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 it would.

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 aid station.

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 here.

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 end.

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 bad mood.

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.

Scott Brockmeier
Chapel Hill, NC