I found myself walking up another hill... mountain. I've just passed the Wiggins Spring aid station (31.5 miles) where I had just switched into a new pair of shoes. Whether I consciously blamed my 3 mm heel-to-toe drop Inov-8's for being the reason for my tight calves or not was beside the point - I did it because I convinced myself the only way I was staying in the race was if I changed shoes. Must be a mental thing - I was hoping I could start a new race with 19 miles to go in the middle of 50.
As I climbed I kept peering up the gravel road, noticing the increase of snow. Everyone had warned about the high volume of snow the second half of the course received via Tropical Superstorm Sandy. 1 inch, 2 inches, 3 inches, until I veered off onto The Loop (33 miles) where the snow became a constant 6-8 inches deep with drifts coming up to my knees. This trend continued until the final 2 miles of the course where we finally dropped below a certain elevation unknown to me. Sun was bright in the mountain sky nonetheless.
I clumsily trudged my way up to Mt. Pleasant and punched my bib at the overlook. I wanted to stay there and enjoyed the snowy expanse of the surrounding slopes. But it was cold and I had just been passed by two more runners making my position 15th place. I was supposed to be racing! I turned around taking one last glance at the view and continued my way, knowing I had nearly15 more miles of snow. While running off the summit I questioned my intent of being in the race; I knew I was going to finish, I had already overcome the temptation of dropping out 4 miles prior. Now I debated whether to simply run in or actually try to pass people and improve my position. Without much debate from the evil side, my competitive spirit told me to blitz the downhill and see what would happen. After all, running on the soft snowy downhill warranted less risk of injury upon a fall.
The snow was great! Never being a solid downhill runner, I was surprised when I started passing people on the downhill side of the loop. Soon I realized I had passed 5 people and by the end of the loop I was back in 10th place. I continued to push on the gravel downhill and passed another runner. Suddenly I wasn't feeling as bad. Maybe the change into more cushioned shoes made the difference for my legs. With 10 miles remaining my spirits were lifted and I continued to have a solid race. Running on the ridge, we all experienced great difficulty with footing in the snow and legs took a beating. Although I was having a better time “racing” than the first half, I continued to push my legs to experience feelings they probably didn’t want to feel. I learned to accept the uncomfortable feelings the remainder of the race having brief moments in 8th before finishing 9th overall. Top 10 was an enticing finish considering the valued Patagonia Down Sweater awarded!
This was my lowest finishing place out of the 7 ultras I have run. But, Mountain Masochist was my most satisfying ultra to date. The vibe this race has and the place attachment the Blue Ridge Mountains have on me really made it an experience worthwhile. I came into the race with little training and preparation to run 50 miles. What I did do though was mentally prepare myself for what was to come and although I battled with the psyche all day, I was able to win the mind-game. I am proud of that.
Clark Zealand has continued to make Mountain Masochist as special as it was when Dr. Horton started it in 1983 and directed for 20 some years. The 30th annual of MMTR ended up being as eventful as ever. The ultra-community in central Virginia is great and the people that go to all the Lynchburg area ultras are great people! Mountain Masochist was also the first ultra my wife had been too, making it a more shared experience for me this time.