Saturday, May 25, 2013

Success and the MMT 100

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise”
Oscar Wilde

I had set two running goals for myself at the beginning of 2013.  One was to place top ten or better in all of my 100 mile races for the year.  This started off spectacularly with a 4th place finish at the super rugged HURT 100, followed by an equally spectacular crash-and-burn-in-a-pile-of-flaming-carnage DNF at the decidedly not so rugged Antelope Island 100.  Hmm...  Now what?

Now off to Virginia to run the MMT 100 is what!  103.7 miles of the rockiest and most technical trail you will find anywhere.  To be fair, there is about 20 miles of dirt road/asphalt mixed in but the remaining 80+ miles make up for this with unrelenting technicality.  Take your eyes off the trail for a second and, "BAM!  On your face, sucka!"  (This happened to me many, many times.)  My revised goal was very simple: finish, no matter what.

With performance pressure off I felt very relaxed the morning of the race.  I was tired, having not slept well for several nights in a row, but unconcerned about much of anything.  I find it fairly easy to be devoid of higher thinking at 4a.m. and this day was no exception.  The first four miles of road rolled by uneventfully.  I was glad I had chosen to start mostly naked as the warmth and humidity of Virginia quickly had me covered in a film of greasy sweat that would last for most of the race.  Eww.

I can't tell you how many times I fell over the next few hours but it was a hell of a lot.  The scenery was beautiful and unique, especially to someone coming from the high deserts and pine forests of Idaho, but I quickly decided I didn't like the scenery as much as I liked keeping my teeth.  I devoted most of my attention to the rocky footing and trying to stay relaxed.  I figured things would smooth out as the sun came up but I was wrong.  The light only served to give me a better view of the finer details of the Massanutten Trail as I hurled myself against it repeatedly.  This would be a recurring theme for the rest of the day.

I hardly stopped as I rolled through Edinburg Gap at mile 12.  My crew of wife, brother and mother were phenominal all day long and kept me moving through aid stations with clockwork efficiency.  I knew I wouldnt see them again for another 20 miles so I settled into a kind of comfortable mental numbness that seems to embody long races.

Party rockin' at Habron Gap.
I percolated my way through the damp morning making a point of not over-thinking anything.  I was here to have fun.  As the miles rolled by I noticed that I was not feeling OK.  I was feeling fantastic, almost euphoric.  The less I worried about "racing" the stronger and happier I felt.  I was having a great time and would continue to do so for a long time.  I clicked off many more miles and aid stations feeling just awesome.  My crew continued to be spot-on and I couldn't help but feel as though I were being handed a gift in the form of a life lesson: HAVE FUN.

Me and Jeezard, rockin' the MMT.
Camp Roosevelt at mile 63 was an especially meaningful point for me as I had dropped here in 2011 due to comically huge blisters.  This time around it was an entirely different story as I blasted through feeling like I was just getting warmed up.  I won't pretend like it was all rainbows and unicorns.  I continued to fall every few miles for the sake of consistency.  I was chafing something awful in some very tender places.  But on the whole I really dont think I have ever felt that good after running that hard for that long and I was having a blast.

Feeling fierce at mile 77.
I checked in to the Visitor's Center aid station at mile 77 vaguely aware that I was in sixth place overall but trying not to think about it too much.  I was looking forward to the next section as night would be falling soon and I could zone out in the beam of my headlamp.  I passed the next two runners within a mile as we ascended the short but steep Bird Knob.  As I cruised through the Bird Knob aid station at mile 80 without stopping I couldn't help but celebrate a little.  "OK Aaron, you are sitting in fourth place with only 24 miles left to go. Time to bring it home."

This, of course, brings us to the part of the story where our intrepid hero is dealt a healthy dose of adversity, humility and general ass-beating.  As mentioned earlier, I had not slept well for the few days preceeding the race.  This fact was going to be made apparent to me very abruptly and with absolute certainty at approximately mile 84. 

Not so fierce at mile 87. At least I got Jeezard to snuggle with.
Almost without warning I started seeing double, stumbling and quite literally falling asleep on my feet.  There is no substitute for quality sleep and there comes a point where no amount of caffeinated gels or Red Bull can deny this truth.  I was passed by another runner shortly before the Picnic Area aid station at mile 87 like I was standing still and knew that I had to take action.  Action arrived in the form of throwing myself to the ground falling asleep at the next aid station. 

What felt like blinking to me was in reality an hour.  I don't think anybody expected me to move from my cozy spot for quite some time, but something clicked mentally and I knew I had to start moving.  I sat up, got some fresh clothes, chugged a Red Bull and somehow found the resolve to start moving forward again.  I kissed my wife and thanked her and my brother for taking care of me and set off into the night, ready to be done for good.

I had spent nearly 90 minutes in my reverie and was now in 11th place.  I found myself surprisingly at ease with this and resolved to enjoy the last 17 miles as much as possible.  I passed no one and no one passed me from that point on.  I finished in 23:26, not bad considering I had made a stage race out of it.

Running alone for the last few hours I had a chance to reflect upon the events of the day.  What was clearest to me was just how fortunate I am to be where I am.  Ten years ago I could not have run ten miles and now I am setting goals that most people will never have the audacity to aspire to.  I have an employer that encourages my running and racing and who allows me more time off than is reasonable.  I have an amazing family who supports my crazy adventures and whom I truly could not do these things without. 

Aside from my wife, brother and mother being the best crew I could ever ask for, I have to mention that my dad was also running and managed to crush the record for the Super Seniors age category in an amazing 25:37.  You read that right, 60 years young and able to crank out a race that most people half his age will never come close to. 

I did not manage a top ten finish at MMT but to say that is not to say that I did not succeed.  I will continue to set lofty, improbable goals not because I know I can achieve them but because they are hard.  To not try for the impossible is the only real failure.


  1. Ok, now I know how I finished ahead of you - but the sheer fact that you slept for freakin' 90 mins and still managed a comfortable sub 24 hour MMT finish is, well, well done and impressive! Showing us east coasters how to do it.

  2. May I suggest a new MMT awards category; Father And Son Total time (aka FAST). Tag, you're it Kniplings!