I am not going to get into great detail on my individual race experience of my first MMT 100 miler. Instead, I am going to write more about the people who helped me cross the finish line after 32 hours and 37 minutes of running and hiking.
The race began at 4 a.m. Saturday morning at the Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp square in the middle of the Massanutten Mtns. of the George Washington National Forest in VA. It’s a beautiful area and if you are familiar with the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mtns., the Massanutten runs parallel with them.
My wife, Caryn, would be crewing me and my friend, Anne, would be pacing me the last 25 miles of the race. Anne ran MMT last year, finishing at 36 hours and 20 minutes. The cut off of the race was 36 hours. She fell early on, banging up her finger and shoulder. Later on in the race, she would have major back pain….but she finished. Friends Gary B, Cassie, Mandy, Bob, and Mary would also help crew and give support. Here are Caryn and I and my crew at the start.
The first four miles were on a gravel road that gradually climbed out of the valley. The course then took us on a difficult stretch of single track trail, similar to the rockier sections of the A.T. here in PA.
It included another climb. The total gain of the first 5 miles was about 1,600 ft. Here is the run down of the course and elevation gain/loss through the entire race…..
I recognized a runner by the name of Kelly M and ran with her for a mile or two. She is part of the Harrisburg River Runner’s group in PA. This would be her first 100 mile distance attempt. I would try to give her as much knowledge and encouragement in a span of a mile or two as I could. She would make it to the Gap Creek AS, mile 70, before race officials would cut her off. She still has running goals of completing her first 100 miler this year, and I wish her well.
Around mile 10, a runner behind me had commented on my New Balance Leadville v3 trail sneakers. He owned a pair of the v3’s, but had multiple pairs of the older version, v2’s. We both agreed that the sneakers we had on were both comfortable, sturdy, and reliable for the terrain we run and train on. He introduced himself as Michal. He had an accent and I believe it was Polish. We continued to talk and we found out that we both knew some of the same trails runners. He knew my friend Danny, who has run MMT a few times and recently broke the course record on the reverse Ring, a tough trail race of about 70 miles in the same mountains of this race. Michal also knew my friend Todd, who I’ve run with at World’s End 50K- ’15 and Oil Creek 100- ’16. As we approached the Edinburg Gap AS, he wished me luck and went on his way. I later saw that Michal finished 3 hours ahead of me!
The next several miles were tough to me. They use the terminology quote of “Massanutten ROCKS!”, and for good reason. During that stretch, I passed a local running legend by the name of Gary K. He has completed the MMT 100 eighteen times and is now 73 years old. His son, Keith, has completed MMT seventeen times….after the race, it would become 18 times. I had met Gary once before, but I know he had no clue who I was. As I passed Gary, I asked if he had any bourbon on him. He is known to be a lover of bourbon. He laughed and said that he did not, but would see what he could do.
A few miles later, Gary passed me and when he did, again said that he would see what he could do about the bourbon. A few miles after that, I passed him and another runner or two, admiring a beautiful view of the valley. I wouldn’t see him for another 28 hours.
At the next AS, I recognized a runner that my friends know, Bryan S. I follow him on Strava, a running app. His training includes a lot of climbing. That is tough to do in the central PA mountains. They aren’t the biggest mountains, you know. I introduced myself and continued on.
The miles went on, and I started to get into a grove. There were a stretch of a few miles that we could stretch our legs and get some good running in. Here I am around mile 27, one of the easiest sections of the course….
Just before the Elizabeth Furnace AS at mile 33, I came across another runner I knew, Brian C. Brian is a strong runner that I’ve run at a few local Fatass 50K races with. We ran and talked for about a mile. I asked him about the Cloudsplitter 100 Miler, which he had done last year. It is known for its elevation gain and beauty, totaling more than 28,000 ft of gain. Of course he recommended that I do it and of course I’ll probably accept the offer.
Here I am approaching the Elizabeth Furnace AS with Brian right behind me…
Leading up to this race, I knew it was going to be different from the other two 100 milers I have done….Mohican 100- ’16 and Oil Creek 100- ’16. MMT 100 is known to be tough, but fair. After the first 33 miles, I knew the “tough” parts would outnumber the “fair” parts. I had felt as though I had gone 50 miles already. I met Caryn, Anne, Gary, and Mandy right before the AS. They had my food and drink ready for me. I made sure to fuel up with Tailwind, gels, and other nutrition that I could carry with me. I would not see them until the mile 54 AS, Habron Gap. I gave Caryn a kiss in the rain and I was on my way.
After about 3 miles or so, I came across a runner in front of me. He resembled a runner I met at the Baker Challenge 50 Miler- ’15. I asked him if he was there in 2016, but he said he was not, but was familiar with the race. We ended up talking for a few miles. His name was Gary P, and like many other conversations during this race, we knew people in common. Gary remembered my pacer, Anne, from last year and the struggle she went through. Gary was easy to talk to. He talked about his bad-ass brother, who runs 3:15 marathons at age 55, and does crazy training runs. But after a 40 mile trail race, he had said it was the toughest thing he had done and would never get into trail running. We talked about races we have done and upcoming races. Gary is doing the Bigfoot 200 Miler this year. That’s not a typo…that’s 200 miles. His goal for MMT was to finish, but if he wasn’t doing well, or was hurting, he said he would cut out. He wanted to be ready for Bigfoot and being healthy for that was more important. At the next AS, he was changing his sneakers and I was ready to leave. I thanked him for the conversation and wished him luck would see him down the road. I did not see him again until he crossed the finish line at about the 34 hours mark. I’m glad he was able to finish his 3rd MMT!
At around mile 43, just after the Veach Gap AS, I came across two runners. One was relieving herself as I approached. Probably embarrassed, I assured her that the most important thing was that she was able to go before being disrupted by me. She confirmed that she was able to “go” and we got a good kick out of that. We started a conversation. The woman’s name was Adeline, and her friend was Lisa. Adeline said to call them “L.A.” Little did they know that they will always be known to me as L.A.
I told them my pacer, Anne, would be pacing me the last 25 miles and told them her experience from last year. Adeline remembered seeing her late in the race. She confronted Anne, saying she was a nurse, and that if there was anything she could do to help, she would. As the miles went on, I would see L.A. a few more times.
Approaching the Habron Gap AS at mile 54 on a road, there were two guys offering beer. I thought about it and before I knew it, I was taking few gulps of Budweiser. It tasted good. A few tenths of a mile later, I got to Habron Gap. Here I am talking with Anne and with Caryn…
My journey is also Caryn’s journey. She has always been there for me throughout the races. Her love and support makes my experiences in these races so much easier.
The next 24 miles were going to be tough and I knew it. A big climb of 1,600 ft. in two miles going out of the AS. Followed by a couple of rocky sections, and a couple other climbs, including the mountain climb/rocky section known as Jawbone. My game face came on. Cinderella Man is one of my favorite movies and it always gives me inspiration when stuff gets tough. If you haven’t seen it, watch it! Here’s Russell Crowe giving his best back against the ropes, bad ass, don’t give a fuck, delirious, crazy, kill that motherfucker, look in the movie. I felt the same way….
Soon after leaving Habron Gap, I heard a herd of runners approaching me from the back. It turned out to be one of the “crewers”, Bob, followed by my friend Gary B. They were both pacing people. And who were they pacing, you ask.?Well, Bob was pacing one of the two L.A.’s! Gary was pacing another runner, who happens to be from Florida. They all blew right past me, with much encouragement.
I did a lot of the tough miles by myself in the dark. I don’t remember much before the Camp Roosevelt AS, though I remember the 2-3 mile stretch right after it. The trail was a stream of water. The course was extremely wet due to hard rain a few days prior. Here’s a picture of part of that stretch of trail, nothing I’ve ever run through before….
and much the same with Gap Creek area around mile 69. It was midnight when I left Gap Creek. I’m pretty sure I went into stealth/survivor mode for that stretch.
Jawbone was a main focal point in the race for me. It’s a big mountain climb after Gap Creek, and at the top of the mountain, a sign directs you to a rockier ledged section. After another short scrambling section of climbs on rocks, the trail continued on, relentlessly.
After being on the trail for a long time, the course led me to a long, gradual decline on a road. Eventually it led to the Visitor’s Center AS, mile 78. Here I am with my trail pacing savior, Anne, and a grand picture of me trying to get as many calories down as possible….
The climb out of Visitor Center was another big one, equaling about 1,000ft. of gain in two miles. It was nice to have Anne by my side. Sometimes we talked, other times not. But just having her along with me helped me so much. Last year, she explained, had been more of a daze to her. This time around, she was able to experience it pain-free. We came into the Bird Knob AS at mile 81 and I plopped down beside a heater. I glanced over at a table and saw a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 proof bourbon. To Anne’s surprise, I asked her to hand over the bottle and took a good sip.
The miles continued on with some laughs and some strains until we eventually got to the Picnic Area AS, mile 88. By that time, it was now light out. Here I am between Anne, Gary, Cassie, Mary, and Bob……
All of these friends have been through all the hurt, pain, and joy that comes with ultra running. Gary had paced someone the day before for 24 miles, and now he was getting ready to pace someone else for their final 15 miles. That someone else was Lisa, part of L.A.!
Pacing is a tough job. Job duties include: Making sure your runner is getting enough nutrition, they’re still functional, they’re in good spirits, and most importantly, making sure they can finish the race. Anne did her job well. But to me, the simple fact that her being out there with me, got me through to the end. The amount of suffering, drive, will, and inspiration that she showed last year at the race, would get me through this year.
The last AS was at mile 96, Gap Creek. I told Anne that I did not want to stop there at all and I told her that I wanted coke, any form of warm food and a banana. As we stopped, she gathered what I wanted and we continued on. The last climb was Jawbone again! But this time, once we got to the top, we went straight down the other side of the mountain, instead of running the tough 2-3 mile rocky section on top.
About halfway down the other side of the mountain, at about mile 98, we came across another rocky section. I guess it was only fitting to end this race with more ROCKS! Eventually, we came to a main dirt road. This road would lead us 4 miles to the finish. And as expected, it lasted an eternity for me.
Anne did a great job here. She brought up road running and marathons to me. Years ago, I started out road running, doing multiple marathons a year for several years before getting into trail running. Why not end the toughest 100 mile ultra trail race I’ve done with a conversation about where it all started for me.
We eventually approached the Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp entrance. We took a hard left and hiked up the dirt road, made a right into a wooded area, and came down to the famous stream crossing bridges. Two days ago I took this picture and pondered how I would feel when I would cross it after going 103 miles….
Once crossing them, Caryn took this picture of Anne and I. It’s clear that I was happy, but tired….
After the bridges, it opened up to a big field where it all started for me some 32 hours earlier. Here I am approaching the finish line…
Once I crossed the finish line, the race director congratulated me and asked if I had a pacer and/or crew. I pointed over to my wife and pacer….
I then explained to him about who Anne was….the one who crossed the finish line last year 20 minutes after the cut off, who broke her pinky finger, who hurt her shoulder 10 miles into the race, who was on pace the entire race to make the cut off until the last section, who had a back problem the last 10-15 miles and labored through all the climbs, rocks, streams, and mental blocks that one has at the end of a trail race. Here is Anne last year(2016) finishing the race….
The race director then introduced himself again to Anne, acknowledging her accomplishment the year before and urging her to come back for redemption sometime soon…
Here is a picture of my much better half and I. She has always kept me going on the best routes possible…
As the runners kept coming in, I couldn’t help but think of all the love and camaraderie that trail running gives us. Such pain and despair can lead to such joy and appreciation. And that is what gets me through. Knowing that each person struggles, but in the end, it’s the accomplishment and bond that keeps all of us together….and happy!
Here is Brian C. finishing his race…
And here are Lisa and Adeline(L.A.) on the left, finishing with another finisher friend….
Remember Gary K, the one who has finished 18 MMT 100’s and the guy who likes bourbon. Well at the end he came up to me, with a smiling face as always, with a miniature Jim Beam bourbon. He said he promised he’d deliver and he did! I introduced myself to him again and took the shot of bourbon. This is Gary earlier in the race…
A legend he is. He asked if I would be back to MMT again. At that point I told him that more than likely I’d be back to pace or crew someone.
This race draws a fine line between sane and insane, good and bad, runnable and not runnable, fair and unfair. It was evident in my brain the entire time I was running it. So many highs and lows and ups and downs both mentally and physically. To me, there is a strong feeling of love and bonding that is internal in these types of races. Only after finishing it and on the drive home did I realize that, yes, I would be back and run this race. Next year.