Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
Massanutten Mt Trails 100
Front Royal, Virginia
May 16-17, 2009
by Xtreme Taper
(aka: Dave Krausse)
[Links, which are mostly photos, open into new windows.]
My apologies. It's very long.....
Gosh, where to start the beginning of this little life adventure? How about last year, when I signed up for MMT only to miss getting into the race by 2 slots, moving all the way up to 2nd on the waiting list before the race closed for 2008. Thankfully I had backup plans which included volunteering at the Gap Creek aid station during the day, and then pacing my friend Angus through the night and to the finish. It was probably the most fun running moment in my life watching him have such a fantastic first 100 miler, encouraging him, and telling him whacky tales while up in the mountains. It was pretty much a given that I would sign up in 2009 and with a bit more experience under my belt having completed Laurel Highlands 70 miler over the summer.
This year there was no waiting list for me. I made it in through the lottery and the only problem I had was trying to get rid of a nasty case of PF that had made it difficult for me to train during the month of December and early January. I took my wife's advice and visited a podiatrist and was prescribed a few weeks of physical therapy that did a world of good. By mid January I was able to resume longs runs again without any heel pain and was back in business and on the road to MMT.
As for my training plan for MMT it was pretty simple. Run and run often. Run trails as often as I could. Hilly ones. Rocky ones. Once in awhile even flat ones. It was the most fun training cycle ever for me as Angus and I would usually get together once a week either by ourselves or with some of the other TrailDawgs for some crazy long runs on the various trails in our area. We hit the Horseshoe trail, Mason Dixon trail, Appalachian Trail, as well as our standby locations like Fair Hill and my home trails at French Creek Park. There is plenty of good training around here for MMT. I've heard people say that training for a 100 miler is hard and there certainly were moments but I sure had a lot of fun doing so. I guess having a friend and training partner like Angus really helps. It would be impossible to thank him enough.
I also put some of my longest runs in the schedule as organized races. I ran the DWD Green Swamp 50k down in FL over the winter, the HAT 50k, BullRunRun 50 miler, and also the Delaware Trail marathon. All of these races were strong runs for me and 2 of them were even pretty warm with conditions close to what I might get at MMT, or so I thought. I had a lot to learn about MMT weather.
The MMT course
Skip this if you know it. The MMT course basically does a circle around the eastern and western range of the Massanutten Mountains just outside of Front Royal, VA. The course includes a dozen significant climbs up and down the ridge and it seems as leaving almost every aid station results in a significant climb and then later a matching descent to the next one. Significant climbs can be taken to mean 1,000-1,500 feet. Combine that with a multitude of rocks and it's a pretty unrelenting ride.
Start to GapCreek
Staying at the Skyline ranch afforded me the luxury of sleeping in until about 3:45am for the 5am race start. Plenty of time to have some breakfast and get ready to go. Once over at the start line though I was amazed at how quickly the clocked ticked towards 5am. Almost too fast. Angus was there wandering around with his camera and caught me just before the start.
The clocked ticked to 5am and just like that off I went through the grass field and out onto the road for a 2.4 mile stretch of pavement to wake up the legs. It was still dark of course and it was kind of a surreal moment to start the day. My mind had not quite grasped that I would still be out here running in these mountains the following morning, more than 24 hours from now. Kind of like thinking about the end of the world... don't dwell on the thought too much as it will drive you crazy. Just stay in the here and now.
The first significant climb of the day took me up the Buzzard's Rock Trail, where we followed the white blazes up and up. It wasn't too steep at first, but as the climb progressed it eventually became too steep for me and many others around me to run. The views near the top were spectacular with the rising sun and blue sky above us and the Shenandoah and other surrounding valleys hidden beneath a layer of gray fog. I run some hilly places at home in PA but only a few have views comparable to this. After finally topping out on the hill, we headed steeply down before making a right onto the Shawl Gap trail for a fast and furious descent into the first aid station. Somehow I ended up setting the pace down the single track for a little band of runners and it made me a bit nervous but I went ahead and opened things up a bit and in all honestly it was nice to be in the front of this little pack as it gave me a nice sightline for any obstacles. Once the trail widened onto a fire road, a few runners went by me but I was holding my pace in check to something that felt reasonably fast but easy effort. I cruised into the aid station sweaty as all get out but feeling pretty pleased about my first section of the race.
Once again my partner in crime was there to catch a photo of me cruising into the Shawl Gap aid station. I ditched my sweat covered shirt here and decided to run the next 31 miles to Gap Creek shirtless as I figured the forecasted thunderstorms would not arrive until later in the day, and didn't see any point to wearing a soggy shirt in the heat.
Angus and Mark were waiting for me here at Shawl Gap and they had some bad news for me. My first drop bag was nowhere to be found. It contained some pretty critical items to get me through the next 31 miles of the race. Namely my gels and salt tablets. That's all I had here and it was gone. Angus had some spare gel and he helped me find someone who had some salt tabs and a container to pack them in so I could easily carry them in my shorts pocket. That crew really saved my day. I suppose I might have been able to make it without them but it would have been rough as I had planned to be somewhat self-sufficient between the aid stations as I was not sure they would have these extra supplements handy. I was relieved when I left Shawl Gap all stocked up like I had planned. Phew... a near meltdown.
The section to Veach Gap was an easy 3.1 miles on a mostly rolling dirt road. Not much to say about this section other than there was a bit of fog cover that kept the temperature down. I ran at an easy but pretty steady pace on the road and arrived at the aid station to find some pancakes and sausages that I rolled up pigs-in-a blanket style. I guess I could have slept a few minutes longer and skipped breakfast as they had some good eating here! I took my breakfast along for the next big climb back up to the ridge where we'd join the Massanutten Trail finally. Only problem was the first part of the climb was pretty gentle so it was difficult to both run and eat my second breakfast of the day. Eventually the trail turned left and the climb became very steep from there up to the ridgeline. Some guy walked up behind me here and asked me how old I was and whether I'd push him off the cliff if he passed me if we were in the same age group. I said no of course but was looking forward to passing him later in the day.
Once on the ridge the running was pretty good and the views of the Shenandoah River twisting and snaking in the valley below were outstanding. A photographer was on the ridge to take our picture as we headed to the Milford Gap aid station. I'm not sure how they stocked this place as it was way up high on the ridge with no obvious road access. I had some fruit and a pudding and thanked the volunteers before heading back on trail for a short run on the ridge before turning off the Massanutten trail onto a purple blazed trail back downhill. This trail was very steep at first but the grade lessened and soon it was good for running without banging the quads too much. I was starting to realize how this course was going to be. Climb up up up and bang your quads on the way down. Repeat often. My quads were feeling it a bit already too. Geez. After a few miles the trail ended at a dirt road and flour chalk pointed the direction to the next aid station and it was marked as being 4 miles away. I really settled into the race here on this dirt road. Just kind of shut everything out of my mind and eased into a nice steady pace and focused on just catching up to the runner ahead of me and then the next one and so forth. I passed a lot of runners on the way to the Habron Gap aid station which was probably a good thing as I tend to linger at the aid stations a bit too long.
I met the crew of one of TrailDawg Scott's friends at the Habron Gap aid station and she had some dietary recommendations that I politely declined seeing that my eating habits are legendary. I did stick with my habit of eating something, filling up my bottles, and drinking 3 or 4 extra cups of fluid before moving on. The sun was out pretty strong now and the next station at Camp Roosevelt was nearly 10 miles away. The section started with a climb (of course) that was gentle and angly at first, and very wooded. I half expected to see a bear here, and found out later it was the section where Angus did spot one last year. Perhaps it was all the bear themed residences along the road away back that put those thoughts in my head. After awhile the trail did what I expected and that is to turn sharply and steeply up the ridge. The trail was very exposed to the sun here but other than the deer flies biting my sweating back I was feeling ok. I ran into a guy named Mike, who I had met last night at Scott's cabin, and he was really having a tough time with the hill. I stopped for a moment to check on him, but he said he didn't need any salt or gels, and thought he was just getting a bit dehydrated. I felt bad for him as there was still a long way to go with the climb and to the next aid station. I shuffled on though after he said he'd just take it slow and finished my climb back up to the ridgeline.
The course turned back onto the Massanutten trail and a few other runners hooked up behind me for the run to Camp Roosevelt. One of them was a talkative one and mentioned to his buddy that they were on a 30 hour pace, which seemed off to me, as I thought I was still pretty close to the 27.5 hour one I'd given Angus as a pie-in-the sky estimate. I discounted it though seeing it was still so early in the run. The trail up here was pretty good and had more excellent views of the valley, though there were a few narrow tricky spots where it seemed to run on the side of the mountain and care had to be taken so as to not slip off and fall to a serious injury. Seeing that I'm a little scared about exposed heights it's kind of silly for me to be up here, but well, here I am. Thankfully these sections were brief and soon we'd be back on more typical ridge line trail.
After a longer time than expected the course finally branched onto the yellow blazed Stephen's trail for the run down to Camp Roosevelt which was about 5 miles away. Mostly downhill running here and of course it started with a steep section that I took carefully, then eased into some better pacing as I progressed downhill. After about a mile though I caught a rock with my toe and took a pretty significant tumble and smacked the lower part of my right knee pretty good. I had one of those "oh crap" moments then worrying about if I damaged my chances of completing the race. The fall also caused those strange muscle movements and with the distance already under my legs and the heat it caused a few cramps. A runner behind me stopped to check on me which was very nice but I told him I'd be ok in a minute I thought and to go on ahead. I got back up and decided to walk for a bit even though the trail was downhill just to feel things out. Plus I probably needed to pop a gel and some salt tabs anyway. I got passed a lot here, probably by all those people I overtook on the road, but not much I could do. Just wanted to shake the fall off the best I could.
After about 5 minutes of walking I determined all systems were go, breathed a sigh of relief and began running again though at a more conservative pace. The remaining miles to Camp Roosevelt aid station were pretty mild, but it still seemed to take a long time to get to the road that led us to the aid station and my 2 handheld bottles were drained this time. I got a nice surprise coming into the aid station as someone shouted my name and then introduced herself as Zipper from the forums. What a sweety! It put a big smile on my face as we'd often traded posts on the forums and finally I got to meet her. She was even brave enough to pose for a photo with my dirty, buggy, disgusting, sweaty self. Of course it made me smile!
I was pretty happy leaving Camp Roosevelt and finished up a tasty chocolate chip cookie as I left the aid station. Plus the next aid station was Gap Creek where Angus and a few other TrailDawgs would be, so it was pretty exciting. I was moving along well in the race. I was back on the Massuntten trail again and the early part of this trail was pretty gentle and runnable. There were a few stream crossings where getting wet was unavoidable and in fact several of these I just bent down and splashed some water over my face and body to cool off and wash off some of the trail and bug detritus. The trail became a bit wider after a bit, almost like an un-maintained fire road and a rushing creek flew downhill next to me (while I went uphill). I was tempted a few times to bushwhack over there and take a seat but that's something you do during a goofy training run. The same guy (Aaron) that photographed us on the ridge hours ago was now here taking photos and I told him I was still smiling as he snapped the camera but he caught me in a more serious reflective state. Yes, it was getting hard and hot and I was tiring of the deer flies eating me up.
I knew we had another steep ridge climb before coming into Gap Creek and it turned out to be a very slow rocky one. Once on the other side it was all downhill to the aid station but some muddy rocky boggy sections slowed me down some and really started to muck up my shoes and feet. This was probably the wettest section yet today. I also heard some thunder in the distance and looking out over Kerns mountain it looked like a storm was brewing. Just before the aid station I ran into Traildawgs Laurie and Chris out for a little nature walk and it was great seeing a known face again. I made it into Gap Creek feeling pretty good and there was Angus there to capture the moment in all it's glory whilst feeding me and checking out my condition.
So far: 39.8 miles, current time 1:38 pm (estimate 1:45pm), time running 8:38
Kern's Mountain, Bird Knob, and Back to Gap Creek
I sat for awhile at Gap Creek and Angus and Mark kept me fed and hydrated while I re-supplied my gel and salt tab stash, and Angus took care of my feet. I had a small blister on base of the big toe so we duct taped that, and then I put on fresh shoes, socks, and a shirt and finally headed on my way after a long 20+ minute break. Time can really get away from you at an aid station if you let it. Still, it was a good break and a long way yet until I'd return to pick up Angus for the night portion.
As usual, a big climb awaited me after leaving Gap Creek up to the top of Kern's Mountain. I was immediately wondering if a shirt was a wise idea as it was still sunny and hot and I was burning up during the climb. Soon a crack of thunder convinced me I probably made a good decision. I finally made it to the saddle where you go left the first time, and right later to start the run back to the ranch. I headed left to the top of Kern's mountain, a section that Angus told me he had his lowest point last year. Another clap of thunder and now I am on the ridge and can see out to the valley to the west and it's dark and grey and I'm certainly about to get wet. Yes, the fun is starting. The rain comes down pretty heavy up here and my progress gets slowed first by wet glasses and then by near sightedness when I take them off. I'm certainly not running up here as the rocks are slick and I can't really see that far. Thankfully I'm under some trees so the few flashes of lightening aren't that intimidating. I walk for what seems like a long time, getting passed often by faster walkers. I'm pretty discouraged at first, but can't really do much about it. Just the way it is. Suck it up and just keep moving along the best you can. Relentless forward motion as someone once said.
A few walkers stick with me and after an hour or so the storm abates and I'm able to see again in the lighter drizzle. This brightens my mood, and the frequency of the rocks lessens and I'm running again. I'm talking a little bit with a guy behind me that I can't see and he's asking me about the RTB relay as that's what's on the back of the shirt I'm wearing. I'm running down the ridge now and I've picked up the pace again and I soon find out this guy isn't even in the race. He's just out for a training run while crewing a friend. I comment that he could have likely found a better section to run!
With the storm ended the weather now is a bit cooler, and the course turns off the trail to run down the mountain on the road to the next aid station at the Massanutten Visitor's Center. I almost hate to say it but these little road sections were kind of a welcome break from some of the more gnarly trail as it gave you a chance to shake out the legs a bit. I ran into Vicki Kendall, who I had met last year at dinner before the Cheat Mountain run. We had a brief talk before I headed ahead down the road and to the bottom of the hill. I felt pretty much back into things now that the storm had abated and I could see again.
I stopped briefly at the aid station at the Visitor's Center to load up my bottles and get a few snacks. I moved out of there pretty fast as I was feeling good and wanted to keep moving. This section started off with an easy ¼ mile trail that was as easy as we'd seen all day. I ran it well, and felt great. Soon we branched off onto the Massanutten South Trail and began the biggest climb of the day up to Bird Knob. It was steep and long but not as bad as I had feared. It seemed I even ran a lot of it on the way up once we got passed the overlook where you could see miles and miles across the valley to the west. The trail did a loop about a mile or two from the Bird Knob aid station and it really leveled out there and was nice and soft and grassy before turning into a gravel road. I made good time into the aid station and said hello to Harry on the way in, as I had met him briefly on a trail run this winter around Mount Gretna, and he was manning the aid station.
It was close to dinner time now so I decided a dinner of hotdogs and strawberries would be nice and after eating that I headed on down the white trail to complete the loop and start my way down the mountain. The downhill off Bird Knob seemed pretty tricky to me in the wet conditions so I kept it slow and tried to be careful. Still about halfway down I lost my footing in some mud and began to slide, smashing my face into a young tree about 6-8 inches in diameter. I had that thought again that I had done something really bad to my race as I hit that tree pretty hard. I checked my head and my nose and determined the worst that had happened was a bloody nose. So I ran/hiked down Bird Knob with a bloody nose while those heading up told me "I was looking good". Yeah right! It began to cloud up again as I was descending and I started to hear thunder again. I was kind of hoping this next storm was moving south but kind of doubted it.
In a few miles I was at the Picnic Area where I had a drop bag with my lights for the night and a fresh shirt. It wasn't dark yet, and in fact was only a little past 6:15pm but I thought it would be best to have my lights here rather than at Gap Creek, just in case. So I had some snacks, grabbed my night gear, and put on a dry shirt and headed out the trail knowing I'd be picking up Angus in a couple of hours once back at Gap Creek.
As soon as I was back on the trail I was taken aback by how dark it had gotten. Like I mentioned, it was just past 6pm but it seemed so dark I probably could have already used my headlamp. The darkness was from the next storm though, and minutes later the lightening flashed and the thunder cracked and the rain really let loose this time. Within a few moments the trail had turned into a little stream that was roaring pretty good. Plus I swear I felt some small pieces of hail. So much for my dry shirt. I guess there was no sense complaining but when the trail dumped me out into open land used for a power pole path I was a little concerned about the flash of lightening I heard right before the boom. Pretty close, that one! I was happy when the trail turned quickly back in the woods even though it was no longer a trail, but a streambed. It was better then being in the open.
The rain was still coming down pretty hard as I made my way across 211 and back via the white connector to the Massanutten Trail. I ran into a runner I'd been going back and forth here and took a few moments to introduce myself and have some idle conversation. She pointed out to me a big pile of leaves that were being pushed down a sluice and on down the mountain. It almost looked like that pile of leaves was alive. Anyway, I told JoAnn that I wanted to run a bit so I headed up the trail to take on the rest of this storm by myself. Some might get discouraged by these conditions but all I could really think of is "well, I'm not even 65 miles into the race yet and it's sure going to get worse than this eventually". So with that thought, and the knowledge I'd see Angus soon I made my way up the mountain.
It was a beautiful section too; all wet and wild and full or roaring streams and very jungle like. The trail mostly went uphill here but there were a few areas where I found some decent footing and grades for running. I remember a few obstacles here too.. several creeks to ford, a big section of fallen trees, and finally a crossing of a rather fast moving creek on a pair or ragged weather worn boards. Instead of getting down, I just cursed and laughed a bit at these obstacles. "In the Light" was in my head and for awhile it was like I was back at Laurel Highlands. Anyway, eventually I made it to the turn of the Scothorn Gap Trail just as I heard some runners behind me. Must be someone with a pacer I reckon. I don't hear them for long though as the trail runs by a wet swampy area that is full of those loud chirping frogs, creepers, whatever they are called. If you've never heard them, it's pretty cool. First the sound is low and chirpy, but the closer you get the louder it gets until it's all you hear. In an ironic twist it almost sounds like the chirping of a chip mat at a big road race like Boston or New York.
Well, it's starting to get pretty dark now and it's still raining but I hesitate to turn on my light just yet. I'm holding out as long as I can. The two runners behind me are fast approaching and one of them shouts out my name. I soon realize it's Chris, SoundandFury and his brother. I decide now is time to get out my lights as they go by me as I'm running this downhill fire road a bit too slow. I catch them when the trail turns back onto the Crisman Hollow road and run with Chris and his brother to Gap Creek where I can pick up Angus and began my run into the night. Almost 65 miles under my belt now and I feel like I'm on the homestretch of the race, but there is still a whole night's worth of running to go so that's not even close to being true.
So far: 64.9 miles, current time 8:41 pm (estimate 8:35pm), time running 15:41
Gap Creek to the Powell's Fort
The contrast between my first arrival at Gap Creek earlier this afternoon and now couldn't be more extreme. Ha. Get it. One word about sums it up. Grim. Not so much my condition, but how things looked and felt at the aid station. It was pouring rain, dark, maybe chilly, not to me, but probably to the volunteers, and it just seemed like a place I wanted to leave and leave quickly. But of course I didn't. I had too much to do and one taste of a fresh quesadilla made by Hunt changed my mind that I had to stay just a bit and refuel some. I felt I was running around a bit with my head chopped off trying to grab supplies from my drop bag, eat, rehydrate and get ready for the night. Thank God Angus was there to keep me in line and help me out. I had thought about changing when I arrived at the aid station but with the heavy rain it didn't make much sense to put on any dry clothes or socks. They'd just get soaked instantly. Angus confirmed this was the choice du'jour for runners around this time and it made sense. So after eating, restocking gels, salt, extra batteries, and my rain shell we took off. I stayed in short sleeves as I wasn't cold at all yet.
Now this part of the course I knew from pacing last year but I wasn't expecting it to be the same at all. I ran it fresh as a pacer last year and now I've got 65 miles under my legs in soaked shoes. When we started the climb up to Jawbone Gap I immediately began to walk. No attempt to run this like last year. The rain was still coming down hard during the climb and occasional sharp bright flashes of lightening would light up the night sky and the trail making headlamps and flashlights useless for a second or two. I found these brief explosions most beautiful. Before I knew it Angus and I were at the pie plate that marked the turn down to Moreland Gap. It was really a long time on the watch, but it went by so fast to me. Having a pacer does that for you I guess.
The run down the mountain to Moreland Gap was frustrating for me. It didn't seem like I ran at all. Stopping and starting and trying not to slip or fall and bang myself into the rocks made it a very tedious process. All I can remember from last year is Angus totally rocking this downhill section so for me to stink it up was miserable. We made it to the aid station eventually (2.8 mi in 1:04 less 15-20 minute break at Gap Creek) and I realized soon I would be exceeding my Laurel Highlands distance. There were some friends still at the aid station too. Chris and his brother, and Vicki who kept talking about dropping soon. I think it helped me out to catch up to some other runners here, and I made quick work of the aid station snagging a Twinkie as my special treat.
The group of us headed out and made our way up to Short Mountain. Somehow I was in the lead, and was treated to setting the slow slogging pace during the easy mile before the climb. We met up with another runner before the climb, a guy named Jay (I found this out later and would see him all night) who was in search of the trail. As the climb began I took a bio break and let Chris and his brother lead the way. Other then their headlamps during the climb, I never saw them again. Vicki joined us during the short climb up to the ridge and just like last year as a pacer there seemed like there was no place to run. That's not really true though, as some strong women racer came blowing by us with her pacer like there wasn't a single rock on the trail.
We walked our way along the ridge with idle conversation between me, Angus, and Vicki while trying not to get off trail too often in the trickier rock piled sections. I listened to the distant traffic on I-81 and looked at the lights of the valleys far below. The rain had mostly stopped and it was quite comfortable out now. Time dragged on, but progress was being made and we eventually reached the more runnable part of the mountain a mile or two before Edinburg Gap and the next aid station. It took us 3:01 to cross the 8.2 miles of Short Mountain according the race recorded splits.
I didn't want to linger too long at Edinburg Gap as I was feeling like I needed to get started in this next section as I knew it was going to be hard, but I thought easier than Short Mountain. Boy was I wrong. As a pacer last year I remember running a lot of this section with Angus but after the huge initial climb ended I could find no way to run, at least nothing more than a shuffling jog for a few minutes.
Vicki asked if she could lead for a bit and so I said sure and a minute later she was gone, never to be seen again. She had a great race though, finishing as first senior female and setting a new course record for that group. Pretty amazing stuff really and I was there just for a brief part of it. How cool is that?! Anyway, try as I might I could barely run. I passed Jay and some other guy that were kind of paired out there on the mountain but as soon as I passed it seemed like I was reduced to a walking shuffle again. It started raining again soon and my wet feet were really taking a beating now and each step kind of made me cringe as it usually involved rubbing my heel or forefoot on a rock and it hurt. I tried not to whine of course with Angus around but I'm sure I grunted a million times or two.
Finally we saw the sign stating we had only a mile to go to the Woodstock Tower aid station. I think we may have been simulating running again too. Probably not though, as it seemed like 10 minutes later the next sign said ½ mile to go. Geez. I let Jay and the other runner go by me here so I could take a bio break. Funny, but I'd been peeing a lot tonight. We slogged it into the aid station and I was already planning to take a long break here to regroup, as it was my last drop bag location and last chance to change clothes, socks, etc, plus my feet likely needed some work and I felt like I was chafing in several areas. Still, I felt ok. I was 84.1 miles into the race and was sure I would finish, but I just didn't know how long or painful it would be. I took a seat in the chair next to Jay at the aid station and felt a bit of relief for awhile.
So far: 84.1 miles, current time 3:48am (estimate 3:00am), time running 22:48.
Woodstock Tower to the Finish
The Woodstock Tower aid station was nicely lit and thankfully covered from any of the elements. Besides Jay and myself, there was another runner who had been tagging along with us during the night and he had plopped himself down in a chair, asked for a blanket, and proceeded to immediately take a nap. I knew I was going to be here for awhile but mostly just to gather myself and get ready for the final haul. Yeah, only 17+ miles to go but if you do the math at less than 4mph there is still a lot of time to go.
Angus threw a bunch of food at me while one of the aid station volunteers, an angel in disguise, stood behind me and poured me cups of hot soup. Jay headed out after awhile and I continued to slowly get my act together. Take off shoes, socks, let Angus (bless is heart) check out my feet, change shirts, get jacket/gloves, fresh hat, re-supply gels, re-lube my chafing body parts in front of the whole world. There was a lot to do and it took me awhile. Midway the aid station's generator went out too but they remedied that situation rapidly. They had coffee here too so I had a cup and then finished up my preparations. Phew. I am bushed, but it's time to head out on the trail again.
We follow the party lights back onto the trail and my body is complaining a lot from the long rest. I guess it wanted to keep going or rest for good. As far as trail sections, this is about the easiest on the course. It's 5.2 miles of mostly flat, at worst gently rolling, rocky but runnable trail with a steep downhill at the end. With that said, I totally stunk it up, barely able to jog and walking most all of it. My feet hurt so bad. Nearly with every step, as it felt like both the heel and ball of the foot had been rubbed raw by the wet conditions and the rocks. Daylight was coming on by the end of the section and that helped some but time just clicked on by and it seemed little progress was being made. I was sure I would be passed in this section since I was going so slow but it never happened. I felt a bit bad for Angus here, him having to join me for this long slog of a hike through the night. Some training run for him. As Forest would say, that's all I have to say about that.
As we approached the aid station to Powell's Fort the trail hit a dirt road and that woke me up some as for a minute or two there were no rocks and I was able to run it in. I was kind of looking forward to this aid station as SpreT from the RW forum and Zipper was supposed to be here. It's kind of amazing but I snapped out of my funk here. SpreT said I looked great and whether I did or not as I ate a pancake and some bacon I had to admit mentally I felt pretty strong. My feet were pretty thrashed but my head was still in the game. I chided Angus a bit that it was time to get moving and Spre said that's what he likes to here; the runner telling the pacer to get a move on.
I knew this next section had a few miles of runnable dirt fire road before turning up onto the blue Tuscarora trail for another steep climb. I'd pretty much rushed Angus out of the last aid station and was chowing down on a pancake and bacon as we made our way through a soggy field towards the road. I joked a bit with Angus here about how I tried to make him run this section of road last year and how much he hated me for it that night. I was back into things now.
So when we got to the road, I began to run again. It seemed like for the first time in hours and hours. I started into a pretty ok pace I guess for someone at 90 miles into a race, but after a ¼ mile of running my left foot began to protest with sharp stabbing pains that felt like fire burning on the ball of my foot. I had to stop running and instantly began cursing. I felt so awake, I felt so alive, so full of energy and the desire to run, but my trashed feet were not allowing me to do so. I cursed out loud in frustration about this several times but eventually just buckled down and tried to walk briskly. That seemed to calm down the foot so I kept with the brisk walking all the way up the road but was sure disappointed not to be running. I figured I would likely be walking it in, and now thoughts of breaking 30 hours seemed out of reach. You think marathon math is fuzzy, you should try 100 miler math in a race of this difficulty.
Anyway, we crossed a few more wet creeks, like it mattered anymore to my mushy wet feet and shoes, and started the second to last big climb of the day. I had lost a bit of momentum with my walking on the steep hill but when Angus spotted another racer ahead I tried to keep moving the best I could. It was Jay from earlier in the night, and we caught up with him at the ridgeline, only to have another runner that Angus knew, Mike the RD from the HAT stride by us like we were standing still a few seconds later.
After a short rocky switchback started our descent, the trail seemed to get a little less steep and I thought I'd try running again though I wasn't sure if I could. I kind of feared being passed again by Jay who let us go by at the ridge line. I was running pretty slowly, and it seemed to take forever for the next switch back to arrive. I was having to stop and start my "running pace" due to some tricky rocky patches and it was a bit frustrating and I felt that Jay was just behind me waiting to pass again. Man, do I suck on the trails or what! I kept at it though the best I could.
After a few more switchbacks the trail seemed to smooth out just a bit and something came over me. At first it was the realization that I was going to really finish my first 100 miler. Then it was the realization that I really wanted to bring it home strong and break 30 hours. Like I said, 100 mile math is really tricky and I was sure I was at the edge of that window if I kept walking. So I started to turn my legs over just a bit faster. My mind started buzzing when I did this. It's so hard to explain but it felt so damn good. I almost wanted to cry. I was so pumped up and excited all of a sudden. I started to breathe a bit harder on purpose and picked up the pace as I did so. My breathing was hard but relaxed in a rhythmic fashion. Almost like I was saying enough of this MMT, let me show you who's in charge. Wow wow wow. I'm running again after all this time. I accelerated a few more times almost using my breathing to stoke the fires and give me a bit more gas. Adrenaline was flowing through me something fierce. Angus muttered "way to go Dave" behind my back and it felt so good to finally give my best friend and pacer a good moment out here. I worried a few times about over doing it here and falling or tripping but it seemed like such a natural movement now on the trail and my feet that had been burning and aching for so long were just making a dull throb and moving along like they were supposed to. I kept the faster pace going up to the final aid station, only slowing a bit for rocky and slippery spots and I even passed Mike just before reaching Elizabeth Furnace. I surge of adrenaline and speed 27+ hours and 93+ miles into my race. It seemed like pure magic and I was so happy.
The trail ended and I crossed a road, then a bridge over a swollen river, and finally an evil but refreshing plunge across knee deep water that had overflowed the river bank. This led me into the Elizabeth Furnace aid station, the last stop before the finish. I was certainly now excited to be in the final section but when someone says "we have pizza" of course I grab a slice. I tell Angus I'll eat it quickly as I walk out of the aid station but he tells me to hold it until we get to the final big climb. So I leave the aid station in record time for me... 35 seconds and start running again. Some of the magic is gone but I'm still doing well and not having to walk and we pass another runner. I run up as much as I can of the final climb before settling into my slice of pizza. Some of the magic is still here.
The walk up the final hill is another long twisty one with many switchbacks and rocky stepping stones. It's the final hill and I can't wait for it to be over. Mike catches back up to us here and there is some idle conversation as we climb our way up toward the promised land... the final ridge line. Angus has already told me that sub29 is now reasonable but I still can't do the math. Trail pace and how much distance is left is hard to judge. Mike thinks so too though and tells us as we reach to top of the ridge and we began to descend there are only 2.5 miles left to go.
The first part of the descent is very steep and I'm surprised that I have any toe nails left as the balls of my feet were hurting again and I curled my toes up in an effort to protect them. The descent leveled out and things got a bit better plus there is less than 2 miles to go now! Angus starts reflecting a bit here about his killer finish on this descent last year and we laugh about that and he congratulates me on my first 100 mile finish that is only minutes away.
A few more creek crossings and logs to jump over and yes even at 100 miles I can still hurdle a log crossing the trail; at least a small one! A photographer snaps a photo as I cross a stream and then we are on a gravel road back towards the ranch. Mike has gone ahead and I'm sure there is no one behind so I just enjoy the moment running well for the last part of my race. Turning into the field at the ranch we hear a few shouts and Angus and I let out a hoot and holler as well. It's a bit anti-climatic running through the chute as my big moment was a few miles back but reflecting a bit about what the course and conditions threw at me it's pretty damn exciting. I took it all and just rolled with the punches. I guess I wouldn't have it any other way.
Finish: 101.8 miles, current time 9:50am (estimate 8:25am), time running 28:50
MMT is sure one tough race, especially in conditions like this. Heat, 2 or 3 sets of heavy thunderstorms, showers, mud, rocks. But I guess it's what one should expect and I'm not sorry about it in anyway. It just made it that much more of an experience I suppose. Not that I'm a glutton for punishment or anything. Everyone had to go against the same stuff and I guess that is what 100 mile races are about. Perseverance.
Anyway, there's not enough kind words I can say about the race organization, the aid station volunteers, and of course my pacer and good friend Angus. Without them, none of this is even possible for me. Such a well marked course, good instructions, and a variety of food at the aid stations. Really well done by all involved.
Anyway, to end this long report on a lighter note, I will now itemize the multitude of aid station food that I sampled during my run in Dean K fashion. Besides the standard fare of P&B jelly, pretzels, chips, M&M's, bananas, I had the following items:
Pigs in a blanket (2)
Gobs of grapes, strawberries, watermelon, canteloupe
Chocolate chip cookies
Hot dog with relish and spicy mustard
A delicous turkey wrap with fresh vegetables
Rice crispie treats
Several slices of turkey and cheese sandwiches
Chicken noodle soup
Pancakes with bacon and syrup
Slice of cheese pizza
Besides completing my first 100 miler I may have set a record for most food consumed during a race! Thanks everyone.
[There is also a report of Dave's pacer.]