YES! Redemption is a sweet, sweet thing. I successfully finished the Massanutten 100 last weekend for the third time - avenging the DNF from last year. After the DNF last year, I have focused my training toward getting to write this report. While the result was what I hoped, I DID take longer and hurt more than I expected. Here's the story.
The race moved to a new venue this year, which was good for a variety if reasons including easier logistics for crews since the start/finish would now be in the "middle" of the course rather than on the north end. This cut the driving almost in half and no runner was ever more than a 30 or 40 minute drive from the start finish. This necessitated running the course in a different order and adding a new section. The majority of the course was the same but seemed very different. My friend Rich (of 2009 AT thru hiking fame) agreed to go along and crew me during the race. He has been having some knee pain so would not be able to pace so I got Jim Nagle from Maryland who was interested in running part of the MMT course.
The race started at 5:00 AM on Saturday and off we went up the 3 mile road section before tackling Short Mountain. I was looking forward to running Short Mountain in daytime. It was humid and the forecast called for temps in the upper 70s. I made great progress over Short Mountain and was having a ball running it. After checking in with Rich at Edinburgh Gap and switching to my two bottle belt, I was off to cover the section to Woodstock Tower - another section I had yet to run in the daytime. I cranked up the iPod and was making really good progress running along with Mark Radan. We ran some together back in 2008 and it was good to share the trail with him. He dropped me when I took a pit stop. I made a quick stop to refill at Woodstock Tower and then took off for Powells Fort - one of my favorite sections. I ran this section well and was feeling good, although I realized I might be pushing a little hard. When I got to Powells Fort, I really fueled up (the next section to Elizabeth Furnace is over 7 miles) and then walked most of the road to take it easy and enjoy the lyrics of Johnny Cash.
I made really good time on the climb up the trail and was ready to jam when the downhill came. I took a gel, popped an S-Cap and then let it rip. It felt good to stretch out the legs and was enjoying the run immensely. Then, disaster struck! Boom! Out of nowhere, I hit a rock and rolled my left ankle severely. A water bottle flew down the trail along with my sunglasses and half my dignity. I got up, spit a mouthful of dirt out of mouth and and pieced myself back together. Ouch! I walked a bit and the ankle felt a little better so I started to run. Abut 15 minutes later, BAM!, I rolled it again and this time did a really nice "Petey" slide. I started limping along and several runners asked if I was okay. I said I would be fine, just had to gather myself. I was a little worried because here I am at mile 30 and my ankle is already killing me and this is Massanutten - the rocks will be harder later. I made it into Elizabeth Furnace and surveyed things. Ankle hurt but not so bad that I couldn't continue. I ate some pretzels and grabbed two new bottles and took off. The climb is a doozy and I used to hate it because in prior MMT's you were only 5 miles from the finish and in much worse shape. I made it up okay and was able to run to Shawl Gap. The ankle was swelling up in my shoe but this was actually making it feel better.
I rested a bit at Shawl and drank and Ensure. I wouldn't see Rich again until Habron Gap (mile 53). Ed C. was here and reminded me to take it easy on the road that climbs to Veach Gap (about 3 miles away) since it kicked us in the rear last year. I did just that and was really feeling good when I got to Veach Gap (mile 40). I ate some fruit and drank some ginger ale. The next section was 9 miles without aid so I really fueled up well and drank a lot. It was definitely warm at this point. I really did not like this next section to the Indian Grave Trail head. It just went on and on and I was getting a little antsy. I couldn't really run the really technical downhill sections because I was worried about my ankle. Oh well, I made decent time and covered the section in about 3 hours. I fueled up again at Indian Grave and then headed out for the 4 mile road section to Habron Gap (mile 53). I despised this section on the road. Normally it hasn't bothered me but it really did this year. I ran in the sun and then walked the shady sections. This helped pass the time and soon I was there.
It was a little after 6:00 PM and I was over halfway done (at least in mileage) but the real work was ahead. The next section to Camp Roosevelt was 9.5 miles without aid and was my undoing last year. I really wanted to run this well. I drank and Ensure and ate some food and hydrated well before leaving around 6:15. I left the iPod with Rich because the battery was dead. I really wanted it for this section but just put my head down and got to work on the climb. I made great time and caught Mario who was puking his guts out and having a tough day. He would normally be hours ahead of me but was feeling rough. He told me to keep going so I just motored on. When I topped out on the climb, all the calories kicked in and I felt the best I had in the whole race (except for the ankle). I tried to push, not too hard but wanted to take advantage of the good feeling and get as far along before nightfall. Eventually I caught up to Mark Radan who was having some serious cramping issues. We went the rest of the way to Camp Roosevelt and arrived around 9:00 PM! I ran this section faster than the Veach to Indian Grave section.
I felt good but my ankle was not very happy. I fueled up well, grabbed my "bigger" headlamp and picked up Jim as my pacer. We were off to Gap Creek and the first section really was awful. I had a hard time getting a rhythm with my ankle and the crappy footing I a trend that unfortunately would continue). Also, I noticed lots of rocks and grit in my shoe (particularly the left one) and would have to look at that when we got to Gap Creek (mile ~68). We lumbered along and finally got to the aid station. When I looked at my show, my ankle was HUGE! There was no way I could take off that shoe - I would never get it back on. So, blisters were surely in my future. I ate some soup and tater tots, and drank some Coke. Then we jetted out. I wanted to get Kerns Mountain over with.
We made good time up Jawbone but I was wiped so I sat on a log at the top and ate two gels. The leader and eventual winner came up shortly thereafter. He was on his way to the finish and was about 30 miles ahead of me! It was a little before midnight and we started over Kerns. This was waaaay worse than going over Short Mountain. First off, the footing is a lot worse and the flat sections are even hard to run. I got a little mental here and was frustrated because it was taking so long. I also knew that any time goals I had were gone. But, I was determined to finish this thing even if it was after the cutoff. Pretty soon the trail made that big sweeping left turn and I knew we were done with Kerns. Thanks goodness. We got some water at the unmanned water stop and started down the 2.5 mile road section to the Visitors Center aid station. I already had a big blister forming on my left foot. The trip over Kerns had trashed my feet. It would get worse.
It was uneventful going down the road section and soon we saw Rich at the Visitors Center aid station (mile ~77). I took a longish stop here and ate a grilled cheese, some soup and drank a Red Bull. I was getting sleepy which normally isn't a problem for me in races. It was starting to rain a bit so I grabbed some gloves and a jacket. I knew it would be chilly on Bird Knob especially if it was windy. We maintained a brisk 40 minute mile pace up to Bird Knob. I had to stop and rest a lot due to my foot and until the Red Bull kicked in some. We walked a lot, more than I should have but finally got to Bird Knob (mile 80). It was a little before 6:00 AM and I put the head lamp away, ate some corn chowder and took off for the next section. We ran every step to the purple trail turn and then made good time on the ~1/2 mile climb to the top. We ran pretty well down the purple trail but walked some too. The blister on my foot just wouldn't let me run for very long. I did my best to just put it out of my mind. We got to the pink trail turn and kept on motoring. I had to stop a couple of times to rest my foot. My ankle was really hurting now. I ran a good bit of the pink trail but had to mix in a lot of walking. I knew I would finish and well under the cutoff now. I was never really worried, but it is a nice feeling when you realize that your race won't be a total disaster. The last mile or so to the Picnic Area aid station (mile ~86) took forever. We finally made it in and I sat down to eat - I was starving. I ate about 7 pieces of bacon, no joke. Soon, we left and had about 1.5 miles to meet Rich at the crew access point at 211 East. Here I shed my night clothes, dropped my headlamp and took tow final Aleeve for my ankle. It was about 8:30 AM and I told Rich to head to the finish and get some sleep. I expected to be there by 1:00. Ha! That certainly didn't happen.
Jim and I headed for Gap Creek (mile ~95) and I was excited to be done with this race. We made good time at first and then slowed to crawl in the really rocky sections. I did the best I could but every foot strike was excruciating. Several folks passed us including Larry Hall, a fellow WSGMRT teammate. Also, Rob Apple caught me right as we got to the junction of the Scothorn Gap Trail. We moved along ever so slowly. Once we got to the gravel road section it was still hard for me to run. I did my best and soon we were at Gap Creek. I told Jim that I was going to grab the gels and S!-Caps from my drop bag, refill bottles and then go. He stayed back to fuel up some but eventually caught up on the climb up Jawbone. It was weird, I could climb okay with the blister and ankle but descending was really tough. The section down to Moreland Gap was purely hellish. After the first couple of switchbacks it is hard to make any decent time on fresh feet. I must have looked ridiculous in my state. It took over an hour to get to the road! Pretty weak but it was all I had. At this point, I was totally spent.
We were now about 3.5 miles from the finish on mostly downhill road and then a short section on trail. We ran and walked some and were passed by lots of folks including Beth Hall (Larry's wife), also a fellow WSGMRT teammate. I didn't care. The running pace I could maintain was not much faster than walking. Soon we saw Rich at the trail turn and I felt good because the end was near. The trail was mostly a climb and I made decent time. Soon I crested the last rise and trotted in to the finish in 34:16. I was elated and in agony at the same time. The volunteers got me some ice for my ankle and I was amazed at how swollen it was.
This was the most rewarding MMT finish I have to date. The first one was a death march the entire second half of the race. The second was much faster and I felt good most of the race. This one though, tested me in a different way. I had to deal with the ankle and later blister issues and getting rid of them was not an option. I could only deal with it the best way I could. Battling through that gives me a different level of confidence. I love this race for the challenge, the beauty and the organization. Will I be back again? Absolutely. As long as I am able and have the opportunity, mid May means Massanutten to me.
Below are pictures of the damage:
And me getting it done, ever so slowly.