Rocks and Rivers at MMT 100

It’s been almost a week since MMT, and I’ve had time to process it a little bit. This is a race I’ve been wanting to do since I first volunteered in 2013, when I first was exposed to the ultrarunning community. Seeing headlamps come down into Gap Creek in the middle of the night was so fascinating, I vowed I would eventually run the race. Since then, I have crewed and paced twice. I didn’t run it in 2016 because work was all-consuming and so I dropped from the starting list. I didn’t sign up in 2017 because I was consumed with the breakup of my marriage. This year, I knew it was my year.

Prepping for MMT

I know I have a reputation for winging it and not really training for races, but I actually do run. I just don’t do high mileage and I don’t follow any plan. For MMT, I trained harder than I ever have, though, running six ultras in a two-month period: ICY-8, MMT2 training run, half of Reverse Ring, Terrapin 50k, Elizabeth Furnace 50k, and Bull Run Run 50 miler. After BRR, I felt really burned out physically and mentally, so decided to skip Promise Land and make BRR my last long run. I took the next five weeks off with only three runs over 10 miles (including two beautiful runs on a work trip to Geneva).

As MMT approached, I felt physically and mentally ready. I trusted my training, had prepped well, and knew what I needed to do to complete the race. I also felt confident that my crew and pacers Nick, Jenni, and Lisa would get me through the aid stations efficiently and that Lisa’s experience at MMT would help in the difficult night section.

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My crew bin, bag, and binder!

Dealing with Wet Feet

I knew race conditions would be bad because of the heavy rain during the week prior to the race. I felt some comfort having had to contend with wet feet at Pinhoti last November (lots of stream crossings) and with torrential rain at Reverse Ring this spring. (Nick and I talked through how to avoid the problems that had left me with bad blisters at Pinhoti and caused me to DNF half way through Reverse Ring.) Because of this experience, when the full extent of how wet the MMT course would be became apparent, I wasn’t fazed by having to splash through thigh-deep raging rivers or run down trails that had become muddy streams. In fact, I tried to enjoy how the streams cooled my sore feet and took a child-like approach to splashing through water and mud.

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Photo credit: Quattro. Duncan Hollow is not supposed to look like this!

Despite six pairs of socks and three pairs of shoes, however, I could not keep my feet dry and developed bad trench foot by the time I reached Bird Knob. My feet were extremely painful in the last 20-30 miles, and left me with gross zombie feet at the end of the race! Luckily, the blisters did not form until after the race (unlike at Pinhoti), probably due to the multiple sock changes (at Pinhoti I only changed them once).

Problem Solving 

I felt like I did a good job solving problems as they arose with the help of my crew (I took Kimba’s advice in her 2013 MMT race report to heart). Instead of worrying about losing time at aid stations, I focused on the need to resolve issues early, but efficiently. The first problem was bad shoes in the first 12 miles. (I thought I’d kill some shoes with holes in them, covering the holes with duct tape, but the duct tape came off allowing debris to get into my shoes.) Of course, my feet were a continuous issue that required problem solving. Lots of sock changes and assessing when to change shoes. In addition to my feet, I also grappled with some stomach/GI issues in the last 20 miles, even though I’m generally a good eater during ultras.

When I reached Bird Knob, however, I had multiple issues to solve. Lisa and the aid station crew helped me prioritize and deal with each of them: feet (change of socks + Aquaphor), stomach (broth and brown rice), being cold (new Houdini). At Picnic, I had Bob Gaylord assess my disgusting feet. He gave me the all clear, saying “You’ve only got 16 miles to go!” (Thanks Bob!)

The Final Miles

From Picnic to the end, my feet were in tons of pain. But what really slowed me down was my right hip flexor, which had basically stopped working. This meant I couldn’t pick my right leg up off the ground more than a couple inches—a major issue when I still had to climb over rocks on the orange trail between Waterfall and Scothorne Gap and on my second time up Jawbone and down the boulder field to Moreland Gap. (The hip flexor problem also meant I could not walk up and down the stairs at my house!)

Final Thoughts and Lessons

In hindsight, I feel like I had a great race, with almost perfect execution despite the bad conditions. I felt mentally good the whole time, physically good for most of the time, and managed to problem solve and efficiently move in and out of aid stations due to my amazing crew. In fact, according to Nick’s timekeeping, my aid station times were quite short. Even when I had to change shoes and gear, I was out under 10 minutes. I spent only six minutes at Visitor Center. I’ve really focused on aid station management since I started ultrarunning because, as someone who tends to be at the back of the pack, I’ve learned that every second counts.

I’m also really pleased with how I maintained a mostly consistent pace through the race, which I think is one of my strengths. I started off slow—when I arrived at Edinburg Gap I was only about 45 mins ahead of cutoffs. I then settled into a better pace and started to expand my buffer—by the time I reached Visitor Center I was 2.5 hours ahead of the cutoff. Then my buffer shrank to 2 hours at Picnic and 1.5 hours at Gap Creek. I finished in 34:39, with 1 hour and 20 mins to spare.

A Debt of Gratitude

I cannot thank my amazing crew enough. My love, Nick, who supported me through many weekends of training, was enthusiastic about my race, and spent tons of time prepping; Lisa, whose experience on the course was invaluable, and whose conversation took my mind off some of the most arduous sections; and Jenni, my dear friend who stepped in at the last minute to pace me from Gap Creek to the finish and whose pep and chit chat stopped me from dwelling on the pain at the end.

Thank you also to the RDs and the volunteers. This truly is an amazing race and everyone involved shares in each runner’s accomplishment. I am so grateful to the VHTRC family for their hard work and support before, during, and after the event.

What’s Next

During the tough moments of the race, I swore I would never do another 100 miler, let alone another MMT. Of course, now I’m already training for IMTUF 100 in September and want to return to MMT to see if I can crack 34 hours. MMT has left me feeling reinvigorated and motivated to keep racing and to improve and challenge myself. And I can’t wait.

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Love my swag!

 

 

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