Monday, July 23, 2012

Running with the Devil 12 Hour Mountain Creek NJ 7/21/12

I have never felt as over-trained and mentally and physically wasted prior to an event. I tapered hard last week realizing that with the mileage I've been achieving weekly, with my level of experience I really hadn't scheduled enough recovery time. Despite my dropping swimming and backing off the biking I dropped my milage from 75 miles to 65 miles the week of the yogathon. And then proceeded to run roughly 20miles race week. I felt- improved, but still generally fatigued with mild pain still pervasive in my daily life.... not quite as recovered as I'd have liked. Not to mention the worst- most humiliating part of being over-trained.... when the run- isn't fun. So I gave myself an out- as I always do, it was ok if i failed, since I might. I'd toe the line at this race... ALL week prior to it I deliberated this decision, whether this was a good idea... Even after the fact, I don't know yet.

So there I was at 5:30 in the morning pinning my "374" to my shorts. The 5k course was designed to literally run through the upper level of the ski lodge, for a wonderful aid station and "docking area." 6am we were off. I knew right away I was going "TOO fast"... I am always presumably going too fast. but it felt good, I mean for an 1100 foot climb to start the first mile or so off it felt ok. I was pacing with the leaders, which naturally freaked me out. I always presume they're right when I share my experience level and I believe as  much as they secretly hope, that I will bonk. But we lapped and lapped. The day was rather insignificant for the first few laps. I think perhaps it was lap 4 where I took the lead. Maybe I should back up and explain this course.

You start in the lodge, you run out to the base of ski slope and climb up... and then up some more.. and then up some more followed by a short trail decline which opens into a flat-ish section leading to THE CLIMB... which goes up, takes a sharp right turn and goes straight up what looks like a black diamond... so for 3/4 of mile you just climb, and climb before hitting a short plateau and climbing just a little bit more and then rounding that peak you enter the woods for some techinical trail slightly elevating but gently rolling hills leading you once again to a climb that has a very short but ridiculously steep wall that leads into a long but do-able climb to the summit before you begin to descend the 1100 feet of climb in the remaining mile and some tenths mostly straight down, with the steepest decent brining you back to the lodge to checkpoint and food, water, restrooms.

So we're looping the loops, round and round... at 9am the 3hr and 6hr runners began their journey, it was nice to have SO many people out there, always ppl to exchange pleasantries with to share in one anothers efforts and boost each other's morale on the climbs. The weather was out of this world for Late July climbing slowly into late morning and not really getting hot until after 12pm, but the sun did break through the misty clouds opening up the surrounding skies for some magnificent views at the top of the climbs.

Anyway, my race...its mostly a blur, but I know at loop 4 I was convinicing myself to make 5 in effort to complete 10 (31miles or a 50K) before allowing myself to quit. And then on 5 I was tricking myself into thinking I could do 6. On 6 I was sure there was no way I could do 10. This was only 6 after all, thats 4 more... which is less than I'd done, but could I keep facing that middle climb? I wasn't sure. Each time you look up from the sharp right turn near the base of the longest climb you see 4 or 5 huge snow machines with their yellow pads wrapped around the base and the large fans turning only gently in the breeze. The mountain looks steep, but small, short, climbable, bearable.... and then you begin to climb... the pain begins in the back of your calves, but you ignore it, one step after another right? The pain then deepens, you desperately negotiate a rhythm with your mind and nervous system to keep lifting the foot and pressing down in the same rhythm to keep moving at all. And then the grade worsens ... only 1/3 of the way up you glance up and start looking for tricks. Smaller steps maybe? Bigger slower steps maybe? side ways? backwards? but after you've tried all of these and even take a 3 second breather you realize there is not an escape from the pain... the only way out is through. Because when you reach the summit of this mountain you get a break- a cool shady trail with changing elevation and technical rocks  to loosen your legs back up before the next climb, which is painful but you always know its the last one before you get to go down and "Check" one more lap off... so you really just need to make it up this one climb.

The downhill is steep, all morning it was also wet from the dew and some rain from the night before... it takes every muscle in your legs, abdomen, back, and arms to keep upright and not let gravity consume you... which actually seems tempting beceause if you did fall... you'd make it quite a ways down without any effort at all. 

Loop 8 was significant only because after 8 loops on the same course I found a hole and stepped right in it losing my right leg up the knee, calmly and totally not thrown off at all I said out loud to literally No one, "oh, there's a hole there, how about that." Also on this lap I decided that my new flaring tendonitis in my right foot was bad enough that it was time for a shoe change so I did that between 8 and 9.

Loop 9 was slightly more significant since it was the changing moment in my race. I felt "good" considering I had 28miles under me already....I was moving very consistently, my rests had been consistent and my pace was steady, always running the runnable and climbing at my stready hiking pace that I tell myself I would hike anything (the fact that I was running in between was insignificant during the hiking/ climbing phase). I had decided I wouldn't stop between 9 and 10, I'd literally just drink 6 oz of heed and head back out, I'd take a 20 min breather after I'd finished the 50k to decide what the rest of the day would be.

Honestly, by this point I was trying to slow down my loops, I was so terrified of the idea of doing 15 or more loops, which time wise i was on track for that I actually tried to slow down. I thought 12 sounded great, but I was coming through 9 at 6 hrs.... which means I had 6 hrs left.... quitting seemed logical, but 10 was a necessity. I would make 10 then decide. Decision made. And then Slam, my toe caught, my palms slammed into the sharp stonse of the one section of gravel/dirt road and I turned my fall into a forward roll and was up and running without losing a single moment... only now I had a peice of skin dangling from a bloody splotch on both palms. I blotted the blood on my shirt and 1st decided to ignore it and then 2nd decided I couldn't ignore it, I had to take care of this now or risk dealing with a lot more pain later and even possibly infection. I was suddenly overwhelmed that I was actually going to have to waste time on this, and pasrtially that it would hurt more later. Passing through checkpoint I darted to the bathroom, soap and water, I scrubbed aggressivley to get the dirt out figuring at least for now I had so much adrenaline from the fall that the pain was nealry non-existant. Now that it was clean... keep the skin? Lose the skin? S*** I thought.... I need to cut it.. I ran out of the bathroom in search of scissors. Within only a few minutes I had gone from calm and steady to freaking out girl from some minor cuts... and then wrapped up by some helping hands I was calm again, but thrown off. I wasted Much more time than I thought suitable but let it go. I wondered if Tony (the eventual winner) had passed me out while I was coping with my pathetic excuse for an injury.... I was off.

Lap 10. 50K complete. The bandages from the prior lap where falling off in my sweat, (sexy I know) so in my rest period I grabbed my duct taper which eventually some one found me the medical tape and wrapped me up as best the could with that. I headed out to the deck collapsed onto my back and put my feet up on a chair. It was wonderful.

It may have been prior to this, but this is where I remember Tony's dad taking on a significant role in my race outcome. He managed to check in on me at every loop, just simply asking how I was doing, but it made all the difference to being utterly alone at this race. He kept my spirits up with his kindness and his passion for his sons accomplishments. A deep gratitude was enough to head out for lap 11. Which I grabbed my ipod for... I havent used my ipod in a race in years and couldnt imagine drowning out the afternoon buzz of the insects in the hot sun, but I did. I found some pleasure in it and kept a great pace, and felt quite well. As I finished 11, I didnt know what to do, it was only 2pm, I still had SO much time, and mentally didn't want to do much more of this. I started to fade, but was determined to keep going. Lap 12, ipod still going, was excrutitating. The climb cost me, I felt defeated- not that I hadn't over and over and over again... but this time I was getting emotional... a sign of menally losing touch with the run.... ughh. I was done. I would just finish this loop. When I crossed check point this time, I almost collapsed into a flood of tears, even though physically I was only beginning to feel the pain I was use to feeling much sooner in my long races. I was done. F this stupid course, I'm done. And then I wasn't done, how could I be?.... I dropped the ipod, it wasn't me to be using it and it wasn't the least bit easier. Lap 13 literally trying to go as slow as I possibly could to eat up more time, so I could have an excuse to do less overall.

This time I was really done. I wasnt going back out. And then... some other 12 hr females headed out for another loop, their last loop.... they've been going as long as I had, if they had more, I had I went out again. Lap 14... bringing me in at 4:45pm-ish... 15 min until we could do 1/2 mi loops. The catch with half mile loops is they are half of the worst climb up in length/ grade and then the worst climb down- then repeat at will. I made 3 short loops snagging myself 44.9 miles. I have never in my entire running career rounded up, but when I  came through checkpoint after my 3rd short loop, I took my shoes off. There wasnt even the consideration. Anyone normal would say 44.9 is the same at 45miles.... and So I quit with 30 min on the clock.  I know I didnt actually run 45 and it'll eat at me until I fix it next yr or at another race of equal hell-like proportion of challenge mentally and physically.

So the day was complete with a few guys looping through till 5:58pm. I was dissappointed in myself, but I gave it my best. I would have pd someone $100 dollars to bet me a beer I couldn't run one more lap and convinced me to get my shoes back on, since a silly bet would have been enough. I was physically fatigued, but not finished... But Many more races in my future (I do hope) and great lessons learned.

Overall, A great day, A challenging course, great runners, great support and a very well organized event.  A big thank you to Rick (RD), his family, Jenn, and Tony's father, Dave and Lisa.... not to mention Morgan and Allisons' texts to lighten the load on my mind. And without a doubt all the other runner's out there. I Might have quit at 10:30am, maybe at noon, or 2pm.... I dont know, but I know I'm grateful for the support.

And a huge congrats to the other runners who took on this challenge, it was a pleasure meeting new people and can't wait to see ya'll out there at other runs!

Half-wit Half in 2 weeks!!! So Psyched!


  1. Great job, Meg. Sometimes it's ok to finish early, and now you'll be primed to be a Half-Wit.

  2. Hi Meg, nice race report. During your report you touched on one of the most important aspects of ultra running; mental toughness. You stated, "you realize there is not an escape from the pain... the only way out is through." How true!! Reminded me of a quote by Winston Churchill, "If you're going through hell, keep going."

    There is the training part, nutrition, and then the mental part. Without mental toughness the best ultra runners will not succeed. If you had stopped running earlier in the race like your were contemplating, you would have been angry at yourself later. Again, way to push through the bloody palms, the physical and mental fatigue and run strong all day. Happy Trails! AJ

  3. With a 100K and a 12-hr race under your belt, it is time to look at the racing calendar for a 100 miler :)