Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
Just Like That
MMT 2010 - A Play in Two Acts
by Alan Gowen
Photos by Anstr Davidson, Susan Donnelly, Ray Smith, Bobby Gill, Pam Gowen
Just like that. I was suddenly running really well. I had skidded down the steep descents, avoided the mud, picked my way across the rocks and now, after a quick glance over my shoulder, I turned it loose, found a pace that was just this side of work and simply released, letting gravity pull me down the Indian Grave trail. Breathing easily, rhythmic footfalls, transported somehow into that altered state where the running is effortless, and distance melts away. Golden sunshine, evening's longer shadows tilting the landscape, spreading through the forest. Unknowingly, I'd reached into the void and found something to hold onto.
I was 47 miles into the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run, and for the first time since the race began I was alone on the trail. And at this moment, in this time, in this place, I was free and fast, a willing passenger riding the tide of nature's swift currents.
The Massanutten Mountain Trails 100-mile Run (MMT) is staged every year by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, the running club to which Pam and I belong. This 100-miler is considered by most who know it to be one of the more difficult 100 milers in the country. The course is just about all trails and those trails are nothing but rocks. In fact, the term trail doesn't really apply to many of the rockier portions of the course. The route is along the ridges of the Massanutten Mountains, and the aid stations are in the valleys below. Thus, every descent to an aid station is followed by a climb back up to the ridge. This results in over 16,500 feet of elevation gain and loss during the course of the run. The climbs are long and unforgiving, and many of the descents are simply too rocky to really run. The only thing more impressive than the difficulty of the race is the beauty of the setting. The steep and rugged old Massanutten Mountains erupting from the Shenandoah Valley floor underscore a natural beauty that rivals anything I've seen anywhere.
This was my fifth MMT, and even though I'd completed this race the past four consecutive years, this year was very different. Two things combined to make this year unlike any of my previous runs here.
The first thing making this year so different from the past was that the start / finish had been relocated to a different place in this loop course than it had been in the past. The new start and finish location was the Caroline Furnace Camp, which also served as the race headquarters. With the relocation of the start / finish, even though the course was essentially the same loop as in years past, runners would encounter the different sections of the run at different times than we previously had. This meant that some of the places I was used to running in the dark I would now encounter in daylight, and conversely, some of the more difficult portions of the course which heretofore had been encountered earlier in the race, would now be experienced later when fatigue had already set in. This promised to be a considerably harder course configuration than what I had experienced in my four previous runs here, and all my data concerning times between aid stations and times over various portions of the course, was rendered invalid because of the revised order of the course.
The second thing making this year's race different for me was that I was very well trained, very well rested, and I would be running at least some of the early portion of the race with my friend and training partner Rhonda Stricklett. This was to be Rhonda's first 100 miler, and in fact it had only been 15 months since Rhonda had run her very first ultra marathon, and for better or worse I was her self-appointed coach. Rhonda and I had been training for MMT together ever since January, and in the process we'd run the entire MMT course, and we'd run much of it multiple times. I was confident that the training we'd done combined with a long taper beginning three weeks prior to the race, would assure us both of achieving our desired outcomes. We'd planned to begin the race together, and run together as long as was reasonable, but we were in agreement that if one of us started to have a bad patch or begin to lag behind, the other would continue without waiting.
Rhonda, Pam, and Alan on Friday afternoon
Pam, Rhonda and I drove down to the camp on Friday afternoon, arriving in time for the pre race briefing followed by the pre race dinner. The weather was hot and humid, but the forecast promised cooler and drier conditions for race day. After a relatively sleepless night at our motels in nearby Woodstock, we were back at the camp by 4:15 AM.
I spent the time before the race visiting with friends, aware all the while of how much more relaxed I felt than I had in previous years. At a few minutes before 5:00AM, we assembled on the gravel road leading out from the camp. A quick hug and kiss from Pam, and I joined Rhonda near the starting line, and as I stood there I felt relaxed and oddly confident. Always in the past this has been a tough time for me as I sort of withdraw into my own little world, and become almost zombie like as I spin a cocoon of non feeling protection all around myself, not allowing any emotions or thoughts, and I usually find myself in an almost dream like state, oddly detached in an effort to protect myself from my fears and uncertainties. Now, standing in the darkness of the starting line, not alone and withdrawn as in the past but relaxed, assured, and enjoying the moment, as I confidently await the race's start. I feel happy and relaxed. Suddenly the assembled runners begin to move and like some giant insect just waking up we begin with half steps at first and then longer strides, flashlights stabbing the darkness, to run through the inky darkness of pre dawn in the mountains. Easy strides now delivering us into a wondrous adventure of exploration. Desire winning out over apprehension. No more training. This is it. Just like that.
As part of my preparation for the race I had made a pace chart that among other things showed my arrival times at each of the 15 aid stations I would encounter during my run. Since the course configuration was different this year, I couldn't use my split times from previous years. Instead I used times from training runs combined with estimates of my actual pace calculated from some of my previous splits, but adjusted for the new course configuration. My new pace chart predicted that I'd finish in 33 hours and 20 minutes. My previous best time on this course in its old configuration was 32 hours and five minutes, and I felt my new pace chart reflected a pretty accurate estimate of my finish time given the fact that I knew the present configuration of the course would be significantly more difficult. This year's course had the easier, more runnable portion of the race coming in the first third if the race and the more difficult terrain coming in the later portion of the run. This year's course had about 7500 feet of climbing coming in the last 39 miles of the race, and much of this would be at night.
For months leading up to this year's MMT it had been all about The Plan. Rhonda had been part of my crew and had paced me for a portion of my MMT run in 2009. When she signed up for this year's MMT she announced that she was depending on me for guidance with her training. I know what works for me and what has brought me success in the past. The best I could offer Rhonda was my own plan designed for my needs. My plan became her plan and soon it was all about The Plan. We ran all of the MMT group training runs. We ran country roads when the blizzards of February kept us off the trails. Together in epic weather conditions, we ran the Elizabeth Furnace 50km, which covered portions of the MMT course, and we ran the Bull Run Run 50 miler together which covered none of the MMT course but was fun anyway. We made numerous trips to the Massanutten Mountains for training runs on our own. We ran the night portion of the MMT course on a beautiful starlit night, and on our last trip into the mountains, three weeks prior to the race date, we ran the first third of the race course, just to get an idea of how it would unfold for us on race day. For the three weeks leading up to the race we rested, confident that we had maximized our training plan, and anxious for race day to arrive. I knew without a doubt that I had never in the past been as well trained and as well rested as I was this year. Part one of The Plan had gone really well. Time now for part two of The Plan.
I've done this before. But never like this. I'm running easily at the start of the race, but instead of the usual sequestration of emotions and non feeling withdrawal into my own little world, I'm chatting with Rhonda, joking with friends and excited to finally, after all these months of hard work, sacrifice, and anticipation, be moving into the great adventure that lays spread out over these rugged old mountains before me.
The first 3.7 miles of the race are all uphill on a gravel road. The Plan is to run this portion of the race very conservatively, and to actually walk most of the uphill sections. The humidity is near 100% and I'm hot right from the start. Oddly, after all the preparation, all the uncertainty, and all the anticipation, as we run along Mooreland Gap Road the feeling is very similar to beginning a long training run. Just like that. Through the darkness and into adventure.
We arrive at the trail head five minutes faster than The Plan predicted. I top off my water bottle and we're off into the woods. It's nearly sunrise. I stow my flashlight. Single track through the woods and then up and over the rocks on the first climb up Short Mountain. Once atop the mountain the sky begins to brighten as the clouds break up and the sun shines down. I can feel the humidity dropping as a cooling breeze brings with it much drier air.
Alan & Rhonda arrive at Edinburg Gap
Rhonda and I make good time over Short Mountain, but as we near the second aid station, alarm bells are sounding. The bottoms of my feet are beginning to burn, and at ten miles into a hundred miler this is cause for some real concern for me. After a wonderful downhill section we break out onto a road and the 11.7 mile Edinburg Gap aid station 25 minutes ahead of The Plan. Pam is there waiting for me, and I immediately sit down and get my shoes and socks off. Somehow or other I'd gotten some sand and grit inside my socks, and the damage was already done to the balls of my feet. I get my feet cleaned up as well as I can, get resupplied, swap my bottles for new full ones from Pam, find Rhonda where her crew has been seeing to her needs, and we head out together for the long, steep, climb up Powell Mountain. I tell Rhonda that we need to dial it back a little bit. We had come through the first section too fast, and I really want to slow down and stick to The Plan of beginning the race slowly, and conserving energy as long as possible. A very delicate balancing act indeed. Reason battling with desire. At Edinburg Gap, it's 8:04 in the morning. I have run 11.7 miles and I'm in 132nd place out of 170 who started the race.
On the long climb to the top of Powell's Mountain we caught up to some slower runners and I was more than satisfied to simply fall in line behind them and let their pace control my enthusiasm. Once atop the ridge though, we ran well. We were having a fantastic morning. The sky had become crystal clear. The air was cool and dry and the sun shone down upon us with brilliant warmth, cooled slightly by a mild breeze. The running was almost effortless as we ran further into the great adventure. Perfect.
When we arrived at the Woodstock Tower 19.9 mile aid station we were 50 minutes ahead of The Plan. Since there was no crew access here we both had drop bags waiting for us. I quickly sat down and once again emptied grit from my shoes, shook out my socks and put my socks back on opposite feet, all the while being waited on by the volunteers who were trying to see to my every need. A longer stop than I had wanted, but in the scheme of things, time well spent. Within minutes we were back on the trail, in one of the more runnable single track sections of the course. My feet were tender but so far, things were still under control as we ran smoothly and tried to keep our speed moderate during these easier miles, out of respect for the more difficult terrain still to come. At Woodstock Tower it was 10:15 in the morning. I've run 19.9 miles and I was in 128th place.
The Plan was for us to start conservatively which in fact we had done. My pace chart reflected my best guesses for split times between aid stations and although I had missed my guess on the early aid stations, by this aid station, my predictions appeared to be pretty accurate. By following the pace chart and making the necessary adjustments, our crews who would be meeting us at most of the aid stations, were able to have a pretty good idea of when to expect us. However since it had been over 20 miles since our crews had seen us, they had their hands full figuring out when we'd arrive at the next crew accessible spot.
Coming into the 25.1 mile aid station at Powell's Fort we were still 50 minutes ahead of The Plan. We quickly re-fuelled and were out of there, buoyed on by the fact that in another 7.5 miles, at The Elizabeth Furnace aid station, our crews would be waiting for us. At Powell's Fort it was 11:42 in the morning. I've run 25.1 miles and I was in 131st place.
The sun was shining down from a deep blue cloudless sky, the humidity was low, I was moving well, and I was where I wanted to be. Everything, except my tender feet, was going according to The Plan. Along the way, I got to share Rhonda's excitement. Sometimes we ran in silence and sometimes we talked, but we never ran out of topics of conversation. During our months of training we had shared so much time and place leading up to this time in space, and now, just as we'd planned, just like that, it was all coming together and it only seemed right that after training so much together that we got to share this experience.
The weather is such a large part of what I'm doing here in these old mountains, and today the weather is beyond compare. Being outside, feeling the sun, breathing the air. I'm running well, and somehow that physical exertion in this wondrous place opens a new door to an inner peace, and I feel that somehow on some fundamental level I get to be an essential part of my surroundings. But there is a small trade off today. I find what in prior years has always been an almost spiritual experience to be somehow oddly different as I share this time with Rhonda and others. In prior years, running alone, I seemed to connect with my surroundings on an almost supernatural level. From the time I stood on the starting line, this experience has been different for me. I'm not alone. Sharing this time with Rhonda; sharing in her excitement and engaging with others along the way has kept me focused more on conversation and sharing rather than the comfortable feeling of being alone and united with my surroundings I've experienced in years past. This is neither a good thing nor a disappointment. It is what it is, and it is new to me, and I welcome it and embrace it and try to wring out of it all I'm able. I'm still a part of it all. I don't feel so much as if I get to experience the mountains, but more than experience them I feel like I become part of them and I'm bringing my friend with me on this journey, showing her the way, and by sharing my own excitement, helping to open the door to secret mysteries in these wonderful peaceful old mountains.
After a long climb we have three miles of great downhill running that will deliver us into the 32.6 mile Elizabeth Furnace aid station. This downhill trail is rocky in some places but for the most part it affords some of the best running of the race. I embrace the moment, turn my thoughts inward, and let the tide of desire wash over me. I run ahead of Rhonda and settle into a rhythm embracing the moment, reveling in the here and now as the trail accepts me on its terms and I take what it offers and, just like that, I'm transported to a different place.
My crew has grown. Our great friends Beth Weisenborn and Lenny Wrabel have joined Pam. Team Alan lives! This is the third year Beth has been part of the Team Alan crew and pacer contingent, and this is the fourth time Lenny has been the anchor of the team. Upon my arrival they quickly go to work. Without any input from me they have my shoes and socks off, get my feet cleaned and powdered, and get clean socks and new shoes on me. I again trade off my bottles for full ones, drink another Ensure, grab a PBJ, and within minutes I'm dragging Rhonda away from her crew and we're back on the trail, beginning the two mile climb up to Shawl Gap. The Plan called for my crew to take care of me. Everything is going according to The Plan. At Elizabeth Furnace it is 1:37 in the afternoon. I've run 32.6 miles, and I am in 124th place.
Alan & Rhonda arrive at the Shawl Gap aid station
The climb up to Shawl Gap goes well. The temperatures have risen and on some of the non-shaded portions of this section we get pretty hot baking under the brilliant sun. After a nice downhill trail we come rolling in to the 37.6 mile Shawl Gap aid station. After a quick re-supply and a cold wet towel for the face and neck, our crews get us out of there in pretty quick order. At the Shawl Gap aid station it is 3:04 in the afternoon. I've run 32.6 miles and I'm in 121st place.
Leaving Shawl Gap we run a gravel road for three miles. This is the hottest time of the day, there's not too much shade, and the heat seems to be bothering some of the other runners. We soon arrive at the Veach Gap aid station and quickly begin the long climb up to the next ridge. At the Veach Gap aid station it is 3:51 in the afternoon. I've run 37.6 miles and I'm in 119th place.
The climb up Veach Gap goes well. As long as I'm going uphill or flat, my feet feel pretty good, but on the downhill sections, I'm having more and more discomfort. Before too long we crest the ridge and have a nice ridge top single track trail to run. There are some beautiful views and although still hot, the day is spectacular. We pass a number of runners on this section and as we run I can tell that Rhonda is beginning to have a little energy crisis. She doesn't complain, but her comments reveal her dilemma. I tell her to hang on for a little bit more because in just a short distance the trail will turn downhill and she'll be able to coast for a while and get revived. We arrive at the turn for the Indian Grave trail and the terrain turns steeply downhill. I run down at a moderate pace and I can hear Rhonda behind me, but I can tell without looking back that she is beginning to lag behind. I start to consider what I will say to her as I become aware that the inevitable is about to happen. I plan to stop and offer a few encouraging words before we part company. At this point we both need to run the pace that is comfortable for each of us. We've run together for months in all kinds of weather, braving the cold and snow of winter, and facing hypothermia from immersion in raging floods training in these very mountains. We'd run together on our home turf at Hashawha and we'd run together through the night along the ridge tops of the Massanuttens. Now, on the side of a mountain we'd trained on months ago, our time of running together was going to end. I was really running well as I sped downhill and considered what was about to happen. Rhonda and I would from this point, at about 47 miles into the race, go our separate ways. We'd planned for this and we both knew it was a possibility and now the time was upon us. I slowed to a walk and turned around. No Rhonda. I could see up the hill a long way and she was nowhere in sight. I turned and ran until I was in a position to see a little farther back up the trail. I stopped, turned and searched for her. She was nowhere to be seen. Just like that.
I was running really well. It was late afternoon, and in lengthening shadows I somehow was able to just turn it loose and run. The Indian Grave trail becomes an old forest road and it is all downhill. I actually ran this pretty hard, feeling very comfortable. Being alone for the first time in the race, I welcomed the chance to enjoy the journey on my own terms. "Coach" Alan felt uncomfortable leaving his "student" in such an awkward fashion. But the mountains beckoned, the late day sun shown down and I reveled in the chance to simply release and let the Indian Grave trail deliver me into the big mountains yet to come. Deeper into my own great adventure. After passing several runners I hit the Indian Grave aid station where I re-filled my bottles and grabbed a PBJ. There was no crew access here and at the Indian Grave aid station it was 6:24 in the evening. I'd run 49.7 miles and I was in 105th place.
I made the turn out onto a four mile section of gravel road that I'd been dreading, since roads are not my strength and after already covering 50 miles, I knew from experience that this road section would be miserable. Well I have no idea what happened but I felt good and energized, and I ran that road section faster than I've ever run it before. In fact I ran that section in the 45th fastest time of anyone in the race. At the next aid station my crew was of course ready for my arrival and I once again had my feet tended to and got clean socks and shoes. I grabbed my lights and changed from my bottles to a hydration pack with some warmer clothes and spare lights I thought I might need during the night. I told Rhonda's crew that she would be along soon, and within minutes I was attacking the climb up to Habron Gap, which is one of the hardest climbs in the entire race. At the Habron Gap aid station it was 7:12 in the evening. I've run 53.6 miles, and I'm in 97th place.
The ridgeline after Habron Gap
The climb up to Habron Gap goes really well. I'm still feeling very good and I pass several more runners. Finally attaining the ridge, I'm energized by the beauty of all that envelopes me. This is a narrow ridge and it is truly beautiful. Rocks everywhere and yet easy running. Narrow path twisting along the ridge. Views in all directions. Golden late day sunlight. Particles of color, hanging suspended in crystalline air changing the feel of these old mountains vibrating with beauty, wild azaleas still in bloom and the mountain laurel flowering everywhere. This is why I came. This, to me, is what MMT is all about. I loved sharing all this with Rhonda during this long day. Mentor and mentored as it were. But to be alone up high running this ridge, running well, connecting somehow to very soul of the mountains, brings me joy and peace and a feeling of essential connection with the rocks and the air and the mountains themselves. It's about connecting with the intangible. It's about the mountains. It's the power and the peace of those old mountains. It is air and sunshine and weather and nature. Daylight and darkness. Wind and water. It's about being part of it rather than just passing through. It's getting closer to where I came from, all the while moving and getting closer to where I want to be. It is doing it myself. Work through the process, concentrate on the process, and let the result quietly appear, as the layers fall away and through this process I experience life in an altered state.
I can feel more than see the twilight slowly evolve to dusk. Long shadows disappearing as obsidian pools of black appear from the shadows of the understory and flood out across the trail. I stop, get out my lights, and soon by headlamp's glow I'm on my way again as, imperceptibly, darkness envelops the forest. I run the remainder of this section feeling very good. I'm excited because at the next aid station I'll once again see my amazing crew and Beth will be able to join me to pace me through the next section. The sky is dotted with stars, with the tiny sliver of the waxing crescent moon glowing high above. I hear the first whippoorwill of the night. Coming out of the woods I make the turn into the Camp Roosevelt aid station. As my crew gets clean socks and shoes on me I drink another Ensure, have some soup, and within minutes Beth and I are headed out and onto the trail leading up Duncan Hollow. At Camp Roosevelt it is 10:15 at night. I've run 63.1 miles and I'm in 88th place.
Foot Care at Gap Creek
Beth and I make good time up the dry creek bed that is the Duncan Hollow trail and then slow a little bit as we climb up to Peach Orchard Gap. This climb isn't too long but it gets steep and footing on the rocks is difficult in the dark, We finally crest the ridge, pass through a group of Boy Scouts who are camped almost on the trail and begin the downhill run to the Gap Creek aid station. I have to take this downhill more slowly than I'd like because the balls of my feet are really burning and the trial is nothing but rocks. I have no choice but to be very careful of my foot placement. My energy level is good but because of my feet, I can't run like want to. We finally see some lights and soon we cross the creek and run into the Gap Creek aid station. Once more Team Alan works on my feet. I'm concerned about the blisters I seem to be getting but my crew does its job and soon I'm headed out with Pam pacing me as we begin the steep climb up Jawbone Gap. At the Gap Creek aid station it is 12:11 in the morning. I've run 68.7 miles and I'm in 73rd place.
Pam has paced me every year at MMT and it is always so special to share this time and this experience with the love of my life. As we climb up the mountain side, whippoorwills calling, we know how lucky we are to be here doing together this thing that means so much to me, experiencing life in a different dimension, and sharing this special time with each other. We finally reach the ridge crest and continue to climb as we turn left and work our way up the shoulder of Kern's Mountain. The rocky ridge line that is the backbone of Kern's is difficult to describe. It is nothing but rocks and the trail, such as it is, keeps switching back and forth across the ridge. The trail really can't be called a trail in the normal sense of the word. It's just a five mile long rock pile and nowhere does it afford any opportunity for me to run. I'm walking and jogging the best I can, but the terrain demands patience. There are wonderful views to both sides of the ridge and the lights of New Market and Luray sparkle in the valleys so far below us. The tedium begins to wear on me and I can tell I'll slowing down. I know from training here with Rhonda a month ago that it's OK to be going slowly, but I still feel like I should be going faster. The brief descent from Kerns is slowed by the condition of my feet which are now on fire anytime I try to run downhill. Pam and I finally make the turn onto Chrisman Hollow road and make pretty good time to the next aid station at the Visitors Center where Team Alan is awaiting our arrival. I immediately get clean shoes and socks. At this point, twenty two hours in to the race I have my first solid food as I wolf down a delicious grilled cheese sandwich. Beth is going to pace me on the next section and just as we're ready to take off it begins to rain, so we take a few minutes to don jackets and hats and then we're back on the trail heading to the toughest climb of the race. At the Visitors Center aid station it is 3:26 in the morning. I've run 77.1 miles. It's raining, and I'm in 71st place.
As Beth and I begin the climb up Bird Knob it's raining lightly, and the higher we get, the harder it rains. This is a long, steep, rocky climb and it takes us quite a while to make it to the top. The trailside vegetation weighted with rainfall is hanging low across the trail, making us even wetter, but we push on and finally arrive at the top. The rain slowly subsides, and we stop suddenly when we realize we're hearing fireworks in the valley below. At 4:00 in the morning. We never will be able to find out what the fireworks were all about. We run along the ridge and soon the lights of the Bird Knob aid station come into view. We only stop for a minute, and we're once again on our way. At the Bird Knob aid station it's 4:51 in the morning. It's still dark. It has almost stopped raining. I've run 80.5 miles and I'm in 66th place.
Beth and I run the gravel road to the purple blazed trail that climbs very steeply before delivering us onto the other side of the ridge where after a brief downhill section we make the turn onto the Brown's Hollow trail. This trail has several miles of downhill but my blisters won't allow me to run at the speed I'd like to. Almost unnoticed, daylight creeps into the hollow. Lights no longer needed are put away, and we keep running along, desire battling with reality. The day is overcast and the scenery isn't as beautiful as I remember from my training runs here. Nonetheless, we finally make it to the Picnic Area aid station where Team Alan anxiously awaits. I change shoes and socks for the last time, eat a small portion of scrambled eggs and with Pam at my side I take off, trying to make the best time I can on my sore and burning feet. At the Picnic Area aid station it is 6:55 on a cloudy morning. I've run 86.9 miles and I'm in 67th place.
Pam and I make pretty good time at first. I'm able to run flats without much trouble, but going downhill is very slow because of my painful feet. We work our way up the seemingly never ending climb alongside Dry Run, taking us up to Scothorn Gap. This is a very long tough climb, with steep pitches combined with stream crossings and of course the never ending rocks. A number of runners catch and pass me here, but there is nothing I can do about it. The condition of my feet demands a slow pace. It's frustrating to be going so slowly when I feel pretty good, but I can only do what my body allows and so we slowly carry on. This section ends with almost two miles of gravel road, and although I'm able to run most of it, I'm beginning to struggle a little. Finally we follow the course markings into the woods and the Gap Creek aid station. Nothing much to do here. I drink the last Ensure of the race, say a quick goodbye to Lenny who has to leave Team Alan, and with Beth back on board pacing me I begin to run the final section of the race. At the Gap Creek #2 aid station it is 10:05 in the morning. I've run 95.4 miles and I'm in 71st place.
This is the second time during the race that I've climbed up Jawbone Gap, but this time instead to turning left and crossing Kern's Mountain, we go straight on the extremely rocky downhill trail toward Mooreland Gap. My energy has returned, and I want to run but again, on this extremely rocky section my feet force me to just keep jogging slowly as I try my best to dance across the rocks. Sooner than I remembered the trail begins to flatten out and there are even some dirt areas in the trail. As the trail improves I begin to pick up the pace, running pretty well, feeling some excitement, and before I expect to, I see the trail head where in moments we make the turn out onto Mooreland Gap Road.
This is the same road Rhonda and I'd run together over a day and a half ago. The road that had led us into the great adventure as we ran with 168 others through the humid darkness on a Saturday in May. Here and now, on this Sunday morning, as I turned onto this very same road, I had only about three miles of this road and a short trail section and I'd be done. I'm not good running roads and now, with so many miles under my belt, I'm dreading what is to come. But, with Beth jogging along beside me, I put my head down and run. I'm able to run pretty long stretches and I only have to walk occasionally. Beth has paced me at the end of MMT in the past and she knows me. She tells me what I'm already feeling. I've never run this well at this point in the race. I know that even though The Plan I'd worked out had me finishing in 33 hours and 20 minutes, there is in reality an outside chance I'll be able to break 31 hours.
The Finish Line MMT 2010
I run as hard as I can. I'm about to take a walking break when I spy a runner and his pacer up ahead and somehow, after over 100 miles, I find the strength to keep running and I actually try to pass this other guy with authority, so he doesn't challenge me and he lets me go. "Well done," Beth tells me. I keep looking for the sign marking the entrance to the Camp, and finally after several overly anxious false alarms it appears. I see the flagging marking the short trail section that will take me from the road to the finish line, and I run with determination. The last little trail section follows a meandering configuration, up and down a couple of steep hills, a little tricky footing, I'm running, a little uphill, through the trees I see the markings leading to the finishing chute, make the turn I see the finish, pouring it on I begin to sprint, no pain, no feeling, I'm flying, running hard flat out downhill and across the finish line. Done. Just like that. At the finish line it is 12:03:31 in the afternoon. I've run 101.7 miles and I'm in 71st place out of 170 starters.
31 hours, 3 minutes and 31 seconds. Two hours and 17 minutes faster than The Plan. One hour and two minutes faster than my previous personal record at MMT.
Pam is at the finish to meet me, and after congratulations from so many of my friends, I go take a shower, get something to eat, and settle in near the finish line with Pam and some friends to wait for Rhonda and to cheer for other finishers.
It doesn't seem to take too long before we can see Rhonda and her pacer Allison approaching the finish, and with a burst of speed, Rhonda comes running across the line, where I welcome her with open arms. Just like that. She did it. And she is ecstatic.
"Coach" Alan and Rhonda at the finish line
As we waited for the awards ceremony, I simply sat there in a chair and watched other runners come across the line to their own personal victories. I sat there in that chair, surrounded by the mountains where the drama had played out. The mountains where just hours before I'd been experiencing life in an altered state. A play in two acts. I experienced MMT in a way I never had before. I also got to reconnect with all that MMT has always meant to me. The combined adventure was new and different for me, and I know it is something I'll never forget. I feel at peace in these old mountains. And I feel thrilled with what I've done. Just like that.
Rhonda had a great race after we parted ways. She never faltered, did what she knew she needed to do, and finished in 33:29:45. My fifth consecutive finish at MMT was a personal record for me by over an hour. As they say in automobile racing in order to win you have to be running at the end. I was. And whereas I didn't win, it enabled me to finish third out of 12 in my 60 and over age group. After the race I drove the 100 miles home, ate dinner and watched TV until I finally went to bed 43 hours after awaking on race morning. MMT 2010 was my 82nd ultramarathon.
I'm disappointed that Lenny couldn't have stayed for the finish and I know he would have if I needed him to. Pam, Beth and Lenny. Team Alan has been simply amazing and without the help and support of Team Alan, getting me through the aid stations and pacing me for the last 39 miles of the race, I would never have had such a wonderful outcome. I am humbled by their efforts on my behalf.
I never could have done this without Pam's help and unfailing support.