This is one of those historic and iconic races that most ultras runners who have been running for a few years have heard the name of. David, my regular running buddy shared with me back in the spring that he wanted to run this race and knew it would be a challenging one. If it would be a challenge for him, I knew it would definitely be a serious challenge for me. I signed up for this race when it first opened but it wasn’t my main focus over the summer and fall as I had other big races I was more focused on. I had spent months working hard with my coach on speed work, hill repeats and core and strength workouts. So I went into Mountain Masochist (MMTR) feeling stronger than I have ever felt and totally ready for the challenge.
The trip to Lynchburg, Virginia for this race was 7 1/2 hours long drive and there were five of us runners from Georgia who decided to jump into the race. All of us knew that to make the tight cutoffs we would have to be having a great day and manage ourselves so the wheels didn’t come off later in the race. I honestly didn’t spend a whole lot of time researching the race, but during our trip up, I got lots of information from the others who had done more reading about it, along with Janice Anderson, who was one of the runners with us. What makes Janice such a good source of information? Well I guess not much more than the fact that she has won top female 4 out of 7 times that she has run it. Those were more in her glory days of an elite runner, but with a 35 year old race such as Mountain Masochist not much of the course had changed. We had more fun talking with Janice about what it was like to run “back in the day” when they didn’t have packs, much less water bottles, and fueling for a race was quit the challenge. There was no internet, cell phones or UltraSignup back in those days, and going to races and receiving Ultra Running Magazine in the mail was their only connection to other runners across the country. I felt like a pampered runner with all we have, and no matter what happened the next day on the course, I knew in my heart the true badasses where those runners from years gone by. That’s what Mountain Masochist would symbolize for me.
It’s a little odd when you go to a race and don’t know a single other runner than those who came with you. This race screamed deep history from the very beginning. Janice immediately knew the first person she saw as one of her old running friends, and then she received a huge welcoming hug from David Horton (original Race Director of MMTR). I sort of felt like I was a bit of an outsider just looking in on the old years gone by in Ultra Running, I felt a little out of place. You know how us runners look around the room at packet pickup or pre race dinners and kind of size up the other runners. I don’t call them competition because for me it’s just others who are running and I am no competition for them. I made two fairly obvious observations, 1) there were not many woman who took on this challenge and 2) even the guys running it all looked like very serious and tough runners, as did the women! These were some true Beast Coast runners! This wasn’t a fun run in Georgia where everyone shows up to have a good day together and everyone finishes no matter how slow a runner you are. All that being said, I felt more than ready for the challenge.
The five of us who came up from Georgia were staying in a large cabin we rented that turned out to be just minutes from where the race ended and where we would catch a shuttle to the start. After our pre race dinner and getting to listen to guest speaker, Scott Jurek, we headed back to our cabin for the night. We had to get to bed early to catch our 4:15am shuttle ride. The time in the morning seem to go by fast, from getting up, to taking the shuttle and once again checking in for the race start. It seemed before we knew it, at 6:30am and in the dark hours of the morning the race started.
We were quickly on a paved road for about a mile and 1/2 before dropping onto a nice trail that was very easy to run. Rich, Tony and I all settled in together for our run. Before we were too far into the race David would come by us, so we knew he was in front of us, where we expected him to be. Janice we had passed on the road section but we all run fairly close to the same pace and didn’t expect her to be too far behind us or for long. We spent the dark hours before the sun came up on rolling trails that crossed creeks, had some climbs but nothing at all crazy. I had the sense that once it was light out, the scenery would be beautiful and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Rich, Tony and I
The first AS was one of the furthest at roughly 7.6 miles and it seemed to come up on us fairly quickly. We all grabbed something quick and kept moving. The next section started with a climb on what we might call a fire road but they are much smoother than the fire roads in Georgia and covered with taller grass so it seemed really like a section of single track. AS began to come up on us quicker and the next one was just 3.7 miles away. The weather was cooler, and although we had all taken off our jackets, we weren’t going through our water too fast and needing refills, so AS seemed to be rather quick to get in and out of. Our pace felt strong but it seemed like no time and we had come through an AS with a good 2.25 mile climb to the next AS on road. While Rich and I continued to climb as steady as we could, Tony began to struggle in the climbs and fell behind. When we reached the top and the AS we found we were just 6 mins ahead of cutoffs and only around 16 miles into the race. This isn’t how I wanted the day to go but chasing cutoffs looked like the Mountain Masochist way! It was a good 2.5 miles of downhill that we were able to open up on and run at a good pace and gain a little time coming through the next AS.
Fall Colors were so beautiful!
Rich and I had not been able to wait for Tony and now were not sure if he and Janice who were both behind us had made it through some of the AS and cutoffs. We knew we were running close to cutoffs ourselves, but continued to run strong, climbing hard and running a fairly fast pace on the downhill’s and flats. We came into the mid-way AS at mile 26 with about 10 minutes before cutoffs. This was a drop bag point, but we chose not to drop any, and probably would have had little time to mess with them if we had. A drink of Coke and on we went as quick as possible. The course was a lot of gentle roads with unbelievable scenery. I had my phone but could only bring myself to take it out a couple of times to snap a few quick photos. Soon it began to rain. At first it seemed more drizzly but before long turned into a real rain that was cold. Before I got soaked I went ahead and put on my jacket and even put my gloves back on just to stay warm. I didn’t feel like the rain made the course a mess because the roads seem to handle the water well.
An actual “bear” sighting!
It was a another long climb into the AS, that was the start of the “loop” which was about 5.3 miles, although lots of people say it more like 6 miles. We knew lots of people complained about the loop saying it was rocky and technical, and thus far on the course it had been anything but that. The first mile or more of the loop, it was extremely easy running and we started to pass runners and hoped to be picking up some time. It would be the beginning of many runners we would pass. Although as the loop got wetter and muddier it did become harder to navigate at the pace we wanted to be moving. We had a 20 minute cushion coming into the loop so we felt we were still in good shape. Soon we got to an out and back section on the loop, you did a long climb and had to punch your bib at the top before heading back down. We came across David coming back down not long after we had started the out and back section. David was in good spirits and wearing his rain jacket, so I was happy to see him and felt good about how he was doing. He wasn’t far in front of us, but with the amount of people we moved aside for, the rocks and muddy course we definitely lost some time on this out and back section. Once we punch our bibs and started back we came across Janice. She was also doing well and we were happy to see her as well. She had last seen Tony before the half way point and we later learned he missed the cutoff there and was pulled.
Rich and I worked our way back down and finished the loop as quickly as we could. It was very rocky and technical as well as some steep muddy and slippery sections, again slowing us down some. Just before coming in the AS off the loop we were told we needed to hurry we were just minutes ahead of cutoff. They tried to get us to eat but also get going because of cutoffs. We thought this was the last “hard cut” but shortly after we got out of the AS we were told by other runners that we needed to keep running at a good pace. They were telling us we had about 20 minute left to get 3 miles. We’ve been running cut offs and back of the pack all day long and quick math, that doesn’t add up for me. We never stopped and didn’t give up for one minute. We were confused thinking once we got about 50K into the race it would not be any trouble to finish. We pushed hard and ran into the AS ready to keep moving when we were told we were done. Our race had ended at mile 42 (although my Garmin said 44.85) missing the cutoff by just 5 minutes! We had done 8,500 ft of climbing and had kept a solid pace of 13:28. I was disappointed to not finish the race but not disappointed with my run. It was a challenge that I would do again. A very well organized race and even offered a very nice shuttle ride of shame back to the finish area! Janice was pulled just minutes behind us, and we all got to the finish just in time to watch David come across the line and finish strong! David was the only one of us from Georgia to finish, and in a small way seemed to offer our DNF’s a little redemption.
My DNF (Did Not Finish) was more like, I Did Not Fail to Challenge myself! I didn’t pick an easy race that I knew I could finish, I wanted a challenge! This is the Beast Coast and we are some tough runners here and we’ll be back one day to show MMTR how tough we can be!