A sound week resting up for Saturday
Monday 4 miles AM, 11 Miles PM (strong pace)
Tuesday- 11 miles
Wednesday- off (feeling sickish- 1/2 of co-workers out sick)
Thursday- 4 miles
Saturday- 71 miles on MMT ring 19:23- 2nd place
Saturday started out with a 4am wake up and 2 hour drive out to the mountains (I took wrong turn and did an extra bit. doah!) But, I arrived with plenty of time to get my backpack ready and mingle with the other 20 starters. Start time of 7:07am allowed for full light and a perfect stillness made the 17 degree temp feel comfortable. We began slowly with Keith Knipling taking off the front at a good clip while the rest of us chatted it up making our way up the first rocky climb. This days run would have some of the worst footing in all of ultrarunning. These are the Massanutten mountains....the rocks are everywhere!
I settled in and decided to focus on me and run it as the training effort it needed to be and soon found myself chatting with Mike Bailey and then Joe Clapper and Tom Corris. My camelback hose froze up once we had made it over signal knob and descended into the valley where it was noticably colder. I tucked it inside my shirt and soon enough it had unfroze. With a mild effort I began to feel the aches and strains the rough footing and trails give you. Since I run exclusively on roads (bikepaths) these days and hit the trails every other weekend on average I am not as strong in the lateral muscles as I should be. Both plantar fascias got tweaked, both achilles were sore pre-run, of course I rolled both ankles...generally I began to wonder why it was I wanted to run the MMT 100 again at all. Then I looked around and found the peace the mountains of fort valley give me and I settled in to a better less tense gait pattern and started feeling good. As I rolled through the Powell's mountain section having taken aid for the first time at 14 miles (woodstock tower road) I was sitting in 6th place and the competitor in me began to rise a bit. Why am I so far back? How can I be moderately pushing and be behind these guys? My head still thinks I am in the 2001 era body and that all those in front of me should not be there.
Soon enough the tough course began to take its toll. Some folks were dropped off the pace, some dropped out with minor injuries or stopped due to the pure realization that 71 miles on these trails would in NO WAY be fun. By whatever reason, when I starting the climb up short mountain I felt great and had now moved into 3rd. I chased Mike this entire section running a 1:49 split which is as good as I can remember ever doing that section. It is actually about what I was able to do in the 2001 MMT 100 (all be it the opposite direction). I saw Mike leave the aid station at moreland gap as I pulled into it just a bit ahead of my projected pre-race pace. I had covered about 31 miles in less than 7 hours and really felt good. Better actually than I did just 2-3 hours ito the run.
I fueled up with a "whoopie pie"- some kind of frosting filled cookie that really hit the spot- one that I had never seen before, but will look for in the future. I downed some mtn dew, ate a few chips, grabbed my headlamp (just in case) and continued on as I had been all day. I was drinking water from my camelback and nibbling on skittles and sharkies. I have figured out that I run best with little in my stomach but need to do a constant infusion. The day was going well with partly cloudy skies and temps now around 40. Ascending Jawbone gap I pushed strongly, then eased off on the section of MMT I hate the most. Kerns mtn. Talk about sucky footing! You can never find a rhythm on that trail. I can't wait for this year version of MMT as we will at least get to run on crisman hollow road for a few miles following this dreadful section. Not in the RING though. We simply crossed the road and headed down the degraded and super steep trail section known as waterfall mtn. It drops 1500 feet in a mile and has no switchbacks. Sucks on the knees. Man did they feel it. About a mile out from the aid station at crisman hollow road (hiked in by Michele Harmon- thanks!) I came up on Mike who was now walking and said he had slipped on a log and tweaked his back. I tried a little Physical therapy on him on the trail but did not seem to make him feel any better. So he continued walking on out and would then walk the road back to camp roosevelt to drop out.
At Crisman hollow road aid station I gladly partook of a PB & J sandwich while early starter Gary Knipling also fueled up. Having started at 3:13 AM with superstar 75 year old Ed Demoney. Gary had made it 37 miles of his planned 46 mile day. I left the aid station with him and enjoyed Gary's conversation as we ran together for 5 minutes. What a great guy and fellow grand Slam finisher. Chugging down waterfall the reality of how far I had to go was sinking in and I had some oh gosh thoughts. I attempted the MMT reverse ring before in 2006 only to drop at 46 miles and then went on to the MMT 100 and dropped there at 76 miles. So finishing today had special meaning even if any real training benefit had probably already been surpassed by the 10 hours I had been out running.
Climbing up the mountain away from one of the many stream crossings I got really inspired and started pushing hard. Once I crested the top I really let it go and was ripping down the poorly kept trail catching briers and downed branches all the way. I easily was running some sub 8:00 mile pace miles and put out for over a solid hour an effort that I use only once a week on my commute run home. The 11 mile trek on these days takes around 1:20 so I knew I was probably over-doing but it felt great to be able to press this hard on technical trail 10 hours into an event. This feeling of total control with each foot plant and being able to press as hard as I want in an ultra has really been absent for 5-6 years. Amazing what actually training will do for you huh? Miles 39-46 were some of the best I have run in a long long time.
With this good effort I managed to arrive at Camp roosevelt aid station before sunset. I just happed to do it 1:50 behind Keith Knipling! I was still well ahead of the existing reverse ring course record pace and had hopes of running something around 17 hours. As I ate some chicken noodle soup (really drank the broth, more mtn dew, and ate part of another whoopie pie) My stomach did not feel great so I declined the turkey and cheese wraps they had to offer. I filled my camelback bladder and got my lights out as the darkness was now full on. With a heavy backpack and the odd twilight time lighting it was hard moving well leaving mile 46 and I ended up walking the entire climb up to Kennedy peak taking about an hour to do so. So much for trying to break 17 hours.
Thus began the long long stretch on the eastern ridge line alone with my ipod tunes and one of the best canopies of stars I have ever seen. I decided to back it off completely and shuffle run only when it was safe. Deep piles of leaves covered the deadly rocks in many places and the trail seemed to go on forever. Occasional trail intersections with Habron gap and the Indian grave trail gave some break up to the monotony but to be honest it was a pretty miserable walk. I was very hungry and kept taking gels and eating skittles but never felt like I had enough. My hormone pulses told my my bed time had come and gone, but still I was on the ridge line. Every now and then I was smacked around by huge gusts of wind, but at least it was not that cold. Perhaps in the high 20's.
At 16:05 into the event I finally made the turn to head off the ridge and descend toward veach gap! Man o man did that feel good. I started running again and was super excited to see the tent (which contained bags of food and drink) left at the trail intersection in the valley floor. I stopped for a refuel with some mtn due, a backpack reorganization ( the straps were killing my shoulders) and grabbed 4 cookies for the long long walk back up to the next hill top. I supposedly had just 8 miles to go but it would take me a full 3 hours to cover this remaining ground.
I felt okay and moved as well as I could but my light (which is 7 years old) was dimming out and really is not up to today's brighter standards. (Anyone have some suggestions for something better?) The trail was muddy, wet and of course rocky and footing continued to suck. My mind said enough...... this is not longer fun, but the trail just continued on ever upward. While my flat and downhill running has really returned to form. I climb like molasses. I mean I really suck. I don't have the fitness to run the hills like I used to and I have absolutely zero power to walk strong uphill. These will be my two main focuses in the remaining weeks before the MMT 100 as I am determined to run well there once again.
After about a million years I reached what I thought was the top of the hill only to dip and roll and climb again about 7 more times. I have only been on this section maybe once or twice in my life (the opposite direction to boot) and nothing looked familiar. The trail is not maintained as well as most in this area and I kept having to search to make sure I was going the right way. Mentally I had no picture that I would be ascending to shawl gap and then follow the main trail down to Elizabeth's furnace.....it just didn't make sense.... and I struggled at the intersection of 4 trails on top there in the dark with my dim light for a long time. I even dug out new batteries replaced them and continued down only to lose the trail and get stuck back-tracking uphill on some interpretive nature trail. Once I finally hit Elizabeth's furnace I was determined to follow orange and not the MMT course route. I kept stopping and backtracking only to realize it was the correct route. Then I couldn't believe I needed to cross rte 678 to get to the parking lot and finish. What a mental fog I was in. Needless to say the 18 and 19 hour barriers remained in tact and at the 19:23 mark I finally reached Quatro's car, tapped on his window to wake him up, and officially finished the MMT Reverse Ring. I Join only a few others who have done the ring in both directions and gained the title "Master of the Ring" ahhh...... finally!
After a couple hour fit-full nap in the back of the car I drove on home happy to have fulfilled my goal and to feel overall pretty good physically. I'll be ridiculously sore tomorrow but it was well worth it. At least I don't have any blisters. (injinji socks and pearl izume road shoes) Last time I did the ring my feet were a mess for 2 weeks.
Thanks to the VHTRC and for all the volunteers. What a great event.