Monday, June 7, 2010

Stonewalled by My Scrotum at the Massanutten Mountain 100 Mile Run

photo by Susan Donnelly

The pre-race meeting had already started when we pulled into the Caroline Furnace Lutheran campground, this year's new start and finish area.  With my older son, I found a crowded, stuffy room with nowhere to sit.

My younger son had vomited maybe from the fast drive on the tortuous road from Fort Valley.  I needed to move my stuff into the sukkah more than a third of mile from the race headquarters, and then prepare my drop bags, which until then had proven an impossible task.  Still needed to charge up my batteries for my headlamps.  So I skipped the meeting.

At dinner, I sat with 100-miler rookie Yosuke Murase, who recently moved from Tokyo to the DC area for work.  We then ran into ex-BayArean Yuki Negoro, who was being paced by a woman I met at the Crater Lake Rim Marathon in 2005.  Yukiko (center) I figure has a nice of age-group and overall female awards during her 50 mile in 50 state adventure.

me, Yuki Negoro, Hiroyuki and Yukiko Nishide, Yosuke Murase and family
photo by Yuki's wife

Having missed the pre-race meeting, I figured I should hang a little with the race director as he did his own calorie loading.  I found Stan was very accessible by email prior to the race, but this iced the cake of race director accessibility.  I got the scoop on why the course was changed again this year (former host camp not the most cooperative) and why this race started in the first time (Old Dominion's race organization was just a little too relaxed, to put it diplomatically.)

I only had one roommate that night, who only post-race did I learn was David Garman . He would PR in 26:42.  Surprisingly I got decent sleep.  The sukkah was a great deal.

My son dusting off my cot mattress.  He slept in a real bed in a real house and the next day got to check out the nearby Luray Caves with his cousin using the included audio tour.


First the forecast bounced between "scattered" and "isolated" thunderstorms. Not sure the exact definition of either, but neither did I like. When I venture from my home state to do these races, I subject myself to a small but real risk of death by lightning, or the fear thereof.

But then a hole free of even light rain broke open for the race itself, and remained. Whew!

Some rain cleared the humidity that night before, right after I snuggled into my sleeping bag in the sukkah (for which I think I paid only $10 for the weekend, versus the $500+ for the VRBO rental in Luray for my family). But I awoke in the middle of the night sweating.

During the 3.6 miles to the first aid station, Moreland Gap, I felt a mugginess (ughi-ness!) not felt since Mohican in Ohio last June (report coming soon). Fortunately, I would soon find the ridges usually came with a breeze. If the weather and temperature weren’t quite perfect, they were nothing of which to complain.


In contrast to the weather, something to complain about. I knew they were coming, but of course wasn't prepared, coming from my groomed Bay Area trails, comparative red carpets. Tasted them quickly after switching from the road to the single track, after the first aid station through which buzzed most of the front runners ahead of me. Would the remaining 95+ miles be nothing but this? I cannot run this! Now I understood the “Massanutten Rocks” race motto on our long-sleeve shwag shirts, carries an ironically and sickly humorous double meaning, both verb and noun. Whether the rocks rock like the event as a whole or simply suck, was a matter of possibly changing interpretation.

photo by Susan Donnelly

After I pondered this, almost tripping a few times, I held back even further.

OMG, I'm going to run another 96 miles of this?    Could not be good.  I took it slowly. I did adapt somewhat.  And did appreciate that my new Sportiva Raptors, were well suited for the rugged, technical trail. Two guys went past me, one then immediately tripped over a rock and landed with a thud, but fortunately was not significantly hurt-- he decided to take it more slowly.

As it turned out, the whole course was not ALL rocks, but they kept popping up.   Even on sections of trail that weren't so rocky, there were enough that I had to keep my guard up.  I figured the rock who wants you to land on your face doesn't care if it's alone, or hanging out with a bunch of its friends.  It will trip you up just the same.  In fact, I found that the greatest risk of eating dirt often came from these random loner rocks, or rocks hidden under piles of fallen leaves left over from last autumn.

photo by Ray Smith

The pattern of my running strategy became this: downhill in control, invariably I would get passed on these technical sections. To partially make up for this, run whenever I could, any decent surface, definitely the flats. Inevitably the stretched of rocks would return.

approaching Edinburg aid station (mile 11.7) with 3 others, untechnical dirt road
photo by Anst Davidson


The longest conversation I had was with Todd Walker, who has sub-20'd this race twice, including one overall win.  We talked pretty much the whole 8.2 mile stretch from Edinburg Gap (mile 11.7) to Woodstock Tower (mile 19.9).  Great guy, who's overcome stuff in life.  (He ended up finishing in 21:12, 4th overall and 1st master.)

I initially didn't recognize Todd, wearing a shirt and out of his red shorts the next morning.


I was not free of these. Maybe I ate too much salad at dinner. The worst stretch of GI distress coincidentally coincided with the loss of satellite reception around mile 46 descending from ridge and continuing through Indian Grade aid station and continuing through the whole flat stretch of road to Habron Gap aid station, mile 53.6.

from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

But I figure most of us getting nauseated, and I never hurled like Joe Kulak did, when I passed him later, leaned over like in that discontinued North Face ad.

Joe the evening before; he arrived even late than I, a laid-back veteran

So I am not calculating “time lost to nausea” or the couple of early pit stops I made by the trail (most of the aid stations lacked toilets, this is a rugged run!)

urine and stool collection device used on early Soyuz spacecraft
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum


At the final aid station, I pulled off 3 ticks crawling up my legs.  There was a 4th that had already started burrowing into my skin.  Because my hands were slippery (see next section), I couldn't get it out, so I asked a volunteer.  He was sort of grossed out, but obliged.  He told me it wasn't the deer tick that causes lyme disease (Ixodes scapularis).  At one point in my residency training, I had memorized the appearance of this tick, but years later I had to simply take his word for it.

Anyways, volunteers are like the opposite of parasites.  In fact, maybe we ultrarunners are like parasites, sucking the blood and life out of volunteers.  Gosh, I hope not.  Parasites are rude and never thank their hosts.

Thank you volunteers!  xoxo

Special thanks to volunteer Phil Kasunick for that nutrition shake bottle he gave me at (I think) Powell's Fort, mile 25.1.


The last third of the race, a couple of guys asked if I wanted a pacer.  "Well, wouldn't mind that, but I'm doing that Stonewall Jackson thing" I would answer.  Just as well, since they would probably have to hear me complain the following problem:


The biggest memory from this run will be what happened to my scrotum, to whom I still apologize. Sorry, buddy, I promise not to do that to you again! The following is a retrospective analysis, part hypothesis that I cannot subject to the rigors of true scientific inquiry, but all of it probably valid.

Factor 1: Equipment Malfunction

Right before the start of the race, I pulled the drawstring of my RaceReady pocketed shorts. And kept pulling… and pulling. Damn drawstring came unattached! Race UN-Ready. Same happened to me with another pair, but not right at the start of a 100 mile race! An advantage of having a crew—you have them deliver you an extra pair for you to swap out later. I knew they would stay on, but I would be limited from stashing gels in them. As it turned out, no gels at the aid stations until the last third of the race. I did have to stash the flopping string a few times.

also shiny from Vaseline, see below

If I can't rethread this (still haven't three weeks later) I am going to write to the company. Will let you all know later how their customer service is.

Anyways, I'm suspecting the shorts, including the liner, sagged enough to make me prone to extra friction.

Factor 2: Keeping a Hand Free

My plan was to run most of the race with one handheld bottle, except for miles 41 to 63. At mile 40.7 (Veach Gap Parking aid station) I put on a detachable belt portion of a hydration pack along with a second handheld so that I would have two bottles for the 9 and 9.5 mile stretches (the race's longest) during the afternoon, usually the hottest time of day. After finishing off the first bottle during the steep ascent on each of these splits, I discovered I could keep a hand free by looping the belt through the mesh bottle Ultimate Direction sleeve. When to the side or back, the bottle would whack me every other stride, so I ended up letting it hang just anterior to my hip.

photo by Bobby Gill

In front of my right hip.

Which is next to my right scrotum.

Which is where I started having problems.

Just enough extra friction.  To make things go bad....

So enjoying some views of the valley to the east atop the ridge early during the longest split of the race, the 9.5 miles between Habron Gap Parking (mile 53.6) and Camp Roosevelt (mile 63.1), I started feeling it.

One of the few things I still remember from histology class during my first year of medical school, is that the sole of the foot is the thickest layer of epithelium in the human body.  The thinnest-- the eyelid and the scrotum!  link to a dermatology site showing that I remembered this correctly and so fully deserve my medical degree

Factor 3: Unstocked

I usually carry a sample sized tube of Aquaphor in my shorts every race. At 4:35 that morning, while sitting on my cot getting dressed, I applied some both sides of the base of my member, thought about stashing the tube in my pocket, but figured the aid stations would all have Vaseline, they always do at these long races, especially one as well organized as this.  So, I left it.  Whoops.  It became soon apparent during the over 7 miles of technical trail to the next aid station, that chafing (sort of like ITB pain) is relentless, progressive and cumulative. What a long, sucky 7 miles. And I had no idea how lasting the effects would be for the rest of the race.  Okay, the next few paragraphs are quite optional.

At the aid station I thought would never come, Camp Roosevelt (mile 63.1), I dumped my extra bottle, put on my headlamp, since it now clear I wouldn’t make it to my 2nd light at mile 77.1 before dark, but before any of this, asked for the Vaseline. A huge clump of it. Not quite a soothing balm. I awkwardly put more in a zip-lock bag to carry with me—a good move because Vaseline, well, melts and runs off. From here on out, I would have to interrupt my running several times each split to apply (or try to apply) Vaseline out of the bag back onto my crotch, and with less and less effectiveness as hoped.

My mantra to remember approaching each aid station:  ask for lube, ask for paper towel, ask for drop bag, refill bottle, eat.  The volunteers, as always were great, but I thanked them extra for always bringing out jar, and some paper towels.

Vaseline got everywhere.  On my hands, on my bottle.  It impregnated my shorts.  Thank my iPod for the music, or else the Stone Temple Pilot's "Vaseline," while a cool song, would have driven me nuts.

The progressive nature of the chafing problem not only existed in severity, but in spatial extent.  I was having to spread the petroleum based product not only more thickly, but over a wider area.

Played leapfrog with Chris Askew from Bend and his wife Darla, who paced him starting at mile 68.  I'd catch up on the flats, until my chafing prevented that, and they finished 45 minutes ahead of me.

Chris and Darla, after last year's Lake Sonoma 50 mile

Net loss: I estimate up to 2 hours. Going uphill hurt especially, so the friction kept me from working as hard as I could have. I imagine chafing follows he laws of physics: force equals mass times velocity squared. So the decelerating effect was proportionately greatest on the faster sections. Maybe subtract 20 minutes from the difference since slowing my pace probably did avoid some other discomfort. I think low 22’s is quite reasonable. I would’ve gotten a chance to contend for the Stonewall Jackson award (the winner came in about 22:30). But, in terms of hardware, the same silver buckle (which I was mistakenly told while the RD was absent they didn't have, so I'm getting it in person from him the next month, now in a few days.)

During the stretch from the last aid station, after leaving the single track for the 3.1 mile mostly downhill stretch to the camp entrance, my crotch was burning so much that I had to walk several times, futilely pulling out the plastic bag which was just a crumpled smear of Vaseline both on the inside and outside inside the smear of the belt pouch pocket. I wiped the bag on my crotch, probably just creating more friction. A bit frustrating given that I felt I could hammer down the road at an 8 minute per mile pace. The final 0.4 miles into the camp was not the road we used at the start, but single track. I knew I could walk it and get that damn silver 24-hour buckle, and I was pretty sure I was top 10.  The rest of my body, even the other side of my scrotum had a great time anyways.  Other races in which I was injured and faltering at mile 98, I was still determined to run through my pain if headlights appeared behind me. This time, I was skeptical I would care.  I just knew how uncomfortable things would still be even the race was over.

Garry Harrington, who set a new senior's (50+) event record this year, told me he had the same problem.  Somehow, I feel like his couldn't be as bad as mine.  Or maybe his sack is just made of a tougher fabric...

finishing the Cool Fun Run 2 months earlier

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—but only once you’ve healed. I told Stan the next morning that if my crotch wasn’t feeling any better in 3 days, I might just well castrate myself…. Problem then solved, forever!

As it turns out, I was, more than a week out, still feeling some of the effects of that chafing, but with good lube and of course shorter mileage, enjoying my runs.

Never again.....I've got a Lube Plan for San Diego....

results and everyone's splits, including the 54 of 170 starters who DNF'd (which is useful and interesting information-- I really hate how DNF'd usually getting completely excised from the record)
race website

Garmin Forerunner recorded maps (I used three):
1st (battery ran out about a mile before the aid station)
2nd (incomplete, as I lost satellite reception for over an hour)
hike from finish to shower, thought I'd record this since it felt like a workout


Golden Trails Dave said...

GREAT title for your report. Entertaining as always.

Baldwyn said...

Henceforth, your scrotum shall be named Stonewall Jackson, and a familiar greeting shall be "How's Stonewall Jackson doing?"

Or not.

Dave Mackey said...

Nice read mark.. I love the brutal honesty about the anatomical ultrarunning issues.
I am in PA school in SF and doing rotations next year. Maybe I will try to persuade you to take me under your ER wing for 6 weeks.

Brian said...

Hey Mark, It's Brian from SD 100 last weekend. I have a couple of pics of you from the weekend. My email is Send me your email and I'll give you the pics. It was nice to meet you and great job out there.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Hey, Dave, thanks for reading and commenting. That might work. I'll comment on your blog.

John said...

I saw you out there I was crewing/pacing us Iris Cooper; you were way ahead of us.
I had the same probably at Vermont I believe a lot of it is secondary to the humidity and relaxation of the cremaster muscle.
I was a bloody/greasy mess, after Vermont.
Thankfully I have NIOT had that problem again.

We ran Headlands 50K together years ago, I was and still am a Navy ED RN, although now in FNP school.

All the best in 2011
John Spannuth