By Jamie Darling
The Mountain Masochist Trail Race 50 miler had been on my agenda since the spring. I anticipated it, planned for it and couldn’t wait to return to Liberty to train in the mountains with the other fantastic college students who were entered. I had my mileage chart perfectly planned and organized from August until the event on November 6th. Of course, even our best-laid plans may not be God’s plan. I felt a twinge in my knee late August and while crewing some friends at Cheat Mountain 50 miler I was in so much pain I could hardly walk. I went to a doctor to confirm what my research told me. I was suffering Iliotibial band syndrome (also known as ITB). The treatment is rest, icing and stretching and even though I did that I was out of running for 7 weeks. My roommates and family prayed for me and I did the necessary treatments but nothing seemed to help. I tried to run in that time but after ½ a mile I would get a stabbing pain. I gave up on running MMTR. I took up biking and swimming in that time to stay in shape. I even went with Dr. Horton to the first MMTR training run and biked it!
My first run back was October 11th when to my surprised, my knee suddenly stopped hurting. I did the 2nd half training run and decided to go for it. I knew that 3 weeks of running with only two 20+-mile runs was going to make for a painful 50 miler. But I had already paid… and I knew if the ITB flared up or if I experienced too much pain I could always drop out. I got my crew together and was excited to try.
My alarm was set for 4:00 am but I woke up at 3:30 am. The first thing I did was check on the weather. Predicted all week: snow and rain with a high of 37. I was scared! Luckily the chance of precipitation went down to 30% so I was hopeful. My crew arrived and we were off! After praying with my crew, nervously talking to the many other Liberty runners and getting my Dr. Horton hug we lined at the start. I didn’t know what to expect, so I tried not to think of 50 miles as a whole. I don’t even like driving that far. We were off before I knew it.
The first section was roads. I felt like every runner in this section passed me. I was slow and bored. I stayed with a Jeff and Jaime for a while. We joked and were generally obnoxious. We were picking on Jeff’s lack of training and he yelled “What! This isn’t a 5k??” After they left me I chatted with a few other runners and monitored my knee. So far so good. The trails led to some climbing and lovely rolling hills. I really enjoyed this section. I talked with a lot of interesting runners and was amazed at the accomplishments of many of them. I loved my pretzel M&M’s in this section! I realized at mile 9 I had forgotten to take off my ring that I always wear. My hands were already swollen so it was a struggle but I got it off. I reached aid station 3 quickly (in my mind… I still wasn’t running fast!) and saw my amazing crew. They had all my stuff handy and I passed off my light and took a banana. My friend Bethany ran with me in the next section. We spent much of the next section discussing the Liberty students in the race and how they were doing. My knee became aggravated and I took 2 more ibprophen. (I took 2 at the start). I got a sharp pain around mile 13. I was so afraid. When that sharp pain hits, it never goes away. It has only gotten progressively worse in the past until I can no longer walk. Bethany and I started walking and praying. After about 15 minutes of walking a very flat and fast section I attempted to run again. I was surprised I felt no real pain. It felt aggravated but no sharp, stabbing pain. So we kept talking, running and having a good time. My energy levels were high and I felt good. My spirits dropped when reaching the next aid station I realized I was only 30 minutes under the cut off time. I thought that didn’t give me much wiggle room to slow down in the last 30+ miles. There was a long climb and we power walked the entire thing. We really pushed it and passed a lot of runners who were run and walking the hill. A few runners called out “Wow! You have a great walking pace!” A few miles later and we hit the real hill. I hit a mental low. I looked at the time wrong and thought I was only 3 minutes under the cut off but finally Bethany and I realized we were actually 33 minutes under. I was still not very positive and questioning my ability to finish. I told Bethany I was struggling with negative thoughts as we started up the hill. My energy was not too bad and I was going very well with eating and drinking but I didn’t think I could finish this race under the time limit. My hamstrings were also really hurting, as I used my quads a lot on the bike in training but not my hamstrings. Also my feet were hurting and I felt like I might have a blister. Bethany told me to think of 3 positive thoughts for every negative.
“Ok, One- This hill is easier to walk than it is to bike.” I said.
Bethany responded quickly “Two- the weather is absolutely perfect.”
“Three- the color in the mountains is beautiful.”
“Four- You are walking at a great pace and feeling good.” We didn’t stop when we got to number 20. We decided to get to 50 positive thoughts, one for every mile. Each one made me walk a little faster and feel more energized. Each one I said was a little louder than the last. By the end they were mostly quotes. “You can do more than you think you can” “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” and “It never always gets worse” were some favorites. Along with the classic “You want to lay down and quit… but you can’t! You wouldn’t die, you’d suffer more.” By the end we were almost yelling and bounding up the hill easily. I felt great and positive. I had the perfect pacer for this section.
I arrived at Long Mountain Wayside 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off. My goal was less than 5 minutes at the aid station. I was in and out in 3. I switched packs, grabbed hot chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers from my crew and started up the hill with my friend Lynn. I was warm and didn’t grab a jacket but I did keep my gloves. I shoved about 10 saltines in my mouth at once and drank the soup quickly up the long climb. I was hurting but energized from seeing my crew and the halfway point. I saw Griffin who was trying to finish his first Beast series. He was tired from Grindstone but seemed to be doing well. He left us after a while and Lynn tried to push me. I knew I was going slow and had to make up time. She was encouraging but kept saying “alright this isn’t as steep here, try to really power walk this.” All I could think was “am I not power walking now?” I guess I felt like I was going faster than I was. We could hear Rocky music faintly in the distance. I knew the famous aid station was ahead. Lynn and I started singing (if you could call it that) worship songs. During this section I was struck with the awe of how amazing God is. It is hard to describe but the sensation of the presence of him with me in my journey, the awe over what he allowed my body to accomplish, the gift of my friends who gave up their Saturday to come and help me and the awareness that I couldn’t possibly do this on my own overwhelmed me. Then seeing the verses as I came up to the top was the confirmation that the Lord was there. He was in this. Thankfulness struck me and I felt like I was going to burst. Lynn and I talked about this for a while and I felt this peace and calm come over me. My body felt good, my energy was great but I wasn’t even thinking about it during this section. I just ran down the following hills.
We reached the loop and I was coming off the amazing high I had been on coming up to Buck Mountain. I knew I needed more food. Or more caffeine or more… something? Lynn grabbed me a 5-hour energy shot, some saltine crackers and a few Oreos. And less than a minute later we were in the loop. I realized I was an hour ahead of the cut-off time and was feeling positive. The caffeine hit and I decided to take advantage of it. I told Lynn I needed some Taylor Swift and Kesha to get me going so I put in the I-pod for a little to get running. I was singing and having a good time and generally acting ridiculous. I wish I had a video so I could see and hear myself in this section. We picked up the pace and caught some runners. My high lasted about 30 minutes and then I started hurting again. I took off my I-pod and Lynn pushed me and we made it out of the loop in 70 minutes. Running with Lynn helped me make up some serious time!
I switched packs with my crew again, grabbed “1,000” saltine crackers (because sweet tasted bad) and Marisa came to run the final section with me. I did pick the perfect pacers! Bethany was the motivator, Lynn was the pusher, and Marisa was the encourager! She was so sweet, telling me she was so proud of me and that I was amazing. She kept my spirits up and even though I was tired I could keep pushing because of her. I didn’t talk as much in the last 13 miles, mostly because I was hurting. I knew the worst was over though and we jogged most of the downhill section. The last climb up single-track trail was tough, but not as hard as I expected and once it was done I knew I had completed basically all the elevation gain. About 5 miles to go and pain hit hard. My whole body started aching. Even walking hurt. My hamstrings, hips, groin, quads, knees, ITB, shins, calves, ankles, feet, shoulders, and lower back hurt so badly. My friend Jeff called my name and I was thrilled he was still in because I heard he dropped out. We decided to finish together. We tried to jog but his ankle was killing him and I just hurt all over. I have never experienced this kind of muscle pain before. Right before the road the steep decent hurt so bad I was almost in tears. Marissa stayed right beside me encouraging me and reminding me to eat and drink the whole way. We continued to walk the road until I could see the finish. Marisa left my side and Jeff and I proudly jogged to the finish line. We crossed together at 11 hours and 23 minutes, 37 minutes ahead of the time limit. We got our Horton hug and I hugged my boyfriend and the other Liberty students who had all run MMTR in unreal times.
Overall, I think that MMTR was my most painful accomplishment. I was blessed to even be able to make it to the starting line. My knee staying healthy and overall pain-free was a miracle. The weather was amazing. I had to dig deeper than I ever have before to finish and that is what makes me the most proud. The 50 miles I covered was full of ups and downs and it amazes me how many different things you can feel and experience in one run. Pain, suffering, fatigue, frustration and defeat enters your mind but on the same day you experience joy, hope, awe, love for others, thankfulness, a sense of God’s presence and an unreal energy you didn’t know you had. I’m not sure, but I believe that the longer the race, the more that is true. I know I depended heavily on God and my amazing crew at MMTR and I think David Horton said it best “What did I learn? We need people… we need the Lord!”