What a nice way to end my '08 ultra season! And wow, Masochist is a TOUGH race! Not as technical as other 50s, but the climbs seems to go on forever (all 9,000 feet of them!). And in someways the fact that the majority of the race is on various types of dirt roads with good to decent footing means your legs take more pounding with the constant same motion, rather than the more varied movements of technical single track. Fortunately, there are a couple of neat single track sections to break it up. Lots of downed leaves made for pillowy footing in those sections.
With all that repetitive motion (2,000 more feet of climbing than descending), it was the hamstrings and upper calves in particular that bore the brunt. Felt at times like I was on a treadmill set at a max of 15 grade, with the continuous steep and long climbs! Despite a day that wasn't too warm (never got beyond maybe the low 60s or so), I cramped quite a bit. Never enough I had to stop, but it really slowed me in some otherwise runable sections, particularly maybe the third quarter of the race. Thank god for the rejuvenating force of downhills!
It was GORGEOUS in the Blue Ridges! Beautiful fall yellows and reds, as we were constantly under some level of forest cover, even on the dirt/forest service roads, which seem to make up maybe 2/3 of this course. Not a cloud in the sky. Temps got up to maybe into the low 60s, but I kept my vest on all day and just zipped/unzippedand rolled up my long sleeve tee as necessary. Lots of folks in singlets or tees, but you know me, always preferring to err on the side of being too warm rather than too cool!
There was really excellent race organization all the way around, with aid stations every 2-4 miles. Horton really hammed it up at the pre-race dinner and tonights' awards dinner. What a force of nature he is! He can get away with those non-PC comments (particularly about women) with his charisma and presence. He stepped down as RD after 25 years, and ran the race he created this year for only the second time.
I'll admit to being nervous in advance about the whole "agents of intolerance" aspect of Lynchburg country (you know, Jerry Fallwell Airport, Jerry Falwell Parkway, Liberty University!). But they didn't mix religion with sport (much), just some of the volunteers out there who put up signs with biblical proverbs coming into a few aid stations. Oh well, guess I can live with that. Maybe it was a good idea I didn't wear an Obama pin or shirt, which I was tempted to do! Might have gone without the aid! The nice thing was the whole spirit of an ultra community that comes together, year after year, with many folks earning 10 and even 20-year jackets, prizes for two different races series that this culminated for the year, and a sense that people knew each other and treasured this race as special.
My race went very well, I'm happy to report. Didn't make my "A" goal of breaking 11, but made my "B" of breaking 11:30 (11:24:30, good for 135th of 258 starters and 186 finishers). I had hoped to be among the top 50%, and I just missed that goal.
The early part of the race felt good, the pavement for 5 miles where I averaged 9:30s or so, and then some real nice double-track and rocky four-wheel-drive road. The middle parts where we were mostly on smooth gravel roads started wearing on me after a while. There was also a "long trip to the woods" toward mile 20 in there that cost me a good 10-15 minutes, but paid off as I felt much better after, and an Immodium prevented any further such problems! The stomach was mostly settled from then on. I enjoyed the 5 mile single track loop that came in the 30s or so, even though I started feeling the first hamstring cramping there. The last single track section, leading up to the final aid station at about 49, I suffered a fair amount the first two of the four-plus miles, and was caught by one guy. I remember struggling up the last really steep climb, as I felt like I needed to sort of plant my feet a little sidewise to muster the strength and not really seize up.
From maybe 47.5 on through the finish, starting with the final section of single track leading into the final aid station, the downhills really brought my legs to life. I started picking up steam and passing people, and the legs loosened up. Then I hit the last aid station, asked how many miles were left, to which I think they replied "3.5 miles," and I asked if they were "real" or "Horton" miles, and they said they were real. (Turns out, from my Garmin, it may have been closer to 4). I was in such a hurry that I just ate but forgoto fill my handheld, and so I only had a small bit of water plus half a Fuelbelt 8 ouncer with soda to get me through. I saw that I had about 41 minutes to make it under 11:30, and I knew I had to boogie! There was no running the few hundred yards back uphill to the AS once I realized I hadn't refilled the fluids. All the more incentive to finish fast!
Anyway, they said it was all downhill from there, and they were right! First a somewhat rocky dirt road, then a smoother dirt road, and then the last .75 mile or so on the paved road. All told, I must have passed 8-10 people those last 6 miles of downhill, before and after the last AS, and it felt good. I just focused on leaning into it and letting the turnover take over, and I was breathing pretty hard and concentrating intensely. I was really flying for a while there (or so it felt!). As it leveled out toward the finish, I still had a head of steam, and passed a woman and a guy. The guy was real nice about it as he heard me approaching, and said something gracious like "bring it home" or "it's all yours." I didn't want to show anybody up, but I just liked the feeling of ending the race running as fast as I could, and while I was doing that those folks were easing into the finish. Felt very satisfying to finish the race on a high note, and to make it under 11:30 with 5 minutes to spare!
It was really nice of Lisa to hang around at the finish, after her unfortunate DNF due to bad cramping issues. Hanging out with her over the weekend was one of the highlights of the race experience, and driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway the day before on the way in from Richmond, and over part of the old GEER course, was a lot of fun. I thought she would take the bus back to the hotel where the race was staged once I saw her limping back to 26.9 to drop (after being miles ahead of me). But she waited several hours for me once she got taken to the finish. It's nice to see a familiar face at the finish, for a change! Thanks, Lisa! So many racers I've gone to alone and felt the anonymity of the finish (especially if I've brought up the tail end!). It was nice to be a mid-packer for a change today! And I know Lisa, who's such an amazing athlete, will be out there doing great things at races in the coming months!
So, this was the last ultra of the year for me. It was kind of a breakthrough year, with eight finishes and my first 100 finish, but mainly because of the way things have gone since August. The first half of the year didn't feel so successful, despite some really enjoyable race experiences, in particular at Bel Monte, Bear Mountain, and Jemez Mountain. Maybe because I treated them as warm-ups for Bighorn, and then the DNF came, so it cast a negative pall on all of the previous months? But somehow it feels like things have been "clicking" since August--slimmer, running lighter with a handheld instead of pack, a blister prevention system that seems to be more robust, a few different training wrinkles like longer marathon-pace tempo runs mid-week, and just a more positive attitude. Feels like I'm longer running to just make the cutoffs, like I know what it means to "race" an ultra, and push it, and not be afraid to crash and burn in the process! Catoctin really set off a string of what has been four solid races to end up the year right! Really makes me feel confident going into '09. Hopeful to be able to "take it to the next level" whatever that means exactly!). I'm excited now to have races locked in for next year all the wya through the end of April, with some sense of what lies beyond that, too. Makes it easier to rest with a purpose in mind!
So, for now, it's 10 days to 2 weeks of only cross-training and healing. Be kind to my body time! So far, it's been two days of swimming, a day of elliptical/spinbike, with cold soaks, strethcing, and a massage thrown in. Then in about 2 weeks I'll resume training, focus on shorter speed, do Pete McArdle at the end of the month as a training run, and take on the SkyMarathon in Mexico on Dec. 14th. A nice little altitude challenge to end the year. But for now, it's R & R time!