person who bestows his energy upon you. He asked me how I was doing and told me I had a good pace. I told Allie and my sisters that I was feeling good and I continued on after refueling. At mile 38, Shawl Gap, I saw them again and had nothing to report. I asked them if they had eaten and I knew they would have about 4 hours until meeting me at mile 54, so I suggested they get something to eat. I also asked my wife to pick up some Gatorade in a flavor I liked.
At mile 54 I still felt good and my sisters and wife took care of my feet and provided me with fresh clothes. From mile 54 to 61 I was revitalized by the fresh clothes, good food, and the Gatorade that my wife provided. For the next 7 miles I felt empowered and I ran fast, almost a 12 minute mile. At the top of the ridge I passed Rob, who I just met at this event. I felt like I was flying and I kept the pace for about an hour and arrived at the next station just minutes after twilight. I surprised my wife that I arrived a half hour earlier than expected. As they cared for me, I expressed my latest thoughts about giving them the night off because I still felt in great shape. I put on a long sleeve shirt and my wind shirt and after a few minutes and a kiss to my wife I was on my way.
Little did I know, the fun part was about to start. If I had known, I would have asked her to see me on the next aid station. The next seven miles from camp Roosevelt to Gap Creek were tough, filled with rocks, water and mud. Mostly water, which did a number on my feet. So I arrived to the next aid station and the guys were nice enough to get me moving before I spent any real time at the fire pit. If my family had been there I would have asked for new shoes and fresh socks, but of course they weren’t so this was where the fun began. Still strong, and in good spirits, though my pace was slower as predicted because it was dark and the exhaustion was beginning to set in.
I climbed to the ridge at a slow pace, barely attempting to run. I was going so slow that I couldn’t get my blood going and my eyes began feeling heavy. At the summit I started traversing the ridge and my eyelids felt heavier than ever. You’ve heard about people falling asleep and hallucinating, I never made it to that point, but close enough. I was drowsing, like when you start falling asleep at the wheel. Every stumble would bring my eyes open for a moment. At one point I ran into a shrub, waking up and trying to find the trail or markers! My big mistake was not taking any caffeine as my wife suggested earlier. Several times I sat on a rock for a minute to rest my legs and close my eyes, making sure to remember which direction I was heading. The last time I sat down, I was woken by a light coming towards me and it was a fellow runner who found herself going in the wrong direction. Lucky for us some runners were behind me who confirmed we were on the right path. After that I pushed through to the next aid station.
It was during this section that I was by myself most of the time. The thoughts came across my mind of telling my wife that this would be my last 100 miler. I was tired, but still felt strong. It wasn’t a decision because I wouldn’t be able to finish the run, because I still had plenty of time. It was based on the thought that I spend so many hours running on weekends, when we could have more time as a couple. Plus, she has to put up with as much sleep deprivation as I do when she is crewing at these events. Also, I’m not a great athlete and recovery doesn’t come easy to me.
I arrived at the Visitors Center aid station, mile 78.1. The smiling faces were there as at all of the stations. They offered me some well-needed coffee and to help me replace my batteries since my fingers were numb. As I was changing my batteries I heard a runner turning in his number. It is usually at this point where the exhaustion sets in, it is still dark, and you’ve just had enough for one day. I’ve been there myself, but it wasn’t going to be me. I sat down by the fire pit, wishing my wife was there, under the vigilant eye of a volunteer who reminded me not to stay too long.
It was 3.5 more miles to Bird Knob (I don’t remember Bird Knob, maybe I skipped it or I was still asleep), then 6.5 more to the Picnic area. I would be seeing my wife pretty soon. I have always been very accurate with the times I have given her, but I would be late this time, by almost an hour and a half. I felt bad because she and my sisters could have slept longer. I made it to mile 88, the sun was up, and my wife and sisters were there. I mentioned my thoughts about this being my last 100, but she brushed it off (uh, huh, ok.). After a little bit of coffee and new socks I was on my way again.
I had a steady pace, well within the time limit. By the time I reached 96.8 I knew I was going to finish. I greeted my wife and one of my sisters massaged my calves while I had some chicken soup. I made sure I had enough food for the next section. I even sprinted for a few yards just to show my state of mind. I got on the gravel road, made a left onto a fire road going uphill, feeling strong. I even sped up a little on the hills and I kept going like that for a half an hour. Wait, half an hour? I haven’t seen any markers, I thought I should have turned by now. I remember reaching the top last night in half an hour. Time to retrace my route. A lot of things crossed my mind. You know you have to go back. I think it over and over, why does this road look familiar? It cannot look familiar because I did it at night. I don’t want to run back. What if I’m right? But I had to go back till I found the last marker. Once again, I saw Rob in the distance, getting ahead of me, making the turn that I just missed. I was glad that I wasn’t really lost, but I lost my enthusiasm to finish strong. From there it was a lot of uphill and I kept looking for the downhill. Some runners caught up with me, I passed Rob briefly and then he passed me again. I tried to keep up with him to no avail. I wasn’t thirsty or hungry, but I kept drinking and eating anyway, knowing I should. When I reached the camp I finally picked up my pace and I looked at the river and the log bridge and as I crossed someone behind me told me “that’s it, you made it”. Just before I stepped off the bridge my wife cheered for me. That came as a nice surprise because I’m always looking forward into the distance trying to catch sight of her and I hadn’t seen her until the last second. She gave me instructions to follow the ‘victory lap’ and then I felt like all the eyes were on me when listening to the crowd and the race director announcing my name. This is the best feeling of all. I’m not one who likes to draw attention, but these people cheering for me was very moving. As I crossed the finish I was congratulated by Kevin Sayers and then kissed by my wife who didn’t mind how gross I looked or how I smelled.
I told my wife at the end of the event this is the last one. She said just wait one week and we’ll talk about it. I replied “this is not because I don’t want to, I love these events, these distances. It’s just time consuming and physically demanding for both of us.”
I finished the event tired but still in one piece, or so I thought. It’s been a week now, and I realize how this event brought me down. It was somewhere in the dark that I came to the decision that I was sacrificing too much, not seeing my wife because I spend so much time training. I haven’t forgotten about the pain. I was hoping to be broken to the point where I didn’t want to continue anymore. That didn’t happen, but somewhere around mile 75 my mind had made a decision that I’m starting to regret. So I guess my mind and body weren’t one. I’m glad to say that the MMT 100 lived up to my expectations and really broke me.
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