Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mason Dixon Longest Day 100K 2012 Trail Challenge

Forest running it in with me!

I don't particularly enjoy suffering through ultra-runners race reports, so I am not going to write one.  Instead, in the spirit of the generation of the Facebook/Twitter attention span, below is a collection of anecdotes and thoughts about this years MDLD challenge.

Redemption:  I have attempted the MDLD challenge 4 previous times.  On the first attempt, I stopped at 50 miles due to trouble with my IT band.  Another time I stopped 4 miles from the finish with serious health concerns due to a sodium deficiency (best guess).  Two other times were thwarted half way for other reasons.  It was enormously satisfying to finish, and to finish within the limits of the challenge - sunrise to sunset.  I completed the challenge at 8:11 PM, just 23 minutes before official sunset.  My total run time was 14 hours and 49 minutes.

Camaraderie: Everyone involved with this run is an assumed friend.  If your a first timer, multiple finisher, volunteer, or pacer, there is a special feeling of togetherness, happiness, and friendship.  Steve Bunsville's wife stopped to help in my time of need and provided much needed ice and water, and oh-so-good frozen blueberries.  At another point in the run there was a genuine feeling of  'we're in this together' among the group of four lead runners, weather it be calling out missed turns or sharing the pace responsibilities.  There are not many races where the participants and volunteers are in it together such as in the MDLD 100k.

"Are you fucking kidding me?!" -  I said this out loud perhaps 20 times in the last six miles.  This was the only section of trail that I was unfamiliar with, and despite the accounts from others who have covered it, I refused to believe the true difficulty of this section.  There are 5 major climbs between Apollo Park and the finish.  Three of them are pure rock scrambles and nightmarish switchbacks, each one taxing your body and soul beyond what you believe is possible.  About 2 miles from the finish, the trail descends to a dirt road along the river, where I foolishly believed there were no more climbs, despite knowing the map well enough to know better.  After a tenth of a mile, the trial markers reveal the reality of the climb ahead, starting with a 50 yard scramble up a 45% ascent - hand, foot, hand, foot - the burning pain - double vision setting in.

Superhuman:  I am in awe of the handful of people who - over the history of this run - managed to maintain pace and finish the event in the 11-13 hour range.  It's simply incomprehensible.  Likewise for the hardy folks, fast or not, who finish events like the Leadville 100 (Extreme elevation for most of the run), Badwater Ultra (Across Death Valley before ascending a mountain), or the Western States 100 (18,000 feet of ascent over 100 miles).  This is yet another example that no matter how good you think you are at something, or how bad-ass you might be, there is always someone out there who will chuckle at your cute, puny accomplishments (said in Arnold Schwarzenegger accent).

Respect:  Western States has 18,000 feet of ascent with mountains as high as 9,000 feet.  The MDLD accomplishes 10,000 feet of ascent with a river-to-valley rim differential of just 500 feet.  Your are going up or down the valley wall at nearly all times, with brief interludes on the valley plateau.  This is not to say MDLD is harder, because it is not, but it says a lot about how bad ass this event is, and is a warning to those who underestimate the difficulty.  Of all the race reports I have seen on the matter, every "first-run" report says something along the lines of "that was way harder than I expected".

Man vs. Sun:  I love that this is a "challenge" and not a race.  Among the leaders I know we all had thoughts of position and subdued competativeness.  But if your unfortunate to be transecting the home stretch with 3 hours or less before sunset you can see the sun creeping near the valley ridge, and your focus shifts sharply to the reality of the goal - to finish before sunset.  Panic starts to set in, and your physically helpless to respond.  Along the last six miles you become bi-polar:  Ascent - "Fuck, there is no way I am going to make it before sunset!"  Platue - "OK, moving along now, there is NO WAY I will not make it."  Descent - Step (Ouch!) step (Fuck!) step (whimper) step w stubbed toe on a rock ($#*$%!).  For the next 4 ascents, rinse-lather-repeat.

The Cherry on Top:  The last descent is both spectacular and torturous, consisting of car sized boulders, through which the trail cuts directly down the middle.  On either side are precarious drops through the forest.  There is no possibility of rushing through this section.  Your legs are depleted, tendons stressed, joints swollen.  Try to scamper too fast and your likely to end up with a cracked skull or non-functioning leg.  Despite this it is magnificent and beautiful.  Knowing a short zombie-jog to the finish awaits you at the bottom is a glorious feeling.

Pain and Desperation:  Prior to yesterday, the hardest event I had ever participated in was a half-Ironman distance triathlon.  In that race, I experienced unnerving heart palpitations during the finishing run.  As of yesterday I have a new "hardest thing I have ever done" physically.  The ascents near the finish induced lung-tightening discomfort, and double-vision brain fog.  The day after the event, my legs feel like they have splints fastened to the joints, accented by bloody highlights from the thick thorn patches that were traversed.  Yet another choice section had the lushest overgrowth of stinging nettle.  Even Bill Tryon let out a grunt - which if you know him is against his moral principals.

Mental Anguish:  Besides the physical pain, the mental desperation I felt was debilitating.  Twice I seriously questioned if a finish was possible, not because of physical ailments, but because my mind was doing its best to enforce the 'self preservation' edict.  But I have felt this before, and the only way through it is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of pain and self-doubt.  The mind has to be beat into submission by the steady pounding of foot on trail   Through this toil you become a stronger person.  You gain new perspective.  You find that you can endure more than you think possible.  This translates to life in general - no matter the challenges, put one foot in front of the other, and you will get through it.  That is how a ridiculous, painful, self serving run like the MDLD makes me stronger.

Generosity:  Chris Spooner and Kyle Kershner, my Comrades corhorts just three weeks ago (,  provided run support.  Chris had been traveling for almost 4 weeks straight, and stepped off an airplane late Friday night.  Instead of enjoying the comfort of his own bed for the first time in forever, he stayed nearby for the 4 AM departure.  Both him and Kyle have a thousand better things to do than follow my ass around the middle of nowhere on a beautiful Saturday.  I am extremely grateful to them for helping me get through the event.  Having ice available every few miles was crucial to manage the midday heat along the sections that cover hot, open, country roads.  A special thank you to all of the race organizers and volunteers - Hunt, Pete, Jim, Jack, and perennial lifesavers Dave and Roxane!

And most of all I am humbled and appreciative of my families patience and interest in my ridiculous personal endeavor.  Year after year Stacey piles all the kids in the car for the hour plus drive to the Susquehanna, and spends hours wandering from checkpoint to checkpoint for a few minutes glimpse of me in such a sorry state.  It's one thing to take a day to myself to wander around the woods, but to expect them to actually be interested in how I do downright weird!  It was glorious to have them waving and cheering as I stumbled across the finish line after so many attempts.  Running to the finish with Forest at my side was the perfect ending to this crazy run.  When it was over and we were on our way home, it was a great feeling to be in that seat next to my wife, cruising down the country road towards home, head bobbing as I drifted in and out of sleep, and our crazy brood along for the ride.

Stacey, Nate, Kyle, Chris
Natural Wonders: The natural beauty of the course is stunning.  The PA/DE/MD area has some lush green rolling hills, and is know for the dense woodlands and beauty of the horse farms.  But I think most people in the area have no idea the hidden gems along the Susquehanna exist in their back yard.  Muddy Run, Apollo County Park, Indian Steps Trail are awe inspiring. The Susquehanna State Park Greenway Trail, in the morning with the mist rising off the water, rivals the the beauty of other well known natural wonders.  Also Glen Cove Marina and Broad Creek are special places at sunrise and sunset.  If you live in the area or are visiting, take the time to visist some of these special places.

No comments:

Post a Comment