A Race That Lives Up to Its Name: Mountain Masochist 50K

by Dave Roy

I ran the Mountain Masochist 50K this November, but it wasn’t the race I planned to run. That race was the Batona Trail in the New Jersey Pine Barrens on Nov 4th, but DEC denied their permit. I’ve aspired to run the Mountain Masochist 50 mile for years, so it was a natural fallback. The Mountain Masochist 50 mile Ultra Trail Run (MMTR) was first run in 1983 and David Horton was the Race Director. Let’s just say he is a legend; they even made a movie about him. In Virginia, there is the Lynchburg Ultra Series (LUS) and the Beast Series, and MMTR is in both. The LUS series consists of three 50Ks and one 50 mile race; the MMTR is their final event where the running community comes together. It’s like an ultra-runner survivors reunion, and this year all of the LUS race directors took part (they said it took 4 of them to do the job of one!). I became familiar with those races through my Virginia running friends and wanted to run a “Horton” race. Last year I entered the MMTR 50 mile but kept reinjuring my plantar fascia in 2022 and finally decided I shouldn’t run it (my 1st DNS).

This year I hadn’t put in the training for the 50 mile, with its serious elevation gains, but the MMTR has offered a shorter 50K for the past 2 years and I knew I could handle that. One of the things I like about the ultras in Virginia is they don’t seem to be as gnarly as the runs in the Catskills and “Rocksylvania.” The MMTR course is mostly on runnable jeep trails or hiking trails. Well, they are runnable if you can sustain gradual climbs that can go on for miles. They added some extra miles to get you to some great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which also lengthen the 50K to 55K.

The race went better than expected, just not as planned. I thought I had everything covered, and even made a chart of everything that was packed and where it was located. I tent camped at the race site, which 3 days before the race had a low of 17 degrees, so I packed the cold weather camping and running gear! On race morning I couldn’t find my watch.

The race started at 5:30 a.m., with temperatures in the mid thirties, not bad conditions. Everything was going well until about mile 4, when my headlamp started to dim and then turned off. $##@**, I hadn’t checked the batteries! I attempted to run close enough to people who had bright lights, which worked for a while, but eventually I tripped. That was more embarrassing than anything else. It gradually got lighter, and running was easier. The first 6 miles or so are a continuous uphill. I walked some steeper parts since it was more efficient than running. So much of this is a mental game. After running on trails for miles and feeling good, I hit a level road section and my legs felt dead. I really wanted to walk but found that mental energy to keep pushing and eventually they felt good again. Good is a relative term, not dead might be more accurate.

 The back half of the race was slower for me. I was just getting worn down and had to be more careful on the downhills, making more of an effort to pick up my feet, and I did a lot more uphill walking. Running back down the mountain with about 5 miles left I got a cramp in my thigh. I had s-caps with me and should have taken some earlier but hadn’t. Another rookie mistake! I took them and was walking it off when the runner behind me caught up and asked if I was ok. He was from Virginia and had run the race several times. We walked and talked for a bit and found out we have some trail running friends in common. The last mile or so is road with an uphill finish where you are in view of the finish line for a distance, and they can see you too. There is no cell service so a person with binoculars nearer the road would read the bib number and then use hand signals to relay the bib numbers to the finish line. Before you even get close, they are announcing your name. They also would inform runners coming into view that they were entering a “No Walk Zone,” encouraging them to embrace their inner masochist and run that last hill. The runner who had walked with me was just crossing the finish line and I heard them announce that the “First Super Master” was coming in. I figured it was him, but it was me!

The aid stations were fantastic! They had everything: hot food, salted potatoes, grilled cheese, and every kind of snack. They would fill your flasks for you and ask you what you needed or wanted. Many of the volunteers have been doing this for years, and one had volunteered since the beginning, that’s over 40 years!

I was the 19th male in with a time of 7 hours, 47minutes. It would be a while for the 50 milers to start coming in, and they had a little over 5 more hours to finish (there was a 13hr cutoff for the race). I grabbed my chair, pillow and sleeping bag and cheered runners in till the end (I knew 2 people and wanted to wait for them). I also basically ate supper there: 4 bowls of chili, a hamburger, Fritos, pickles, ginger ale, water, oranges and desserts that filled half a table, but I only had one brownie. Notably, it did not rain!

I’ll come back to run the 50 mile, but I think the only race David Horton is still directing is the “Hellgate 100K++”, a 66.6 mile trail race through the dark, wintry Blue Ridge mountains in December. It’s a Western States Qualifier and another one of his races that lives up to its name (Google “Hellgate eyes”)! David Horton and his “Race Committee” personally selects about a 100 people out of the applicants for Hellgate.

It’s still on my bucket list!

"Fortitudine vincimus”: Through endurance we conquer.

(Typical Hellgate application is enough to ward you off!

Beautiful vistas

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