Monday, November 8, 2010

"The mountains shall bring peace to the people" -- Psalm 72:3

This year's Mountain Masochist 50 was intensely emotional and spiritual for me, as well as for many of Mike Broderick's friends in the VHTRC and ultrarunning family. Early Friday morning, the day before the race, Mike passed away with his wife Jill and sister Sue at his side. We were not expecting this---many of Mike's friends had visited him in the hospital just days before, and he was doing well despite dealing with pain. This was too swift, too sudden. I had been planning to run MMTR in honor of Mike, not in memory of Mike.

At the finish (photo by Rusty Speidel)

Keith Knipling graciously agreed to stand before the crowd assembled at the pre-race meal on Friday night to share the sad news and talk a bit about Mike and what he meant to us. Mike had finished three MMTRs, as well as Western States this past June in 26:53, and was a beloved marathon coach with the Montgomery County Road Runners Experienced Marathon training group. The ultra and road running community had come together to raise over $35,000 in his name for lung cancer research, and Mike was particularly pleased about this. In closing his comments, Keith said, "As you climb up Buck Mountain tomorrow, perhaps you may feel Mike giving you a push from behind..."

It was comforting to be with so many good friends that night. We were able to hug, cry, and talk about Mike surrounded by those who knew him well, those who had run, paced, crewed, and cheered for him. I was really looking forward to spending the entire day out in the mountains to reflect and remember. When my friend Meredith asked me, "Are you nervous about the race?" I immediately responded, "No, not at all." Masochist was my goal race of the year, the one I had trained for since July, yet I was oddly serene and peaceful as I laid out my clothes and my number. I knew what my race plan was, both literally (break 9:34, my PR for this course), and spiritually (run strong, fast, and free), and they were one and the same.

 Howard Nippert coached me for this race and he did a great job of working on my speed and turnover, and getting me to the start line fresh and rested. As a result, I found myself running almost everything except the steepest climbs, and my heart rate was steady all day long. I have to admit that I was not sure how I would fare under Howard's "Less (mileage per week) is More" approach...but it obviously paid off as I felt awesome all day!

Howard prepared me very well, but Mike was my coach on race day. I thought about him every time I passed a place where I had crewed for him in 2004--the climb up to Parkway Gate, at Long Mountain Wayside, and in the Loop (where I ran against traffic to meet him halfway). Every time I got emotional, I would trip on a rock, and it became clear that this was Mike's sign for me to get a grip and race. When I tried to play my newly charged iPod, it wouldn't work, and this meant that I needed to run this race fully present and mindful of what I set out to do. Bill Gentry said to me the night before, "All will be revealed...". I just needed to pay attention.

(Buck Mountain, Mountain Masochist 50, 2003--photo by Mike Broderick)

It was at about mile 29, during the climb up Buck Mountain, when I started to hear the music. The trail weaves in and out of hollows, and at first the notes were faint and barely there...and then all of a sudden, after a turn, they were clear as day. The music was the theme from "Rocky" and has been played at MMTR every year for the past 20 years in this exact same spot. As we climbed up the mountain, we were greeted with this inspirational tune and a succession of signs with biblical scripture written on them. Mike took a picture of one (above) when he was running MMTR in 2003. Mike had his pick of signs to photograph (there are at least five or six), but he chose to photograph this one. And now, it makes perfect sense why.

As the day progressed I found myself quite content to run as I felt, and I was on PR time. At the last aid station, four miles from the finish, I knew I would need to work it to get sub-9:24. Donna Utakis and I had been leap-frogging for the last 20 miles and this was awesome! Donna always makes me run an honest race, and I took her presence on the trail as yet another sign that Mike was there. (When Mike paced me at my first 100, the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, I was trying to catch Donna, but Mike just kept telling me, "Run your own race. Let it come to you").

Finishing Masochist, 2010 (photo by Henry Hobbs)

As we neared the finish line, Donna slowed to a walk and I took a look at my watch. It read 9:34:00. Donna encouraged me to go for it, so I ran hard for the last few yards. In heeding Mike's good advice, I had let the race come to me, and I felt fast, strong, and free...but mostly, I felt at peace. Mike and I had finished our 54-mile journey through the mountains together, and it was time to let his spirit move on.

Farewell, dear friend. I will miss you.

Mike Broderick on the Wild Oak Trail, 2004

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run,
and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint."

Isaiah 40:31


run4daysbill said...

Money, Soph. Money. And you made me cry. In this case, a good thing. :)

Love Isaiah 40:31. On the back of the RoadID dog tag I wear when I run solo.

Bobby Gill said...

While we had very different races out there at MMTR, there is no doubt that we both felt Mike's presence the whole way. I'm so glad to see that you did well and enjoyed your day. Mike would be proud.

Goodbye, coach. I'll miss you.

ultrarunnergirl said...

Wonderful report and memories. Congratulations on your PR. **HUGS**

jennifer Nichols said...

stellar job, sophie. Your strength, your heart and your courage you displayed on saturday are all very inspiring to me. SOO much more than " just running".
I'm so glad I got to spend some time with you pre-race, although my heart was aching and so heavy for you and the rest of your VHTRC family. I can only imagine your sense of loss because I know how tight my little tribe is ( iron mtn trail runners)
I know Mike is SO proud of all of you. I had "the dead" mixed into my MMTR mix and the song "bird song" was playing when you passed me at mile 11. I wasn't about to say anything to you about it, because I didn't want to upset you, but I couldn't help but just think "how appropriate.. GO, SOPH, GO!" :o)

see you dec 18th!


Shining Light said...

Ditto about Isaiah 40:31. Parts of the verse is written on my bike to remind me to never give up and swim, bike, and run free. Love that you share your running with Mike. He is so proud.

meredith said...

What a lovely tribute and race. Instead of running with a heavy heart, you let his spirit lift you! He will continue to give you strength.

Thank you for sharing your time, attitude, and gratitude with me!

Those signs might be my favorite part of the race. It is just at the moment when we are closest to God out there that Horton and now Clark remind us to think of him!

Kim said...

I did not have the pleasure to know Mike Broderick at all, but I have been reading many praises of him. If we had met, I know we would have been friends on the trails.
I am sorry for your loss ( we also lost an ultra runner here in Ohio this week) but I know our friends are participating in some beautiful trails together now.

Rick Gray said...

Life is so full of alot of twists and turns. Just like the trails that we run. We all love the trails that we run, but what is so much more important are the relationships that have formed because of what we enjoy. I personally believe that those relationships are what makes the trails so special to us. Your relationship with Mike happened because of trail running, but it meant so much more. That is certainly evident in your post. I was proud of you out there Saturday and Coach Mike was even prouder of his special athlete. Mike will always be found in your heart and one day you shall see him again. Masochist 2010 is one special day you shall never forget!

Marlin Yoder said...

Thanks Sophie for such a meaningful tribute to Mike; my eyes were filled with tears as I read. It makes me realize what a special group ultra running folks are. I look forward to many more miles of trails in the company of such wonderful people.

I am a runner. "We are what we repeatedly do" said...

I can't think about Mike without tearing up. It seems so wrong in so many ways. Thank you for sharing Soph. I'll miss him

Unknown said...

My gosh, Sophie, how beautiful.