Mohican Race Report--The Virgin 50 Voyage
I must admit, I wasn't feeling positive about this race, stewing about the hot humid stormy forecast and wondering if my training was enough to carry me over 50 miles of Mohican wilderness, but once I pay for a race, I'm there; I'll toe the line of starting line even if it feels I'm heading to my own execution once money has exchanged hands. Bob, Chef Bill and I headed down in the "Playing With Knives and Fire" chef van on Friday right after work toward Loudonville, Bob's hometown, to attend the pre-race meeting, pick-up our race bags and contemplate our demise. The pre-race meeting, held within a pine-paneled meeting room at Mohican Adventures, reminded me of a marathon expo, only more laid back, countrified, with a hippy dippy, summer camp kind of edge. One guy, cornering the market on race day supplies, sold Hammer gels, water bottles, packets of Perpetum, and other long run accouterments to runners standing in a wavering line through banks of round tables toward frantic volunteers serving pasta and salad. I saw Utra Kim L. helping out with the food line. I'm not sure who was providing the food, a church maybe, but Chef Bill wore his Chef shirt, hoping to catch this gig next year. The pasta was aldente, the sauce a little too undercooked tomatoey, but ultra runners, generally not too picky, ate it up as fast as they could put it out.
Skirt Sara, and her friend Michelle, that was going to crew for us, arrived earlier to check out the scene. I became increasing gloomy through the pre-race informational meeting. Roy H. gave a long bit by bit description of the race course and how it was marked. Dang. 50 miles is a long way. He described the various colored loops that make up the course, the gravel road sections, the water crossings and freaked us out with tales of bear scat one of the trail volunteers found along the trail. He talked about the hand over hand climb near Lyons Falls and what to do if thunder clouds opened fury. He told us what to do if 89 degree heat and humidity take their toll, explaining the procedure for proper dropping so race volunteers aren't combing the trail at 2am searching for your sorry ass. I looked around at the runners sitting next to me. They seemed so strong and beautiful. I felt out of place, a middle aged woman with skinny legs planning on wearing a hot pink tank and makeup running 50 miles of rugged terrain. I'm out of my league. I was getting anxious to leave the meeting, a hot spot of pain, my right hip flexor, radiated doubt along with pain. I needed to stretch.
Bob, Bill, Sara, Michelle and I stayed in one room at the Travel Lodge, just outside of the park near Loudonville. We had to do some furniture re-arranging to fit Bill's air mattress at the foot of the bed, where he would sleep with a single multicolored Mexican blanket. We fretted over our stuff, laid everything out the best we could, so when Bill's rooster alarm went off at 3 a.m., we could get ready quickly. I don't think any of us slept very well--more like a long nap than a good night's rest.
The race started promptly at 5 a.m., still dark, the largest turnout, ever for the Mohican 100/50 mile. I lost the small disposable flashlight I packed for the first hour of the race in the dark, Michelle offered to lend me hers, which I really appreciated, but the small light circle of light it cast was insufficient to run the first those first hills. Chef Bill, more confident in the dark, gave me his headlamp to get me through the dark. Bob and Bill went ahead of Sara and I. Sara and I ran the first section together. Just short of the first aid station, at mile five, after a brief rain shower, I took a stumble when my foot failed to clear a slick wet rock and I fell backwards on my tailbone and elbow. It wasn't too bad. I get exhilarated by falls, and frankly, it was just what I needed to knock some of the gloominess out of me. We met up with Bob and Bill at the first aid station, covered bridge, and started out toward the next one together, but the boys were irritating me, so I encouraged them to go ahead. I loved the section near Lyons Falls and the hand over hand climb. Good thing they put this at the beginning of the race and not near the end when runners are tired.
I caught up with the legendary Fred Davis for a stint--he's an older gentlemen, rail thin, petite and dark as night, whom bears the rare distinction of over 10 Mohican 100 finishes. He proudly sported a 1000 mile belt buckle at the pre-race meeting. At the time we were running a short steep section of asphalt, "the necessary evil connectors between trails," he called them. He gave me some excellent advice and helped boost my confidence. He said, "If you can go out on any one day and do 20 miles, then you should be able to do at least three times that, or 60 miles." Then he added, "but it might not be pretty." He said the trick is to really take it easy the first 3-4 hours of the race. It should feel like a warm-up. Then Fred pointed out the white arrows on the ground, "I know who made that one, cause he makes his arrows long." Fred, apparently prefers to make a series of 3 short arrows to show the way. I took his advice to heart. I walked anything vaguely resembling a hill. I was going to stay in the moment.
I ran on and off with Sarah enjoying the day and the scenery. The terrain was rugged, steep, but intoxicatingly beautiful. I saw people struggling with the heat, but it didn't bother me. I sipped on Heed and ate something at all the aid stations. I was surprised by some of the gravel sections, one had gravel the size of newborn heads, near impossible to run on.
The Bridal Staging Area was a turning point: I loved this station, at mile 11.67, the volunteers were attentive, like the purple clothes wearing Colleen who took pictures of Sara and I posing together, while I refueled. Then, shortly after clearing the station, around mile 13, a tell-tale nick of pain in my right knee from none other than my long time nemesis, the IT Band Man, that taunted me back in the days of my early marathoning youth, started to hark. I was completely off running a month once, I had it so severe, and now, the tell tale stabbing on certain angles of down hill. I panicked and started to ruminate how this might taunt me the whole race, but managed reign my mind back to the current moment, stopped to stretch against a sturdy tree, and dug two Exedrin's out of my red waist pack. Sara ran ahead. I kept going. Fortunately, the Mohican terrain is wildly variable and the flats and uphills didn't bother me at all--just a certain angle of downhill, so I counted myself lucky. I caught up to Sara and we continued over hill and dell, stream, gulleys, and gravel toward the next aid station--Rock Point at mile 18.9.
Rock Point had some great food and volunteers, which was good, because this started a long stretch of asphalt running in the heat of day. I saw some of the faster 50 mile runners already coming back the other way, like Dr. T, since you pass through Rock Haven twice. This stretch was interminably long, undulating sharp up and down hills, but beautiful too, with farm scenes and grassy roadside ditches dancing with orange Fritillary butterlies on purple thistle. According to Michelle, our official crew handler, Bob and Bill were somewhere up ahead, probably about six minutes. I figured Bob would be hating the heat. At this point I was running by myself, Sara fell behind and I ran next to a 100 miler trying this for the first time.
Finally, some crowd support! I saw Joan Cotrill waiting along the roadside. She was waving at me for some reason. I thought she was just waving "hi," but she was trying to get me to turn the right way, I was in such a groove, I was ready to run completely run off course to God knows where. She said Bob and Bill were definitely 6 minutes up ahead. Up to this point, I really didn't care where they were, but now I was ready to bug them, so I set my sights on catching up. I knew there were going to be like 8-10 miles of road, but this seemed like forever. It was killing my I-T on the down, but I discovered if I walked backwards along certain sections, it felt much better. Oh God help me if I have 30 more miles of walking backward--but I reigned my mind back to the moment.
I saw Bill and Bob as they were leaving Buckhaven aid station at mile 23.7 and I was arriving. Sara caught up at this point and we used their nice cushey bathrooms, with lots of toliet paper and even a burning candle! I liked this place. All the aid stations had buckets of ice water and sponges to cool off, but this one had a fan with, at the moment, Rob Powell, poised in front, looking like he didn't want to leave. Sara and I headed back together toward our second pass at Rockpoint, mile 28.52. We saw the young Sean Pope, doing the full 100, looking fresh as a daisy, and probably slated to finish in the top three. Sara and I wondered if he was too young, and therefore inappropriate for us to oogle. Man, he had beautiful calves...
Rockpoint Volunteers get first place for enthusiasm. As I climbed up the hill the station was perched on top of, I was greeted by a throng of hooting, clapping volunteers. I smiled at them and then noticed Bob, off to the side. I caught him, finally! Bill's heel was giving no problem at all, so he went ahead. I ate a turkey sandwich and enjoyed a hard boiled egg while one of those wonderful touchy-feely types rubbed out my shoulders. I asked her to rub my butt, too, but I guess she draws the line at shoulders. Sara caught up to us at this point too.
We headed out single file, headed now to South Park aid station, mile 32.81, which for me was the lowest part of the race. First of all, much of it was dried rocky river beds, forlorn and lonely as Mars during the heat of day. I was leading with maybe, Bob a minute behind me, and Sara, a minute behind him. I heard somebody approaching. Assuming it was Bob, I asked, "Hey Bob, have you peed yet?" A deep voice behind me responded, "I'm not Bob." It was one of the Cyborg 100 milers, stern, strapped with hydration system that reminds me of a jet pack, deep voiced and serious as all get out. I said, "Well, have you peed?" He ignored me and got ahead of me as fast as he could.
Then, the unspeakable. I had to pass gas. I was alone so I thought this was a good time to do it, but according to fart afficianados, I had the type deemed a "juicy fruit." Ah man!! Now what? And Bob's coming! I planned for this, pulled out a baby wipe, cleaned up the best I could, said a little prayer of forgiveness for littering, and buried my embarressing mishap along side the trail. I felt dirty and throughly disgusting. My I-T was stabbing more and more. This was getting awful.
Bob and I walked up the impossible mountain toward the Firetower aid station. One downhill was torture on my IT band, so I held Bob's hand for support, (I washed my hands if you're wondering) and walked down the whole thing backwards. Dang, we have the strangest dates...
The Firetower Aid station was fabulous. We had our drop bags there, but decided to keep pushing forward. I was afraid if I stopped to change my shoes or my socks, even though I felt blisters coming on, I'd never get back up. We had 12 miles to go. Sara had a pacer at this point, I forget his name, but we plowed onward. After a few miles, Bob and I stopped to walk again letting Sara go ahead with her friend. Now my left IT band was hurting and Bob was riddled, even worse with blisters on his toes, balls of his feet, not to mention we were just dogged tired, but surely we could go another lousy 12 miles. It was a determined death march at this point. We certainly did much more walking than we did running, but we kept true to our mantra: relentless, forward, progression. Up to this point, we cleared the aid station cut off times with plenty of time, but as we walked more and more, the cutoffs were getting closer. I was afraid if we dawdled at all, we might not make the 15 hour cutoff.
After the last aid station at Hickory Ridge, I was a horse smelling the hay, I wanted that 50 mile medal so bad along with the Great Lakes Dortmunder promised at the finish line. Bob does a wicked mean fast power walk, but with my shorter legs, I couldn't keep up with him, but I could still run, so for the last few miles, I stayed ahead of him by alternating run shuffling and walking. I was hurting. My IT bands were screaming. A young guy wearing Vibram Five Fingers was gently padding down the hill. I wanted to pass, so asked him if I could get by. He stepped aside and wacked his foot on something. I felt rotten. Then I felt my little toe blister pop and swell up like a balloon. It grossed me out, along with Mr. Vibram Five Fingers since I told him about it. He said, "Geez...why did you tell me that?" TMI, I know, but I can't help myself sometimes.
I came through the finish around 4:45 and Bob, just a minute, if even that, later. We did it. Sara came in just 10 minutes before and Bill came in much earlier. I forget his time, but 13 something, I think. We did it!! On a hot miserable day, we still went 50 miles! Whoo-Hoo!! I had my beer and took off my shoes to survey the damage...and called it a day. A good day spending 14 hours and 45 minutes of doing what I love and people I love doing it with.