“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained” – Mark Twain
So it was, standing in the perfect dark just before 6 am with over 100 others, the cool of a 45 degree morning causing every manner of clothing combination to be applied, that I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why I run long distances. It can be summed up by calling it a type of madness, one that can drive you to do seemingly irrational things in the quest for (peace? satisfaction? exhilaration? pain? all of the above?). There are degrees to the madness (some today are running 100 miles, others like myself, “only a half”) but it’s only apparent from within. From the outside, we should all be committed.
After months of training in weather not even remotely resembling this, we took off. Luckily, the change of weather was in our favor. For now, we basked in the coolness.
The Mark Twain Race is held in the Mark Twain National Forest near Potosi, MO. It’s a 25 mile loop with about 2,500 feet of gain for each loop. The hills are runnable/walkable without them being “hands on knees” or crawlable (and I’ve run a few of those courses) and there are some good runnable stretches (most notably between the second and third aid stations-miles 9 through 15 on each loop). I ran it twice, some ran it four times. Here’s a link to my garmin data:
The plan for the race was to do the first half in about 5 to 5 ½ hours and then make adjustments at the halfway point. My goal was not to go out blazing or push myself to the point of pain, but run according to Wu Wei- Without Effort. I had my Fuego y Agua Survival Run in a few weeks and didn’t want to take myself out of that race before it began. I had also decided to run in my Altra Olympus’ (NFI) for the same reason. I would normally be running in Luna Sandals (NFI- actually, that goes for every brand I mention, I don’t benefit monetarily or otherwise from any of it) but with the start temperature projected to be about 45 degrees, running on numb feet was not something I wanted to do. Also, we had run the course about a month before and there were places where it was too rocky for my wimpy feet, so I went with cushioning.
“Camping” the night before (putting down the seats in the jeep and sleeping on an air mattress in the back) was something I was getting better at, and I woke up fairly refreshed in the cold dark of pre-dawn. Start time was 6 am and we all had headlamps on to start (insert video). The first few miles were S-L-O-W as over 100 people (50 and 100 milers started together) wound their way in the dark on single track in the woods. It started to open up about mile 3 and I was able to (kind of) get my pace going. About 5 miles in, we hit the first aid station. A slight pause there, and then I got out as quickly as possible to stay ahead of the packs of runners. I was using Tailwind for the first time in my water bottles, combining hydration with fueling, and that, plus the cool temps meant I didn’t dally in too many aid stations for too long. In true MT style, though, all were staffed with incredible volunteers and had both the usual food you’d see, plus each team made something special (pancakes, soup, burritos, sandwiches) so I could have just run without anything and been well cared for!
The next four miles had some climb, but nothing too bad, and I hit the second aid station at about mile 9, still slower than I’d like to, but picking up pace. I had the great fortune to run with a number of people at various times and the conversations with Shane from Georgia, Shalini- doing her 1st hundred, and Lee- who I swapped jokes with for 3 miles and who tripped on exactly the same tiny root with the same foot both times I was running with him at the 18 mile mark (and again at mile 43) helped the miles flow by.
Coming out of this aid station, we had our one creek crossing and I managed to dunk one foot in. However, I was dry within a mile and never had issues. I used Run Goo on my feet under my socks and for the first time (I think ever) had no blisters. Coming out of that aid station, there was a bit of climbing (about 200 ft in the next mile), but then you could really fly (relatively speaking). I started to get closer to my goal of 5-5 ½ hrs and rolled into the 3rd aid station at mile 15 feeling good.
Into the final aid station at mile 20, I hung out for a bit and spoke with some of the volunteers, then it was a nice easy run back to the start/finish. Right before the end, I caught up with Shalini, and we ran the last few miles into the start/finish area together. First lap done in 5:34, so close to what I wanted to do. I then messed around with my drop bag and it was Shalini shouting at me to get going that got me motoring out of there. I had spent about 7-8 minutes in the area, so knew we needed to move. I felt really good at this point, so good that I started worrying I was missing something. Oh well, back out into the wild…
Lap two started much more quickly. Running on and off with Shalini and other runners, I soon started passing people. Again, feeling really good but wondering if it was all going to come crashing down at some point. I made it into the first two aid stations more quickly than the first loop (no conga lines this time and it was light out). For some reason the 4 miles between aid station 1 and 2 seemed long, so I decided to pull out the Ipod and listen to the Ricky Gervais podcast I had downloaded. The thought was that music can distract me, but to be truly distracted, I’d rather be laughing hysterically. It worked because the next 6 miles between aid stations 2 and 3 (miles 34 to 40) went by in a flash. At the beginning, I thought this would be the crucial part of my race: Where I would start to feel doubts creep in, I’d start hurting and would entertain thoughts best left unthought. Never happened.
I caught Lee again at our usual place and as he prepared himself to trip on the root, we passed two runners. Once past them, they started to keep pace with us and I started to get nervous. We were about 7 miles from the finish- I don’t like to get passed in the last 10 miles if I can help it, so I decided to push it. I sped up, leaving Lee to his unerring pace and caught up with another 100 miler. I ran with her for a while and then started to hear the two other runners behind us. My quads were starting to tighten up and I still had over 5 miles to go. This could get ugly…
As we ran into a descent, I decided I had two choices: keep running steadily (but slowly) and hope my quads didn’t lock up, or let them run free and risk tripping on a root or rock (Not sure if I was getting my feet up as high as I could, so tripping was more than a possibility). I decided to risk it and picked up the pace. What felt like flying was really 12(ish) minute miles, but I was nearing the end, so that’s what I had. I caught 3 more runners about 3/4 of a mile from the finish line and inched past them to finish 10th overall in 11:13. As close to an even split as I’ve ever run and only 3 1/2 hours behind the winner. :)
Overall, a great course and great support! The runners on the course really helped pass the time and the aid station volunteers were the best I’ve ever experienced.
Next is the survival run. Madness is growing…