The Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile put on by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club takes place in the George Washington National Forest, which also happens to be where I grew up. The course has gone through changes over the years but at one point in time, the race started and finished a mere half mile from our house. This year, I finally hit the button and registered for the lottery for the 22nd edition of MMT. Lo and behold I made it in. This year there were still runners on the waitlist so I was lucky to get in my first time entering the lottery.
You get bonus mileage with a course total of 103.7 miles. Some of my Strava segments of the course:
I haven’t considered myself a natural 100-miler and I also don’t consider myself a naturally strong technical runner. This was the perfect race for me then! It was hard to quell my competitive nature, but I knew my best approach to having an enjoyable day was to put competition aside and focus instead on taking my time and making sure I was staying on top of my nutrition. Ian also recommended I take walk breaks downhill (run 5 minutes, walk 30 steps) to preserve my quads since this has been an issue for me in the past.
While training had gone well this year, races had not. This threw another doubt into my head. Combine this with the fact that labwork before and after Lake Sonoma 50 Mile showed something wasn’t right (chronic sinus infection?), I confirmed to myself that a relaxed approach was the best approach.
We did our usual and took a family road trip to the east coast, first stopping in New York to see Ian's family and then to New Hampshire/Massachusetts for Wapack and Back 50 Mile. Ian’s race report here: http://iantorrence.blogspot.com/2016/05/toughest-50-mile-zane-grey-vs-wapack.html. After Wapack, we headed down to Virginia just in time for Mother's Day.
Race week was spent making flourless peanut butter cookies and rice krispie treats, formulating my fueling plan, and organizing aid station stops for my crew. I needed to rely on my crew for almost all of my race day nutrition, so I wanted to have everything as organized as possible for them.
Thanks to Meredith Terranova for brainstorming some awesome fueling alternatives (cookies and rice krispies). They worked wonderfully!
By the end of 27 hours, I consumed almost all of a batch of cookies and over two-packs of cane sugar soda, not including my other sources of fuel. The goal was to take in more solid food than I usually do.
Fueling plan (*Note Meredith did not review this, so she may have changed things drastically!)
On Friday, my parents, Ian and I made the trek out to the start line about 30 minutes down Fort Valley for check-in and the pre-race meeting. Then it was back home for a quick dinner and to catch a few hours of sleep. We had to be up at 2 a.m. for a 4 a.m. race start.
4 a.m.: Go time! The first four miles are on road before hitting the single track and taking on Short Mountain. Short Mountain is no joke and immediately the slogan “Massanutten Rocks” came to fruition. The race was still bunched together and I reminded myself to be patient through here. A) I didn’t need to fall in the dark and; B) it was a long way to go. Eventual race winner and 8-time finisher, Kathleen Cusick came rolling by early and I could tell she wasn’t messing around that day. I was already focusing on putting the calories in but I think I did a bit much because my stomach started to get wonky an hour in. I’m sure my crew of Mom, Dad, Mema and Ian (plus Super Bee and Sycamore) were excited to hear me whining about this at the first stop, Edinburg Gap.
|Edinburgh Gap Aid Station|
Photo by Paul Encarnación
Following, I break down the course based on when I saw my crew. There were plenty of other aid stations between these listed.
Edinburg Gap (Mile 12.1) to Elizabeth Furnace (Mile 33.3): I slowed down even more and let my stomach settle. By Woodstock Tower aid station (Mile 20.3), I was feeling good again and started making time on the ridgeline. This was a very nice section of trail. After leaving Powell’s Fort aid station (Mile 25.8), we started into sections of the course familiar to me. We started a gentle uphill on a gravel road, which I've run many times, and my left IT band started aching. I became even more diligent walk/run breaks on all the downhills. Going into Elizabeth Furnace, my knee was getting worse.
|Had to say hi to the dog leaving Powell's Fort.|
Photo by Paul Encarnación
|Entering Powell's Fort|
Photo by Paul Encarnación
Photo by Tim Toogood
Elizabeth Furnace (Mile 33.3) to Shawl Gap (Mile 38): I quickly saw my crew at Elizabeth Furnace and made the climb back up to the ridge. Then it was down Shawl Gap, a very well known section for me, also known as "the bus hill." After a few miles, Shawl Gap comes out on Panhandle Road. Memories of tall grass and chiggers on the last 1/4 mile of the trail are never forgotten. The race goes right on Panhandle, but I joked I was going to go left and be back home in less than a mile and a half…or was I joking?
|Shawl Gap Aid Station|
|One of my favorite photos from the day! My parents, Ian, Grandad and|
good neighbors, John and Nancy, were all there to show there support.
Mema is standing just outside the photo.
Shawl Gap (Mile 38) to Habron Gap (Mile 54): I saw my crew again at Shawl Gap, along with my Grandad and our good neighbors John and Nancy. I left the aid station and turned onto Panhandle Road, the road I’ve been running since middle school and have logged countless miles on. It was both nice and frustrating to be on familiar ground…frustrating in the way that I felt like I should be making better time on this 3-mile road section even if it is ridiculously hilly. At Veach Gap aid station (mile 41.1) we were back on the trail and set in for a 2-mile climb back up to the ridge. The pity party was building but once I got going on the ridge, I felt okay. We also got hit with a big thunderstorm. It got chilly but I was fine with the rain, at least until I stopped moving later on.
The ultimate low point was going down the purple trail to the aptly named Indian Grave aid station (mile 50). Lots of runners passed on the 4-mile stretch of road between Indian Grave and Habron Gap. Once I got to Habron Gap and my crew, I was convinced I was done.
|This is what the pity party surrounding an aching knee looks like. |
The rain from earlier also caught up to me and the shaking started.
Habron Gap (Mile 54) to Camp Roosevelt (Mile 63.9): After a long pity party of sitting in a chair, freezing and getting my IT band rubbed out by my Dad (thanks Dad!), Ian and I walked over to the trail and I contemplated further whether I wanted to go on. I can say that I didn’t want to continue, but I took the first step up the next climb. I’m glad I did! This ended up being one of the best sections of the day. My IT band was looser and I could run. I also spent a few miles chatting with last year's runner-up, Amy Rusiecki, which was a lot of fun and good distraction. Everyone was surprised to see me at Camp Roosevelt in a timely fashion. Here, Ian joined me for the long haul to the finish line.
Camp Roosevelt (Mile 63.9) to Gap Creek I (Mile 69.6): I continued to feel okay and we were covering ground. The most notable aspect of this section was that we were basically running in a creek bed there was so much water flowing down the trail. We arrived into Gap Creek I just as the sun was setting. Perfect timing! We donned our head lamps and moved on.
Gap Creek I (Mile 69.6) to Visitor Center (Mile 78.1): Leaving Gap Creek was one of the rockier sections of the course after you climbed Jawbone Gap Trail. Other than Short Mountain, up until now the ridge lines had been fairly smooth. Not this one! We were still making time but the terrain definitely slowed us a bit. The road coming into the Visitor Center was nice to see even if I couldn't run too quickly down it. At the Visitor Center, my crew loaded me up again. It was getting chilly now so a few minutes by the fire were key.
Visitor Center (Mile 78.1) to Picnic Area (Mile 87.9): Infamous Bird Knob takes place on this section. Ian had run this section a few days prior, so having someone who knew the route and could tell me what was up ahead kept this section from being too daunting. Otherwise, I can see how many runners would have a difficult time with this section at night. It's quiet and you don't see many other people, if any. The tater tots and strawberries were awesome at the Bird Knob aid station!
|A section of Bird Knob Trail|
Photo credit: https://virginiatrails.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/rocky-uphill.jpg
Picnic Area (Mile 87.9) to Gap Creek II (Mile 96.8): Everything was still moving right along when we left our crew at the picnic area (while at this aid station, 2nd place woman got ahead of me)...then we hit Scothorn Gap. This was the never-ending, backsliding climb that I started to have another break down on. Like most of the course, this was a very wet section of trail. Where the heck was the top!? It was only a 1.5 mile, but it felt like 5. Once we crested, I lost more time on the downhill section into Gap Creek II. My IT bands weren't having it.
|A classic George Washington National Forest sign.|
Gap Creek II (Mile 96.8) to the Finish (Mile 103.7): I was tired at Gap Creek II and frustrated I couldn't move quicker, but overall I was still okay. We were so close to the finish line now, 7 miles to go, and I knew the sun would be rising soon. We saw our crew one last time, sat by the fire for a few minutes and went back out to take on Jawbone Gap Trail climb one more time. Once again coming down off the ridge, I was barely making forward progress. The road was a welcome sight, but it was also the longest 5k ever when you're slogging. Not to make it too easy, there was one more small climb on the dirt on the backside of the camp. I think it was a mountain! Across the bridge to the finish and through the field, we were there!
Thank you again to my crew: Mom, Dad, and Mema. And to my fiancé, Ian, for doing double duty of crewing and pacing. I couldn't have and wouldn't have wanted to do it without you all! Also a thank you to Dr. AJ Gregg for working with me to get my body stronger since my last 100 mile attempt. Things weren't perfect but it was a vast improvement.
|Finish line area on Sunday morning|
|Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile belt buckle|
|We might both be a little delirious|
|With RD Kevin Sayers|
|Another shot from the day|
Photo by Paul Encarnación