What I Learned about Completing the MMT 100:
A Bopper’s (Back-of-Packer’s) Perspective

by Phil Hesser

Phil (center) at the finish--click for largerA finish late in the 35th hour of a 36-hour race is not elegant, but I'll take it however the mountain serves it up. Now, as the pain-killer is kicking in and I've had a few hours' sleep, I look back on my finish at the MMT 100 as a wonderful experience, but as one that came hard. Having had the experience of recording the first DNF of my running career at the MMT in 2000, as well as my most memorable finish in 2001, I offer these thoughts to those of who are ready to match wits with the mountain.

First, add to your MMT training a few ultras and a reasonable taper. In the months before the MMT, I did a 100K, a trail marathon, and two 50K trail races. Since these races weren't on pavement, they gave me valuable experience and training, while they not beat up my legs too much. Then I took off a few weeks from racing to give my body a chance to rest up.

Second, review the maps and race(er) accounts intelligently. You may not end up knowing every change of color on the blazes, but you will have a sense of where you go and when. You'll also be able to anticipate the more challenging sections - as if there are sections that aren't! - and prepare yourself for them.

Third, get your logistics down cold. I ran at times with three canteens, including a hand-held one that made it easy for me to drink on a regular basis. I also kept my morning flashlight and added a second for the night shift. And speaking of the night shift, I found it quite useful to wear my parka with a generous front pouch pocket, where I stowed my second flashlight and polypro top (and should have had my gloves).

Fourth, tell your support crew to spend their time seeing local landmarks, shopping at nearby outlet centers, or - better yet - volunteering at an aid station. I know that this sounds like heresy, but I would give your people the day and night off. The TLC given by those selfless relatives and friends is fantastic, but it also can be time-consuming. You'll make better progress if you work from your drop bag and help yourself at the aid stations.

Fifth, carry munchies along with you in an accessible pouch/pocket and snack regularly. I carry such favorites as turkey jerky, Cornnuts, and Sour Gummy Worms. It is a great way to keep up your energy and to give you a bit of leeway when you need to be in and out of the aid station quickly.

Sixth, run with another runner whenever possible. Although people may run in and out of your orbit during the race, you'll often have the opportunity to run with someone sharing your pace at the moment. Not only can you shoot the breeze and make the miles go faster, you'll probably help each other keep a slightly faster pace than you would if you were running solo, especially if you take turns setting the pace.

Seventh, minimize your time at aid stations. Plan what you need to do before you arrive and rehearse it in your mind, especially if you are losing your concentration. Spend just enough time to fill your canteens, grab a coke or soup, put things in your goodie bags, grab a handful of something for the road, thank the personnel, and take off. This can all happen in under a minute.

Eighth, find a mental survival strategy. When the going gets rough or you're feeling lousy, you'll need something to keep you moving forward. I use such things as songs, a "mantra" (an inspiring phrase or poem I repeat to myself over and over), a relaxation exercise, or whatever. It will turn your mind from your complaint or discouragement, and carry you along ‘till you're back on your feet.

Ninth, prepare to pull off one great performance at some point. At some point you'll be up against a rough stretch, a physical complaint, weather problem, or cutoff. At that moment, you'll need to reach deep down and pull a rabbit out of a hat, doing something beyond your limits. You may not anticipate what it will be, but you need to be ready to deal with it.

Tenth, work up your own top-ten survival strategies. We all have different ways of going the distance as ultrarunners, and you should make the most of yours. If you follow a reasonable plan to the bitter end, you can cross that finish line.

Finishing the MMT 100 doesn't make you a genius - any more than DNFing there makes you less than a genius. As someone who is not a genius and as someone who has "won" and "lost" at the MMT, I can say that all boils down to preparation, planning, persistence, and a fair amount of luck. While the above points may not guarantee you a finish, these hints should help you to have a memorable time on the mountain and leave you in condition to take on future challenges, including a return to the mountain to take its measure - and your own - once again.

[Phil finished in 75th place with Loreen Hewitt and Leonard Martin in 35:36:29. --editor]

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