Monday, May 16, 2011

Thoughts on MMT

I have many thoughts swirling in my head after this weekend’s Massanutten Mountain Trail (MMT) 100.  The thoughts generally center on my performance, thoughts about my peak training phase at the precipice of tapering before the race, thoughts on the performances of a few others and on the race itself.
Firstly, the race itself.  MMT: what can I say?  It's so great, in a it-hurts-so-good sort of way.  It’s competitive, it’s hard, it’s quirky, it’s fun, it’s local (to me), it’s cheap.  It’s everything good you would hope for and expect from a race that you rearrange and prioritize so much of your life to train for and dedicate towards.
Regarding my performance, as I have told a few people in conversation since Saturday, I’m pleased with my finish time; however, I can’t help but feel that I didn’t quite reach a slightly higher level of potential I know I had within myself on race day.  One who finishes MMT under 20 hours doesn’t have much to complain about.  Now that I am officially one of those fortunate people please bear with me as I complain for just a moment and then carry on with some sort of semblance of a race report.  MMT delivered upon to me two blows which, after the halfway point, slowed my leg turnover considerably and I have a feeling reduced my overall time by at least an hour.  The first blow was my own fault and a rookie error.  Bodyglide or Vaseline?  Prepping early Saturday morning before the race start at 4am I chose the latter and later, after running all day in sweat soaked shorts, thanks to the humidity, paid a considerable price in pain in my war against chaffing.  It is hard to imagine a simple choice, Bodyglide or Vaseline?, made several hours earlier, in the comfort of a hotel room in a small valley town by the name of Luray, Virginia as having anything but a minimal impact on an overall race performance, but please trust me when I tell you, it does.  Vaseline, I now firmly believe, breaks down and dissolves away in sweat more easily than Bodyglide.  The second blow happens a lot to runners during mountainous 100 mile races; my quads locked up.  Not much to say about that other than it happened.  For those unacquainted with the inability to walk downhill, much less run, without a jolt of pain firing like a cannon up your legs with the placement of each step and having the jolted pain surrender to the guardsmen at your quads door with nowhere to pass so it gets stored within like some sort of pain library, please trust me here, too, when I say it sucks.  Had I front loaded too many miles immediately prior to tapering?  Were my quads not conditioned enough?  These are two very distinct and opposing questions.  I can’t say that I know the answer at this point but what I can say- the good news is- is that MMT’s quad thrashing will leave me better prepared for the pounding of running down mountains later this summer.
The 4am start at MMT is new this year.  I rather like a 4am 100 mile race start.  To me, a 4am race start in the dark when I am fresh, not only provides a small nudge of motivation to get to bed earlier the day before but increases the likelihood of less night running during the evening of the race which leads to a faster time overall.  MMT’s front field spread out immediately at 4am and I found myself running with Karl Meltzer and David Frazier.  We ran together for the first four miles and then Karl took off through the night over the rocks, not long after Moreland Gap aid station, like the goat that he is.  David and I continued running together, never more than a few moments behind Karl at each aid station, and it wasn’t until Veach Gap aid station, mile 40.7, when I eventually pulled away from David on a climb.  At Habron Gap aid station, mile 53.6, I learned Karl’s lead had accelerated to 11 minutes.  From Habron I mustered the climb to Camp Roosevelt, mile 63.1, unsuccessfully trying to quench my thirst while not over drinking at the same time and having to stop and pee so much.  Reaching Camp Roosevelt I felt comfortably ahead of David but not quite ready to surrender to a best second place finish to Karl.  Jon Allen met up with me as a pacer at Camp Roosevelt and we were back on the trail after only a moment or two of me re-stocking trail rations, thanks to another round of invaluable servicing by my crew, Gaby, my Mom and my sister Joan.  Sadly, I lost more ground to Karl entering the next few aid stations, Gap Creek (mile 68.7), Visitor Center (mile 77.1) and Bird Knob (mile 80.5).  I had lost more than a few steps in my running.  It was easily noticeable and at this point it became clear: catching Karl would not be in the cards for me.  Second place, however, felt firm.  So did a sub 20 hour time.  A sub 19 hour time?  Maybe.  I tried to wake up my quads on downhill sections running into the Picnic Area aid station, mile 86.9, but I figured upon arrival, just after 8pm and though it was still light out, my opportunity for finishing under 19 hours wasn’t going to happen.  Knowing that, the fact that David and any other trailing runners were far enough behind not to pose a true threat for second, and the fact that my quads were trashed I didn’t have much pressure to go hard.  Jeremy Ramsey subbed in as my pacer at the Picnic Area and we cruised it in, in a very slow split time of three hours and 35 minutes or so for covering only 14.8 miles.
A special thanks to my support crew, Gaby, Mom and Joan, who always seem to have such a good time at these events.  Jon and Jeremy run’s with me as pacers were helpful and fun.  We laughed a lot.  I only wish there was more of my quads left for them to work with in terms of making the race more exciting, say by chasing Karl or a faster time or something like that.  Especially Jeremy since I picked him up so late in the race and my quads were worse off than when running with Jon.  I felt like a trainer holding back a thoroughbred.  He was a trooper, though.
To me, Karl’s performance at MMT was certainly strong but he likely could have gone a bit faster.  And maybe he would have had I been able to scare him into doing so.  Sorry, Karl!  Eva Pastalkova’s female course record time of 22:30 and sixth place finish overall benchmarks a new standard at MMT and she will now be forced to run with an even larger bulls-eye on her back at future races.  Congrats to Eva on such a strong performance and for her reported ear-to-ear smiles throughout her run.  David Frazier is on fire.  He finished third in a time of 21:25, and MMT was his first real 100 mile race.  My prediction is that once David truly taps into his own potential the rest of us are screwed.  It is hard to categorize Evan Cestari’s fourth place finish time of 21:32 as anything but a huge success.  There are no mountains to train on in Wisconsin, his current home.  In July Evan and his girlfriend, Rebecca, will move to Morgantown, West Virginia which means his game will likely bump up considerably.  One thing is for sure, West Virginia has mountains.  Morgantown is also close to Virginia which means Evan will be crossing the Virginia border for races, forcing us Virginia runners to further bump up our game as well.  The long and short of this is that the competitiveness of ultrarunners in our area is spiking.  I love it.
In the end, MMT serves as a confidence booster.  Since I managed to sneak away with a sub 20 hour finish time and know I had more energy to go faster, had only my quads allowed, not only will 2011’s MMT serve as another true adventure experience but a lesson in what is possible going forward.  Ultrarunning is mental.  Readers of this blog know this as fact.  Like most things, a large part of the mental focus necessary to achieve ones goals in ultrarunning comes from confidence.  Confidence in oneself, and everything that goes with it.  Confidence is the biggest producer.  The top sales guy in the company you work for.  The guy who gets it done in the 11th hour.  Confidence is the resource you fall back on when you’re out on the trail all on your own, 75+ miles into a mountain race in a land that is far away from home, distinctly unlike your normal surroundings and looks nothing like your backyard.  In the wake of MMT my confidence meter has shifted.  I am now even more excited for the next race: Old Dominion on June 4th.  Speaking of which, I am privy to very exciting news concerning the potential competitiveness of the field taking shape at Old Dominion.  More on this coming SOON in another post.


  1. Neal- I thought you had an awesome race and it was a pleasure to accompany you for some of it. Sub-20 hrs is amazing. And if you think you could have done better... well, you have a bunch of upcoming races to prove it to us. See you in a few weeks.

  2. awesome run neal! i can say after pacing evan for slightly less than 40 miles his gutsy performance in the second half has really inspired me to throw my hat into the 100 mile mix in the late months of summer! you are indeed correct in your statement about the lack of hills evan has had to train on. no doubt his move to wv will up his game substantially. hope to see you in the dark on some mountain running down some trail giving it all we got.

  3. Incredible run at MMT. I can relate to the quads locking up. Maybe see you in a few weeks!:)

  4. Awesome run, Neal! All of my death marches in 100s have come from dead quads--for me it is the limiting factor. In fact, I think that's where we first met--me on the MMT course death marching in after Woodstock, and you cruising by. Your quads will be back stronger and rock solid (not that they aren't already) for the next one. But, sub-20 is amazing on that course. You rock!

  5. All, thanks for the great feedback. Brian- hope to see you in Woodstock. That would be amazing. 3/4th of the Mafia in the OD house! Amy, yep, it was near the peak of that pitch black, rain soaked ridgeline when we met and where upon you bequeathed to me a bid to the fraternal order of WUS. I will always remember, and am forever in your debt.

  6. Neal thanks for affording me the opportunity to share the trail with such a great guy. Oh yeah, your gift has definitely been hitting the spot.

  7. Neal - you might feel some disappointment, but there's much more to take away from MMT to feel great about. Not only is a sub 20 outstanding in its own right, but more importantly it's a new benchmark, a sign of improved fitness, and your continued ascension in ultrarunning. I know you're not even near your peak, and it will not be long at all until the likes of Karl only see your back in the races- not just because he and others are getting older, but because you continue to grow so considerably.

    Each race means nothing if we don't come away with lessons on how to improve. For you, that will involve figuring out the quads. For me, it'll mean more focus on eating, drinking and climbing. Fortunately it looks like I'll have ample opportunity soon enough.

    The origin of the word "competition" come from Greek and translates as "to seek greatness with." I look forward to seeking new apexes with you and all the Mid-Atlantic runners in the coming years.

  8. Awesome job! I'm sorry that I missed you coming into Roosevelt, and then showed up at the finish a little too late. Congrats on a strong finish, even though everything didn't work out quite as well as you hoped. What has saved me from chaffing is a running skirt, you should try one sometime. Maybe OD? :P