Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

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Massanutten Report

by Kevin Townsend

Editor's Note: This report originally appeared on the ULTRA listserv.

The main reason I am writing this report is to thank my pacer, because without him, my time would have been MUCH slower. Thanks Brian!

Short version:

Image of Kevin Townsend
Kevin on Kerns Mt.
Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

Great weather, started faster than I normally do, started to crash, but I picked up a pacer at night, and he kept me going. The last section really sucked the energy out of me (that hill seemed a lot longer than advertised!!), but with his encouragement, we ended up speeding up, and I finished in my “dream time” which was much faster than I thought I had a realistic chance of getting. Thanks Brian!! Also, thanks to all the volunteers who put on a great race!!!

REALLY Long version:

I’ve run the MMT 100 three times before (2002-4). My first time was an introduction to the course, and I finished it a comfortable time. In 2003, I slogged through the rain and ended up racing the cutoffs, which just added psychological agony to the physical agony I was experiencing. In 2004 we had good weather, I was well trained, and I had a great race. My time was so good (for me) that I thought it might be my course PR for quite a while (possibly forever). Now to 2006 . . . . .

I wasn’t as well trained as I would have preferred, but since my 2004 race I’ve moved to the mountains, so I’ve been able to run on mountain trails pretty regularly. My last long run was the Promise Land 50k (April 22) and I only ran sporadically since then (which in hindsight may have been a good thing- I was well rested).

I normally start ultras pretty slowly, which allows me to pass more people than pass me (which is good for my fragile male ego), but it also makes me wonder if I’m being too conservative. So I decided that while I wouldn’t push the pace, I wouldn’t take it too easy at the start either. So we started, and I felt great. I was moving out quite well, even jogging up some of the (very slight) uphills. My wife was working the Milford Gap aid station, and she was surprised to see me when she did, but I was feeling good so I tried to keep a strong pace. However, after Milford Gap there was a steeper downhill, and that really took the wind out of my sails (and the bounce out of my step!). I was still moving well after that, but my legs really noticed the steep downhills from then on.

Another problem for me is that I prefer to only drink sport drinks that I have used before (after an unpleasant oral explosion at a half marathon years ago). This year at MMT they were using Heed. While some people may love it, I tried it and decided that sticking with my usual Gatorade would be safer. However, my wife (aka crew) was working the Milford Gap aid station, and then she went horse back riding at a friend’s house for several hours. So my normal Gatorade was unavailable until my wife started crewing for me at the 211 aid station (as we had planned). Therefore, for the first part of the race I wasn’t getting the slow steady infusion of calories that I am used to getting from my hand held bottles.

Well before the 211 aid station (56.9 miles) I felt like my race was falling apart. I started my normal line of thinking . .”Why am I doing this? . . . I don’t have anything to prove to anyone . . . 50k’s are a better distance for me, maybe I shouldn’t try any more 100s” etc. For the record, I end up thinking thoughts like these in most races, from ultras, marathons, and down to 5ks.

As I was approaching the Picnic Area I Aid station (47.1 miles), I saw the front runners coming in the opposite direction. So it cheered me up a little to think how I would tell my friends that at mile 46 I had the front runners in sight (granted, they were 12-13 miles ahead of me). So I was feeling a little better as I approached the Picnic Area for the first time. Bird Knob awaited! Hiking up Bird Knob wasn’t too bad. It was interesting watching the fast guys come down the mountain. And I was still moving uphill pretty well. Coming down hill was tougher. The steep downhills were getting to me already, and then I saw other runners coming up (since part of it is an out and back), so I felt like I had to move faster so the other runners wouldn’t see me taking it too easy on the downhill. Bird Knob finally ended, and I had an easier section, and I was finally at 211, where my wife (aka crew waited)- YEAH!! So with Gatorade and a kiss, I was off. After crossing 211, I tried to stay with another runner (who had passed me) but I quickly realized that he was too fast for me.

It was in this section that some of the “back of the packers” really motivated me. I knew what time the aid station was scheduled to close, and I realized that several of these runners weren’t going to make it. But they were still running! At Moreland Gap, I switched over to a Camelback, and got ready for some night running (or more appropriately, walking). I always get extremely sleepy at night, and this year was no exception. I was plodding along, having mental debates about taking a nap, and how long, but trying to keep moving. I heard a group behind me, so I decided to lie down until they caught up to me. It was only a couple of minutes, but it felt SOOO good (that was the first time I had gotten off my feet all day). When they went by, I asked if they minded if I tagged along, and they said it would be great. It was a group of 2 runners and a pacer (Brian). They definitely had me moving faster than I would have on my own. At the next aid station, the runner with the pacer dropped due to medical issues. The pacer decided to keep pacing us.

We ended up leaving the aid station with another group, but I had gotten a second wind, so we (the pacer and I) ended up leaving the others. As we kept moving, we realized that there was a chance that we could squeak in under my “dream time.” The end was still too far off to really push it, but Brian and I tried to keep a strong pace. I was alternating walking and jogging quite a bit. We kept slogging up the hills, and running down them as fast as I could manage.

When we reached the final aid station (Elizabeth Furnace, 97.7 miles), I thought I had a definite chance to realize my dream. I knew the final section was shorter than previous years, but the climb was tougher. When we turned onto that final climb, I thought, this isn’t that bad. And then it got steeper. And it kept going. I knew it was a relatively short distance, but it seemed to never end. Each time I saw a glow stick in the distance I hoped it was the top, and so many times I was disappointed. Looking at my watch I realized we couldn’t make my “dream time” and I so wanted to give up, but Brian was trying so hard to encourage me I was afraid to even mention it. Finally we reached the top, and again looking at my watch, I again realized that we would not be able to make it. But I figured I should at least try. So we ran. And ran. There were a few (short) slight uphills after that, which to Brian’s frustration I insisted on walking, but other than that we were making good time. When we hit the gravel road, I again looked at my watch, and for the first time since we hit the last climb, I realized we were going to make it. I told Brian that I wanted him to finish beside me, since I’d still be on the trails without his encouragement. I also told him that I wanted to try to sprint the last little bit. He told me not to worry, he had been a sprinter in college, so he would be right beside me.

And then we were there. The finish line, no matter what the race, has to be one of the prettiest sights there is. I did end up finishing under my “dream time” even though I realistically thought I’d be much (hours) slower. Thanks Brian!

So thanks to my wife, for putting up with me and crewing, thanks to Brian for pacing a stranger to an unexpectedly good finish, and thanks to the event organizers and volunteers for a wonderful (but painful) race.

Kevin Townsend
Lebanon, VA

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