The Massanutten Mountain Trail Race 2003
By Andy Brooks
The effort it takes to drag myself out of bed and into my running shoes really early on a Sunday morning is sometimes massive. But it does have it’s rewards as there is a perverse pleasure in being out in the countryside in time to watch the new day breaking and the sun rise. So how could I resist the ‘buy one get one free’ offer that came with The Massanutten Mountain Trail race? I’d have the chance to see not just one but TWO sun rises in one race! And I wouldn’t even have to make the effort to get out of bed for the second one.
I’d heard more experienced ultra-distance runners talk about a surge of energy that is generated within them by the dawn at the end of a long night of running, but this was the first time I’d had the opportunity to find out whether it was fact or fiction. As I reached the col at the top of the last climb it was about 5.30 am and the first glimmers of light were just starting to penetrate into the forest, which had been my home since 5 o’clock the previous morning. It took a few moments to sink in, but as I ran across the ridge and started the descent off the other side of the mountain I realised that I was moving faster than I had done for quite a few hours. I was suddenly running strong and feeling full of energy – feeling better than I have done in the latter stages of many much shorter races in fact. So the ‘surge’ definitely does exist. Although I think the knowledge that all of the 18,500 feet of climbing was now behind me, and only about 2½ relatively easy miles was separating me from the finishing line (and the chance to take my shoes off), also contributed to my lift in spirits.
Although still a minority sport, the ultra-running scene in the USA is much bigger than over this side of the pond. I’ve read a lot about their races and the people that take part so decided that it was a good place to go and have a crack at my next running ambition – the magical 100 miles. To help choose which event to try I posted a message late last year on the ‘Ultralist’, which is a message forum on the internet with a mainly American membership. I gave them a spec (it had to be a race that was off road, scenic, hilly and preferably a single lap course) and within a couple of days I’d had about 20 replies. Various races were suggested but the most popular suggestion was Massanutten, a race that is dubbed the ‘toughest 100 mile race east of the Rockies’. Perfect!
The state of world peace – or lack of it – over the past few months had made me wonder whether it was a good time to travel to America, but in early April I finally decided to take the plunge and booked my flights. My plan was to fly into Washington DC, spend a night there to take a look at the sights, and the next morning drive over to the town of Front Royal, which is only five miles from the race HQ. This would give me chance to at least drive around to the few points on the course that are accessible by road and familiarise myself.
At this point I got my first taste of the wonderful hospitality that I would receive during my trip, when the Race Director (and designer of the masochistic course), Ed Demony, invited me to stay at their house while I was in Washington and offered to give me guided tour of the sights.
So with all the arrangements in place I set off to tackle the unknown. Although the training had gone quite smoothly it was difficult to know whether I’d done enough to run nearly 40 miles farther than I had ever done before over such a mountainous route. For other distances I’ve usually tried to do at least 75% of the distance during training. But for 100 miles (well actually 101.8) it not really practical to do that and stay healthy.
Race headquarters is at the Skyline Ranch which is a campsite in a beautiful setting amongst the in the mountains of the George Washington National Forest. Registration and the race briefing takes place on the Friday afternoon and is followed by a pasta party for all the competitors. Here there is the chance to exchange running tales and talk with others about their strategies for the race. The atmosphere is very friendly and sociable amongst the wide cross section of society that has gathered with a common goal. The briefing, which is interwoven with commercial breaks for the sponsors, gives us information about the route, the aid stations and the rules – the most important of which seems to be ‘don’t shit on the trail!!’ After dinner I have another new experience as I attend my first ever glow stick party. For the curious, this involves tying ribbons to chemical glow sticks so that they can be hung from tree branches to give direction markers during the hours of darkness.
By 8.30 I’m heading back to my motel in town for an early night. But no sooner than I’ve drifted off to sleep I’m woken by absolute bedlam all around me and I sit up startled, wondering where the fire is. But as I come to my senses I realise that it is the radio, clock, watch and phone all going off at once to ensure I’m up at 3.30am!
After a quick bagel washed down with water for breakfast, and my last visit to an orthodox ‘rest room’ for a while, I set off on the short drive to the start. Outside it is damp and misty but I’m surprised how high the temperature is already. I don’t perform well in the heat so I’m worried about the 85ºF temperature that’s been forecast for later in the day.
There is nervous excitement around the ranch as everyone gets their kit on and makes final preparations. I check and double check that I have everything I need and that I have taken all possible chaffing precautions. As start time approaches it dawns on me that there are no signs of daylight yet. This gives me another worry because I’ve sent both my torches out on to the course in the drop bags to pick up later in the day. Too late to do anything about it now though, I’ll just have to manage.
With a few minutes to go we’re called to the start line and Ed recites the blessing which is a race tradition. Then at exactly 5am we’re off on our adventure. We cross the field and head out onto the road which provides our course for the first 2.4 miles.
There is an eerie silence amongst the runners as we trot along in the darkness. The only sound seems to be the rhythmic pattering of feet on the tarmac. A million thoughts are racing through my mind as I try to get my head around the magnitude of the task ahead. I try to put this to the back of mind and just concentrate on finding the right pace and moving as efficiently as possible.
Soon the colour of the sky is beginning to turn and the first signs of daylight start to appear. But as we turn onto the trail to begin the long drag up into the mountains we are plunged back into pitch blackness by the thick forest. This slows my pace significantly as I try to avoid all the rocks, roots and low branches. After a few hundred yards a steam crossing stops me in my tracks, and as I try to pick my way across trying not to stumble, I’m overtaken by another runner sensible enough to have a torch. Knowing it is my best bet I seize the opportunity and cheekily latch on closely behind, hoping he wont mind too much. His attitude towards me was typical of many of the people I was to encounter during the race. At the subsequent stream crossings he is even kind enough to shine his light back across the ditch to help me cross!
As we progress the path gets steeper and rockier the higher we go, and we have to negotiate a series of switch backs. I’m having to concentrate hard to follow in my leader’s footsteps. It passes through my mind that the pace is a little slow, but I quickly remind myself that energy conservation is vital at this stage.
The density of the forest thins slightly as we approach the top of the 1250 feet climb, and daylight floods onto the trail showing us that the day has well and truly broken now. With the going easier for a while I thank my companion for his help up the climb and we make our introductions. We exchange some chit chat and I discover that he is Harry Bruell from West Virginia and his game plan is to start slow and lay the ghost of last year’s DNF to rest. (He certainly did that as you’ll discover later). We catch a couple of other runners along the ridge, including 5 time MMT finisher and first senior on 3 occasions, the indefatigable Gary Knipling, who has stepped off the trail to indulge in some preventative maintenance - ‘lubing up’ before any hot spots promote themselves into fully qualified chaffs.
One of the conundrums for the organisers of MMT is to provide aid stations along a route that consists mainly of high mountain trails with little road access. But their valiant efforts actually increase the difficulty because in many cases it is necessary to descend 1000 feet or more into a valley to the aid station and then climb a similar amount back onto the higher ground.
As we start the first of the many such descents towards Shawl Gap at 8.7 miles, Harry decides that some of the wild flowers need watering so I find myself running alone. I’ll miss the company but it is an opportunity to ensure I find my own pace. At the aid station I make my first pit stop, although I keep it brief. I quickly swap my empty bottles for full ones from my drop bag, grab a couple of potatoes and am on my way again within the minute.
The next section is a short 3.1 mile trip along a forestry road to Veach gap where the route turns off and begins the long ascent back up to the ridge along Massanutten mountain. As I start up the climb it is my turn to water the flowers and as I do so Harry catches up with me again, and gives me a brief history lesson about that section of trail which was built as a road originally by George Washington.
I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point the heavens opened and the rain began. This gives me a boost as it’s acting as a good coolant and is preferable to the hot sunny forecast. Feeling strong I push on up the climb and find myself moving up the field gradually. I catch 3 or 4 people, including the remarkable Bethany Hunter. Keep reading to find out just how remarkable.
The next aid station at Milford Gap is one of the few on high ground. I quickly top up my tank and push into the next 7½ mile long section. On the profile chart this section is relatively easy, being predominantly down hill. However, as I was quickly discovering, even the easy parts of the MMT are pretty tough. As the trail winds its way through the forest there are more streams (which the relentless rain was starting to turn into rivers), mud, roots, fallen trees and many many rocks to negotiate. The locals say that ‘Massanutten rocks’ and I now fully understood why. There was an upside though; the tricky course kept my pace at a sensible level and the concentration levels required prevented any chance of getting bored.
I’m back on the forestry road for the last couple of miles into the Habron Gap aid station (24.7 miles). As I relax and enjoy the easier running surface for a while I’m offered encouragement by a passing cyclist, whom I presume is just out to enjoy the countryside. After a few moments I see her again going in the opposite direction, and later discover that she’s actually acting as support crew for one of my opponents – quiet a feat in its own right.
There is quite a crowd at the aid station, including Race Director, Ed, and it’s great to see a familiar face. Again I don’t linger, but just grab what I need, replenish my lubrication and get straight back on the job.
I’d made myself a little plan card before leaving home that included distances and amount of ascent between each aid station, a pace guide and a reminder of what was in each of my drop bags. A quick check of this told me that it was so far so good – 4 hours 24 minutes gone and I’d covered almost ¼ of the distance. It also reminded me that the section ahead was, at 9½ miles, the longest of the race and included the largest amount of ascent.
I’m in high spirits though and enjoying myself. The very British weather is still keeping the temperature down and I’m still moving up the field as we grind our way back up the mountain. As I depart from the Camp Roosevelt aid station (34.2 miles) I discover my position for the first time from one of the spectators offering encouragement. Apparently I’m in 7th place and soon moving up to 6th as I pick off another adversary as we climb again. In any distance race there is always a settling period in the early stages as the competitors find their pace and position. After nearly 6½ hours of running it seemed that today’s settling period was finally over for me as I wouldn’t overtake or be overtaken for the next 15 miles.
There was more of the same for the next couple of sections but I continue to feel strong, and concentrate on where I am putting my feet and not thinking beyond the next aid station. By now the trails were turning into streams as the water from the rain takes the route of least resistance down the mountains. At one point I wonder whether there would be benefit in building a raft to increase my speed down hill.
A slightly longer pit stop was planned for the Visitor’s Center which is a shade before the half way point at 48.2 miles. My drop bag there included a change of shoes and socks which was a nice prospect after running with sodden feet for so long. As I plonked myself in a chair the volunteers went to work on me like a finely tuned formula 1 pit lane crew, with a couple of people concentrating on the refuelling while others worked on the tyre change. There was also chance for a few more words with Ed who was following the race around. I’m still quite happy with progress. Almost half way and my legs are still serviceable, although there is still a long way to go and at some stage night will fall.
The following section takes the course to Bird Knob which is the highest point on the course at almost 3000 feet. So the trail is soon heading steeply upwards again, getting quite technical, and I have to scramble up over some rocky parts. The joy of dry shoes is short lived though as my new ones are soon saturated too.
After the long drag up the trail levels and there is a real treat in store. The weather has cleared slightly and we pass a rock on the edge of the mountain from which there is a magnificent view across the valley below. It’s worthy of stopping for a brief moment to take it in.
This part of the route is lollipop shaped so there is a two mile section where we will retrace our steps on the return journey from the Bird Knob aid station - which is the farthest point from the start. However, having followed the sign for Bird Knob I’ve already passed the split in the trail when I pass a runner going in the opposite direction. We exchange a confused look and wonder which one of us has gone wrong. A few minutes later there are two more people heading towards me. Winner of the inaugural event back in 1995, John Geesler, is leading the duo and informs me that I’m going the wrong way – I should have turned left back down the trail. His companion is Aaron Schwartzbard, who has made the same mistake and is retracing his steps. Although there is no advantage in distance by doing the loop in reverse John opines that there is a chance that if we arrive from the wrong direction the aid station captain may make us go back and do it correctly. So the consensus is that it is sensible to double back now rather than risk a much longer delay.
Back on the correct route Aaron and I engage in some conversation. It seems he was about a mile ahead of me when he encountered John, so his ‘free bonus miles’ are much greater than my own. And there is greater frustration, particularly for Aaron who has dropped two positions, when we reach the aid station, as they tell us that the direction wouldn’t have been a problem provided we’d run the whole loop.
As we head back out there is a short descent before looping around onto an up hill section. I find myself pulling away from Aaron as we climb and wonder whether it is the physical toll or mental frustration that has knocked him back. When we rejoin the lollipop stick and start back down the steep rocky descent I soon see him again though, as he passes me by and quickly disappears off into distance.
There is now a string of competitors on the outbound route to Bird Knob and I can’t help being impressed by the friendliness and camaraderie displayed. There are cheery greetings from them all and opportunity to exchange words of encouragement.
Another warm welcome awaits at the Highway 211 aid station (58.1 miles) and I see Ed once again. Although there are a few hours of daylight remaining, my drop back here includes the first of my head torches as my cautious race plan included plenty of contingency time.
As I depart the weather deteriorates again and I actually feel cold for the first time in the race. The long up hill section that awaits me soon turns the knob on my central heating system again though. In my mind I’m beginning to think whether I could finish within 24 hours, something that not many do at MMT – and only the winner had achieved last year. As I ponder this I also realise that I’ve been running for 12 hours, which is a longer time than I ever have before. So it is time to remind myself not to think too far ahead – just concentrate on the next section Brooks and think about times later.
I notice a figure up ahead of me on the trail and find that I’m gaining on Aaron again. Within a few minutes I’m leaving him behind once more as I push on up the hill. Later we will realise that a pattern was starting to form here.
Aid station number 7 at Gap Creek is located on the crossing of the figure of eight shaped course, so doubles up as aid station number 11, around 30 miles later. The crew here tempt me with their cheesy quesidillas so I grab a couple to nibble as I make my way up yet another climb on the next short 2.8 mile section. Eating is hard work by now and plenty of fluids are required to wash things down. I’m probably not appreciating how delicious they are, but they definitely do the trick and give a great boost to my flagging energy stores.
As I pass over the ridge at the top of the climb and start the decent to Moreland Gap (67.7 miles), it is approaching 7pm and I calculate that there is probably just over an hour of good daylight left. I know that the next delight on the list of forthcoming attractions is the notorious Short Mountain. Over the past couple of days I’d heard and read many accounts of this perilous section, which consists of rocks, rocks and more rocks and, as one of the longest sections, is everything but ‘short’. My feeling was that it was wise to get as much of that section behind me before nightfall.
At Moreland gap it’s time to get into a warmer top and don my head torch. As I sort myself out Aaron, having gained considerable ground on me on the decent, arrives and with the help of his support crew Chris (the young lady on the bicycle from earlier in my tale), is off up onto Short Mountain ahead of me. I’m soon following in his footstep again though and reel him in as the ascent gets steeper.
Once up on the ridge I gain first hand experience of where Short Mountain gets its notoriety from. The trail twists and turns and undulates through the rock formations, sometimes going down and around them, sometimes up and over them. I resist switching on my light for as long as possible but eventually I succumb and resign myself to a long night of being hypnotised by a small tunnel of light through the forest. Progress slows and it is now the underfoot conditions rather than energy levels that are dictating my pace. Well, that and my feet which are now starting to feel the toll of over 70 miles of saturated shoes and socks half full of grit from the many river beds I’ve crossed.
It’s now doubly important to concentrate hard on finding the route. Loosing the trail now could be costly both from time and personal safety view points. The trails in that part of the world are colour coded with blazes painted on trees occasionally so it is important to know what colour you should be following at any point. In addition the organisers have placed yellow ribbons at path junctions and other occasional points. These are supplemented at night by the glow sticks that we had prepared the previous evening. As anyone who has helped do so will know, marking a 6 mile cross country route can be quite a challenge and requires quite a few man hours of work. What the MMT volunteers provide over 100+ miles of remote trails is therefore fantastic.
Even so, every now and again I realise that I’ve not seen any blazes or ribbons for a while and start to wonder whether I’m still going the right way. It is therefore always a great relief to pick out a marking with my torch and confirm I’m still on the route.
It’s a long tricky descent to the Edinburg Gap aid station (75.9 miles) and it seems to be never ending. As I pick my way down Aaron continues the now familiar routine by overtaking me again. And he is shortly followed by another familiar face, Harry Bruell my companion from the first climb some 15 hours earlier. He’s looking good, moving well and appears to be reaping the rewards of his sound race strategy. (He is destined to finish 4th in the race.) Eventually I drop out of the forest into Edinburg Gap having taken over 2½ hours to cover the 8.2 mile section. The station is buzzing with activity as it seems that runners are like buses. There had been none for half an hour or more, and then three of us appear at almost the same time.
My opponents are more prudent but I fall victim to ‘the chair’ and take the weight off my feet while I lube up again and indulge in the delicious potato soup and sandwiches. It could be very easy to get comfortable there, but I’m soon motivated back into action by one of the crew who reminds me that I’m not going to finish this thing by sitting around on my backside. Just a marathon to go now and I’m done.
I’ll not see Harry again, but my duel with Aaron continues as I once again get my nose in front as we tackle the climb up onto Powell Mountain. Somebody had told me that after this initial climb, this next 8.2 mile section contains easier, more runnable, trail with fewer rocks. However, having experienced it I’m not sure I’d use the same adjectives to describe it. Progress for me was still slow as I stumbled my way along, determined to even out the pain by alternating which toe I would stub into the rocks every other minute.
I was running whenever I could but it was difficult to get any sort of rhythm going, as I continually had to slow to negotiate obstacles or gradients or both. At one point I suddenly realised that I was running into thicker vegetation and that the trail had disappeared. I pulled up and noticed that the ground to my left was dropping away very steeply into the valley below. And simultaneously my feet disappeared from under me and I landed with a thud on my back. Fortunately I’d found a rock free point and my reflexes enabled me to grab a sapling to stop myself tobogganing down the side of the mountain. Scrambling back to my feet I cautiously retraced my steps to see if I could find out what happened to the trail. Within the matter of a few yards my torch picked out a ribbon dangling from a tree up above. Apparently there was a switch back to take the trail on to higher ground but I’d missed it and run off the end.
It was approaching midnight and I had noticed a strange phenomenon. My watch was gradually getting faster and the miles were getting longer in almost direct proportion. There was just over 20 miles to go and more than 5 hours remained until the 24 hour mark arrived. This should still be possible, shouldn’t it??? I started to do a few calculations in my head and realised that at the speed I’d been moving since darkness fell, it was a long shot. Even though I was running whenever the darkness and terrain would allow, I was struggling to exceed much more than 3 mph. I’d known that the night would slow me down, but hadn’t quite appreciated to what extent. For the first time in the race I was starting to get disheartened and negative thoughts began to flood into my head. I was telling myself I was tired and starting to feel light headed and dizzy. And my low point continued as Aaron raced past me yet again and within moments was out of sight.
It was time to force myself to be positive. At this stage there was no way I was going to quit. My family and friends back home had confidence that I would complete the task, so I needed to have confidence in myself. And hey, I had another 17 hours to get in within the 36 hour deadline set by the organisers. So even if I walked in slowly from here I could still finish. The miles get increasingly longer and I disappear into the cocoon of my little tunnel of light, distracted only by the occasional fire fly that crosses my path and the need to water the wild flowers (at least my hydration plan is still working).
It seemed a long time coming but eventually I landed at the Woodstock Tower aid station (84.1 miles). Soup and turkey sandwiches washed down with coke had become my staple at aid stations in the latter stages, so I gobbled down what I could again, thanked yet another magnificent aid station crew, and kept on moving into the next section.
This was to be a period of mixed emotions. I was pleased that, at 5.2 miles, this was a shorter section and that the underfoot conditions were improving, enabling me to run a reasonable pace for a change. And, as we wound up an uphill section I noticed I was catching someone. Probably Aaron yet again I thought, but no, this time it was John Geesler who I’d last seen 35 miles ago near Bird Knob.
I figured that the progress I was making again would carry me through to Powell’s Fort in little more than an hour. So after an hour I was pleased to hear a generator running somewhere down below. This must be the aid station coming up shortly. For a while it gradually got louder but then something didn’t seem quite right. The trail had turned and I was heading up the valley away from it. It went on this way for a while and started to become frustrating. Twenty minutes later it still didn’t sound any closer.
As I descended I was becoming demoralised again; my pace was slow as I tried to stay upright and my feet were really starting to shout abuse at me. Eventually at 02.12 in the morning (a time usually reserved for falling out a night club rather than into a shelter in the middle of a forest wilderness) I stumbled into the penultimate aid station at Powell’s Fort (89.3 miles). It’s the same routine as before – eat, drink, change my bottles, thank the crew and go. There is now a spell along the forest road again. Although it’s up hill and many rivers seem to be now running across it, the going is easier for a while.
Soon I catch sight of the familiar figure of Aaron in my torch light. As I pass him by and enquire about his well-being, he informs me that the pain in his feet is making it very difficult for him to run. When I didn’t see him again on the next descent I knew that it was no exaggeration and he must be really hurting.
Glad to be past the 90 mile point, I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel – metaphorically speaking as it is pitch black in the forest and the patchy mist is causing my torch beam to reflect back at me. Then all of a sudden there is light at the opposite end of the tunnel also, as I’m startled by an express train approaching me from behind. As it appears through the mist and darkness I realise that it’s not actually a train but Bethany Hunter en-route to smashing the ladies’ course record. Accompanied by pacer David Horton, she’s moving at an incredible pace, and before I can even think about hitching a ride in their slip stream they’re gone into the night. Analysing the splits later I discover that Bethany was the fastest person in the race over this 7½ mile section, covering it a whopping 37 minutes faster than myself. As I’d already heard at the last couple of aid stations, there was an exciting duel going on between her and three time winner (and current record holder), Sue Johnson.
By the time I arrived at Elizabeth Furness (96.8 miles), the last of the 16 aid stations on the route, I’d known for a while that sub-24 hours was no longer a possibility. So my revised goal became 24:54 – for no other reason than because this had somehow stuck in my memory as the time of the second placed runner last year.
There was now only 5 miles to go, but I knew that there was a sting in the tail of this beast. Yet another climb of 1000 plus feet! One last top up of the fuel tank was required so I sat for a couple of moments to scoff a turkey sandwich whilst I spoke to cyclist Chris and confirmed what she already knew about the state of Aaron’s feet. It was a real shame as it would have been great to continue our little battle through to the finish line and see whether the climber or descender came out on top.
As I swigged some coke to wash down my sandwich, two more torches came motoring out of the forest. This turned out to be Sue and her pacer. She was looking fresh and hardly paused at the station before leading the way up the last mountain. The food and the fact that I’d just lost the position I’d held for the majority of time for the previous 60 miles fuelled my fire, so I was quickly back on my feet and in hot pursuit.
They seemed to be pulling away from me but as the gradient increased I was surprised to find myself gaining on them. I regained my 6th place but knew that I couldn’t relent unless I wanted to get caught for the umpteenth time going down the other side.
But the ‘surge’ took care of that. Invigorated by the breaking dawn I had the bit between my teeth and I was flying down the mountain side. There was one anxious moment when I had to deal with a shoe lace that had come undone, but I wasn’t going to allow the result to change now. As I emerged from the forest and turned sharp left onto a short section of road something gave way in my shoe and an excruciating pain emanated from my right little toe. This made me yelp but the adrenalin had well and truly kicked in now so I continued to run hard through the pain. I turned a bend in the road and up a small rise, and then I caught a glimpse of the Skyline Ranch between the trees. I glanced at my watch – it read 24:52. It was time to turn the pace up another notch as I turned off the road for the last little section through the woods.
When I emerged at the other side, the ranch came back in to view and I could see the finish line for the first time just a few hundred yards away. There was no real reason to, as I knew there was nobody close behind now, but this sight kicked me up another notch and I was now practically sprinting across the field like I was finishing a 10k.
There was no big fanfare, with just a few of the volunteers and earlier finishers gathered there to cheer me in, but it was quite an emotional experience as I savoured those last few yards. I was elated because not only had I’d proved that I could conquer the challenge of 100 miles, within seconds now I could stop, sit down and not have to motivate myself back onto a dark lonely trail.
I sat on the step of the ranch feeling very satisfied with myself and as one of the volunteers, Bunny, looked after me and boosted my ego even more with her congratulations I watched Sue’s race also come to an end just 2 minutes later.
I discovered that both men and women’s races had been close battles. Only 5 minutes had separated the first 2 men around 3 hours earlier, and the first 2 women had both smashed the previous women’s record. As ultra-runners tend not to peak until their 30’s it is my humble opinion that the record books are set to be rewritten as 24 year old Bethany’s running career continues.
I relaxed and revelled in the moment for a while before indulging in a pleasure I’d longed for, for quite some time – taking my shoes and kit off and taking a lovely hot shower, in the bathroom now conveniently located only a few feet away. If I could have sat down as I showered I think I may have still been in there enjoying the hot water sooth my aches and pains, but after a thorough scrub and long rinse I got some dry clothes on went back out to find out from Chris how Aaron was getting on.
He was still making progress, albeit slow, and had suffered a mental blow when he discovered that the last section was 3 miles longer than he had thought. He fought the battle bravely though, didn’t allow the physical or mental tortures get the better of him, and still managed a very credible 11th position – earning a silver buckle into the bargin.
Although there is obviously some competitiveness between the athletes in ultra-distance running, it is more about your personal battle with course, the conditions and the demons in your own mind when the going gets tough. This creates great camaraderie amongst those that take part and means that from the first to the last crossing the line there is great mutual respect between them all. Everyone who crosses the finishing line of a 100 mile run has won their own race and achieved something great. Personally I have huge respect for the guys and girls that were still finishing in the late afternoon as the 36 hour deadline approached. I’m not sure I could have faced another 11 hours on the trail, especially as the promised sunshine and high temperatures did appear on that second day.
During the day I retired to my motel room for a while to recuperate, but strangely found it difficult to sleep much. So in the early afternoon I returned to the ranch to socialise with the other runners and help cheer people across the finish line, whilst we waited for the awards ceremony at 5 o’clock.
Out of the 117 adventurers that set out the previous morning, 71 had completed the course – a slightly higher percentage than usual apparently. At the awards there is recognition not only for every single person that finished the whole course, but also those that made it at least to the half way point – which is an achievement in itself. The finishers each receive a wonderfully crafted belt buckle and special sliver ones are awarded to the top finishers in each category. Being the first International finisher I’m lucky enough to qualify for a silver one.
Afterwards I take the opportunity to thank Ed, and some of the other organisers and volunteers, who had worked so hard to put on a fantastic event. I also introduce myself to Jeff Washburn who was the first person to suggest the MMT to me in response to my email all those months before. Definitely the right choice! I only hope I get the chance to go back someday and, with some experience now under my belt, perhaps try and break the magical 24 hours.
Back in town I reward myself with a slap up Mexican meal and a couple of beers before having an early night in preparation for the long journey home the next day.
MMT 2003 Report Page
Massanutten Mountain from the Start-Finish
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