I hadn’t run a pain-free step between March 15 and May 30th, and according to my journal, began running again on May 31. Knowing that it would be several months before I could be in form again, I quickly pegged Mountain Madness as a goal race. Historically it’s an aggressive showdown for local trail runners at the end of September, and just getting myself to the starting line would be an accomplishment, but it f I could show up actually in shape, I might even have a chance to try for the podium. Still under-confident, I waited until the week of the race to sign up, hoping that my mind and body would get out unscathed.
5:45AM, and I’ve beaten my alarm clock by 30 minutes in waking up for MoMa, maybe I’m a little more torqued up than I originally anticipated.. I’ve prepared well the night before, laying out my race kit, arranging my gels, writing out instructions for my crew, and making sure that once I wake up, there is little to do other than eat, drink some coffee, down some water, and hit the road, but judging by how fitful my sleep was, all of this preparation was seemingly for naught.
Prior to the 9:00AM start, Eric gave me some last advice, reminding me that there is always someone who’s going to sprint from the starting line, not to be that guy, not to follow that guy, and to trust that I’ve got the right game-plan to execute today. Soon it would turn out that I am that guy.
As the runners lined up, Rick McNulty gave his pre-race briefing and in his typical, low-key, old-school form counted down the last five seconds before the race began. Immediately I jumped out in front, knowing that there was less than a half a mile to jockey for position before the single-track began, inevitably forcing the runners to adhere to the pace of the man in front of you. Not wanting to compromise to someone else’s gait, I made it a point to hit the off-road stretch first, and be the pacemaker.
I quickly fell into what seemed like a reasonable, yet slightly aggressive clip. Ryan Jones settled in on my heels, and it was beginning to look like the race was on. We found an early rhythm with Ryan about 50 feet behind me when a spill on an early descent destroyed my Ultimate Direction bottle, spilling almost all of my water a mere two miles into the race.. I quickly downed the rest, took an S! Cap and hoped that the inevitable lack of hydration through AS2 wouldn’t come back to bite me in the ass later.
Ryan and I continued to Jockey for position through AS1, where I took a couple of gulps of water, made sure I was headed out the right way, and quickly sprinted down the Cannonball trail towards AS2. The soft-single-track was delightful, especially in the still cool-morning light, and for the first time in the race, I was genuinely alone.. in front. After running hard out of AS1 for about 10 minutes, confident that I had built a few minute lead I decided to dial things back to a more manageable pace, ate a GU, and continued to grind towards AS2. Foolishly however, I missed a turn adding about a tenth of a mile to my day, and squandering the small lead I had built. After finding the correct trail again, I hastily hunted Ryan down, and gained about 20 seconds on him before AS2. Waiting for me were Eric and Luisina who I quickly told the bad news about my bottle, then I downed a couple of cups of water, and headed back out into the race.
Heading from AS2 to AS3 I found the rhythm I’d been seeking all morning, slipping into a pace that for the first time all day seemed like it was genuinely sustainable for the duration of the race. By the time I reached AS3, I had become comfortable with my lead, so I spoke with the volunteers for a few moments, refilled my bottle, popped a Gel and started the descent into AS4
Strategically I had decided well in advance that I would use the descent into AS4 to my advantage, what I had forgotten is that the descents are spread out, and come across as two steep fire-road descents with a stretch of undulating single-track in-between them. I began to catch up to and eventually pass some 25K runners before some lingering stomach issues forced me to jump off-trail for some shorts-around-the-ankles time. Surprised that no one caught me with my shorts down, I quickly resumed bombing down-trail cruising into AS4 where Lui and Eric hastily refueled my bottle as I checked in with the AS Volunteers, who informed me that I was the first 50K runner inbound. I downed another 2 cups of water, opened up a gel and began my ascent.
The downside of running off the front of the pack like I’d been doing all day, is that you genuinely have no clue where anyone else is in the race, so the out-and-back stretch provided the only opportunity for me to check up on the competition.. and for them to check me out. My stomach had continued to feel funky, and while the few moments spent squatting in the bushes had helped, I wasn’t sure I was finished with GI troubles for the day. I knew however, that this was the only time my competition was going to get a clear sight of me, so I convinced myself to grind as hard as I could into AS5, determined to hide any signs of weakness. It was here that I spotted Ryan Jones, Ryan Kunz, Marcus, and Jay a few minutes behind me, followed by a healthy spotting of Sean on the lower end of the single-track. After running nearly every step of the climb to AS5, I again refilled my bottle, slugged a couple of cups of coke, re-confirmed my directions, and headed back towards Shepherd Lake.
I ran well (and scared) along the fire roads out of AS5 until things quickly turned to the gnarliest single-track of the day, forcing me to concentrate substantially harder, and as if the terrain change was’t challenging enough, this coincided with my lowest point in the race. I recalled my 2013 MoMa, where this same section caused the greatest despair, and was once again finding myself considering dropping at the next aid station. While I knew I had at least a few minutes on my competition, I began to feel like my strength was seriously waning… I was still making good time, but I was convinced of the impending vulnerability of my lead, and sure that should I be spotted, I would be caught. This was exacerbated by an ever growing doubt in my ability to even finish the race, never mind win the damn thing. So in a move of desperation I doubled-down my efforts with the knowledge that I would eventually drop out on a fire-road with a long descent wherein I could relax a bit, and hopefully earn some extra time on the chase-pack.
After some more meandering single-track, I finally dropped out onto the fire-road taking me back to the lake, dumped my bottle for Eric and Lui to refill, checked in with Rick and the timing mat, and left as quickly as possible, hoping to get long-out-of-sight before anyone else came in, knowing that psychologically it would be harder for my competition to catch a ghost than someone they had recently spotted.
I ran the remaining 7 miles in 1:06:38, convinced that someone was hot on my tail, while grinding through the only genuinely tedious part of the course. My feet had begun to succumb to the abuse of the incessantly sharp rocks, making me wish I had worn something a bit bulkier than the racing flats I’d run all day in, and yearn for the moment I could cross the finish line, take off my shoes, and sit down..
I finally crossed the line in 5:12:56, 2m19s faster than my 2013 time, and first man across the tape for the day. Ryan came in second, in 5:28:27, followed by Marcus, and Jay, in 5:35:54 and 5:36:06 respectively. Ryan Jones finished in 6:01:07 (11th) and Sean finished his second of 4 MoMa’s in 6:15:58 (14th).
A special thanks goes out to Luisina and Eric who spent the day blowing up social media, and slinging water bottles. Jay M. gets a special shoutout for the 6AM tempos, and Jeff Boyardee for the confirmation of race strategy. Also, Bioskins for their aid in training and post-race recovery.