Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
MMT 2006: Another Report
by Jamey Groff
I made my final decision to run MMT as my first 100-miler about 6 months ago. Reading the race reports of other runners was a huge motivation for me to try the race myself, particularly some of the reports by first-timers. My hope is that this report will somehow be helpful to others in a similar situation, and it will at least help me better remember what turned out to be, physically and mentally, one of the most challenging experiences of my life.
Jamey coming into Shawl Gap Aid Station. Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard
The question, “why” is what I was invariably asked by normal (non-running) people who found out I was doing a 100-miler. I don’t know that I ever gave an answer that made sense to anyone, including myself. The real reason, in simple terms, was that I wondered whether or not I could do it. The Massanutten range is sort of in my backyard—the fact that MMT it is known as one of the more difficult 100’s only added to the appeal. By the time race day arrived, I was extremely determined to finish, given the sacrifices of time and energy that both my family and I had made during the previous year of training
I was feeling pretty well-prepared, although knew I really could have used 1-2 more long training runs on rockier terrain this spring. With two small kids, I tried to be satisfied that my physical training for this years’ race wouldn’t be optimal, but I had definitely trained enough to finish, and I viewed it as a low-milage runner/beginner experiment of sorts.
My other main preparations involved getting through without a crew. The drop bag preparation proved to be a huge job, and one that I really didn’t want to do until checking the forecast as late in the day on Thursday as possible. I had eight bags, and tried to keep them small. I distributed any potentially useful clothing and gear (of which I have little) amongst the drop bags where I thought I would most likely use them. I made up a paper that, on one side, had the course map, and turn descriptions, along with milages and some split times, mostly so I could gauge my progress--I did think that 30 hours would be a realistic goal if all went reasonably well. The other side had a list of everything in each of my drop bags broken down by aid station, along a list of reminders for some of the aid stations. This way, I could check the list 5-10 minutes out from the aid stations, know exactly what would be available, and be reminded of the important things that I needed to do there, like battery changes, stock up on S! caps, picking up a headlamp, etc.. It proved to be a good system and one that I would use again.
Friday at the Ranch
I arrived at SRR around 2:30pm and checked in and got my tent set up. My wife and 2 kids stayed until the pre-race meeting--The next time I would see them again would be at the finish area in two days. I was glad they were there for a little while, at least, because I know it helped calm my nerves. I sat next to Nick Palazzo at the pre-race meeting, which I thought was cool because he was one of the featured runners in a Badwater documentary I had seen just a few months before. Unfortunately, I didn’t win any of the gear that was given away during the meeting--I really could’ve used on of those headlamps!
One of the people I talked with at dinner was Shaun Krause, someone who I had last years’ Hellgate 100K in common with, so we talked a lot about that run. I didn’t know too many people very well, but Friday night, I enjoyed making connections with some people I recognized, most of whom I had only met once or twice before at training runs, etc. I thanked Dave Snipes for some of the drop bag/strategy ideas he had given me via email, since I wouldn’t have a crew. I was glad to talk to some other first time MMT-ers and 100-milers who I could share some nervousness and excitement with.
I tried to get to sleep as soon as it was dark, and lay awake for at least an hour, listening to whippoorwills and thinking about the next day. I ended up waking up soon after 2am feeling edgy and ready to go. I tried in vain to fall back to sleep until my alarm would go off at 4am. I wasn’t too worried about getting just five hours of sleep, but it did give my nervousness way too much extra time to build before the race started. I finally got up at 4, lubed my feet, got dressed, and went to the clubhouse for a small breakfast--the only reason I ate breakfast was that I hoped it would allow me to use the toilets before the race started, instead of nature calling later on the trail. I did barely manage to be one of the last people to make it through the long line for the two bathroom stalls--apparently everyone else had the same idea I did. As soon as I was finished it was time to go out to the field to await the start. I began with a handheld water bottle and small 2AA flashlight, and one of those $.99 emergency ponchos in my back pocket. There was little embellishment at the start—there was a last minute announcement to move a car that was blocking something-or-other, the clock counted up to 5:00:00, Stan said “go” or something to that effect, and people started going--out the field toward the first road section.
Start to Shawl Gap (0 - 8.7 mi.)
I was soooo glad to finally be going, after preparing mentally and physically for so long, and really having a lot of anxiety about the race over the past week. It took maybe only 3-4 minutes on the road before I heard CJ Blagg coming up beside me. He was one of the people I had met on one of the 2006 Corris-Series training runs--we were both first time MMT-er’s, seemed to have a very similar pace based on the training run, and he was probably the runner I knew the about best coming into the day. We stayed together for the whole road section along with Morgan Windram--I didn’t know it at the time but this was the start of running off and on with CJ for the majority of the first 75 miles. Since I had only one water bottle, I stopped to fill it at the trailhead aid station and fell back to run by myself as the trail running started.
There was a good-sized climb at the beginning of this next section, but I didn’t really realize it at the time. It didn’t ever seem steep and it was still dark--I was just following a group of 4-5 people moving at a nice not-too-fast pace. I had no desire to pass them and push myself at this point, so I settled back, and ran with the group. By the time it was getting light out, we were getting up to the top of what must have been Buzzard Rock, and there were some fabulous views--it’s a really beautiful area up there. The air was cool and it made for a great start to the day. I remember thinking that it did feel a little humid to me, which I thought would mean some rain later in the day, but that never happened. I really enjoyed the descent down to the Shawl Gap aid station, which included some rockier downhills, and then some nice rolling 4WD road. At this aid station I dropped my flashlight, picked up a 2nd water bottle and tried some of the “Heed” electrolyte drink.
I planned to use whatever electrolyte drink was available at the aid stations. Heed was new to me and I initially found that the taste was pretty disagreeable. It also foamed up a little bit after running with it in a water bottle for awhile. I imagined it frothing up in my stomach the same way. I jokingly referred to it as “Heave” to whoever was around because of what I was afraid it would do to my stomach. Since the only other choices of drink were water and carbonated drinks, I stuck with the Heed and was eventually won over by it. Sometime Saturday night I told CJ that after fifteen hours, I was finally starting to enjoy the Heed. He had tried it for a short time in the morning, then stopped because his initial impressions were similar to mine. I joked that, as an experiment, he should just do what I did and force himself to drink it for 15 hours and by the end of the race, see if he might like it, too.
Shawl Gap to Veach Gap (8.7 - 11.8 mi.)
I think this was the section with some nice, easy road running. I was with some great people—CJ, Morgan, Diana & Gerard—and having a blast. Everyone seemed to be in great spirits, making the time and distance feel effortless. Morgan seemed to be doing real well despite an eye infection that reduced her to one good eye—can’t imagine a more difficult place to run with limited depth perception than in these mountains. Diana told us the story of how she had stopped to, ahem, “pee” earlier that morning and when she looked down, saw that she had done it on a turtle. I’m sure the lore of that story will only grow. This was to be as much fun as I would have all day.
Veach Gap to Milford Gap (11.8 - 16.9 mi.)
There was a long climb at the beginning of this section, which I remembered feeling pretty well on. It was long, but I was following others, and not thinking about my own pace, which is how I seem to function best.
Milford Gap to Habron Gap (16.9 - 24.4 mi.)
I remember the long descent in this section—it was steep enough that I was very cautious about not overdoing it and blowing my quads or something. CJ & I were with Tom Corris for a while before reaching the road—Tom was moving very well, but I was feeling more fatigued than I would have liked. Tom had selflessly organized and provided aid for the official MMT training runs this year, but as it turns out, the man can run pretty well, too—I was hugely impressed to later hear that Tom went on to finish under 26 hours. Before coming out on the road section, my energy was waning and I felt pretty bad for so early in the race. Things didn’t improve much on the fairly long section of gravel road that came next, and I took every small hill as an excuse to do some walking. CJ was in the same boat and we stayed together all the way to the Habron Gap aid station, both pretty discouraged at the fatigue we were feeling this early on, particularly since there wasn’t anything (such as heat) to blame it on.
Habron Gap to Camp Roosevelt (24.4 - 34.1 mi.)
My drop bag at Habron Gap aid station had my fannypack--I had been using two handheld bottles up to this point, which provided more than enough fluid, but with the long section into Camp Roosevelt, I switched to three bottles (2 in the pack + 1 handheld) just to be safe. I would have preferred to go without the pack for as long as possible, and in retrospect, I could have gone longer, but wanted to be conservative and have plenty of fluid for my first 100. I also drank a Nouriche (yogurt drink) from my drop bag--it’s one of the few ways I’ve found, besides gel, to take in calories when it’s warm out without upsetting my stomach.
I was still in a minor rough patch when I left the aid station for the long climb that would follow. My ipod was in the fanny pack and I had a bunch of new songs on that I had intentionally not listened to yet--I listened for awhile as I climbed along, but within 5 minutes, I simply wasn’t in the mood, and I never listened again, although I carried it all the way to Powell’s Fort (mile 85). Somehow, using music to distract myself just didn’t feel right inside. I caught up to CJ again just before the ridgeline and we stayed together for most of the way to Camp Roosevelt. When I later looked at some of the race photos on-line, I noticed a sign at the Habron Gap AS stating that Camp Roosevelt was 9.7 miles away and in parenthesis (runs like 12). That was right on, and I wish I had seen that sign and had that mindset going into this long section. There are some extended stretches of really nice runnable trail the last 4-5 miles before Camp Roose, and I did run most of it, but was just feeling not only low on energy, but discouraged at feeling this way only 30 miles into the day. Reaching the aid station, I had another Nouriche from my drop bag and reapplied bag balm to my feet since I could feel some hot spots. I also applied the bag balm to a few other areas which will remain unidentified since I had begun to feel some chafing.
Camp Roosevelt to Moreland Gap #1 (34.1 - 37.8 mi.)
Jamey & CJ running into Moreland Gap. Photo: Anstr Davidson
This section was entirely on road and mostly uphill. Since I was feeling a little down, I decided I would walk most of the way, but did mix in a little running on some of the downhills. CJ & I were with Darin Dunham for a little while, and got a first-hand account of his experience here in 2005. It seems he split his chin and got what sounded like a civil-war-quality field dressing on the trail from a forest service person, consisting of a big bandaid on his chin plus tape wrapped around his chin over the top of his head to hold it on. Talk about a rough day!
There were lots of people nearby on this section, or maybe it just seemed that way because we could see much further ahead and behind than in the woods. Near the end of the short 3 mile section, I reluctantly broke into a trot at the goading on the Moreland Gap aid station folks once we got into view. I had some grilled cheese sandwich squares and I believe some fruit while my bottles were being filled. I tried some tape on my forefoot and wasn’t having any luck so CJ said I could use his good blister kit up at the picnic area up ahead. I also switched from shoes from Vasque Velocities to my Vitesse. While preparing to leave, I got mentally prepared for the first of two pleasant frolics across the magical wonderland that is Kern’s Mt.
Moreland Gap #1 to Picnic Area #1 (37.8 - 47.1 mi.)
This was to be the first of two crossings over Kern’s Mountain, a stretch that I considered to be worse than Short Mountain during the couple of training runs that I was on it. I felt good when I began the climb, and after a while found myself with the good Dr. Knipling. We chatted for a few minutes until reaching the trail intersection at Jawbone Gap where we would turn right onto the ridge. At the end of the final switchback we passed the film crew that was filming Gary for the day. They asked a few short questions and I tried to mind my own business. I’m excited to see this film someday—From what I know of Gary and Kerry, if it comes close to capturing the spirit of the two main subjects, it should be great.
I caught back up to CJ pretty soon after Jawbone Gap. We made steady, but unspectacular progress. It’s a very difficult section of trail to maintain any type of consistent pace, and it remains that way up until less than a mile before the hard left turn that marks the final descent to Crisman Hollow Rd. I pulled ahead on my own about 10 minutes before the road since I was feeling better by this point. I did not like however, the feeling of running the gradual downhill on the road after 40+ miles. I really felt like my legs were getting trashed, so I tried to take it slow.
Jamey & Dennis on Monday after MMT
One thing I was looking forward to at the Picnic Area was seeing Dennis Herr, who had planned to be there by the time I would come through. Dennis got me into trail running about five years ago when we were coworkers, through an invitation to try a loop at Wild Oak. I took him up on it, and he let me find out for myself how tough it was. Years later, after a few more TWOT outings, and having done no other ultras, he encouraged me to pursue training for MMT when I expressed an interest—he felt confident I could do it with some good training. He lent me gear when mine was inadequate or non-existent, made sure I knew what to expect from certain sections of trails, and would always tell me I was “doin’ great” whenever we talked about training, events, etc. I knew that since Dennis’ accident, he really looked forward to coming out to MMT and seeing people and helping me out however he could. I had plenty of reasons to finish this race, after all the time and sacrifice involved in training—One more reason was that I thought it would be a good thing to finish this race “for Dennis” since he was forced to withdrawal because of the accident earlier this year.
Picnic #1 to Bird Knob to Picnic #2 to Rt 211 to Picnic #3 (47.1 - 58.6 mi.)
Dennis gave me some hammer gel, which I was getting low on--I assumed that there would be some at aid stations since Hammer was a sponsor--and a Vioxx, and I took both. I left my fanny pack in my drop bag, and left with just one bottle against the advice of one of the volunteers. I started the climb up toward Bird Knob, and I made good progress up the steep climb to about the overlook, but was dragging a little bit at the top. I was behind another runner, and was able to keep up with just a little running and mostly fast walking, and I didn’t have the desire to pass and push myself right then. The Bird Knob aid station was outstanding—I sat down for the longest time, yet, and I had two bowls of the some of best tasting pasta and sauce I’ve ever had. I left and within 15 minutes or so, I was feeling as good as I had all day. I made just a brief stop at the picnic area, made sure to greet Dennis, and headed to the Rt 211 aid station. They had some great looking food here as well, but I had eaten enough recently. While I was getting ready to leave, CJ came into the aid station. I waited a few extra minutes, until he was ready to go, and we made the climb back up to the picnic area. I had dreaded this short out and back downhill to Rt. 211 when I saw the new course, but it really wasn’t as bad as I thought. Back at the picnic area, I got my flashlight, as it would be getting dark during the Kern’s Mountain section that was upcoming. I also put on a long-sleeved shirt--I certainly wasn’t cool yet, but I knew that over the 3 hours it would probably take to get across to the next section, I would probably need it.
Picnic #3 to Moreland #2 (58.6 - 67.9 mi.)
CJ & I left the Picnic Area together, prepared for darkness to fall during the next section, which I knew would be the start of three consecutive looong, very rocky, nighttime sections that I was not looking forward to. We walked up Crisman Hollow Rd. except for the one or two brief downhills prior to reaching the trailhead on the left. We were determined to make as much time as possible during the daylight, before darkness would make the going even tougher. We were both feeling pretty good at this point, and from this time until about an hour after “honest-to-goodness” darkness set in was one of my favorite parts of the entire run. The whippoorwills were out in numbers, and there were several times we must have walked within a few yards of one. I loved hearing their unique call--something I had looked forward to ever since Friday night when I lay awake in my tent at the Ranch listening to them while I couldn’t sleep.
I could feel a tightness in my lower lateral shin area of both legs--it felt a lot like the shin splints I struggled with some in training, but it was much lower, down about an inch from the top of my ankles. I had felt it earlier in the day, but it was continuing to ache more and more. It was along Kern’s Mt. and especially on the descent to the Moreland Gap aid station, that I could really feel the shin-ankle pain starting to slow me down. CJ was having some problems of his own, and he set a pace that suited both of us pretty well. We reached the aid station and I enjoyed some of the hot food there--I had one or two each of the quesadillas and potato cakes that I was counting on to keep me going across Short Mt.
Moreland #2 to Edinburg Gap (67.9 - 76.1 mi.)
CJ & I were together this whole section again--we were both in about the same state, and I for one, was glad to have company over the long section ahead. The initial climb went fine--climbing was the only relief from the shin-ankle pain I was developing. We moved at a steady pace the whole way across the rocky ridge. It went faster for me than the previous Kern’s Mt. section did, I believe because I’m mostly unfamiliar with Short Mountain and I wasn’t constantly trying to figure out how far I was from the final descent to the Edinburg Gap aid station. We passed a runner (& pacer) who I believe was experiencing reverse peristalsis (vomiting) but I didn’t realize it until we were past--If I realized it sooner, my comment--something about having fun yet--would’ve been different. Sorry!
Soon before the long descent to Edinburg Gap, we came up on Bob Combs and another runner (or pacer?). Bob & I figured out that we had met about 4 years earlier, while climbing Hankey Mt. at Wild Oak. We passed, then were just in front of Bob and the other guy, and then after a few minutes, Bob tells us he’s going to pick up the pace and we should follow him so we can make better time here. That sounded good so we kept up with Bob for awhile, then all of the sudden Bob lets out this loud “WHOOP!” and takes off down the hill--I’m all excited about moving fast again so I try to keep up, but that lasts all of about 3 minutes, then he’s gone, and I was alone since CJ was smarter and gave up on following him even sooner than I did.
I slowed to a more normal pace, with my shin-ankles really getting sore now. I slowed up even more and CJ caught up and we finished the section into the aid station together. He was having some calf problems that, in other runs, had prevented him from running at all, and was starting to talk about dropping at Edinburg. We got there and CJ’s crew swarmed into action. They had him in and out pretty quickly--he said he would start the climb awhile because, if his problem got worse, I would have no trouble catching him. I sat in the aid station for awhile longer since I had to take 2-3 minutes with my head down to let a wave of nausea pass, then had a cup of the storied potato soup (it didn’t disappoint) before heading out. It looked a little like a MASH unit here--people sleeping different places. I couldn’t tell if they were runners or crew, but I knew an extended break wasn’t part of my plan, and quitting never entered my mind as an option. I switched over to a fanny pack with more storage and carried a windbreaker because I knew that as of Friday, there was supposed to be rain sometime Sunday morning.
Edinburg Gap to Woodstock Tower (76.1 - 84.3 mi.)
When I was ready to go, rising up out of that chair was torturous--I didn’t want to stay sitting because I was tired, but my shin-ankles had tightened up incredibly in the 5-7 minutes I was there. Now even walking was causing major pain, and I was really starting to get worried because I knew there was 25+ miles to go. I followed the road to get back on the trail, moving ever so gingerly. I knew I was in for a long section ahead. The section before the steep climb up Waonaze peak was nothing short of excruciating and my pace was a reduced to a painful hobble with no good leg to limp on. I thought it had to get better--it would not.
When the climb steepened, I resumed good progress as I was still feeling strong (and not feeling the pain) on the climbs. At the very top of the climb, there was a runner coming the opposite direction, who seemed confident that I was going the wrong way--there was another runner and pacer just behind me to prove that I was correct, but the guy coming the wrong way seemed confused and didn’t immediately come along the right direction--I stopped and told him at least 3 times that we were right, and to follow us, but when I started going again, he was not behind. I only hope he didn’t continue in the wrong direction for long. I tried to keep up with the other runner & pacer for as long as I could--I remembered from a training run that it does feel like you’re going onto the wrong side of the mountain, and I didn’t want to get turned around in case I wasn’t thinking straight. I could manage a slow jog for a minute or so at time and could still walk at a good pace (with plenty of pain) and was able to keep up with them for maybe a twenty minutes before it became too painful. At that point, I resigned to walking into the next aid station if need be. I expected a steady stream of others to eventually pass me, but it didn’t happen, so maybe I was still able to mostly keep up a typical overnight, middle-of the-pack pace, despite the painful hobbling.
Really alone for the first time all day, I had much trouble forcing myself to keep a respectable pace. Before they pulled away, the runner I had just been with said to his pacer something about pacers being good because when you’re hurting in an ultra it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself and allow yourself to shut down a little. Those words ended up coming true less than 30 minutes after I heard them. I simply didn’t have the will to do much about it. Sometime during this time Bob Combs and the other runner/pacer came past and I kept up for a few minutes, but I couldn’t maintain their pace due to the shin-ankle pain.
Sometime around 4 am, my eyes started going shut on me while I was walking. It’s funny, because there were caffeine tablets in my belt pocket and would’ve taken 20 seconds to get one out--still, I put it off for a good 15 minutes simply because I wasn’ t thinking straight and didn’t want to make the effort. I finally took one, and felt much better (mentally) within minutes. I had imagined running much of this gradual downhill, and I finally forced myself to start to trot despite my throbbing legs, but could only manage a few minutes at a time. The trail finally crossed the ridge, which I knew was the next waypoint I would recognize, but I still knew it would be a long time before reaching the aid station given my pace.
I had arranged with my friend Ed, that he could meet me to start pacing at the Woodstock Tower aid station, just ahead. However, he had been sick the end of the week and I left Friday, still not knowing whether or not he would be there for sure. I had another friend who thought it was 50/50 that he may pace from Moreland to Woodstock Tower, but that one didn’t work out, and I found myself really hoping that Ed would be there.
Turns out that Ed, did meet me at Woodstock Tower and that, along with the knowledge that the sun would soon be up was a huge boost. My appetite was gone, and as it turns out, I barely ate anything the rest of the race. I skipped through the aid station rather quickly, just filling bottles and continuing.
Woodstock Tower to Powell’s Fort (84.3 - 90 mi.)
My pace, still a painful walk, improved somewhat on the initial flat section. I told Ed that I hoped he wasn’t disappointed, but I didn’t think we would be doing much of any running from here to the end. He was fine with that, and we talked for about 1- 1 1/2 hours before my exhaustion set back in and I mostly went into silent mode. One or two runners passed us during this time, and they inspired me to try running again, since it had been awhile. The shin-ankle pain was no better, but I could at least maintain a shuffle for a few minutes at a time on the flat sections. The descent to Powell’s Fort was a different story, and I was reduced to my slowest pace yet, an excruciating downhill hobble, made all the more frustrating by the perfectly runnable section of trail we were on.
Powell’s Fort to Elizabeth Furnace (90 - 97.7 mi.)
We stopped quickly for aid, and I made a couple of poor decisions that easily could have prevented me from finishing. My last drop bag was here, and I decided to leave my fanny pack there and to go with two handheld bottles to the finish. I had a windbreaker in the drop bag, which I decided against taking along. I did keep my gloves on, but foolishly, took the emergency poncho (which I had been carrying for all 85 miles so far) out of my back pocket and left it in the drop bag--after all, the sun was overhead and the cloud cover was light. Wearing short sleeves, I was immediately chilled leaving the aid station, but started out along the long gravel road section, assuming I would warm up. By the time we made the big climb in this section, I was still chilly and the clouds were low and heavy. The next ridge to the east vanished before our eyes behind the imposing gray clouds. I knew the rain was coming, just like it does at home when I can no longer see the next mountain range to the west. I was already cold, completely unprepared for rain, and although the day wasn’t terribly cold, I was moving so slowly that I could have been really miserable just to make it to Elizabeth Furnace if the rain started. By some wonder, the rain never started--from the looks of that sky, Ed, who is a local from just west of Edinburg, and I were certain that a downpour was coming, but instead it became clear that the threat had passed.
Meanwhile, there was still a 5+ mile, longer-than-advertised descent to Elizabeth Furnace, and the downhills were what was absolutely killing me. My downhill hobbling steadily deteriorated the entire way. I knew at my pace, that I wouldn’t be reaching the finish for a good 4+ hours, and the thought of being out there that much longer nearly brought me to tears numerous times. Although I knew I would continue to the end, this was the only time that quitting ever entered my mind. My frustration was compounded by the fact that I was otherwise feeling well, and knew I could be doing some good running at this point, if it wasn’t for the shin-ankle pain, which was growing more and more intense. At some point I declared to Ed that “OK, the new goal is 31 hours” because I knew my original 30 hour goal was out of the question. Why I was so emotionally tied to an arbitrary goal in my first 100, I’m not sure, but I was determined to do well, which I thought for me would mean <30 hours. During this stretch Ed Cacciapaglia and another runner came running past on the nice downhill, and I remember being so jealous that I couldn’t do that anymore. Overall, I was surprised how few people were passing me.
Elizabeth Furnace to the Finish (97.7 - 100.9)
Just a few more miles left, and I knew I would finish, but I was still very frustrated after the way things had developed in the last 20 miles of the race. I stopped only to fill up one bottle, and tried to be polite in turning down everything else that was offered to me at the aid station, but I’m sure I came across a little bristly--fortunately the volunteer seemed to understand, and she encouraged me to go on to finish. About the time when the final climb really started to get steep, all the frustration and anger at the situation started to boil over a little. I just started climbing as fast as I could and even broke into a pretty good run up the hill for a hundred yards or so a couple of times. I honestly don’t think I could have gotten up to Shawl Gap more than a few minutes faster even if I was totally fresh.
We reached the top of the climb, and I was determined to try to run a normal run--not the gimpy, pathetic shuffle that I had been able to manage off and on earlier in the morning. I could tell there was a lot of adrenaline, and I was amazed that I could move pretty well without the shin-ankle downhill pain that I had dealt with for so long. It was actually fun to run downhill with my (mostly) natural stride, for the first time not having to worry about overdoing it and hurting myself for later in the race. I knew the pain would probably return and I just hoped I could keep making good progress for awhile before it did. Elation started to set in, as I knew I would finish, and do so relatively soon. Also, since I was able to run these downhills, I recalculated my finish time, and slowly allowed myself to grasp that I was definitely going to make my original goal of 30 hours!
The drama wasn’t quite over, since there was one point where the trail came out onto a sort of gravel, backwoods cul-de-sac. Ed and I looked all around for the next course marking, and couldn’t find it anywhere. I was really starting to get worried, when Ed went ahead on the gravel road while I was scouting around the edge of the clearing for another trail--suddenly he yelled out that he could see the next yellow streamer on down the road and again we took off, greatly relieved. In retrospect, following the gravel road was the obvious thing to do, but I think we were just being overly cautious since we would be so close to my goal time--I probably wasn’t thinking very clearly either. We followed a few more very short road sections, and could finally see the ranch in the distance. Followed the flags through some meadows before coming out into the field with the sweet sight of the finish in view.
Sam, Jamey & Ed at the Finish
My wife and two kids intended to meet me at the finish--I gave them the link for the web updates and approximate times for me to finish from each of the last few aid stations. I wanted them to be there for the finish so badly. As we turned the last corner to the finish, I could make out the balloon-arch finish line, along with a small figure walking toward us about 100 feet from the finish line--I knew immediately from the floppy hat and baggy pants that it was my little Sam (3 yrs) and I was euphoric that my family could be with to see the finish—it was something I had been thinking of for hours. Sam was running toward us, and before reaching him, I threw both my water bottles on the ground, took his little hand in mine, got him turned around, and ran the rest of the way to the finish with my son! He was running as fast as he could and later said that he was running so fast that he was “kicking his butt” (with his heels)! It still almost brings tears to my eyes to think back on crossing the line with Sam--That will always be one of my most cherished memories, and I know that the emotions I felt were only deepened by the hardships of the previous 30 hours and especially the agonizing previous 8 hours.
My wife, Genevieve, and 4-month old Sadie were also there to greet me as soon as I crossed the line. I told them on Friday that I would never be as glad to seem them as I would Sunday morning. I was also humbled at the enthusiastic applause from those around the finish. I became pretty emotional (for me, anyway) and just had to sit with my head in my hands for awhile to collect myself.
Peritendinitis/tendonitis of the tendons passing under the superior extensor retinaculum. This is my self diagnosis of the shin-ankle pain that was so detrimental. AKA ultramarathoner’s ankle, most common in longer (like multi-day) events. If anyone’s had any experience in treatment/ prevention of this I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks To. . .
Race direction and volunteers of all types—This event is a total class act! The trails were extremely well-marked throughout. Aid stations were incredible, and were better stocked than I could have ever expected. I feel like I owe a particular debt of gratitude to all the folks who helped with getting the live updates on-line in such a timely matter—they allowed people to meet me on the course without waiting an inordinate amount of time, and I know there were a lot of other people keeping an eye on the updates, just curious to see how I was doing. Big thanks to those who posted photos online, as, with no crew, these would be the only photographic evidence that I actually participated.
Family & Friends--My wife was extremely supportive as I pursued the time-consuming quest of finishing my first 100-miler, and is even talking about wanting to crew sometime in the future! My pacer, Ed, saw me through some tough times. He saw a dejected, pessimistic side of me that I don’t let show often.
Given the trouble I had in this race, I was happy to have finished within one of my goal times. In that respect I’m satisfied, and yet in retrospect, I know I have a much better MMT waiting to get out. I had plenty of rough patches, a brand new injury I had never experienced before, and relatively few sections where I was really feeling great and enjoying the day, as I normally would spending all day on the trail. Less than a week after MMT, I already find myself thinking of returning next year, and what I might be capable of, if things break a little differently.
Even though this was not my best day, I’m so grateful for the experience. There are just certain things this race provided, that I really don’t know where one could get anywhere else. I felt an instant camaraderie with people I barely knew before the day started, and whom I now consider friends. The beauty of the outdoors was everywhere: the first sunrise over Buzzard Rock, glimpses of the rare pink lady-slipper orchids, the magical sounds of whippoorwills at night, and the sweet fragrance of the wild azaleas. Finally, the opportunity to test my limits, peel away my outer layers and find out what I was really made of inside when things got tough. These are the things I will remember most, and I imagine will make it nearly impossible for me to resist the beckoning of this outstanding event in years to come.