All 2014 Reports

Mountain Masochist 50 miler

1 November 2014

- Dave MacLuskie


My first DNF (Did Not Finish). I got pulled at mile 42 after missing the cut off at an aid station. A lot of things went very well on the race, but apparently my speed wasn't one of them.

Long Version

Masochist was my first 50 miler in 2010 (2010 report). I finished again in 2011 as part of the Lynchburg Ultra Series. Both times I was was within 15 minutes of the final 12 hour cut off. It's a tough race. In 2012 the course was changed due to routing and land use issues. I finally got the bug to have another go at this race.

My training went well. I did a lot more hill training including several day trips out to The Priest and Three Ridges, both of which have fairly decent elevation gains. I ran the inaugural Barkley Fall Classic in late September (report): a tough race in the hills of Tennessee. 35 miles, 10,000 feet elevation gain including a small section of the Barkley Marathons course. I finished in 12 hours, 30 minutes, about an hour ahead of the 13:20 cut off. I felt pretty good.

Two weeks later I backpacked the Four State Challenge (report). You can camp along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, wake up and hike through Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, then across the full 40 miles that the AT traverses in Maryland, and camp the night across the Mason-Dixon line in Pennsylvania. The daily total is about 44 miles. I took me a little under 16 hours to backpack.

Two weeks later I hiked the full 70+ mile Massanutten loop (report) in 2.5 days: 6 miles on Friday night, 34 miles on Saturday, 31 miles on Sunday. I felt pretty good.

I was pretty confident going into Masochist. After trick-or-treating with Kaylee on Friday night I went to bed early, awoke at 1 am and drove the 3 hours to Lynchburg, caught the bus to the start, and was off with 300 other runners at 6:30 am. The first 7-9 miles of the course were new due to a re-route. The road section was gone and instead it was a mix of single track and gravel road. There were a few water crossings in the first couple miles that were ankle to knee deep depending on where you stepped.

I felt I was moving along pretty well. I had a consistent pace going despite my hip flexors flaring up. They hadn't done that in years nor on any the aforementioned endurance events. I still don't know why. Notable turns and landmarks passed by quickly. I was pleased my memory of the course remained remarkably intact from my last run in 2011.

About a third of the way through I noticed I was not building up any buffer on the cut-offs. Each aid station has a cut off time. If you roll into an aid station after the cut off time you're pulled from the course. You're just moving too slowly to finish in the 12 hour time limit. In the past I had gradually increased my buffer from 10 minutes to over 30 minutes by the time I hit the half way point. I was pretty much riding the 15 minute buffer this time. I know they had changed the cut-offs to more accurately reflect historical finish rates so I marked it off as non-comparable data but my mental state started to decline. I was giving myself little pep talks and trying to maintain my focus. I was eating well -- better than usual -- and hydrating well, refilling my bottle at each aid station. My hip flexors continued to bother me, especially while walking inclines.

I arrived at Long Mountain Wayside, the nominal half-way point, with about a 15 minute buffer. I know from past runs that I lose time on the back half of this course and there was an extra hilly mile added. The 15 minute buffer was not likely to be sufficient given the state of my hip flexors which were very tight and sore. I seriously considered dropping out of the race even as I refilled my water bottle. The buses are right there and I could catch a ride.

I happened to see Victor, a fellow I met in 2011 on the course who happens to live near me. This was his fourth attempt at this race. He had yet to finish. He was just heading out from Long Mountain too and we set out together. I almost turned back but I didn't. The climb out of Long Mountain Wayside up Buck Mountain isn't terribly steep but it's long and tough on tired legs. We reached the top together, gained an additional 5 minutes of buffer, had some wonderful hot salty broth, and set off down the hill. Once on the other side of the mountain strong cold winds and light sleet began pelting us. I stopped to put on a jacket and Victor kept going. I wouldn't see him again for at least an hour. He can really move on those down hills!

I plodded along at steady pace, hit Wiggins Spring road and and began the climb up the road to Hog Camp Gap. I lost time here (the 5 minutes I had gained on Buck Mountain), and hit the beginning of "The Loop" (Mount Pleasant/Mount Pompey) with a 15 minute buffer. Again I was ready to quit but for some reason kept moving when the friendly aid station folks said I had 1:40 to come out of the loop. That seemed reasonable. I grabbed some Oreo's and ran on. The Loop starts out flat and I took advantage of it. When the climbing started I hit it hard and passed a half dozen folks. I was feeling good. The old course hits the saddle and turns left to Mount Pompey. The new course actually requires you to climb to the top of Mount Pleasant and punch your bib on the east overlook. That spur (up and down) took me about 20-25 minutes. It was cold, windy, and sleety the entire time. As I neared the peak I passed Victor descending. He had a good 5-8 minutes on me. Go Victor!

I scarfed down a Snickers bar (one of two I carried for emergencies) on the descent, then continued the course up Mount Pompey and down the other side. As I neared the finish a girl caught up who I called "little green" in my head. She was short and wearing all green. We neared the exit of the Loop together, exiting with 0 minutes to spare. I think I was actually 1-2 minutes behind the cut off and thought I had to quit. The aid station said I was good to go though but had to leave right away. I grabbed a handful of chips and ran off. The road section is pretty easy to run with a lot of downhill and I tried to take advantage of it.

I got to the aid station at about mile 42 (which seemed further than I remembered) at about 4:30 pm to find myself 10 minutes behind the cut off. I really don't see how I lost 10 minutes there (though I may have already been 2-5 minutes behind from the loop). They confirmed I was definitely done. I was still offered some warm chicken noodle soup, which I gratefully accepted before climbing on the yellow school bus with the other folks that got pulled. There was about a dozen of us. We waited about an hour for other folks to trickle in before getting a ride to the finish line. I was a lot less disappointed than I thought I'd be for my first DNF. There was a lot of chatter on the bus about this version of the course versus the old version. Victor wasn't on the bus so he must have made it through the aid station and the next one. He had a serious shot at finishing this year. He was moving well. I really hope he made it.

Stats for this year aren't posted but folks said that last year there was about 30% finishing under 11 hours, 30% finishing between 11-12 hours, and 30% DNF. The course is clearly not the easiest. Previously I squeaked by in that middle tier. Today I was on the wrong side of the line. I know I could have finished the distance but I estimate it would have been about 12:15 or 12:20. There are two decent climbs in the remaining miles.

At the finish line I grabbed my red duffel bag of dry clothes and managed to hop on a bus for the long ride (at least an hour) back to the conference center. We arrived around 7pm and I hopped in my car, changed into dry clothes, and drove home.

I have my bib number on the wall along with a few select others that inspire me. I wrote DNF on this one. It's not a negative thing for me though. I've always felt that my lack of a DNF meant I wasn't pushing hard enough. I hadn't hit my limit yet. One of the reasons I enjoy these endurance events is to test my limits. Should I go out faster and risk the crash and burn? Should I tackle a longer course? 100K? 100 miler? multi-day? It was inevitable that I would DNF something. I'm kind of glad it's out of the way. It's like that first ding you get on a new car. It's not pristine any more. You can quit fretting about it. I'm treating the DNF as a notice that I do have limits. The next experiment is to see what I can do to expand those limits.

dave.macluskie AT