Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
A Slow Start and A Back of the Pack Finish
Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile
May 17-18, 2008
by Ed Cacciapaglia
All photos: Aaron Schwartzbard
I was on a Mission. After having to drop out of MMT at mile 84 last year, due to blood in my urine, my only DNF in any race to date, the Mission was to finish. Time goals didn’t matter, just finish.
The weather forecast called for warm and muggy conditions during the day and a cool and damp night. Substantial rain had fallen the days before the run, so I expected to get wet feet. Race director, Stan Duobinis, mentioned the wet course at the pre-race and suggested having a change of shoes ready at the Gap Creek Aid Station, as the section above Scothorn Gap was especially wet.
The rain cleared and the moon was just setting over the horizon as I walked the quarter mile from the chalet to the starting area at 4:30 a.m. This year, I wore a heart rate monitor and set the alarm to go off anytime my heart rate went over 155 which is significantly below my maximum heart rate of approximately 182. When the start sounded at 5 a.m., I was just coming out of the bathroom, so I was already 30 seconds behind. I took the road rather slowly, walking as soon as I heard the heart rate monitor start beeping. I continued the pattern as I went into the woods and up the Buzzards Rock Trail. With my late start and slow movement I never had much of a “conga line” to go through as I ascended to top of Buzzards Rock, though I passed an occasional runner. The sun rose as I neared the peak before beginning the descent to Shawl Gap. At Shawl Gap the course intersects with the orange Massanutten Trail for the first time before traversing a small section of trail that we get to go down again 95 miles later in the run, after cresting the last climb of the run.
I arrived at Shawl Gap Aid Station at 6:53 and picked up a 2nd hand held water bottle, got rid of my flash light, and ate some crackers and a Fig Newton before heading down the road to Veach Gap. Upon leaving the Shawl Gap my stomach was feeling nausea and so it would be for a good portion of the next day and a half. I skipped the usual pancake and bacon at Veach Gap and had only a cookie and a cup of water before headed up the mountain to Milford Gap. I had to make a visit to the deep woods before Milford Gap and was losing more time than I planned. My heart rate monitor beeped on a few of the steeper uphill patches, but for the most part my heart rate was staying just below my preset level as I climbed to the ridge and ran along the ridgetop.
Ed near Milford Gap
I spent what would normally be excessive time in almost every aid station after Milford Gap because eating while moving would only cause more upset. Caroline William, aka Kimchee Girl, gave me some ginger at a couple different aid stations, but I still ate mostly only crackers and chicken noodle soup for a good part of the run.
Habron Gap to 211-East and Bird Knob
I spent over 30 minutes at Habron Gap Aid Station and left after 11 a.m., catching up with Randy Dietz as he was heading up the trail. I stayed with Randy for a short time, but soon moved ahead of him. Randy said that it seemed to be getting hot. Every year it gets hot in this section of MMT. Must be the time of day we do it, late morning. Unlike some past years, I moved well through this section catching seven or eight runners on the Stevens Trail. After making the long climb from Habron, I never heard my heart monitor go off the rest of the run.
The Duncan Hollow section was the first really wet section with portions of the trail under water and lots of mud. In terms of my day running this was probably my worst section as I slogged the whole way until the last half mile into Gap Creek. Up near the top of the Gap Creek Trail, a sign warned me to stay right, Rattlesnake ahead. Never did see that snake or snakes, though I heard several people talk about it later in the run.
At Gap Creek, I took off my shoes and cleaned off my socks and the inside of the shoes, ate a granola bar and some crackers before heading across Crisman Hollow Road and beginning the first ascent of Jawbone. After hiking up Jawbone and taking a left on at the orange Massanutten Trail and up the Kern Mountain ridge I once again caught up to Randy Dietz and moved by him. Even though my stomach was still nauseous, I made good time on Kern Mountain. While the trail is nasty on Kern, most of the last four miles of it are downhill or flat. And the last mile of it is relatively rock free and fun to run. Unlike previous years, I actually enjoyed this part of the run, until I got to the Waterfall downhill, which is too steep to call fun. It was on the steep section that I finally caught up with Gary Knipling for the first time since Shawl Gap. At the bottom of Waterfall Mountain, I made the turn and saw Joe Clapper coming the other way, already done with Bird Knob and over 60 miles into the run and looking very good. Soon I went by JJ (James) Rochelle, but shortly after that slowed down and was passed by both Gary and JJ.
As I was getting close to 211 East, I thought about the fact that I had left my main nighttime running gear (a Camelbak and two handheld Pelican LED flashlights) at Gap Creek, so I needed to alter plans for lights, as it would surely be getting dark by the time I was coming down from Bird Knob. My 211 East drop had a 3rd Pelican LED and a couple of other lighting options, so I was able to adjust my lighting strategy without freaking out.
Again, I spent a lot of time at the aid station, but was unable to eat anything other crackers and a coke before grabbing one of the lights and heading up Bird Knob. It was becoming a recurring pattern, I’d pass runners on the trail that would come into the aid station as much as 20 minutes after me and leave before me. I was playing this leap frog game with several runners: Gary Knipling, Dave Yeakel, Bill Wandel, JJ, Randy Dietz and a few others.
I grabbed a shirt and left 211 East heading up to Bird Knob with Randy and was soon passed by Rob Apple and Wesley Fenton, who seemed to be moving along well. Gary and Dave left before me and I did not see them until the Bird Knob Aid Station. There I sat and ate some soup and crackers and saw Russ Evans and Beth Lannon, working the aid station with Charlie and Betty Miracle. I was disappointed to see Carolyn Gernand there because it probably meant that she had been timed out. I passed her early in the day and had not seen her since.
The sun had already set when I left Bird Knob. By the time I got back to 211 East it was after 10 P.M. In previous years I was out of this aid station by 7:45 or earlier. When I arrived, I saw Gary and Dave. Gary’s crew person, Bunny Runyan, found a pacer, Kim, for Gary.
Slogging to Gap Creek II
Before leaving 211 East, I changed into a long sleeved shirt and got rid of one of my water bottles so I would have a free hand for my flashlight. I wrapped a headlamp around my water bottle and headed across the highway and up to the Gap Creek Trail. Randy had left a minute ahead of me and I soon caught up with him. We mostly walked up the old fire road and I decided to stay with Randy for a while. It was apparent to me at this point that I was going to have a slower finish than in past years, but I was in it for the finish, so I had no thoughts of failure. As we approached the turnoff for the white blazed trail, Gary, Dave Yeakel and pacer Kim caught up with us. We traveled together for most of the section leading up to Scothorn Gap.
Shortly after we reached the orange blazed Massanutten Trail leading up to Scothorn Gap, it started to rain. Randy, Dave and Gary stopped to put on rain gear. I didn’t have any rain gear with me, so I kept moving as previous experience taught that I had a better chance of staying warm if I kept moving. It rained somewhat steadily, at times hard, for around a half hour. I never did get cold during the rain as my movement kept my body temperature well regulated. Near Scothorn Gap we came across a runner (David Lieb) who was cold and moving slowly and asked that we tell the Gap Creek aid station workers that “#85 needs his sweats…”
Soon we got to the sloppiest part of the trail, the section just beyond the turnoff for Scothorn Gap, which we used to take, until the course was changed for last year’s MMT. My vote is to restore the old section and eliminate the G.D. swamp section that they have the audacity to call a trail (the yellow blazed Scothorn from Scothorn Gap to the Gap Creek Trail). This section of trail is almost never dry, but this year it was particularly wet and muddy. Dave Yeakel and I took the lead in this section and we both agreed it sucked. But even nasty things come to an end and we eventually connected with the Gap Creek Trail and I took off and led the train into the Gap Creek Aid Station shortly after 12:45 a.m.
Bunny and Helen were waiting for us at Gap Creek. Jon Norris, attempting his first 100 miler was sitting around the fire, shivering in a space blanket. I asked him, “How long have you been here?” “Two hours.” “Well get your butt up and get yourself a G.D. pacer and get going”, I yelled at him. So Jon found a pacer and took off, eventually finishing the run an hour ahead of me. Dave Yeakel took off his shoes and socks and his feet were in awful condition. I suggested to Dave that he pop and drain the nasty blister in the middle of his shriveled up foot. I decided not to check my feet out at this point as the unsettled stomach still was the main issue and I didn’t need any other distractions. I was able to take in only a coke, some ginger, a granola bar, and crackers. I changed out my water bottle for the Camelbak, grabbed a waterproof jacket and added a 2nd flashlight before heading up Jawbone.
The Darkest Hours
I moved slowly as I was not feeling all that good. After all, it was after 1 a.m. and normally, I’d be sleeping. I had no trouble with the climb, but at one point on the backside of Jawbone I went slightly off course. The course was using the reflectors instead of glow sticks to augment the ribbons marking the trail during the day. The reflectors helped some, but I find the glow sticks more helpful. My movement was slow in this section, but when I got to Moreland Gap, Gary and pacer Kim were still there. Randy Dietz had moved on and Dave Yeakel came in a minute or two after me. I had a granola bar, a ginger ale and some Coke before heading up to Short Mountain with Gary and Kim. Gary soon moved ahead and Dave caught up with me.
Several other runners were climbing Short Mountain. Gary and Dave caught up with them during the climb. I trailed a little behind. Near the top of the climb I caught up. The traverse across Short Mountain seemed harder this year as we were starting it at 3 a.m. instead of the usual 11 p.m. or midnight in years past. On this particular night I thought Short Mountain really does suck when you do it at this hour of the night. I told Gary, “I need to do the JJ thing”, so eventually, I stopped, closed my eyes and laid back on a rock for two minutes. But there is no rest for the weary and as soon as my eyes were closed, Challen Edwards and her pacer, mountain woman Sharon Lapkoff came upon me. Sharon told me to get moving, so after another minute I got up and followed them across the rest of Short Mountain, going past them after the trail makes the turn towards Edinberg Gap and catching up with Gary, Dave and pacer Kim on the way down. We all scurried on down to the Aid Station.
Daylight on Powell Mtn.
Helen and Bunny were waiting for us. I hated not taking the potato soup. But I decided the chicken noodle soup was better for stomach, so Jim Cavanaugh brought me the soup and a coke. I attempted to catch a few minutes of shut eye. When I found out how close we were to the cut-off at 7:10, I decided the prudent thing was to get moving again. Dave Yeakel had Phil Rosenstein waiting to pace him. I took off behind them, but passed them as we hiked up toward Waonaze. Gary and pacer Kim were right behind me. Upon reaching the top, I began running slowly. It seems easier running Powell at night because the rocks are more invisible. Yes, it isn’t nearly as nasty as Short Mountain but plenty of rocks covered the trail. At least I could see where I was going, so I could plan my foot landings carefully. After we reached the place where the trail crosses over and joins the blue trail, Gary, Dave and the two pacers caught up with me. After we crossed back over the ridge to the last, nastiest two miles of Powell Mtn., my large toe on my right foot started hurting, so I had to stop and take off my shoe. When I did, the top sock ripped, so I took it off. Fortunately, I use two socks, Injinjis for the inner sock. I took around 10 minutes to clean my foot and shoes, before putting my shoes back on and moving forward to Woodstock. Dave and Phil had already left, but Gary was still being tended to by the time I got to Woodstock. I changed shoes and Barb Isom served me up a couple of sandwich sections, water and Coke as Helen got my drop bag and a fresh pair of shoes. I cleaned my feet, which were fairly shriveled up and quite dirty with an accumulation of mud, sand and other debris from 84 miles on the trails.
Onward to the Finish
Gary was long gone by the time I headed towards Powell’s Fort. A couple of other runners came and went ahead of me, but I went past them on the trail. One was Shihab Shamma, an experienced last-hour finisher. By the time I got to Powells Fort, my stomach was finally feeling right enough to enjoy some pancakes and bacon along with some fruit juice and I felt a bit revived. Shihab and a couple of other runners came and went while I ate my breakfast. It didn’t matter to me because I knew that at 89 miles in I had this one in the bag even though it would be a back of the pack finish.
Some other runners came in and left Powell’s Fort at the same time I left. They were walk/running on the road that serves as a trail between Powell’s Fort and the base of Signal Knob. I continued to walk as I know this section has an uphill grade and running required more effort than I was willing to give it this late into the run. I knew the climb up to Meneka Peak and I was ready for that high that I get when I reach the crest and start that 4.1 mile run down into Elizabeth Furnace. But my feet were beat up today and I was feeling tired from 33+ hours on the trail, so my speed on that section was unusually slow. I was thinking I would ask for a pacer at Elizabeth Furnace as I was mentally depleted. Around 1.5 miles into the descent I saw Caroline Williams, walking up the trail. Caroline asked if I was the last runner. I told her I thought there were two or three behind me. I asked her if she was interested in pacing me into Elizabeth Furnace. She agreed and was extremely helpful in getting me to meditatively concentrate on my running. Two other runners caught up with me on this section, but I picked it up and went by them in the last half mile where the trail gets steeper before dropping down into Elizabeth Furnace.
Stan Welcomes Ed to the Finish
Helen, and to my surprise my step-son, Jason, were waiting for me at Elizabeth Furnace. I ate two ice cream treats and drank some water as two other runners came in and quickly left ahead of me. Only one runner, Tony Escobar, had not come through at 3:02 P.M. when I finally left for the last climb and the dash down to the Skyline Ranch finish line. Caroline agreed to go with me the rest of the way.
Slowly, I walked out, but soon started running, making good time. Near the crest I could see the two runners who left Elizabeth Furnace a few minutes ahead of me. I went past them just beyond Shawl Gap and took off for the home stretch, passing several other runners on the way down the mountain. At this point Caroline had trouble staying up with me. Eventually I slowed down as we criss crossed the stream several times. Soon the cul de sac at the end of the gravel road was in sight. The gravel road seemed longer than I remember from past finishes, but soon the pavement appeared and I knew we were close. Caroline wanted me to go ahead. I insisted that she at least come across the field with me. I came across the line at 35:36 with less than 24 minutes to spare. But a finish is a finish. Mission Accomplished!
The heart rate strategy worked well enough. My heart rate averaged 126 beats per minute for the 101.8 miles. The highest average heart rate per section after Camp Roosevelt was 133 on both the Kern Mountain/Waterfall Mountain section and the last 5 mile section.
Helen and Ed at the finish
Thanks to my wife, Helen, for crewing and tolerating my grumpiness, Gary Knipling, Dave Yeakel, Randy Dietz, and the other runners I shared time with on the trail, Caroline Williams for showing up at the right time to go the last 8 miles with me and for the ginger, Race Director, Stan Duobinis, all the aid station captains and workers, the other runners, and especially, all the volunteers who made the 2008 MMT possible.
See you here next May!