Dear fellow furbutts:
I drove down I-81 on Friday morning with some mild misgivings. I have done little training since my first 100 miler at Haliburton six weeks ago. My longest run since Ontario was 16 miles with Peyton Robinson, on the C&O Canal two weeks ago, where Peyton first field-tested his Baby Jogger for his self-supported 184 mile run along the Canal. Oh well, as Ed Schultze says, if you can't be well-trained, be well-rested. I was the latter.
Sometimes, I delude myself into thinking of myself as a seasoned mountain trail runner, because I train on Catoctin and South Mountains, near my home in Frederick, Maryland. The trip down I-81 always disabuses me of that notion. Catoctin tops out at around 1,200 feet, and South Mountain's Lambs Knoll at around 1,700 feet. The smallest outcroppings from Massanutten and the Blue Ridge probably protrude that much from the surrounding terrain. The mountains get progressively larger as one drives southward, until the 4,400 foot ridge that runners of the MMTR must cross at 47 miles can be discerned from I-81, near Stuart's Draft.
The first time that I ran the MMTR, I collapsed completely on that very ascent after just making the final cutoff at 43 miles, with two minutes to spare. I finished DFL, in 12:14 that year. Oh well, my left quads had been bothering me since the final 10 miles at Haliburton, and I'd probably done more Ibuprofen than miles in the intervening six weeks. So, having my excuses all lined up, I could just show up and run the race and not worry about the outcome.
The day began under a full-moon with some mist in the valleys, as we ran the first 6 mile road section, along the Blue Ridge Parkway and US 501. I think the James River dam near Buena Vista offers the best vistas of the entire course. I noted a number of overdressed runners early, in long sleeve tops and nylon or gore-tex jackets. Most of the morning passed under clear skies with just a hint of increasing humidity. I ran most of the first 10 miles with Dr. Bill Parlett, who was attempting his first 50 miler. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good, and the more we ran, the better I felt. My quads didn't bother me, although I took the downhills gently at first. I saw Vicki Kendall at around 15 miles, who said that she was going to drop at the next aid-station, that her hamstrings were bothering her, since she'd run the Chicago Marathon the weekend before. I convinced her to avoid dropping at a minor aid station, since it would take hours before she'd be able to be transported to the buses, where warm clothes awaited. We played tag for most of the next 12 miles, with her passing me on the uphills and me passing her on the downhills. I kept encouraging here to get to the buses at Route 60 and make a decision then.
Slowly, I began picking up time against the cutoff. I believe that I arrived at the Rt 60 wayside at mile 26.9 about 45 minutes faster than the last time that I ran the race, in 2000. I began seeing runners whom I normally don't see until the awards ceremony. I passed Keith Knipling at about 24 miles, who was struggling along on toasted quads, thanks to 26.2 miles of pavement the prior weekend at Chicago. That may be the last time I ever pass Keith in a race, so I need to document it for posterity. I also saw Danny McDonnell and Phil O'Connor (who ran the 50K version of Haliburton), at about 15 miles, and passed them as well. Both are much stronger runners than am I. Was I going to pay for this hubris later on?
At the wayside, I grabbed some more HammerGel, Gu, Carboom, PowerGel, (I'm not picky and will mix various gels during a race) out of my drop bag and stuffed my nylon pullover from the HAT run into my Endorfun vest. I figured I'd need that later on, at the higher elevations, especially if rain moved in as forecast.
I think my high-water mark against the cutoff was going into the loop, about an 75 minutes ahead of the 12 hour pace. The loop is much easier than it used to be. David Horton has substituted a blazed trail for a dry stream-bed and avoids a section that used to cross a big rock outcropping. There's still a substantial elevation gain, and a couple of sections so steep on the final descent out of the loop that I have to sit down to move from rock-to-rock.
I emerged from the loop, and sat down to tend to my feet. I had begun to sense unpleasant things going on with the duct tape just as I entered the loop. I cut away the problematic tape, saw nothing terribly awry, and put my shoes back on. As I sat ministering to my feet, many of the runners I had seen earlier whom I seldom encountered during a race, emerged from the loop and headed down the trail. I wouldn't see them again! I figure a dozen runners went past as I sat there.
Vicki too came out of the loop just as I was ready to leave and decided that with only 11 miles left to the finish, she would gut it out. We'd run most of the next 10 miles together. I was beginning to slow up a bit, taking walk breaks on minor rises in the roadway that I would have run through just an hour before. Vicki couldn't seem to get her brain around the idea that the loop ends at 38.6 miles, but that we had 14 miles to go, in order to reach the finish-line.
"But that adds up to more than 50 miles!" she exhaled in frustration.
"Okay, Vicki, try thinking of it as 11.4 miles, where each mile is 1.3 miles long," I suggested. That didn't seem to make things much easier for her, but she kept trudging along.
As we headed down the trail (and much of the next two miles is downhill) I pointed out the two ridges at Forest Valley and Porter's Ridge (the one with all the antennae on top of it) that we'd have to traverse before descending to Montebello.
My runner partner wouldn't believe me.
"Oh no, you're just kidding! Right? You're just making fun of me, aren't you? Aren't you? Stop making fun of me!"
"No I'm not. I'm serious. We go over those two mountain tops, the second one on single-track, but then the finish line is just down the mountain from there."
"I hate you, Brian. I wanted to quit 30 miles ago, and you wouldn't let me. I could be sitting at the finish line now in warm, dry clothes. And I hate David Horton too. This is awful!"
"Well, just hang on for another 90 minutes and you can tell him yourself! You work with lawyers all day long. This can't hurt that much!"
We stopped briefly at Aid Station 14, at 41.5 miles, where I refilled my Endorfun bladder. Just as we were leaving, Vicki was stung by a bee. Fortunately, they had some Hydro-Cortisone for her. I hate this short section more than any on the whole course. It's only 1.5 miles to the next aid station and the final cut-off, and the trail-head to the single track section, but it's a very steep climb, just when one needs it least. Maybe it's because in the year that I finished DFL, I used up everything I still had in the tank to get to the cutoff with two minutes to spare, and hence have unpleasant memories. We got to the aid station, and I sat down for just a moment to put on my pullover, as the skies had turned completely gray and the wind had picked up abruptly. We left quickly and proceeded up the final major climb to the top. Along the way, we were passed by two different generations of Ultra-runners, Mary Andrews and Tom "The Legend" Green. Tom graciously offered us his encouragement, and I congratulated him on completing his 20th MMTR. Mary looked how I expected a 25 year old runner to look-- fresh and running smoothly. Ah, youth! At the top of the final climb, I sat down to eat some cheese and crackers while Vicki took care of other matters.
From the final aid station at 47 miles, David again has eased the course. Runners used to pass over a two mile section of the Appalachian Trail, before descending a series of very, very steep switchbacks to the white Forest Service Gate. Instead, this section now follows a Forest Service Road the entire way. I think it's longer now, but it's much faster going. Vicki could sense that I wanted to stretch it out, so she encouraged me to go ahead, that she'd be fine, especially since she didn't have any place left to drop. I took the brakes off and blew past about four or five runners on the steep gravel road. I felt great. I couldn't believe that my quads were letting me do this so late in the race. I crossed the finish line just under 11:04, with Vicki Kendall about three minutes behind me. Bill Parlett finished about 30 minutes behind her, in 11:37.
The first year that I ran the race, David Horton greeted me with "Great job, way to gut it out. Congratulations........Okay, now get on the bus!" (That's what happens when you're DFL.) This year, I had time to eat a post-race snack of chili, cheese and crackers, high-octane Pepsi, and Snickers Ice Cream Bar, purchased from the country store at the finish line. My mamma wouldn't approve (it'll spoil your dinner!), but it all tasted good going down.
I changed into warm clothes and awaited the long bus-ride back to Lynchburg. Some folks think that hour long bus ride is the worst part of the race. I didn't find it all that bad this year, as I managed to drift in and out of sleep for much of the ride. We did have some minor excitement as the bus I was on had to stop along the way for a runner who needed to throw-up. Fortunately, one of the runners on board was a physician, who tended to him, and monitored him during the remainder of the ride. The runner was a bit disoriented and wasn't sure if his name was Daryll or if he was his other brother Daryll.
This year's special race premium, in commemoration of the 20th year of the Race, is a finisher's medal, bearing the likeness of the most high-energy race director in the world. The medallion is about the size of a '62 Buick hubcap, or of medals worn by Central American dictators. In addition, all participants received a long-sleeved t-shirt or sweatshirt (their choice) and all finishers received a Patagonia long-sleeve pullover. There were lots and lots of totchkes given out at the awards dinner.
Virginia Happy Trails Running Club
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