Encouraging Words, Dorsal Fins, and Adventure
Reflections on a first 100

Massanutten Mountain Trails 100
May 8-9, 2004

by Annette Bednosky

I awaken Monday morning. I don’t recognize my feet and ankles which are swollen to the size of birch tree trunks. My hands, face and everything else is swollen. My legs are covered with scratches and bruises. Sunburn covers my shoulders and face. I move as awkwardly and as slowly as though I had all my muscles and tendons tightened like guitar strings. Even my brain seems to be processing information sluggishly and I drive the 6 hours back to Boone, NC. I am so mellow during the drive I don’t turn on music or get road rage even once!

Annette in Edinburg Gap aid stationMy condition Monday, 5/10/04 was the result of running in my first 100 mile trail run: The Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 on the dirt and rocks of the trails and USFS roads of the George Washington National Forest in Northern Virginia. The run was held

May 8-9, 2004 and was the 10th running of the event put on by the Virginia Happy Trail Running Club.

I took Friday and Monday off from my full-time job as a high school counselor to make the 6- hour drive to the Skyline Ranch which is located just south of Front Royal, VA. As my little Toyota Echo drove through Luray, VA, and I got closer to the ranch I started getting more and more nervous and excited. I knew my heart rate was increasing and I had sweaty palms as I pulled into the parking by the gate house in order to check in and get my camping arranged. The sweat on my palms wasn’t just due to the 90 degrees heat we were experiencing at the time! The first two people I saw were lean looking men getting out of their car walking into the office ahead of me, each wearing a hundred miler t-shirt from other races. We made brief conversation and I hoped that I wasn’t showing my nerves as much as I was starting to feel them!

The nerves were based around the UNKNOWN. Although I was hugely psyched for this event and had been planning, training and anticipating towards it for months it was to be a grand adventure of the real kind: An event with an unknown outcome...

…Sure I’d been putting in the miles and had been trying to teach myself how to do tempo runs over the last 3 months. Sure, I’d studied the maps and made 2 trips up to these mountains to run all but the last mile of the route during the months leading up to the MMT. Sure I’d studied times and splits and race reports of the MMT from the last several years in order to try and figure out how people who finish hundred milers pace themselves. Sure I’d studied race splits and looked very carefully at the splits of Bethany Hunter and Sue Johnson from last year. I wondered if I could finish the event in 25 hours? I wondered if I had any “right” to race the event with it being my 1st 100…would it be stupid and would I bonk??? I hardly entertained the idea of DNFing-though I know it happens and it did to me this past January after 28.5 hours into a 30-hour adventure race…but that is another story. For this event I was determined to run, walk, roll, cut myself into little pieces and throw myself to the end, if need be.

After putting up my old green tent in the field, I secured a tarp over it and attached it to a tree and the bike racks on top of the car. I felt I’d secured myself a cozy home for the evening. I grabbed my 5 drop bags and walked over to the clubhouse to check- in and to become immersed in the excitement and anticipation of our big event. It was fabulous to see so many familiar faces. Among others there were Liz Walker and her husband John, Vickie Kendall, Richard Lilly, Grahmn Zollman , Dru Sexton, Quatro Hubbard- who’d just signed on to this a few days ago. I also got to meet Keith and Gary Knipling…Gary at first impression reminded me of a game show host with his welcoming and high energy. But Gary seemed genuine and not fake like a performer. I’d read much about Gary and his wildflowers. And I met Kerry Owens who is famed for being a militant pacer, and Aaron Schwartzbard whose race report from last year I’d mulled over numerous times during the last month.

Through the excited chatter I placed my 5 drop bags in the assigned bins. I would have no crew until at least 2 am on Sunday morning when my husband George would join us out there on his mountain bike. Up until a few days ago, George planned on crewing for me for the entire run, but things change and he wound up having to stay in town and work until 6pm Saturday.

I met Stan Duobinis, the Hawaiian shirt-wearing race director as he stood in front of the group of anxious runners and crews talking logistics and details and drawing names for some cool sponsor prizes. He drew my name for container of Hammer Gel and as I stood up to retrieve it, he looked at me and said dryly, “Oh, you are supposed to be fast.” Embarrassed, I murmured, “I’m not sure for 100 miles!” Several minutes later, after the briefing, Gary Knipling and I met and he told me he had been in touch with Sue Johsnon (An amazing runner and winner of MMT 3 times.) Gary had told me that Sue predicted I would do well. (Sue had to withdraw from the run this year due to a recent knee injury.) I felt a little anxious, but very flattered by her confidence in me. In retrospect, I think Gary’s comment about what Sue said helped give me the courage to be willing to perform well during much of the run. The comment is a clear reminder of the potential power that words can have on people.

At some point during the afternoon’s preparations a powerful front moved through the grassy field of the Skyline Ranch. One tent came unstaked in the fierce wind and started tumbling across the rain beaten lawn. Lighting flashed and thunder boomed. The temperature dropped. We all speculated about which of the differing weather reports for the weekend would be accurate: 40 degrees in the am? Rain on an off all day? High of 59 on Sat?, partly cloudy and hot? Regardless of the forecast, I know mountain weather well enough to know that one can hardly predict it, and all of the above my come true. I was grateful to have packed all sorts of things into my drop bags, and at Habron Gap, mile 25ish I would swap my fanny pack out for my hydration bag that could carry more water and “stuff” as needed.

After a pasta and salad meal, and while sipping on red wine I participated in Scott Mills glow stick tying party, all the while chatting with other runners and their crews. I especially enjoyed meeting Miles Welze and his fiancée Maureen all the way from California. I love spending time around couples who obviously adore one another! The evening continued with runners visiting and prepping. Eventually I make it back to the tent about 9:30, tightened some water-sopped tarp cords, set my alarm for 3:30am, drank more wine, ate a balance bar and spent some time copying some split times from last year on to a little piece of paper that I waterproofed and kept stuffed in my pocket and sports bra during the run. I copied Bethany Hunter’s splits (best possible time), Scott Brockmeier’s, Russ Evans's, and Keith Knipling's. I figured I would use them, not so much as targets, but as references to see how I was doing in the overall scheme of things. Somehow I slept well -- I think feeling all cozy and secure inside my tent knowing it was all wet and chilly and damp outside the walls helped!

The next morning I donned my sports bra tank top, Patagonia Promise Land finisher shorts from last year, smart wool socks, North Face 102’s, and ball cap. I tied my lightweight finisher top from Holiday Lake around my waist, grabbed my 2 h2O bottle GoLite fanny pack, Petzel tika headlamp, and headed to the clubhouse. I would carry with me blister stuff, body glide, 2 gels and a couple of bars and after it got lighter, my light with me in my tiny pack. After greeting many runners in the clubhouse, I notice many sets of gaiters romping around and decided maybe I needed to be wearing them, so I went back to the car to retrieve mine.

Breakfast was coffee and a bagel with cream cheese. Fifteen minutes before the start of the run I did some gentle stretching. While stretching I met Kathy Roche-Wallace from Michigan. This was her 1st hundred miler too. And she had 6 kids! And she placed 2nd recently in an international TRIPLE IRON MAN!!!! I was fascinated by her and monstrously impressed (I had to pry a bit to get the bit about her placing second-she strikes me as a bold, yet humble woman!)

Minutes before 5am we all herded down the steps and paused for moment on the lawn. Before I knew it, people were running! Kathy and I looked at one another and decided that the run had started without us knowing! Very cool-no more waiting! We started running together down the paved road, excitedly discussing our experiences with youth, adventure education and experiential education. Usually I like to start events alone, but this woman was so fascinating I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity for some conversation! I felt a little bothered by the burning in my right archilles which I’d tweaked at Promise Land a couple of weeks ago and for which I’d been doing physical therapy. I just hoped it would go away.


Moving moderately up the trail I passed several people. As I moved along, I participated in and listened to conversations about strategies for being conservative and completing 100 milers. One runner seemed adamant about walking all the obvious uphills, another said, “no, just the steeper ones.” Hmmm. We were on a slight incline and I was sort of running…was this wrong? I changed to a power walk. It felt icky. I started running again until gaining the ridge and then walking/running was the natural thing for me. Watching the sunrise and seeing views were glorious. In my days up here “reconning” the area it had fogged rain and hailed, gifting me with sun for but a ½ day. Yet today, the views were so fabulous I had to slow at certain points in order to gape!

Shawl Gap came quickly and then it was downhill on some fun muddy trails for a few miles. I was in and out of the aid station (8.7), pausing long enough to fill my bottles with water and a mix of Gatorade. At this point I was told I was first woman. I knew that didn’t mean much, because in a race what mattered was the placement at the end and not the beginning or middle. I reminded myself to take it easy while on the coming road section.

I ran along behind a young fellow in a red tank top for a mile or so. Eventually I became curious about the red tank top that had passed so many runners coming down from Shawl Gap. With just a bit of an increased pace I met him. His name was Corey Handelsman and he was a graduate student at Towson State University in Maryland. This was his first 100 also. We yakked as we came into the aid station at the Veach Gap Trailhead. It was 7:09 am. I stopped for a moment to fill fluid, grab M&Ms and be encouraged by Caroline Leean-Stearns who was working at the aid station. Caroline and I have run many of the same runs over the past year and a half and I always appreciate her obvious passion for the sport.

Up, up, to Veach Gap and the Massanutten Trail. I was able to keep the red shirt in view for awhile as we climbed. Corey and I zig-zagged each other for the next couple of miles-between pit stops and foot repair. As I ran toward Milford Gap I was feeling great-except for the burning now in BOTH heels. “What is going on???”, I wondered. (Sigh…) “Well, maybe it would go away…” I tried to ignore my heels. Much of this part of the course was runnable to me. I daydreamed. I was also aware of Hunter’s splits of this section last year. I hoped to make it to Milford Gap in the same or better good time. (Bethany had made it to Milford by 8:15am) That didn’t happen. I took an 11-minute detour.

A mile or so before Milford Gap the MMT trail has been rerouted. Our route goes to the east of the ridge and contours around to spill out at Milford Gap. At this intersection I saw the ridge route marked off with red tape and I happily bounced along contouring along the ridge, Josh Groban songs playing in my head. After 10 minutes or so of running I realized I hadn’t seen 1 yellow ribbon since the turn. Well, I’d been daydreaming, so I kept an eye out for a couple more minutes. No yellow ribbons. “DANG. I WENT THE WRONG WAY. GOOF BALL. NOW WHAT? After a little more self-scolding, I decided the route really must have been on the ridge so I bushwhacked up to the ridge until I found the trail and ran hard in either direction looking for yellow ribbons. NO YELLOW RIBBONS!!!! NOW WHAT???? I ran furiously north back to the junction of the red tape and saw and heard a parade of runners beginning the contour. I exclaimed, “DANG, DANG, DANG!!!. I took a detour.” I explained. “How could you miss that?” Asked a runner I’d met earlier that day. “I didn’t”, I replied, “I just expected more yellow ribbons.”

So I continued on, repeating much of my contour from 10 minutes earlier. I passed a couple of very courteous men and women as I winded around…I wondered how many had passed me? How many men? How many women? I kept trying to convince myself that I didn’t care and I would continue on and do the best I could. After all, I just had a valuable lesson presented to me: I know the course; it may not be marked as often as I am used to, yet I need to trust my reconning, map studying and most importantly, myself. I passed through Milford Gap filling fluid and grabbing a couple of PB and J squares. The time was 8:24, not the 8:15 like I was dreaming of, but I was still moving well, feeling good and was psyched to be out there.

The Indian Grave Ridge Trail was lots of fun and I met up with Gary Knipling just before the intersection of the dirt road. He told me to say hello to his son Keith when I saw him. I said, “ok” and continued on. I remember thinking to myself that Gary seems to be having a great time and is very relaxed -- he was running along side and chatting with another runner. As for me, physically I felt great, yet I was still feeling a bit anxious about how to pace myself and I have to admit, I wondered how many women had gotten ahead of me during my “distraction”. I know I am competitive by nature, yet I was frustrated with myself worrying about “place” at this time. I kept eating and drinking as I ran along the road, eventually running beside Greg Gearhart from Mississippi. It was fun to talk with him and observe his pacing strategy of using his heart rate monitor. He’d run other 100 milers, yet this was his first MMT.

Habron Gap Aid station also came quickly that morning. I called out my number and quickly found my drop bag where I’d left a full hydration bag with snacks, electrolytes, ibruprophen, wind shirt, and map. I decided I did not need the map and brought everything else. Later I would realize I‘d left my blister kit behind. Yet for now, a few gulps of Gatorade, some vanilla/chocolate cookies in pocket and snacking on PB&J, downing an e-caps and 800 mg of “vitamin I” to soothe my heels, life was good.

As I followed Greg up the trail I saw Diana Stump coming into the aid station. My pulse quickened and I reminded myself that it was okay if other women caught me and passed me. I had after all trained for the mileage and not necessarily to race, so I just had to realize that “wins” were earned. End of pep talk. For the moment. Several minutes up the trail Greg told me he’d seen my “dorsal fin”-complete with Jaws theme music and he started singing it. I didn’t get what he meant at first, yet after an explanation I agreed fully with his observation and thought his analogy pretty witty. I don’t do well to hide my competitive side and he saw my “fin,” when I saw Diana.

Annette leaved Camp RooseveltIt was a relief to gain the ridge and turn south again. I hated that my archilles were sore but then it hit me-IT WAS THE GAITERS CAUSING THE SORENESS! Although I’d worn them months ago in the snow, the gaitors were too tight for today. I would remove them at the next aid station. A couple of miles along this trail we came across some runners who were quite concerned as they hadn’t seen any yellow ribbons…based on my earlier experience I didn’t hesitate for a second to tell them we were all correctly on route. A group of four of us weaved in an out for awhile, until part way down Stephen’s Trail I met 2 fellows who seemed to like rocky downhill as much as I do: Jeff Heasley from Colorado and Steven Burton of VA. I did my best to keep them in my site as we came into Camp Roosevelt. The time was 11:56am. I was still feeling good and strong and excited about being here. It was a monstrous treat to have Anita Finkle and Vickie Kendall welcome me in and fill my hydration bag as I removed my gaiters. Camp Roosevelt was festive. Someone played the banjo. I grabbed some food and made a quick exit with Jeff. My gaiter-less heels instantly felt better. Maybe choosing to wear the gaiters this many miles was a subconscious technique I’d used to make myself feel fresh at mile 34?

As we ran and walked our way up the trail we chatted about many things. I learned Jeff’s girlfriend is a hardcore trail runner who has won the Leadville 100! At one point I briefly stopped to inspect one of my right toes. I had been suddenly been presented with a biting pain from a broken toenail? No-couldn’t be a toenail-I didn’t have one left there anymore. Shifting my sock around helped and I discovered I’d left my foot repair kit back at Habron and wouldn’t meet up with my next drop bag until 211E. Jeff offered some big Band-Aids that he could get from his dad at Gap I. Even though my toes were feeling ok after my sock adjustment, I was grateful for the offer. We worked our way up the trail and after gaining Peach Orchard Gap had a blast scampering down into Gap I. We were there a few minutes to refill fluid, grab Band-Aids, grilled cheese squares, and head back out walking and eating as we made our way up to Jawbone Gap.

Hiking up the trail with Jeff and John Hemsky, I began to dread the coming section of Kern’s Mountain. When I’d come up to these mountains for the 1st time a month ago I was caught off guard by the rockiness and exposure on this trail. The day I was reconning it was windy and about 40 degrees. Part way through my jaunt that day I began to get snowed on. I was frustrated and unhappy that afternoon as I shivered my way, moving slowing over the ridge. I was glad to know what to expect terrain-wise and decided that I would walk most of this ridge, even if it proved to be more runnable to me today. I was a little worried that perhaps I’d gone out too fast for the first 40 miles of this event so I looked at this as a chance to re-charge.

Kern’s went quickly and I spent much of the ridge alone-Jeff had stopped for a pit stop and John had run ahead. The next person I saw was Miles as we descended to Crisham Hollow Road. Miles looked happy and very strong.

Running along the road towards the Visitor Center I had two fabulous, unexpected and energizing encounters. I watched a little red car driving towards me on the road, slow down and pause. David Horton popped out and greeted me. It was good to see him! He has always been very encouraging and supportive since I first meet him a year and a half ago. He was here to pace his friend Peter from Colorado. We waved and went on towards our separate missions. Next vehicle to travel down the road was silver colored Tacoma Pickup….It was George! He stopped the truck in the middle of the road. I ran up and hugged him. He was here early! Yippeee!!!!!. George turned the truck around and as he drove next to me, explained he wound up not having to work today after all so he’d meet me at the Visitor Center before he drove to Skyline Ranch to drop off the truck, get on his bike, and crew for me.

These visits -- especially George being here earlier than expected -- fueled my spirit. I checked in at the Visitor Center, refilled fluid, grabbed food and hugged George again. As I bopped down the trail I saw Corey again for the first time since just before Milford Gap. We chatted our way up and back to Bird Knob. Little did I know at this point that we would travel the next 52 miles together and he would help me out greatly. As we descended from Bird Knob it was fun to interact with other runners coming up the opposite way. Words of encouragement and waves were shared. Liz Walker was looking happy and strong and I had a chance to say hi again to Kathy.

At 211E I was relieved to dip into my drop bag and apply blister patches and change socks. Familiar faces were here to help and encourage again. Refilled and ready, Corey and I took off to eventually make our way through Scothorn Gap and back to Gap II. We arrived here at 7:09pm. Corey reunioned with his girlfriend and friends once again as I discover a couple of pieces of yummy quesadilla and said hi to Keith Knipling who was sitting in a chair. He’d been ahead of me all day and now I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been injured? I didn’t pause long enough to chat though as I was hoping to at least make it up and over part of Short Mountain before dark.

We slogged up Jawbone for the 2nd time that day. The trail was definitely steeper and longer than it’d felt earlier in the afternoon! After gaining the ridge we flew down into Moreland Gap at 7:56 where I met up with George for a few minutes while Corey continued up the trail. I put on my headlamp, grabbed extra batteries, topped off fluid, put a bar and a couple gels in my pocket and took off to hopefully catch Corey. I met Corey somewhere on top of Short Mountian just before it became headlamp time. We ran and powerwalked our way over the mountain, taking turns being in front. As we approached the northern part of the mountain I saw the beautiful orange moon rising in the valley to the east. We made good time coming over Short Mountian and down into Edinburg Gap. I was feeling pretty good, but I wasn’t too psyched that I was starting to experience some intestinal discomfort.

Annette at Edinburg GapArriving in Edinburg, I plopped on the ground to deal with my blisters and change my socks. George was there to help and encourage. The aid station captain informed me that I was 1 minute ahead of Bethany’s course time from last year. He acknowledged there was still a long way to go, but he planted the seed that I might try for course record. He asked me if I wanted her splits from last year. I told him I’d had them and reached into my sports bra and pulled them out to have a look. Opporutnity for course record or not, I’d passed 5 minutes at this aid station and it was time to go. I took a half of a freshly made PB sandwich from a gracious aid station volunteer, and a cup of chicken soup and we continued on towards the dreaded Powell Mountian.

[Editor's Note: See the comparision of Annette's splits with Bethany Hunter and Sue Johnston in 2003. (Link opens new window.)]

So many runners talk about Short Mountian as being awful and as being “hell.” But it was this mountain that’d humbled me during a 27 mile training run a couple of weeks ago and would do the same to me on this night. We slogged up, up and up. I was moving very slowly-at least that is what I perceived. Corey seemed to float along like he was in the middle of an easy afternoon run. I tried to keep up but could not. Could not? Or Would Not? As I became more tired I started to become filled with self-doubt about my approach to this event -- maybe I started to fast? Just who did I think I was trying for a win or course record during my first 100miler? Just how stupid and cocky did I appear from the outside? I surely felt tired and down as we hit our halfway point on Powell’s mountain. I stumbled and fell. I started to cry. I was confused and feeling depressed. My stomach wasn’t feeling good. I called out to Corey and told him that he’d be at the aid station already if he wasn’t hanging with me. I told him I really appreciated his companionship but I thought he should go on. He said simply, “Don’t give up now. C’mon. We’re finishing together.” Somehow this interaction helped lift my spirits and made me realize that the reason I was probably in a funk now is that the run was truly getting hard. I had entered the UNKNOWN and had to have confidence that it wouldn’t stay this hard. I ate a bar and the sugar seemed to help my mood. My mood helped my body not feel so bad and soon we saw the sign ahead that said: AID 1 mile. 15 minutes later at 12:47am we were at Woodstock Tower listening to someone play a horn as we arrived!

Again I hugged George, told him it might be silly, but I would try for course record. He refilled my h20 and I grabbed a few saltines from him. I’d eaten so many sweet things during the last 17+ hours I couldn’t stand the thought of more food. I wondered if that is why my stomach was feeling weird -- too much Gatorade and sugars all day long? I’d switched to plain water back at Edinburg and hoped that the plain water would help my state of being. I continued north along the trail, knowing Corey would be along shortly.

We came into the Powell’s Fort Aid Station, mile 89.3 at 2:28. It was bright and festive. Poor George was there waiting and being cold. I checked my time against Bethany’s from last year. Seven minutes ahead of her split. I was tired, getting slower, but still felt mostly ok. After water was filled and cliff shots grabbed I took some soup to go. One of the fabulous aid station folks walked Cory and I out to the trail and we were off. We ran for a couple of miles with Cory encouraging me to keep up the pace. We moved pretty well alternating between running and walking when we hit the junction with the Tuscorara Trail and started heading east and up the ridge. We creeped up the ridge. Our climb seemed to take forever. Both of us were feeling quite pathetic at this point. We’d wondered if those couple of miles of running just after the aid station were catching up with us? Maybe this happened to everyone at mile 93ish in the middle of the night going up a rocky single-track up hill?

Finally, after what felt like an hour, we made it to the top and I stopped for a pit stop as we started down the other side. I wound up getting really bad cramps and got very dizzy and nauseous. I was disoriented and wondered what was going on. After a couple minutes I took a cliff shot and began to feel a bit better. I hobbled the next ¼ mile or so until I met up with Corey again. He waited for me. I was thankful to have the continued companionship. This was one selfless human being! Before long, I began to get a little bummed again, because I was walking the downhill. Usually it is something I love to run down and was looking forward to doing this tonight. But every time I ran, cramps would kick in-it was only after stopping for 2 more pit stops that I was able to start running again and Corey and I ran into Elizabeth Furnace at 4:48am.

During this segment I realized course record was not going to happen. But to tell the truth, I didn’t really care. It was something that had excited me for several hours, but now all I wanted to do was to finish and be done! And I’d really hoped that I wouldn’t be passed by another woman. I still had no idea if the next woman was 2 minutes behind me, or two hours. I would continue to act like she was 2 minutes behind me. At Elizabeth Furnace I left my backpack with George and took my hand-held h20 bottle and a couple of gels. I didn’t intend to eat or drink anything else until after finishing lest I trigger more necessary pit stops. Fortunately I had to only stop once to on our way up Shawl Gap. I moved with what felt like slow motion speed up the Gap. And again Corey patiently waited at the crest. The morning welcomed us with a bright orange sunrise from the Gap. I got chocked up and thought I might cry. It was really pretty and we only had 2 miles left to go! Yipppeee!!!!

We ran most of the rest of the mostly downhill miles without much conversation. When we turned into the ranch and the clubhouse came into view…I couldn’t believe it….we were just hundreds of feet away from the completion of this adventure! We ran across the field -Corey towards his girlfriend and friends and me towards George. Corey crossed the finished line first, with me a step behind, both with a time of 25:14:54. I felt so much: happy and relieved and sore and grateful to George and to Corey for their assistance. I also felt so thankful to have a body and a spirit that allows me to participate in such life-filled events!

MMT 2004 Report Page | MMT Home Page
MMT 2003 Report by Bethany Hunter

Annette with Gary Knipling, Keith Knipling, Vicki Kendall, Scott Mills, Vicki Kendall, and Carolyn Gernand on Friday

Annette with George after her finish. Photo: Anita Finkle

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