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Race Report: 2017 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100

MMT. Last year you were my friend. This year, you were my foe. Despite our bipolar relationship, I will be seeing you again. I feel like I have unfinished business with you.

MMT 100 coure map and elevation profile
The race map and profile. 102 miles and 17,834 ft of gain

Thank You

As usual, let me start off by thanking all the volunteers for making this race possible. You and the vibe you create is why I keep coming back. This year the temperatures were cold and much of the time was either damp or downright wet. Thank you for being out there in the elements so that I and the other runners could have the time of our lives on the course.

Best aid station? For the second year in a row, Powell’s Fort gets my vote. I got plenty of tasty food here this year. The banana bread and coffee were the highlights of the entire race for me. I really wish I could learn how to run fast on that easy stretch leaving the aid station while consuming all that yummy food on the go.

Thank you Justin (or should I call you gas mask) for pacing me and helping crew with Falling Angel. You put up with my terrible gas and my slow pace. I really enjoyed our conversations, especially since the 2 of us seem to have similar mindsets. During the race, I felt like we were doing nothing but talking up a storm. Looking back, I think I was a bit more silent than that! I was hungry, tired and sore for many of those last miles. I guess my mind was playing tricks on me. So sorry for all the silence. And sorry for the slow pace. At least you got to run down and then back up part of Jawbone to get my gloves. I couldn’t have asked for a better pacer!

And Falling Angel, I could never thank you enough for your help. You have read many variations of my thank you notes in these types of blogs. So instead of a lengthy prose, this time I have something short and sweet. Thank you. I will mow the grass this week.

Friday in Virginia

The weeks and days leading up to this year’s race weren’t nearly as exciting as last year’s “Shit”. The only real issue I had this year was a very painful left calf. It was actually the worst ache I have had going into a race. It felt like a muscle tear was bound to happen at any minute during my easy runs before the race. I was about 90% convinced that I would not finish this year’s race because of it. This is probably not a good mental state to be in before going into one of these events, but that is where I was at mentally on Friday.

MMT 100 runner picture
Trying to hide my anxiety from the camera

Start (0.0) to Moreland Gap (4.1)

The entire 4.1 miles are predominately on a dirt road (a portion is paved). For most of the time, you are ascending gradually.

Ten feet into the race, my feet were soaked. My feet remained wet for the entirety of the race. I never ran a 100 with feet being wet this long. I knew they would be wet this long. I was curious to see how they would hold up as I ran across the field (more like a swamp) and onto the road.

My plan prior to the whole calf issue was to run this entire section. Last year I averaged an 11 minute pace, and I felt great. This year I felt like I could shave off a minute or so per mile. But the whole calf thing quickly changed those plans. I instead took it very easy. I left my muscles stretch out in preparation for the remaining miles. I got to chat with my friend Greg for a bit, and then I spent the rest of the time talking to my friend Brian. It was a nice relaxing time to clear my head of its anxiety.

Moreland Gap (4.1) to Edinburg Gap (12.1)

The course turns right off of the dirt road on the first of a whole bunch of singletrack. For me, I run the entire stretch until the main ascent of Short Mountain begins. The ascent is pretty easy to tell. The trails becomes steep and rocky. Once the trail makes a sharp right, you know you are at the top. For the next 3 miles, the trail traverses the rolling and very rock ridge. The final 3 miles to the aid station are much less rocky. Yay!

I felt really good during the ascent. As usual, I walked the rocky section. So many people blew past me here. It can get pretty discouraging, and I have to constantly force myself not to try and keep up. I would rather be slow here than twist an ankle. Mentally, mile 9 cannot come soon enough. That mile always marks the time when I can start running comfortably again!

The night before the race, I expected I would be dropping at Edinburg Gap. There was no way my calf would hold out. Well, I was surprised to be entering the aid station in such good shape. The calf was a little tight, but nothing worrisome. In fact, this would be the last point in the race where I would notice any tightness.

So yeah, I didn’t drop at Edinburg. I was now giving myself to Elizabeth Furnace at just past the 50 km mark. Surely my calf would not hold up that long!

Edinburg Gap (12.1) to Woodstock Tower (20.3)

Leaving Edinburg Gap, there is a long gradual ascent to the ridge line. Much of it is very runnable. Afterwards, the course remains on the fairly flat and very runnable ridge to the aid station.

I was a bit mad at myself while making this climb. Many of the runners I passed before Edinburg were not back out in front of me. I continue to struggle with getting in and out of aid stations quickly. This is one area where I must improve dramatically if I want to see my finish times drop significantly.

At the top, I passed by those runners and continued on to the aid station. I ran this entire ridge feeling at ease with a pace that I felt like I could maintain for 100 miles. At the aid station, it began to rain. It would continue to rain until getting to Shawl Gap, some 18 miles and 4 hours away. So far though, the course was in great condition.

Woodstock Tower (20.3) to Powells Fort (25.8)

The next 5.5 miles to Powells Fort is pretty easy. The trail continues to remain on the ridge before making a steep descent to the aid station. The ridge was in great shape this year, but the descent is where the real muddy conditions began. The mud would be unrelenting for much of the remainder of the race.

I felt great running this section. Still feeling at ease and really strong. Even though this section is fairly short mileage-wise, mentally I always want it to be over quickly. Why? Because the aid station at the end of this section is superb! This year did not disappoint. I ate a ton of tasty food here!

Powells Fort (25.8) to Elizabeth Furnace (33.3)

The first couple of miles after the aid station are on a dirt road that has a gradual ascent. Every year I feel like I should pick up my pace here, but I am always too full from the aid station. This year was no different. Well, different in the sense that the road was pretty much flooded for 50% of it. I thought I was hallucinating when I saw the guy sitting in a chair with an umbrella overhead. Then I noticed the camera. OK, now it all makes sense!

Let’s be clear. The MMT course is insanely well-marked. Yet, I always get nervous that I am going to miss the left into the woods. I spent much of the time wondering if I missed the turn, hoping to see a yellow ribbon that would tell me that no I did not miss the turn. I should really just trust the awesome markings, because I spent all this time worrying for no reason. I found the left turn without problem just like every other year.

After the road section, the course stays on some singletrack for a little, traverses another short dirt road section and then finally goes back into the words for a long climb to the ridge. I always look forward to that climb because I know that only one descent remains before seeing Falling Angel at Elizabeth Furnace.

As I climbed, I started assessing my needs. Physically I felt great. My wet feet were just fine minus a slight hot spot or two. My calf was doing good, and despite the rain I was in a good mood. Basically my goal was just to eat a bunch of food at the station and apply a bit more lube to prevent any chafe.

Well, I made it to the aid station and I did not want to drop. I guess all that self-doubt was stupid. It was cool to see FA as well as my crew and pacer, Justin as I came in. I actually felt really bad. Here I was, having the time of my life. There they were, standing in the cold rain waiting for me. I felt like such a bozo subjecting them to this.

While eating, I got to briefly chat with Angela as she sneakily took a picture of me applying lube to my nether regions. Ultrarunning is not a sexy sport.

Elizabeth Furnace (33.3) to Shawl Gap (38.0)

This section is fairly short. It starts with a long climb followed by an equal descent. Normally, this section is hot as you traverse an exposed dirt road for part of it. Today, heat wasn’t the issue. Instead, it was the slick mud that made up most of that road. I was waiting for that moment when I would find myself face down in the brown mud.

It was during this descent that I noticed my quads were starting to ache. It was kind of surprising, but not really. Last year, my quads never ached. I attributed that to a lot of fast downhill work I did during training. This year, the winter weather in New England didn’t really lend itself well to that fast downhill work because many of the trails were snow or ice covered. So it wasn’t really all that surprising to find that weakness. In general though, the quad ache never really slowed me down during this year’s race.

MMT 100 mud
Look at that slop

Shawl Gap (38.0) to Veach Gap (41.1)

All rolling dirt roads in this section. I ran most of it and still felt great. Oh, and the rain stopped for good. Enough said.

Veach Gap (41.1) to Indian Grave Trailhead (50.1)

This section starts with a long climb followed by a rolling ridge run that is almost all runnable before a descent to the next aid station.

The previous 2 times I ran this race, I made the initial climb in thunderstorms. The trail was always soaked. This year, there was no precipitation. I was amazed at how dry this section actually is. This is just one small reminder of why running the same race doesn’t get boring. Every year the course is a little bit different. There is always something new to look forward to.

As I ran the ridge, I started running the numbers in my head. I was on pace for a sub-26 hour finish. I was feeling strong. I was feeling like that time was attainable. I just put my body on auto pilot and cruised.

It was kind of tough picking Powell’s Fort as the best aid station this year because Indian Grave was such a close competitor. The folks there are always so uplifting and the food is top notch. This year I ate a hot dog, slurped on the best soup I find during the entire race and munched on my new favorite trail food, cheese and grapes. That combination picked my right up. I was feeling great leaving the aid station. I think I may have even asked for some wine to go with the cheese and grapes.

Indian Grave Trailhead (50.1) to Habron Gap (54.0)

This entire section is a rolling dirt road. However, the 4 miles always seem to go by so slowly for me. Today would be no different. I was super excited though coming into Habron on pace for a sub-26 hour finish. I was 5 minutes slower than last year’s pace, but I felt so much stronger this year.

Normally, I spend way too much time at this aid station. This year, I spent a little bit of time eating fries and a cheeseburger and using the privy. I think I made it out of there in 15 minutes. I know, 15 minutes is actually not that great, but I don’t think I have ever made it out of there in under 40 minutes. So at least I made a good bit of improvement this year.

Habron Gap (54.0) to Camp Roosevelt (63.9)

The course climbs the ridge here, follows some rolling terrain and then makes a descent to Camp Roo. I think you are starting to figure out the general flow of MMT. Go up, do some small hills, do down to an aid station and repeat about 12 times.

I spent much of this climb eating a cheeseburger. For me, this is where the race really starts. Usually, I am already exhausted by this point. This year, I was feeling pretty good. I made the climb without any real effort, and I was soon off and running on the ridge. I slowed my pace in this section mainly to save a little bit of gas for later. Plus, my goal was to make it to Camp Roo before dark, which was well within reach.

I really dislike the descent into Camp Roo. The main reason is that after the initial descent the trail goes over a few rolling hills and through lots of muddy areas. I am usually pretty good and noticing landmarks that I can gage distances on. However, everything looks the same in this section for me. I am always left saying, “The road is just around this turn.” Only to find out I am still miles from it.

This year I especially hated this section because I twisted my ankle somewhere on the initial descent. I immediately knew it wasn’t going to get better during the run. So let’s just get this out of the way now. I hurt my ankle around mile 58. I remained painful for the remaining 46 miles. It still hurts now, a week after the race. What a bummer!

At Camp Roo, I got to pick up my pacer, Justin for the remainder of the race. There was some confusion here. Sounded like Falling Angel thought I wasn’t picking him up until the next aid station. So he was a little bit surprised, but I think happy to know he was finally getting on the trail. I was a bit bummed though knowing I wasn’t going to be doing much running from here on out. The sub-26 hour goal was now not an option. I just wanted to finish.

Camp Roosevelt (63.9) to Gap Creek I (69.6)

Every year it is the same story in Duncan Hollow. A long stretch of wading through deep water and mud for the initial climb. Usually, the descent is just rocky. This year it was also a mud-fest.

I have learned not to bother changing my socks and shoes until after this section. However, all that dirt in my shoes was acting like sandpaper at this point. I longed for those new shoes and socks.

The night settled in, my ankle started hurting more and tiredness set in. Oh how quickly things can change on the trail.

I do not remember this aid station. All I know is that I got those new socks and shoes.

Jawbone bridge at MMT 100
This year’s bridge photo

Gap Creek I (69.6) to Visitor Center (78.1)

This next section is my least favorite of the race. The initial climb isn’t so bad, but the rolling terrain at the top with the addition of unrelenting rocks just slows me down so much. It isn’t a physically demanding section for me. It is however mentally demanding. At this point in the race I just want things to be over, but the rocks make sure to keep me on the course longer than I want. On the bright side, after Q’s View the remainder of this section is runnable, included a long stretch of dirt road where you can make up some time.

It was during the initial climb that I realized I was getting cold. I was going to put my gloves on when we realized the gloves were still with FA at the aid station. Justin, being totally awesome and going above and beyond, turned around and ran back to the aid station while I pressed on. He got those gloves and ran back up that climb. What a freakin’ awesome guy!

I really don’t remember much about this section. I know we talked a bit about the White Mountains and Justin’s new home away from the Whites in Virginia. I also remember passing one lady several times during this section. We kept saying hi to her, but she never acknowledged us. It was kind of strange, but mildly entertaining to see how many times she would snub us. It was quite a few before we gave up.

I don’t remember much from this aid station either. I do remember drinking a 5 hour energy bottle in hopes of waking up.

MMT 100 runner and pacer during the night
Spend a night in the woods together and you will be friends for life

Visitor Center (78.1) to Bird Knob (81.6)

The climb to Bird Knob is about a mile with some steep sections and some rocky sections. Normally, this climb is a piece of cake for me. Tonight, I was just so damned tired. The energy drink did nothing just like the goggles worn by Radioactive Man. It was cool seeing the deer on the side of the trail though.

The aid station was super windy and cold like last year. The hot cocoa was amazing, but we did not stay long. I wanted to get the fuck off of that cold mountain!

Bird Knob (81.6) to Picnic Area (87.9)

Down a dirt road, a hard left onto a singletrack ascent, a descent, a small hill, a long and gradual descent next to a stream and then a gradual ascent. This section always gets to me. That gradual descent just seems to go on forever.

This year, the descent was also made worse by all the mud. Add to that my ankle pain and some new ailments. The top of my foot was hurting, I was getting chafed, I was hungry and I was pooping (don’t worry, it wasn’t in my shorts). So yeah, this section sucked. I wanted to be done, but I still had over a half marathon to go.

The aid station? Don’t remember it. I do remember the toilets there though. Thanks Justin for pointing them out!

Picnic Area (87.9) to Gap Creek II (96.8)

A swampy descent, a never-ending ascent and then a dirt road descent to the aid station. Getting closer to the finish.

This was by far my low point of the race. I had no energy. I hurt. Nothing was going right. Even the thought of only 1 more aid station wasn’t enough to get me moving faster. The sunrise did nothing as well. I really hate that climb! It was one of my low points last year as well.

The aid station? I ate here. I actually could stomach food once again.

MMT 100 runner and pacer during the day
The 100 mile shuffle

Gap Creek II (96.8) to Finish (103.7)

The final climb up Jawbone, a rock descent and then the final 4-ish miles on dirt road. I knew I would finish. I started to perk up a bit.

Despite all the issues, I ran the final dirt road miles of the race. They weren’t as fast as last year, but they were still sub-10 minutes miles. I even pushed really hard for the last little ascent and singletrack at Caroline Furnace. I actually was feeling 100% during this effort. It was just the runner’s high kicking in.

I spent much of this time reflecting on the race and thinking about what I could do better next time. The finish as usual was just a blur.

MMT 100 finisher photo
Completing my third MMT in a row

Post-Race

It has been a bit over 1 week since I finished the race. I went into the race not even expecting to finish. I somehow pushed through calf tightness, a bad mental state, wet feet, an ankle injury, a foot issue, chafing, hunger, tiredness and stomach issues. Even though it was not my fastest MMT finish, coming in at 30 hours and 28 minutes, I am very proud of myself. This was by far the toughest 100 I have raced for the reasons I mentioned above. Yet, I maintain my perfect record at 4 for 4 with 100 milers. I know that the streak will come to an end at some point, but for now I am enjoying trying to keep that streak alive.

I also now know some things I need to work on for my next race, Angeles Crest 100, as certain issues have cropped up in all my 100s so far. The first is aid station timing. I need to get in and out quicker. I am going to try Tailwind and see if I could reduce the amount of real food I need to stop and pick up. Maybe this will also help with my stomach issues and hunger that I experience in the late stages of the races.

The chafing is another issue that keeps coming back. I have tried lubes, boxers, shorts, liners, you name it. I have not found that magic combination yet. Time to try a few more alternatives over the next few months of training.

It is almost 8PM on Sunday. Last week at this time, I was sound asleep in a bed somewhere in Pennsylvania. Today, I think I am going to celebrate last week’s accomplishment with a 21 year old scotch.

Until the next time we meet MMT, my friend, my foe…

For more photos, check out our Facebook page.

Strava data can be found here. Although my watch died so pay no attention to the some of the stats.

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