Massanutten Mt Trails 100
Winner Sean Andrish enters Visitors Center aid station
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MMT 2004 Report
By Anstr Davidson
"Short Mountain is where bad people go."
The tenth running of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Miler had the best weather, the biggest field, and one of the best races of any of its predecessors. After a drenching downpour disrupted run preparations on Friday afternoon, the sky cleared and the temperatures dropped. It did not rain one drop during the 36 hours of the event. Saturday was clear and cool, and it was about 60 degrees all Saturday night. Sunday was a bit warmer, but not brutal.
The largest field ever to start the MMT, 136 eager runners, seemed to enjoy the weather. All but one of the runners made it to Camp Roosevelt -- 34 miles into the run. It was only as the sun set that runners started to pay the price for the hard running they had done in the good weather.
The Volunteers: The famous MMT aid stations and course marking were again the stars of the MMT show. Every aid station was captained by a veteran of prior runs. Runners were treated to a cornucopia of food, drink, and TLC to help them continue their quests. Many of the aid stations required long hours, hauling food and water many miles, and erecting a small town to take care of the runners, pacers, crews, and cars that, for a brief moment, congregated in the woods.
Scott Mills again led a fantastic crew of course markers. The first ribbons went up on Thursday and were all down as the last runner crossed the finish line. The MMT course is mostly a loop, so Scott and his crew must mark almost 100 miles and put chemlites on about half of that. As usual, Scotty ran more miles than many of the competitors.
The Runners: It is the runners, however, who must negotiate the 100 miles of rocks. This year's field seemed particularly tough and adept. There was pain, suffering, blisters, and blood but most kept moving well to complete the arduous journey. It is the inspiring performance of the runners -- from the front to the back of the pack -- that motivates the volunteers to give so much. No one would stay up all night to watch wimps. The runners receive good support because they earn it. Their achievements were phenomenal.
The Men's Race: Prior MMTs have had exciting mano a mano struggles between two runners. This year was the first race with a pack of front runners. Seven or eight runners were close together at the early aid stations. Soon, however, four runners emerged to battle for the win. These runners were Serge England-Arbona from Maryland who, among other things, is a prior Old Dominion 100 champion and more recently set the world record for 24 hours on a treadmill, Peter Bakwin of Colorado, who won the 252 mile Tuscarora Trail Run that David and Joe did last year and who has set a course record winning the HURT 100 km in Hawaii; Barry Lewis from Pennsylvania, a winner of several Bull Run Runs; and Sean Andrish of Leesburg, Virginia. Sean has come on strong beating his training partner Courtney Campbell at David Horton's Mt. Masochists 50 Miler and winning Bull Run Run last year. Serge, Peter, Barry, and Sean were within minutes of each other most of the day. At Edinburg Gap, 75 miles into the run, the four were within 19 minutes. What must have each of them felt? While any other competitor might crash and burn, all three were not going to. If you wanted to win, you had to run fast. Pure and simple.
As we waited at Edinburg for the runners, Tom Nielsen and David Horton were preparing to pace Sean and Peter. Each was eager to take his charge and win the race. They were like jockeys on horses. Tom helpfully pointed out to David that the course took a trail to the right out of the aid station that was not marked, but don't worry, run real fast down the hill until you see the first ribbons in a mile or two. David laughed.
And then they were there. Sean came in first, but Peter joined him within 20 seconds. They stood next to each other munching aid station food while their bottles were filled. They were focused. While they appeared to be cordial, they were not engaging in small talk with each other (as, for example, Courtney Campbell and Mike Morton always did). This was serious. It was clear that each wanted the win.
Sean, with Tom as his pacer, left the aid station first, followed by Peter with David a couple of minutes later. Were Peter's extra two minutes a harbinger? And how could David let that happen? (Last year, David got Bethany Hunter through this same aid station faster than a racing car changes tires.) In fact, Sean was ready to make his move. At the next aid station, Sean had 15 minutes on Peter. That eight mile stretch is pretty runnable for front pack people so Sean must have really hammered. By Powells Fort Camp, Sean had widened the lead to 30 minutes. This is even more impressive because this section is even more runnable. Sean had made his move and finished strong in 20:49:00. He had gained almost 40 minutes on Bakwin in 26 miles.
Sixteen minutes after Sean and Peter entered Edinburg, Barry Lewis came in. He looked good. He is the oldest of the group and probably the most experienced. If anyone cracks, Barry will slide through. No one cracked, but Barry held his own for a strong third place finish. Four minutes after Barry, Serge Arbona came in to Edinburg. He claimed that he had flown over Short Mountain and was ready to catch the leaders. He left the aid station quickly with a great attitude. He was not, however, able to improve his place over the last 26 miles.
In sum, no one lost the men's race, Sean won it. It was an impressive win by an impressive young man.
The Jockeys: About 4 AM a car came into Edinburg Gap. It was bringing David and Tom back to their cars. Tom said, not without some pride, "My guy beat his guy!" David said, "Ya, he got me!" At that point, I had my headline for the MMT news story, "Nielsen Defeats Horton in Exciting MMT."
The Women's Race: On the women's side, there was no doubt about the outcome. Annette Bednosky had led all day and was almost three hours ahead of her nearest pursuer by the time she arrived at Edinburg. Her split time there was one minute faster than Bethany Hunter's course record pace of last year. When I pointed this out to her, Annette pulled out a sheet of paper with all of Bethany's splits. As she left, Annette was upbeat and ready to go for the record. She gained 10 more minutes on Bethany going into Woodstock. She lost it, however, after Woodstock and going over the mountain into Elizabeth Furnace. This is the section where Bethany had dropped pacer David Horton like yesterday's newspaper. Annette's finishing time would have won every MMT except last year. (Her time would have been third behind Bethany and Sue Johnston, but who knows if she had been in that race. It is now even more disappointing that Sue was injured and could not be here this year. It would likely have been another great two-woman battle.) Check out a comparision of Annette's, Bethany's, and Sue's splits.
Behind Annette there was a race for second. Both Sue Baehre and Kerry Owens looked great at Edinburg, having come in within a few minutes of each other. Sue was first, but Kerry was so upbeat that it was no surprise to see her pass Sue for second.
The Decade Guys: To many, including this reporter, the thought of doing MMT one time is quite imposing, the thought of doing it 10 times is idiocy. But John Geesler and Tom Sprouse have done just that. John came into Edinburg looking better than he usually does. He sat down and announced that he was dropping out. He laughed, we missed the joke. What a card he is! Then, so we would recognize him, he stayed long enough to get cold and look like crap. As usual, he finally jumped up and went off into the night. Much later, Tom Sprouse came in also looking better than the last few years. We at Edinburg always think that Tom owes us a bit of his gold belt buckle because of the year we refused to let him drop and got his butt out of the station and to the finish. Anyway, Tom had plenty of time to finish this year but decided to give some of that time back by taking the old, now wrong, dirt road up the next mountain. He knew the course too well! For their efforts, John and Tom each received gold belt buckles and personalized lawn chairs. While Tom and John had 18 prior finishes between them, the total number of prior finishes of most of the field added together was zero. The vast majority of the entrants had never done MMT before.
Special People: Everyone is special but it was great to see "the best trail runner in the East" Dennis Herr finish the race. Dennis goes way back and MMT is his kind of race. He has had to recover from knee surgery and his doctor's advice that he would never run again before he could add MMT to his list of accomplishment like Wasatch two ways and Hardrock. It was also nice to see fellow Harrisonburger Bill Gentry finish on his birthday. Then there were the four Marines -- Bradley Hall, Darrin Denny, Tom Bright, and Benjamin Watson who ran the course together. MMT would be the exact wrong event to run as a group. But they pulled it off. They finished like veteran ultrarunners. It was an awesome performance.
Gap Creek: Could Gap Creek survive without Chris? The answer is yes. Sure, there were no chicken bead hats, but there was everything else. Mary Johlfs did a super job of taking over the championship Gap Creek team and continuing its winning streak.
Short Mountain: One of the joys of working the Edinburg Gap aid station is hearing the runners praise the joys of Short Mountain. Each runner thinks he has come up with a new, clever way to castigate Short Mountain. Unfortunately, most resort to the word "freaking" or its not-for-television equivalent. They are so uncreative. I have observed, however, that one's attitude after Short Mountain is a predictor of success. As an example, both Kerry Owens and Mike Broadrick were happy and confident at the aid station. They both finished well. A connection?
Dropping out at Edinburg carries an extra punishment. Not only does that mean you have to stay longer and take our abuse, you have the joy of knowing you did Short Mountain gratutiously. In the words of one Edinburg drop out: "If I had known I was going to get pulled anyway, I would have dropped out at Moreland Gap and saved myself from doing Short Mountain."
The New RD: It looks as if we have completed the transition in leadership from Ed Demoney to Stan Duobinis well. Stan did a great job, keeping the many traditions of MMT going while adding his own initiatives. He just needs to learn to get some sleep!
The Future: MMT almost sold out this year. This reporter can speak only for himself, but there are many reasons to keep the current entry limit of 150. Frankly, we have never gotten to 150 and had not focussed on that problem. This year's event gave us valuable experience in dealing with a larger field. I know that several of us don't want to go over that 150 person limit. You may have to take care to enter MMT early in the future.
MMT is not just a run. It's an undertaking. Runners, volunteers, crew, and pacers all have the satisfaction of being part of that undertaking. They all know that "Massanutten Rocks!"
Pacer Tom Nielsen with eventual winner Sean Andrish at Edinburg Gap.
Photo: John Nelson