Massanutten, THE race for me in the first half of 2008. I had been anxiously awaiting a return to Front Royal since the day after the race last year. Much of my training and other races were used as "experience" for this years race. After entering in December, I was ready to begin focusing on training hard for the big day. I will spare you the details but the training was as much mental as it was physical. Much of my issues last year were created in my head so that I was already defeated when the physical issues surfaced late in the race. Last year, I felt as if I "grew up" at Massanutten, at least a bit. With the augmented training and another year of running ultras, I had grown even more. This year was all about a new experience for me. After all, I had more course knowledge, was in better shape and was so excited for the race that I felt I could improve significantly over last year.
We rented a great house in Front Royal with Mike Mason and his family and Todd Walker. We also had crews, pacers and other friends staying with us so we had a great group at the house. I arrived Thursday afternoon and fell in love with the Gooney Lodge the moment we arrived. On Friday, Mike and I hiked up to Buzzard Rock to check out the course and noticed how wet it was. No surprise as it pured rain on Thursday evening. We also stopped by Kerry Owen's house and talked with her, Mike Bur and Rich Limacher. Although I am a member of the VHTRC, living in Charlotte, NC does not afford a lot of opportunity to hang out with other members, so I enjoyed this immensely. We had a great dinner at the house Friday night and the rest of the crew arrived that afternoon. Before I knew it, the alarm was going off signaling 3:45 AM - time to ROCK!
The weather seemed almost perfect - cool with a light breeze. With the shout of "Get out of here", we headed down the road and I settled in to a good pace with Joe Clapper. I had no business running at his pace but I felt okay and figured I would hang while I could. I started with an empty water bottle (advice given by another VHTRC member) so I stopped briefly at AS 1 to fill up. Before long I caught back up to Joe and talked with him a bit while we ran. I really enjoyed the conversation and before long, Brennen Wysong and CJ Blagg joined in. I was definitely moving faster than expected to be running with this group, but I felt good and figured there is plenty of time to slow down in the next section. I shared about one mile with Amy Sproston, chatting about her recent trip to Bolivia. She went on to win the women's race.
I arrived at Shawl Gap about 25 minutes ahead of schedule, filled up and headed out. Joe, CJ and company left me in the dust on the way into Shawl Gap and I didn't see them again until Bird Knob (them descending, me ascending). I cranked up the tunes and just ran, arriving at Veach Gap. I declined the pancakes but did say hi to Bur, whom I had met the day before. The next sections were uneventful and I just kept plodding along and leapfrogged a bit with a group of three other guys. Stopped briefly at Milford to fuel up good and clean my sunglasses and then it was off to Habron. The leapfrog game continued all the way into Habron Gap. I felt terrific and was well ahead of my 2007 split. The first ( and most difficult in my opinion) climb loomed on the way to Camp Roosevelt. I ate a lot at Habron and took it really easy on the climb up to let the calories process. Soon, I was headed down again and was amazed how great I was feeling. It was still early but I was very syked. At Camp Roosevelt, I sat down for a couple of minutes and drank a couple of extra cups of Gatorade and ate some banana then headed to Gap I.
The climb on the way to Gap I wore on me a bit but I had a ton of fun running the downhill despite the trail being sloppy. All of sudden I heard the infamous rattlesnake of MMT 2008 and saw him off to the left of the trail. He didn't seem to feel like talking so I headed off and made my way to Gap I. There were several muddy and wet spots on the course up to this point and my shoes (Montrail Streaks) were draining great. I hoped this would continue. I got to Gap I around 1:45, ahead of schedule and way ahead of 2007. I didn't stay long because I wanted Kern's Mountain to be over. After climbing Jawbone, I made the left onto Kern's and picked my way through the boulders and started running the ridge line. I slowed down a bit here so I was passed by some folks but soon got re energized and caught back up. Eventually, I latched on to a train with Sniper, Mark and Rande and followed them all the way to the water drop at Crisman Hollow Road. I filled up, jumped into the big mud puddle (fun fun fun!) and started the final 5K to 211 East.
Descended Waterfall and passed the turnoff to go to Gap II and climbed up and over to the jeep road. Sniper and Co. (sans Rande who passed me before Waterfall) caught up on the jeep road and we ran into 211 East together. I said hello to Dr. Horton and Bryon Powell who both offered encouraging words. My family arrived about 5 minutes after I left but I am glad Rich got me out of there. I felt great going up to Bird Knob but took it easy on the climbs. Several runners passed me as they descended including Joe, CJ, Brennen and Amy from the early morning section of the race. One I got to the top I started running and ran most of the "ant hill road" in to the aid station. It was pretty windy so I downed some soup, filled my bottles and headed off. I wanted to run this section well and that is what I did, ran and ran and ran. It felt so much better to stretch the legs out after the climb. I passed several folks on their way up including Sherpa John, Jeff McGonnell, John Straub, Ed C., Gary Knipling and many others. Gary remarked how much better I looked compared to last year. I thanked him and made my way down and in to 211 East II.
Rich was ready to roll so we headed off. I didn't need to turn my headlamp on until the final 45 minutes of this section. The moonlight was magnificent. We moved a bit slow but managed good progress and arrived at Gap II (no snake this time) where I planned to fuel up really well. After a full quesadilla and a grilled cheese we headed off to tackle Jawbone the second time. I labored pretty hard on the climb but was able to move on the descent in to Moreland pretty well. I decided to eat some soup and drink some Coke here to prepare for the long section over Short Mountain that was upon us. I filled up my hydration bladder and pulled up my arm sleeves and started off. It was raining off and on and the wind was gusting but it wasn't too bad. Mark was still with us and we climbed up and were soon on the ridge. The Short Mountain section is just hard. It is over 8 miles long and you are out there for a long time. We made decent progress but I was stumbling and Mark was having trouble staying awake. We stopped for a bit to get our heads straight and then started up again. Sniper and his pacer soon passed us around the halfway point. I was anxious to get to the switchbacks to run and stretch the legs. Before long we were there and I ran as hard as a I could and was soon at the Edinburgh aid station right at 2:00 AM. By comparison, last year I arrived just before 6:00 AM. I ate some more soup and drank some ginger ale. Also, I brushed my teeth and bid goodbye to Rich. I thanked him for all of his help and me and my new pacer (Rebecca Phalen) headed off to Woodstock Tower.
This is another 8+ mile section that just goes on and on. I knew (from Sniper last year) that there were three signs and that the mileage on the first two was inaccurate but the third was pretty close. I was struggling big time and not eating for some reason. I couldn't figure out what the issue was but I had no energy and could not make any decent progress (how about not eating you moron...). Rebecca was great at motivating me to keep moving. I felt sick and she urged me to start eating clif blocks, which went down okay. I also wasn't drinking enough. This is also where my IT band started bothering me a good bit. I noticed some tightness while on Short Mountain but it went away when I ran. This time, running was excruciating, particularly downhill. Not a good sign. I could power walk though, so that is what I did. We got passed a lot but there was nothing I could do about it. In the 3:40 or so (I know, pathetic) it took me for this section I only drank 20 ounces of Gatorade and ate 2 gels and a pack of clif blocks. No wonder I had no energy. Kind of a boneheaded mistake for me to make. We limped in to Woodstock Tower just before 6:00 AM. I was still way ahead of last year but wanted to keep moving. If this turned into a death march, I wanted something in the bank. I ate some grilled cheese, crackers and Doritos and we headed off.
We ran in decent spurts on this next section but still got passed by one runner. Not that it mattered. Although I wasn't moving as fast as I wanted, I WAS giving it all I had. Soon we got to Powell's Fort and we decided to work on my leg some. I ate some sausage and pancakes and drank some Coke and water. Rebecca is a physical therapist so she massaged my leg and rubbed some mineral ice into it to loosen it up. Afterwards, we got up and headed off. We ran a good bit of the road as the rain started coming down and soon were at the trail. She did a terrific job of motivating me to "run to the next streamer" or "run to the bend in the road". The trail was wet and sloppy and we climbed over several blow downs. My IT band was still bothering me but I could still power walk. The biggest issue was the loss of mobility in the right leg. I could push through the pain but could not physically lift my leg enough to run the downhills. We tried fashioning an IT band strap out of my bandanna but I couldn't get it to provide any relief. Oh well. Soon we were at the last aid station. I still had a full bottle so I said "16 in, 16 out" to the cheers of all the aid station workers. Only 5 miles to go but at my pace it would probably take 2 hours.
We motored on and climbed up and up and up to the top. I had lost a good bit of dexterity and almost fell back several times. I lost focus here some and was so frustrated I was almost in tears. Rebecca kept up the positive talk and got me back on track. Soon we headed down and I power walked/ran as best as I could. We got to the gravel road and then the paved road and then, at last, the bridal trail to the finish. Finally, I went across in 31:34 - a 3:30 improvement over last year!
I was elated that I was done. I thought I would have run a better time, particularly as well as I was moving earlier. But, these things are not easy and there is always an unexpected twist. A 3:30 improvement to me is a great accomplishment. I gave it everything I had and didn't waste time in the aid stations this time, so I consider it a resounding success. After some pictures, high fives, hugs and a tasty cheeseburger (thanks Quatro and Tom Corris), it was time to get cleaned up and climb in the car for the ride back to Charlotte. MMT 2008 was over - hard to believe.
This race is in my blood for some reason. I just love everything about it. The VHTRC does a great job and my wife commented how friendly everyone was. Thank you to RD Stan, all the volunteers, aid station workers and everyone who made the run possible. I can't thank my pacers Rich and Rebecca enough for keeping me focused and moving forward.
Massanutten, I just love it and for me...MASSANUTTEN ROCKS!!!