Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

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Down for Quadruple – Setbacks and Risk-taking at the MMT 100

by Phil Hesser

Dear Stan,

Circumstances have gone beyond my control, so I reluctantly must drop out of the 2006 MMT100, blah, blah, blah. Regrets and regards, Phil

There I was, sitting in front of the computer on Thursday night (two days before the MMT 100) with my mouse pointed on the send button, a click away from bagging another attempt for a fourth finish after two DNFs in a row. Excuses? Sure, I had them. A rehearsal race scrapped because of travel. Being mired in the Bull Run Run and missing a cut-off. An annoying, if minor, medical issue. Having a last-minute, must-do meeting at work come up on Friday afternoon before the race, robbing me of my chance to leave off drop bags and attend the race meeting.

Phil Hesser at Habron Gap Aid Station. Photo: Desiree Williams

Still I looked at my email message again and thought only one thing: bogus. In all of my three MMT DNFs, I had left the course on my own volition. I had never timed out or otherwise been ejected by the race management. Was I going to count myself out again? It was time to go for broke, to go down for double, even to go down trying if things didn’t work out.

So I worked out my game plan, elegantly simple in keeping with the circumstances:

To spare you any further suspense, I finished the race and wondered why I had ever voluntarily dropped out of the earlier races or hovered so close to withdrawing this year. Upon reflection, I think that I have learned much in the days just before and after the race, which I share with you here:

  1. You will always have seemingly “insurmountable odds” in the final day or two before a big race – a funny twinge of pain, a logistical headache, a naysayer who questions what you are doing. Just deal with it and stay the course.
  2. Work out a Plan B. You may think that you are painted into a corner, but maybe you need to look behind you for a window.
  3. Come up with a strategy that pits your smarts against the formidable challenge that faces you. (I imagined myself as Muhammad Ali playing “rope-a-dope” against the mountain, staying safely within the cut-offs and not exposing my undertrained body to harm).
  4. Know when to quit (or not even start) when you have a serious injury or condition, but also know when not to do so. As long as you can soldier on, do it. Leave DNFing to the race officials, and, even then, don’t let it happen.
  5. Imagine yourself as the director of a movie about an athlete who triumphs against the odds. Write the script for how you will make it all happen and think about the big finish.

Those of us who have taken up athletics – top finishers, middle of packers, or those of us who pick up the rear – have long come to appreciate how much can be affected by circumstance: a misstep, an intervening item in your life, even a bad pre-race meal. I suppose that makes us the humble creatures that we are. Yet the pure beauty of athletics (even for the sedentary sports fans who never venture beyond their recliner or grasp beyond their remote control) comes out of those feats that seem to come out of nowhere and under the worst of circumstances. Well, we all know that they don’t come from nowhere (pardon my grammar). They seep from the marrow of our aspirations and tenacity.

So give it some thought when you are seemingly down for the count. Go down for double, or triple, or quadruple – whatever it takes to show your stuff. It’s within you, its waiting, and it is ready for your script and triumphant ending.

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