After running my first 100 miler last year in
By December, the urge to challenge myself once again began to crop up and I decided that there had been something missing from the
I’d heard only good things about the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Miler in
Still, I found myself at the starting line on race day without the same sense of fear as before. I never heard the race director say “go”, but the mob around me started to move so I just went with the flow. From the very start I hooked up with David Snipes, a Virginia local and 6 time MMT finisher. He informed me that we were now “married” and would have to stick together and look after each other for as long as possible. He’d guide me, an MMT rookie, and have the pleasure of my always-sunny disposition in return.
We covered the first few miles on a dirt road under headlamp, then turned off into the woods at Moreland Gap on our first trail section of the day. The footing here was a taste of things to come, with rocks jumbled haphazardly about the trail. They required a bit of attention to foot-placement, especially with dead leaves concealing some of the holes, but were nothing I hadn’t experienced before. We hiked up
My wife, Miriam, had traveled down to
Another climb and ridge run brought us through
We found ourselves running a dirt road section next to the winding
David and I arrived at
I hobbled out of the aid station into the dark, a bit angry at myself, but it wasn’t long before the pain in my feet began to fade. My blisters went numb, and with the evening temperatures back to a comfortable level, I actually starting feeling rather energetic. My head cleared, my muscles felt little fatigue, and I was actually enjoying myself again. I cruised through the woods at a comfortable pace, passing a group of boy scouts around a large campfire at one point. They’d figured out that a race was going on right through their campsite and they cheered me on as I flew by.
Here, things began to blur a little bit. I went up a climb known as Jawbone, then across Kern’s Ridge in the dark, reputed to be the rockiest section of course. I was slowing down to a more reasonable speed and feeling rather sleepy. Miles blended into each other and I got a bit jumpy. On top of Bird Knob I felt like I needed a short nap, so I began looking for a suitable spot to sit down and close my eyes. One rock the size of an office chair on the side of the trail looked inviting, but when I put my hand on it, it turned out to be an enormous anthill. I frantically brushed all the bugs off my arm, which woke me up for a bit, but I finally just settled on lying down on the ground in the middle of the trail for five minutes. It wasn’t very refreshing, but there were no ants, and it helped a bit.
Eventually, the sky began to lighten and I was able to put away my headlamp. I found myself walking more and more - not so much because of crippling fatigue, but because I was having a lot of stiffness in the crotch of my knees where the calves and hamstrings connect. I was also developing so healthy blister pain on both pinky toes where my feet had swollen up. I wore the same pair of Cascadias for the entire race, even though I have a half size larger pair in my aid kit. Next time I’ll have to remember to changes shoes before my feet swell up and cause additional blistering.
I arrived at the last aid station, Gap Creek II, and only had 6 miles to go. Miriam, who wanted to experience a portion of the course for herself as well as witness what the last bit of a hundred miler is like, decided to accompany me for the last few miles. We ascended slowly up and over the last climb and came out on the last section of road. By this point I knew I was going to finish well under my 30 hour goal and I decided that I didn’t really care whether my time was 28 hours or 29 hours, so I walked much of it. Had I been able to motivate myself I’m sure I would have been able to run this entire section and cut some time off. I was feeling a little out-of-sorts. My legs itched furiously and I’d suddenly lose focus and become fixated on checking myself for ticks, with only a mile to go. Looking back, this seems like a ridiculous waste of time, even though I found three of the little buggers.
We turned off the road and onto the final 0.6 mile section of trail and I looked behind me. The first runners I’d seen in over an hour we’re catching me and I was determined not to get passed on the home stretch. My focus came back and I began to run everything, even the uphills. With only a few hundred yards to go I found the pain in my legs begin to fade, as it always does, and I was able to sprint away from Miriam. The trail took a few sharp bends within sight of the finish and I was going so fast that I almost ran off into the trees. I made it through the gate and finally was able to stop. Spectators clapped and the race director shook my hand and congratulated me. My final time was 28:50, which I was more than satisfied with.
Photo by Bobby Gill
After the race, it was good to get some food and well deserved sleep before heading back to the finish area to welcome other runners in. I was particularly impressed with the very last finisher, who finally succeeded at Massanutten on her fourth attempt. Despite the fact that she finished seven hours behind me, I had to wonder if I’d have the same determination, given similar circumstances. I don’t even know her name, but I admire her strength.
With my new buckle in hand, I look back on Massanutten as a very enjoyable race but I must say, I still haven’t found that impenetrable wall I’ve been looking for. I have a few ideas for where to look next, but in the mean time I have to wonder whether it even exists.