Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Massanutten 63 Miler Race Report!

Ok, so I had to drop the MMT100 at 63 miles. Obviously failing to finish any race is a bit of a bummer, but I promised myself I would only push my recovering hamstring so far with the goal of being healthy enough to get back to 100% in training for the rest of the year (most notably, for the Spartathlon).  That said, regardless of my actual physical shape, my brain is always fired up and ready to roll when I wake up on race morning, and this weekend was no exception. I wanted to finish this race.
Pre-race focus (Aaron Schwartzbard Photo)
After a nice night's sleep in the XTerra Inn, I immediately applied a couple stick-on heating pads (cleverly ignoring the "only use one" warning) to my troubled left hamstring when I woke at 3:00 a.m.. By the time the race started an hour later, the hammy felt warm, loose and ready to roll. The race course kindly started with 3 miles of easy road running before hitting the trails, so I used that time to warm up completely and find an appropriate stride length. This injury had forced me to shorten my stride (and speed) over the previous month, and after two miles of running I felt the first twinge of the pain in the hamstring. I knew this meant I had found the limit of what stride-length the leg would allow for the day, so I reeled things back and settled in.

After the road miles we turned off onto the dark and wet trail (it rained quite a bit overnight). The good news about the first climb of the day up Short Mountain is the rugged and rocky terrain demands 100% of your attention (particularly when dark and wet), so unless a hawk is actively trying to peck out one of your eyes while you run, you're probably not going to notice anything else. This section helped me forget about the hamstring for a while, and by time I rolled down the other side of the mountain through Edinburg Gap (mile 11), I had adjusted to my short stride and everything felt great.
Being careful on the wet rocks just after Edinburg Gap (Aaron Schwartzbard Photo)
I had my first drop bag planted at Woodstock Tower (Mile 19.9), and when race photographer (and super nice guy) Aaron Schwartzbard told me I was running in 4th place just after Edinburg, I figured I'd take the next 8 miles a little more seriously to see if I couldn't join in the fun with the lead pack. The ridge to Woodstock is probably the most runnable trail of the whole course, so I enjoyed cruising those miles as the sun finally brightened the sky enough for me to turn off my headlamp. When I pulled into Woodstock for a refill, Mike Bur and his volunteers told me Karl Meltzer was 12 mins ahead, and Neal Gorman and David Frazier were 6 mins up. How Karl had already put 6 minutes on Neal and David was a mystery to me. Those two guys were both in great shape coming in and have tons of leg speed in general, regardless of the terrain. Clearly Karl was feeling pretty good out there!

Since my leg was suddenly feeling great (and the adrenaline of an actual race was now kicking in), I decided I'd try to open up the stride a bit more on the next section to catch up with Neal and David. There's strength in numbers when running these races, and after running the first 20 miles solo, I was hoping for some company to help me work through some of the climbs. Unfortunately, my hamstring had other ideas and gave its first loud "Danger Will Robinson" warning of the day about a mile after Woodstock. I realized the common trail-running act of planting my left foot and pushing off to the right was no longer a pain-free option for me. So much for catching up to the guys ahead, it was time to cool things down and officially go into 75% mode. Bummer. So much for racing...

A couple miles later on a downhill (which I was beginning to realize my hammy couldn't run too quickly either) Evan Cestari and Jim Blanford caught up to me and moved easily ahead. Ugh...it was definitely going to be a long day. The climb up/down to Elizabeth's Furnace (mile 32.6) was sort of a "learning on the fly" section during which I figured out how to work around using the painful part of my hamstring, particularly on the downhills. After a quick refill at Elizabeth's, I ended up catching back up to Evan near the top of the next climb. My uphill legs were still feeling great, but with each downhill turn I felt another 1% of my hammy calling for mutiny.

Evan and I joined forces at this point and ran most of the next 30 miles or so together. It was great meeting him, even though I'm sure I was talking more than he preferred as we worked together on the dirt road sections between mountains. After heading up, over, and down a couple more mountains, I left the Habron Gap aid station (Mile 53) a little before Evan (he was tending to a blister) and walked the whole climb while drinking a bunch of calories. The intention of this walk break/extra-300-calorie-drink was to gear up for the second half of the race. Even though I was limited a bit in my stride/lateral movement, I was still 100% intent on finishing as strong as I could and making a run at a sub-22 hour race.

Shortly after finishing the climb (and my drink), Jason Lantz came buzzing by me like I was standing still. He was nice enough to ask me about my leg as he passed, and he went on to rock a 5th place finish in 22:15 (nice work, man!). Almost immediatley after that I came up on Jim Blanford. He was walking very slowly as he dealt with some serious leg cramps. The weather wasn't really hot (low 70s), but it was super-humid all day long, so cramping was a definite concern to be dealt with all day long. After passing Jim on the ridge, I started running a bit quicker and enjoying the energy burst from the calories I downed on the climb. As it turned out, that good feeling was frustratingly cut short a few minutes later when the trail forced me to push off on my left leg in the precise manner I was trying to avoid all day long. ...and just like that, a real lightning bolt hit my hamstring and I knew my day was done.

Evan caught up a few minutes later, but I couldn't hang with him on the downhill heading to Camp Roosevelt (mile 63). I couldn't run (or even shuffle) the downhills anymore, so my last 3 miles involved lots of tricky sideways crab-walking on the downs. Evan went on to nail the 2nd half of his race and reach his #1 goal of a 21:30 race. Well done, Mr. Cestari, way to close it out!  When I limped into to the aid station I let them know I was dropping and made my way slowly back to Race HQ to get some treatment on my leg right away.

It was pretty disappointing to have the hamstring completely give out when it did, but the next morning offered some pretty cool insight as to why it happened then. My right leg (the healthy one) felt fresh and loose the following day, but the massive soreness in the left one told the story of how all of its muscles were working overtime to protect the hamstring for 60+ miles. My left glute and groin were completely fried (they never usually hurt after a run of any distance), so whatever I was subconsciously doing with my stride to protect that hammy obviously called them into double-duty. I'm guessing once those helper-muscles fatigued themselves, the hammy had to start pulling its own weight and gave out shortly thereafter.  It stinks that it happened that way, but the results of this physiological experiment were pretty cool to feel the day after. It's nice to know my muscles have each other's back!
Thanks to my left leg muscles all pitching in to help out, I really was happy out there for 60+ miles!
(Aaron Schwartzbard Photo)
After letting things cool down for a couple days, I'm confident I'll be able to get back in the swing of things before too long. I'm not sure about the speed, but I think I'll definitely be able to enjoy the Laurel Highlands trail next month (I hear it's a beautiful point-to-point trail) before bidding a farewell to the trails for the rest of the summer as I switch over to the pavement-pounding training for Greece. I'm certainly disappointed MMT didn't work out this year, but all things considered, I actually had a nice time for 63 miles out there, and by stopping before I did any more damage, I should be able to prepare 100% for the Spartathlon in September!

Final congrats have to be sent out to Karl and Eva Pastalkova on their big wins in the race. This was Karl's 30th 100 mile victory, and Eva's smoking hot time of 22:30 broke the MMT record and placed her 6th overall! Congratulations!!


Ric Munoz said...

You gave it your best shot, Dan. I'm glad you didn't do any further damage to the hammy. Now just concentrate on getting all better so that you can conquer that Spartathlon course!

Speedgoat Karl said...

I certainly can't say it was a hawk, but I was attacked by a mad bird between Edinburgh and Woodstock. Wonder if it was the same one. He came at me three times before bouncing off my nose. It was intense. Ultrarunning at it's finest.

Gear up for Spartathlon, run it smart, I'll be rootin' for ya.

nmp said...

Sorry to hear that the MMT curse persists - hopefully your third time (next year?) will be the charm ;)

Get some rest and then put in a great race in Greece!

Chris Carver said...

Great report, Dan, as usual. Having a DNF because of injury is no shame at all, especially if the big race is less than 20 weeks away.

I won't be in Greece this year as I've been selected to run for England in a 24 hr race the week before the Spartathlon.

Get yourself fixed and have a good one in the heat though.

Dan Rose said...

Ric - You can bet I'll have my (figurative) sword and shield in hand while racing to Sparta...I'll prove this DNF to be the best decision I ever made by rocking that course!

Karl - Too funny about the bird attacking you...it was probably friends with the moose from Bighorn.

Nick - Good thing my lifetime as a Red Sox fan is giving me hope that curses like this MMT one can be broken...eventually!

Chris - We'll miss you out in Greece, but I can't blame you for wanting to accept the honor of wearing the Union Jack again. That's a privilege no one should ever pass up! Congratulations!

Kim said...

I was bummed when I heard you had dropped!
I am crewing and drive folks around for the Laurel Highlands 50K and 77 miler,so I might see you out on the course!! Get that leg healed!

nmp said...

Well, hopefully you can do a little better than one finish in 40+ tries!

Evan Cestari said...


It was a pleasure to run with you for those 30 miles. Even then I felt slightly guilty for not being more chatty, but my mouth goes silent when my mind goes to focus mode. I truly learned a lot from you, and all your tips on the upcoming sections helped me considerably as I picked up my pacer and made a resurgence.

Sometimes you need to lose the battle to win the war, and that's likely the case for you and your hamstring at MMT. I'm very eager to read about the upcoming "war" in Greece.

Dan Rose said...

Evan - It was great to see you rally as well as you did in those late miles. If the race was just a couple ticks longer you'd have had 3rd place for sure. Looking forward to seeing you kick some butt out here on the east coast more often after your move to WV this summer. In the meantime, I hope you're healing well after a job more-than well done!

Chris Roman said...

Great report as always my friend, smart move to keep your eye on the prize. Can't wait to share the asphalt with you in DV :)