2003 Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 Race Report
Massanutten was my big focus for 2003. I did a bunch of races this spring
and winter in preparation, logging a lot of miles and lots of long runs.
I had done Leadville last summer and was treating MMT as a tougher course
than Leadville which I think true even though my time at MMT was much faster.
Though it’s somewhat contrived to compare the two since they are such different
races, I would say that MMT is significantly more difficult and definitely
more abusive on the body. My last long runs were two weeks before MMT when
I did the Promise Land 50k and Claude Sinclair’s May Madness run back-to-back
on Saturday and Sunday. These two runs gave me 65 miles and about 15k of
climbing for the weekend. I would have preferred to have three weeks rather
than two after such a big weekend but it seems I was sufficiently recovered.
In that final two weeks I only ran about 15-20 miles.
About a week and a half before race day Matt Kirk committed to (and maybe
should be committed for) crewing for me and to run some of the end of the
race with me. Matt, like myself, has been ultrarunning for less than two
years but he’s really a fast and strong runner. In April of this year he
ran his first 100 at Umstead and placed 3rd with a time of 17:28. I was really
excited to have as a crew an experienced ultrarunner who would really know
what I was feeling and what I would need. I knew I could completely put myself
in Matt’s hands and be able to just focus on my running. I also really enjoy
Matt’s company and we’ve done a lot together even though we only met last
September. If anything, having Matt there helped me even more than I thought
Matt and I drove up to Skyline Ranch Resort on Friday, arriving at around
2:30. Matt set up the tent and I went to register and get my race packet.
I’ve only started to get to know the VHTRC group, having done two other of
their runs this spring, but the more I get to know them the more I realize
that they are about the happiest and friendliest group of folks around. What
a great running club and organization to be a part of. I talked to both Greg
Loomis and Keith Knipling who have left the area recently and they told me
how much they miss being in such a great place to run. The race briefing
was at 4 and soon after dinner was served.
I wanted to get to bed early to try to get as much sleep as possible since
I invariably toss and turn before an important race. However, between chatting
with so many people and taping my feet it was well after dark before I crawled
in the tent. I was able to fall asleep pretty quick but I didn’t sleep all
that well. I kept waking up and I finally got up at about 3:30 even though
my alarm wasn’t set to go off until 4. I was amazed how warm it was. It must
have been close to 70 degrees. I didn’t even need to wear a sweater as I
got ready for the day. This really made me nervous as I was worried about
the heat, knowing that the forecast was for 80 degree temps and afternoon
showers. I figured it was going to be a long hot day. I much prefer colder
temps. I started the run wearing a thin duofold short sleeve shirt and shorts.
Race director Ed Demoney gathered us together just before 5 to read a blessing
and promptly at 5 we were off on the first 2.4 mile section of paved road.
I ran easily and comfortably to that first aid station where we turned off
onto the trail. I chatted a bit with Bethany Hunter, the woman’s winner,
and she seemed relaxed and ready for the day. She was excited to have her
Dad there to crew for her during the day. After turning onto the trail Bethany
went ahead and I never saw her again until the end though I was tantalizingly
close to catching her around Short Mountain. Soon after that though she left
me far behind. I ran a bit with Gary Knipling and he too got ahead of me
and I thought he was keeping ahead of me until I saw him going up Bird Knob
as I was going down.
I was running fine and keeping just the kind of pace that I had wanted to
do but it was feeling harder than I had hoped. I knew that it would probably
take me a bit to loosen up and fall into a groove but I was starting to worry.
I reached AS 2 exactly at my expected split time and Matt handed me two new
bottles of Clip so I lost no time at all here. I started the run with two
handheld bottles and Clif shots in the pockets of my shorts. I was taking
electrolyte caps about every 45 minutes. I don’t like running with something
around my waist as it either bounces around too much or if I cinch the strap
tight enough to stop the bouncing then it messes up my intestinal tract later
in the run. I would switch to a Camelback at Moreland Gap just before dark.
After some more road running we headed back up the mountain to run the ridge
reaching AS 4 which was trucked in with an ATV. The aid workers there had
a not very large tarp and looked a bit bedraggled since it had been raining
for a while at that point. I thanked them and told them I hoped they’d keep
as warm and dry as possible and took off. While up on the ridge it was raining
and pretty cool but the temp felt good since it wasn’t at all windy. It was
just a steady light rain. This was much preferable to running down low, off
the mountain, where it was much warmer and really sticky. After a bit more
ridge running it was back down to another paved road that brought us to the
Habron Gap aid station #5.
I found running this section of road to be quite unpleasant. I was running
here with Sue Johnston a bit and Harry Bruell. Both looked strong. I figured
I was running about 20th and even though I was hoping to get a top 10 finish
I wasn’t at all worried that I was going too slow. I was right on my planned
pace and intended to keep running my own race, confident that if I could
keep to my schedule that I would do well. Pinned to my hat I had two pace
sheets, one for a 26 hour finish and one for a 27 hour finish. They were
pretty much the same through the first half of the race with the 27 hour
pace allowing for greater slow down late in the run. I did a really good
job all the way until 80+ miles just concentrating on the section of trail
that I was currently running. I think this really made a big difference.
I didn’t have total accumulated mileages on my pace sheets but had mileage
between aid stations and expected time. I was keeping a tally of approximately
where I was relative to my overall pace but never looking beyond the next
I reached Habron Gap in 4:35 which put me 5 minutes ahead of schedule. I
was not feeling great here 25 miles into the race. I was keeping my pace
but it was just feeling a little too hard. I was struggling some running
on the paved road and just not enjoying myself as I would have liked to.
I was more than happy to head up the Habron Gap trail to get back on the
ridge where it was cooler and not paved. I don’t remember much going from
AS 5 all the way to AS 7 at Gap Creek. What I do remember is that it continued
to rain steadily and that I was really enjoying the rain. Sure I was wet
but probably not much wetter than I would have been if it had been 80 degrees
and humid. I was happy to be keeping relatively cool though I was still sweating.
It was also during this section that I could feel the tape on my feet coming
loose. This did not feel good. I didn’t have any blisters forming but I could
feel, at each step, my foot sliding across the duct tape that I had used
to tape my feet the night before.
I considered changing socks and pulling that tape off at AS 6 Camp Roosevelt
but decided to wait until Gap Creek. I’m glad that I did as it was really
sloppy between Camp Roosevelt and Gap Creek – go figure, it had been raining
now for 7+ hours. So I pulled into Gap Creek and ran right by the aid station
as I had Matt there to take me to the car to refuel, drink, and change socks.
It was great having a crew and not needing to visit the aid station tables.
It saved a lot of time but I did kind of regret not being able to chat with
the volunteers and express my appreciation for their being out there for
us. I ended up passing a number of the stations though I did go through the
Gap Creek tent on the second pass through (when it was AS 11). By the time
I got to Gap Creek the first time I was starting to feel better. I was feeling
strong and running well with the only concern being my feet, which had pretty
much been soaked since the start. This was one of my longer aid stops but
still only about 8 minutes long. I refueled and as I was changing socks Matt
shoved an energy bar in my mouth. He didn’t ask if I wanted or needed it
he just shoved it in my mouth. That’s the kind of crew you need. I did need
that energy bar and had a nice climb up Jawbone to digest it so it was just
the right thing to do.
Getting those dry socks on really felt good. I didn’t have to feel that tape
sliding back and forth across my arch and the trail from Gap Creek was dry
all the way to the Visitor’s Center. I felt great going up Jawbone and came
to the first extended, level but unrunnable section on Kern’s Mountain. The
reason that it was unrunnable (at least for me) was, big surprise, all the
rocks. The footing was just so bad that it didn’t make sense to run it. I
could have run it but I wouldn’t have been moving any faster than a good
powerwalk and it would have been much more effort. So I just walked as fast
as I could through here waiting for it to end. It was also in this section
that I passed Greg Loomis who was not having a great day. His PF was acting
up and his spirits were down with the weather; it was still lightly raining
Greg mentioned how he really wished the sun would come out to lift his spirits.
My feelings were just the opposite. If the sun had come out it would have
really bummed me out as it would have gotten much too hot. It’s funny how
we’re all so different. I felt bad moving past Greg and not chatting more
but we did get a chance to talk a bit. Unfortunately Greg ended up dropping
soon after due to being undertrained from living in flat and hot San Antonio.
Have no doubt, though, that he’ll be back stronger than ever.
After the rocky ridge there’s a nice runnable descent that takes you down
to a short section of gravel road which turns into pavement. This is all
gently downhill and I was able to make up all the time that I had spent walking
the ridge to get to the Visitor’s Center. I did this section 3 minutes faster
than my planned split (I’m just using my 26 hour schedule now) even including
the sock change time at Gap Creek. I was just feeling stronger and stronger
as the day went on. It’s at the Visitor’s Center that a person can stop and
receive a Visitor’s award which is a rock from the trail. This “award” is
meant to get you back to finish the run and get your name removed from the
Visitor’s List. I had no thoughts of stopping here and never thought about
stopping the entire day – it would take a major injury to stop me now.
Matt had bottles and food ready for me and he asked me if I had been eating
enough – he was worried that I hadn’t been eating as much as I needed to
to get through the day. I had decided, before the race, to try only eating
when I was feeling hungry in my stomach. I was drinking Clip which has pretty
good calories and I was carrying Clif Shots. I would drink the Clip and if
my stomach started to grumble I would eat a Clif Shot. Along with the occasional
energy bar at aid stops this carried me pretty much right through Gap Creek
II. I think it was a good strategy and I’ll definitely use it again. Later
in the run I was feeling less hungry and had less of an appetite so I had
to start eating more than I really cared to and didn’t depend on feeling
hunger to eat, but for the majority of the race it worked great.
While at the Visitor’s Center I was confused about what happened next on
the course. I was thinking that there was a 4 mile section that would bring
me back to the Visitor’s Center before going on to the 211 aid station. I
left with just one bottle, thinking I could pick up the second bottle after
the Bird Knob loop. I did know that there was a Bird Knob aid station and
that I went from there to 211 but I just wasn’t thinking straight. When I
got to the Bird Knob station and they said it was 6 miles to the next aid
at 211 I was a bit worried having only a single bottle so I really tanked
up there on water before leaving.
I’m a strong climber and I was continuing to feel stronger as the day went
on so the climb up to Bird Knob was really fun for me – it really felt pretty
easy. As I was approaching the turn off to the loop to Bird Knob I passed
Tom Neilsen coming down in the lead with John Geesler not too far back. John
told me to be careful to turn left at the start of the loop as a couple of
others had partly gone the wrong way and had to back-track. I had thought
we were doing the loop counterclockwise but had no firm basis for that so
when I got to the sign I was really glad John told me which way to go as
it was quite confusing. Here’s what happened: You come to a fork in the trail
and there’s a big wooden sign that has an arrow pointing to the right that
says “Bird Knob 2 miles” and an arrow that points to the left that says “Forest
Road xxx some-odd miles.” There were no ribbons in sight while standing before
the sign at the junction. Without John’s instruction I would probably have
just gone to the right but I looked down the trail to the right and there
were no ribbons so I went to the left and after going a few feet I saw a
ribbon so I continued on that way.
When I reached the aid station I told them about the confusing intersection
and they quickly went down there and put a paper plate with an arrow pointing
left and also put tape over the confusing “Bird Knob to the right” part of
the wooden sign. The volunteer was still at the intersection when I went
by. This was the only part of the course that was even slightly confusing.
The rest was perfectly well marked. As I continued down the hill I passed
many runners coming up. I was really bombing down the hill as I was feelling
just great. This was a great section to feel good on as it was downhill for
a long ways. I ended up passing two runners before I got to the 211 aid station.
I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling and I was pretty charged up. I
did spend a bit of time here to eat and drink as I had gotten a bit behind
since the Visitor’s Center. It was hard to eat while running so hard down
the hill. The next aid station was Gap II and I told Matt that I might want
to switch to the Camelback then so he should fill it with water. My arms
were getting pretty tired from carrying two bottles all day. As an indication
of how good I was feeling I picked up 20 minutes on my splits between the
Visitor’s Center and 211. Now I had a bunch of climbing to Gap Creek and
soon after it would be getting dark.
From 211 there’s about a 1500 ft climb before dropping about 800 ft back
to Gap Creek. With such a long climb I expected I’d be able to pick up more
time but maybe I hit it too hard getting to 211. Anyway, I ended up losing
9 minutes on this section and got to the aid station feeling pretty tired.
Matt met me about a 1/4 mile down the road and trotted up to the aid station
with me taking my bottles when we got close. He told me to run to the tent
and get some quesadillas. Great call, Matt!! I got to the tent and drank
a bunch and downed 6 quesadilla wedges – they were soooo good! I was definitely
ready for some real food and it was nice to joke around with the folks there.
What a great group! And the quesadillas! Did I mention the quesadillas?
Feeling greatly recharged from that stop I headed up the trail towards the
climb back up Jawbone. Matt met me along the way and tried to get me to eat
an energy bar but I was stuffed. It was getting close to dark but I knew
I could make it to Moreland Gap and the start of Short Mountain before dark
so I left the flashlight with Matt. He handed me the Camelback and I took
off up Jawbone. I think the calories were much needed but maybe I had overdone
it with 6 wedges. I was feeling a bit bloated on the way up Jawbone and somewhat
unsettled on the downhill to Moreland but I still managed to blaze this section
in 46 minutes which was a full 14 minutes faster than planned. It must have
been quesadilla rocket fuel!
I felt great coming into Moreland Gap and topped off the Camelback, got the
flashlight from Matt and got ready to go. Matt told me that he would start
pacing me at the next aid station, Edinburgh Gap. I had just left it up to
him to decide how much, if any, he wanted to pace. He had been up all day
and working hard doing such a great job crewing for me so I would have been
fine with him sleeping for a bit but he decided to run with me instead. So
it was off to the infamous Short Mountain. I don’t remember the climb so
much but I sure remember that ridge. What a nightmare! It goes on for miles
and there is just no letup in the rocks. I managed to run about 6 steps at
a time max. You’d be going along and suddenly drop down off to the left 40
or 50 feet only to climb back up a short ways further along. This happened
again and again. Finally I started dropping down for good and I though that
I’d be able to do some running. Forget about it. The rocks just wouldn’t
I had been feeling great for 35+ miles, feeling stronger and stronger with
a brief energy low just before Gap Creek II. Short Mountain, though, made
short work of my high spirits. That stretch really took it out of me and
the run never was as fun again. I did fine on it time-wise and I didn’t feel
physically exhausted but it was something of a mental turning point. I went
from feeling like I was wrestling with the course on my own terms to more
of a feeling of just surviving and making it to the finish intact and uninjured.
I had lost 13 minutes on my splits but Matt and Steve Pero told me that I
had actually made up time on Sue Johnston, Keith Knipling and Bethany. I
was astounded. It seemed like I was moving so slow there. I knew that I was
in 11th place and I really wanted to finish in the top 10 – maybe it’s silly
to have such artificial goals but I think it helped drive me forward.
I had been in 11th since 211 and had told Steve Pero there that barring a
complete breakdown on my part I was confident of finishing top 10. I had
been passing people steadily pretty much all day and thought that I would
continue to catch people up. But it had now been 6+ hours and there was still
no one within 10 minutes or more. I was working about as hard as I could
and it seemed I was making up little or no ground. I didn’t get discouraged
about this and remained determined to keep the pace and hope that someone
else would come to me. I still felt pretty good and now had Matt along to
keep me company. Just as we were about to leave we saw two headlamps coming
down the hill into the aid station. Oh no! Not only was I not gaining places
there was someone running strong behind me. I had though that I had a pretty
good cushion behind me. I didn’t know it at the time but this was Kevin Black
and his pacer coming into Edinburgh. Kevin had really blazed Short Mountain
running the 4th fastest time there. Matt and I took off up the steep hill
to the top of Powell Mountain.
I had been told that this section was easier. It was much less rocky and
there were real sections where one could actually do some running. It was
during this stretch and just after the next aid station at Powell’s fort
that I started turning my ankles. I think it was because a lot of the trail
was canted slightly to the right in addition to my growing fatigue. Luckily
I have very loose ankles so I can turn them so the bone sticking out on the
outside actually hits the ground yet not have any pain or do any damage.
I did this again and again and got really frustrated. Matt heard a number
of choice words and phrases go ringing through the night air. I was really
yelling out my frustration. I’m not sure just what Matt was thinking here
but he didn’t say too much which was the right thing to do when I’m in a
The section into Woodstock Tower also went a bit slower than I had hoped
but I did manage to stay ahead of Kevin, at least going into the aid stations.
I don’t remember the details but Kevin and I really battled it out for the
next 12 or so miles. We passed and repassed each other a number of times
but I always managed to reach the aid stations first. I thought he looked
really strong and I doubted I’d be able to hold him off and in talking to
Kevin afterward he thought the same about me, saying that he thought I looked
fresher in the legs walking up hills. As we neared the next to last aid station,
Powell’s Fort, we came upon Keith Knipling walking in the road. He said his
quads were blown and were cramping up on him. He was really disappointed
since he was having such a great race up to about 85 miles. I was disappointed
to see him hurting but I was finally in 10 place. Now if I could just hold
off Kevin, who came into the aid station about 1 minute after me. All five
of us were at the aid station together, Keith, Kevin, his pacer (sorry I
forgot your name), Matt and myself. Kevin took off first and I, worrying
about my position, took off after him. I got about 75 yards and away from
the lights of the aid station and I realized I couldn’t see – I had forgotten
my flashlight – doh!
I yelled back to Matt, barely getting his attention over the sound of the
generator and told him to bring my light. He soon came trotting up with the
light and off we went in pursuit of Kevin. After the race was over Matt confided
in me how crappy he was feeling at that point and how he was seriously considering
stopping and getting a ride in to the finish rather than running the rest
with me. He had mentioned that he wasn’t feeling great but never let on that
he was feeling so bad while we were running. I had been quite clear before
the race that I didn’t really feel that I needed a pacer and that he should
only run if and as much as he felt like doing. So his considering stopping
would not have been letting me down in any way. In retrospect I’m glad he
did continue on as I think he really helped me to stay focused and keep pushing
hard to the end. Also, from here to the end we were able to do some real
running and Matt started to feel good and have fun too.
On the section into Elizabeth Furnace Kevin was ahead of me but stopped to
water the trees letting me pass him on a downhill section. That was the last
I saw of him as I really started to turn it on on that downhill. I was really
running hard and I ran for several miles without stopping. This was something
that I hadn’t done for a long time. It really hurt my feet and my legs were
feeling a bit tired too but somehow I kept hammering. Earlier I had started
to lose my motivation to try to beat Kevin to the finish but Matt really
helped me here to keep me believing that I could do it. He really pushed
me to push myself and I think I would have broken up that long downhill run
with much more walking if Matt hadn’t been right there behind me pushing
me along. I gained a full 15 minutes on this section and blew through the
Elizabeth Furnace aid station in about a minute. They had pizza there and
Matt caught up to me with a piece which I ate about half of and threw the
rest in the woods. I hadn’t come anywhere close to bonking all day and was
feeling ok and just wanted to be done at that point. We had one big climb
and five miles to get to the finish.
Just before starting the climb I noticed a green flashlight up ahead and
realized that I would probably be able to move up another position. After
that hard downhill dash I was much less worried about Kevin catching up but
that doesn’t mean I slacked off – I kept the pedal down. I passed Aaron Schwartzbard,
who was walking like his feet were badly blistered. I blew by him with barely
a word I was so intent on finishing. I recently read his race report and
found that it was his Achilles tendons that were hurting him and that he
was in a really bad place when I passed him. I feel kind of bad for my lack
of compassion but was incredibly focused on finishing. I would highly recommend
reading Aaron’s report of his race at http://www.vhtrc.org/mmt/2003/aaron.htm
It’s one of the better race reports you’ll ever read.
I powered up that last hill still feelling strong on the climbs. My legs
were tired and sore but there was still a fair bit of strength left. When
we got to the top and started down, though, I really started to hurt. There
is a lot of double track and forest service type road coming down to the
finish which makes it real runnable but it was a bit too steep for comfort
for me. I could feel the tops of my feet right by the ankle really hurting,
especially on the left foot. Jamming my feet into the shoes on that downhill
was really painful. My toes were fine but when I took my shoes off I saw
a large lump on my left foot, a nasty hematoma that was the obvious source
of the pain. I’m glad it didn’t happen earlier in the run! Anyway, the trail
flattened out and I eventually approached the field near the finish. Matt
was still pushing me and I saw that I could bread 25:30 so I continued to
push, pushing so hard that I felt like I was on the verge of puking. I knew
it was about over though so I pressed on and crossed the finish line in 25:28,
more than 30 minutes faster than my optimistic expected finishing time.
I’ve done three 100 milers now and at the end of each one I’ve been just
too dog tired to be elated. The thing that I’m most excited about upon finishing
is being able to sit or lie down without having to get back up. This is followed
closely by the joy of removing the shoes. I had had a great race. Everything
worked well. I ate enough but not too much. I kept hydrated and maintained
my electrolytes so I had no cramping. The temps were a bit warm at times
but the rain during the day helped to keep things cool enough to be manageable.
I ran the entire day with the same shirt and shorts, never putting on a jacket
or a sweater and was relatively comfortable the whole race. Having Matt crewing
for me was a huge element in the success of my run. He knew just what to
do and what to say. I had complete confidence in him so I was able to just
forget about everything except my running. Having such a great and competent
person helping, I would say, saved me as much as an hour or two. And this
is not to mention how he spurred me on late in the run. Thanks Matt, I couldn’t
have done so well without you.
To my own credit, I did a great job of running my own race and letting the
competition sort itself out. With the exception of the battle with Kevin,
I ran at my own pace the entire race. Keeping my focus on the next aid station
also helped to make the day go quickly. I’ve heard advice to do this before
but never consciously gave it much credence. In fact, going into this race
I did not even have that as a goal or strategy, it just happened. Having
a pace sheet I think really helped to give me good intermediate goals which
kept me from thinking about the finish and the whole race, too early.
As an added bonus I met a number of new people this weekend: Kevin
Black, John Dodds, Vicki Kendall, Mike Dobies, Russ Evans, Linda Wack, John
Geesler, and a bunch more that I’m sure I’m forgetting. I really look
forward to doing more VHTRC events and meeting even more of you all.
Finally, thanks a million to Ed Demoney for such a wonderful and challenging
course and all the people who suffered through a full day of rain and then
right through the night so that we runners could kick so many rocks.
I know during this run I was inside myself much more than usual and didn’t
express my thanks as much as I like but I hope this report reaches many of
you. THANK YOU for everything.
Chapel Hill, NC