By Steve Hinzman
Mountain Masochist Trail Run
50+ miles (How far is it really?)
Well after a week of reflection and recovery it’s time to try and tell the story of my first “50 miler”.
First the fun stuff, the thank yous and shout outs.
First and foremost hugs and a huge THANKS go to my lovely wife of 27+ years Gwen. Not only does she put up with me and all the nonsense I’m engaged in, she cheerfully makes life very easy for me. I’m totally spoiled and I know it. She met me at almost all of the aid stations where crew were allowed even though we only planned on hooking up at 3 aid stations and just seeing her standing there waiting patiently added a boost to my mental state every time! I’m sure she almost froze her behind off for me. You rock Buddy!
Shout out to Clark Zealand, Race Director. You put on a whale of an event. Thank you for all of your effort, and for being there at the end. OUTSTANDING
Thank you Dr. Horton for starting all this all those many years ago. It’s become a world class event.
Thank you to every volunteer involved in this event. I don’t know many of your names but your smiling faces and encouraging words were truly invaluable. If I dripped sweat (or worse) on you or forgot to tell you thanks or made any other blunders I apologize and you can feel free to chalk it up to a lack of oxygen in my brain at the time.
Now the race.
Gear; I wore compression shorts under my Patagonia Promise Land finishers shorts, a compression top under a NB light weight long sleeve shirt and fleece vest and toward the end I added a light weight wind breaker and fleece beanie. I wore thin gloves all day. Merino wool blend socks and Asics Gel Kahanas over a liberal application of Bag Balm to my feet. Knee brace on left knee and a strap just under my right kneecap. I did not wear a hydration belt or pack, my thinking being that the aid stations were close enough together that a Nathan Handheld would do the trick. I wore polarized sunglasses for probably 50% of the race. I had no, zip, zero, nada equipment problems all day. No blisters, no hot spots, no bleeding toenails nothing.
I tried to pay close attention to hydration, nutrition and electrolyte management. I took 2 s-caps at the start of the first climb and then one per hour until the loop when I increased it to 1 every 30 to 40 minutes. I emptied my water bottle on almost every stretch between aid stations and tried to eat a good mix of goodies.
Let me say that I never had any other goal in mind other than just finishing this race under the cutoff. Underwhelming I know but I was totally focused on getting that green raincoat for completing the Lynchburg Ultra Series. Stupid coat, Gwen took one look at it and said “Next time you want a raincoat just tell me, I’ll buy you one”. I’ll tell you this though; I’ll treasure that coat and it will keep me dry and warm and remind may of many hours spent training and “racing”.
Overall my training had been going fairly well in the weeks leading up to the race. No major issues had cropped up and I felt pretty good. The last week was the worst. I was anxious, nervous and worried. I couldn’t help second guessing everything that I had done and had a very difficult time just letting that go. My plan for race day was to get to 20 miles in under 4 hours and have 8 hours to finish the last “30”. During the pre-race briefing I heard several folks talking about the true total distance and I was a little (a lot) horrified to hear that the consensus seemed to be 54 miles. That extra four miles may not seem like all that much but mentally I sort of freaked out.
I waited too long and when I tried to book a room at the Kirkley they were full. So I started looking and I came across this “charming” place called the Peaks of Otter Lodge. On the Blue Ridge Parkway and only 22 miles from the start. Perfect! After the pre-race meal and briefing (water bottles and socks zooming around) we left Lynchburg and headed for Bedford. We arrived at the lodge at 10:30 PM and got checked in. We went to our room to find no TV (no big deal), no alarm clock, and no phone. So we were left depending upon the alarm on my digital watch to get us up at 4:30. I woke up and checked my watch at least a dozen times during the night the last time being at 3:45. A while later I awoke and thought I’d better check the time and couldn’t find my watch. I had laid it on the night stand but it wasn’t there! I felt around on the floor, under the edge of the bed and finally turned the light on and found it under my pillow! How it got there I’ll never know but when I looked at it, it said 4:57. Ack! Get up, get up we’re late Ack! Holy cow there was a lot to do and not much time to do it. Long story short, I made the check in with a few minutes to spare but we did break the speed limit on the Parkway a couple of times.
The first few miles on the pavement went by quickly and suddenly we were climbing. I had given my fleece vest to Gwen when we passed back by the start at 3 miles and by the time we reached the top of the first climb I was chilled. When I got to Aid Station 3 I saw her standing there wearing every item of clothing we had brought, including my vest. I hated to ask for it back but she cheerfully gave it up and I gratefully slipped it on. Got some food, filled my water bottle and took off down the hill only to hear her shouting for me to stop. I stopped and she came flying down the hill to retrieve the car keys from the vest pocket! Huge disaster avoided.
The race from there to Long Mountain just kind of unfolded and I hit the 20 mile mark by my Garmin at 3:54 so the first part of my “plan” was achieved. Long Mountain Wayside was a welcome sight and I briefly thought how nice it would be to just get in the car, turn on the heated seats and enjoy the ride back to South Hill. But Gwen snapped me out of that reverie by telling me that I was only 25 minutes under the cutoff time and if I didn’t get moving I was in trouble.
Buck Mountain, oh Buck Mountain what can I say. I knew I had to push and I couldn’t take it easy even though I really wanted to. It just seemed to go on forever. When I first heard the faint strains of the Rocky theme I knew there was still a long way to go to the top. The music faded in and out for the next 27 miles or so and then I saw the first sign. I don’t remember all of them but two stand out. “Let us run with perseverance this race that is set before us” and “The Mountains will bring peace to the People”. I don’t mind telling you that the combination of the effort, the music and the inspirational signs got to me a little.
From there to the Loop In Aid station was fun, really fun. Some snow and some really runnable trails with beautiful views. I enjoyed this portion of the race the most. It was short lived however because suddenly I was ringing the bell headed into the “LOOP”. The dreaded Loop. I had no idea what to expect but from reading past race reports I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Well for the first mile or so I wondered what all the fuss was about and then it turned ugly. The Loop would be awesome if it wasn’t 35 miles into the race but I was beat. Sore back, sore legs, tummy issues, some mild cramping and on one of the climbs in the loop I hit the low point of the race. I was really feeling sorry for myself and thinking that there’s no way, absolutely no way I was going to make the time cutoff at the Loop Out Aid Station. Flashback to the pre-race dinner. We were setting at a table with Bill (21 finishes) and Luann (4 finishes) and they had both imparted many words of wisdom. They also told us that they would be out walking the course but they were not racing this year. Now back to the loop, as I topped out at what turned out to be the last real climb in the loop I saw an Angel headed my way. It was Luann and she told me how big and strong I looked and how I had this race in the bag and then she said the magic words “Would you like a ginger snap. They’re homemade” Another swing from low to high emotion and once again I just wanted to cry. Thank you Luann for your encouraging words and the tastiest cookie I’ve eaten in a long time if not ever. I exited the loop to find surprisingly I had actually gained time on the cutoff. I was now almost 30 minutes ahead and felt pretty good even though I had no idea how much farther we really had to go. Was it 10 or was it 14 miles. Who knows, just keep moving.
At Aid Station 11 I was back to only 25 minutes under and was once again worrying about the time limit. Could I hold it together long enough to get to the finish? Then as if I wasn’t worrying enough I remembered Clark telling us late finishers that it would be a good idea to pick a light up for the last section or two because of the approaching darkness. I hadn’t done that and spent a lot time pondering whether or not that would bite me. Oh well nothing to do about it now. As I left aid station 11 I asked how far to the next station and the answer was “4 hard miles”. They are hard and I think there’s more than four of them, I’m just saying. That climb right out of the aid station was tough and I was slow, really slow. I was either hallucinating or I was so slow that the USC Spartan Marching Band marched past me playing Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”. I mean I was really slow at this point. I kept moving forward though and finally 19 or 20 hours later I saw Mike Z. and his wonderful girls grinning at me and offering goodies. I was totally shocked to learn that I was still 25 minutes under and I actually thought about asking Mike if they had enjoyed seeing the marching band go by but wisely decided against it. I didn’t want anybody to know I was hallucinating if that’s really what was going on. The really good news I got here was “it’s only 3 miles and you’ve got an hour and 10 minutes.”
The next section went by in a total blur. I remember mostly flat to downhill runnable trails and jeep roads then we started to encounter signs of civilization. The one mile to go marker finally came into view and I thought that the least I could do was run the whole last mile. It wasn’t long before I caught up with David Moore who I had been swapping places with on and off all day and then we caught up to Debra Rojewski who I had also seen many times and we all cruised in together finishing in 11:36. I remember speaking to a few folks, Jaime, Joe, Clark (of course still grinning after what had to have been a 20+ hour day) and some others but mostly I just remember the heated seat and the relaxing ride back to the hotel.
The awards ceremony and dinner was very enjoyable. The food was good and the company great. I got my “stupid” raincoat that I may actually end up being buried in one day hopefully many, many years from now. I would have like to stayed for the entire ceremony but I was plumb tuckered, as was Gwen, and since we were driving home that night we decided to slip out a little early.
I’ll do a few things differently next year;
- Get room at the Kirkley! That’s a nice hotel! (I’m sure that the Peaks of Otter Lodge is beautiful and relaxing but we were only there 7 hours and it was dark the whole time so I couldn’t say for sure.
- Run more, think less
- Train harder and work on core conditioning. My lower back gave me plenty of trouble on the climbs.
- Try to run more on the easier climbs in the first half of the race. I gave up some time there.
- Stay Saturday night. The drive home was only a little over 2 hours but it felt like 10.
- Recruit someone to help Gwen. She did a great job alone but I’m sure she would have enjoyed some company and a navigator.
- Stop worrying! It’s supposed to be fun!
Well, now on to Hellgate. I promise I won’t get frantic and worry. Yeah right.