Monday, September 7, 2009

The Ring - Race Report

The third and final race of my "Who needs training? Let's just race!" month was the 71 mile Massanutten trail "Ring" in the George Washington National Forest of Northern VA. Three weeks earlier, my rehab/race plan had me up in PA running the Viaduct 100 miler w/ slow n' steady success. Last week the fun, fog, and ferns of Cheat Mountain had me working hard over the 50 miles of Moonshine Madness up there. Having made it through both of those races without any issues w/ my stubborn shin injury, I was feeling great and ready to complete my triple crown of races w/ The Ring.

I made the drive out to Front Royal, VA on Friday night after work, and parked the XTerra Inn at the Signal Knob parking lot which serves at the Start/Finish for the race. The moon was just about full, and on this clear and crisp night I felt like I had a spotlight on me all night as I slept in the back. By 7am the gang of VHTRC runners and volunteers had amassed in the lot and we were off and running. In true VHTRC form, the support from RDs Quattro Hubbard and Mike Bur, along with dozens of selfless volunteers along the course manning the Aid Stations was amazing. This is a no fee Fat Ass race, but the Aid Stations were better stocked than many $$ races I've run. Also, the fact that they drive your drop bag from one Aid Station to the next after you passed through was beyond amazing. With all the runners spread out by hours and miles on the course, I have no clue how they had the man-power to get this done, but every time I'd pull up to an AS, my bag was there!

As for the run itself, things started out slow n' steady, just like I planned. I joined up with super-fast (and two-time defending MMT100 champ) Amy Sproston early on, and we clicked off 10 or 12 miles together while chatting about all things running. Unfortunately, the stubborn ankle injury she's been nursing started acting up on the rocky trails and she decided it was best to ease up and drop at the mile 25 Camp Roosevelt Aid Station. Since she's so nice, I was sad to lose the company, but as someone who has nursed his own injury for 6 months, I knew she was making the right move.
Amy and I (and volunteer) around mile 11 before her ankle started barking (Carl Camp photo)

After pulling away from Amy, I noticed the back of my left heel was really starting to hurt. I stopped a few miles earlier thinking it was a rock or something that somehow got through my gaiters and stuck in the back of my shoe, but there wasn't anything there
when I looked. With the irritation still there a few miles later, I knew the culprit was heel cup of the Saucony Xodus shoe I was wearing. So much for my positive review! Actually, the shoes themselves are fantastic for fit and grip and comfort on the trails, but for whatever reason the internal plastic heel cup on my left shoe started poking through the lining and into the back of my heel. Thankfully, I made it to Camp Roosevelt somewhat quickly where I could change shoes...just in time to halt the damage at only one layer of skin lost:
Ouch

After the shoe swap and refill of my Camelback, I headed out on the ten miles o' fun to the Crisman Hollow Aid Station. This section includes two of my least favorite parts of the Massanutten trail: Duncan Hollow and the "Waterfall" trail. The Duncan Hollow trail seems timid enough, but for some reason it finds new and creative ways to suck every time I head out there: Occasionally the trail is a muddy river the whole way, other times the clouds of bugs are thick enough that you mistake their buzzing and flapping for the sound of a rescue helicopter that has mercifully come to take you away from such hell...and on some lucky days, when the sky is 100% sunny and you hit the side of the mountain at just the right time, the climb will roast you harder than the Friars' Club - Such was my luck this time around. To add to my fun, I finished off my water with 3 or 4 miles left in the section and quickly became overheated, nauseous, and dizzy. Things were turning south quickly for me out there. After a couple sun-baked miles of stumbling and retching, I would have paid a dude in Timberlands to kick me in the head and put me out of my misery.

...and what's a great solution for someone in this condition? How about a climb up the Waterfall trail! For those of you unfamiliar with this section of trail, I'll just say it's so steep that when you mention it to other runners, the first thing they say is "I don't even like running down that thing". The friction you build up on your shoes when running down is so intense it nearly sets your feet on fire. Lucky for me in this race, as I wobbled around the corner and saw the sign marking the start of the climb up this path of joy, I did a system check of my unstable legs and found a silver lining: "Well, at least if I fall, I'll be falling 'up' this thing and not down."

As I started the climb, I remember thinking "Just keep your head down, keep your balance, and you'll be at the top in no time." About half-way up, I saw a somewhat odd-looking guy walking down the trail toward me. Maybe it was just my clouded and dizzy vision, but he looked kinda like a creepy 45 year-old version of the kid on the Dutch Boy paint can - Same haircut and everything. I'm sure he was just a nice guy out there going for a hike, but in my state I figured there was a 50% chance he'd hog-tie me and drive back to his shack in the woods with me on his roof-rack.
"Hey buddy, does this rag smell like chloroform to you?"

After we passed each other with just a friendly "hello", I wasn't entirely happy he didn't knock me out and put me out of my misery. Eventually and mercifully I made it to the top of the Waterfall and stumbled into the Crisman Hollow Aid Station at mile 35. Finally, I could quit!

The volunteers had a great set-up there with a tent for shade and the most welcoming chair I've ever seen. The guys hooked me up with some ice water and I sat there for a while sipping my water and doing my best to return the favor of their niceness by not puking all over their aid station. I was in rough shape, but it felt good to be in the shade and sitting down. A bunch of other runners came through while I sat there, but I wasn't even keeping track. I had already dropped the race in my mind, so I just worried about getting in some fluids and feeling better. About 30 minutes later I started to get the chills pretty bad, so I changed out of my running clothes into my dry gear in my drop bag. I even put on my long-sleeve shirt to stay warm (it was in the 80s out too!)...I knew my body needed more calories and electrolytes, and now that I had my stomach under a little control, I nibbled on some cantaloupe and drank a little Ultragen that I had in my drop bag.

About 40-45 minutes after I stopped, I started feeling better and was actually looking forward to volunteering at an aid station for the rest of the day. Before asking where my services could be of best use, my thoughts went back to MMT100 two years ago when I had to drop at mile 58 with a hip injury after a nasty fall. Just when I was about to say "You got me again, Massanutten!", I realized that I had to drop that time because of injury...but that wasn't the case today. I wasn't hurt this time...and if I felt better after 45 minutes (which I did), maybe after a few more calories I'd feel good enough to get up and move again.

I'm smart enough to know when I'm in trouble health-wise, and after my standing 8-count (or 45-minute count, as it were), I decided it would be safe to try and walk the 6 miles to the next Aid Station. I knew the section of trail over Kerns Mountain and down the other side wasn't too bad, and if I doubled up on fluids and calories, maybe I'd feel even better by time I hit end of the section.

So, after mumbling something about being "a stubborn son of a bitch", I stood up, put my running gear back on, and headed off down the trail. I walked the first mile or so drinking and eating pretty well. By time I hit the ridge I was feeling good enough to actually shuffle the flat sections. I wasn't exactly moving fast, but I also wasn't telling myself I should drop at the next station either. A few miles later I made my way down to the Moreland Gap aid station at mile 40.7. I took my time here grabbing extra food and fluids, and was encouraged that I felt good enough to continue on over the notorious 8 miles of Short Mountain. Normally what makes Short Mountain so hard to run is the ragged trail, lovely thorns, and 9 billion false summits that break your will, but lucky for me, I wasn't moving fast enough for the trail to necessarily slow my desired pace, so I just took my time and kept the fuel intake going.

I call this piece: "Short Mountain Leg"

As it turned out, I passed 2 or 3 other runners on this section, and while I wouldn't say I was feeling great, I did feel the slow cranking of my engine trying to start up again inside my legs. I figured if I was still feeling good by time I made it to Edinburg Gap, I'd see if I couldn't put in an honest effort over the last 23 miles from there to the finish.

I pulled into Edinburg Aid at mile 48.7 and had the feeling that I was finally back to 100%. I left the aid station with Justin Faul, who I hadn't seen since way back at Crisman Hollow during my crash. He was still moving pretty well up the climb, so I figured I must be rebounding if I caught back up to him in 3rd place. Just before the top of the climb he stopped to put on his headlamp, and that's when I figured it was a good time to put the hammer down and see how good I was really feeling. As it turned out, I was feeling fast as hell. I know some people don't like running on trails at night, but I love it, especially when my headlamp works. As I burned over the 8.2 miles of trail toward Woodstock Tower, my legs felt lightning fast. As my feet skipped over the rocks on the trail, I envisioned them as the fingers of a piano player flying over the keys during a particularly fast section of music. I had found my speedy rhythm and I was having a blast. Woodstock tower came quickly at mile 56.9, and I did my best to get in-and-out as quickly as possible. I was done with resting, I wanted to race!

I kept the pedal to the metal over the next section (there were beautiful views of the lights in Woodstock, VA from the open parts of the ridge), and couldn't have imagined things going any better....until I took a right turn and started bombing down off the ridge to...nothing. In my haste I had taken a wrong trail. I knew I needed to take a right off the ridge, down about a mile to a road, and then a left up the road to the next aid station. Well, stupid me took that right off the ridge too early down a purple-blazed trail (the Massanutten trail is Orange-blazed the whole way). By time I hit the road and saw it was a dead-end, I knew I made a mistake. Angrily, and as quickly as possible, I hauled ass back up the steep trail to the ridge. I didn't know how many people passed me during my 25 minute detour, but I imagined it was about 79 jolly runners just laughing and skipping along having a grand old time while I added in an extra 2 miles and 500 feet of climbing just for fun.

The good news is I run pretty well when I'm pissed at myself, so I rebounded nicely on the trail and made it to Powell's Aid at mile 62.7 feeling pretty good. ...especially good when I heard that no one had passed me during my trip down and back up the Moron Heritage Trail.

A good portion of the climb out of Powell's to the towers at Signal Knob is on dirt road, and I was able to push the pace a bit on that solid surface to be sure I didn't have anyone breathing down my neck behind me. I knew I wasn't going to catch up to Sean Andrish and Keith Knipling in the lead (I figured they were done long ago), but I did want to hang on to 3rd place, just to keep the positive vibes flowing from my rebound from death at mile 35. The moon was bright and brilliant as I made my way around a reservoir and up over the Signal Knob overlook. I made sure I soaked in a bit of that beauty since I knew the last 5 miles of trail to the finish were pretty much the worst on the course. Much of this final rock-strewn disaster of a trail is completely un-runnable,but I did my best to pick up the pace where I could. Before too long I saw the lights in the parking lot at the finish line, phew!

Keith and Sean were there along with RD Mike Bur. It was great to congratulate Keith and Sean on their solid run (they finished 30 minutes in front of me) and thank Mike for all his hard work. I was also happy that Mike saw me finish since he was one of the guys who helped me out back during my crash at mile 35. Without his help and that of all the volunteers, there's no way I would have rebounded like I did. It was definitely a group effort out there, and I couldn't be more thankful to Mike, Quattro, and all the VHTRC folks for all their hard work. I look forward to running and volunteering at many more of their events in the future.

Speaking of the future, it looks like my month of races got me back into a bit of shape just in time to gear up for the 24 Hour National Championships in Cleveland next month. The competition will be stiff out there, but I'm confident in my strategy for the race and will look to survive the day and make my move at night (sound familiar?). I'll need to place top 3 and run 135 miles to qualify for the National Team, so that's the goal. With all the things I've learned in just the last month of races, I should be ready to rock and roll out there!

7 comments:

Casseday said...

Dan,

I enjoyed the race report. Those VHTRC'rs are some great folks and know how to put on events. Even the ones that aren't "races".
Looks like your massive base training is working. A few weeks of flat pace intensive training and I'll put down $$ that you'll bust out over 135 miles.

-- Adam

Amelia said...

So glad to hear you were able to finish so strong. Every time I hike now, I think of how totally unable I'd be to jog on these trails without turning an ankle and tripping over rocks and roots every 100 meters. I wish you a very strong final month of training!

Staci said...

That part about going the wrong way sounds horrific. I'd be pissed too. Keep up the good work. We need to have a chat about pictures of your legs though.

Chris Roman said...

Ouch is right....

Way to push it and finish strong, congrats!

amy said...

Hi Dan,
It was nice running with you, too. I was sad to have to drop back, but no more trails for me for at least a month. I am considering the 24 though...would love to talk with you some more about it.

Amy

Dan Rose said...

Amy!

You totally need to come out to Cleveland. It'll be much easier on your ankle for sure, and I promise it won't ruin your trail cred! Both fields are stacked already, so you'll be pushed along by some real studs out there (Annette Bednosky, Connie Garnder, Jill Perry, Deb Horn, etc). I think you'll have a great chance of knocking out the 120 miles you need to qualify for Team USA. Drop me a line on gmail and I'll fill you in on any other details you need! danrose77@gmail.com

Jamie Donaldson said...

You are so ready for Cleveland Dan! You have been running os strong! I am excited for you!