One Average Runner’s Adventure
4 AM Saturday 14 May to 2:10 PM Sunday 15 May 2011
The Virginia Happy Trails Running Club planned and executed a tremendous ultra-marathon under Race Director Kevin Sayers’ leadership this past weekend. I found the Massanutten Mountain Trails (MMT) 100 to be an incredibly challenging yet richly rewarding experience from my perspective as one average runner and this race report reflects only my participation and limitations in that epic trail race. Any omissions or mistakes in this report reflect shortcomings of the author and not the event or people that were part of it.
Runners had 36 hours to negotiation the 101.6 mile MMT course, starting from 4AM Saturday with the official course closed to finishers by 4PM Sunday. Here are the top finishers:
TOP THREE MALES
Name Age Time
KARL MELTZER (1) 43 18:18:28
NEAL GORMAN 34 19:40:11
DAVID FRAZIER 25 21:25:08
TOP THREE FEMALES
EVA PASTELKOVA 35 22:30:43* (6thoverall)
SHERYL WHEELER (2) 48 25:53:36 (18th overall)
KATHLEEN CUSICK 36 27:00:30 (23rd overall)
-Ms. Pastelkova’s time is a new MMT female course record.
-Karl Meltzer’s time is the fastest since the overall change in the MMT course 2-3 years ago.
-Ms. Wheeler also placed 2nd at the Hellgate 100K this past December.
TOP THREE SOLO MALES
JEREMY PADE 29 22:45:19 (7th)
JUSTIN FAUL 30 23:05:40 (8th)
CAM BAKER 34 25:11:25 (14th)
TOP SOLO FEMALE
SUSAN DONNELLY 48 31:13:04* (69th overall)
-Ms. Donnelly was the only female competitor in the Solo Division
VITAL RACE STATISTICS:
101.6 total miles in this event;
195 Runners started the race at 0400 AM;
132 Official finishers (68%); last finisher crossed the line at 35:56:46 with 136 seconds to spare!
1360 Total number of historical MMT 100 finishers of 2151 starters since event inception;
115 Male finishers – 87%;
17 Female finishers – 13%;
49 Approximate temperature at 4 AM;
87 Approximate temperature at 2 PM;
16,200 Total elevation in feet climbed and descended according to event website;
15 Total number of aid stations;
9.5 Largest mileage total between aid stations;
3.1 Smallest distance in miles between aid stations;
6.3 About the average mileage between aid stations;
67 Age of Gary Knipling, oldest finisher, in 34:22:12;
49 Age Marsha Latimer, oldest female finisher, in 30:35:47;
25 Age of David Frazier, youngest male finisher, in 21:25:08 (3rdoverall);
33 Age of Kristina Folick, youngest female finisher in 29:29:27;
45 Number of male finishers between 40-49, the largest group;
28 Number of male finishers between 30-39;
7 Number of male finishers between 20-29;
23 Number of male finishers from 50-59;
6 Number of finishers from 60-69(67); Dan Lehman (60) in 28:42:15-35thoverall!;
8 Number of female finishers from 30-39;
9 Number of female finishers from 40-49;
0 Number of female finishers 50 and older;
0 Number of female finishers under 30;
26 Number of States represented at the finish line. (VA-26, MD-23);
2 Countries represented; USA & Japan;
9,900 longest miles by Google distance traveled by any runner; Tetsuro Ogata, Takamatsu, Japan (Google also mentioned that the route between Takamatsu Japan and Fort Valley VA, has tolls. Mr. Ogata traveled 10,000 miles, all told, to complete this event);
14 Gary Knipling extended his record number of MMT finishes to 14; his son Keith Knipling extended his to 12, giving the Knipling family a seemingly insurmountable combined 26 MMT finishes;
10 Susan Donnelly extended her female record of finishes to 10.
PERSONAL STATICS (AUTHOR)
5 MMT was my 5th ultra-marathon or marathon event in 2011;
19 MMT was my 19th ultra-marathon or marathon distance since FEB 2010;
2 2nd 100 completed in 2011 including the GRR on 5-6 March;
40% I am 2 for 5 in 100 & 100+ mile lifetime events, but 2 in a row;
37 Total number of ultra-marathon or marathon events completed by author;
1248 Number of consecutive running streak days run from 13 DEC 2007 through 15 May 2011;
57 Number of days from last major event (Instant Classic Trail Marathon on 19 March);
34:10:16 Massanutten finish time (2050:16 minutes);
1 1st attempt at the MMT 100;
111 My overall finish place of the 132 finishers (bottom 16th percentile);
91 My overall finish place among all males;
15 Females finished ahead of me;
72 My finishing place among males 40-67; 40 of 40-49, 18 of 50-59, 4 60-67 aged males finished ahead of me;
Unknown Where I finished among active duty or reserve military participants;
6+ Blisters. “Life is harder. It gets harder when you do stupid things.” Paraphrasing John Wayne;
0 Toenails lost;
0 I ran “solo,” no crew. Hard to claim “solo” with so much outstanding aid station support;
53+ The mileage on my Forerunner 305 when it died prior to Habron Gap A.S.;
20:09 My average overall pace per mile for the duration of the event. Boy…
PRE-RACE, TRAINING & LOGISTICS
I entered the MMT 100 lottery when a couple of really good friends verified that they were giving the MMT lottery a shot. Tom N. and Bill M. are both from upstate New York and are terrific long distance runners. I was qualified to enter after finishing the Hellgate 100K in early December, and based on finishing Hellgate, had some confidence that I could make the MMT finish line. I also figured with close to 600 lottery entrants, the odds were slim we’d all get picked up; but Tom and I were 1st picks based on MMT lottery-NY stock exchange selection, and Bill got in on the wait list. I entered in the “Solo” division, meaning I was running without crew or pacer support or any assistance of any nature from anyone on the course other than the aid stations. This also included Walkman-MP3 players; solo runners are required to run MMT without music-related assistance as well.
I ramped my training up with MMT as the obvious target race on my schedule. I continued to run every day and increased my weekly mileage to an average of about 60 miles a week, but incorporated surge weeks reaching up to 80 and beyond depending whether or not I had a race on a weekend. My biggest week was 130 miles that included running the GRR 100 on 5-6 March. I like to employ races as my major training events.
I worked total body training using TRX as my main staple at least 3 days per week through April. I completed 4 major races as training events leading up to MMT; two 50Ks, one trail 26.2 and the Guts Reactor Run 100 mile trail race. The GRR was my 1st 100 mile finish and, coupled with training months of 246, 310, and 200 miles in February, March, and April, I had good confidence that I could knock MMT out successfully when I arrived at the Pre-Race check in on 13 May. I linked up with Tom, Bill, and another real ultra stud Ryan O’Dell, as we shared a cabin right at the start in Caroline Furnace. I’d met Ryan briefly at Hellgate where he finished that mighty event in the top 10 in less than 13 hours.
Having a berth in the Cabin ¼ mile from the starting line was a terrific boost and a great idea. I’d recommend that for any major race event as it just made the logistics so much easier and more relaxed. Sleep still came with difficulty in the cabin Friday night.
These excellent course graphics are available on the MMT website.
The course included 15 aid stations, and the start and finish line at Caroline Furnace. The proverbial 100-mile loop course. According to the MMT website almost 82 miles of the course are trail with the remaining 20 to be mostly dirt road and a few miles of asphalt. The elevation chart depicts 14 major climbs and descents anchored to leaving and approaching the aid stations, and that was exactly accurate.
I hoped to be in position to finish the race in 28 hours and certainly hoped to cross the finish line under 30. As I approached the race area Friday afternoon from Route 66 West in northern Virginia and then traveling south on Route 81, I had to admit that I felt a sense of trepidation and was more than a little intimidated by the thought that I would be traveling that mountain range dominating the highway in less than 12 hours. I was also infected with a sense of realism and the thought that getting to the finish line was the clearest objective, time notwithstanding.
My personal race plan broke the course into 3 sections. I would find my first main drop bag at Shawl Gap Aid Station at mile 37. My 2nd drop bag went to Gap Creek A.S. at Mile 68. I intended to push and reach Shawl Gap by 1230 to 1PM, Habron Gap at Mile 53 by 6PM and Gap Creek the first time by 8PM. The route looped south and then back to the north and through Gap Creek a 2nd time at Mile 95. I ended up consistently about 2 hours behind each of those marks.
Section 1. Start to Shawl Gap Aid Station 6 Mile 37+
I always find several aspects of race morning intriguing and Massanutten was no exception. Time always seems to move quicker than normal; we were up by 0245 in the cabin and it seemed like 0355 instantly. We were surrounded by 195 runners and an indeterminate amount of crew, family and friends under the circus tent at the starting line. The MMT crowd seemed a lot larger than a couple hundred people, largely due to the amount of energy in the air, I think. I always seem to have a sense of relief embedded in that purity of effort and focus that comes with race morning. All the training was over and the long processes leading up to MMT. My only mission for the next day-and-a-half was to get to the MMT finish line. It is truly a rare occasion in this day and age where one finds oneself with only one major task needing their only focus for 24 to 36 straight hours and major ultra events are the exception to that modern standard of multi-tasking and multi-purpose. The runners in front started fast, those in the rear started slowly, and the headlamps all spread out in the darkness.
The first 20 miles or so of the race are mostly indistinct in my memory already, other than it was good to be underway; I had a real sense of giddy and lucky anticipation as one of the racers in an event such as Massanutten. Massanutten! A lot of runners were spread out immediately on the asphalt road leading the 1st couple of miles up to the trailhead, mostly on a gradual uphill. It was very dark save the runner’s lights and the pace and chatter between the runners was mostly methodical . I felt very good at the outset, like I had a lot of built-up energy and reserves, and continued to feel that way for the next 20-24 hours.
The Moreland Gap Aid Station (AS) materialized a little ways ahead on the road, and that was the last time I would pull into an AS tied to a main road for a long time. Moreland was a short-term fix, a vehicle with a single gentleman helping runners fill water bottles by lamplight for anyone needing water after the first 3.5 miles in the race. I filed past with several others onto the actual MMT trailhead and started the dark climb up Short Mountain.
Insert “Dark Trail” shot
Short Mountain was a big climb, one of the two or three larger up-the-mountain movements on the entire course; it was nice to knock that out early in the event under the current and recent course organization. Anyone familiar with MMT race history has read and heard stories of how challenging Short Mountain was for racers when that obstacle loomed at the 70% point in the race course. We were still climbing Short in the dark but at a fresh point early in the race. The first twelve miles from the race start to A.S. 2 at Edinburg Gap really answered a lot of inner questions and summarized how the rest of the MMT course would unfold. I’d heard and read story after story about the degree of rocky difficulty that is the actual Massanutten Trail, and nothing does justice to that until you’re on the MMT. I’d spent 100s of miles on trails on 3 continents and Massanutten is the rockiest rail I’ve been on to date. It was slow going uphill, through the flatter 5-mile ridgeline traverse before heading downhill towards Edinburg, and pretty slow heading downhill as well. Based on my own experience, I’m dumbfounded by the ability of a guy like Karl Maltzer to cover the entire course in 18+ hours due to the degree of technical trail difficulty. I think Sim Kae Duk’s MMT course record of 17:40:45 is a little under-rated in the ultra world.
I did my best to spend as little time as possible in the first five aid stations but was again amazed at the type of support ultra runners receive in every event. MMT aid stations were exceptional even in that in regard. Volunteers bent over backwards to provide water refills, food, soda, and information on the next leg of the course including exact distance to the next aid station, climbs confronting runners, and known weather information.
Daylight’s early gray arrival coincided with the point where I crested the climb on Short and started along the 5-mile portion of the ridgeline trail. I’d been curious as to what traveling along the ridgelines on the MMT course would be like and I was not disappointed. Racers spend between 35-40% of the entire race traveling ridgelines, and there would have points throughout the event where I was moving along the top of the narrow mountain ridgeline with views off the each side through gaps in the trees and the foliage. I had a small drop bag waiting at Edinburg Gap and dropped my head lamp there.
The first third of the course traveled north to northeast up and down the western wall of the Shenadoahs and George Washington National Forest. Several runners moved through at an increased pace but I also became acquainted with several runners I would be traveling among and adjacent to for most of the first 24 hours of the race. One of my race goals was to meet the legendary Gary Knipling at some point, and that occurred Check in the night prior. He had walked right up to me and introduced himself and asked me who I was. I ended up sharing a big portion of the trail with him up to Elizabeth Furnace and a great group of guys, Jeff Pense, Jeff Heasley, Doug Berlin and Jim Ashworth to name a view, and miss several names too. It was terrific moving along with these runners; Gary would go on to finish his record 14th MMT 100; I bounded back and forth with Jim and Doug all day and well into the next morning when they finally pulled away from me beyond Gap Creek at Mile 70. I also met Toni Aurilio for the first time in person after trading a lot of email with her on the Ultra-list; that’s just another facet of this sport I really enjoy-the Ultra-list and meeting Ultra-list members at events. Toni knew my number and was at Edinburg Gap already yelling encouragement to me when I rolled in. She was crewing with several others, Bob, Sara and Marge, for Rob Colenso, and it was just a great way to meet someone. I would end up seeing Team Colenso in almost every aid station throughout the race.
John Wayne is often quoted with something to the effect that: “Life is tough; it’s a lot tougher when you’re stupid.” I don’t know how accurate that is pertaining to the Duke, but 100 milers are tough, and they’re a lot tougher when you do stupid things. I made a couple of mistakes that would manifest themselves by Shawl Gap and make the rest of the event more challenging than it needed to be. I recently acquired some New Balance Minimus Trails and really love those running shoes, particularly their light weight. They’re just a great, ultra-light trail shoe. But wearing those at MMT was absolutely the worst choice I could have made and frankly the last big mistake I anticipate making of this magnitude in a 100 mile race again. No matter how much I tried to avoid rocks and the impact they were having on my feet through those thin vibram soles, both my feet were really bruised from dozens of big, small, flat, and pointed rock impacts by the time I got to my drop bag at Mile 37 (Shawl Gap) and changed to my Asolo Predators. I had the start of several blisters as well due to all the shifting through the rocks working to avoid the impacts. Basically, by mile 30 my feet hurt due to blisters and bruising for almost every step for the remainder of the race.
I also tried a different idea for hydration. I wore my Nathan Hydration pack without the blivet so I could carry Clif Blocks, S-Caps, my camera and support of that nature, and then carried a 20-ounce hand-held bottle. My intent was to carry the han- held as much as possible and keep it in the back pack to split the load. I’d trained like this but really didn’t care for this arrangement after the 20 mile point in the race. I’ve really just developed into a back-pack water blivet user and will just stay in that mode from here on out. The hand-held helps lighten the load, but I found that I needed both hands for balance a lot of the time and ended up carrying the bottle in my pack most of the way. I also would have liked to have had more than 20 ounces of water during some of the longer eight and nine mile movements between aid stations.
Section 2. Shawl Gap A.S. to Gap Creek A.S. 10 at Mile 68
“You’ve got 9 big Massanutten miles to the Indian Grave Aid Station.” This was my favorite quote of the entire race, from the Captain of the Veach Gap A.S. at mile 40.9. This really sums up the MMT 100. Massanutten miles are big miles, with climbs, descents, switchbacks, boulders to move over and rocks to thread through. I never felt that any leg between aid stations was understated in terms of distance or required effort either.
The race was almost entirely positive for me right through the first two-thirds of the event, feet notwithstanding. Miles 37 to 68 went very well, a lot of good things happened. I changed out my shoes at Shawl Gap into my old-reliable Asolos with over 1000 miles and 15 events on them. Kerry Owens was checking runners into Veach Gap A.S. and I told her it was good to see her again. We’d met at Hellgate in December, Kerry’s a stud-ette of an ultrarunner. She asked if I’d ever run MMT and after I replied in the negative, told me it was just a whole lot more of the same as leading up to Veach Gap, and to just keep moving. Sound advice. There was also the psychological boost of negotiating the northern end of the MMT range and then heading south.
As I was finally trotting up the trail to A.S. 8 at Indian Gap, there was a big, tall, white guy yelling “Tim Hardy, get up here into my aid station.” That was Chris Perrault, and we’d never met in person but had traded a bunch of traffic on the Ultra-list too. It was great to meet Chris in person at the half-way point in the race. Doug and Jim were already there, some other guy was sitting in a chair off to the side and just happened to bend over and vomit as I walked past. Things were just happening in Indian Grave. I was behind where I’d hoped to be in terms of time but that time differential was holding fast and not extending. I also felt great considering the fact that I was 50 miles into the race and I think a part of that was that the course forces a slower, steady pace due to the technical degree of difficulty. Indian Grave to Habron Gap at Mile 53 was 3.5 miles of pure country road and that came at the right time and place. I ran most of that and eyed the imposing ridgeline paralleling the road’s western edge. We had to climb that out of Habron.
There was quite a crowd at Habron Gap when I rolled in just before 6PM. This was a big aid L-shaped station right on the left side of the road, and I eye-balled the trailhead that climbed away up and to the southwest as I passed it 100 feet before entering the A.S. Habron was no exception, just another great crew, with a lot of food and drink. A.S. Captain John Prohira told me that there was just the one really big climb, “maybe the biggest left on the course,” headed directly out of the aid station. Aid Station mavens everywhere are well-developed in terms of telling runners that they “look great,” “terrific,” “strong,” and I heard a lot of that at Habron Gap. I had been ingesting S-Caps hourly all day, consuming Clif Blocks in clusters, hydrating, eating and drinking in each station; I felt very good and took those remarks at face value. A couple of key race dynamics had already changed at Habron though. It would be dark by the time I made the 9.5 mile traverse to Camp Roosevelt and that really stretches a pace. The other factor, and this was my 2nd stupid mistake in this race, was that my Garmin Forerunner 305 was officially dead just before Habron. No GPS that I know of will last for a 100 miler, but I had 2 USB chargers positioned in drop bags on the course, but had overlooked packing my little 305 base to actually charge my 305 with the USB devices. That just plainly pissed me off when I had discovered that back at Shawl Gap. Stuuuupid! I had to negotiate the second fifty miles based on time estimation.
The climb up First Mountain out of Habron was indeed pretty long, but I remember it as more graduated and full of switchbacks rather than very steep. I moved steadily upward with a purpose as the shadows lengthened and darkened on the eastern side of the ridgeline. It was still very rocky but Short Mountain and the first third of the course still seemed like it had been the most technical part of the trip thus far. The bugs started coming out as night approached. I passed a couple of runners on the way up that I had not seen before and was passed by another stranger early on the climb. He was moving rapidly and disappeared up the trail.
The three-plus miles along the ridgeline atop First Mountain were terrific. It was a narrow ridge, with intermittent western and eastern views, and it was fairly exhilarating to be moving along the trail in a mighty stretch of Washington National Forest trying to beat nightfall into Camp Roosevelt. I prefer to move without a light even at night on the trail where possible and I had it in my head to make A.S. 10 without the aid of my headlamp. I managed quite a bit of running while just concentrating on good trail form in this ten mile section; the trail rocks weren’t overly inundating at least until the downhill piece on the western side of the ridgeline. Susan Donnelly caught and passed me working down the ridge. She was alone as the only solo female runner in the event and mentioned in passing that she was not feeling too great, and then continued on at what seemed a pretty rapid pace as I wended my way downhill through the rocks. It occurred to me that Ms. Donnelly may be the most graceful trail runner I’ve ever seen, there in the gathering darkness at MMT, and I have no reason to think otherwise now. Susan went on to finish her 10th MMT in about 31 hours.
The trail once off the top of ridge into Roosevelt went on and on; I’d really thought and planned on being there by 830PM at the latest, but that came and went as I ran through left-entered and right-exited switchback after switchback after switchback. There was a whole small troop of us headed west; I could see them through the woods behind me as they all went to lamps while I kept moving without mine until it was completely dark. The entire event caught up with me and I was tired but not discouraged when I entered and left Camp Roosevelt around 915PM.
The leg from Roosevelt to Gap Creek was a long 6.5 miles in the dark starting again with another climb out of Roosevelt. I remember this as shorter but steeper than climbing out of Habron while I was limited to that little spherical world contained within my headlamp. Once up on the ridge, I’d turn the light off for a while and keep moving just for the fun of it. I tried to continue to limit my thinking to just the next aid station but it was tough. Gap Creek was a clear line in the sand in my plan for success and I knew if I got there by midnight, I still had plenty of time to finish the race; after midnight and time clearly wouldn’t be an ally. I’d done a good job throughout the day of keeping my mind focused only on the next one or two aid stations. MMT is just too big a course for my little mind to be out wandering alone by its self without returning completely daunted and tainted by the enormity of the project at hand. Whenever I found myself thinking about the whole race, I’d try to reign that back in and focus on my running form. I did that a lot during this leg.
I was not ecstatic but was very happy to trot into Gap Creek for the first time right at 1135PM. I had 68 tough miles and about 12,000 feet of climb and descent behind me; I had a solid sixteen hours to complete the next 34 miles negotiating the southern figure-8 portion of the course. This included the four remaining aid stations including Gap Creek (also the final aid station on the course) for a second time at the end of the 27 mile loop and 4 major climbs left.
Section 3. Gap Creek A.S. 10, Mile 68 to the Finish at Caroline Furnace at Mile 101.6
I felt very good about my chances leaving Gap Creek 1 right around midnight. In fact, I felt like there was nothing that would keep me from the finish line when I entered Gap Creek at a trot. I did make another mistake while at the A.S. by changing my shoes again. I had my Hi-Techs in a drop bag there and the bruises on my feet were killing me. The Hi-Techs have a thick, durable sole and I wanted that between my feet and the trail. The Hi-Techs eventually just served to accentuate and inflame the blister situation a few miles later and didn’t really help the bruises at any point. Just more good logistical thinking.
There was one more interesting race dynamic that developed at Gap Creek. Tom Nesterick was sitting in one of the chairs resting as I came in and reported that he was pretty worn out. I was sure he must have been because Tom and I had run up to ten different ultras together and I’d never been at the same point with him in any race save the start. We made the obvious decision to move to Visitor Center A.S. at Mile 77 in a tandem crossing, with the hopes that he would recovery a little and my feet would improve. I was still hitting S-Caps hourly with Ibuprofen mixed in on occasion and Clif Blocks.
The 8.4 mile trip to Visitor Center was long and a lot of life’s realities had impacts along the way. It took over 3-and-a-half hours to cross this leg and the lowest point of the race for me was the last couple miles prior to the Visitor Center including the first few minutes there. 1AM to 4AM is the toughest time period of any race for me, (much like most other runners) and this leg covered the climb, traverse and descent of Kerns Mountain. It was a big 8.4 “Massanutten Miles.” I liked the psychology of having less aid stations left than more but every movement was a long one on the southern figure-8 loop. We moved slowly and there was no clear sky in view moving along the ridge once we finished climbing. Then it started raining intermittently about an hour from the aid station to full rain for the last 30 minutes.
I was soaked and very cold when we pulled up under the tarp at Visitors Center in only a soaked t-shirt and shorts. Our early intent was to move rapidly through Visitors but the rain increased as we approached and thunder and lightning started erupting. We decided to see if we could warm up a bit while we rested for a few minutes waiting out the storm.
We decided to get moving around 35 minutes after hitting Visitors. The volunteers had given me a towel for a blanket and Tom wrapped up in his poncho. After 25 minutes of rest and 3 minutes of sleep, we struck forth again headed for Bird Knob. I was wearing a large garbage-bag poncho against the ongoing rain, and the lightning had moved through and disappeared to the east. I was tired but getting moving was a blessing in disguise as the only significant discouragement I endured during the race dissipated and broke up on the rocks moving up Bird Knob.
Karl Meltzer reported in his MMT Blog that Bird Knob was a smaller, not very difficult climb. It didn’t seem that way to me but Tom and I were encouraged in anticipation of the fact that we’d pick up a dirt road above the Knob and follow that a long ways to Picnic Area at Mile 86.5. After a steep climb for 45 minutes, the terrain leveled off at the same time night started giving way to gray beginning morning nautical twilight (BMNT). We’d come in contact with Dave Yeakel working towards his seventh MMT finish, and it’s always nice to have that type of trail experience on hand. We reached the summit and then eventually a firebreak trail and followed that for a couple of miles until we hit the Bird Knob aid station at the junction of the firebreak and actual dirt road. There was a conjunction of about 8 of us there with a tight little group of aid station workers who reported we had another 6.4 miles to Picnic Area.
Daylight brought new optimism as we traversed that long 10K into A.S. 14. Three of the runners from Bird Knob moved ahead for good and we spent the rest of the trip into Picnic bounding back and forth with Rob Colenso and his pacer Bob once we re-entered the trail section. The climb down from the road to Picnic Area took about 4 miles after a steep, sharp climb and was loaded with switchback after switchback. I ended up running most of this downhill section because I just wanted to get to the aid station and lance the blisters now manifested on both my feet. Running was as easy as walking in terms of pain, maybe easier and once I got going I felt like I could have run most of the last eighteen miles to the finish. I figured I’d get to AS 14 ahead of Tom, work on my feet and be ready to go once he arrived and that was about what happened.
Picnic Area A. S. was pretty motivational. It was daylight, the volunteers, friends, and crew there were incredibly positive, and they had bacon. Tom came through while I was working my feet, had some sustenance and moved out ahead of me while I finished with my feet. It was 830AM when I moved out, and I was solidly into Day 2, and I was up and moving. The rain was gone and I felt like I was within striking distance of the finish line, albeit it distant striking distance. There was one remaining aid station, one major climb, and sixteen remaining miles. Tom and I actually got a back-brief on the remaining part of the course from none other than the original MMT Race Director, Mr. Ed Demoney, that included distance references from his 3-ring binder; how squared away was that?
Picnic Area to Gap Creek 2 was an odd leg. There were a couple of downhill miles until the crossing at RTE 678, followed by a long gradual uphill movement along a firebreak until I re-acquired the trailhead and began the long 3.5 mile climb to the ridge. Ed had reported an hour early that this climb would seem never-ending; the climbed was followed by a never-ending downhill that eventually emptied onto a right turn on the dirt road back to Gap Creek a couple miles hence. Ed was exactly right. That uphill trail was pretty cool though, particularly the portion that wended with and then meshed and ran up a creek bed, up, up and up some more. I was lucky again in that Dave Yeakel had caught up right then and said, right up the creek bed. I could have turned that into a major misrouting by myself. Sometimes it’s lucky to be slower than good.
The climb took over an hour closer to 90 minutes and then the trail eventually peeled into a gravel firebreak, down, down, down through the gravel. My feet were too sore to move fast as were my quads. Ron Colenso passed me on this downhill, paced now by Bob and Toni and they all looked great. I’d moved as fast as I could for a while to hold them off, to no avail. Rob and Bob were trotting out of Gap Creek Aid Station looking marvelous by the time I even got there.
Tom was waiting at Gap Creek when I got there; it was 3 minutes and out. Toni Aurilio was still there and asked me how my feet were and I reported they’d get me to the finish line. We climbed Jawbone ridge a second time, but instead of heading south as we had 28 miles earlier the night prior, we headed up and over the ridgeline, and downhill towards the finish line six miles away. We stopped to take pictures at the cross-trail directional sign, and I think this was the high point of the entire event for me. The last of fourteen major climbs was done, and it was all downhill to the finish line with plenty of time. That was a key because Tom and I were all but done –in after 97 miles. I was at least and that held Tom up at that point.
The trail was pretty steep for the next mile-and-a-half, full of switchbacks and still rocks, and then more rocks. Blisters, bruises, quadriceps all hurt in unison or in separate tinctures and finally the down-slope flattened out into a curving single track. We followed that another mile and then the road was in sight. As I moved over and around, literally, the last pile of Massanutten Trail Rocks I’d see, right around Mile 99, I found a horseshoe sitting atop that last big rock. I kept it for luck and its going up in my wife’s stable.
Tom and I power-hiked the last 3 miles downhill into Camp Lutheran at Caroline Furnace with a little trotting mixed in. I had lit a cigar on the firebreak that I had been carrying for quite a while, more as black fly repellent than it being the right moment-the bugs had been chewing me up since Gap Creek. The smoke repelled the flies and I passed the last couple of miles a little happier. Three different runners passed us in the last quarter mile to the finish line but I did not care at that point. Tom and I crossed together at 34:10:16, 110th and 111th of 195 starters and 132 finishers.
Finishers continued to roll in until two minutes ahead of the 4PM, 36-hour deadline. Gary Knipling came in 12 minutes behind Tom and I; he had left Visitor Center almost 2 hours behind us, Bird Knob an hour back and Picnic Area 45 minutes back and kept gaining, emblematic of a strong ultra finisher.
POST RACE NOTES AND LESSONS LEARNED
People I met
As reported, meeting people in the ultra community is one of my favorite aspects to this sport and the MMT 100 was above and beyond in that regard. The Virginia Happy Trails Running Club is a tremendous organization and MMT was the first event I had the good fortune to participate in under VHTRC. I really liked meeting Kevin Sayers and told him his site, www.ultrunr.com, was the first ultra site I’d ever researched on and recommended it to everyone I knew. I met a lot runners I consider new friends: Chris Perralt, Gary Knipling, Jeff Pense, Jeff Heasley, Doug Berlin, Jim Ashworth, Dave Yeakel, Toni Aruilio, Marge, Susan Donnelly, Rob Colenso, Bob, Sara, and time spent with older friends. Ryan O’Dell smoked MMT in 25 hours and Bill McGovern finished in 28; both were waiting at the finish line. It was a great event for all of us.
The first 24 hours or so after finishing the race were pretty much a mental blur, albeit a satisfactory one. I awoke at some point very early Tuesday morning with the clear thought that I could have finished a lot faster at MMT by eliminating some simply stupid mistakes and that I would probably have to go back at some point for another round at MMT because of this. The other major realization that I already knew was that completing Massanutten meant nothing was off the table in terms of Ultra events for me now. MMT 100 is not the toughest 100 in the United States but is recognized as one of them and substantiates any race application. That’s a happy situation that I intend to employ.
I’ve reported pretty stringently on my logistical faux pas and their impacts on the event. Something as simple as not having the right trail shoes broken-in and ready to go on my feet really impacted my entire event. I believe that cost me up to 4 hours. I should have listened to my instinct and had a significant drop bag at Mile 53 with my lights instead of Shawl Gap. Clif Blocks and S-caps worked great, but a liter of water in a back pack set-up is the best way I move as opposed to hand held bottles. Real food in aid stations was a strong key. I do not function well without my GPS and 95% is not a solution in that regard. Better off to start without the 305 than to start and lose it through logistics. As always, real technical trail running takes a really good training base or you’re slow. Not thinking past the next aid station kept getting me to aid stations with a fresh mental outlook. Better planned and more drop bags overall; shorts and a t-shirt are not the best solution at 0300AM in the pouring rain.
How to Train for MMT 100
I traded some email with Susan Donnelly after MMT and she said: “There are easy 100 milers and MMT is not one of them.” I’ve yet to run a 100 that I thought was easy, but the point here is that MMT is really tough even among 100 mile races. You cannot have too much technical trail running base underlying your training at MMT, to include up and down mountain running. I upped my mileage significantly for the previous 3 months, averaging about 225 miles per month to include 2 big weeks of mileage per month and I was never in trouble at MMT. I like using races to train for the next race and I’d highly recommend running the Hellgate 100 a good, comprehensive taste of what MMT holds for runners. Hellgate’s a great event too. Lots of up and downhill trail events help MMT runners. VHTRC even offers scheduled training runs on the MMT Ring in the months leading up to the 100 and if you want to actually be competitive in the event, getting that taste of it would really help.
It is easy to recommend the MMT 100 to anyone serious about ultra-running that wants to run a well-organized, really challenging 100-mile trail event. MMT’s cited as one of the toughest 100s on the east coast, if not the toughest, and several really experienced runners have told me that they think the highly technical trail makes it the toughest US 100 in some regard. The VHTRC’s organization and command and control of this event is just outstanding given the scope and degree of difficulty of the course; the volunteers were completely selfless and did everything they could to encourage, support, and sustain every runner. I think these are the main things that bring runner after runner back to MMT for multiple races at this epic event. It was an honor and a privilege to run the MMT 100.
These splits show some real exponential pace decay; I really encompass the old mantra of “Start slow and taper off” looking at these.
And this is how the 2011 MMT went for this average runner.