Saturday, May 21, 2011

MMT100 - to the finish!

Let's see, where was I? Ah yes, Camp Roosevelt at mile 63. Time to head off into the night and up a hill. The next section got muddy and wet, partly from crossing a creek several times, but especially once it started raining again. I hid under my jacket, which I used more as a poncho to cover my pack too, seeing as I wasn't cold at all. That was nice, at least we had a good temperature to work with overnight.

This climb seemed really slow, and not because I was taking it easy on the climbing this time. The footing was a bit more challenging in the rain. Sure was good not to have rain all day long.

I also got a bit more tentative from not knowing the trail. I was careful to find the correct turn-off and not wander off into the woods somewhere. The trail markings consisted of a few (very few) glow sticks, the ubiquitous yellow flagging that we could always count on, and some hanging reflective markers. The reflectors worked well if you were looking up and if they weren't hanging sideways to you. So I always checked for the yellow flagging too, which could be seen in my Fenix beam when I got close enough.

Eventually I found the top and a smoldering fire pit, recognizing this as the location of the Boy Scout troop in stories from the 2010 race. This year I saw a tent but no signs of life.

The downhill was steep and slippery, but relatively short. I had to stop at a couple intersections to make sure I stayed on track, finding what I needed in terms of markings once I looked closely enough.

Back to the crew, yay! And it had mostly stopped raining for the moment, excellent.

[Aid station 11: Section rank = 93, Arrival place = 83]

John was coming with me for the next section, very cool. He was ready for rain, that's for sure:


After a quick (? well that's what I remember - or don't remember - anyway) transition we left the aid station for the climb up Jaw Bone:


I was stoked to have John's company for a few miles. We gabbed on and on, while I also tried to make notes of the climb for the next time I would see it - much later and near the end of the race. We took a short detour into the woods at a set of double flagging (which usually means a turn), but Susan came by to rescue us from our folly and set us back on track. Thank you! That was the most off-course I would be the whole time, can't complain about that.

The climb was easier than expected, and then we were at the ridge. I had been hearing snippets of talk all day about this section, called Kern's Mountain. It was the "new Short Mountain" compared to previous years. I have to say, it seemed a whole lot worse than Short Mountain (the section between aid stations 1 and 2). I'm quite sure that I'm biased because I had much fresher legs and feet back at the start of the race. But I was expecting boulder fields earlier and didn't see anything resembling that. Kerns Mountain? Yes, there are boulders and scrambling and way more rocks than anywhere else on the course.

So John got to follow along and be amused at my attempts to balance and stay upright through here. I was doubly glad to have him along to talk to, just to take my mind off this challenge. I figured this section would last quite a while, and it did. My feet weren't excited about it, but they managed OK. It was all just so... very... slow going.

Back in the clouds and fog again, it looked really neat at night from what little I could see. The whippoorwills were back too, I enjoyed listening to their calls. We passed one guy who was having a lot of trouble getting down some rocks. Not a great place to be having problems, as he still had a long way to go to get out of there.

Rocks, rocks, rocks, oh look a little moss to step softly on!, rocks, rocks... I think we climbed over a downed tree somewhere in here, rocks, etc.

The trail eventually got better and I was happy to actually be moving forward again (as opposed to whatever that was that I had been doing). When it took a noticeable turn downhill, I told John that was a good sign, and sure enough, there's the road!

I was happy about that until I stepped onto the road. Oh, actually, the dirt part was OK. Then it became pavement. I counted more pavement on this course than advertised. This section was the only part that mattered (to me). My feet absolutely hated it. I ran on the shoulder when I could, but mostly I was stuck suffering through it. No sense in prolonging it (or this report) - just try to run some and get it over with.

I was actually passed on a downhill for once, so that happened. Then there were lights and a lady writing down race numbers, and there was the Visitor Center, thank goodness.

[Aid station 12: Section rank = 72, Arrival place = 77 (and how am I still making up places?)]

John and Bob celebrated, and I happily ate a piece of pizza:


The race photographer caught us in a little glow of light with the duckies barely visible on the table:


Time to go so my friends could take a nap :)

I started up Bird Knob, happy to see another section that I had run back in February. I expected this climb to take a good long while. Actually, it wasn't bad, and that pleased me. Partway up I heard thunder and put my jacket-poncho back on in time to keep from getting soaked by the deluge that was suddenly dropping on us. I thought of the folks sleeping (or trying to) in the car and hoped they weren't worried about me. I was totally fine, not cold nor uncomfortable, just out for a nighttime walk in the woods.

The flatter section at the top took a lot longer than I expected. I think it was slightly uphill the whole way, or maybe I imagined it. I speedwalked forever. Finally I got tired of not finding the aid station, so I started running and it appeared around the very next corner. Wish I could pull that trick whenever I wanted.

[Aid station 13: Section rank = 48, Arrival place = 76]

It was still pouring buckets so I sat in a chair under their Easy-up to get water and mix a Spiz to drink. It was pretty quiet, and the volunteers were really helpful but calm while letting me do my thing and rest for a couple minutes.

Last non-crewed aid station done! I left heading downhill on a dirt road, briefly told a couple guys what I knew about the upcoming trail turnoff, and then tried to let them go ahead of me up the next steep climb. They initially thought I should go first - ha! - but eventually saw the error in that thinking and went on ahead. I was fine with my climbing pace, slow and steady, still getting to the top eventually and without overexertion.

Down the other side, other runners started coming out the woodwork here and there, stopping to do something and then catching up to me again. That was weird after being mostly alone in the woods all night. But it was nice to have company.

I followed the two guys up the next hill, but they kept climbing and climbing. I couldn't believe how long this hill was, I certainly didn't remember this part. I actually got mad at the two ahead of me who just wouldn't disappear over the top. Just get there already!

OK, time to calm down and get back in the groove. By the time we topped out it was morning. Or at least almost morning. Which was good, because the batteries were getting weak on my Fenix handheld light. I had hoped to run well down this next section, but the steeper stuff was hard on my feet by this point so it was more picking my way down for a while.

After a bathroom break, the trail got less steep and I tried to run a bit. There were more rocks than I had remembered. But the bottom came quickly enough, so that was something. By now the sides of the backs of my feet were hurting, so I was running more on my toes more than normal. That didn't seem to bother my legs and I could keep some semblance of a real pace, or at least one that I imagined to be a semblance.

The uphill road was nice, dawn had broken, and it was time for another aid station. Sweet. John met me on the road and we chatted as we made our way to Kathy and Bob and the wonderful chair.

[Aid station 14: Section rank = 75, Arrival place = 73]

Much earlier (y'all could have slept longer!):


Wow, I was still running at this point? Maybe just trying to look good for the crowd:


A better indication that I was a bit tired:


I dropped off my lights and was psyched to learn that I was leaving with only one Spiz baggie. I had been wondering how long this next section might be. I headed out down the hill, hoping for the best from my now-sore feet.

It was not an auspicious start. Any little rock garden slowed me down, hopping across little creeks was now a big event, and I started calculating miles-to-go. Susan came up behind me (how did she get behind me again?) and we reached the major road crossing together. We heard a huge truck barreling down the hill so we waited by the road until it blew past in a loud, wet rush of air. Susan remarked that she wasn't interested in dying in that manner.

I let her go on ahead, knowing she had been climbing faster than me all day (and night and day). Soon she disappeared, and I made my way up the dirt road in her wake. The gentle grade and easy footing was a nice relief, so I savored it for the moment.

Soon enough the way changed to trail, but it too was mostly rock-free for quite a ways up even as it got steeper. I thought I had read that we would be climbing up a creek bed, but it appeared that we were simply climbing next to one.

Eventually the steepness started getting the best of me, and my pace slowed as a couple folks passed me. I tried to see where this trail might top out, but that is almost always a futile exercise out in these woods. Then the trail really did turn uphill and follow the creek bed. Yikes. That's not good.

Now my feet were rather upset at me. There was no good way to walk from the top of one rock to the next without hurting. I tried to relax and just get there. I started playing a game where I would pick out a course ribbon or trail marking and say "I'll get THERE" and soon enough I would be there. That seemed to go rather well, so I repeated it over and over. Along with a couple "Hardrock, Hardrock" mantras under my breath.

I still had my iPod but really didn't want to mess up my happy associations from earlier running with painful memories for Paula's book and certainly not my favorite running music of various forms (Glee, Buffy, Dr Horrible). So I soldiered on up the hill without it and eventually got to the top.

A bit of flat stuff that felt OK, then a decent downhill that didn't hurt as much as I feared it might. Then some running on the dirt road - I also worried that this might be tortuous, but somehow this became the best surface I could ask for. Flat, vaguely soft, and predictable. Because it hurt both to run and walk, and it would hurt for less time if I ran, well, obviously I ran.

John saw me coming but said he didn't really recognize my gait. I was in "just get there" mode with aching feet. It was great to see him and Kathy and Bob, and especially to know that this was the last aid station! I was about to drop off my pack one last time and take only my water bottle to the finish line. Just gotta get there.

[Aid station 15: Section rank = 52 (what?), Arrival place = 72]

Bob had the fun idea of letting the duckies swim in the puddles leading to the aid station - they were finally in their natural habitat:


Kathy said that very few runners actually noticed the duckies. Maybe they just assumed they were hallucinating.


Hobbling just a bit coming in:


Go Team V...


A really cute photo that was taken after I left - this volunteer seems like a good sport:


A bug that was moving faster than I was, I'm sure:


A whole herd of us left the last aid station at about the same time. A couple chipper-sounding women turned out to be sweeps for the previous section between aid stations 11 and 12. I think they got more sleep than we did. It was nice to have company for a while, and the climb went fine for the second time.

The steep drop off the ridge kinda sucked but it wasn't too long. What was long was the next section through the woods, over rocks, here and there, not seemingly going anywhere. I could not for the life of me figure out where the road might be, given the topography I could see. This went on for hours. OK, maybe minutes. Or tens of minutes. A long time, whatever.

I felt like I was walking like my brother Kip when he gets blisters in a long race. Imagine feeling like that, and then having your team go the wrong way for a while? That would totally bite! I'll try to never do that to Kip again. I was still following race flagging, so I had that going for me.

Finally, FINALLY, there was the road and the location of aid station #1 so many hours before. I remembered many things about this road, and I hoped I could get down it more quickly than the hour it took me to get up. Again, hurts when ya run, hurts when ya walk (maybe even more so), might as well run!

I saw the beautiful house and yard out in the middle of nowhere... creek crossings under the road - counting 1, 2, 3, 4... Feet starting to yell louder... I wonder if I can find somewhere to prop them up in the air for a few minutes? ... running as much as I can even though I know it doesn't look like much... a truck whizzing by at a fast clip with a mean-looking dog hanging out the window... birds singing, creek making happy noises, Marcy making unhappy noises... creek under the road again for 5 and then 6 crossings.

Finally I reached pavement and couldn't stand it any more. I stopped and lay down on the side of the road and lifted my feet into the air. Ahh, that's nice. The blood was glad to move away from my feet for a few seconds. I stood back up and saw a runner coming toward me, I totally didn't expect that, but oh well! He ran on past and then there was the entrance to the camp!

One last "little" uphill and finally I was on the trail going back down toward the finish line. I saw John up ahead and warned him not to sound the alarm too quickly - I was picking my way down and moving slowly.

Here is Susan finishing a few minutes ahead of me:


I was not nearly so graceful:


John had time to take many pictures. The big bridge:


Duckies waiting for me under the little bridge:


Aw, you brought me duckies!


Almost out of the woods, in more than one sense:


The announcer called my name and suggested that I had to run around to the finish line. Does it actually look like I'm running? I'll let you decide:


And ...


Done!


Thank you for a great course and an awesome event!


[Finish line tally: Section rank = 79, final placing = 72, total time 31:23:56]

Completely finished:


Yeah, we'll just leave the socks on for now:


Yay for us! Huge kudos to my husband and friends, it was wonderful having you there with your smiling faces and cheers, always ready to help and make me laugh:


Getting a buckle at the awards ceremony, where it was also great to chat with Susan a bit. I wish I could have run better at the very end, but then we might have had to, like, race or something, and neither of us wanted that. So it worked out for both of us.


Mission accomplished! Now I've sufficiently scared myself about Hardrock, so I'll be back training and working on foot conditioning very soon.

Race splits are location here on the MMT100 website - nicely organized!

Photos courtesy of Aaron Schwartzbard, Kathy, Bob, and John

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