Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
MMT 2012 Report
by Thomas Haine
The 2012 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 mile run was fantastic! It's such a neat, well-organized, tough event. My pacing crew were spectacular: Marc, Ben, Luiz, Stephanie, and Inga did a superb job in looking after me and keeping me moving. I am very grateful. The Warfield family cabin, our base in Fort Valley, was fabulous too. Thanks also to everyone following online: it made a huge difference.
The short report of the race is that I ran steadily throughout, avoided blisters, and did not fade in the final miles. I finished 30th in 27hours 20mins and beat last year's time by exactly four hours. Last year, the run battered me: My feet were severely blistered by half way and macerated by the finish. I walked almost all of the final 40 miles and my feet and ankles were swollen for days afterwards. I also got a nasty skin infection from my shoes that nearly put in me in hospital. This year I survived well. I ran faster, had few blisters, and was able to run all the way to the end. The main reason is I was much better prepared.
The longer version is as follows: I spent all day Friday preparing and traveling to Fort Valley. There was a lot to get ready, including clothes, food, and gear. I had a lot of gear: 3 head lights, 4 pairs of shoes, 6 pairs of socks, 7 bottles, poles, and a whole bag of foot care supplies. I spent a long time thinking about how to avoid the atrocious blisters I got last year. In 2011 each forefoot had 4" diameter blisters by halfway, and I walked the final 40 miles. That was hard. My goal for 2012 was to avoid blistering, run some of the final sections, and hopefully improve my time.
I arrived at race HQ in time for the Friday afternoon briefing, ate dinner, and chatted with Paul, Ernesto, and Barry. I turned in my four drop bags and drove to the Warfield's cabin. The cabin is an idyllic place in a beautiful spot at the heart of Fort Valley. It's the perfect base for the MMT100. I made sandwiches, packed my pack, then taped and powdered my feet. Taping the balls of my feet with kinesiology tape was a key part of my strategy to avoid blisters. The powder, to dry the feet, was also important. I set the alarm for 2:20am, and tried to sleep. I was nervous and dozed fitfully.
When I woke, the temperature was in the low 40s with a heavy dew. I quickly got ready and left for the race HQ, arriving in good time. I was unsure what to wear because it was cold, but opted for a long-sleeve shirt over a short-sleeve shirt, spare socks on my hands, and a thermal hat. I checked in, and stood silently with the other runners. Soon enough, it was 4am and we began running. A half moon was rising over the eastern ridge.
0-4.1 miles — Start to Moreland Gap (AS 1) 4.1 miles.
We all ran up the cool dirt road together. I ran with my head light off because all the other runners had lights. I talked to Kari Brown a little, but mostly ran on my own. I soon warmed up and took the socks off my hands. I walked the steeper hills and tried to conserve energy. It was good to be moving at last.
4.1-12.1 miles — Moreland Gap to Edinburg Gap (AS 2) 8.1 miles
We hit the trail at Moreland Gap and started climbing Short Mountain. I was with other runners, but didn't talk to anyone. My light wouldn't point in the right direction because it was loose so I had to hold it with my hand on my forehead until twilight came around 6am. I reached Edinburg Gap aid 2.5 hours in and picked up my first drop bag. I just had perpetuem in it. I took off the long-sleeve shirt and thermal hat, stashed them in my pack, and tightened my shoe laces. I could already feel my feet sliding inside the shoes on the rocks and I knew what that would lead to. Edinburg Gap aid is unlike the other aid stations because runners zip through it. It almost feels like a marathon water stop, where every second counts. I took two turkey, cheese, marmite, spinach, and pickle sandwiches from my pack and began the next long climb.
12.1-20.3 miles — Edinburg Gap to Woodstock Tower (AS 3) 8.2 miles
Once the climb from Edinburg Gap was done, it was relatively easy to run. The rocks are worse on the southern end of the course (final part), and there were a few spots here where the trail was packed dirt. I talked to a guy called Jason and to Henry Peck, a veteran 100 miler, but MMT virgin. Henry was suffering with abdominal pain and was amazed that people were running so quickly over the rocks. At one point I fell and scraped my wrist, but it was no big deal. At Woodstock Tower aid I changed my socks and powdered my feet. I was starting to feel a hot spot on my right heel after tightening the laces. I hoped that the fresh, thicker socks would help.
20.3-25.8 miles — Woodstock Tower to Powell's Fort (AS 4) 5.6 miles
I talked with a guy called Steve (I think) from PA for a while on this section. It was mainly runnable. I have little memory of what else happened at this time. The morning was absolutely beautiful, however. It was cool, dry, and sunny. There were flowering shrubs on either side of the trail and the woods were filled with birdsong. At the aid station the captain said that no one could leave until they'd drank two cups of fluids. This was a wise policy as it was already warming up fast. My heel hot spot felt OK, and I used a power-bar wrapper between my sock and shoe to reduce friction.
25.8-33.3 miles — Powell's Fort to Elizabeth Furnace (AS 5) 7.5 miles
Leaving Powell's Fort I ran on the dirt road for two or three miles, slowly climbing. I felt very comfortable and passed a few people. Then I rejoined the single-track trail and climbed harder. I sang to myself. On the long descent that followed I met a troop of hiking boy scouts, and, amazingly, a mountain biker riding up hill. That was impressive! At Elizabeth Furnace aid, I got more perpetuem from my drop bag, and applied more sunscreen and anti-septic on my wrist. I changed my shirt and hat. The attentive aid station guy said it was 4.7 miles to the next aid station, with a 1200' climb and descent.
33.3-38.0 miles — Elizabeth Furnace to Shawl Gap (AS 6) 4.7 miles
I remember little about this section, either from this year or 2011. At some point I ate more sandwiches and power bars. I remember the trail being very dry and dusty, more like the West than the East coast. I heard a particularly loud cricket close to my foot, and was told by Sheryl Wheeler, running behind me, that it was a 4' long rattle snake!
At Shawl Gap aid station I was delighted to see Ben (wearing his Reading FC shirt) and Marc. They were very enthusiastic and got me fired up. I changed my socks and powdered my feet again, convinced now that I should stick with my thicker wicking socks, rather than my compression socks, which were less supportive and so tight that they messed up my tape. I think I patched the heel hot spot too, and I handed off several items from my pack to the guys. I was 8.5 hours into the race, and more than one third done.
38.0-41.1 miles — Shawl Gap to Veach Gap (AS 7) 3.1 miles
I ran this easy dirt road apart from the short hills. At Veach Gap aid station I drank Coke and filled my bottle with perpetuem from my final drop bag. I talked with Jaret Seiberg, who denied that VHTRC moved all the rocks from Shenandoah National Park to the MMT course. I grabbed a couple of tasty clementines then I was moving again.
41.1-50.1 miles — Veach Gap to Indian Grave (AS 8) 9.0 miles
After a hard climb, I hit the ridge and ran easily. The trail is relatively benign here and very beautiful. I talked for a while with a runner called Ken (I think) and another ex-pat Brit. At one point we came to a runner sitting on a rock in the trail vomiting. He indicated he didn't need anything, and we continued. It was hot at this point, but I felt comfortable. I was taking salt tablets regularly, drinking lots of perpetuem, water, gatorade, and coke, and taking some ibuprofen occasionally. I was growing more convinced that I was managing better than last year. My feet felt fine: the heel only bothered me climbing and didn't seem to be getting worse. My feet were a bit bruised, but the dreaded forefoot blisters hadn't appeared.
Indian Grave was one of the aid stations that I can't remember from 2011. It is a delightful spot. I ate fresh-picked wild strawberries that were sublime and a bean chesadilla that was delicious. I told the volunteers that they had the best aid station yet. I was there with Bernard Pesjak who reminded me how bad the mosquitoes had been at Indian Grave last year. We didn't notice one this year.
50.1-54.0 miles — Indian Grave to Habron Gap (AS 9) 3.9 miles
I ran all this easy dirt road section with some short walking breaks. I remembered that I'd felt much worse at this stage last year, when my blisters were already very bad. It felt great that I was still running and that my feet were in good shape!
Taping feet at Habron Gap to avoid blisters. This worked!
Photo: Ben Schafer
At Habron Gap aid station Ben and Marc met me with all my gear laid out next to my chair. I took off my socks and removed the old tape. Then I washed my feet in water and isopropyl alcohol and re- applied tape, powder, and a blister patch on my right heel. I drank some coke and the guys refilled my bottles. I stretched my achilles and calves leaning against Ben. I was halfway done and I just 1 more section before picking up my pacer. I felt things were going well!
54.0-63.9 miles — Habron Gap to Camp Roosevelt (AS 10) 9.8 miles
The climb out of the Habron Gap aid station is tough and steep. It was the hardest climb I'd done so far. I met a runner climbing down, back to the aid (Vince Bowman?). By the time I reached the top I was light-headed and very thirsty. My mouth felt sticky and parched. I couldn't stomach perpetuem or gatorade, and I only had 1 bottle of water. I was low on calories too, but had no appetite. Thankfully, I wasn't too hot. Some thin high cloud provided a little shade, and the humidity was very low. The trail was rolling and rocky on the ridge, and I was glad to begin the descent to Camp Roosevelt. It was here that I saw bears last summer. I can't recall seeing any other runners on that section. Eventually, I arrived at the aid station to be met by the guys, plus Luiz, Stephanie, and Inga. It was great to see them! I drank water and filled my bottles with water and dilute gatorade (I didn't drink any more perpetuem). I ate soup here (chicken noodle works great for me). I changed my shirt for a long-sleeve one and Marc and I set off for the trail, walking at first while I ate.
63.9-69.6 miles — Camp Roosevelt to Gap Creek (AS 11) 5.8 miles. Paced by Marc
On this section most of the distance, and almost all the time, is a climb on a very rough road, sometimes stream bed, and then single-track trail. We met encouraging campers in several spots. As we descended we switched on our lights. At this point in 2011 Jerry and I ran off course because we waited too long to light up. Ben was at the aid with all my stuff. I ate some hamburger, soup, and fruit (I think), but didn't stay long.
69.6-78.1 miles — Gap Creek to Visitor Center (AS 12) 8.5 miles. Paced by Marc
We climbed up Jawbone to the ridge then along Kerns Mountain. This section is probably the roughest on the whole course. It was dark now and running was not an option. I felt better, but the trail is basically just a boulder pile. Marc's conversation kept me distracted and we hiked as fast as we could. We stopped momentarily at a break in the trees to switch off our lights and gaze west. When we finally reached the dirt road, I took some more water from the un-manned aid station and we started running downhill to the Visitor Center. Cars passed us swirling dust and shouting encouragement. We didn't stop running and overtook a few runners on the downhill. It felt like we were flying along!
At the Visitor Center aid station we were met by Luiz and Ben. I sat and ate as the guys re-filled my bottles. I swapped head lights and talked to Ed Cacciapaglia about whether Western States or Massanutten is harder (he has firm opinions!). We all resolved to enter the Western States lottery every year on the slim chance of getting into this easy 100 (right guys?).
78.1-81.6 miles — Visitor Center to Bird Knob (AS 13) 3.5 miles. Paced by Luiz
Luiz began pacing me. We jogged out of the aid station and immediately began climbing Bird Knob. This climb is very steep, but not very long. At this stage last year it was raining, I was stumbling, and I was hallucinating. This year I felt strong. My legs were sore and I was tired, but I knew I would be fine. There were millipedes all over the rocks so that I couldn't put my hand down without squishing them. When we reached the top and the fire road we jogged to the aid station. This is the most remote stop. It's deep in the woods and deep in the night. I could hear the radio squawking as I changed my socks for the last time. I had worn this pair, from my sister, earlier in the run. The guys had rinsed them and now they were almost dry. I applied blister patches to both heels while Jeff Hills quickly came through the aid station. Luiz and I left a little after 1am following the lights ahead.
81.6-87.9 miles — Bird Knob to Picnic Area (AS 14) 6.4 miles. Paced by Luiz
This section was relatively runnable. After the dirt road descent, we climbed back to the ridge, descended steeply then turned northeast, heading back to the finish at last. I ran when I could, sometimes out of control. There were streams across the trail and I got wet feet. In 2011 Luiz and I were in a thunderstorm at this point, and I shivered uncontrollably whenever I paused. This year I moved smoothly and felt comfortable. I was aware that I was going faster. At some point we passed Jeff and his pacer (his son?) and ran into the Picnic Area aid. Ben was waiting and the volunteers had a big fire and were playing dance music. It was quite a party! I tried not to linger, but it was getting harder to climb out of the chair. I grabbed my hiking poles, thanked Luiz, and Ben and I left the party behind.
87.9-96.8 miles — Picnic Area to Gap Creek II (AS 15) 8.9 miles. Paced by Ben
The trail to Route 211 is relatively easy, and I jogged what I could. The climb out back to the ridge was hard and took a long time. The hiking poles were excellent. They helped me keep my balance, and increased my speed. At one point, where the trail crossed a rock slide, I wobbled and fell against a rock, however. Eventually, we reached the dry stream bed. The trail ascends straight up this for the final pitch. After a little flat trail we turned to descend. The rocks were bad here, and it was hard to run. I also felt that I hadn't run for a long time, and that maybe my legs weren't capable any more. On a slightly smoother stretch, I tentatively started to jog, and was soon moving again. We had to glide over the rocks, oblivious to each individual step, hoping that the trail didn't suddenly steepen. It was exhilarating, and only occasionally in control!
Soon we reached the forest road and jogged into the final aid station. There was now a faint light above the eastern ridge and we switched out our lights as dawn approached. We could hear Whip-poor-wills calling all around us and several were sitting on the road. At the aid station I ate eggs, cheese (specially made in two minutes), fried potatoes and sausage. It was delicious! I didn't sit down because I wanted to push on and finish. Inga took over from Ben to pace me through the final 7 miles.
96.8-103.7 miles — Gap Creek II to Finish 6.9 miles. Paced by Inga
The climb up Jawbone went well. I was tired, sore, and my heels were clearly starting to blister now. But I was eager to keep going and I worked hard. The first part of the descent is very rough and we were forced to move slowly. At this point last year I remember the pain of every step. After some time the trail flattened a little and I began to jog. Then we joined an overgrown dirt track and I resumed running. We reached the Moreland Gap forest road and I resolved to run all the way to the end if I could. It wasn't fast, but I stuck to it. The climb up this section at the start took 45 minutes. The descent took about 25 minutes. I was hanging on, but felt good. I had no pain, just tiredness and soreness at the edges. Inga distracted me with lively conversation.
Eventually, we turned into Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and I ran up the short hill, through the woods, across the meadow, and finished. What a relief! It was 7:20am on Sunday morning.
This year I performed well, and I'm delighted that I exceeded all my race goals. A four-hour personal record improvement feels terrific: I used to be excited when I ran 30 seconds faster in 5k races!
Thanks to everyone who made this possible: VHTRC, Ben, Marc, Luiz, Stephanie, Inga, the awesome volunteers, the Warfields, Hopkins Harriers, and my family!