Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pacing at MMT

Weekend before Memorial Day, I had the pleasure of pacing my friend, Glen Redpath at MMT100. It was an education in pacing and running 100s. I definitely felt like I made a difference in Glen's day through both crewing and pacing. Whether it was not letting a decisive move by Todd and Mike break him at mile 89 or pacing him out in the big sprint finish or talking him past being "spent", I came away from the run feeling like I had done everything I could to get him across the finish line and leave everything out there. He definitely taught me how to make that possible. Pacing is the art of getting your runner to push past what they can access on their own but not pushing too much that they are spent before they reach the line. As a crew and pacer, you have to be completely selfless to the point of being willing to sacrifice yourself for the betterment of your runner. Being a pacer is more than just being a companion, you have to be coach, motivator, pace-keeper, pusher and hard ass. Your own needs on the run are secondary. Tired, suck it up. Fueling, better figure out how to do it and keep up. Slow on the hill, better learn how to run up them. In fact on the second to last climb, before that race I would have told you I couldn't run up hills that steep and technical and definitely not that fast, but I did. It is amazing what you can push yourself to do on behalf of your runner. That was probably the hardest 27 miles I have ever run. It was hard not just because it was technical, steep, dark and wet but because we kept a good pace and because I had been crewing all day long which is not restful, you forget to eat and you have been up all sorts of crazy hours like your runner. But you have to suck it up. Your runner depends on you. That is your job, your responsibility. It is not a small undertaking if you are doing it right. I come away from this experience having learned so much from an amazingly talented and long time runner such as Glen. I think my experience pacing him and then our subsequent rundown of some additional tips for future reference, serves to make those I pace in the future better served. It was awesome to be a part of his experience and his success! What a race and weekend!

Below is Glen's race report.
Checking out the course pre-race & making sure we know which direction to go!

Up since 3am, smiling a few minutes before the 5am start of MMT100.

Glen's MMT 100 – 2009 Report

Consider myself a good technical runner yet I still fell down not once but 4 times {twice on Kearns Mt (miles 41 and 44), once on Bird Knob (mile 54) and once coming off the Shawl Gap (mile 98)}. Each time I seemed to rise up alert and more aware of my surroundings. Scrapping my hands and one knee was just part of the adventure. The EMT at the finish thought I might have broken my left thumb since it had swollen up so much. But after a days rest the swelling went down and it just seems to be badly bruised.

So why would anyone want to put themselves through all this?
Most runners can run a marathon, the dumbing-down or Galloway miles have helped many a runner accomplish this. So with a little more training one can run a 50k and even a 50 miler. But a 100 miler on technical trails up mountains is a different beast. There is a lot more in-take of food and drink involved (so an iron stomach is important) as well the ability to stay awake and run through the night and the utmost important factor, a positive mental attitude.

So with a little nudging from my friend Nathan I decided to take on the Massanuttan Mountain Trails 100 mile challenge. Preparing most of the Winter and Spring well I even took three separate trips to run different parts of the course, the last one being a 25-mile fast-pack (hike/run) from Edinburg Gap Mile 75 to the finish.

My solitary crew member and pacer, Devon Crosby-Helms, and I drove down to George Washington State Forest and the Skyline Ranch on Friday arriving in time to take in the race directors talk, course briefing and check into our lovely chalet, a quarter mile from the starting line.

The customary 5am start left little time for sleep. Did my usual one lap of the parking lot to loosen up and off we went. The first 2.4 miles is all run on a paved road, helping sort out all the runners. At the first aid station there is a small group of five runners already ahead of the rest of the field. We make a sharp right turn and head up the first big climb (first of 12) up to Shawl Gap (approx 6.5 miles). Just before the turn and steep downhill I can see two runners (Karl Meltzer and Todd Walker) in front of me. When we arrive at aid station two (Mile 8.7) I am already 3 mins behind the two leaders. There I realize that Meltzer, an accomplished ultra-marathoner with numerous 100-mile victories, is out to break the course record and my only way of catching him is if he has some sort of meltdown and if I ran a perfectly paced race. So settling down I knock off some road miles before the next aid station. Special thanks to Keith Knipling
for yelling at me, “course goes straight” when I veer off momentarily onto a trail that heads back up to the Massanutten ridge.

The pancakes, fried eggs and bacon at aid station 3 (Mile11.8) are enticing but I don’t stop. Heading up the second big climb near the top I spot Todd walking. By aid station 4 (Mile 16.9) we are together running and talking. We head back down the ridge and onto another road section. The heat and humidity are rising and I am dreaming of a popsicle. When I arrive at Habron Gap (Mile 24.7) Devon hands me a Vanilla Smoothie. Oh this is heaven and I down it in 3 seconds and head up the third big climb with Todd. Half way up my stomach is acting up. Todd offers me a Tums but I decline. By the time I reach the top Todd is gone and I am suffering from indigestion (I learn later that despite the label saying Soy there is dairy in the smoothie and I am dairy sensitive). I reach into my waist pack and pull out a Tums. The run down to the next aid station (Mile 34) is uncomfortable. When I reach it Devon is there with positive words of encouragement.
I internalize them and head out up the forth climb towards Gap Creek I aid station (Mile 39.8).

Before I arrive I see Todd off in the distance and realize he has about 3 mins on me. Exchanging my bottles for fresh ones with ice (a runner’s dream on a hot day) and getting more words of encouragement from Devon and another friend Angus, I take off up the fifth climb towards Kearn Mt, the first of two extremely technical (meaning head down - very rocky) five mile sections. When I arrive near the top I see Todd and accelerate to catch up to him. We exchange pleasantries then I fall hard scraping my knee. I look up and again he is gone. I accelerate and soon we are back together discussing the various creatures we have spied during the day (including a box turtle). Just before the decent I fall hard again this time scraping both hands. At the bottom of the Kearn Mt there is an unmanned aid station and I use the clean water to wash off my bloody hands. We then head down the next 2 miles on road to the Visitor’s Center at Hwy 211. This is by far the hottest time of the day (mid 80’s and high humidity). We run together into the aid station (Mile 48.2) where I meet Devon and Jenny Chow (Nathan’s girlfriend, crew and pacer). They give me fresh bottles with ice, a bandana filled with ice for my neck and a turkey sandwich. I leave smiling knowing the steepest and hardest climb and out and back to Bird Knob is just around the corner. Todd has decided to hold back. Just after reaching the top and before I hit the lollipop loop I see Meltzer. I smile and say “great job” he just stares back lost in his music (headphones on). I estimate that he now has 45 mins on me.

His stare fuels me and I crank this next section. Just before the steep downhill it starts to pour rain. Thunder, lightning the whole nine yards I even here later that there are golf ball sized hail but don’t encounter any. Shortly after I take another tumble. Miraculously no blood this time. Back down the stick of the lollipop I see a handful of runners going out including Nathan who I estimate to be in 10th place. When I reach the next aid station (Mile 56.4) I am a sopping wet from head to toe. I think of toweling off and changing shirt, socks and runners but realize they will all get wet again. With the rain still coming down I have literally no option but to proceed down the trail. My friend Karl Hoagland told me the day before, “the rain is your friend so embrace it as your friend it is there to help you”.

With this thought in my head I run hard on a short downhill section to Hwy 211 parking lot (Mile 58.1) where I see a small group. Bryon Powell is there and whips out his camera and yells at me to “run smart”. After crossing Hwy 211 for a second time there is another very long gradual not too technical climb. Half way up on the single-track section I am literally scared out of my shorts when two mt bikers in full gear (racing helmets and shin pads) coming screeching at me. Good thing their brakes are working. What next??? Another box turtle for starters and the disappearance of the trail into a full fledge river. Completely drenched I run straight up the rushing stream. When I get near the top the rain subsides a little and then there is a very steep yet runnable downhill. I begin to crank again and continue the pace after I hit the road section and all the way into the Gap Creek aid station (Mile 64.9).

There is a crowd at the aid station with runners still on their way out to Kearns Mt. I waste little time and leave after filling my bottles and grabbing some cantaloupe and pretzels. The next uphill to Jawbone Gap is the same section I ran 25 miles earlier. The first time I ran it in 19 mins and thought if I could do it in 21 or 22 that would be an accomplishment. Amazing myself I run it the second time also in 19 mins. It is a short distance to Moreland Gap aid station (Mile 67.7) more pretzels and cantaloupe and then the dreaded most feared technical section up Short Mt (climb number 9 of 12).

The loose debris (dirt and sand) from the rushing stream has now made its way under my gaiters and into the tops of my running shoes. There is friction that is creating hot spots but I just blank it out. On Short Mt I keep telling myself over and over to be smart, be smart and somehow get through the 5-mile section before darkness and without falling. I ran downhill to the Edinburg Gap aid station (Mile 75.9) mentally exhausted. Devon is there and smiling. She has worked all day with little sleep and now she gets to run with me to the finish. We leave the aid station then head across the highway and begin our climb (number 10 of 12). We walk while I devour a sliced chicken sandwich and drink a Red Bull. When we reach the top we begin to run. Her positive energy and conversation are infectious and I begin to enjoy the adventure anew. She also tells me that at Moreland Gap Meltzer was over an hour in front of me and that there were two runners just 8 mins behind. It is getting dark and we try to run as far as we can before reaching for our flashlights. When we reach Woodstock Tower aid station (Mile 84.1) there is a large crowd of Virginia Happy Trails team members working the station with a menu of delicious food. No matter I cannot stay more then a minute to fill my bottles and devour some more cantaloupe chunks and Pringle chips!

It is still raining and this next section is extremely difficult because of the rain and the thick fog that has rolled in. We run / jog this next section and agree to run hard once we reach the 3-mile road section heading into and out of Powell’s Fort aid station (Mile 89.3). When we reach it we quickly fill our bottles and look back to see a group of three runners. Todd Walker, Mike Mason, and Mason’s pacer have caught up to us. Still standing in front of the table I reach out to slap Mason’s hand. He immediately grabs some food and is off. When we leave the aid station all three runners pass us at full speed. Mason’s pacer runs about 400 yards and then stops to wave us on.

The rolling gravel road goes for about a mile before turning onto a single track for about a half-mile and then an extremely steep (not technical) climb (number 11). After 3 or 4 mins Todd falls back and we work to catch up to him and have a brief conversation. It is here that I realize the OMG THE RACE IS ON and that we need to wake up. We see Mason in front of us reach for some fuel and slow a bit to consume it. We run hard to catch him as he slows to fuel up. We pass him and eventually hit the steep climb first. The next two and half miles are technical but mostly level or downhill. We appear to be putting distance on both Mason and Todd. With only one aid station left I assess whether I have enough left to eat and drink before the finish. We decide to run through the Elizabeth Furnace aid station (Mile 96.8) without stopping and head up the last hill (number 12). Closer to the top of Shawl Gap (yes the same place we ran through 90 miles earlier) the trail gets steeper and a little more technical. I am literally willing my body to the Gap. When I reach it I am completely spent. We start downhill for the last 2.5 miles sort of walking when I put my foot on a long very slippery tree root. I take another tumble (number 4) and pause before getting back up. I am done (this is where the positive mental attitude bit comes in). Devon encourages me to keep moving and rips open an entire pack of gel blasts and puts them into my hand. I devour them and keep walking down the hill. Every few 100 yards I ask if she can see anyone coming behind us. As we reach the bottom of the hill she looks back and says, “there is someone about a minute back”. While navigating through the forest and running straight through two creeks I sense the gravel road approaching. Devon tells me there is someone 20 seconds behind us. We hit the gravel road. With just more then a mile from the finish she looks at me and says he is only 10 seconds back. Looking right at her I say, “But I have another gear”. We hit it and reach the paved road first and looking back as we turn and see Mason sprinting hard. He is maybe 10 yards behind and yells something like, “Go get em”. Devon and I continue to run hard up the last little hill and through the open field to the finish line (Mile 101.8) and cross it exhausted in 20:44 for second place overall. Mason comes in 20 seconds later and we give each other a monstrous hug.

We wait for another 15 or 20 mins but see no Todd. We learn later that he got lost up at Shawl Gap needing another 110 mins before making his way to the finish. Meltzer brought his “A game” and ran strong all day taking the win in 18:29. Nathan faded a little over the last 25 miles and settled for 12th overall. Here are the official results:

It was glorious day with all its variations, a true adventure that will not be forgotten anytime soon. Special thanks to Devon, Jenny and all the aid station crews you were all amazing despite the weather and long hours.

Happy trails,


Glen coming into Camp Roosevelt, mile 36
(photo by Aaron)

Sherpa (aka crew) bringing all the goods in one trip! Miles 40 & 65—Gap Creek (photo by Aaron)

Glen and I crossing the finish line in 2nd place. What a run!

Outside gluten free heaven, Babycakes NYC- picking up WELL deserved treats.

Glen's brutalized feet post-race.

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