Top Ten Don’ts for Finishing the MMT 100

by Phil Hesser

Phil (center) at the finish--click for largerDespite the great weather and (as always) excellent support, the year 2004 was not my year for completing the MMT 100. I actually threw in the towel at Camp Roosevelt (where I had washed ashore in my first attempt in 2000), running a few minutes ahead of the cut-off, but realizing that I was losing time in each segment and heading for a collision course with timing-out. Although I felt bad enough about not going the distance in this, the highlight of my running year, I must admit that it was worse to head back in the sag wagon with another runner who remarked that he had taken all of my hints to heart in my top-ten list for finishing. I’m sorry about that and feel extremely fortunate that I am not being taken to court in a consumer liability suit.

Anyway, as I begin another 365-day cycle of preparing for the 2005 MMT, which I hope to be lucky enough to enter when the time comes, I thought that I might not have done enough for those people who read my hints for finishing. Therefore, in the spirit of covering all of the bases (and avoiding any liability suits in the future), I offer another top-ten of “don’ts” – things to avoid at all costs, should you want to coexist with the mountain for 100 miles and change. Here they are, including the one which – I believe – cost me the race in 2004 (which is listed as number one):

  1. Don’t neglect an adequate taper to balance your ramping up for the race. In a not-unfamiliar mix of pride and stupidity (the stuff of which Greek tragedies and DNFs are made), I ran a marathon SIX days before the MMT and saw my times begin to edge up after the first climb. Never again.
  1. Don’t go out like gangbusters at the beginning. At this race more than others, you must control your eagerness to step lively at the beginning with the rest of the pack – many of whom, unfortunately, will be toast by mile 50. Start with a steady pace and save your red-lining for later in the race when you need a bit of speed and/or endurance.
  1. Don’t come apart during the longer and more grueling stretches – you know where those are or can certainly find out about them from the veterans. You will not be shell-shocked by a particularly bad stretch if you are prepared for it in logistics (fluid and fuel) and attitude.
  1. Don’t push the technical (i.e., the places on the trail that make you say “what the ****?”) sections beyond your running talents. Well, maybe push a little, but don’t write a check with your attitude that you can’t cash with your training. Better arrive a few minutes late, but fit, at the next aid station than to arrive trashed by a fall or a wound.
  1. Unless you need to change your shoes, write up your last will and testament, or some such thing, don’t sit in those cozy canvas chairs at the aid stations. They are butt-magnets that increase their power to hold you in place as the seconds pass, leading you either to lose valuable time or to want to throw in the towel. Take your fluids and snacks standing up, thank the aid station personnel, and move along!
  1. Don’t feel that you have to have a crew at your beck and call on a regular basis – and certainly not at the end of a rough stretch of trail. (You may recall in my other top-ten list that I advise that you give your crew members the day off and bask in the loving support of the aid station personnel.) Having a friend or a loved one waiting for you with a car at the ready – the latter beckoning you with its plush upholstery and its siren-like AC or heating humming away – can be an awful temptation to call it a day and watch the mountain scenery pass by from your car window.
  1. Don’t let the weather or the night put you into a bad frame of mind about finishing. Since – more often than not – you will have some bad weather and forlorn hours in the dark during your many hours on the trail, be prepared to live with it, deal with it (keeping safety concerns in mind), and get on with it.
  1. Don’t even think about quitting the race. Think of anything else (e.g., that pizza you will devour at the end; that belt buckle you will earn when all is said and done, etc.). The minute you conceive of quitting, you will begin to get used to the idea.
  1. Don’t hate Massanutten Mountain! It is not conspiring against you in order to break your spirit. It’s just doing what it has done for eons – breaking up into smaller rocks and trying to accommodate its bio-load. As part of that bio-load, just tread lightly (since trudging only exhausts you more) and go with the flow – at least on the downhills and flats.
  1. Don’t sweat it if you find that you must drop for whatever reason – and there are some good ones (serious injury; winning the lottery). Just analyze your performance, work out your corrective strategy, and count the days ‘til next the next time.

The 100-plus miles of trails on and around Massanutten Mountain offer much to learn about ourselves. Those miles will inevitably teach you about any weaknesses you have in the way of planning, training, and attitude. They can likewise instruct you about your strengths: your ability to execute a racing strategy over a distance (whether 33 miles or 100) unimaginable by the mortals; your capacity to take punishment and soldier on – however far you go. Win or lose, you can learn most importantly from those trails that you can take a setback and “learn” it into a success, turning things around in another ten miles or another twelve months, when you finally go the distance. Whether you have completed the course several times or come up short on a few occasions, keep in mind that the mountain is ready whenever you are to go at it again – ready to challenge, ready to teach, and ready to bestow character, whether you finish or not.

MMT 2004 Report | MMT Home Page

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