8-mile Mondays Track Tuesdays Morning crew Wednesdays Strength double Thursdays Recovery Fridays Long Run Saturdays Weight sessions Sundays The nervousness of racing A finishing kick The track Settling into the clip of a tempo run Sweating so much during a long run that you can […]
I come from a running family. A number of years ago, my dad decided that marathons were “too short” and embarked on ultra marathons. Ultras are technically anything longer than a marathon, so they range from 50k (31 miles) to 100+ miles, usually on trails. In fact, they usually call races 100-milers even if the courses run a bit long. What’s an extra mile or 3 when you’re already going that far?
Last weekend was my dad’s final 100-miler as the opportunity cost of training for them has gotten too high (his words as a fellow econ nerd). It was a 103.7 mile course on a mountain trail in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with over 18,000 feet of climbing. If that doesn’t sound like enough of a party, it also rained the entire week leading up to the race and during the race (as you’ll read).
Please enjoy the race recap below, written by Michael Walcott. 103 miles for his 103rd marathon/ultra marathon.
Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 (really 103.7 miles)
Executive Summary: I finished. Placed 98th out of 128 finishers. 190 started the race which means 62 dropped. Total time was 34:25, far beyond my expected time of 28-30 hours, but given the entirety of the event, I’ll take it.
The gory details: In Sunday school we used to sing, “The rains came down and the floods came up, the rains came down and the floods came up…..” It should have been the theme song for this year’s MMT.
Before I describe the race, let me thank Jim Perkins for his outstanding support. He met me at every crew accessible aid station, had the gear laid out, and did everything he could to keep me moving. He was out there the entire 35 hours making sure I had everything I needed. I could not have done it without him.
It rained a lot in the days leading up to Saturday morning. We went to get my race packet on Friday afternoon and the parking area was off limits due to standing water. Given a 4 am Saturday start we intended to camp at the starting line Friday night. I checked the forecast and it was supposed to start raining in the early evening and rain solid all night and into the next morning. I found a hotel room. It was a dump, but it was the best $100 I spent on the trip.
When the alarm went off at 2am I checked outside and it was pouring down rain. We packed up and set off for the start. They wouldn’t let Jim park so I jumped out of the van and walked the road to the starting line and big tent. The rain had quit and everyone was milling around waiting for the start. A few minutes before 4 a light rain started. One minute before 4 we get called out of the tent to the starting line, and at 4 we started. So did a steady rain.
We began by running across a water-soaked field to get to the road. Feet wet. They wouldn’t be dry again until I finished. Understand, I’m not wearing cotton socks and canvas tennis shoes. My trail shoes drain well and my socks are a high quality merino wool that do very well in wet conditions, but it was wet feet nonetheless.
The first 4 miles were slightly uphill on a paved road that turned to high quality dirt after a mile. There were two bridges on this road that were designed for water to run over the bridge if the creek was too high. Both bridges had fast running water over the road. After four miles we turned on to the first trail, and I got my first look at what I was facing for the day. They did not lie about the rocks. There were big rocks, little rocks, round rocks, flat rocks, sharp rocks, angled rocks, embedded rocks and loose rocks, every kind of rock. Not always, there were sections pretty much clear of rocks, but those sections were full of mud and running water.
The course is a big figure 8. About a 70 mile upper loop, clockwise, with a crossover at Gap Creek to make a smaller counterclockwise 30 mile loop back to Gap Creek. We would ascend to the ridge line, run along it, descend to an aid station and do it again. 11 major climbs plus lots of smaller ones. It became clear the lower sections would be ridiculously wet and muddy, but the higher one got on the trail, the dryer it got and the ridge trails were in pretty good shape and fairly runnable at times with minimal rocks.
All went well early on. The rain quit by 9 or so and it wouldn’t rain again for the remainder of the race. It stayed cloudy and foggy almost all day Saturday which ruined the views off the ridges, but kept it pretty cool. I had fallen pretty far back on the first climb, but now I was moving up playing leapfrog with a number of runners but eventually leaving them behind. The only incident was a creek crossing that was raging. I misstepped and lost my balance and started getting dragged downstream only my head above water. Fortunately I was crossing with a few others, and two grabbed me before I ended up in the Shenandoah River 20 miles downstream.
Sidebar – Here’s a story that epitomizes what I love about the ultra community. When I was rescued from the raging creek, my right shoulder got wrenched. Once out of the creek I was rotating my arm to check the damage and Alexandre Benoit, a runner from Canada, asked if I was ok. I had been playing leapfrog with Alexandre for a couple of hours. Earlier in the day he had done a face plant into a rock. His face was bloody and his upper lip was held together with a bandage. He offered me Biofreeze for my shoulder. I declined, but I was struck by his kindness. He was willing to stop, remove his pack and get me, a total stranger, some Biofreeze. When I’m not running I’m cycling. Cyclists are not like runners. A fellow cyclist’s goal is to inflict pain and drop you. Ultrarunners care for one another.
Ok, back to our exciting story. Around 30 miles the stomach decided to go south, and I got sick. For the next 3 hours I fought the nausea and other problems, but I’m no longer eating or drinking enough. The battle of the mind and body begins.
By mile 54 I’m 3 hours behind my target time and only 90 minutes in front of the cutoff. I gear up for the night, and I’m not feeling good. It doesn’t get better. The next section was 10 miles, and it took me 3.5 hours. I stopped several times and turned off my headlamp and did a 360. Nothing but pitch blackness. I didn’t know where I was, and there was no one else around. I couldn’t even run the downhills, and my stomach was a mess. I finally get to Camp Roosevelt at 64 miles.
I had read and been told that the section from Roosevelt to Gap Creek was the wettest part of the course. I wondered how much wetter could it get? Turns out, a lot. A runner earlier in the day told me the first 2 miles out of Roosevelt was in a creek bed. The trail is a creek, and it would be wet. She did not lie. I’m climbing a creek with 6 inches of running water coming down. It wasn’t steep, but it was wet. What she forgot to tell me was the wall I had to climb after the creek bed, and the nasty descent after the climb. At 1:30 AM I staggered into Gap Creek. I was beat both physically and mentally.
Perkins meets me and sort of catches me as I wobble to one side. An aid station worker holds me up from the other side as they discuss whether I should sit. I don’t want to sit. Then God sent Heather. I’m standing in a daze, the other two are discussing what to do with me, and Heather appears with energy that belies the time of day (1:30am) and a smile on her face she asks, “Do you want a pacer?” Addled brain or not, I know a good deal when I see one. If a pretty, 30-something wants to pace me, there is only one correct answer, and I reply, “Yes I do.” Certain logistics are discussed (like how to get her back to her car), the deal is made. I had a pacer.
While I was still suffering physically, having Heather as pacer made huge difference in my mental state. After a tough climb, we got to the first runnable section and like a good pacer Heather suggested we run a little. I tell her I can’t run, but I can shuffle fast. So she said, “Let’s shuffle.” So we did. Turns out Heather is from Michigan, so am I. Heather is an alumna of University of Michigan and a fan of the Wolverines, so am I (a fan of the Wolverines – Go Blue!). Heather has only sisters, I only have brothers, well you get the picture. Words cannot adequately express what an important role she played in getting me to the finish. If she’s not at Gap Creek, I don’t make it. Perkins told me on the way home he thought I would quit at Gap Creek. I looked that bad.
We get to the next aid station, and Heather asks if I want her to keep pacing. I tell her she can take me all the way to finish if she wants, but I’m grateful for what she’s done. She decides to keep going. We climb Bird Knob and get there at sunrise. We take a moment to appreciate the view, it was spectacular (it’s not like I was going to win). We head for the Picnic Area aid station, the next to last one, but it’s a haul. We were on that one section for as far as we could see, and we could see pretty far down the trail, it was a muddy river. Heather said, “They should call this the 100-mile river trail.” We stop on a downhill section to let a couple runners by. I tell Heather I don’t think I can go much farther. I’m falling asleep standing up, and I can feel my stomach is totally empty. I’m moving on fumes. We keep thinking the aid station has to be close. I’m hallucinating. I see the fence line, a road and a picnic shelter around every corner only it’s just more woods when we get there. Even Heather is hallucinating the aid station. Eventually, it is the aid station and not a hallucination.
Picnic Aid is the breakfast station. The staff recognized my plight, sat me down and force-fed me pancakes, bacon and Coke. Force-fed might be a bit strong, but they were insistent on getting some calories into me before they kicked me out. It made the difference. With some calories and Heather’s part command, part question, “Time to shuffle?” we made the 9-mile trek (with a 4-mile nasty climb) back to Gap Creek in under 3 hours. Heather didn’t need a ride back to her car, she ran back.
Sidebar – About 2 miles out of Picnic the trail crosses a main highway. As we approached it, I noticed someone sitting by the trailhead. It was Perkins. He said he thought I might want my sunglasses – I did. That’s an example of the kind of great support Jim provided all during the race.
When we hit the road leading into Gap Creek I finally knew I was going to make it. I had 4 hours to cover less than 9 miles and over 5 miles of that was on a gravel road going downhill. Short of breaking a bone I was going to finish. I said goodbye to Heather and started off on the last section. I passed 8 runners coming home and even ran, not shuffled, a good bit of the last road.
So ends the rambling tale of the MMT 100. Thanks to all for your supportive comments before and after the race. If you ever want to try the race, let me know. I’ll gladly be your crew.
This year was the most excited I’ve ever been to watch the Boston Marathon. Sure, I’ve followed the updates on Twitter and would track the small handful of people I knew who were running, but ever since they announced the elite field in December (you […]
I got Lasik yesterday. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s one of those things that is expensive and it’s not medically necessary, so I would always think, “maybe next year.” I finally did it, though!
Since I’m a research-aholic, I wanted to write a post detailing every step of my process in case it helps someone else in the future.
To know if you’re a candidate for Lasik, you have to get approval from your eye doctor and the doctor at the surgeon’s office. At this appointment they check your prescription (has to be stable for at least a year) and dilate your eyes to get a clear view of the back. Dilation is inconvenient to a nearsighted person like myself because when I’m dilated I can’t see close up OR far away very well. I was playing on my phone in the waiting area waiting for the drops to work and had to start holding it further and further away from my face (like my parents do with restaurant menus).
Once I got the ok from my eye doctor, I set up evaluation appointments at 2 different surgery centers in Atlanta – TLC and Woolfson. With something as important as your eyes, it’s a good plan to get more than one quote and to know what you’re paying for. Both TLC and Woolfson had multiple offices, high ratings, and offered a lifetime guarantee on their surgeries – something the places that advertise on the radio at $250/eye don’t offer.
The worst part about the evaluations was having to be out of my contacts for 3-5 days prior to the appointment. Since contacts affect the shape of your cornea, they want to get the measurements as close as they’ll be on the day of surgery (where you’ll have been out of contacts for 2+ weeks).
My first appointment was at Woolfson, and they did the tests to measure your corneal thickness (what determines if you get Lasik or another procedure called PRK) which mainly involved me looking into machines that flashed lights at me. I probably saw 4 different techs or eye doctors before I finished up in a lady named Ann’s office to talk prices and scheduling.
Something I wish I would have known ahead of time: Surgeons only work in that location on certain days, usually up to once a week. I had in my head that I would try to get surgery on a specific day (or week if I had to be flexible), and neither of those were an option, making my possible surgery date almost 2 weeks later than I wanted. It was disappointing, but since I had another evaluation in a couple of days, I didn’t let it get me down. I might not even go with Woolfson!
My evaluation with TLC was 2 days later and was the complete opposite. The first thing we did was discuss scheduling and pricing. They only do procedures every 2 weeks, and I wouldn’t be able to get in until April. This was really disappointing but then became moot when they wouldn’t match Woolfson’s price. The lady actually originally said they would match it and then later came back with a quote $500 higher saying it was the lowest they could go. At this point, going through with the evaluation seemed like a waste of time, but I did it anyway to be extra cautious and because I probably would have just sat in traffic with the extra time anyway. The doctor was super nice and asked me about running, so it was fine.
Later that day I called Woolfson to confirm my surgery date and managed to get an additional 2.5% off as well. I was pumped! And since my surgery was so far out, I got to go back into contacts for another week.
Leading up to surgery
My least favorite part about getting Lasik has been other people’s comments about it.
Oh I could never do that.
Aren’t you worried?
I heard you have to watch a video of the procedure before they let you do it.
You can smell your eyeball burning when the laser cuts it.
etc, etc, etc. These people are the worst and usually uninformed.
My second least favorite part about getting Lasik was wearing glasses for 2 weeks. I’ve always hated wearing glasses which is why I got contact at age 10 – the youngest my eye doctor would allow. I remember spending hours at the doctor’s office when I got them because you have to be able to take them out and put them back in twice before they let you leave.
Since I spend all of my insurance money on contacts each year, I have some cheap glasses from ZeniOptical that don’t fit quite right. They constantly slide down my nose, so I push them up ever 5 seconds. Thankfully I found these babies on Amazon for $4! They were game changers for wearing glasses while running.
The morning of surgery I was anxiously excited. They give you a multi-page consent form to sign that talks about the possibility of going blind numerous times, so that has the ability to put a damper on your excitement. Then there’s lots of waiting.
They measure your prescription and corneal thickness again before you go to the pre-op waiting room. They also mark your eyes. When they told me this, I assumed they would write “right” and “left on my eyelids or below my eyebrows or something. Nope! After giving you numbing drops, they take a pen and literally make two dots on each eye. I giggled and messed up the doctor as she was trying to mark my first eye because it’s so unnerving to have someone come at your eye with a pen.
These marks somehow help the doctor. I was unclear about all of that, but they let me keep the pen, so that was cool!
The pre-op waiting room is essentially an assembly line of eyeballs. The chairs closest to the door are going in next and they snake around the room. I was the first person from the second group of the day, so I went to the end of the line.
David was in charge of the pre-op room and he was both hilarious and a little scary. He was an older British gentleman who kept things like with both kind and unkind jokes. He knew how to read the room, though, and noticeably softened when a younger girl came in for PRK later and was visibly nervous.
This is the room where we got our hair nets, booties, and forehead stickers. David would give instructions every few minutes, so each person got to hear them multiple times. He told us how when the suction applied to our eye, the pupil would contract, so we would lose vision for 10-15 seconds and not to scream because it’s normal. Then we had lots of post-op instructions as well – mainly to not touch our eyes – and a goodybag with a stuffed wolf, our eye shields, and written instructions.
I realized early on that my wolf only had 1 eye. At first I panicked thinking it was a bad sign for eye surgery, but then I found the humor in the situation. It didn’t last long, though, because David found out about my one-eyed wolf and said, “That won’t do!” and switched my bag. I then said the most millennial thing I’ve ever said, “But I already put him on Instagram!”
After the first group finished up, Dr. Woolfson came into our waiting room to address us together. It was fun to learn more about him as he conversed with other patients – grew up all over the place including South Africa and Zimbabwe, speaks 5 languages, etc. Then he went over our charts with us individually, and the surgery assembly line started up again! I was second, so I had a short wait before it was my turn.
A nurse gives you your first set of numbing drops before you walk in, and then you get another set as you lay on the table. They have a nice prop to go under your knees, so laying on your back isn’t so bad. They had me confirm my birthday and social security number, and then they slide you back to where you’re under the machine. There were 4 sets of white lights that were SO BRIGHT and then a single green light. I knew getting my eye held open was up next, but I was having trouble even opening my eye on my own with the brightness. He turned it down a little for me, and then put the lid opener on the top lid followed by the bottom lid. I would say that 10 seconds was the worst of the entire surgery. The feeling of pressure on your lower lid with that thing sticking in it bordered on the edge between uncomfortable and pain. He told me I had small eyes, so it was a tight fit. Then came the suction thing.
I don’t know what the suction thing is, but it does take away your vision for 10-15 second and it relieves some of the lid holder pressure, so it wasn’t too bad at that point. Then the actual surgery is very brief. Sometimes you can see the green light above you, and sometimes everything looks like this:
I thought to myself that I wanted to try to re-create what I saw in MS Paint. It was harder than I thought! I tried to concentrate on blinking my covered eye since David told us that would help our held-open eye relax, and I just counted. Having something to focus on helps me when I’m nervous, and I like counting.
The laser makes a rumbling noise, and there is a smell from the gases it uses (not from burning your eyeball), but it doesn’t smell like burning hair like David told us. Then he has to smooth down the flap he made on your cornea, so you can actually see him wiping your eye with what looks like a tiny squeegee. I thought this was funny but not enough to laugh. When he wipes closer to your lid or eye lashes (which aren’t numbed), it’s quite the interesting sensation. Your eye gets some more drops, more wiping, and then everything comes off. Getting the lid opener out of my right eye was almost as painful as him putting it in.
I would highly recommend getting both eyes done at the same time, but I definitely had a heart rate spike in between the two. Even though the first eye took about 3 minutes, knowing that I had to do it all over again made me feel panicked. I started breaking in through my nose and out through my mouth and counting to 10 and starting over. Thanks, Kimmy Schmidt!
Dr. Woolfson gave me more numbing drops for my left eye because he knew the lid holder was so bad for me. Didn’t feel a thing on that side! Then the suction thing to make your vision disappear for a bit, then the back and forth of trying to focus on the green dot or everything being red and splotchy, then the smoothing of the flap, then I was done!
They slide me out from under the machine, and a tech came and helped me sit up and put a pair of sunglasses on me. Then the obligatory social media photo (Woolfson is big on social media) before David led me to the recovery chairs. While I’m glad to have been somewhere that takes your photo after surgery (and lets your spouse watch if they want!), I didn’t appreciate that David asked me if I was interested in going on Facebook Live at that moment. Even though the surgery went great (according to Dr. Woolfson and me by not being blind), I was visibly shaking and felt that was a bit too aggressive of an ask. But he didn’t ask again – just the once.
I would describe my vision at this point as – better than it was without glasses but still blurry. I also had a ton of drops in my eyes. I managed to text Josh and was able to see a few things on my phone but mainly just closed my eyes.
Another doctor took me to an exam room and gave me more drops. Then another doctor looked at my eyes with the microscope, then more drops, then I was all done! I was at the office for a little over 2.5 hours and was in surgery for under 10 minutes. Crazy!
The best thing you can do after Lasik is to sleep for 3-4 hours, and they give you some sleeping aids, so I was excited about my prescription nap. They need to be taken with food, though, so I started making mac and cheese when I got home. Even though making mac and cheese takes about 10 minutes, I felt like I was going to pass out. I spent a lot of time leaning on the counter closing my eyes while the noodles were cooking, and my right cheekbone felt like someone punched me from the lid holder. After I got a bowl in my stomach with my sleeping pills, I went to bed.
I have some eye shields I need to wear today and tomorrow, so I taped them on my face with surgical tape and laid down/ I thought for sure I would pass out in minutes, but my anxious heart was still beating wayyy too fast for that. I eventually felt the pills kick in because I started caring a lot less and felt closer to drifting away.
I slept for about 2.5 hours before waking up the first time. I wasn’t able to sleep anymore, but I was committed to 4 hours with my eyes closed, so I put on a podcast and laid back down.
The rest of the day I was up and moving but pretty lethargic. My vision was still improving to the point that I almost felt like I had contacts in. I can remember thinking “I need to take my contacts out” multiple times as I was getting ready for bed. Then on with the eye shields again and more sleep.
One Day Post Surgery
I woke up with one eye shield in my hair and the other down the side of my face, so there’s that. I don’t seem to have touched my eyes in my sleep, though, because I can see really well this morning! My vision has actually reversed some – I’m having a bit of farsightedness right now. I went to my day after appointment this morning, and the doctor told me that is normal and likely due to some swelling.
Things are going swimmingly, though! I try to keep up with what time it is, so I can do all of my drops (there are so many drops), and I keep my new sunglasses on, and I haven’t experienced any pain or discomfort. As of right now, 10/10 would recommend.
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