Sunday, June 1, 2014

Massanutten Mountain Trails 100

The 2014 version of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 (MMT) was on May 17 and 18 this year. Two years ago I attempted this race and failed miserably at mile 42-ish. I screwed up my hydration/nutrition from breakfast that morning and I went out pretty hard to see what I could do. It just didn't work out so well. This year my brother Jim convinced me to do the race (I have semi-retired from running 100s) but I went into it with a different plan. I was going to run it with my brother and just try to survive it this time. I've learned some things about hydration/nutrition in the last two years so I felt like I was better prepared for the demands of the day. My training this spring has also been excellent, including a 104 mile week with lots of vertical two weeks before the race so I felt like my legs were also ready. My mind and my stomach were still the wild cards, but they always will be.

Another friend from Lancaster, Jake Beiler, also got into the race as the last one off the waiting list and he was bringing four other friends as crew and pacers for the three of us. We decided that we would all start together and see how the day went. This was Jake's first 100, Jim's second, and my fifth attempt (four complete). We stayed at Jim's house in Harrisonburg, about 50 minutes from the start.

On Saturday morning we left Harrisonburg at 2:30am and got to the start by 3:30am. The only problem was that they had gotten a bunch of rain a few days before and had to move the start due to water issues. We had to go about a mile to get to the new starting location (we thought there would be shuttles but we had to walk) and by the time we got there we had about 5 minutes before the start at 4am. I wanted one last bathroom break but it wasn't to be. The clock hit 4:00 and we were off into the cold (about 40 degrees) morning. There were numerous places that the water was rushing across the road in the first four miles (the first four miles are on dirt road) so our feet were cold and wet from the beginning. We knew it was going to be a wet and muddy day.

Jim, me and Jake (front to back)

The trail leaves the road at about 4 miles and climbs up onto the ridge and then follows the rocky ridge for many miles. The sun came up while we were in this section and it is kind of a nice part of the trail, although very rocky. The first full aid station comes up after a descent into Edinburg Gap at around 12 miles. The three of us felt good and weren't pushing it at this point.

After leaving the aid station, there is a big climb followed by 20 miles of pretty pleasant single-track. The trail follows a ridge for awhile, with a few climbs and descents thrown in here and there, before rolling into Elizabeth Furnace at mile 32.6. We tracked back and forth with a number of other runners in this stretch and were able to keep a pretty good pace going. We ran with a guy we affectionately called "mud-boy" for awhile. This is a guy that kept falling into the mud and was mostly brown. He had Hokas on and was blaming the thick soles for causing problems. I was definitely feeling much better already than I had two years ago so I was hopeful for the day. My stomach was good and I felt like I was eating and drinking the correct amount. 

The next section was where I started my descent into misery two years ago, so I was apprehensive. I made it okay to the next aid station, but we tracked through some extremely muddy parts on the way. I grabbed some quick food and walked out of Shawl Gap while Jim and Jake were still refueling. I wanted to keep moving while I felt good and push right through the next aid station. After I saw them in the distance behind me I started running and figured that I'd beat them to Veach Gap and then I would have a couple extra minutes to rest before they caught up. Veach Gap is where I dropped out two years ago.

We didn't hang out long at Veach Gap. Jake left a minute or so before Jim and I and we all began the monster climb that began the nine mile journey to the next aid station at Indian Grave at mile 49.7. I felt okay, although a little scared about the nine miles. Unfortunately, good feelings aside, this section crushed Jim and me. The climb was tough, but didn't make me feel bad right away. After the climb, however, I just gradually started feeling worse and worse. I started to get a little light-headed but wasn't really anxious to eat. Every time I coughed I felt I like I might just throw up. I wasn't really nauseous but just felt bad all over.

Jim and Jake.
We stumbled into Indian Grave and Jim and I both sat down and drank a cup of Coke. We told Jake to go on without us because we wouldn't be moving any time soon and he looked really good still. Jim said, "After we get out of here, I'm walking to the next aid station and then quitting." I felt exactly the same way. We sat for awhile and the aid station captain kept telling us to get up and move out but we weren't listening. I just closed my eyes and put my head back. I couldn't believe I had been so stupid to run another 100-miler after successfully completing my last one. Now my last taste (I had already stated on the last section that I was retiring from 100s) would be failure. Why did I want to put myself through feeling so bad? What the heck was I doing out here? Short races are so much more fun. This is just ridiculous.

We knew we eventually had to move on as this was a no-crew aid station and we weren't supposed to drop here. It was only four miles of road to Habron Gap, where the crew would be. I asked for one more cup of Mountain Dew and slowly nursed it. Jim was ready to go but I asked him to wait while I finished the cup. Then we got up and slowly started walking out of the aid station. Two of the aid station people came up to us to wish us well and one of them said to me, "You look so much better than when you came in here." I replied, "You're lying, I do not." But she reiterated her statement and said that I had looked really white when I came in but that I had my color back now. I thought, "You know, I do feel better now." 

Whether it was her suggestion or that cup of Mountain Dew (probably some of both) my attitude immediately turned around. Jim still looked bad, though. I knew I would have some hard convincing to do to keep him going. I decided that we would just start walking and I would gradually introduce the idea of continuing after Habron Gap. I mentioned that I was feeling better and was thinking about continuing, but he was not having any part of that. I just let it rest and we continued to walk. Secretly I was plotting to use the "little brother" card. I was going to say after awhile that I really wanted to continue but didn't really feel safe being by myself in my current state and was hoping he could continue with me just to Camp Roosevelt, where we had pacers waiting. Then he could drop.

Well, I waited and I never had to play my card. Before I got to do it, he eventually said he was feeling a little better and that maybe he would be able to keep going. After awhile we even started running again. Eventually we ran into Habron Gap and grabbed some food and sat down to eat it. Jake was still there and still looking good so he took off while we were eating. I saw mud-boy there, getting into his drop bag for a clean shirt. I said "Hey, mud-boy." He didn't look up at first so I repeated it till he looked at me. I said, "How does it feel to get a clean shirt on?" He was pretty happy about it. Jim and I didn't stay too long and got moving back onto the single-track. Camp Roosevelt (CR) was a long 9.5 miles away and there was a significant climb to start but we were committed to getting there.

We were hoping to get to CR before dark but it wasn't going to be. We pulled out our headlamps a mile or so before we arrived. This was another really muddy section and I was looking forward to changing shoes and socks for the first time and just being dry, even though I knew it would be short-lived. After we arrived, pretty tired at this point, I went for one of the few bathrooms on the entire course. It was, unfortunately, a quarter mile away, but my daughter Marcy walked with me and we eventually found it. I took care of business, got back to the aid station, and changed everything. Jim was ready before I was so he took off down the trail with his pacer. Finally I finished fueling a few minutes later and left with John Lapp, my pacer who would accompany me most of the rest of the way.

The night gave me energy. It always does. I was happy to be leaving last and on the chase to catch my brother. I was running quickly and loving it. It didn't take too long to catch up and then we hit one of the wettest, muddiest sections of the course. So much for dry feet. Five miles later we rolled into Gap Creek (for the first time) and didn't spend much time there before we began the climb up Jawbone. On the way up, I was talking to John and all of a sudden this runner comes up behind us and says "Wie bissht du?” (probably not spelled correctly as my limited PA Dutch knowledge is only spoken). Here it was Jason Lantz, winner at MMT two years ago, and native of Lancaster County. He recognized John’s Dutchy accent and must be able to speak a little Pennsylvania Dutch himself. Jason, was doing the climb of Jawbone for his second time (the last leg of MMT) and continued on past us. He finished tied for fifth this year.

The night wore on and the aid stations continued to roll past. I felt good for the most part, although fatigue did gradually settle in. It also got kind of cold and I put on all of the layers that I had. For the most part I was dressed okay for it, although it seemed that every time we got near an aid station it got cold. There were definitely pockets of cold air around and it felt good to get near the fires that most aid stations had going. John stayed on as my pacer and Jim eventually picked up Amos as his pacer after his first pacer was done. Jake continued to run well ahead of us and was staying 30-60 minutes ahead of us.

We were looking forward to seeing our second daybreak. Just before we ran into Picnic Area at mile 86.9 we were able to turn off the headlamps. At Picnic Area there was a guy sitting by the fire who I think was sleeping but basically looked dead (death-warmed-over-guy). He was that white/gray color of death but the people there assured us he was alive and just resting. I wasn’t necessarily convinced but we refueled and headed back on the trail. I could feel the end approaching but we still had 17 miles and four hours of running. 

The day did bring renewed energy, although the next section was a bugger. It featured a good climb, a descent and then another good climb basically just up a stream bed. Our feet were always wet anyway so it just didn’t matter much anymore. I was starting to feel a little light-headed, which I didn’t like, and I started to think about just hammering the final miles. I started hoping that they had pancakes at the last aid station. When we reached the top and came out into an open meadow, I started singing the “Sound of Music” theme (“The hills are alive…”) and skipped and twirled through the meadow. Runners’ high was now settling in. I told Jim and John that I was feeling a little lightheaded and felt I needed to just go hard and finish the thing. Jim was tired but looked fairly good and he had John with him so I wasn’t worried about him being able to finish. I knew it was all downhill to the aid station so I just took off. The trail broke onto fire road and I hammered the downhill. I just wanted to run fast for awhile.

I ran into the last aid station (2nd time at Gap Creek), thought I smelled pancakes, and sure enough they had them. I couldn't have been much happier at that point. I downed two pancakes with a little syrup, drained a Mt. Dew and took off. I was running uphill now. I felt good and strong. When I hit the switchbacks, I started power-hiking and was surprised when I reached the top so quickly. It had taken much longer the first time. I scrambled down the rocky single-track, eventually hit the dirt road again, and had four miles to go. I opened it up and started tracking down other runners. At the first bridge crossing where water was still running over the top I just splashed through while others were picking their way across. At the second bridge crossing I tried to do the same thing and I was about to step on the bridge I noticed there was a big gap that had washed out. I was able to make the leap onto the bridge and when I got to the other side I thought I could do the same thing. The only problem was the gap was wider and I tried to step on a rock and missed and went in hard to my neck. I was fairly fortunate to not have broken my leg or otherwise injured myself. I had some scrapes but laughed and pulled myself out and cranked it up again. 

With a little over a mile to go I met my daughter, Marcy, who was walking up the road to run in with me. She joined me and we cranked out the last mile. I shouted "redemption draweth nigh" and we finally rounded the last corner where I ran across the field and over the line with a fist pump and a high five to RD Kevin Sayers. I was pumped for finally putting this race to bed. Fifty miles earlier I had thought my day was done early again in failure and now this. It is a great feeling. Jake had finished earlier in 29:11 and my final time was 29:57. Jim came through in 30:34.

What a race. A philosophy that Jim repeated throughout the day is "whatever you are feeling now, the opposite is coming." It is so true in an ultra. The body has an amazing ability to recover, but you have to give it time. Don't quit at your worst moment. At least try to get to one more aid station and then see how you feel. It may be that it doesn't get better soon enough and you drop anyway (happened to me the last time), but at least give it a chance. The guy that we thought was dead at the second-to-last aid station, he got up and passed Jim in the last few miles and finished the race. I couldn't believe it.

Our crew and pacers were fantastic. They kept us moving and provided companionship on the trails. The volunteers at most of the aid stations were also fantastic. The guys from Lancaster and I are hoping to volunteer together at one of the aid stations for the inaugural Eastern States 100 later this summer and pass on the favor to other runners.

I officially retired from hundred milers this time. Jim is already talking about the next one. I could probably be convinced to un-retire if a niece or nephew or son or daughter were going to do one. Maybe I would just be crew, however. A 100 is a tough thing and it is hard on the body. It is now two weeks after the race and I have shin splints and haven't been able to run much. I don't like feeling so bad during a race. I don't like feeling like I might vomit or pass out (or actually doing those things, for that matter). The race distances between 10 and 20 miles are so much fun. But the runners' high I have gotten at every 100 at about 90 miles in is a pretty great feeling and crossing that finish line is like no other feeling I have experienced. It is a journey and a test of body, mind and soul. I guess I am still open to possibilities that might arise.

1 comment:

  1. Finally got around to reading this, great report. I think I would be in the exact same boat as you realizing they had pancakes. Congrats (belatedly) on the race!
    - Ian