Monday, November 3, 2008

2008 MMTR Race Report

25 years ago, Dr. David Horton got this crazy idea for a trail run through the George Washington National Park, starting on the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside Lynchburg, VA and ending about 50 miles north at a small town called Montebello. Due to the grueling nature of the event, Horton’s wife said “You’re just a bunch of masochists.” And so the event was born with a name fitting its characteristics perfectly. According to, masochism is: “gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc., inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one's own actions or the actions of others, esp. the tendency to seek this form of gratification.” In this case, the pain is a by-product of the seemingly never-ending hills. I’m not talking about the hills we find in our stomping grounds of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Buckeye Trail, but hills that truly don’t appear to have an end. I will say this, I’ll never complain about any hill in NE Ohio ever again. Not being technically correct, I’ll estimate this: from somewhere in low 20s to around 30 miles, it is straight up. Absent of some fast down hills, plateaus, or any type of relief. Typically, I slip into my mental “funk” in the upper 20s, low 30s of an ultra. I got there a little bit early this time. Once I pushed through it and reached the top of Long Mountain and Buck Mountain, I felt much better. Mentally and physically stronger.

From the very beginning, the aid stations were very well done. One thing I think was great was that they filled 1 gallon jugs with water and electrolyte drinks which made the re-filling process upon aid station arrival extremely fast. No standing in line to refill out of the cooler.

Another thing was the presence of salted/boiled potatoes. I’d heard from many people that this is a great fuel source but I’d never had it before. Anxious to learn if it would work for me, I starting scooping them up each time I saw them, along with the occasional PB&J, M&Ms, bananas, oranges, and the best thing…Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Energy deprivation seems to be a real problem for me in ultras, so the MMTR was yet another day to test some new strategies. I headed out with one handheld, one bag of Clif Shot Bloks, 5 gels, 2 Pure Fuel bars, and a compliment of Endurolytes. Lesson learned from Burning River this past year: don’t wait till Mile 30 to take salt tabs. With that in mind, I took 2 Endurolytes every 45-60 minutes and alternated one Shot Blok and a gel each hour. That, along with the “real” food at the aid stations, should’ve kept me fueled. The longest distance between most aid stations is 2-3 miles. The longest leg is a tough 5.2 mile loop on another challenging trail. This is where I ate a whole Pure Fuel bar. Unfortunately, this was from Miles 33-38 so my mouth was really dry and required lots of fluid to get the bar down which meant I ran out of fluid too early before the AS. Oh yea, another little “incident” on this trail. Due to the extremely rocky terrain all day long, I nearly had my own face-plant when I tripped. On the way down, I grabbed onto a flimsy 1” diameter tree with one hand and with the other hand, dropped my bottle and clinched my right calf. Why? I got the mother of all Charlie horses in conjunction with tripping. My right calf was so tightened up that it felt like a baseball in my hand. Now THAT hurt. I just stood there waiting for it to subside. My AS fuel goal from that point on was to consume as many bananas and oranges which are loaded with potassium to help prevent that from happening again during the race and also after the race when I normally get them. (that worked, by the way)
Back to maintaining energy levels: overall, with temps that climbed into the 70s with full sun (NOT in the forecast, by the way!), I am very happy with how I felt…energy wise. (Looking back at the race’s history, it was a warm day). Nothing upset me at all. The potatoes were great! I loved them and never got tired of them, which I do with PB&Js in the later miles of ultras. One thing I was NOT happy with was the different electrolyte brands. One aid station, it’s Clif and then the next, it’s Moon. I really think you need to stick with one. Not a problem for me personally, but this causes intestinal distress for some runners. I think Clif tastes more like Gatorade and Moon tastes more like Hammer’s Heed…very different tastes, indeed. Luckily, no problems for me.

Horton Miles: there’s been a lot of discussion over the true length of this course. It’s publicized as “50+” miles. The most common number I’ve heard is 54 miles. They were off from the beginning…which was on the road…by a whole mile. That can’t be an accident. The rest of the course was pretty close to right on. At the end of the day, my Garmin read exactly 51 miles, so who knows…at least it’s at least 50 miles.

The terrain: an overwhelming majority of the course is wide, groomed gravel access roads. When not on those, you are tip-toeing through extremely rocky trail. Oh how I appreciate our trails in NE Ohio…much more enjoyable and less treacherous to the body. I’m sure some people take nasty falls out there and get cut up pretty bad. The only really blistering downhill in the whole race is within 2 miles of the finish. By this point, my toes hurt from being jammed all day, my hamstrings were trashed from the uphills, so what’s left? The quads! One last attempt by the Masochism to trash what’s left of my legs. However, this is the best place to have the downhill just in case someone comes through the last aid station at 47 miles very close to the 12hr cutoff time.

Overall take-away: I’m glad I did it. I have zero regrets from preparation, fueling strategy, or anything else. According to the local newspaper, it was the peak weekend for the fall foliage which provided breathtaking vistas to soak in throughout the day. It was also a great to have my dad accompany me to Virginia and provide the encouragement at so many aid stations. This was his first exposure to anything past a marathon and I’m sure he saw a different side of humanity pouring through those aid stations all day. So will I do it again? Highly unlikely. I see value in doing it once and having the whole “experience” but I don’t see the value in doing that type of course again. I guess I’m really not one for getting pleasure out of pain!

Finishing time: 10hrs, 50min, 8sec
90 of 185 finishers

(I'm not sure of the number of starters...that's unofficial right now. A lot of no-shows, I hear.)

For now, I started my recovery immediately at the finish line with Hammer’s Recoverite followed by Hammer’s Whey on Sunday morning. Halfway home, we stopped in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia and took a challenging hike in the “Grandview” area. We hiked the short trail very slowly but it felt good to wake up all the muscles. It was a gorgeous place to take a break to stretch the legs during a road trip. Next up will be my deep tissue massage by Lori tonight (she’s got her work cut out for her!).

I gotta testify to how I feel this morning (that being Monday morning): not too good! My arms feel like I bench-pressed yesterday (definitely didn’t happen), my legs feel like half-formed cement (thank you, lactic acid!), and I feel like I need an IV of espresso (in progress, thank you!). I actually had the intent of a short 4 or 5 miler to warm up the muscles and help the acid to move on out but after my tiptoe out to get the newspaper, that’s not happening. I think I’ll take some long walks in Canton today during my breaks just to get it all flowing a bit. Yea, I’m going to work as scheduled…there’s a weird type of pleasure going back to work as scheduled and acting as nothing happened over the weekend. Inside, I’m shouting for joy. Outside, they’ll only see my coveted Patagonia finisher’s tech tee. “2008 MMTR Finisher” it reads.

5 weeks to the Tecumseh Trail Marathon in Bloomington, IN in the Yellowwood State Forest! After a smart and calculated recovery, I hope to see you all soon on our beloved trails. Till then…

Happy Trails, everyone!


Susan said...

Great report. It looks beautiful there--not beautiful enough for me to ever attempt such a thing, however! Well done, Nick! I am totally impressed.

Sensationally Red said...

Very nice report and great pictures. I'd love to do a 50 miler someday...but not that one..


Nick Billock said...

Thanks to the both of you! It was a great experience and one I'm glad I did...I won't forget it anytime soon.

Red, you're going to need to show up to one of our VR group runs some day! We're running trails this Saturday!

Sensationally Red said...

Ha!! Nick, I might see you all at the beginning of the run, but then you'd all be home taking nice warm showers by the time I ambled in!! I'm slow!!