Stabu finished a 50 miler this weekend. The Mountian Masochist.
I just wanted everyone to see the course. Holy Cow!!!!! Congratulations, Stabu!
// Nov 6, 2012 at 10:51 am
You have seen the picture. Now read her story. Unbelievable.
I went into this race knowing full well that I would not necessarily finish. MMTR has a reputation of being a really tough course with rocky, rooty trails and 9200 feet of climbing, but attracts seasoned ultrarunners every year. It also has a strict 12 hour cutoff which I knew would be very tough for me considering the course. That said, the website *did* say something about it being a great first 50 miler because of all the support –so of course I latched onto that little bit and ignored the rest of the silly details. Because it sells out so quickly, I jumped on it as soon as registration opened in May. While I am very far from a seasoned ultrarunner, it sounded like my kind of fun! ?
Training went as well as it could have; I had to deal with a lot of heat and humidity in Umstead this summer, but I now know that park better than my own house. Only some minor aches, pains, trips and stumbles, but nothing beyond what I am used to. I had the “good” fortune being part of a layoff right around my peak months of mileage, so I took advantage of it and spent even more time on the trails. Even with the successful training, I still knew that I had a huge mountain ahead of me – literally and figuratively. After doing the Eastern Divide 50k in June I realized that the trails up in the VA mountains were no joke. Very long extended climbs, with lots of rocks and roots to trip me up along the way (and we all know how coordinated I can be on the trails).
The week before the MMTR, the RD started posting frequent updates on the course conditions – a strong cold front combined with *that* freak storm dumped a fair bit of snow up in the higher elevations of the course– which were also the most challenging sections. They cleared the trails as best as they could, but the morning before the race, we were warned not to have high expectations this year — it would be a completely different race. Whatever, bring it on!! I knew at this point that I was going to fight to cross the finish line, even if they had to chase me down. Turns out I wasn’t so far from predicting my fate…..
We went off with a bang at 6:30 with our headlamps on, immediately navigating some rough jeep trails and running through several cold mountain streams. Well-draining trail shoes with Smartwool socks – priceless! It felt like we headed mostly up (and I thought the first half was the easiest??), but kept plugging forward. I ran as conservative as I could, eating at every aid station, walking when others did (the other runners all looked like they knew what they were doing, so when in Rome…). I was very excited to hear from another runner that around mile 15 or so we would be headed on a more ‘normal’ gravel road for a few miles, only to be disappointed by the fact that it was all.up.hill. We were rewarded with a nice downhill after that, however. Aid stations were placed about every 3-5 miles apart, and I paid close attention the cutoffs at each one. At every station was a board that would tell you what time you needed to be through in order not be pulled. All day, I had an image of a big white ghost coming from behind, and I just needed to stay ahead. Just finish….just finish….
The big climbs actually started around mile 20. I actually felt pretty good during the first 26 miles, and climbing into the half-way point I was pretty comfortable with my time. I was starting to feel like the ghost was further and further behind, and it would be possible to finish under 11:30, even knowing that the course was about to get tougher. We left the mid-point aid station heading straight up to the next climb –I think it must have been about 3 miles? It essentially went straight up Buck Mountain on an extremely steep, rough jeep trail. It was all power-walking at that point and somehow I still made good time. I made lots of friends out there as everyone wants to commiserate. I passed people, people passed me, and then we would pass each other again here and there. Ultrarunners can be a strange bunch, but lovely. We reached the top of that climbed to be greeted by the theme of Rocky playing over and over – kudos to that aid station for listening to that all day long. It was tempting to stay there as they were grilling out, had a pot of soup, and a general feeling that it was all one big party. Alas, I have a ghost chasing me.
We finally made it to the ‘Loop’. I had heard so much about the Loop throughout the day…. that it was a tough, steep climb over single track and boulders, roughly 5 miles around. We had the added bonus this year of it being covered in a lot of snow, ice and mud. The course ran up to a summit where we needed to punch our race numbers – I had envisioned people at the top congratulating me for making it to the top, and happily punching my number for me. Instead, I climbed up crazy snow-covered icy trails, climbed over many boulders only to reach the top and find a little hole punch tool thingy hanging from a string from another boulder. All that, and I have to do the work myself. The view was amazing though, but I had no time to stay and enjoy it as I had really slowed down was losing time. I was hating this trail – I am not a snow runner (Dr. Seuss can attest to my awful whining on snowy icy runs), and I could not keep my footing to save my life. I was reduced to a lot of walking, while more experienced trail-junkies passed me left and right. My shoes would not grab anything and my feet were frozen. I had taken to running off to the side when I could, but this meant running in 6 inches of snow. I wanted so badly to run, but could not figure out how stay upright and move quickly. This was where the tears first started, because I knew at that point that my chances of making the cutoff and were pretty slim. A 5 mile loop took me over an hour and a half to cover – it was incredibly disheartening, and I didn’t need that at mile 38ish.
Just when I was ready to throw in the towel, one of the volunteers came up the trail and was yelling to everyone that the RD had extended the cutoff by 30 minutes because of course conditions. Yay! No problem. I’m off this crazy trail, and my frozen legs actually have some pep! So I trudged along, thinking I was through the worst of it. All I had paid attention to were stories of the Loop and naively thought that the race would be downhill from there. Turns out it was uphill for quite a while, but I still kept a decent enough pace that I thought I may even be able to come in under the original 12 hour cutoff. I reached the second to the last aid station around mile 42, was told I was doing great and to bring it home –right down that snowy icy trail. Whachootalkinaboutwillis?? Followed by a string of obscenities which were totally inappropriate for a polite nice girl like me ? I was back in the snowy, muddy, icy trail hell.
But up the trail I went – up, up, up with more snow, ice and mud. Surely this trail is shorter because I had not heard of it during the race? More tears, more obscenities, and about 45 minutes down the trail, a strange man pops out from behind a tree….well, hello Erik! I was so excited to see him because I was sure he must be close to the trailhead, so I asked him how far he hiked in…5 minutes? 10? Am I close to the last aid station? Well….he had hiked in about 2 miles from the last aid station. That was after about 3 miles from where he parked the car, which was about .5 miles from the finish. So he had covered over 5 miles. Cue second meltdown. Or is it the third?
That was it for me – I was convinced I would not make the last cutoff. But he kept pushing me forward, taking pictures, trying to use his ‘Erik humor’ to keep me moving. I continued to whine louder and louder tripping and sliding all the way down the trail. Finally we reached the end of the single track and hit the last aid station around 47 miles. I really thought they would tell me my day was over, but at 47 miles I was fully prepared to throw some punches and keep running toward the finish. I didn’t even care if the finish line was gone at that point – I didn’t see a white ghost yet and I was running 50 mile if it killed me. I knew there were several people still behind me, but others had been pulled off at the last few aid stations. As it turned out, they told me I had 45 minutes to cover 3.8 miles. That distance sounded easy enough, but it was straight down rocky jeep trail covered in more snow, mud and ice. Also, it was getting dark and I had left my headlamp at the second aid station.
I headed down the jeep trail with my cheerful spouse tagging along. As we moved along, it started getting darker and very difficult to find a clean line to run in the tracks. I had left my headlamp back at the second aid station thinking I would not need it, but fortunately Erik had a flashlight with him so we had a little light. Two runners passed me. I knew at this point that I would not make the cutoff as I was slowing on the descent trying to avoid any more tripping, and generally feeling defeated by this course. I had a feeling that when we would finally pop out on the road, the volunteers would be there to tell me I would not be able to finish, and that everyone had left. Even when we passed the brightly painted pink line marking only 1 mile to the finish, I didn’t care- I knew I would not make it, and would have the dreaded DNF next to my name.
We finally came to the trailhead at the road where Erik parked the car. He hopped in the car, handed off the flashlight and headed down to the finish. It was dark and depressing, and running that last half mile seemed pointless. Perhaps a bear could just come along and eat me, put me out of my misery? Where was the ghost? Why doesn’t someone just tell me my day is over? Just then, headlights came from behind, a trail of vans filled with runners who were pulled. The lead vehicle started shouting to keep moving, I was doing great, just follow the lights to the finish. Ha! It was the ghost that had scooped up all of the people behind me – so I ran as fast as my beat up legs could carry me, finally saw the finish line, crossing just under 12:39, which was about 9 minutes past the final cutoff. As I crossed, ultrarunning legend David Horton came to shake my hand. “Young lady (yes, he called me young!), you’ve had a rough day. Congratulations on finishing”. All I could get out was “I didn’t make the cutoff…I didn’t make the cutoff….I didn’t make the cutoff”…. His response was, “Yes, you finished the race, and will have a time next to your name.”
It was my worst performance that I am most proud of. I was the last finisher that was allowed to cross the line, but I didn’t have a DNF next to my name. Maybe it’s a DFL, but I’ll wear that as a badge of honor. My first words as I woke up the next morning were “We’re coming back next year”. Erik might have been slightly horrified, but I think at that point he didn’t dare to respond with anything but “OK”. It was an amazing, beautiful course, and so worth every bit of pain. Probably not the most intelligent move to pick this race as my first 50 miler, but I generally make race decisions with my heart and not my head. I don’t regret a single minute, and can’t wait to see what 2013 MMTR has in store for me.
// Nov 9, 2012 at 9:44 am
Holy cow! This is a pretty amazing story of determination and perseverence. This is even more impressive than her sprint up Grandfather Mountain in the dark during the Blue Ridge Relay. Congrats Heidi…and thanks for sharing your story.
(Required fields are bold)
© 2012 Triangle Running Group — Sitemap — Hosting provided by a pack of crazy trail runners