Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
MMT 2012 Report
by Ivan Zinn
Race report for my first 100, the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 on May 12, 2012. Note: This is the long version. The short version is that I finished in 27:06 and in 28th place out of 196 starters and 125 finishers. The main physical issue I had was an IT band/knee problem that started around mile 80 and required a lot of power hiking and walking more flats and downhills than I would have liked. The race and distance was about as difficult as I expected. I had no major low points though plenty of generally unhappy and tired points. However, the experience overall was amazing. I couldn't have chosen a better first race despite its degree of difficulty and couldn't have had better crew/pacers.
Here is the GPS data for the last ~15 miles of the race. I had an old GPS on for part of the race before this but it died and the data transfer didn't work.
Ivan Zinn Finished the MMT 100
I had visited a month before the race and spent some of a weekend running some key hills and getting a sense of just how many of the famed MMT rocks were out there. Despite the "100" name the cumulative mileage showed 102 miles. During the race even though my basic arithmetic skills were slow I kept coming up with a total closer to 104 than 102. In fact, the website now shows 103.7 for the mileage this year.
My main goal was to finish and not suffer too much. The second goal was to finish around 27 hours, which seemed like a solid but achievable target based upon some comparable runners the past year.
My hydration plan was to carry a 50 oz Nathan pack to top off at every aid station. This takes more time than handhelds but I have a very high sweat rate and handhelds wear out my arms in very long runs. I planned to carry a handheld for the Habron Gap section because it was going to about three hours between aid stations during a very hot part of the day. in an attempt to take in enough calories I also planned to drink at least a cup of Gatorade each aid station saving the coke/mountain caffeine for as long as possible - hopefully mile 63 and beyond. My eating plan involved taking in as many calories as I could reasonably ingest during the first half of the run including 'real food' like bananas, oranges and PB&J quarters and supplement the aid stations with gels that I would stash in my drop bags to be transferred into my nathan pack along the way. I was glad that I did this as I didn't see too many gels out on the course and I'd rather choose a flavor and type than be beholden to undesirable vanilla bean in the middle of the race. finally, I packed ensures in many of my drop bags. I hadn't trained with ensures so I knew I was taking a chance but I have never had meaningful stomach issues. I thought at least I'd be getting in plenty of calories at 250/bottle and worst case I'd have more bathroom breaks. indeed this was the case - I had three bathroom stops during the day and one at night,
4am / Starting line
The race starts at 4am giving most runners a chance to see two sunrises and get sleep deprivation for at least two nights. We were in luck because the course was as dry as ever and the weather promised to be as forgiving as possible - high 70s during the mid-afternoon and mid 40s late at night. The morning felt chilly because I was in shorts. A couple of prepared runners had brought blankets to stay warm to the last second. Everyone huddled with anticipation as the big red clock counted down to a punctual 4am start. My crew was all kind enough to sacrifice a good nights sleep and come out to see me off. I checked my headlights to make sure it wasn't on the brightest setting that will burn out the battery that night. I opted to take a small handheld light as well though realize it won't be as necessary until the second section.
Start to AS 1 - 4.1 mile section / 4.1 mile cumulative - 4am to ~4:50am
At 4am the race begins I was surprisingly not nervous before the start, less so than during a marathon or shorter race. This is likely because I knew it was going to be a long day and there seemed to be no reason to be nervous for merely the moments leading up to it. The first mile takes us out of the starting area and on an asphalt road with a slight uphill. The next three miles are almost all run on a dirt road with a 7-8% grade. My main goal during the first several sections was to run very comfortably at a pace that felt exceedingly slow. I had read some race reports where people with solid finishing times hiked the first several miles to save their legs but I knew I wouldn't be able to hold off that way. The first several miles passed quickly.
I started in middle of the pack and gradually made some progress towards the front but was specifically attempting to not race but rather conserve. It was a pleasant way to start the race as it gives the field a good chance to separate and minimize the need for passing on narrow singletrack. Also, I could find a nice rhythm on a runnable section to prepare for a long day.
AS 1 - AS 2 (Edinburg Gap) - 8.1 mile section / 12.1 cumulative - 4:50am to 6:26am
We ran by a truck with water and some basic aid station fluids for the first aid station. I was one of the few around my pace to stop and fill up on water but didn't feel the need to run through a station at this point to save a minute. The second section quickly portends the rest of the day with some rocky trail but a slight downhill. The beginning of the section felt fairly runnable until Short Mountain begins. I traded positions with a woman named Kathleen who is wearing some bright blue gaiters that I would remember. we crossed the road after what didn't seem like much time or effort though I knew it is at least a mile from AS1 and mostly uphill. But I also knew this is where the real work begins on Short Mountain. I had run the uphill section here when I had visited several weeks before to check out some of the course. I remembered this as very rocky, not runnable and a real effort to get up. I fell in line with a group of three others making steady progress up short mountain. I kept thinking the harder parts waited ahead for us but it didn't feel that way. We arrived quickly at the top of the ridge - the combination of adrenaline and fresh legs made this steep ~1,000 foot climb fly by. However, several solid miles of rocks waited at the top of the ridge. I don't remember much about this section other than again it went by more quickly than expected. the sun started to rise once I was on top of the ridge and the section only became more runnable and brighter. I could tell we had started the long downhill where I'd first be able to see my crew and get rid of my headlight. I ran the downhills with a solid pace but I was trying to avoid burning out the quads too early in the day so tried to hold off the urge to push the pace.
AS 2 - AS 3 (Woodstock Tower) - 8.2 mile section / 20.3 cumulative - 6:26am to 8:06am
I saw Emily & Kim at the aid station and ditched my headlight. The crews were out in force here clapping for each runner. I stopped to fill my nathan water, drink several cups of gatorade and take down as much food as I think I can digest including an ensure. the milk chocolate and latte flavors were indeed the right flavor choice. I remember relatively little about this section other than it was very pleasant. The section starts with a ~700 foot climb but it was hikable at this stage and the rest was entirely runnable. This section combined with the next were the most runnable sections on the western ridgeline. I hadn't noted it from visiting several weeks prior but the western ridge was much more rocky so any section on this side of the course was generally tougher. I'd equate the eastern ridge line (i.e., the less rocky section) to most of what I'd find in Harriman Park near Bear Mountain (50 miles north of NYC). The western ridge line is closer to "running" on a riverbed with very large rocks and the occasional dirt footing. I have relatively little memory of this aid station other than Kevin Sayers, the race director was everywhere and full of energy. I saw him at five or six aid stations during the early part of the race. As little sleep as I knew I would get I figured he had to be going on a couple of hours of sleep for a week.
AS 3 - AS 4 (Powell's Fort) - 5.3 mile section / 25.8 mile cumulative - 8:06 to 9:12am
This section wasn't notable for me other than I recall being able to run most of it including a very pleasant downhill for the last several miles leading into AS 4. This section felt most similar to trail in Harriman State Park - more dirt than rocks with dense tree cover for most of the section. I do recall stopping about 0.5 mile before AS 4 as there was a beautiful vista atop a ridge looking west. The river jutted out perpendicular to the ridge and the surrounding areas were verdant and green with the morning sun lighting up the view. One other runner near me stopped as well to take in the view. The section felt very fast and I soon found myself at the aid station. By now it had warmed up enough to switch from the long sleeved (bright red) running shirt to the short sleeved (gray) shirt - this would cause some photo opp issues later.
AS 4 - AS 5 (Elizabeth Furnace) - 7.5 mile section / 33.3 mile cumulative - 9:12 - 10:47am
After finishing a marathon for the warm up my legs and body still felt fresh. I really hadn't had any issues with my feet, body, food or water. I didn't even feel any chafing from my shorts or Nathan, which typically takes place after three or four hours. the weather proved to be a big help to avoid chafing - warm in the midday but not too hot where I was heavily sweating the whole day. this section had an 800 foot climb that started gradually and became more steep. Towards the top the rocks dominated the trail and it felt like running on a riverbed though uphill. Upon cresting the hill I could feel the heat of the day as more direct sun beat down on the runners. Somewhere in the middle of this section I started running with Ryan from Syracuse. He seemed to have run a lot of the 100s on the east coast - Umstead, Vermont, etc. more impressive is that when I was tapering in the weeks leading up to the MMT 100 Ryan had run a 200 mile solo (!) version of a relay race. He had also done the same the prior year at Green Mountain relay in Vermont. Needless to say his legs must have been spent. After running a couple of miles we catch up to a runner who is moving pretty slowly on a runnable dirt road. We pass him slowly and Ryan asks him if he was at the Barkley this year. The runner says 'yes, I was the last one to finish.' I immediately stop and shake John's hand. I run with John and Ryan for several miles until I feel the need to pick up the pace a little and run the last mile into the aid station. I run across the bridge leading into the aid station and surprise my crew. They had scoped out a great photo opp but were looking for the red shirt, not the gray shirt. However, it was good to see the whole team. They surprised me with matching turquoise crew shirts for the race and were looking sharp. I sit down for the first time of the day. I changed my socks as I felt some dirt and rocks in my shoe. There was little water on the course but wanted to keep my feet clean as long as possible. I ate and drank as much as I could again and headed out to keep the momentum while I felt good.
AS 5 to AS 6 (Shawl Gap) 4.7 mile section / 38 mile cumulative - 10:47 to 11:59am
The Elizabeth Furnace aid station is between the west and east ridge so I was looking forward to a change of scenery and (slightly) less rocks on the eastern ridge. I had run the ~2.5 mile uphill section of this before so felt confident in what to expect. The first two miles consist of a < 1,000 foot climb that I mostly hiked but was able to jog some. the ridge came and went and I felt good enough to run from the ridge to aid station. the trail turns from slightly rocky to wide and very runnable with some high grass at the end. I could see a bright turquoise shirt in the distance that turned out to be Emily with the video camera.
AS 6 to AS 7 (Veach Gap) 3.1 mile section / 41.1 mile cumulative - 11:59am to 12:37pm
This section was very straightforward with a gradual decline for much of the section on a dirt road. Fortunately, it was shaded so the heat wasn't an issue. During this section I started to be very mindful of any hills that I was running to conserve energy so I hiked a hill towards the end of the section that normally would have been easy to run. From my splits and excluding the aid station stops I was averaging a little slower than a 10 minute per mile pace.
AS 7 to AS 8 (Indian Grave) 9 mile section / 50.1 mile cumulative - 12:37 - 2:53pm
Like too many sections this started with a 1000+ foot climb to get up to the ridge. The highlight of starting this section was that introduction of popsicles by the aid stations. The fully stocked station had popsicles and ice cream sandwiches. I opted for the popsicle to cool me off for the approximate two mile climb. I don't have any strong recollections from this section other than the climb became quite hot at the top and much of the climb was straight so I didn't have the luxury of switchbacks to break up the climb in small sections. I was still running the ridges at this point though not making great speed. During this section I caught up to Ryan, my running companion from earlier in the day, as his hydration pack had busted so he was nursing the last ounces of water. I tried to share some water but he was doing ok. I offered him an extra bottle at the stop before the habron gap section but he hung in there and kept close to me until the aid station.
AS 8 to AS 9 (Habron Gap) 3.9 mile section / 54.0 mile cumulative - 2:53 - 3:38pm
After passing AS8 I was into new territory as I hadn't yet run >50 miles. My plan for the day was to spend very little time thinking about the first 50 miles of the race and try to focus on the last 50. In a 50 I would have been running harder and worrying about pace/splits for much of the last 11 hours but in the 100 I concerned myself with making solid progress and getting enough food & hydration to prepare for later. This was a good section to begin the 'real' race as it was very runnable and more downhill than up. It was more exposed to the midday sun than any prior section but it was broken up by a little shade. I felt good during this section and ran sub 10 minute miles for most of the section. I was dreading the Habron Gap section though as I knew it was long and the climb the longest of the day. I ran into the aid station and met the crew who had the chair set up with Gatorade and some food ready to go. In general, I thought I was taking more time than others at the aid stations but it felt necessary to refuel.
AS 9 to AS 10 (Camp Roosevelt) 9.8 mile section / 63.9 mile cumulative - 3:38 - 6:24pm
I dreaded this section all day as I knew it was going to be long and the hill promised 1500+ feet of elevation gain over 2 miles to begin. I had run the climb before on fresh legs. This was the first climb of the day where I felt legitimately out of gas and winded by the top. I was still making forward progress but it felt very slow. this was in part due to the heat and doing this climb at the peak of the afternoon sun with plenty of exposed sections. like the climb from indian grave, this climb tended to be straight vs. switchbacks so you could look ahead though not to the top and contemplate the slow progress. After taking at least 20 minutes per mile for the climb I finally reached the ridge. For the first time that day I started to really feel tired and was not able to run the flats at least to start. I needed to hydrate and refuel as well as cool down. Also, I could feel some minor pain in my hip from the long grind uphill. I didn't give it too much thought but with hindsight this was likely the beginning of the IT band pain. The ridge lasted only last 3 miles and I felt much better dropping down into the western side of the eastern ridge. I hadn't spend much time looking at the map and didn't have my GPS so my hope that the aid station was at the bottom of the hill like many other sections was not fulfilled. There were another three miles of modest up and downs before getting to camp roosevelt. several people passed me on this section but I didn't run with anyone for any measurable period. Looking back at the splits from other runners I ran a slightly slower section than others in my general time range but it appears that this section was tough on everyone. This also could have been due to the time of day - both running through the heat and acknowledging the coming darkness. This was the first time of the day where I was also mentally weary because I knew I was technically more than ½ done but didn't feel anywhere close to the finish especially with running through the night on my horizon. I finally started to notice some blistering on my right foot from my adidas shoe as it is always snug near the ball of my foot (as usual the new version is never as comfy as the old one). I switched into the older version of the same Adidas Adizero trail shoe as I knew it was wider and more comfortable.
AS 10 to AS 11 (Gap Creek - First time) / 5.8 mile section / 69.6 mile cumulative - 6:24 - 8:23pm
This was the first chance to pick up a pacer and brian joined me here. as he had sat around for the last 12 hours and watched others run he was ready to get out there. I was not. I took a very long break at the aid station with a long walk to the real bathroom and plenty of calories. I spent probably 15 minutes here recovering and getting ready for the night with headlights. I spent very little time researching this section because it looked shorter and had one steep climb but didn't seem too bad. I should have anticipated this section to be harder as it gains 1100 feet over about 3 miles. The elevation map is deceiving as I think in reality the course starts out much flatter than is shown on the elevation chart so I felt more elevation come more quickly than advertised towards the middle of the section. By this point I wasn't running too much except for flats and downhills. The flats didn't feel too flat either. The first several miles seemed to be a gentle uphill grade - temptingly runnable but not at mile 70 if I wanted to save my legs for some harder sections later in the race. We passed another runner and his pacer on the uphill so were making ok progress but it felt quite difficult here. fortunately, Brian had brought along the description of the section so we knew that the climb started after the course turned right and uphill onto a different trail. Also he had his GPS watch so I was able to focus on the small mileage increments. The real hill starting approximately three miles in was on the steep side but generally the same grade as the climbs from the afternoon but I was laboring more here than before. This was the first time in the day where I was in a bad mood from running and not happy with how difficult it was. Of course, it was also the first time of the day when I had someone else to whom I could vent. We eventually crested the hill and had a steeper 1.5 miles down to the aid station. we could hear the aid station revelry from above and that drew me in despite getting passed by two runners on the way down. At the end of this section Brian and I finally turned on the headlights. My goal had been to get to Gap Creek without a headlight. I got close but not quite there.
AS 11 to AS 12 (Visitor's Center) / 8.5 mile section / 78.1 mile cumulative - 8:23 - 11:12pm
Brian finished up the first of his pacing duties here and Emily picked up. I knew this section wasn't going to be fun and it didn't even manage to meet the low expectations I had set. I think this was the first time I had part of a grilled cheese. All day I had been offered hot cooked food but quesadillas or hot dogs or bean burritos didn't sound tempting. However, a grilled cheese sounded amazing. I scarfed down part of one and would ask for more at future aid stations. Emily and I crossed the dirt road and started a fire road that quickly ascends into the real climb. If you look at the elevation chart for this section you see a big climb, a flat-ish ridge and a nice descent. Per my GPS the climb was more than advertised at ~1,000 to the first peak vs 750 on the chart and it is gained over one mile so an average 17-18% grade. This section was tough on tired legs but I felt like I had made steady if slow progress. I did feel significantly better than the prior section's hill despite the greater difficulty. We were teased at the top because one arrow points straight if you're at mile 98 suggesting there are about six mostly downhill miles to the finish. Sadly, we were at the 71 mile mark so make that 33 to go for us and we turned left. To add insult to the greater distance, we also faced a little more climbing up the ridge. At least we hadn't been passed by anyone up the ridge, the only place on the course where 'lapping' could take place. I expected the ridge on the west side to be rocky and unpleasant. it delivered. the entire middle four miles on the ridge were challenging and felt like a riverbed had somehow once existed on the ridge. The combination of headlights and rock to rock running on a measurable portion of the middle four miles made for slow progress. The best part of the section was when emily and I stopped on the ridge looking west over the lights in the distance. We turned off our headlights to enjoy total darkness and quiet that was all our own. The second best part of the section was that my GPS was measuring our distance short so I thought we had an extra mile to go before we hit the road at the bottom of the valley. Instead we hit the water stop and immediately were on the dirt road headed south towards the Visitors Center. I felt good on these 2.5 miles as they were downhill and runnable. I thought we were making fast progress but looked at my watch and saw a 12 min/mile pace. I should have known my pace wasn't too fast as emily had no issues keeping up with me even though I was working hard. we pulled into the aid stations after the long section in need of some food.
AS 12 to AS 13 (Bird Knob) / 3.5 mile section / 81.6 mile cumulative- 11:12pm - 12:26am
After a short break at the aid station taking down at least half a grilled cheese I switched to my Hoka One One trail shoes. My feet were sore from the rocks so I thought the extra cushion would help. Indeed they felt good but I think they exacerbated my IT band issues later. Greg and I started the uphill section to Bird Knob. We made slow progress given the 1000 foot steep climb including plenty of scrambling. I could tell my IT band was having issues at this point but I didn't realize the extent given the uphill grade. We crested the top after at least a 30 minute climb and were able to run some of ridge as magically the rocks hadn't infiltrated the ridge this far south to the same extent. We got passed by a runner so Greg goaded me with 'you're going to let this guy pass you 80 miles in?' I responded that we were running our own race and encouraged him to keep me entertained with stories. Bird Knob aid station is isolated so doesn't quite have the same energetic vibe as the others but I was happy to get some more food. I sat for a moment but didn't linger.
AS 13 to AS 14 (Picnic Area) / 6.4 mile section / 87.9 mile cumulative- 12:26 - 2:16am
We jogged down the dirt road to the left turn up the hill. By now my right knee was starting to really hurt - I must have tweaked my IT band earlier in the day because downhills now felt very painful and I couldn't take a full stride. Uphills were not nearly as painful but I didn't have full strength to drive with my hip given the IT band either. We made it up the 0.5 mile hill and then should have been able to enjoy the downhill but didn't. However, I felt good that once we made a left turn at the bottom of the hill each step was a step closer to the finish line. The left turn to head back north was either poorly marked or all three of us (we were running with another competitor by now) were confused. The other guy might have missed the turn completely but I knew we were close so we found the chemlite markers a couple of markers after where I expect the left turn and scrambled through some brush to get back on the trail. At the time, I felt like I was moving more slowly than others but looking at splits for this section I was fairly consistent as other finishers around my total time. after the left turn we generally had downhill that we alternated running and hiking. Greg joked that he had brought a set of second grade math problems to test my mental acuity so was disappointed that I seemed to remember enough of this section that I knew when we approached the hill we were close to the picnic area aid station. I don't recall if I switched back from the Hoka One's here or the next aid station but I was convinced I needed my old comfy Adidas to try to ease the IT band issues. I don't know if it made a difference but mentally it was an important change.
AS 14 to AS 15 (Gap Creek #2) / 8.9 mile section / 96.8 mile cumulative - 2:16am to 5:15am
Brian took over pacing duties from Greg at this point. I had not previewed this section at all. I wish I had because it was an unpleasant discovery. the first 1.5 miles are advertised as runnable but not at this point and not for my knee. The pain in my knee limited any downhill running and made hiking downhill painful. We crossed the road and started the massanutten connector section. I had read in a race report that this was the climb that had no name but should have because of the difficulty. It was not the steepest climb of the day with about 1500 feet of elevation gain over 4 miles but it felt quite difficult. The hill started with a fire road that eventually turned into an uphill riverbed. this section felt very disheartening because I didn't know the length of the hill and my hip/knee was very tight. again Brian got to deal with my complaining at one of my low points.
there were plenty of choice words directed at the rocks and race director at this point. Two thirds of the way into the section we reached the crest and should have been able to run from here but couldn't manage much more than a fast hike on the downhill. Eventually we made it to the dirt road that would take us the mile back to the aid station. I couldn't manage to run even though the road should have been quicker work. This section took me between 20 and 40 minutes longer than most of the comparable runners. From the splits this seemed to be where I lost the most time. I knew I would finish the race though so the hiking and slow pace was painful but doable.
AS 15 to AS 16 (Finish) / 6.9 mile section / 103.7 mile cumulative - 5:15am to 7:06am
Brian and I refueled at the last aid station as Greg took care of crewing duties through the night. I don't recall taking down my last grilled cheese but I probably did as they became a staple aid station request by now. I knew the climb out of gap greek was going to be tougher this time but at least I was going to get to go straight at the top not take the rocky ridge route left. I remember breathing heavily with my hands on my knees towards the top of the 1000 foot climb. after cresting ridge we were confronted by about two more miles of mostly downhill rocky trail to get to the final road. Our headlights weren't necessary after the top of the ridge but the progress was still slow with plenty of knee pain. We reached the dirt road and stopped to take our headlights off and take off the windbreakers. We were taking our time until a competitor and his pacer popped out 50 meters behind us. At this point I decided I wasn't going to let him pass me in the last four miles and that 10 minute miles were going to be very painful but painful for less time than 15 minute miles with running/walking. So we started running as fast as my knee could take with a couple of complete breaks to stem the pain. I managed to increase the pace as the adrenaline took over and even gritted out an 8:52 mile on the last downhill mile. Brian kept checking behind us to see if our competitors were making progress but we were at least a turn ahead. We hit the bottom of the road and made a left onto an uphill dirt road - the true beginning of the end. David Horton, a record holder of many through hikes and well known elite ultrarunner, passed us on a bike and gave his congratulations on finishing. It was quite a way to hit the homestretch. Eventually we got back to the large grass area for the finish. The course takes the runners on a wide arc to approach the finish line adding more mileage to an already longer than advertised course. However, I couldn't feel my knee or fatigue at this point. Brian and I separated 100 meters from the finish line and I crossed in 27:06. The race director greeted every finisher with a handshake and the pat on the back. My crew and other pacers had misjudged my finishing time - a reasonable bet given how I had looked/felt when I last saw Greg at 2am. they arrived about 20 minutes later after I had scarfed down bacon and waffles. I was moving well enough at this point to recreate the finish for them to capture the photo opportunity. We celebrated my finish and an hour after the finish my adrenaline was gone. The stiffness and fatigue started to set in.
I had some very sore muscles later that day and the IT band issues worsened / stiffened. I was surprisingly not too chafed though I had plenty of it on my back from my waterpack. Other than the small blister that I stopped by switching shoes around mile 50 I had basically no feet problems. Several weeks later and my IT band is mostly healed but still tight. All in all it was pleasantly uneventful for body issues.