I'm glad I found and preserved this race report from the Mt. Penn Mudfest in 2002.
This copied from my triathlon discussion list:
I had considered several titles to this RR:
"Mudfest: Better called "Sharp-rocks-and-gravity-Fest"
"Mufest: Humiliation and Hills"
"Mudfest: Where did they get all the up?"
but finally, I think I've settled on:
"Mudfest: Upward and ouchward"
Here is the executive summary: I blew it. Undertraining and inexperience caused me to blow up early, and barely hobble across the finish line, at a miserable 2:16.43 - DFL in my age group. I might manage to extract some positive lessons from this... in the long version. Short version is, I'm embarrassed, and wish more than anything I had a triumph to report for my first RR. I don't - but I finished.
This all started a year ago, when listening to my friend Bob M. rave about the merits of triathlon for years, finally got me to thinking that being out of the Army, and out of the National Guard has left me with time on my hands, and a lack of physical activity. I decided in the wake of some personal tragedies to make the best of things, and train to do a 1/2 IM sometime during my 30th year. I started training last spring - a touch too late to get in on any of the good races last year, with an eye for being ready this year. I was fit and ready by last September, but my first ever race was cancelled - given that it was scheduled for Sept. 15th, I'm sure the explanation is obvious.
My winter training was lackluster. Rather than build up an aerobic base, I think I built up more of an adipose base. Only over the last month or so did I start the serious mileage for running - and then a series of work-related delays wrecked my chances at the longer runs on the weekends. Blast "life" and it's requirements! Even so, I figured I could manage to not embarass myself at the Mudfest - surefootedness on trails and equalizing factors of rain, mud, and obstacles were what I was counting on. However - I had forgotten my old nemesis - gravity. Curse you gravity!
The day of the event dawned, and my girlfriend and I drove out to Mt. Penn. We were looking for Bob M., and I told her "Look for a tall bald buy, with thighs the size of other people's torso's." Eventually we found him -his Tigger ears were rather obvious. I had the great pleasure of meeting some of the luminaries of the list in the few minutes before the race started -- Stephen D., stv Steve, Michael P., Katie - others. There were so many and so quick was the interlude, if I've forgotten you, I haven't forgotten you - it's just that my brain is cramped a lot like my hamstrings.
The race director gave his hilarious opening schpiel, with a lo-tech powerpoint presentation. "10% of you will love this race. 10% of you will be indifferent. 80% of you will think Reading ought to be bombed. Others will realize it already has." And his closing words were "What goes up, must come down. Similarly, what goes down, must get up - because we're not coming to find you!"
Then we were off. Bob had assured me that after a marathon last week he would be a "back of the packer" so I seeded myself with him. We ran and chatted for about a mile, across the field and down a road into the trail proper. But in no time flat he was chomping at the bit, and started passing people in the "rhumba line" that formed at the narrow parts of the trails. I figured I'd keep an even pace, which was a decent pace for me, so I watched him work his way up, but hung back. Even at my fittest in the Army, I never ran much faster than an 8 minute mile... but I could keep it up for indefinite periods of time. (Once my First Sergeant challenged me to a race, after I claimed that I could run 20 miles at the same pace I did a 2 mile PT test. I was right, and after 30 he acknowledged it.)
I crossed the 2 mile marker feeling good... barely breathing hard, little sweat. Heart rate manageable. I looked down at my watch and realized I'd just shattered my PR for 2 miles, with a time of 14:30. I was overjoyed! Then I realized I'd hit the "split" button by accident after a 1/2 mile. D'oh!
The initial course was a slow slope uphill. There were rocks, but it wasn't too bad, one could avoid them fairly easily. Then we hit a long slow down hill slope, and I figured this was going to be a cinch - whatever I lost in the uphills I'd just make up in the down hills - all you have to do is pick up your feet, and gravity does the work. "Yay gravity, my dear old friend!" I thought. In my elation and general endorphin high, I had forgotten something crucial: gravity hates me. I have fallen off of a mountain. I have fallen out of a building. I have fallen off of a ski-lift. Trees have fallen on my head (yes, plural) -- in short, some of my closest brushes with death have involved gravity. (Yes, brushes. Plural.)
My real relationship with gravity was brought to my attention shortly after the section of the race course called "the board walk" because of the logs that had been laid down to cover the fen-like pits of muck and mire that permanently straddled the path. And by "Path" what they mean is "bits where there are so many rocks that the trees can't grow there." The boardwalk was a long, mildly steep uphill climb. At the time I thought it was insanely steep, but I really just had no idea of what was to come. I was huffing by the top of the boardwalk, and by mile 3.5 I had to walk the crest of the hill. Again, the truly rude awakening was yet to come. I started to remember that gravity was my friend as I loped down the slope that I had just toiled up. The path was broad and clear, and the pack had thinned out considerably as the speedier runners took off. I passed a few people, and noted that there were fallen trees across the path ahead.
Hearkening back to my track days, I hurdled them. The first two I just sprung over. The guy behind me, hard on my heels said, "Niiiiice!" as I sprang over the second one. (others were stopping and climbing over). Congratulating myself on my own agility... I did not hear that little voice in the back of my head that was saying, "Pride goeth before the fall." (in this case, quite literally!)
A third fallen tree was ahead of me. I sprang over it - failing to note that on the other side of the tree was a cluster of sharp rocks. (Rocks, on a path, in Pennsylvania! You don't say! Go on!) The rocks made my graceful spring turn into a graceless fall, as I began what became known later as "The Jackie Chan Incident." My ankled turned on one of the rocks, and the only way I had to prevent myself from impaling my future children on an upthrust branch on the tree was by pitching myself face-forward.
I did this, with great vigor.
Ten years of Aikido training took over, and I tucked into an "ukemi" or "forward roll" - face tucked into opposite shoulder, arm out with palm down on the trail - and rolled, butt-over-teakettle. "Not too bad" I started to think - before my old nemesis gravity, reared her ugly but omnipresent head.
One builds up quite a head of steam, running down hill on a long slope. That "steam" translates into "inertia" which means that I will continue to move forward, despite the fact that my feet are no longer in contact with the earth. So - after a neat ukemi that my Sensei would be proud of - I came up onto my feet with forward inertia that launched me face-first yet again, and gravity -- pulling me down to her venomous bosom. This means that the forward roll turned into a double, but not quite as neatly done. More of a wallowing side-and-forward roll... the kind of roll that Sensei would grimace at, and say, "Again. Practice more!" if he witnessed. Inertia was still a factor, too. I came up, miraculously on my feet yet again - and had enough presence of mind to pump my legs fast enough to take over with the correct side pointed at the sky, and the other half in contact with the ground. I continued running.
Furiously hoping no one had noticed, my ears burned when the guy behind me said. "Are you alright? That was like a cartoon!"
Sigh. But - onwards, and upwards. More upwards, really.
The course was level after this for a while. I hearkened back to the RD's briefing, wherein he stated "There's really only one hill. It's just that it starts at about mile 1.5 and ends at about mile 6.3." I'd lost track of how far I'd come, and wasn't keeping a good pace count, after the Jackie Chan Incident. I thought "hey, that hill wasn't so bad, this run is going to be great."
But that wasn't a hill. It was more of a stepladder up to the real hills, as it turned out. The course became punishing - brutal swatches of sharp shale, long laboring ascents followed by short sharp descents. Again and again I kept thinking, "I'm at the highest point of elevation - it can't go *up* anymore. There's no more *up*." But I was wrong - somehow they managed to make a race course that was more up than down, despite the fact that it started and ended in the same place. M.C. Escher must have laid the course out - they never ran out of "up" but were very sparing with the "down". Bastards. I hated them. I thought "Someone ought to bomb Reading."
The term "Mudfest" was misleading. There really wasn't much mud --oh, well, except on the far side of the creek crossings, where one had to scrabble furiously to get up the slippery mud slopes that were about eye level and more or less vertical. What there was a-plenty was rocks. (A bevvy? A plethora? Certainly no dearth...) From having spent much quality time at Ft.Indiantown Gap, also in PA, I'm intimately familiar with shale. Sharp, pointy rocks. Really, Mt. Penn isn't a mountain, it's a crapload of rocks. I think somewhere back in the Pleioscene Epoch, a bunch of dinosaurs took on a Civil Engineering project to push all the rocks that they hated (the sharp pointy ones) into piles. After the Ice Age, a little bit of dirt accumulated over those piles of rocks - and somewhere along the line, someone looked at this gigantic pile of pointy sharp rocks and said, "Hey, let's run over that!" Someone else snarfed the beer they were drinking and said "NO! Even better.... let's make other people run over that!" Thus the race was born.
After the creek crossings, my feet were wet. Where previously I had been keeping up a tidy "Knees up, Mother Brown!" feet-over-the-rocks, it became clear that rocks were becoming an obstacle, not just fallen logs. I was tired - my HRM was pegging at max on the really steep slopes, and I was having to walk more and more of the uphills. I started to think... not only would I have to worry about the rocks, but I may well end up getting taken down by particularly vicious ants. My brain was so garbled, I started to think... "I can take the fat and asthmatic ants, you know, the ones who live in their mother's basements and play Dungeons and Dragons. It's the spry, Judo-knowing ants that I have to worry about." There's a peek into my brain when I'm tired and confused. It ain't pretty.
I passed a couple of dead deer on the trail... at least, I assume they were dead deer. Perhaps they were actually the two runners from last year's race that never finished, and no one bothered to go find them. I really started to feel negative. My times were clearly abysmal... the field had thinned and I was running entirely by myself. People were no longer passing me, I feared because there was no one left to pass me. It was then that I thought of a great invention: "Can O' Bob". See, Bob M. is the most infectiously optomistic person I've ever met. How convenient would it be to just whip out a "Can O' Bob" whenever you needed some positive thinking?
"Jeez, this race is sucking for me. It's a deathmarch.
::pssssshhhhhhttttt:: Bob appears in a cloud of positive energy. "You can do it!"
Anyway, the death march ground on. It just kept going up. Where did they find all that UP? Gravity was no longer my friend. People started to pass me that i was embarassed to be passed by. I realized that I have never been a good runner, and whatever talent I had was long gone in a slow winter season. I really almost wanted to slink off and just go home - except my girlfriend drove, so I wouldn't be able to just get in the car and go. Oh ... that and I was still 4 miles from the finish, where her car was. No choice but to plod on.
When one's thoughts turn inward like that, it gets hard to bear. I tried every mental trick I knew to keep positive ... and you know, this was a relatively short run on admittedly a difficult course. An Ironman? I was in awe of the people who did that - truly in awe. How? I could never do it, I was nearly wiped out by this short, 9.2 mile run, and I wasn't even finished! I had new found respect for the awesome crowd of athletes that populate this list. Not just Ironmen (and women) but Supermen (and women.) Astonishing.
At the top of the cruelest peak (which had the charming effect of appearing to be over .5 mile before it actually was - because it switched back along a ridge, and then went up -- AGAIN!) there was a real party going on. They were serving margaritas and beer, Jimmy Buffet was blasting. People were hooting and hollering... and under normal circumstances, I would stop to drink and chat. But too much drink and too much chat had gotten me into this sorry state of affairs, and besides - this was the top! I just had to work my way down again, and it was over! I needed water, not booze... so I forewent the indulgence, and plodded on.
The last two miles were rough. I needed to run -- to preserve my dignity, my self-respect. To feel like the race hadn't beat me. I tried everything - pleading with the hill god (apparently a close ally of the Gravity Goddess - he just kept tripping me with rocks and ants-that-know-judo.) trying ki meditation... I even tried some running cadences from the Army - but my brain was so fried I couldn't remember the words, and the ones I was just making up were particularly silly. To make matters worse, my hamstrings started to cramp ferociously - clenching like fists with every step. I stopped for a second to lean against a tree and stretch them, and saw a woman, easily in her late 50's, closing in on me from behind. For all I knew, she was absolutely last - and I couldn't bear the thought of being completely DFL for the race. I gritted my teeth and took off running, despite the cramps. A measly 9.2 miles, but you'd think it was an ultra. I suck.
I finally cleared out of the woods, and the short section on the road that I had ran out on... suddenly seemed like an eternity. Even worse - the lady behind me took off and passed me, and left me behind. I didn't have it to give.. just keeping a running pace instead of walking was all I had. I felt beaten, humiliated, ashamed.
I finally hit the finish line - when I came around the bend, the Tri-Drs'ers were cheering.... which was definitely heartening. But still, I swear I heard Nelson Munce somewhere back there, "You're last! Ha -haaa!" I wasn't DFL in the race, but I was in my age group, I'm pretty sure.
After the race, we sat around on a beatiful day. People swapped war-stories, my girlfriend was a true goddess and waited in a long line to get me a power-ade. Sitting in a circle in the field on a gorgeous day, with a bunch of friendly, charismatic athletes was great. So many interesting characters... and now I can put a face to the people who have bantered on this list. That was the best part of the day, for me - the ending. When everyone adjourned for dinner (which I was looking forward to!) - the car caravan ditched Anne and I somewhere in the twisty roads outside the park, and we never could catch up, or find them at a local pizza place. Sorry guys! We wanted to hang with you, but we just couldn't find you.
It was a disappointend end to a truly disappointing race - I felt embarassed, and wished I hadn't even shown up. My time was a dismal 2:16.43.
But - lessons learned. Today I am aching in places I'd forgotten I had places. I have some great finishers schwag - but more... I've got the bug. I want to cross that finish line and be proud. I want to run and not be last - I want to run and not be passed by people that I look at and think, "I should be faster, this is humiliating."
I have a couple more races scheduled for the summer, and even though my training has clearly been sporadic and inadequate, and it is not possible to fool yourself when you're out there running. There are one thousand excuses not to train on any given day - a thousand things to do that might be more fun, more easy.... but not more rewarding. Next week I'm going to Vegas for vacation - when I get back, I'm knocking off all alcohol, all caffeine, and all sweets. You heard it here, first.
I will be back next year. I am going to beat that hill. I am not going to be last - I am going to conquer that most difficult of things to conquer. Myself.
I will not be beaten. Not even by me.