Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2009 Mountain Masochist 50-Miler

Running with Dennis Norris at MMTR
Since there is no way I'm going to be able to remember a mile-by-mile of this course, I'm going to do a Q&A with myself for this report.

Q: What is the Mountain Masochist Trail Run
A: It's the fifth event in the Beast Series, a series of six tough races--all in Virginia--spread evenly throughout the calendar year. It's a fifty-mile run with some pavement, a lot of gravel road and double-track, some single track, and a few cases where you seem to just be wandering in the woods. There is 9200' total climb over the fifty miles and a net gain of 1800' or so.

Q: When and where is it?
A: This year, it was November 7th so I guess it's the first Saturday of November. The host hotel is in Lynchburg, Virginia, but the race begins at the James River Visitor's Center just off the Blue Ridge Parkway--about a forty minute drive from the hotel. They offer (for a $5 fee) a shuttle to the start and back from the finish. Figure four hours or a little more to get to Lynchburg from Burke County. It's actually not much farther home from the finish line as you aren't too far from I-81 and can take it back down to I-77 to Statesville. Maybe four and a half hours from the finish to home.

Q: What is the trail really like?
A: It begins on pavement (the Parkway, actually) for the first 3.5 miles then turns off onto another road for a mile or two. From then on (until the last mile,) you're on either gravel/dirt roads or trails of some sort. Even the wide stretches of trail provide challenge because by this time in the year, all the leaves have fallen and they can (and do) hide rocks and other things you could easily trip on if you don't lift your feet. There are a number of small creek crossings, but nothing you can't rock-hop. Though a climb of 9200' doesn't sound terribly bad--184' per mile--it's mostly concentrated in a few sections of the course--some of which are pretty technical.

Q: Why is it called Mountain Masochist?
A: See the answers to questions #1 and #3. OK, actually the race director at the time (David Horton) told me his wife said that they were a bunch of masochists for doing this. This is the race's 25th year, so they are obviously doing something right. There is a bit of irony in the name as Lynchburg is the home of Liberty University--founded by Evangelist Jerry Falwell--and the current director is a professor there.

Q: What's the food like?
A: I did not do the pre-race pasta dinner, but the facility was very nice (there was a pre-race meeting there.) They also had a post-race dinner/awards ceremony there but we came on home being well out of receiving any awards. Aid stations are always a bit of a blur to me as I only focus on the standard stuff. Instead of Gatorade, they used something called Nune, which I had never heard of. It tastes awful but is not sweet so you don't get that late-in-the-race aversion that is common with other sports drinks. Random things I noticed at aid stations (but not every station) include: peanut butter & jelly mini-sandwiches, cheese mini-sandwiches, Clif Shots, bagels, fruit, M&Ms, something chocolate, pretzels, potato chips, and cut up boiled potatoes. I mainly lived off the gels I had brought, peanut butter & jelly, and bananas. They also had pain relievers at one aid station that I noticed and several--if not all--had minor medical supplies. The finish area had very little in the way of food. Probably because they were having a post-race meal back at the hotel.

Q: Is it scenic?
A: Yes and no. You really don't need to be looking around for much of the race because you should be watching your footing. However, there were stretches you ran beside a creek (downhill on a dirt/gravel road) and parts where you were walking so you could sneak a peak at some mountain ranges. Almost all of the leaves are off the trees at this time.

Q: How's the weather?
A: I think it was probably in the thirties at the start and actually stayed moderately cool for much of the race. There were stretches where you'd be in the sun and got a little warm, but then you'd get in the shade, or by a creek, and it was very comfortable. Not running at a 10K pace, probably helped make it feel cooler.

Q: Is there a cut-off?
A: Yes and they are very strict about it because it gets dark and they don't want to hunt you down on the trails. The limit is twelve hours and there are stations along the way where you have to meet cutoff times. Out of 268 starters, there were about forty DNFs, some of which might have dropped out due to injury.

Q: Can I have people support me?
A: Yes, about half of the aid stations are accessible to crews and while they discourage someone from running with you early in the race, they are more lenient about that policy in later miles. They do say that if you expect a top ten finish, pacers are not allowed. One idea is to have your crew get to the aid station and run/walk out to meet you and come back to the aid station with you.

Q: What's the medallion like?
A: Ultras are much less inclined to give medallions. In Mountain Masochist, you receive a "Finishers" shirt. A technical, Patagonia shirt (an earth-tone green this year) that only finishers receive. This year, the entry shirt (which everyone got) was an orangeish, long sleeve, cotton shirt.

Q: Where can I learn more?
A: Here is a link to the website.

Q: JFK is about this same time. How does it compare?
A: JFK (I believe) is easier because once you get the first thirteen miles over with, it's smooth paths and asphalt the rest of the way. In MM, you get short stretches of easy surface, but the technical stuff (and steep climbs) are never really over until after the last aid station. There are also about 1/4 as many people at MM.

Q: Anything else?
A: Yes, when I attended the pre-race meeting, it had a very cliquish feel to it. Many of these people were regulars or members of a local running club, so you could easily feel like an outsider. Once the race was on (and the front runners were long gone) it's much more enjoyable. The aid station people were great and very helpful. Most could tell you exactly what lay between you and the next aid station and they didn't try to give you false hope. If it was a tough stretch, that's what they told you. If you decide to give it a try, check the website often because it fills up fast. I believe registration opens around May 1st.

Mountain Masochist 50-Miler

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