The Ring 2011
The road to redemption is rugged, rocky, and relentless when it goes through The Ring. First in my Fall 2011 "redemption series," this 71-mile circuit of the Massanutten Mountains via the orange trail is deceptively difficult. Virtually no support other than a water stop around 13 miles for the first 25 miles, and then, as the aid gets closer, it's offset by the increasing difficulty of the trail. Still, with the training base that I had coming into this race, I thought I had a good shot at a strong finish.
And for a little while (something to the tune of 50 miles), it seemed like this was the case. With my hydration pack loaded with 80 ounces of water, PowerBar GelBlasts, and assorted other goodies, I set off down the trail with high hopes. After a few minor wrong turns at the beginning, we began the first climb, and since it was humid and swampy and I was losing water at an alarming rate, I climbed conservatively, letting the leaders go. After passing a few people, I settled into third, and the run to the Milford Gap aid station at mile 13 was efficient and uneventful - just over 3 hours.
At the aid station, I downed more than half a gallon of water straight from the jug, ate a cookie, and continued down the trail, still feeling pretty good. Another relatively efficient section, still in third, and running conservatively, since I was running through my entire water pack quickly (empty about halfway through the section). Running out of water made taking my electrolyte tablets a problem, since I can't swallow a pill without water, so I resorted to putting a couple of Gel Blasts in my mouth, chomping down to bust open the pill, then frantically chewing the Gel Blasts to kill the awful taste. I kept on my 20-minute schedule for this, and rolled in to Camp Roosevelt at about 5 hours, 40 minutes, still feeling comfortable.
At the aid station, Jonathan was hanging out (and had been for the past 20 minutes), and was not looking like he wanted to leave. He asked how fast I would be going, to which I responded "not very," and that, combined with the urging of the aid station volunteers, got him up and running with me. Jason Lantz, the apparent leader, was nowhere to be found.
We continued down the trail, and about 20 minutes later, we came upon Jason Lantz, walking and out of water. Apparently, he had missed the turn-off onto the road to the aid station, in spite of the dozens of orange streamers marking the turn. (Which really should be enough to pass the title of "Lost Boy" from me to him.) So with him off to drop out, Jonathan and I were in the lead. We pushed back and forth a bit, until he ran out of water and salt and started cramping, and I ran off ahead. At this point, nearing halfway through the race, I was potentially permanently in the lead, assuming that I did nothing too stupid, and this was super-exciting. So of course, I immediately did something stupid - I ran straight through a switchback and off-course about a mile, costing me about 20 minutes. I didn't see Jonathan when I returned to the trail, so I figured that he had probably passed me in the meantime. I hauled up the steep, formidable Waterfall Mountain in 17 minutes (bettering Dave Snipes's best for this section by 3 minutes, a minor victory, in spite of stopping three times along the way to get my skyrocketing heart rate under control), and rolled into the aid station at a bit over 8 hours . . .
To find Jonathan sitting there, as he had been for the last 10 or 15 minutes. He was still talking drop, as people were still trying to talk him out of it, so when I came in, it was motivation for him to keep going . . . So it would be another 6 miles with Jonathan. I stayed just ahead of him, and predictably, he cramped once he ran out of water, and I took a slight lead, although not enough to prevent us from entering the next aid station together.
At 40 miles, Jonathan said that he was going to drop, and of course, I was going to do everything in my power not to drop, so, after 15 minutes of collecting myself, I left the aid station without him, in first place, and put on the headphones . . . Only to find him AND his girlfriend coming for me a couple of miles later. I sped up to put some distance on them, but his girlfriend could run for real (which was an extra psychological detriment, given my current life situation), so it was going to be me and my iPod against him and his girlfriend. As it turned out, I had only about a minute on him, heading into the next aid station.
Mile 48, 12.5 hours in, a solid pace, especially given the amount of dawdling I had done, but unfortunately, I had lost a bit of concentration in the last section, gotten behind on nutrition and electrolytes, and was now in a bit of nutritional trouble. After a while, eating and drinking on a schedule just plain sucks, and between the rolling, rocky Kerns Mountain ridge and Jon and girlfriend, it was just a bit too much suckage for me to handle. I should also mention at this point that my feet had been blistered badly since sometime in the first 10 miles, and although I was trying my best to ignore this, it was becoming too much to bear at this point. Chalk that up to a failed experiment with different shoes - Nike LunarGlides for life. I spent half an hour at the aid station, until the next runner came in. Meanwhile, Jon dropped for real, mainly because he "wasn't feeling like doing this." As he walked back to his car with his girlfriend, I decided that this was the best time to make a move, psychologically, so I got up and started shuffling down the trail again, before anybody else could come along to change Jon's mind.
The climb up to Powell's Fort was not steep or severe, but here was where the wheels came off. I hadn't settled my stomach all the way, and now I was really struggling the foot pain (and cursing my decision to experiment with different shoes). I slowed and slowed, and eventually stopped, and fell asleep on a rock (or tried to, anyway - there were too many bugs to make this possible) for a while. A couple of people passed me and tried to offer assistance at what would later be dubbed "The Ploskonka Inn - Powell's Fort" - Cam Baker with a trash bag for warmth and chocolate candy, and another woman with a startled scream when she came upon me (it was dark now) and thought that I was dead. Finally, a man came along who said that he might be in last, and I decided that it was time to get up, since I still had six miles to the next aid station. We walked slowly, and he broke off a couple of branches for me to use as makeshift trekking poles. Eventually, we reached the turn-off where there was still 3 miles to the aid station, and I decided that I couldn't make it that far without rest, so I stopped again to sleep. Eventually, I got up and shuffled about a mile down the trail, being passed by the slowest people, until I came upon Dave Snipes, the one-man search party, and we walked the last two miles to the aid station in about an hour, reaching Woodstock Tower at around 20 hours - 8 hours to do 8 miles.
At this point, 57 miles in, although part of me really wanted to finish, another part of me knew that my feet were trashed, and considering that at this point, my priority was more pacing Snipes at Wasatch next weekend than suffering through the next 14 miles, I decided to drop (Snipes voted strongly for this, as he wanted me fresh at Wasatch) and Snipes and I drove back to the campsite for a shower and a nap.
So, all in all, not how I wanted this to go down, but technically a success. I made it further than I did last year (I dropped at mile 35), so technically, some level of redemption. I almost drank enough water (although even at 80 ounces per 40 minutes, it still wasn't really enough), and my nutrition plan was sound, as I made it nearly 50 miles without even a hint of a stomach problem - a first for me. But ultimately, my stupid shoe choice - a rookie mistake, really - did me in, and made me subject to tons of ridicule as I sat around in the Signal Knob parking lot, waiting to congratulate the rest of the about 10 finishers (out of about 33 starters) . . . And also subject to the worst mushroom cloud of ultra-stench ever (I blame it on the Pittsburgh and Ohio contingent), which put a bit of a damper on the really amazing cookies and quesadilla. Nevertheless, I'll be back for a third round next fall, and this time, I mean it. :P
Because I posted this shortly after the race, just to get it out there, I didn't bother with my weekly miles summary. But, if you want to know . . .
28 August - 9 miles, Patterson Park area, post-hurricane (65 minutes)
29 August - 11 miles (80 minutes), generally in the direction of Fed Hill and back
30 August - 9 miles (65 minutes), including a botched track workout that consisted of one 2500-meter interval at around 5:50/mile pace, then dropping out of the next interval at about 500 meters in.
31 August - 11 miles (80 minutes) on my own Wednesday Night Run, in a similar area
1 September - 5 miles (40 minutes) on the treadmill, easy
2 September - 1 mile (10 minutes), shakeout/hydration pack test
3 September - 60 miles (counting "off-course" distance) at The Ring (20 hours, or 1200 minutes, not all of which was time moving forward)
Total Time: 1540 minutes
Total Distance: 107 miles