"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Simply For the Tough - Mt Tammany 10

"Oh, wow! Mt Tammany race is still not filled! I am going to sign up for it." I said those words to Amy, while browsing Facebook one evening. I have been wanting to do Mt. Tammany 10 for the last few years, but something was always in the way. This year was my time. Excitement initially, but what did I just signed up for?

It dawned on me shortly after signing up, that even though I have always wanted to go, I've never been to Mt Tammany at all. Fortunately for me, crazy ultra friend Bryan has been going up there all the time, and sure enough he was heading there on a perfect weekend where all the family obligations lined up.

After my very first loop on Mt Tammany I though, you really are an idiot. There is no way I can do this 10 times in 10 or so hours. But, I kept at it, and even had a chance to come out one more time solo and run even more loops. I knew it would still be hard, but it was good to know the course ahead of time.
Mt Tammany at dawn
Mt. Tammany 10 is put on by the Athletic Equation. The course is a loop around Mt. Tammany, going up the Red trail and coming down the Blue Trail. The trail is all rocks. Little rocks, big rocks, jagged rocks, pointy rocks, all kinds of rocks, well except nice smooth pebble like rocks. You are either going up or down. There is zero flat terrain. From the site, the race is described as:

"This will not be for the faint of heart. The 10, 10, in 10! 10 Climbs, over 12000 ft of gain, in 10 HRs. Hence the name MT. TAMMANY 10...An almost 40.0 mile run traversing one of the toughest sections of trails in the DWG area. This event is not for the faint of heart. Expect no PRs here! These will be the toughest and slowest miles most of you will ever cover. Seasoned Ultra-runners accustomed to this type of terrain may still fall, get bruised, strained sprained and cut. Stay alert, stay focused, stay the course, and you will have a great day on the course. Probably one of the most satisfying ultras you will ever run. This course will have some great mountain views on the climb and majestic waterfalls along with the sound of rushing water on the decent."

And that is no lie. It is tough and slow, but it is beautiful.
Descent. PC: Athletic Equation
March 19th arrived fast. I was somewhat indifferent about the race, not too excited one way or the other. A lot of long and stressful weeks at work have taken its toll and I really did not know what to expect. I was going into it with an open mind, and expectation to do all 10 loops. According to RDs instructions, runners had to start their 10th loop before 4:30pm, which was the 10th hour mark of the race. Based on my previous experiences at Tammany, I knew it would be tight, but probably doable. In the past, I've only done 4 loops max, so I really had no idea how my legs would feel.

I arrived to the Kittatinny Parking lot around 5:30 am, which gave me plenty of time to check in, use the facilities and rest. Soon enough I started seeing some familiar faces, Casey and Don, and joined them for a brief pre-race chatter. I also finally met and chatted with Troy, a fellow Wissahickon Wonderer. Troy was coming back from an injury and was not sure how many loops he would do. I think he ended up with 6. It was a cold morning in the 30s and I was eager to get started and warm up. At 6:33am (early start people started at 5:33am, so RD wanted to give them exactly an hour head start) we were off. We would run from the parking lot, under the over pass and then start our first ascent of Mt. Tammany. Every 2 loops, runners were supposed to come back to the parking lot finish line area and check in. Finish line area had a great aid station setup so it was going to be a welcome sight every few hours.
Almost on the top. PC: Mountain Peak Fitness
Due to the wonderful invention called day light savings, we started the first loop in the dark. Going was slow up the first climb, but I felt pretty strong going up. Upon reaching the top, runners had to traverse the rolling ridge for about .3 miles to the descent on the Blue trail. The descent is just as steep as ascent and it takes incredible concentration the entire time. One wrong move on this terrain and you are landing on rocks no matter what. The only question is, how big of a rock would you fall on. I've seen several bloody people that day. On the first descent, sun was already coming up and I was able to take the headlamp off and focus on going down hill. I was feeling great and in a very happy place for the time being. I finished the first loop in less that 1 hour which was very exciting. Onto the second loop and it was more of the same. Feeling very strong, I reported back to the start line in 1 hour and 55 minutes. At this point I had mixed feelings. Happy about my first 2 loops, but having doubts in my ability to keep this up and thinking if I went out too fast. There was not much time to dwell on it. I refueled and went back to out onto loops 3 and 4.
Another Ascent. PC: Mountain Peak Fitness
Loop 3 was pretty uneventful even though I could feel that I slowed down a bit. Loop 4 started a bit rough, and it was my lowest point of the race. So early, right? It was only 3 hours into it, and I was already questioning my decision to sign up for this race. "Why the hell do I do this to myself? My legs are already hurting. Ah, there it is, that evil muscle twitch. There is no way I can do this 6 more times. I am such an idiot..." I did not let myself stay in the dumb dark place too long and right away started thinking happy positive thoughts and making myself laugh. Listening and reading about positive reinforcement came back to me and I was pulling all the tricks in the book to snap out of the dark moment. On the run, I have modified the incredibly annoying song Una watches on YouTube all the time. It is incredibly catchy and annoying and it talks about a little boy eating sugar. My version went like this.

"Climbing rocks - yes papa,
  this really sucks - yes papa,
  having fun - yes papa,
  open your mouth - hahaha"

And sure enough, coming down the 4th descent I started feeling better, mentally and physically. From that point on I made it my mission to finish this race. And while I knew that finishing in 10 hours was a reach at this point, I definitely knew that I could start that last loop before 4:30. One foot in front of the other, and loops kept ticking away. Rock by rock, step by step. While the race had about 40 people in it, I was alone for a good part of it. I did not see too many other runners, especially on the later loops, but I did encounter a lot of hikers, who had shared their emotions of shock once we told them we were doing this 10 times. I also had a pleasure of running with Casey for bunch of loops. It seems like he would pull up on the climbs and I would catch him on the descent and then we would finish the loop together. We must have run at least 6 loops like this. It was nice to have some company for a while. We also wondered about Bryan. He started the race at 5:30, but we were now on loop 6 and still did not see him once. Going into the aid station after the 6th loop we finally saw him going back out onto his 7th. And on the descent from the 7th I caught up to Bryan, who said that he was only doing one more. Bryan is one crazy man, racing, I mean doing long runs (races), almost every weekend. 
Refueling. PC: Mountain Peak Fitness
I lost Casey at some point on that 7th loop and did not see him again until almost the end. I don't recall much of loop 8, other than wanting to get back to the lot with as much time in the bank as possible. I was very excited to get back out onto my loop 9 with about 8:40 elapsed on the clock. I pushed really hard on that loop huffing and puffing up Tammany in order to make the 10 hour mark. It paid off and I was able to start the 10th and final loop with 10 minutes to spare. Too many 10s. It would soon become apparent that I kind of ran out of gas on loop number 9. I was low on water, low on energy, but I just wanted to get it done. 10th climb was my slowest climb of day. At times, I really wanted to stop random hikers and ask them for water, but decided it would probably be weird to them so I didn't. I took one last gel and finished my 2 sips of water at the top and made my way back down the blue trail to the finish line. I got a surge of adrenaline going down for the last time and knowing the end was near. Even feeling depleted, my legs were still feeling pretty good at the bottom once I hit the "runable" area of the course. I crossed the finish line with clock ticking 11:03. One hour over the 10 hour mark, but 10 loops in the bag. Finish is a finish no matter what.
Just keep climbing. PC: Mountain Peak Fitness
It was great to hang out at the finish with Bryan who stayed to wait for all of us. Shortly after me, Casey finished, and few minutes behind him Don. At the time we thought we were last ones to be done, but apparently there was 2 other people that finished after we were gone. Long day for all. The winning time was 7:0sometthing, just incredible. When I grow up, I want to be that fast. But at least I got to take the pie home.
Done. PC: Bryan Slotterbach
Race director did a great job organizing this event. Location was perfect and number of participants is just right. There is only one thing that I would improve for next year and that is adding a jug of water to the other parking lot. But honestly, that is the only thing to improve otherwise perfect event.

Mt. Tammany did not disappoint. She is a tough and unforgiving mistress that breaks you completely down, only to make you smile as you look up upon her from the parking lot. She is rocky, she is steep and she is gorgeous. For all the tough, technical, rocky trails she offers, she rewards you with great views. Next time you are up there, pause at the top and enjoy the view.

Go forth and run.

Until next time.
With the boys at the finish. PC: Athletic Equation

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